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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 April, 2010

Brimstone Moth (Opisthograptis luteolata)

The Brimstone butterfly is on the wing this time of year but you may also flush out the Brimstone Moth whilst gardening or walking by hedgerows.

This is one of our common species and it has three broods a year down year in the south of England whereas 'up north' it tends to hove only one brood in mid-summer.

It has no real preference for food plant for its larvae and they can be found on many types of shrub and flowering fruit trees which is why they are frequently found in gardens

Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis)

Visit any walk through meadows alongside our Dorset river about now and you will almost certainly see the Cuckooflower; so named as it flowers around the same time as the Cuckoo returns to our shores in spring.

Also known as Lady's Smock this a common plant of damp places and can be found along ditches in places as well as water meadows.

The flowers of the Cuckooflower are a very pale mauve/pink. It is a favourite food plant of the Orange Tip butterfly larvae and if you watch closely for a while you will see Orange Tips laying eggs on the plants and then, after the butterfly has gone, take a look on the plant stem and you will see a small egg, appropriately orange in colour.

25 April, 2010

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria Petiolata)

The field guides tell you what this plant looks like but they do not tell you what it tastes like. Given its name, it must be quite potent!

This is a plant I have always known as Jack-by -the-Hedge and it almost exclusively grows along hedgerows and woodland edges, mainly on chalk soils so it is not uncommon down here in Dorset.

It comes in to flower in April and can hang on in to July. In May it can line a hedgerow with these white clusters of small, four petalled flowers.

Although easily passed by without a second glance, this plant is a good place to look for early insects. It is an important food plant for several species, especially the Orange Tip butterfly which emerges in to its flight stage to coincide with Garlic Mustard coming in to flower.

24 April, 2010

Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)

April in Dorset is key spring migration time and a time for looking out for passage migrants, birds flying north to breed having wintered further south.

Poole Harbour is a favoured stop off point for many of these birds, along with Christchurch Harbour and the Fleet, and some species are seen regularly at this time of year, the Whimbrel being one of them.

The problem with Whimbrel is that they can be difficult to tell from a Curlew sometimes it helps to see both together. I wonder how many of us have dismissed a Whimbrel as 'just another Curlew'?

The key really is the bill; long and down turned like a Curlew, but no where near as long. It also seems to bend at a point two-thirds down whereas the Curlew's bill is a more gentle curve.

The Whimbrel is also a less bulky bird, more compact perhaps? The markings on the head differ but unless you have a really good view that can be difficult to tell from a distance.

23 April, 2010

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)

A walk through woodland at this time of year will probably reveal Wood Sorrel. It is a small white flower that one casts an eye to, says "It's Wood Sorrel" and you walk on.

Closer too, however, it reveals more detail and especially the violet veins in the petals. I believe insects, especially bees, can see ultra-violet light and these veins lead to the centre of the plant and so guide any visiting insect to the nectar source and so to the pollen on the stamens. If the bee has already visited a previous plant of the species then accumulated pollen may be acquired by the stigma (the tube in the centre) from where it finds its way down the tube to the ovaries where the seeds are.

I was also interested to see the yellow at the base of the petals. I assumed at first that this was pollen that had stained them but looking in the book it seems that the inside of the petals are naturally yellow even though on the outside they are pure white.

Wood Sorrel is not related to other plants bearing the name sorrel. It is a member of the Oxalis family and I have heard it called Wood Oxalis. Common in Oak and Beech woodland, especially in dryer areas. They flower in March and April and will soon be over for another year.

19 April, 2010

Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)

This is a very common, and yet often overlooked, plant of the spring. It flowers from late March through to May.

Ground Ivy is so called because its leaves supposedly resemble those of ivy (but that is not how it appears to me!)

It is member of the labiate family which includes deadnettles, herbs such as Mint and Basil, and woundworts. This family have square stems and long tubular flowers which are popular with any insect with a long tongue such as butterflies or a long proboscis like the Bee-fly (see yesterday's blog).

Ground Ivy does not grow very tall and you should take care not to confuse it with Bugle, a similar but taller plant.

Ground Ivy can be found almost anywhere where the soil is not over run with other taller dominant vegetation.

15 April, 2010

Common Quaker (Orthosa stabilis)

There are a limited number of moth species that fly in March and April, lack of food plants and cold night being the obvious reasons why. As a result the moth trap at this time of year tends to yield the same species each night.

As well as the Hebrew Character, Common Quaker are frequently in the trap.

At first site these are small, plain, brown moths with not ,much to distinguish them but, as so often in nature, a close up look shows this to not really be the case.

The Common Quaker is not, I agree, a stunner, but it does have intricate markings which set it apart from other species.

This a widespread and common species that feeds mainly on Sallow which is in full bloom now. It lays its eggs on Oak, Sallow and other trees and the larvae hatch in May and then pupate which is how they spend the winter, hatching out in March and April.

12 April, 2010

Minotaur Beetle (Typhaeus typhoeus)

Nature's dustmen! The scarab beetles form the order Scarabaeoidea and they specialise in dung.

OK, they have what is an unpleasant job through human eyes but it is, none the less, an important one in the natural cycle of things.

This is a male Minatour Beetle, identified by its amazing of three thoracic spines (ie spines coming from the thorax rather than the head like a Stag Beetle).

These are found mainly in sandy soils where they bury rabbit droppings on which both adults and larvae feed. They tend to be on the move in the evenings and we found this one, upside down and struggling to right itself near the farm fields at Arne where the Sika Deer feed. As these beetles also specialise in sheep dung it occurs to us maybe deer droppings are suitable too?

Not much to look at perhaps but interesting. The male collects the dung (using those horns presumably) and the female, without horns, does the burying. I guess those horns would be a major impediment in getting below ground?

11 April, 2010

Goat Willow (Salex caprea)

Although the books call this Goat Willow I prefer its other common name Sallow! What has this tree got to do with goats?

These large yellow flowers are quite conspicuous now as, like the Blackthorn, the flowers come before the leaves.

This is a common tree which is just as well as the flowers are a major nectar source for our early insects, especially moths. In a cold spring easy to find nectar sources can be the difference between life and death for many insects.

When these are just buds they are known as pussy willow and are a silvery white colour. When the flowers fully emerge, however, the silver gives way to gold and they make a lovely sight.

10 April, 2010

Oak Beauty (Biston strataria)

How do you tell a moth from a butterfly? Not a joke, a serious question! Answer? Moths have feathered antennae where as a butterfly has clubbed antennae.

A look at this photo will quickly tell you then that this is a moth with those lovely, long feathered antennae. In fact, that makes this a male moth. They use those antennae to pick up the scent of female pheromones up to 200 yards away.

The Oak Beauty is a resident species, single brooded, flying in March and April and it is widespread and not uncommon in woodlands and parkland in England, especially in the south.

Eggs are laid on a range of trees including Oak, Hazel and Alder. The larvae emerge in May and pupate in July and over winter in that state before being one of earliest species to emerge.

09 April, 2010

Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)

At this time of year there are not a lot of moths about but the most common by far is the Hebrew Character.

It is not hard to see why it bears that name; that distinctive mark on the wings.

The Hebrew Character is a resident species as opposed to migratory. It overwinters as a pupa and hatches into an adult and is flying in March and April and is particularly fond of Sallow blossom.

It is single brooded and the larvae hatch and are active on a wide variety of trees during May and June before pupating.

07 April, 2010

Oil Beetle (Meloe proscarabaeus)

I am not sure what I marvel at most, the bewildering complexity of nature or the dedicated research scientists who unravel it for the rest of us to understand!

Seeing this creature climbing up the garage wall sent me running for the camera and the field guide. I had seen Oil Beetles before but normally on the Purbeck coastal cliffs; I did not expect one in our garden. What I discovered was, frankly, amazing!

It seems that in spring the female Oil Beetle lays an enormous amount of eggs in soil, several thousand per batch and several batches per individual.

The eggs soon hatch in to wriggling larvae with strong jaws and claws. They climb up on to the heads of Dandelions and await the arrival of their host insects.

When an insect comes along to feed on the Dandelion the larvae attaches itself but only a very few actually attach to the right host, a species of solitary bee! Those that make the wrong choice perish while the lucky ones cling on and are transported back to the bee's nest.

Once there, it eats ONE egg! After that it turns its attention to eating the bee's food.reserves, nectar and pollen. After several moults the larvae turns in to a grub, pupates and emerges as an adult in spring ready to mate and start the complex cycle again.

Now is that amazing or not?

03 April, 2010

7-spot Ladybird (Coccinella 7-punctata)

Out in the garden you will be starting to encounter the familiar ladybird. The insects you find now will have hibernated over winter in a garden shed or somewhere safe and are now out and about feeding up and preparing to breed.

There are actually 45 species in this family but the bright red and black 7-spot is the most familiar although the 2-spot is similar and also common.

Ladybirds are to be encouraged in the garden as they, and their larvae, consume vast numbers of greenfly and other 'pests'. The new ladybird on the block, however, the Harlequin, is less welcome and threatens to the future of our own native species.

The bright colours are a warning to birds that they have an exceedingly unpleasant taste. They also exude drops of pungent, staining blood when handled which smells for quite a while afterwards.

"Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home, your house is on fire and your children are gone ..."

02 April, 2010

Marsh-marigold (Caltha palustris)

A bright bit of 'sunshine' to cheer a miserable, cold, wet early April morning, the first Marsh-marigolds in flower in our garden pond.

I usually call these King-cups or Marsh-cups but the book calls them Marsh-marigold so I will have to change my ways!

These are, of course, members of the buttercup family and are common anywhere it is wet (which could be said to be anywhere down here at the moment), You will see them on wet meadows, river banks, edges of ponds and lakes, even in damp woodland.

At the moment, there are masses of them on the meadows beside the Wareham by-pass, they are so striking you can see them clearly from the car as you pass.

01 April, 2010

Common Daisy (Bellis perennis)

The humble Common Daisy, one of the first flowers we can name when, as youngsters, we are taught to make daisy chains! When a bit older we pull the petals off one by one saying "She loves me, she loves me not".

Love them or hate them if you have a lawn you almost certainly have the Common Daisy growing there. Everyone has daisies on their lawn apart from one of my neighbours whose lawn is like astro-turf.

Cutting the grass gets rid of them for an hour or two but it is not long before those familiar white and yellow flowers reappear. I like them and have no problem with them, my wife hates them and wants them cut off by the mower.

The Common Daisy flowers from March to October on short grazed (or mown) turf everywhere and they are so familiar we take them for granted but looked at close up they are attractive flowers.