Sunday, December 21, 2008

The lake at Woods Mill

I regularly visit the Sussex Wildlife Trust's reserve at their Wood's Mill headquarters near Henfield in West Sussex.  There are many pools, streams and a river here and the photograph shows the largest lake in its sombre midwinter persona.

20081221 Wbx & Mtre 004

The reserve is rich in wildlife and has, of course, been studied in detail by the staff and the many visitors with their comprehensive knowledge of Sussex wildlife.  Whether one knows anything about wildlife or not, it is a very peaceful and beautiful place, accessible to all.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Charcoal smoke

On cold mornings in the upper Brede Valley smoke from the charcoal burning kilns in Marley Lane rises in the stillness and spreads out in a thin layer over the denser portion of air that has filled the valley bottom where the frost lies.

20081205 Churchland fields smoke 003a

This is a traditional industry probably done in the same place for hundreds of  years.  It stopped for a while a few years ago, but has now started again and the smoke is back.  The farthest ridge in the picture is where the Battle of Hastings was fought, Normans on the left, Anglo-Saxons on the right.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Parasol mushrooms

Today I spotted several parasol mushrooms (Macrolepiota procera) on the verge of the lane to the village.  They often appear here and have formed quite a large colony over the years.  Mid-November seems very much later that usual though.

20081115 KWR & Parasol mushrooms 007

I brought three youngish ones home and we had some excellent parasol fritters.  If fried, or used in other recipes for mushrooms, parasols tend to grow rather soft and watery, so fritters is a good way of using them - a crisp, slightly spicy outside with a soft, fungus-fragrant interior.  The sort of food that is almost impossible for a restaurant due to the fragility of the parasols and the irregularity of their appearance.

I just remove the stalk and cup the cap into eight wedges.  These are then dredged with plain flour, dipped in batter and deep fried in fat somewhat less hot fat than for potato chips.  In the picture of the fritters below, I am amused by the little mushroom-like protuberances made by batter trying to escape.

20081115 KWR & Parasol mushrooms 009

Some care has to be taken over consuming parasol mushrooms as they have several decidedly poisonous lookalikes, though this is more of a problem in mainland Europe and North America than in the UK.  Also some people may have an allergic reaction, so try a very small amount first if you are tempted.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Elder in service

I found a young elder tree (Sambucus nigra) today growing in the fork of the trunk of the wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis) just outside our house.

20081112 Service and elder at South View 004

The elder has found sufficient nourishment and water trapped in the trifurcation of the trunk to grow well in it its first season and it may persist for some years.

The fork in the wild service is at chest height and came into being when the single stem of the young tree (which I grew from seed sown about 1974) was toppled by a bright blue weevil called Rhynchites caerulea.  These cut right round the young green shoot which topples over and usually falls to the ground.  The adult weevils lay their eggs in these fallen shoots which subsequently feed their larvae.

The following year two or three stems arise from the damaged maiden in the absence of a leading bud and this creates the fork.  As leaves and water, not to mention baby elders, gather in the fork it makes a weak point from which decay can easily get into the centre of the trunk and ultimately bring about the death of the tree.

So it goes (as Kurt Vonnegut would say).

Monday, November 03, 2008

A new Brede High Woods weblog

The purchase of most of Brede High Woods lying between Sedlescombe and Brede in East Sussex was completed by the Woodland Trust last December and there continues to be full public access to these wonderful woodlands and other habitats.

20080519 Brede High Woods 5b 012

I live within easy walking distance of the woods and have been exploring them since the late 1950s, so I am very pleased that they have been secured for everyone to enjoy in perpetuity. As well as ancient woodland, the area has unimproved grassland, heath, sphagnum bog and a variety of streams and ponds, all of which goes to ensure a rich and important biodiversity.

I have worked closely with the Trust over the last couple of years and have now started a Brede High Woods weblog to alert as many people as possible to the delights of the place.

[Brede High Woods weblog]

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Ferry Pool, Pagham, West Sussex

At this time of year the purple glasswort (Salicornia ramosissima) is a landscape feature on the salty mud of Ferry Pool opposite the Pagham Harbour reserve visitor centre (SZ 8558 9657).

20081006 Pagham Ferry Pool 001

Migrant hawker dragonflies (Aeshna mixta) were still on the wing and the female below was observed laying eggs in the bases of the reed stalks in the dykes where the water is much less salty.

20081006 Pagham Ferry Pool 004

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mini meadow browns (Maniola jurtina)

On a walk near Staplecross, East Sussex yesterday I noticed two small mating butterflies.  At first I thought they might be hairstreaks, then gatekeepers, but the photo below indicated that they were meadow browns, but almost half the normal size. 20080920 Wellhead Woods, Meadow browns

The one on the right is pale because its wings are tilted towards the sun.

This butterfly is normally common in our area from June to mid-August and this is the latest I have seen them, though they are known to occur as adults as late as October.

These late emergences are said to occur more frequently where there is short (and therefore warm) turf on the Downs and in similar places and several authors have noted that these late-flying butterflies are often smaller.

Apparently this species only has one generation a year, so these cannot be the offspring of earlier-flying adults.

It is curious though that both butterflies in the picture are of a similar small size and must have emerged at broadly the same time and one wonders why the idea of their being a second generation has not been considered.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Elephant hawk on Fuchsia

While inspecting a fuchsia plant in the garden today I spotted a young hawk moth caterpillar.  It was an elephant hawk, a species that often feeds on fuchsia rather than rosebay willowherb.20080730 South View elephant hawk 004

Soon it will change into the dark brown, eyed creature with the vaguely elephantine appearance that gives the species its name.

I am pleased to have found this as the elephant hawk adult is not the sort of moth that comes to lighted windowpanes and I don't think I have ever found caterpillars in the garden, though the moth was not infrequent years ago when I ran a light trap.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Achlorophyllous Epipactis

Some neighbours drew my attention to this strange plant growing at the entrance to a plot about 50 yards up the road from our house. It is an achlorophyllous helleborine orchid, probably the broad-leaved helleborine (Epipactis helleborine), that has developed without chlorophyll. This is something that happens from time to time in this genus and there is a good picture of an achlorophyllous violet helleborine (E. purpurata) on page 53 of David Lang's Wild Orchids of Sussex (Pomegranate Press, 2001). Other wild orchids, such as the bird's-nest orchid (Neottia nidus-avis) are always chlorophyll-free so it looks as though some Epipactis may be evolving in this direction. It is thought that, in the absence of chlorophyll, the plants depend entirely on a myorrhizal fungus for their nutrition. I will post some more pictures if the plant survives and flowers.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Dingy skipper (Erynnis tages) returns

20080509 Brede High Woods 6b Dingy skipper 2

After a gap of 11 years I have seen the dingy skipper butterfly on the wing in Brede High Woods here in East Sussex.

This is now a national Priority Species because it has been in rapid decline, so this is a good sign.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Spring banks

Two of the best wildflower banks are by the old sunken lane, now called Reservoir Lane, near Brede. It has a very rich flora, particularly in spring with plants like woodruff that are very uncommon in this area. The flowers in the close up are primrose (Primula vulgaris), early dog-violet (Viola reichenbachiana) and wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa), all ancient woodland indicators in South East England.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

First butterfly of spring

One of perfect, warm, blue sky days that make one really believe winter is receding fast. At the edge of Brede High Woods, where the cold mud is at its stickiest and wettest, this peacock butterfly floated down and settled a yard or two in front of me. For me the first of the year - gorgeous.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Spring fronds

One of the freshest and subtlest signs of the rising sap are the new fronds of broad buckler fern (Dryopteris dilatata) seen here above evergreen ivy and last year's dead leaves. The delicate tracery does not stay long and turns into a rather dowdy fern later in the year. The countryside is so full of the grosser manifestations of early spring - wood anemones, primroses, daffodils - that it is easy to overlook these less strident displays. I think the fronds look good enough to eat and, apparently, the plant has been used as an analgesic, against dandruff and for gastrointestinal disturbances. Dryopteris roots have also, I gather, been used to make an alcoholic beverage called "uh" (great name) in Alaska, a practice the indigenous American Indians are said to have learnt from the Russians. As the roots are considered toxic, they might have had rather more of a buzz than they bargained for - 'uh' indeed.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tree mosses in Killingan Wood

Two tree trunk mosses from Killingan Wood, Sedlescombe, East Sussex. The small tuft is the crisped pinchusion (Ulota crispa) and the green dreadlocks the skinny form of, I think, cypress-leaved plait-moss (Hypnum cupressiforme). It could be mammilate plait-moss (H. andoi) but this is normally golden green. Both are growing at about chest height.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Witches butter

I think this is the fungus called Exidia plana, but it might be a gross form of Bulgaria inquinans as the two species are similar. Whatever, we have always known this as 'witches butter', though it is said to be inedible despite its bramble jelly appearance. It was growing on a dead oak trunk in one of our local woods.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

A spring walk in the wood

Today with my seventieth birthday fast approaching I decided I should take a bit more excercise, so I went for a walk in the wood up the road. The hawthorns and a few hornbeams are leafing, the anemones are out (though rather few this year) and the leaves on the early purple orchids are well-advanced. I took a few photos - of a liverwort new to me (but quite common), even scalewort (Radula complanata) growing on an ash trunk in round patches at chest height; I visited the spurge-laurel (Daphne laureola) which seems to be doing rather well this year. I photographed a patch of anemones, a patch of polypody fern, a toppling tree with orange Trentepohlia algae, and I found a small, battered, red plastic hedgehog deep in the litter. It reminded me strongly of 'Wilson', Tom Hanks's volleyball mascot in the film Cast Away. There is a link here. I brought my 'Wilson' home and have installed it in part of my Square Metre project. I am sure it all has a deeper meaning linked to chaos theory.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Tenby daffodils

The Tenby daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus ssp. obvallaris) are flowering well in our brambly meadow this year: last year they had scarcely any flowers. I think they are the very best daffodil because of the clear yellow perfection of their flowers. Introduced long ago, they have naturalised themselves near Tenby in South Wales but, although they have been in our garden for many years and increse slowly bulb by bulb, they show no sign of seeding themselves. An alien not likely to become invasive.