17 April 2009

Bee flies (Bombylius spp.)

Insect numbers are increasing as the weather gets warmer.

The bee fly (Bombylius major) is a frequent sight nectaring on primroses and other flowers along the rides.

20090318 BHW Bombylius major 020a

Although they appear to be hovering they normally have their front and second pair of legs resting on the flower while they probe for nectar with their proboscis.  The larvae are parasitic on mining bees.

There is another, slightly larger, species in Sussex: the dotted bee fly (Bombylius discolor).  This has declined seriously in the last 50 years and was, until recently, only found on the coast, but it now appears to be spreading inland again.  As the name indicates it has dark spots on its wings in addition to a somewhat smaller dark bar on the leading edge.

16 April 2009

Loveliest of trees

The wild cherry trees (Prunus avium) in Brede High Woods are in full bloom now, but it is a very fleeting event.

20080503 Brede High Woods Austford Farm cherry

Such a brief burst of beauty is always, somehow, tinged with sadness, with the idea of the fleetingness of things nowhere better expressed than in A. E. Housman's untitled poem:

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my three score years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

20090411 BHW 5b wild cherry flowers  051

15 April 2009

Brede High Chimaki

Inspired by discovery that leaves of the broad-leaved bamboo can be used to make chimaki (Japanese rice dumplings), I had a go myself using leaves from the Austford plant in Streetfield Wood and binding them with garden raffia (which my grandfather always used to call 'bast').

20090411 BHW 2g  chimaki bamboo wraps 002

The parcels were filled with cooked rice mixed with an equal part of ham, prawns and mushrooms and seasoned with Chinese five spice and soy sauce.  They were steamed for several hours and we ate some hot and some cold.

Everyone said they were delicious, though I have tasted better things.

12 April 2009

Easter eggs

Yesterday, Easter Saturday, I was in Brede High Woods with Ellie, our 5-year-old granddaughter and she spotted a gleaming white object in a small tree trunk cavity where a branch formerly grew.

20090411 BHW 064

It was the egg sac of a fairy-lamp spider, Agroeca, probably Agroeca brunnea which always has this characteristic shape.

I reflected how, to me (if not quite to Ellie), this Easter egg manifestation was so much more meaningful than the gold and silver paper glitz of the commercial chocolate eggs that fill the shops at this time of year.

I was struck too by the Eastertide appropriateness of the chalice-like shape of the structure reflecting the cup of the Last Supper and the gleaming white 'disc' of the lower part of the sac being not dissimilar to the white roundness of a communion wafer.

In Germany these egg sacs are called fairy lamps (Feenlämpchen) and I have therefore coined the English name for the spider myself. The only other vernacular name I can find is 'running foliage spider', which seems rather less satisfactory.

In his Gleanings from the Fields of Nature (1908), Edward Connold, who lived in St. Leonards, wrote of these fairy lamps "They first came under the notice of the writer in May 1893, when he found a large number in a wood near Hastings." I wonder if he was walking in Brede High Woods.

9 April 2009

Chimaki zasa, the broad-leaved bamboo

Just south of the Austford site in Streetfield Wood is a large clump of the introduced broad-leaved bamboo (Sasa palmata) growing happily among the Scot's pines.

20090321 BHW 2g Sasa palmata chimaki zasa

This arrived in Britain in 1889 and was one of the earliest bamboo introductions so it is not surprising to see it flourishing in what must once have been part of the Austford garden.

It is native to Japan where it is a widespread species called 'chimaki zasa' and various other names.

'Chimaki' are savoury rice dumplings wrapped in leaves of this bamboo then steamed or boiled (something I think I might have a go at now I know where to get the leaves).

In parts of North America and some other places this bamboo has become an aggressive alien, but it seems to be reasonably well-behaved in Britain simply forming a larger and larger clump from the original planting.

1 April 2009

Wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)

One of the most delicate spring flowers is the wood sorrel, an ancient woodland indicator species that usually occurs in small clumps on streamsides and in damp places.  Often it grows on fallen logs or old coppice stools where some soil has accumulated.

20090328 BHW 7a wood sorel 025

The plant contains oxalic acid giving the leaves and flowers a sharp, acidic taste and the species has been widely used in both cooking and medicine.

Among the many country names for the plant one of the least predictable is 'Alleluia' (also given this name in France and Italy), a term derived from the fact that it flowers around Eastertime.