Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Two spiders, Araneus quadratus

On a wet afternoon in a rough field locally, I noticed these two spiders low down in the grass. They are both Araneus quadratus, an orb-web species, and both appear to be females. The one on the right seems to have laid all her eggs, hence the slightly shrivelled abdomen, while the one on the left is waiting to go.

Although the two seem quite at ease with the world, the situation had a certain air of menace about it and I suspect both spiders are very alert to the other's presence. This species is quite variable in colour as the picture shows.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Leocarpus fragilis in Flatropers Wood

Yesterday I led a walk around Flatropers and Bixley Woods looking for fungi and anything else we could find. Fungi were interesting but not quite as abundant as one might have expected after a warm and relatively wet late summer.

One organism that was new to me was the slime mould Leocarpus fragilis (a Myxomycte, not a fungus). A small patch on a dead Scot's pine needle stood out on the woodland floor due to its bright chrome yellow colour. I put it in a tube for later inspection and, when I had a closer look in the evening, it had turned from a yellow plasmodium (the slime stage) into the greyish brown, grape-like fruiting bodies shown above. Some remnants of the yellow plasmodium can still be seen.

Identification was relatively easy using The Myxomycetes of Britain and Ireland by Bruce Ing (Richmond Publising, 1999)

Monday, October 16, 2006

The day of the harlequin

Today on an amazingly warm October afternoon I found my first harlequin ladybird, Harmonia axiridis, on ivy blossom in Hastings. During the next five minutes I found several colour forms, each on a different ivy each in the same small area. The red and orange ones are the succinea form and the black one with red spots the spectabilis form.

This very successful and aggressive invertebrate has been spreading through North America and Europe and, more recently, Britain. They tend to get to the food first and are therefore out-eating other ladybirds. They can also reach nuisance proportions when they hibernate in houses.

For more details of the harlequin see this link.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Cake with wild service berries

Having gathered a quantity of wild service or chequer berries when I visited the mighty tree at Udimore, East Sussex last week, I decided they should be put to good use (as well as trying to grow some more trees).

After discussion with granddaughter Jessica, we decided to use one of her fruit cake recipes substituting chequer berries for raisins. This worked spectacularly well and the cake was delicious. Today some TV people came to do a documentary on the tree and its uses and we were able to film the making, baking and eating of this recipe. As far as we know this is a completely novel use of the fruit, but well worth the trouble.

The TV programme Tales from the Country will, by the way, be on ITV nationally on a Thursday evening in early January.

The recipe is as follows:

Jessica’s Chequer Berry Cake

by Jessica Roper, Sedlescombe, East Sussex. 10 October 2006

A cake made with soft, ripe chequer or wild service berries, Sorbus torminalis. These are equivalent to raisins or sultanas but have a sharp, lemony taste. The whole berry, with the seed, is used and gives the cake a cool texture. Be careful to remove any small stalks though.

120 grams butter or margarine
170 grams caster sugar
150 grams chequer berries (wild service berries)
225 millilitres water
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon mixed spice
2 eggs beaten
120 grams plain flour
120 grams self-raising flour
Pinch salt

Boil butter/marg, sugar, fruit, bicarbonate of soda, spice in the water stirring for about 2 minutes. Leave to cool.

Mix in the eggs.

Sieve in flour and salt.

Pour mixture into a 7 inch cake tin and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour (until a skewer comes out clean) in a pre-heated oven at gas mark 4 or 180 degrees C.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Hornbeam fusion

I came across this wonderful tree (or trees) in Brede recently. It is a hornbeam, Carpinus betulus, once part of a hedging operation, maybe in the 19th century. Perhaps four shoots came up from the horizontal and survived survived to make today's silvery trunks.

The tree reminded me of Rodin's famous sculpture of the Burghers of Calais (plenty of pictures of that on the Web).

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The overgrown pond

Just east of the busy A28, in the corner of a pasture at the end of a hedge, an old pond dreams of its youth when it was home to frogs and newts, when the cattle drank among the yellow flags cooling their feet in the marginal mud.

Now the water is gone, the willows are dead or dying and the marsh is turning to woodland. In the evening I sheltered here from the rain, watching a double rainbow arching over the hills towards Udimore and little squadrons of small craneflies gyrating in the last of the sunlight.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The great chequer tree collapses

The huge wild service tree, Sorbus torminalis, in Udimore, East Sussex, thought to be the largest in Britain, has collapsed still further and most of its branches lie spreadeagled on the ground.

As with many trees, it has produced a bumper final crop of fruit on the surviving parts to the left of the top picture. But is it final? I think parts of it may survive for a while and the roots may even send up some suckers protected from grazing within the wreckage of the mother tree.

I first saw this particular tree as a picture in a book published in 1945 - it was large then - and it has been on television three times over the last thirty years. Hopefully it will star one more time before its last leaves are shed.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Larva of The Festoon, Apodia limacodes

The recent winds have blown some interesting caterpillars out of our local trees. Today one of the grandchildren brought in the one in the picture above, a Festoon Moth, Apodia limacodes - they always have this peculiar woodlouse shape.

Although this species is reasonably widespread in South East England, this is the first caterpillar I have seen. Sometimes known as Apodia avellana is on oak feeder associated with ancient woodland. It is a BAP species categorised as 'nationally scarce'(Notable/Nb) and one of only two British members of the family Limacodidae (the other is The Triangle, Heterogenea asella).