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Turning to archaeology on the sea shore as winter approaches

Features | Published:

With Bob Tomkins

The plaintive call of a curlew reached him on the same warm zephyr that brushed his browned face and stirred the long grass around his feet. Ahead, the way was clearly marked by the rows of blue-grey stones that stretched across the undulating land and disappeared into the rippling heat haze.

Warblers called from the reed beds nearby and two ducks broke noisily from cover as he neared the wooden walkway crossing a stream and he cursed that he was not quick enough with his bow. Still, he knew that there would be food at the sunset gathering and the skills he brought with him would mean that he would not go hungry that night. He came to two standing stones that marked the start of the procession way and his gaze was drawn to the two small hills framed between them. Close now, he thought and quickened his pace.

Though the depicted scene is fictional and seaweeds flourishing on sea-swept reefs have replaced the lush grass that once grew in rich glacial clays, many of the stones still lie where they once stood – if you know where to look among the inter-tidal zones that we have been researching over the past three years. So now, as winter approaches, we turn to archaeology instead of marine biology as the seaweeds are stripped back, making it easier to identify objects.

Recent trips into the lower inter-tidal zones at La Coupe and La Rocque have produced some interesting seaweed species, the identities of which we have yet to have confirmed by a UK expert friend who has been staying with us. In the case of these red weeds small is beautiful and when viewed closely along the seabed stand out like mini forests of colour.

Walking up the garden path early one morning this week I noted that not only was the male blackbird waiting for me but a freshly fledged offspring was as well. To my certain knowledge that is proof of a third brood raised and the blackbirds are not alone as coming to join them for their breakfast of meal worms was an adult robin, a juvenile who sported the beginnings of a red waistcoat and a freshly fledged spotty youngster.

It seems that the long hot summer has been a productive one for many species. The same cannot be said for butterflies as our transects are revealing fewer species and numbers than recent years. It is to be hoped that the fine weather has at least meant that they have had success at breeding and next year will be a better one.

The wild flower fields around us are now setting seed and here too it looks like being a bumper crop. There are still a number of small insects in and above them that attract large numbers of hirundines during daylight and bats emerging as dusk falls. With this bonanza of seed and nesting material the vole and mouse populations are making hay while the sun shines and in turn that attracts the attention of the local barn owls that I catch glimpses of as they silently quarter the fields in the falling light.

The barley field nearby was cut, harvested and the stalks removed this week thereby exposing large numbers of insects and spilt seed. In the following mornings the field was filled with gulls, crows and pigeons feasting on this bounty though there was not a single pheasant to be seen.

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As beekeepers we always have to plan ahead and with autumn fast approaching it is time to ensure that our colonies will have sufficient stores to see them through the coming winter, that mouse guards are placed over the hive entrances to prevent them being raided and to treat the bees themselves against Varroa mites.

Interestingly, this mite has now been downgraded to beekeeper enemy number two, having been replaced by the Asian hornet as the arch-villain. There was a time in the early 1990s when this mite was capable of causing such bee losses that the infected colony collapsed. Today, with a number of effective methods of control at our disposal, it is not the danger it once was, so typically, just as we were relaxing, along comes another beasty to keep us on our toes.

Having removed the honey harvest it is important to ensure that sufficient is left for the bees to over-winter with and if not then to feed with sugar syrup to prevent them filling up empty comb with ivy honey. For the next two months this plant will be a rich source of nectar. However, it sets solid very quickly and so needs water to liquefy it when needed. If the weather is such that the bees cannot collect water and all the stores they have is from the ivy then they can starve surrounded by food. There is an old adage in beekeeping that says if you have to feed the bees then give them a gallon of syrup and if they take it down into the comb in a couple of days then give them another.

As for treating against Varroa mites this is done in September by inserting plastic strips impregnated with a targeted insecticide that is harmless to the bee. The bees distribute the chemical around the hive, coating each other and hence the mite, whose nervous system is attacked,dislodging it from the host, falls through the open-mesh floor to perish.

As I write watching hatchling spiders cross the screen I am reminded that with September come the heavy dews and the magical gossamer spiders’ webs that coat the fields and gardens for it is now that the young hatch and spin a strand to act as a sail sending them away on life’s journey.

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