NATURE Raise a glass to the sun

Outdoor Living

Raise a glass to the sun

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

The thermometer in the garden nudged 34. A few yards down the road, away from the shade of the trees, we found a more benign 27 and later luxuriated in sea-born zephyrs along the coast of Clew Bay, where the evening sun filled a still tide with colour.
We retreated to the shade of an elm. A strange looking, yellow-eyed, delta-winged bee-fly came to join us. I thought at first it was an unusual type of bumblebee and tried to photograph it for later identification. Over-reliance on the camera has me undone. There was a time I could have made a brief mental description that would stay in my mind until I reached my reference books; that skill has been lost and is sorely missed.
This creature, like so many others before it, buzzed off as soon as it saw the camera lens. No bee ever flew as fast. Besides, this character had only one pair of wings in the manner of all Diptera, or true fly species, while all good bees have two pairs. Some kind of bee mimic then, but one I haven’t met with before. Good weather often brings exotic visitors from the continental mainland, and new records for Ireland are waiting to be discovered.
Beneath sycamore and oak the arching stems of bramble bear a profusion of pale pink flowers – encouragement for the coming weeks. We shall have our blackberries this year, together with an abundance of crab apples for a truly wild-flavoured jelly. The bramble itself is one of our more varied plants, with numerous distinct varieties growing locally. Some produce small, hard fruit with very little to recommend it, while others yield as well as any garden cultivar.
My favourite of them all, and this by a country mile, is the low-growing dewberry with its smoky blue, sugar-sweet berries. Some care little for such ‘Famine food’, much to the delight of the greengrocer, who offers for sale super-sized but second rate Spanish blackberries grown with the aid of a who-knows-what combination of horticultural chemicals. Give me the wild fruit any day.
Blackberry pie is yet a long while off. In the meantime we have much to keep us busy. If we are quick we could still catch the tail end of the elderflower, the creamy white panicles of which are crying out to be picked. Never was there such a harvest. Just make sure to choose a sunny day on which to gather them. Let the blossoms wilt a little – this encourages any insects resting in the flowers to go elsewhere and then allow the first to rest in a litre of water for an hour to make a refreshing cordial. A squeeze of lemon goes well, or lime if you have it, but not too much, for the elderflower has such a delightful flavour of its own it is a shame to overload it with something we are more familiar with.
The rest of the flowers must go into elderflower champagne, recipes for which can be found all over the internet. My advice would be to keep it simple – add nothing at all. And raise a glass to the sun.
Back in the garden our small pond is full of water once more after having lain idle since we drained it several months ago. A few plants and a dozen small goldfish soon had it looking nice. We hadn’t expected to attract the attention of predators immediately, but we did, and with a disappointing end.
It was a kingfisher that found it this time. We knew something had been in the water, for the floating weed that fills one corner had been disturbed. The kingfisher was found on the path beneath one of our windows; we can only surmise that it flew into the glass and bashed its beak in. Anyway, it was newly dead and now lies in the freezer awaiting a trip to the taxidermist. First step is to get in touch with our friends in the National Parks and Wildlife Service; there is paperwork to be done.
We would have purchased any number of goldfish to keep such a resplendent visitor dropping in. What is more disturbing is that the bird very likely has a nest of young ones somewhere close by. Could the remaining adult raise the brood alone? We hope so.
Our mute swan family are now feeding well out on the lake. Five cygnets have become three, but these look to be well grown and strong.
We saw a mink some miles away at Pontoon Bridge. When I gave a few squeaks it came running to investigate. I might have thrown a stone had I one in my hand. It was too hot to go looking.