Sunday, 18 December 2011

Egrets great and small

Picking up on the last post, in which I wondered about the reasons why birds might be found dead on a lighthouse, two bloggers have passed on links to interesting stuff:
http://www.bsc-eoc.org/download/Francis-Jones-light-mortality.pdf reports on photopollution around lighthouses and states that :
Songbirds that migrate at night are attracted to these sources of light, especially under overcast or foggy weather conditions. Birds that are not killed outright by collisions with the light sources can succumb to exhaustion brought upon by prolonged fluttering around a light source or to predation upon individuals in weakened states.

A recent article in Birdguides reports on lights on off-shore vessels attracting an astonishing range of birds including water-rails and bitterns, and well as vast numbers of songbirds, often with fatal results.

And a recent book on British bird observatories reports on collisions at, for example, Bardsey. It is interesting to know that some lighthouses have nearby "safe attraction" lights to lure birds away from the danger, and to a safer landing ground.

On a day-trip to Dungeness to get as far away from shopping malls as possible, I was lucky to see a Grey Heron chasing a Great White Egret around the ARC pit, both landing by the viewing screen. I scuttled around to it and sure enough the Great White was fishing close by - lucky!
LinkIts smaller cousin, the Little Egret, may have been impressed by the size of fish being taken by the Great White, and tried to copy it.
You've bitten off more than you can chew, mate.

In the bright sunshine it's clearly that time again.........
..... which must also be the view of the White Cliffs Ravens which have returned for the third year, and were checking out breeding sites.

Also on the cliffs, having started their season very early, were two Carline Thistle plants in new bud and flower.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Lumières

I've long wanted to climb the steps (all 271 of them) up Calais lighthouse, le Phare de Calais, to look across to the White Cliffs, preferably on a clear day.
Saturday was such a day; clear (and cold) and the view was expansive, easily taking in the Kent coast from the North Foreland to Dungeness.
On the ledges at the top were some dead waders, a snipe, greenshank and a smaller unidentified one. I wondered if these had expired exhausted, or had flown into the lit window one stormy night?


The highlight of the ferry trip across was a close view of a Bonxie, along with many, many Gannets and Kittiwakes, and a good few auks on the sea. The sight of a Great Blackback eating one in the harbour was unedifying, however.

The best plant-spot of the day was Thornapple (Datura stramonium), which is generally eradicated on sight in Britain because of its poisonous nature, but which was flourishing on the French dunes.

Large numbers of gulls lined the strand as the sun fell over Cap Gris Nez.........
.... giving way to a devils-bit moon which showed a nibble of the eclipse, which may not have been seen across the channel.

This complemented a film on release at the moment, which I enjoyed at the tiny cinema in Broadstairs (not the hideous multiplex).....

....a film called Hugo, which artfully tells the story of magician-turned-cinematographer Georges Méliès (following the Lumière brothers) and of a young boy who lives in the Gare Montparnasse.

It's a beautifully-made film with some stunning scenes which I'm sure would appeal to fellow bloggers. It has steam trains, clocks, engineering, projectors and lots of other boys' toys.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Gone aforagin' on the seashore

Ugh, it's awful dark in the mornings, and the pier's shut until 8am so work prevents a stroll along it.

However, along the coast at Kingsdown there's an opportunity for more scrumping..... seaweeds this time.

Nothing fancy, just a good clean, a snip and a stir-fry, with Sea Lettuce performing best while the red stuff (Dulse?) proved less tasty. Seved with a few focaccia courtesy of a North-west blogger, it was a good meal.



Bladder Rack and Tangle (or Kelp) are also edible but take a bit more cooking.


Sea Lettuce


On the landward side, Seaton gravel pits to be precise, it was good to see Hogweed in flower, with its unbalanced outer florets emphasising the delights within.
Down the stem was a Caddis fly.... not sure I've ever seen one before.

And continuing the food thread:- Jelly Ear.... very fresh, very jellyish, very bouncy, and ... quite tasty.
I do like to know where my next meal's coming from.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Gone aforagin'

It's been a while since I've walked the range, but when you need some veg it's a good place to go. I added Sea Purslane to a salad for the first time, and there may have been an added flavour but my aged taste buds couldn't pick it out. I'll add more next time, and see if it improves.



Inspiration came from a couple of books by John Wright which cover seashore and fungi foraging in a highly entertaining style. I see from the local paper that a Deal author is launching a book on edible flowers, so that looks good as a stocking filler.



I don't need Sea Beet as the allotment is still producing copious amounts of spinach and chard, but I picked some small young leaves of Wild Cabbage, and was impressed.... they don't need much cooking, and tastle like, obviously, cabbage. A little Rock Samphire was gathered too, and new plants were seen in new places indicating that it's spreading.




The tougher Sea Kale, however, has shrunk back to its roots under the shingle but I may try blanching a plant or two, hopefully remembering where I've buried them.

There's little chance of damaging the plant populations, by the way, as




  • the plants are abundant here, as the rifle range returns to a natural state after MoD use;



  • I pick only a little from each plant, and



  • there's few others doing the same.



This was the chopping board after a bit of foraging, and it includes at least one species that shouldn't be eaten, as I discovered when I did some research. [It's the grey fungi which have almost covered the front lawn]





The addition of Mallow and Alexanders flowers in the salad was successful and decorative, and I'd recommend both of them.





The Parasol mushroom came from Sandwich Bay.....




..... and the Stump Puffballs from Kingsdown Wood.....



.... where Field Maple leaves delicately fell in the wind.

Other finds included Yellow Stainers [inedible]......



...and these two which I hope someone can identify, as they were very attractive.








This stuff found on the rifle range was weird - I'm not even sure it's a fungus.




And finally, a fungus exhibited last week seems to be Hericium coralloides, which is unusual in east Kent. In fact it may be the first record, with only a couple of sightings in west Kent over the years. It's called Coral Tooth fungus, and it's easy to see why.


Monday, 21 November 2011

Bletted chequers





An earlier post referred to the lovely colour of Wild Service Tree leaves this autumn, but did not illustrate this. So it behoves me to show some photos. It's easy to identify this species because..........no, it's easy to identify this species because the leaves are a distinctive red, like these.....

.... will become when they fall. More representative leaves are a dark red, and carpeted the ground around this tree which is a good shape from not being crowded. The specimen at Bough Beech is tall and thin, having grown in competition with its neighbours

Wild Service Trees were cultivated for their fruits, known as checkers, which were picked and hung up to await the first frosts. Until then, they are unpalatable but the frost opens them up and softens the flesh and so become "bletted", giving an interesting if gritty texture.


The flavour has been compared to almonds or sultanas (see Richard Mabey's Flora Britannica for a full description) but I found them to be more akin to over-ripe pears.


As well as their use as fruits, they were also used to flavour alcohol (probably not beer) and this may explain the frequent use of The Chequers as a pub name. This may be so, as the trees are sometimes found in pub gardens, but it seems more likely that the name refers to the game, encouraging thoughts of the entertainment to be found within.

The weekend continued the run of fine Autumn days after the overnight mist burned off. The sky was blue and the sun shone, although in shaded places the dew remained.
Fungi have started to appear, very late and in smaller numbers than would be expected.




More butterflies were seen, and flies and ladybirds continue to bask in the unexpected warmth.


Some oak trees are still fully green, while late flowers remain, covered in dew, like Watercress and Celery-leaved Buttercup in a rich cattle mire.

But signs of change are clear elsewhere, with mistletoe green against the bare branches of limes.