If you would like to read my Dorset nature notes about any of these featured species or sites please click on the post title

About Me

My photo

I have been interested in nature for most of my life but since I retired I spend as much time as I can exploring the nature reserves and wildlife hotspots of my adopted home, Dorset in southern England. Whilst out I record what I see and take snaps where I can (I am no photographer!) and that forms the basis of my Nature of Dorset website. When I find something new I like to research it and write about it in my nature notes, it is how I learn and hopefully you might find my notes helpful as well!

This website is for the people of Dorset interested in wildlife and for people from elsewhere interested in the wildlife of Dorset!

30 September, 2009

Fungus (Macrocystidia cucumis)

This amazing collection of fungi covers several square metres on the edge of the car park at Upton Country Park. It is quite a sight, especially if you like toadstalls.

Macrocystidia cucumis is actually quite common according to my book but I have never seen it anywhere else in Dorset. It can grow on the edge of woodlands and roadsides especially under broadleaved trees and likes bare soil. At Upton it has taken hold of some bark chippings that were put down to keep the weeds out and is thriving.

It apparently has a strong smell of fishy cucumber! I have no idea whether it is edible but I think it is best left well alone, not a good idea to take chances with fungi ...

29 September, 2009

Meadow Grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus)

As I have said previously when I looked at the Common Field Grasshopper, this group, othoptera, are a tricky identification task.

Along with the 'Field' the Meadow Grasshopper is very common but, unlike the 'Field' it has green around the face and thorax. The abdomen tends to be stripy brown and quite often has tinges of orange and I have even found one bright purple (this often occurs in the females I believe).

The Meadow Grasshopper, as it name implies cab be found on almost any grassland but is especially common where the grass is moist. Just after the entrance to Powerstock Common there is some rough, moist, grassy scrub and as you walk through it you see 'clouds' of these jumping out of the way of your path.

If you have good enough hearing then you may catch their 'song', like a sewing machine in three second bursts and repeated every ten to fifteen seconds gradually getting louder

You should still be able to find both the 'Meadow' and the 'Field' until the end of October and possibly in to November if the weather remains mild.

28 September, 2009

Hoverfly (Metasyrphus corollae)

Just as many of our wild flowers are coming to an end so the Ivy bursts out. An inconspicuous flower perhaps but, nonetheless, an invaluable nectar source for the late summer insects.

Here I found one of the wasp-mimicking hoverflies, Metasyrphus corollae, enjoying the rewards from a newly opened Ivy blossom.

This group of hoverflies is a tricky one and the pattern of the yellow patches on the backs is the key identifier but they can even vary within the same species!

Metasyrphus corollae is one of the most common of our hoverflies and can be abundant in some years, with migratory insects coming in from Europe. It can be found from April through to October and even in to November when conditions remain favourable although it is most common in mid-summer. You can find it on flowers in gardens, fields and meadows, road verges and hedges and waste ground in urban areas.

In this photo the light coloured patches on the thorax look white which would indicate a different species but they were really yellow!

27 September, 2009

Greenbottle (Lucilla caesar)

So flies are not everyone's favourite creatures but, even if you despise them, just take a moment to have a close look at the 'Greenbottle'. The shiny metallic green colouring is, in my view at least, amazing. You can even see my reflection in this one as I creep up on it to take its photo! Look at those amazing big brown eyes too, nearly 10% of this insects body are eyes.

The Greenbottle rarely comes in to our houses and I confess that it is not the most tasteful of insects. Frequently seen on dung of all kinds, especially dog's, and then seen on Blackberries. Do you like to pick the odd blackberry to eat as you stroll along a country path? It lays its eggs in carrion and the larvae are a key part of the recycling process.

There are various similar species but, as far as I can tell, this is the commonest, Lucilla caesar.

Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium)

One of the last remnants of colour left in our hedgerows (apart from red berries of course) is the brilliant white of the trumpet flowers of Hedge Bindweed.

Whilst dreaded in gardens, in its place, interwoven amongst brambles of other hedging plants the Hedge Bindweed has the most glorious of flowers and often, if you peek inside, there will be an insect of some sort feeding on the nectar.

This is a very common plant throughout the country, not just here in Dorset, and is easy to tell from its cousins, the Field Bindweed which tends to creep along the ground and the Sea Bindweed which is, as its name implies, found in coastal locations because they tend to be pink in colour with white stripes.

24 September, 2009

Dark Bush-cricket (Pholidoptera griseoaptera)

This insect is easy to identify as it is our only all brown bush-cricket. The other brown bush-crickets we have in this country have some white and green on them, are much smaller, are far less common and tend to be found in specialist habitats where the 'dark' does not occur.

That said, the colouring can vary from a chestnut colour to almost black, the female usually paler than the male although this female I photographed is pretty dark in colour.

This insect can be found in any rough vegetation (see my note about the bramble yesterday) such as hedgerows, woodland scrub, roadside verges and quite often in garden shrubberies.

They do not really 'sing', making a single high pitched squeak repeated intermittently. They do 'sing' by day but are far more active in the evening and if you have young ears you can quite clearly hear them.

23 September, 2009

Bramble (Rubus fruticocus)

Whilst out for a stroll, scouring the blackberry bushes for interesting things to see and photograph, it occurred to me just what a vital plant the common bramble is.

I guess we all take brambles for granted, they can be found just about anywhere and are usually an untidy mess of entwined twiggy branches with very sharp thorns. Often not tolerated, especially in gardens where they can be an unwelcome invasive weed and yet one of the mainstays of our native fauna.

A member of the rose family the white or pink flowers in mid summer are a key nectar source for countless insects and masses of Gatekeeper butterflies gather round them and it where you will often find Ringlets. Bees, hoverflies and other flies and beetles can all be found on the flowers.

When the flowers are over and the fruits come so again insects feed on the them, Red Admiral, for example, being a typical blackberry fancier. At night small mammals nibble at the fruits too.

The leaves are eaten by caterpillars and leaf miners and the little gall wasp, Diplolepis rosae, lays its eggs in in the stem which create the well known Robins Pin Cushion.

Spiders galore, especially the Common Cross Spider, use the branches as anchors for their webs as they know there are rich pickings to be had around bramble bushes. Those branches, with their sharp thorns, provide shelter for other animals and bush crickets can often be found in the inner depths of a bramble bush (I use my bat detector to locate them).

On top of all this, a favoured pass time for us humans every autumn is to go blackberrying and take our pick of the choicest fruits.

Thank heaven for the common bramble!

22 September, 2009

Crane Fly (Tipula paludosa)

Here is another guest to the 'Ugly Bug Ball' (gosh, that dates me!). Yesterday, near Wareham, there were countless 'Daddy-long-legs' about on the common, they must have all hatched about the same time in one huge awakening. We also had a number in the garden and around the house, they seem attracted to light in the same way moths are.

Tipula paludosa is probably the most common crane fly, especially at this time of year. It has a close cousin, Tipula oleracae, which is more common in spring and early summer. The two species look the same but my book says oleracae has 13 segments in its antennae and paludosa 14. Try counting them without a microscope ...

The larvae of the two species are the crop damaging leatherjackets which are a favourite delicacy for Rooks and Jackdaws.

21 September, 2009

Parasitic fly (Tachina fera)

In this daily series I aim to take a photo and then find out what I can about the subject and then share what I learn with others. Yesterday I described this insect as a hoverfly, Rhingia campestris, and I am delighted that 'Rambling Rob' pointed out that it is, in fact, Tachina fera. I am pleased because this has introduced me to a totally new species that I would have overlooked without Rob's intervention.

I think we all agree that this is one ugly beast! It is an unpleasant character all round, not just in looks, but because it parasitises butterfly and moth larvae, usually one grub per host.

I took this on bramble near the reed beds along the River Frome at Swineham Point, near Wareham and my book says it is often abundant on waterside plants in late summer.

Hoverfly (Rhingia campestris)

Continuing my interest in hoverflies I bring you Rhingia campestris. It is a common hoverfly and quite easy to identify because of its plump body which is orange and having a black stripe down it. It also has a longish ' snout' which you cannot really see in this photo.

This is a very common insect, flying from April to November and especially noticeable towards the end of the season as other species dwindle in numbers. You can find it along woodland rides and in hedgerows, its long snout making it particularly adapted to feeding on various flowers, here it is on a late thistle.

It is usually found near cows as its larvae breed in cow dung.

18 September, 2009

Common Field Grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus)

Having shunned grasshoppers as 'too difficult' for so many years when I got the chance recently to spend a day with one of Dorset's authorities on them I 'jumped' at the chance!

As always, it seems, the same process applies, get to know a couple of species well and then you will know when you have found something different. When you do find something difference get to know that well. Over time your knowledge grows.

So I have started with a couple of really abundant ones, one of which is the Common Field Grasshopper. This one is 'quite' easy as it predominantly dark brown with lighter markings on the abdomen. It also has those two light stripes on the shoulders (but so do other species!).

This species, although the 'Common Field', does like patches of clear ground and against bare earth the are quite well camouflaged. Once they 'fly' of course, and you follow them to where they land they have no hiding place. If you catch them when the sun goes in you can get quite close.

(Sorry I lost the tip of one antennae)

17 September, 2009

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

A Small Tortoiseshell in the garden yesterday caused me to to reflect that this was such a common butterfly, even five years ago. I can clearly remember not that long ago counting fifteen on Ice Plants in our garden at one go, all jostling for space and a chance to get at the nectar.

Numbers have plummeted at an incredibly fast rate since then but this year seems to have seen something of a recovery. I am sure I have seen many more than in the last couple of years and I look forward to seeing the Dorset Butterfly Conservation statistics from the transect walks to see if this proves the point.

The sudden decline is still something of a mystery and Oxford University Zoology department are investigating as to what the reason(s) might be. One theory is that it is linked to the arrival from the continent of a small parasitic fly, Sturmia bella, in the late 1990's. The fly lays its eggs on nettle leaves and the caterpillars consume them. This is now the most frequently recorded parasite of Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars killing 60% of them where present.

Why have they done better this year? I don't know but may be last winter's colder weather was enough to reduce the Sturmia bella numbers and allowed more Small Tortoiseshell to flourish? I guess the research being done will tell us one day, hopefully soon.

16 September, 2009

Common Cross Spider (Araneus diadematus)

This spider, with the white cross on its back is also known as the Garden Spider but it can be seen just about anywhere during the autumn.

There are countless numbers of these, usually seen huddled up in the centre of their amazingly fine webs waiting for their next meal to drop in.

By far our most abundant spider, you can find the Common Cross Spider in gardens, on scrub and shrubs, hedgerows, fences, even on cars (they use my wing mirror as a base point for web building).

A ferocious little creature to encounter if you are unsuspecting insect but quite harmless to anything bigger and on close inspection they are amazingly beautiful.

15 September, 2009

Autumnal Hawkbit (Leontodon autumnalis)

There are lots of flowers we call Dandelions and many, of course, are not! They may have yellow Dandelion flower heads and turn into Dandelion clocks but they are not Dandelions. The challenge is telling them apart.

I am not a botanist but by applying some basic principals identification of these tough species (thistles are another one) becomes a bit easier.

Firstly, some species are more common than others and this is a good starting point because you are, statistically, more likely to see a common species than a rare one. Then, time of year and habitat play a role.

This species, Autumnal Hawkbit is very common at this time of year and can be found in all sorts of habitat but it really loves a bit of rough ground or roadside verge. It is a tall plant, often three to four feet tall (so it can't be a Dandelion!). It also has stems that branch out with a single flower on each branch.

It is a scruffy, untidy flower that likes scruffy, untidy places. A true 'weed'.

12 September, 2009

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea)

Dragonflies are so exciting! The hawker family especially so as they are so colourful and quite large and imposing. They are also quite inquisitive and you just can't ignore one; in my view, you just have to look and marvel.

There are three 'common' hawkers in Dorset, the Southern, the Migrant and the Common. The sexes differ of each differ too so there are six subtle differences to get to know.

This species, seen frequently in our garden and often encountered elsewhere, is a female Southern Hawker, possibly the most widespread of the three down here. The give away are the two yellow patches on the first segment behind the head.

The Southern Hawker is a strong flier and can be encountered almost anywhere, in all sorts of weather, and any time from June through to October.

11 September, 2009

Crane Fly (Tipula maxima)

We will all be familiar, I am sure, with the Daddy-long-legs that is common in gardens and is attracted by the lights in houses. This is a close relative, its country cousin.

There are several species of crane fly and this one is the largest found in the United Kingdom, indeed, in western Europe. Rather than gardens it is mainly found in, or near, woodland and I photographed this one on heathland right alongside coniferous woods at Holton Lee, not far from Wareham.

I have never considered the Daddy-long-legs to be a beautiful creature but just look at the markings on those wings! It is also very will disguised as its perches on the heather to get warmth to enable it to fly. When it does fly it is something of a cumbersome effort and they do not go far in each flight and never gain much heigh

10 September, 2009

Autumn Gentian (Gentianella amarella)

As autumn comes upon the Dorset countryside many of the flowers are now over for another year but some late summer specialists linger.

It is usually in late August that the Autumn (or Nothern) Gentian comes in to flower for a fairly short season and already we are seeing the last of them for another year.

This is very much a flower of the chalk and limestone downs and cliffs, especially on the Purbeck Coast and although not a large flower it is certainly an attractive one.

It is also called Felwort from the ancient English feldwyrt meaning 'herb of the field'.

09 September, 2009

Hoverfly (Helophilus pendulus)

If you have a pond in your garden you will almost certainly find this smart hoverfly, Helophilus pendulus. It is one of the easier hoverflies to identify because it has yellow vertical stripes on its thorax, the only one that has this feature.

This is a common and very widespread species found all over the United Kingdom. Its larvae have been found in farmyard drains, very wet manure and very wet old sawdust (who on earth looks at these sorts of things?) and so is a very versatile and adaptable little creature.

Whilst having a passion for shallow ponds, puddles and ditches it can be found well away from water and as well as having a liking for flowers it can also be found sat on leaves basking in the sunshine (when we get some). In our garden pond they often sit on the water lily pads for long periods, occasionally strecthing their wings with a short flight and then returning to the same spot.

08 September, 2009

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)

A common sight in Poole Harbour these days is the elegant Little Egret. Despite its fondness for feeding in amongst the mud it always looks immaculate in its pure white attire.

When I started out 'birding' over thirty years ago seeing one of these would have been a major event but. by the mid-eighties they had established as a UK breeding species and now, twenty years on, they can be seen as far north as Inverness.

The spread of the Little Egret has been quite remarkable and that gives rise to speculation that possibly the Spoonbill and possibly Cattle Egret may colonise our shores as well.

Although frequent around the harbour I always get a little bit of a thrill when I see one of these lovely birds, long may they stay with us.

07 September, 2009

Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus discolor)

A week or so ago I posted a photo of the Short-winged Conehead and then, yesterday, I happened across this Long-winged Conehead on a Dandelion on Wareham Common.

Whilst similar in size there are two main distinguiching features between the two. The first is, obviously, the wings which on this specimen go right back to the tail end. The Long-winged does not have such a dark brown stripe down its back either.

Long-winged Coneheads are quite common across southern England now but not always easy to find as they like long grass and scrub in which they can hide and from where they make their continuous and fairly loud stridulating sound (a bit like a distant knife grinder says my book!) so I was most fortunate to find this one out in the open.

06 September, 2009

Orb-web Spider (Araneus quadratus)

Late summer is a good time to look for spiders and there are some real gems to be found. Even arachnaphobes would surely have to agree that some spiders a really beautiful and, of course, quite harmless (to human beings of course, not insects!).

This colourful specimen is the Orb-web Spider, a close relative of the common Garden Spider. Its striking colour looks like a large berry or fruit which must add to the deception that attracts the unwary fly or moth in to its wonderfully detailed, but lethal, web.

This spider is quite common on the Purbeck heaths as well as on rough pasture and scrub throughout the south of England.

05 September, 2009

Setaceous Hebrew Character (Xestia c-nigrum)

This is a common moth in gardens in the southern half of Britain this time of year but you might need a moth trap to see it.

This species breeds here with some larvae surviving the winter and the first brood emerge in April and May but the numbers are topped up by inward migration from Europe. The eggs of the first brood start to emerge in August and second brood insects will occur right through until October when the colder night will then see them off.

It is easy to see where the 'Hebrew Character' comes from with the distinctive marking on the fore wing but 'setaceous' means having a bristle like appendage according to my dictionary. but I cannot see a bristle like appendage on this specimen!

There is a moth just called the Hebrew Character. Whilst similar, It is a little bit larger and tends to be around a little earlier in March and April.

03 September, 2009

Nettle-leaved Bellflower (Campanula trachelium)

This is a wild flower that would not be out of place in any garden. It is very popular with bees too.

The Nettle-leaved Bellflower is the most common of out native campanulas. Campanule is Latin for bell and when you see these lovely big bell shaped flowers it is not hard to see how they got their name.

This plant has a liking for woodlands and hedgerows on calcareous soils in southern (south of the Humber!) England. In Purbeck they can be found on the northern side of the Purbeck Ridge and are plentiful this time of year in the Creech area and especially at the entrance to the Dorset Wildlife Reserves of Kilwood and Stonehill Down.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

The arrival in the garden yesterday of a perfect specimen of a Red Admiral, straight out of the chrysalis, reminded me just what striking butterflies they are. The markings are similar to the Painted Lady but the colours so much bolder and vivid.

I always look on the Red Admiral as a an 'English' butterfly but in fact they are quite migratory. They seem more hardly than the Painted Lady and some manage to successfully hibernate and we see them in early spring. By April and May we start to see an influx from the warmer south and by the late summer/early autumn we see the offspring emerge those early arrivals.

Interestingly, there is some evidence to suggest that there is a southerly migration in autumn to warmer climes, just like some bird species.

02 September, 2009

Great Green Bush-cricket (Tettigonia viridissima)

Here is real little beast with a nasty bite if you get your hands too close! None the less, a beautiful creature that is by far our largest Bush-cricket at over 2" long.

They are quite common here in Dorset on scrub and bramble especially on the coastal cliffs and along the Purbeck Ridge. I have seen them in various places from Dursleton and Swyre Head to Corfe Castle and Creech Hill.

Although large insects their green colouring makes them difficult to spot but if you have good hearing then you will be able to pick up there 'loud' sewing machine like stridulation. At my age I can't hear them but I do have a bat detector to help me find grasshoppers and crickets. This one is quite deafening through the detector and you can pick them 50 yards away.

01 September, 2009

Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)

Will they, won't they, start to nest near Poole Harbour?

I am sure we are all aware of how the Little Egret has spread as a nesting species in this country in the last 20 or so years but the question now is, will its cousin, the Spoonbill, follow suit?

Spoonbills actually nest quite nearby in Holland and a pair bred in Somerset last year so the prospects are good.

In Poole we have had wintering birds in recent years spending a lot of time on Brownsea Lagoon and at Middlebere Lake. Last summer, 2008, six young birds stayed all year and we hoped they would start to nest but this spring they disappeared. Now, already, there are at least three back in the harbour so who knows, may be next spring?