Natural history adventures sailing the culinary seas...

Friday, 30 September 2011

Butterflies vs Summer

Rather unexpectedly, summer has offered us a sunny renaissance. This week has brought the warmth and calm that was much missed during July and August. I spent those months as a field assistant for a UEA project. Like Mrs Teacup, we were studying the behaviour of a range-expanding butterfly species in core and margin populations. In this case it was Brown Argus (Aricia agestis), with Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) as our control species.
First Brown Argus of the season!
Also like Mrs Teacup, the summer activities involved chasing butterflies that had been caught and marked, before releasing them on a host plant or nectar source. As our study species were small, and often rather brown, there were many occasions when despondent field assistants peered around, vainly looking for a butterfly that had lured them into a false sense of security, nectaring for minutes on end, before promptly disappearing into the ether.

Ecology takes you to some exotic places, and this project explored the glories offered by Leicestershire and Bedfordshire. Such were our adventures up and down the M1, to sites that were full of dog poo, Dartmoor ponies, sunflowers and lovely landowners, ice cream sellers, dog poo, mites and brambles, motorbikes, cattle, secret glades, dubious dogging carparks, kites and dog poo. At all of these places we wandered, waving our butterfly nets to numerous cries of 'are they fishing?!' from children passing us by. We even got a little bit of sun, when we could watch our butterflies basking surrounded by flags and ragwort...
Boys watch butterflies
Bumblebees, geese and other lepidopteran delights distracted at times, bright Small Coppers, Ruby Tiger moths, visiting Clouded Yellows, Purple Hairstreaks at dusk and many ghostly Chalkhill Blues.
Icy Chalkhill Blue - Lysandra coridon
Another Chalky distracts me
A day off's visit to Canons Ashby, south west of Northampton, provided a gleeful episode of bonding with other visitors gathered around a huge Mulberry tree (Morus genus). Next to the croquet and quoits we stained our fingers and faces with beautiful ripe Mulberries, surreptitiously glancing around for National Trust staff ready to quell our feasting. As I am not currently imprisoned in a William Morris papered drawing room, I am happy to say we got away with it.
Here we go round the mulberry bush, guiltily stuffing our faces.
I returned to Yorkshire in September, to find an empty house and a fecund garden. One afternoon's foraging produced quite a haul of goodies, runner beans, roses, broad beans, strawberries, windfall apples, lavender, and some rather suggestive courgettes, the trombetti plants having rather taken over! Dinner that night was two bean salad, for which you will need:
broad beans
runner beans
fresh mozzarella
raspberry or redcurrant vinegar
balsamic vinegar
olive oil
salt and pepper

- Pod and prepare your beans and lightly steam them. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly.
- Toast your walnuts in a hot oven for about 5 minutes. Remove and cool before using.
- Make a dressing with the honey, vinegars and olive oil. Season to taste.
- Rip up your mozzarella and mix everything together, adding in some torn basil.
Change cheese/herbs/nuts as you wish.


The beans and courgettes are still going, the apple tree is 'rude with fruit' and tomato and pepper plants on the windowsills are laden, oh, autumn's bounty is nearly upon us!

1 comment:

  1. "Are they fishing?!" - oh the familiar exclamation! My favourite, from a builder on a grim estate in Carlisle "Butterflies? They're endangered ain't they?" :) Sounds glorious Muffin. Come and tell me all about it soon!