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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 March, 2010

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

One of the many delights of living here in Purbeck is seeing the many Blackthorn trees and bushes come in to flower.

They are just about coming out now and for the next three weeks or so the hedgerows will look as though they have had a heavy dusting of flour!

Blackthorn is unique in that the flowers come before the leaves whereas the other hedgerow shrubs are all the other way round. Blackthorn is invariably the first to flower as well.

Close up the flowers are really lovely; pure white petals with two small dots on each and in the centre white stamens. Early insects will pollinate these flowers to give us sloes in the autumn.

The current cold weather will undoubtedly bring to mind the country saying of it being a 'Blackthorn winter'.

28 March, 2010

Common Gorse (Ulex europaeus)

"When Gorse is in flower kissing is in season!" There are not many months of the year when it seems Gorse is not in flower but there is no doubt, here in Purbeck at least, that it is at its best in April and May. From about now the heaths and downs are aglow with the vibrant yellow flowers of the Furze, a local name for the Gorse.

The other splendid thing you notice as you walk amongst the yellow flowered bushes in the strong, unmistakable scent resembling coconut; lovely!

The Common Gorse does not actually flower all year it tends to take a rest in late summer but by then, in July through to September, the Dwarf Gorse (Ulex minor) takes its place. Superficially they are very similar, you just tend to think that Dwarf Gorse is a young Gorse bush but it is a different species.

Gorse is an important plant for insects, spiders and some species of birds, notably the Dartford Warbler. Too much, however, can dominate the heathers and so it has to be cleared from time to time, often by controlled burning.

24 March, 2010

Red Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum)

When I decided that my surveying and recording days were over and that I would buy a new camera and try my hand at some snaps of wildlife I had no idea that my eyes would be opened to a new world!

For years, I would walk along with my recorder and mutter "Red Deadnettle" and walk on without a second glance. Now, as I try to get a respectable shot of just about anything, when I get home and plug the camera in to the computer I am often amazed at the beauty I had missed all those years.

OK, Red Deadnettle is hardly a rarity! It one of our most common weeds of cultivation and is now out in profusion just about anywhere and everywhere, Indeed, we will probably be pulling some out next time it stops raining and we can get in to the garden. However, looked at close up through the camera lens it becomes a different plant and a thing of rare beauty.

Well, that's how it looks to me anyway, how about you?

23 March, 2010

Gt Crested Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)

In spring everything changes and much of it we notice but some things go unnoticed perhaps. We hear the birds starting to sing again, we see insects on the wing, we see the green shoots on the tress and hedgerows, and we see the colour of the early flowers. Do we notice that the birds are getting their breeding plumage?

In lots of species the change is negligible of course, one does not notice the more vibrant colours in the Greenfinch and the Chaffinch but you can hardly miss the wonderful head dress that the Great Crested Grebe develops.

The Great Crested Grebe is a pretty special bird at any time in my book but this splendid plumage linked with their delightful 'water dance' and breeding display make them a species to be looked out for.

Not over common in Dorset in spring and summer as we perhaps lack large expanses of fresh water but they are to be seen and they do nest here. In winter they are far more common being just as at home on the sea as on lakes and estuaries.

Skylark (Alauda arvensis)

March seems like one fine day followed by four or more less kind. If you go up on to the Dorset sea cliffs or the Purbeck Ridge on one of those lovely March days not only are you rewarded with the most wonderful of views but you will also be serenaded by the song of the Skylark.

I am not too good on Latin but 'laud' means to praise and 'arvensis' means 'of the field' so I like to think that the Skylarks scientific name, Alauda arvensis, means the 'praise from the meadows' ... room for a bit of emotion in science perhaps?

I love the Skylark's song. They always seem so enthusiastic and so happy with life. Nature holds many joys for me and the Skylark's song is certainly up there near the top.

Sadly, this once common bird has diminished in numbers considerably in the last thirty years or so. It is certainly vulnerable to disturbance and, as it nests on the ground, its young are prone to accidental trampling by people, tractors and cattle but this would not account for the current decline. This is almost certainly down to less insects to feed to its young due the amount of insecticide used in crop sprays.

This trend in farmland bird populations is a familiar one. You can wipe a population out very quickly but it takes decades to build up a new one.

20 March, 2010

Primrose (Primula vulgaris)

Early spring flowers tend to be yellow it seems. Lesser Celandine, Daffodil, Dandelion, Colt's-foot, Gorse and now Primrose all displaying lovely yellow tones. It won't be long though until white takes over with shrub blossoms and woodland plants coming through along with the early umbels such as Cow Parsley. Later, in summer there will be more mauves and purples before yellow returns in the autumn.

The Primrose was once extremely common but, these days it seems, it is a little less so. Although far from rare one tends to encounter them only on bank sides and woodland edges, especially in sunny positions.

One problem has been the naturalisation of the garden Polyanthus varieties which hybridise with the native Primrose and then, once impure, the plant tends to die out. Modern agriculture and the loss of extensive stretches of hedgerow has not helped either.

Springtime without the Primrose would surely be unthinkable. Along with the Bluebell it is surely sets the English countryside in March and April apart from the rest of the world!

Oh to be in England now that spring is here ...