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About Me

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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!

31 August, 2009

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

My nomination for butterfly of the year 2009! At one point back in late May Butterfly Conservation were estimating over 2 million were coming in across the Channel every day!

The Painted Lady is an immigrant species, the eggs and larva that are laid in the Autumn by those that come to our shores each year cannot survive the British winter. Each year is different with some years hardly any coming and other years quite a lot but it is thought we have never seen anything quite like this year.

This incredible influx raises two questions. Why so many this year and do some actually turn round and go back as the summer comes to an end? Butterfly Conservation hope to let us have the answers to these quite soon.

30 August, 2009

Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera)

As we approach the "season of mellow fruitfulness" so the fungi start to appear. This one, the Parasol Mushroom has actually been around a while now.

It is quite common and can be found almost anywhere in meadows, grassy glades and along hedgerows and roadsides. Here in Purbeck it can be found on grazed grassy areas amongst the heath.

The cap of this fungi can grow to be as much as 10" across and, as a result, is quite easy to identify especially with its crusty brown top. The book says it is excellent eating but I am not sure I am going to try it!

30th August 2009

Golden Ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii)

This dramatic looking insect is the longest, though not the biggest, of our native dragonflies. It has strong, purposeful flight and is not easily deflected from its route as it hawks up and down its preferred track.

My reference book says this is a species of the west and north preferring flowing, well oxygenated, acidic water. Here in Dorset I have seen it in a range of habitat but it does seem to be more catholic in its taste and I have seen it quite regularly on heathland without fast flowing water anywhere nearby.

This particular specimen is a male that has not long hatched. You may notice the slightly 'wavy' body as it gradually expands from the compressed environment of what was its larval form.

This is a very distinctive species and one that cannot really be mistaken for anything else. At it says on the label, it is golden-ringed!

29 August, 2009

Ploughman's Spikenard (Inula conyza)

Here is another plant of the downlands that is easily overlooked, not because it is small but because it looks a bit like a Ragwort that has gone over.

It grows on calcareous soils on wasteland, grassland and scrub and so will be found on the Purbeck Ridge and along the cliffs where the earth is, perhaps, a bit bare.

It has a strange name and I have no idea where it comes from. Agreed it is a bit prickly, or spiky, and it is out in the late summer and early autumn when traditionally the fields would have been ploughed after the harvest so perhaps Ploughman's Spikenard is something to do with the spiky plant that ploughmen tread on?

It is a member of the daisy family and the nondescript flower heads turn into clusters of seeds heads, much like a Groundsel.

28 August, 2009

Short Winged Conehead (Conocephalus dorsalis)

Always expect the unexpected! When I happened upon this little creature on the Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve at Kilwood I was chuffed to be able to get a photo of what I thought at the time was a Long Winged Conehead. When I got it home and had a proper look at it, to my delight I saw it was a female Short Winged Conehead!

Why should I be so pleased? Because in the last 30 years the then rarer Long Winged has spread rapidly and is now quite common whereas the Short Winged has stayed quite rare.

The 'coneheads' are crickets rather than grasshoppers but rather look like a cross between the two. The very long antennae is the most obvious indicator that it is a cricket rather than grasshopper. On this specimen you will see the wings only come half way down the back, the Long Winged have wings down to their 'tails'. The Short Winged also has a much darker stripe down its back.

This female (see the long 'tail' or ovipositor)  was on Fleabane near some damp grassland, their preferred habitat, the Long Winged preferring dryer, rough grassland.

27 August, 2009

Stonechat (Saxicola torquata)

If you asked me to choose the quintessential bird of the heath and downland of Purbeck I would have to choose the Stonechat.

All year round you will see it perched on the gorse, or scrub, even the taller heather clumps. This photo represents the typical view you will get of this lovely little bird, the male resplendent in his smart attire with the black head and white collar, the female similar but without such a dark head.

In spring, the first you may know of their presence is their strange call, like two stones being knocked together, hence its name.

Although widespread in much of Purbeck and southern Dorset where there is gorse and scrub the Stonechat is less frequent on other habitats but it can crop up in other places. This species is doing well in Dorset and I, for one, sincerely hope it stays that way. For me, it is the bird of the heath!

26 August, 2009

Carline Thistle (Carlina vulgaris)


Walk on the cliffs of Dorset or on the Purbeck Ridge at this time of year and you will almost certainly see a good number of these curious thistles. They may look they are the dying flowers of a daisy or thistle going to seed but these, are in fact, how they look when in full flower.

The Carline Thistle is quite common on chalk grassland everywhere in the southern half of Britain but it can be overlooked because it just looks dead! On closer examination, especially in bright sunshine, the flower glistens in silver and gold.

Identifying thistles is not easy! But out of the fifteen or so species you may encounter this one at least is quite distinctive.

25 August, 2009

Silver Y moth (Autographia gamma)

Butterflies fly by day and moths by night ...? No, not true. I am sure no butterflies fly by night but there are a number of moths that fly by day including this one, the Silver Y.

The Silver Y is plentiful this time of year and yet, although one of our most well known moths because it flies by day, it does not breed here. All the moths we see are immigrants from the warmer climate of Southern Europe. In some years they can be abundant everywhere. I remember giving up after counting to 100 one morning in my moth trap and I still many more to go!

Not often found at rest, usually there is a fluttering of wings, but when they do settle the silver Y on the wings is quite distinctive. There are Golden Y moths too, but not usually seen during the day unless disturbed.

The Silver Y does lay eggs on every kind of low vegetation and the larva do hatch and become adults later in the summer boosting numbers but they cannot survive our winters.

24 August, 2009

Hoverfly (Sericomyia silentis)

At first sight this might look like a very large wasp - I certainly thought it was as it flew quickly in front of me. It wasn't until it came to rest on some bracken I got a good look and could see it was a hoverfly and not a wasp at all!
Sericomyia silentis is a large insect and it is widespread in Britain according to my reference book  It goes on to say that this insect inhabits "boggy heaths, acid wet meadows or woodland clearings and margins with similar peaty or sandy soil." Now, as habitat like that is not widespread I find it hard to understand how the insect can be! However, it does explain why I found this one on Hartland Moor, near Wareham in Dorset.
I have a bit of a soft spot for hoverflies and despite its size and wasp-like appearance this was a really docile little beast who obligingly stayed put despite the intrusions of my camera lens! Many hoverflies are wasp mimics, it gives them some degree of protection it is believed but they are, of course, totally harmless although this one can give you bit of a fright.

23 August, 2009

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum)


It being a sunny afternoon here today we sat by our garden pond that we put in last year and were fascinated to watch a pair of Common Darter dragonflies.

The female was dabbing her tail into the water weed at intervals of about one second laying an egg with each dip.

As she did this the male (see photo) sat nearby on the stones watching the proceedings and every now and again he would take off, do a quick patrol to ensure there were no rivals about before returning to the same stone. All in all this took about 20 minutes and was a real pleasure to witness.

The Common Darter is probably our most common dragonfly down here in this part of Dorset but none the less always welcome in our garden.