As has been the norm over the last few weeks since they (somewhat belatedly) arrived, swifts were the most obvious birds over Ibsley Water all day. Nothing bird wise stood out particularly around the rest of the reserve with the exception of the reed warblers at Ivy South Hide, who continue to sing out to the left of the hide, almost within touching distance of the window. I did stop to take a picture of the sheep sorrel on the lichen heath though – for the last couple of weeks I have been appreciating the lovely “glow” of red that the flowers are casting across almost the entire grassland, more so than I have noticed in previous years. Fairly insignificant by themselves, growing on mass as they are they are very distinctive:
Sheep sorrel leaves, like their larger common sorrel counterparts that are often included in “fancy” salad mixes in the supermarket, have a sharp/sour, lemony/appley taste, and one of my favourite wayside munches. Fortunately the fish / donkey head / space rocket shaped leaf are not easily confused with other plants so they are a relatively safe wild plant to nibble on:
Today however it was another wild plant that was on the menu – stinging nettle. Generally much maligned by everyone but wildlife gardeners they are a very tasty and incredibly versatile plant – and a good all-round plant for wildlife too.
Stinging nettles love nutrient rich and disturbed ground – and you can’t get much more disturbed or nutrient rich than a river floodplain in a gravel quarry so anyone who is familiar with the reserve will be very aware of just how many nettles the reserve supports! Today we started by sweep netting nettle patches to see what wildlife they supported:
A bit early in the year for the caterpillars of peacock, small tortoiseshell and red admiral that famously feed on nettles (hence their inclusion in wildlife gardens!), we did find an abundance of aphids, other small bugs, flies, beetles and a few spiders. These in turn will of course support other animals, including birds. Some birds (including house sparrows, bullfinches and chaffinches) will also feed on the nettles directly later on in the year when the flowers have been pollinated and turned to seeds.
So having learnt a bit about their wildlife value we tried a few leaves raw (making sure that the stinging “hairs” were first broken by folding and rolling the individual leaves firmly) before grasping the nettle and harvesting a pan full of nettle tops for soup and some stems with which we would later make some string while waiting for the soup to cook:
Put nettle tops in pan – always pick more than you think you need as, like spinach, they will wilt and be reduced in volume! Add a stock cube and salt and pepper.
Dice onion and potato – add to pan with water to just about cover the pan contents:
Cook (for about 20 minutes, or until the potato is cooked):
(making string out of the nettle stem fibres is optional at this point)
Serve with a little cream (actually I added milk, but cream would be nicer if you can stretch to it!)…
…and enjoy – we did!