Natural history adventures sailing the culinary seas...

Friday, 1 February 2013

What May have been...

aybe the imminent signs of Spring are reminding me of last year, or perhaps it is the shamefaced realisation of how long it's been since the Battenberg had its hatches battened... Whatever it is, here are some memories of long ago avian adventures. May 2012 was a month spent slipping over saltmarshes in search of waders. I attempted lesson two in cultivating a love of birds; studying them. As a field-assistant for Elwyn's PhD research, looking at the influence of saltmarsh management upon breeding birds.

Marshes in Wales and the North West were sites of nest-finding, navigating creeks and avoiding cattle. Being based on Anglesey meant travelling between sites in the time-honoured tradition of fieldwork. Muddy clothes, muddy wellies, and muddy vehicles filled with equipment, folders and food. In between there were days off wandering along the beautiful Aberffraw sands and coastal paths, taking in wild flowers I'd not encountered during my inland life.

Lilac bells of Spring Squill (Scilla verna)
Some peachy pink blooms of Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria)
Sheep's-bit (Jasione montana) near the shoreline
We recorded breeding Redshank and other birds using the saltmarshes. Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Meadow Pipit and Skylark were the most frequent users, with a few Mallards also choosing these sites. Days were spent scouring the marshes with our binoculars and investigating likely looking vegetation, which was usually across several large and very muddy creeks.

Spotting nesting passerines was largely through chance; seeing a small brown flash fly from beneath the grass as we wandered the marshes, occasionally glimpsing a bundle of small mouths clamouring to be fed. As well as our study species, being on the marshes provided many opportunities for watching flocks of Dunlin and Ringed Plover, encountering Shelducks and Shelducklings and the occasional Little Egret (reminding me of those plentiful Indian egrets). Wheatear and Reed Bunting were also frequent visitors.

Elwyn's research should increase the understanding of saltmarsh management for birds and biodiversity in the long term. It was a fantastic opportunity to get involved a research project observing breeding birds from a privileged perspective one would never normally see.

At the end of May I retreated home with a sprained ankle, and spent several days cooking (to make up for the fieldwork diet of soup and pita bread) and eating in our sunny and green garden. Clearing out the herb patch involved a great deal of excess Lemon Balm, which became a pesto to eat with some homemade wholewheat gnocchi.

Enough pesto for several meals...
To make the pesto you will need approximately:
1 cup lemon balm leaves (rinsed)
2-3 garlic cloves
2/3 cup walnuts
1/2 - 2/3 cup olive oil (depending on how liquid you'd like your pesto to be)
salt and pepper

Whiz the dry ingredients together in a food processor and then add oil to reach your desired consistency. Season to taste. It is quite delicate, so is particularly nice served simply, over your pasta of choice.

Wholewheat gnocchi with lemon balm pesto
Lastly, I recently came across a great blog called Ecological Spaceship, which is concerned with many issues facing the Earth and its inhabitants. My favourite post so far is a reminder of what it is to be an 'environmentalist' i.e. someone who is dependent upon the environment, which is in fact, everyone.

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