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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!

19 February, 2010

Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis)

The Barnacle Goose is much rarer in Dorset than its cousins, the Canada and Brent Geese. Indeed, many records are probably feral birds that have escaped from collections.

However, the colder winter this year, seems to have driven a small family party of six birds south to Dorset. Another Arctic breeding species the Barnacles tend to over winter on the Solway Firth in southern Scotland and on the east coat of Ireland.

This group was in the company of Canada Geese and Brent Geese but preferred to keep their distance and as five of them grazed peacefully this one stood guard and saw off any of the other two species that dared wander their way!

The key identifying feature of the Barnacle Goose is its white face.It is a little smaller than a Canada Goose but larger than the Brent.

The early Irish people could not work out how these birds could disappear in the summer and appear again in the autumn and they formed an association with sea Barnacles and thought that they hatched out from the Barnacles that grew on the rocks, hence the name Barnacle Goose!

Brent Geese (Branta bernicla)

When winter comes so do the Brent Geese. Having nested in Greenland these geese make the long journey here every autumn and return to their nesting grounds in the spring every year.

They come to the east and south coasts of England; the Solent shore, Poole Harbour and the Fleet are particular favourite wintering haunts.

The Brent Goose is related to the Canada Goose but is much smaller. In fact, the Brent is hardly bigger than a Shelduck. Not only is it smaller but the white 'chin strap' is much less pronounced so you should have no trouble telling them apart even from a distance.

They are quite happy in the company of Canada Geese however and mixed flocks are not unusual. They are very keen on Eel Grass that is exposed at low tide but in between tides they are happy browsing on rough pasture, just as this pair are.

14 February, 2010

Beech (Fagus sylvatica) [3/3]

Profile and bark are all very well for identifying trees in winter but often the best way is to look on the ground under the tree for evidence. Dead leaves are often a give away but so too the remains of the nuts. Beech 'mast' is unmistakable.

The woodland floor with dead leaves and mast is an ideal place to look for all sorts of wildlife from Squirrels and other mammals foraging, to birds looking under them for small insect and, of course, the insects, grubs and plants (mainly fungi) that feed on the litter itself.

Nothing like a bit of detective work!

Beech (Fagus sylvatica) [2/3]

Up close and personal, the Beech has smooth bark with a silver-grey or even metallic appearance. It has these familiar slight horizontal lines.

The bark is thin and the wood inside is hard and strong and of a bright buff colouring with brown flecks which make it a popular choice for furniture and is also a favourite with wood turners to make bowls and other items.

Beech (Fagus sylvatica) [1/3]

What a wonderfully elegant tree a fully grown Beech is. Tall and dominating and lacking the gnarled twists and turns of the Oak. Apparently in the Cotswolds it is known as the 'Lady of the Woods'.

It took me while to find a Beech to photograph and, in the end, I had to make a short journey to Badbury Rings. I found it surprising to learn that the Beech is not commonly indigenous to Dorset and most of our specimens have been planted for specific purposes, often for protection as a wind break or for forestry production.

Some Beech trees have been pollarded and not allowed to develop this beautiful uplifting natural shape; instead becoming more spreading from the central crown point.

13 February, 2010

Toothwort (Lathraea squamaria)

Hazel coppice can be one of the best habitats to find spring flowers and by April the woodland floor will be covered in yellow, white and blue from an array of species. However, if you go to a coppice now in February or possibly March you may be rewarded by the discovery of this rare and unique flower, Toothwort.

Toothwort is a parasitic plant that grows on the roots of trees and has a particular affinity to the Hazel. Because it is parasitic it does not need chlorophyll and so it is a creamy white colour tinged with purple. Those of you familiar with the Broomrape family will see a resemblance as they are also parasitic but they are not related.

This is a tiny flower, not easy to find and may be often overlooked but I am only aware of one site for it in Dorset and that is in the wooded slopes to the west of the DWT reserve at Stonehill Down.

12 February, 2010

Hazel (Corylus avellana) [4/4]

The Hazel, of course, is rarely allowed to grow naturally. It has always been a favoured source of wood for hurdles, fencing, thatching spurs, charcoal, even chair-bodging! As a result Hazel was invariable coppiced and cut down to ground level so that it re-shoots multiple thin stems, ideal for these old country crafts.

These days these crafts have all but died out and so coppicing is not practised as it used to be and often it is either left to becoming overgrown and straggly or it is just cleared and burnt to allow other plants to prosper.

Hazel coppice is such a rich habitat, especially in spring, when primroses, wood anemones, violets, bluebells and so on all thrive on the coppice floor.

Hazel (Corylus avellana) [3/4]

Once fertilised the seeds grow and develop in to the Hazel nut, a favourite food of the squirrel and, of course, the Dormouse which is why, if you are looking for Dormice, you should look in Hazel coppice!

11 February, 2010

Hazel (Corylus avellana) [2/4]

Whilst we can't help but see the male Hazel Catkin we often overlook the tiny female flower which appears on the same tree.

This is actually much more like a conventional flower as it contains the seed box. The red 'petals' are actually multiple stigmas that catch the pollen released by the Catkins of neighbouring trees. The pollen then fertilises the seeds and the nuts develop.

Hazel (Corylus avellana) [1/4]

As spring gets nearer so the the familiar Hazel catkin or Lamb's Tail opens up having been present but tightly closed for most of the winter.

The Hazel is not the only tree to produce Catkins, others do too, most noticeably the Alder and other members of the birch family.

The Catkin is the male flower of the Hazel, its role is to produce pollen which is wind dispersed. The Hazel nut does not produce the well known Hazel nut however.

09 February, 2010

Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)

We have had a couple of Celandines in flower in a sheltered spot in the garden since Christmas but now they are beginning to appear elsewhere in the Dorset countryside. In another three weeks or so there will be carpets of them on banks, in woodlands, along hedgerows, on river sides, in fact all over the place.

The bright, cheery faces of the Lesser Celandine glisten in the spring sunlight and are another reminder of the transformation that will occur before our very eyes in the next month or so. Don't you just adore spring?

The Lesser Celandine is a member of the buttercup family, Ranunculacae. There is a Greater Celandine which is not a Ranunculus and looks nothing like the the Lesser! That just goes to show why we use Latin names for precision in identification and not common English country names which can often be very confusing.

08 February, 2010

Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis)

Just when it seems winter will never end and we enter another cold, bleak month in February we are suddenly reminded that things are changing and spring is just around the corner.

The most obvious sign is that the days are getting longer at quite a fast rate and the birds are beginning to sing again, some a bit tentative perhaps, but the signs are there.

For most of us, however, it the appearance of the first spring flowers that tell us spring is on the way and these Snowdrops are now in flower everywhere.

Sadly, they are not really a native species being found mainly in central Europe but over the years they have become naturalised from garden escapes and now are found on banks, hedgerows and waysides across Dorset, especially in churchyards and near parks and gardens of our more 'stately' homes!

This little member of the Lily family is a particular favourite of ours in the Orchard family and we look forward to them every spring.