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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!

30 June, 2010

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)

Pipits in trees are usually Tree Pipits, just like this one. They are very similar in appearance to the Meadow Pipit so their call and their preferred habitat are important in identifying them.

A summer visitor to our heathland, you can certainty see them in Wareham Forest at various locations and at Arne on Coombe Heath. They like open heath with a scattering of trees and bushes and a generous helping of Bracken as they like to nest under Bracken.

Pipits have this lovely display where they fly up in to the air in circles and then parachute down, wings open, 'pipiting' as they descend. With the Tree Pipit this is often back to the same tree perch they took off from.

Dyer's Greenweed (Genista tinctoria)

Dyer's Greenweed is another rare plant that is found in Dorset. It is very much like Broom (it a member of the Pea family too) only much smaller growing to a height of about 18 inches.

It grows in grassy areas on heavy soils and flowers from June in to August. It grows in just one of the meadows at Durlston and also in a couple of cuttings on the Swanage Railway (thanks to Ted Pratt's book). It may occur elsewhere in Dorset but I have not seen it anywhere other than Durlston.

As the plant's name implies, it was used for dying material, even the scientific name suggests that too.

Notice too the lovely Quaking Grass in this picture.

Brown Silver-line (Petrophora chlorosta)

Another moth seen frequently during the day time as it is easily disturbed from its day time slumbers. The Brown Silver-lines is very common although a little dull! This one looks to have been injured as part of the left under-wing is showing which you would not normally see.

This moth has a passion for Bracken; it is usually seen on or near Bracken, it lays its eggs on Bracken and the larvae feed on Bracken. Given Bracken is pretty common everywhere you can see why Brown Silver-line is not an uncommon site.

It flies in May and June so you are running out of time to see one this year!

29 June, 2010

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)

The Spotted Flycatcher is not a particularly glamorous bird but it has a gentleness about it that makes it a favourite of mine.

One of the many changes I have witnessed in my years of birding is the sad decline of this species. It was never common but frequently nested around the houses of the village we lived in the Test Valley in Hampshire but now it is uncommon everywhere. Whilst they are present in Dorset I took this photograph on a return to that Hampshire village so it is holding on there.

On Springwatch they reported that numbers of Spotted Flycatcher were down a staggering 81% on levels of just 20 years ago. All sorts of issues come in to play; declining numbers of insects, loss of nesting habitat, problems in there wintering quarters in Africa and persecution whilst on migration all contribute to decline of this species; I just hope it is not too late to reverse the trend.

You do not need to see a Spotted Flycatcher close up to identify it. If you see a bird perched near the end of a branch, then see it fly up in a loop and return to that same perch then odds on its a Spottie!

Dark Arches (Apamea monoglypha)

This is a moth that seems to be captivated by light and finds its way frequently in to the moth trap.

The Dark Arches is generally single brooded flying from June to August and is quite common throughout the British Isles. In the south, however, and especially in Dorset it can have a second brood in September to October if the weather is right so it is a species that keeps cropping up for most of the autumn.

Like many moths it is a lover of Red Valerian and Buddleia and as our garden is blessed with both then Dark Arches is going to be a regular.

The larvae feed on the roots and stems of grasses, notably the very common Cock's-foot and it overwinters as a larvae, pupating in the spring before emerging in June.

Eyebright (Euphrasia nemorosa)

There are several subspecies of Eyebright but the differences between them are microscopic so it is in order, I think, to lump them together as Eyebright.

They are tiny flowers, easily passed by without a second look and one where the close up camera lens reveals an almost hidden beauty inside those tiny flowers.

Quite common on grassland, downs, heaths, and open woodland where the vegetation is fairly shortly cropped; the sort of habitat that one frequently encounters in Dorset and so this is quite a common plant in the county.

I believe it gets its name from the fact that it was (is?) used to make drops to sooth sore eyes and keep them looking fresh and, yes, bright! Maybe, if you find it, you should get down and have a close look as it is obviously a sight for sore eyes ... I'll get my coat!

28 June, 2010

Lulworth Skipper (Thymelicus acteon)

This is Dorset's very own butterfly, named after the place where it was found, Lulworth in the Isle of Purbeck. It occurs all along the Dorset coast but most noticeably along the cliffs from Ballard Down to White Nothe Point. It once occurred on most of the Purbeck Ridge too, from Ballard Down to Lulworth but sadly it now seems to have disappeared totally from this area. Whilst is becoming scarcer, where it occurs it can be an abundant species.

The other thing with Lulworth Skipper seems to be that it is emerging as an adult sooner than it used to. It used to be around only for a couple of weeks in early August but now report in mid June are far from uncommon. Their time on the wing has extended and they can be still seen in August.

The main feature of this little member of the skipper family is the 'rays of golden sunshine' on the wings. It is about the same size as its two close relatives, the Small Skipper and the Essex Skipper and so those golden rays are importnat as diagnostic features.

Whilst the adult insect loves to feed on Knapweed (as in this photo) it can also be frequently seen on other members of the thistle family as well as Restharrow and Wild Marjoram. The larvae feed on many species of grass which is why rough downland suits it as its preferred environment.

Grass Vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia)

This is another of the nations rare flowers that can be found here in Dorset. Grass Vetchling is found on rough pasture by the sea along the coast from Devon to Lincolnshire and Dorset, especially Durlston CP is one of the best places to see it.

The plant of Grass Vetchling is almost indistinguishable from common grass varieties until its perfect, small, pea shaped flowers emerge for a short time in June and July. It is this resemblance to a grass that gives it its name, Grass Vetchling.

There are a couple of other places in Purbeck where they occur, on the cliffs around Kimmeridge Bay is one. I am not sure if it occurs outside Purbeck but would not be surprised to find it on Portland.

A lovely little gem, hard to find but well worth the effort.

27 June, 2010

Poplar Hawkmoth (Laothoe populi)

The Poplar Hawkmoth is very different to other moths. This shape and wing formation is unique and the Poplar Hawkmoth cannot really be mistaken for anything else. It is widespread across the British isles and is quite common.

It is also a big moth and if you see it fluttering around a light you could easily think at first that it was a bat. It must rank as one of Britain's largest insects I would have thought.

It does vary in colour between this almost blue to a much lighter shade of brown. There is also a buff version found, notably, in the London area. These browner versions tend to be the females.

This is a moth readily attracted to light and is single brooded flying from May until July. In good years there can be a second brood in September. The food plant for the larvae is on Poplar, Aspen, Sallow and Willow and it is the latter two that are quite common and would most usually be the host plant in Dorset. The insect overwinters as a pupa.

Carrot Broomrape (Orobanche maritima)

This is a curious plant, in fact the Broomrape family as a whole is quite curious.

Broomrape flowers are parasitic on various plants, this one on Wild Carrot, of course, but there are also Broomrapes that are parasitic on Yarrow, Ivy, Knapweed, Bedstraw, Thyme, Oxtongue and Thistle.

Because they are parasitic they have no chlorophyll as they do not need to use the sun to create growth, they get their nutrients from the host plant. As they have no chlorophyll they are not green like most other flowers and it easy to pass them by thinking that you are looking at a dead flower head rather than a real live flower.

All members of the Broomrape family are similar to look at with the differences between the species being quite limited. The Carrot Broomrape is quite uncommon, found only on the south coast of England, and the sea cliffs of Dorset is a good place to look for it among the Wild Carrot flowers.

26 June, 2010

Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)

The Wild Carrot is a common plant of our cliff tops and chalk grassland. They have a lovely domed flower head that consists of lots of small florets, a bit like a cauliflower!

When the first come out they often have a small red patch at the centre and the country name for the plant is Queen Anne's Lace, the flowers looking like lace and the small red spot in the middle looking like a small patch of blood where the lacemaker pricked their finger with their needle!

Flowering from June until August this is another umbellifer that is very popular with insects of all kinds and is a good hunting ground for insect photographers.

Sandwich Tern (Sterna sandvicensis)

Mid summer and Briwnsea Island is one of the best places in the country to see Sandwich Terns. There are scattered colonies but the they nest right in front of the hides on the Brownsea Lagoon.

Another white sea bird with a black head but the Sandwich Tern is much more streamlined than a gull and a fishing bird that dives in to the shallow sea for small fish. You can sea them around Poole Harbour and along the sandy beached of Studland and Swanage.

They are summer migrants arriving from around April time and setting off back south in September.

They are very noisy birds and quite bad tempered, quite readily squabbling amongst each other and using dreadful language! They nest close together on stony or sandy islands in shallow areas of water and the close proximity of their neighbours leads to these disputes.

Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus)

Once you establish that the Black Headed Gull would be more suitably called the Chocolate Faced Gull it leaves the question, what is this gull with a really black head that you see on the coast of Dorset, mainly around Poole Harbour and on the Fleet and, in winter, at Radipole?

The Mediterranean Gull inhabits the coasts of Europe, especially the Mediterranean and the Iberian peninsular and on to the southern coasts of Britain. It was very rare here when I started bird watching some thirty years or so ago and when one arrived near us at Titchfield Haven in Hampshire it caused quite a stir and ended up being featured on the front of the Hampshire Bird Report.

The Dorset Bird Report (2007) describes it as a rare breeding species in Poole Harbour and a scarce wintering species, especially around Weymouth.

Last year there were quite a few pairs on the lagoon at Brownsea but yesterday we could only find one bird, let alone a pair.

Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae)

I suspect many of us have seen the yellow and brown Rugby jersey wearing caterpillars that feed on, and strip entirely, Common Ragwort plants in late summer and autumn. This is the adult moth that lays the eggs that form those caterpillars.

The Cinnabar moth is a member of the Tiger moth family that flies late at night but you do see them during the day as they are easily disturbed. They fly from late May until July and the caterpillars will appear on Ragwort in August.

Ragwort is a plant poisonous to animals and the insect takes up that poison and makes them decidedly unpalatable to birds and other predators giving some immunity to attack.

They are not as common as they once were due possibly to the amount of 'Ragwort pulling' that now goes on. Ragwort is a plant that readily seeds itself and can spread very quickly so 'pulling' is the best way to keep it under control of sorts.

Eastern Gladiolus (Gladiolus communis)

One of the many problems you face in botany is the habit we humans have developed for bringing flowers from across the world back to our gardens and then letting them escape in to the wild. This means that you encounter flowers just not in your field guide!

In the Lighthouse Field at Anvil Point, Durslton there is a lovely display of these flowers, what we always believed to be Wild Gladiolus but my field guide says that Wild Gladiolus are only found in the New Forest and I have seen them there, at Acres Down near Lyndhurst. I am indebted to local botanical expert, Ted Pratt, for putting me right in this through his excellent book, 'The Wild Flowers of the Isle of Purbeck'.

This lovely flower is, in fact a cultivated variety of Gladiolus that has either been planted or escaped and can be found in various 'waste' spots around Swanage including those by the Anvil light.

24 June, 2010

Dog Rose (Rosa canina)

The Dorset hedgerows are now showing the lovely flowers of the Dog Rose. They flower in June and July and once pollinated will turn in to the Rose Hips we all know, those wonderful, shiny red/orange seed fruits of the autumn.

Actually, the Dog Rose can often be mistaken. There is a very similar rose, the Field Rose (Rosa arvensis) which is very similar in appearance, the Field Rose tending to be a low scrambling or trailing shrub whereas the Dog Rose is more of a climber. Dog Rose is the more common but the Field Rose is certainly not uncommon.

The Dog Rose can have these pink flowers as well as various lighter shades down to almost white. The Field Rose is pure white.

If you like insects then Dog Rose flowers are a good place to look for them as the open flowers attract a full range of insects from beetles to flies.

These roses are a bit untidy perhaps but never the less are very special.

Large Skipper (Ochiodes venata)

As we move towards July so the Large Skipper starts to emerge. It is the most common of the skipper family and can be found on grassland and open spaces, especially on the edges of woodland where there is lots of shrubby vegetation.

The Latin name 'venata' gives a clue as how to identify this butterfly as it has a dark, almost black vein running across the fore wings. It is also rather patchy, an orange and brown pattern whereas the other common skipper, the Small Skipper has a much more consistent orange all over the wings with a dark border.

The male Large Skipper can be quite territorial, a bit like a dragonfly, settling on a prominent piece of vegetation in the middle of its patch and then swiftly launcing itself to deter intruders.

The food plant of the Large Skipper larvae is Cock's-foot and Slender False Brome, both common grasses.

Black Headed Gull (Laris ridibundus)

Mr and Mrs, side by side so you can compare; not much to distinguish them is there? The male, at the back, is slightly larger and has a slightly more stout bill. It has slightly more chocolate on its face.

In fact, despite being Black Headed Gulls they are not black headed gulls at all! The colouring is chocolate brown rather than black and it is their face, not their head, that is coloured. A common gull in these parts, nesting on Brownsea Island and around Poole Harbour and various other coastal locations where there are shingle banks or islands.

It will not be long now before they begin to moult and they will lose that lovely dark head plumage and they will become white faced with just a dark comma shape behind the ear.

In winter the numbers will be reinforced by incomers from further north.

23 June, 2010

Comma (Polygonia c-album)

Despite the lovely weather of late our garden has not seen a flurry of butterflies. Indeed, a Comma today is the first one we have had for some days.

The Comma always causes a bit of excitement at first as it is somewhat like a fritillary and to have a fritillary of any description in the garden would be immense! That said, the Comma is such a lovely colour it is always welcome.

Commas can actually be seen from January to December depending on the weather. They over winter by hibernating as adults and can emerge on any day in winter if the weather is encouraging. These insects that have hibernated lay egg in April and May and these then form the first brood and these are laying eggs that hatch around July/August to provide the second brood. The second brood are the insects that will then hibernate until the following spring.

The Comma's food plant is primarily the Common Nettle but it also found on all sorts of shrubs and trees,

Apart from gardens, you can encounter the Comma almost anywhere as it favours open areas as well as woodland edges.

Once uncommon the Comma has done well in recent years and is now seen across the whole county quite frequently.

Oxeye Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum)

If you travel the A35 from Dorchester towards Bere Regis (or from Bere Regis heading towards Dorchester!) you will see the northern verge covered in these white Oxeye Daisies. In fact they can be seen on the other side too as well as along road verges almost everywhere in the county at the moment. They thrive on fertile meadow-like environments and where the new road was put in some years ago now embankments became ideal meadow-like habitat for them.

They are classic daisy in appearance, not dissimilar to the daisies on your lawn but much bigger of course with flower heads almost two inches across and the plants reaching as much as 2 feet or more tall.

They flower from May until September so you have plenty of time to take in the glorious sight as you speed along towards Bere Regis!

22 June, 2010

Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens)

The Keeled Skimmer is a specialist of the heathland bog, especially areas where Sphagnum mosses thrive in wetter areas. As a result the heathland areas of Dorset are one of its strongholds in this country.

Easily dismissed at first sight as a Broad-bodied Chaser because of its bright blue body (the male that is) closer examination, if it settles, will show a narrower body tapering to a point at the tail. It also lacks the yellow side markings on the main body too.

The Keeled Skimmer tends to fly low over the water of its chosen pond, skimming over it in fact. It has a rapid and unpredictable flight pattern, usually near the edge of the water, where the pond side vegetation grows. The males settle on a favoured perch to monitor activity in their patch but show 'interest' in intruders rather than out right confrontation like the Broad-bodied Chaser.

The females are green and have a thin, less tapered body.

Silver Ground Carpet (Xanthorhoe montanata)

Here is another moth that makes a lie of the belief that butterflies fly by day and moths by night.

The Silver Ground Carpet is a light sleeper and is easily disturbed during the day from grassy roadside verges, hedgerows and woodland scrub. It emerges early in the evening when things start to cool rather than as it gets dark and is not attracted to light at all so never falls in to the moth trap.

This is a widespread and common species throughout the country and is very common in Dorset. It flies from late May until mid-July and its larvae then feed on bedstraws and other low growing flowering plants.

Elder (Sambucus nigra)

The Dorset hedgerows show white flowers from April (Blackthorn) through May (Hawthorn) and into June when Elder is in full flower.

Elder is very common throughout the county in hedgerows, woodland edges and scrubby areas. It tends to thrive near Rabbit colonies as the Rabbits hate it and leave it alone preferring to eat all the other plants instead!

These large, flat, cream-coloured flower heads are ideal for insects of all kinds and if you stop to look you will find flies, bees and beetles all making a good living from them. They have little problem in getting pollinated and come September they will be bearing the lovely red berries adored by birds and home wine makers.

Elder is a member of the Honeysuckle family which I find surprising.

21 June, 2010

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus)

Blues can be tricky chaps to sort out; this silvery underside with orange dots is a familiar feature amongst many of the species. You have to take various things in to account when separating them.

Flight period is one indicator, Common Blue are on the wing from early June right through until late October as they have more than one brood which overlap giving an almost continual presence during the summer and early autumn. Other species tend to be more 'time limited'.

The Common Blue is certainly more common than most other species of blue (unless you are in Purbeck where the Adonis is now as common, if not more so) and so is the most likely one you will see.

The Common Blue likes rough, open ground (especially chalk downland) where they can find an abundance of clovers, medicks, trefoils, restharrows and other leguminous flowers whereas as other species tend to be a bit more restricted in their preferences. In good years, population wise, it is not uncommon for this butterfly to find its way into gardens.

Finally, size can help too; larger than most of the other common species but a little smaller than the Adonis. Remember too, that the Adonis has a much more vivid blue colouration.

The Common Blue is certainly the most common blue but a closer look is needed before you dismiss a rarer species as a common!

Broad Bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)

Bright sky blue is a popular colour amongst 'odonata'. In damselflies we see the blue in the Common Blue Damselfly, the Azure Damselfly, and three or four other less common species and in dragonflies there is the mighty Emperor of course as well as Keeled and Black tailed Skimmers and this beauty, the impressive male Broad-bodied Chaser.

If you see a dragonfly that is bright blue it is always worth a closer look just to make sure you do not jump to conclusions, the Broad-bodied Chaser is quite common and is one of the most likely blue dragons you will see.

Very different in colouring to the female which is olive green, the Broad-bodied Chaser is best identified through its ... broad body! The skimmers are much more pointed towards the tail and the Emperor is longer and even width along its long body.

This chap is fiercely territorial and it will often take over a small pond and defend it against all comes, apart from attractive olive green females of its own kind of course who are very welcome and greeted by being ceased and mated with in mid air!

20 June, 2010

Six Spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae)

These vivid metallic coloured moths are emerging now in their millions along the Dorset coast; that is no exaggeration - just visit the flower meadows at Durlston and you will be staggered by how many there are.

Whilst there are other moths in the family it is hard to mistake the Six Spot Burnet for anything else. The fore wings have a dark slate coloured background with six red spots usually clearly visible but some times the two at the 'shoulder' are fused together giving the appearance of having just five spots.which can be misleading as there is a Five Spot Burnet although it is much less common.. The rear wings are bright red with a slate grey border.

Whilst happy to feed on many flowers, their first loves are Knapweed and Scabious. Neither of these are quite out yet but this moth will be around in big numbers during July and August so there will be plenty of time for them to feast on these later.

The eggs are laid on Bird's-foot Trefoil and other leguminous plants on which the larvae feed before they transfer to a grass stem, climb up it and pupate. If you find Six Spot Burnet moths take a look at the surrounding grass and you will find their empty cocoons.

19 June, 2010

Silver Studded Blue (Plebejus argus)

Dorset is home to a number of very rare butterflies and the Silver Studded Blue is certainly one of them.

A small butterfly, it is smaller than a Common Blue with much brighter markings on the under side of its wings. It is quite distinctive in habitat, however, as a heathland butterfly
and can be found from late June until early August on the heathland of Purbeck, notably at Arne. It also occurs on grass downland and can be found on Portland too.

Being a heath specialist, it is not surprising that it's favoured food plants are Gorse and Broom and the larvae also feed on heather and Bird's-foot Trefoil.

Blue butterflies are in general lovely insects and the Silver Studded Blue is certainly one of the best.

Willow Beauty (Peribatodes rhomboidaria)

As the weeks go by so the most common moth in the trap changes and we are now in to the Willow Beauty season.

This geometrid species is single brooded and is flying from now through until August and we may even get some in September too if there is a second brood.

At first sight they look very drab but on closer examination they have lovely born and grey mottled wings and they justify the 'beauty' in their name.

The Willow Beauty is widely distributed across the whole of the British Isles and is quite common. They are readily attracted to light and can often come in to houses where there is a light on and a window open.

Although 'Willow' Beauty it feeds on various plants and lays its eggs on a variety of tress including Hawthorn, Birch, Privet, Yew and Plum as well as shrubby plants such as Ivy and Traveller's Joy.

18 June, 2010

Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor)

Yellow Rattle is also known as Hay Rattle. It is common on grassland and downland from May until August. It has a preference for chalk soils and is in full fling now at Durslton where it is exceedingly common in the flower meadows but it also common elsewwhere in the county.

It is a member of the figwort family although those flowers look very much like a nettle. When the seed cases ripen the seeds 'rattle' inside the the calyx, hence the name. The other interesting thing about this plant is that it is parasitic using grasses to gather its nutrients.

Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae)

The Grizzled Skipper is a far from common species, it may be overlooked but I see it very occasionally. Dorset is one of its strongholds as it likes flowery downs and slopes and so the Purbeck Ridge and the sea cliff tops at places like Durslton and Portland Bill are good places to find them.

They are quite a small butterfly and tend to fly close to the ground preferring soil and rocks as resting places.

The have two broods here in the south. The first brood fly in May and June and the second brood briefly in September. They lay their eggs on Wild Strawberry where possible but later in the season and in September when there is no Wild Strawberry they use other related plants like Creeping Cinquefoil, Silverweed, Bramble and Wild Raspberry, all members of the Rose family.

The Grizzled Skipper is one of the few butterflies that overwinters as a hibernating pupae.

17 June, 2010

Wasp Beetle (Clytus arietis)

The flowers of the carrot family are super places to look for insects, espceially beetles and flies (including hoverflies).

Walk along any hedgerow where Hogweed dominates and you will find an assortment of little creatures, some quite striking.

The Wasp Beetle is a devotee of a wide range of hedgerow plants but when they get on a white background they really stand out with those wasp like yellow and black bands which is how it gets its name, of course. Standing out so would normally make them a prime target for predators but those wasp-like markings are enough to warn off any bird looking for a quick snack fearing a sting in the tail. In reality, this beetle is a wasp mimic and is totally harmless without a sting.

Active as adults from May through to July, they are certainly worth taking the trouble to look for.

Corky-fruited Water-dropwort (Oenanthe pimpinelloides)

Now this member of the carrot family, the umbellifers, is far from common. In fact this is something of a Dorset speciality growing on clay based grasslands, south of the Thames and usually by the sea. That means Durslton, Portland and so on are among the few places it is found in the country, let alone the county.

Unlike many others in the group, Corky-fruited Water-dropwort has a very dense flower head. The others tend to be more fragmented with the flowers in clusters and with the clusters forming bigger areas of flower.

The other feature of this plant, if you take the trouble to look, is that it has a swollen corky base to the stem.

Corky-fruited is in flower now and will be until August.

Hemlock Water-dropwort (Oenanthe crocata)

I know, all of the carrot family plants look the same when in flower, just compare this to the photo of Hogweed I posted on the 16th June 2010!

The obvious thing about Hemlock Water-dropwort is that you always find it with its roots in water; ditches, drainage channels, marshes and so on.

Hemlock water-dropwort is another very common umbellifer flowering now through to the end of July and it can be found almost anywhere the ground is usually wet, it does not grow in water as such, it loves mud.

As with its cousins it is a very popular food plant for insects, mainly beetle and flies, and each flower head is a mini habitat of its own.

16 June, 2010

Rough Chervil (Chaerophyllum temulentum)

Something has happened along our hedgerows over the last couple of weeks and you may not have even noticed.

The Cow Parsley that flowered in April and May is now over and yet there are still plants that you could easily take for Cow Parsley in full flower. Cow Parsley has been replabed by Rough Chervil.

Rough Chervil is as common as Cow Parsley and looks very similar at first glance. It is not at all easy to tell the difference. Indeed, even my flower 'bible' starts its description with 'resembles Cow Parsley and is its June successor''!

There are differences, of course, but apart from the time difference the other way is to run your fingers along the stem, if it is smooth it is Cow Parsley but if it is rough then, yes, it is Rough Chervil. On close examination, the leaves are different and Rough Chervil has almost black stems.

So, next time you are walking along by a hedgerow run your fingers over the stems of the Cow Parsley look-a-likes. If it feels rough then you have Rough Chervil!

Fulmar (Fulmaris glacialis)

If you stand on the cliffs at Durlston or Portland or, indeed, anywhere along the Dorset sea cliffs you will see Fulmars circling on the wind, stiff wings outstretched, rarely having to beat them. The Fulmar is a master glider.

A member of the albatross family, it displays many of the family characteristics. It's main claim to fame, however, is its inclination to eject a foul, fishy smelling oily substance at anyone who annoys it. This 'foul mere' is where it gets its name.

Often seen in the company of gulls, it stands out from amongst them because of the long, thin, gliding wings. It is quite common, although not numerous, along the Dorset coast and regularly breeds here.

15 June, 2010

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

June and it is time for the wonderful display of Foxgloves that occurs this time of year, especially at Arne.

We all know Foxgloves; the pixie hats of our younger days! They grow anywhere the soil is acidic and so they are less likely to be seen on the chalk downland and cliffs of Dorset.

The Foxglove is a good example of how plants avoid pollinating themselves! The flowers open from the bottom and the female stigma is receptive before the male stamens produce pollen. The main pollinators of the plant are bees which can only get in to the larger flowers and so they start at the bottom and work up depositing any pollen they have picked up from another plant as they go. As the large flower bells fade after pollination so the flowers further up the plant grow larger allowing the bees to enter those flower and so on up the stem.

The Foxglove is poisonous and best no consumed in any form!

Spindle Ermine (Yponomeula cagnatella)

As you travel the country roads and lanes of mid-Dorset, the chalk landscapes, you frequently find amazing extensive white 'spiders' webs along the hedgerows. This is the work of the Spindle Ermine moth larvae.

The moth is abundant all across Europe and especially so here in Dorset where the soil is calcareous and where Spindle commonly grows in the hedgerows . The adult moths fly in June and July and the resulting larvae live gregariously on the leaves of Spindle, stripping it completely of foliage. They pupate in large numbers and over winter as pupae in the foot of the tree.

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)

One of the more common dragonflies of heathland ponds and bogs at the moment is the splendid Four-spotted Chaser.

It gets its name from the four black spots, one on each of the four wings. It is easy to mistake this insect for the female Broad-bodied Chaser so 'spotting' those markings on the wing is important.

In many dragonflies the males and females are very different but in the Four-spotted Chaser this is not so, they are very similar and I have no idea which this is although it is probably a male as it had a preferred perch from where it would launch of to deter any intruder that might enter its territory.

Flying from late May until August, you still have plenty of time to find them and, as I said above, the wet areas of the Purbeck heaths are as good a place as anywhere to see them but they can also be found on other still water ponds and lakes that have a degree of acidity and preferably fairly shallow and with extensive vegetation.

14 June, 2010

Broom (Sarothamnus scoparius)

Out on the heaths the Common Gorse is all but over after flowering for the last three months but in some areas of Wareham Forest, for example, you would be forgiven for thinking that, at first glance, there was new flush of flowers.

Closer examination reveals that this flower, although very similar to Gorse, is growing on a spineless, green shrub and is, in fact, Broom.

Closely related to Gorse, of course, it is common on dry, acid soils across the British Isles and will flower now until early July. Then, on the hot sunny days of August (if we get any) you will hear the snap of the seed pods as they dry out and burst open to throw the seeds far and wide.

Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)

In the Purbeck district of Dorset the heath areas around Wareham and Crossways are subject to considerable mineral extraction work. Whilst this destroys valuable wild habitat it actually creates a completely new one, large man-made lakes with sandy or gravel walls, ideal nesting for Sand Martins.

The two rivers, the Frome and Piddle run past Wareham and into Poole Harbour and on summer evenings we can see dozens of Sand Martins 'fishing' for insects above the flowing rivers, usually accompanied by House Martins.

Photographing these birds is a real challenge as they fly so swiftly; twisting, turning, swooping. You just get a brief chance when they decide to land on something like this one did. I am sure (s)he didn't need a rest but obviously had some motive for sitting on the fence.

Sadly, all too soon, they will be gone for another year but we still have a couple of months left to enjoy them

Privet Hawkmoth (Sphinx ligustri)

There are certain groups of creatures that create excitement amongst enthusiasts. In birds it is the raptors, in flowers orchids, and in moths it is the hawkmoths.

This is an absolute beauty to behold, over two inches in body length and nearly four inches wide when the wings are fully spread they can seem like bats flying if you see one at your window. Close up, in the light of day, they are superb with a pink and black body and strikingly marked wings that actually provide excellent camouflage whilst at rest.

The Privet Hawkmoth is single brooded flying in June and July and inhabits gardens, woodlands and similar habitats. It is widespread but not common across the south of England.

Not surprisingly the food plants of the larvae include wild Privet but also occur on Lilac, Holly and Ash.

03 June, 2010

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

Here is another 'walk by' flower. When did you stop and take a close look at Red Clover?

Red Clover is common in pastures, meadows and hedgerows just about everywhere and it just taken for granted but this flower is very lovely when seen close up with its multi pea flower head.

Red Clover is an essential plant for bumble-bees of all types, they thrive on it and as it is in flower from May right through until September it is a reliable, ongoing food source for them.

Bright-line Brown-eye (Lacanobia oleracea)

Another moth on the wing at the moment is the Bright-line Brown-eye. Not exactly a catchy title but an apt one as you will see on the for wings there is a bright (white in fact) line running across near the outer edge which looks like an ECG print with a couple of blips on it! Further up towards the centre of the wing is a brown colour spot or eye. So Bright-line Brown-eye it is then.

Flying from May until July I will find the odd one frequently in the moth trap, never in any numbers. Here in Dorset there will be second brood later in the year around September time.

It is a widespread species and quite common and is happy to feed from almost any flowers. The larvae can be a pest if the hatch on cultivated tomatoes.

Heart and Dart (Agrotis exclamationis)

Top moth in the trap at the moment is the Heart and Dart, out scoring the others quite significantly although the numbers and varieties of moths at present is still disappointingly low.

Not a real 'looker', the Heart and Dart is a bit ordinary and not one you love to see every time you open up the trap in the morning. A quick look at the dark brown pacheson the for wing is enough to see how it got its name. One is the shape of a heart, the other a dart!

The Heart and Dart flies from Mid May until the end of July and is widespread and often common throughout most of the British Isles. Like many moths, it is keen on Buddleia, Valerian and Ragwort.

02 June, 2010

Heath Milkwort (Polygala serpyllifolia)

The dryer areas of the Dorset heaths are not well known for the array of flowers to be seen, heathers are the dominant species and there is little scope for much else.

However, between May and September this tiny little flower, the Heath Milkwort holds its own, especially along footpaths and areas where the heather is less well established.

Going purely by appearance, telling this from Common Milkwort and Chalk Milkwort is very However, Heath Milkwort loves acid soils, the other two prefer chalk, and so that narrows the choice down somewhat.

The Heath Milkwort is also a deeper blue, not so bright as its cousins.

Longhorn Moth (Nemophora degeerella)

This moth is less than 1cm long and yet its antennae are twice as long in females and four times as long in males. Not surprising then that this is generally called a Longhorn Moth. They are not horns of course! I would suggest that this is a female which is also slightly darker in colour than the male.

To see these in the sunshine sitting on a leaf like this is not uncommon as they are distributed across the country in areas of deciduous or mixed woodland.

Most frequently, however, you see them in woodland clearings in May and June dancing up and down (not dissimilar to a mayfly). They are much harder to identify then and you cannot see their lovely colouring.

With the sun on them they are wonderful combination of gold on a metallic green back ground.

01 June, 2010

Common Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

No one living in Dorset can possibly not know Bird's-foot Trefoil as it can be found just about anywhere from the coastal cliffs to hedgerows, woodland and grassland. Apart from very acid soils you can find it in almost habitat.

A member of the pea family with that classic 'vetch' shaped flower it is a very popular plant with insects and is the food plant for several species of moth and butterfly.

Sometimes called 'eggs and bacon' although I have no idea why as it does not look like an egg and there is no trace of any bacon!

The usual name 'bird's foot' comes from the shape of the seed heads that form once the flower has gone over. It looks just like the foot of a small bird.

Green Carpet Moth (Colostygia pectinataria)

This is a welcome find in the moth trap. It is not rare but it is a lovely little insect with superbly patterned wings that is just nice to look at.

The Green Carpet is a member of the Geometridae family. These moth are generally triangular in shape when at rest, hence the link to geometry. It helps with identification to look for family features.

The Green Carpet is flying here in Dorset from late May through to the end of June and then we may get a second brood in the autumn depending on the weather.

It widespread and quite common although not a great visitor to light traps.