Thursday, September 28, 2006

Volunteering on the Downs

I've just become a signed up member of the South Downs Volunteer Rangers, having just spent my 'taster' day out on the Downs. I knew I'd enjoy it, I've been volunteering off and on for a while and more recently with the Sussex Wildlife Trust at Lewes as mentioned previously in this blog.

It was the best fun I've had in ages. A full-on day, blooming hard work and I arrived back home very tired, covered in scratches and smelling of smoke but it's that good physical exhaustion, not the mental exhaustion you get from spending all day in front of the computer and certainly a great stress-reliever.

There were five of us scrub bashing just below the Devil's Dyke. Opening up a small glade at the foot of the Down's to encourage the cattle to come down into that area.

As we arrived at the site, we got a potted history of where we going to be working. Who owned it, what they grazed - cattle or sheep, where the boundary is and what we were hoping to achieve.

Although there were only five of us - including Mark, who was leading the group and in charge of the chainsaw, we did a sterling job, managing to clear a sizeable area and cutting down several large hawthorns, ground elder, brambles as thick as my wrist, still covered in blackberries (must take something to put them in next time) and then burning it all in a huge pile which covered everything, including us in ash.

There are working parties that go out three days in the week and also at the weekends. Knowing how quickly scrub takes over it's easy to see how important it is to keep areas cleared to encourage the chalk downland habitat - the flowers and insects that quickly disappear when the brambles and hawthorn take over.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Swallows migrating

There were a few swallows around skimming over the Tye on yesterday's morning run. I thought they'd gone already as I hadn't seen any around for a while, so perhaps these are some of the birds that have flown down from further north.

There was a large flock of house martins flying over the park the other week looking as if they were getting ready to go. They tend to gather together in an area before migrating in large groups.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Mushrooms ... well, two.

Out early this morning as the autumn sun was rising, with the intention of not just having a walk but maybe finding mushrooms for breakfast. I haven't been out for an early morning walk for a long time and being a Sunday morning it was very pleasant. Not at all cold - just refreshing. The usual dog walkers out and about but a distinct lack of mushrooms.

Perhaps I was too late and someone else had already picked them or perhaps the weather has been too dry to bring them out yet. I found one single solitary small field mushroom on the playing fields and after walking up on to the Tye, I found another single decent sized one on the way back. Not exactly enough for a meal but at a little autumnal taste.

Last year there were lots of horse mushrooms in one particular field but nothing this year except a mass of toadstools(?) and tall, slender ink-caps sprouting out of the dried, flattened cow-pats. I've just found something that says they're edible ... but perhaps I'll wait until I've done my Fungi Course next month before I launch into eating anything I don't immediately recognise as edible.

At least there was some water in the dewpond this time - not a lot but at least it's more than just a mud patch.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Wheatear in Brighton

Another cycle into town along the undercliff - they've now opened it up the whole way into Brighton - including the section at the back of Asda which has been closed for a long time since the cliff collapsed a few years ago.

I was just coming back onto the cycle track when a wheatear flew across the road and onto a post by the end Madeira Drive. There are quite a few birds around there by the park but I was surprised to see it here.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Devil's Dyke Mushrooms and Wheatears

It's Autumn and the mornings are wet, dewy and cool. The sun is still warm and we've been lucky enough to have some lovely sunny days and there's still plenty of daylight in the evenings.

Blackberries are out (although looking very shrivelled after a few hot, dry days) and now, so are the mushrooms. The other evening I met up with my friend Nic who was twiddling her thumbs having been off sick for a couple of weeks. We walked from the Foredown Tower up towards the Dyke, past the stables and horses in the fields along a narrow bridleway. The wheatears were around, there were three of them sitting on the wires and flying ahead every time we came close.

It was when we got out onto the open land that we spotted the mushrooms on either side of the path. Surprisingly they hadn't already been trambled by horses or walkers or picked. As we hadn't set out with the intention of picking anything, we had to carefully put them in Nic's bag or wrapped them up in my jumper, which meant the mushrooms were OK but I was pretty chilly by the time we got back to the car, as it quickly cooled as the sun dropped.

Very tasty though - fried up later, so I'll be looking out for more.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Spiders

Have you ever noticed just how many different types of spiders there are? I must have at least five different varieties just in my house. At least they keep the other creepy crawly population down.

I was out in the garden just now and watching the spiders out in the sunshine. If you can get close enough, they have amazing patterns and colours on their abdomen. There are little tiny ones that blend in with leaves and flowers and then leap out on unsuspecting insects, ones that create the classic web or those that weave a downy mass, ones that move sideways, tiny money spiders, ones that walk on water.

Take a look at the UK Safari site for a list of spiders and their photos - not suitable for those of a sensitive, arachnaphobic disposition.