If you would like to read my Dorset nature notes about any of these featured species or sites please click on the post title

About Me

My photo

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, 2010

Parasoll 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!

30 August, 2010

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!

Ploughmans Spikenard (Inula conyzae)

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.

29 August, 2010

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.

28 August, 2010

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!

27 August, 2010

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.

26 August, 2010

Silver Y (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.
Interest Level:

24 August, 2010

Common Darter (sympetrum striolatum)

It being a sunny afternoon here today we sat by our garden pond that we put in a couple of years ago 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.

23 August, 2010

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.

21 August, 2010

Wasp Spider (Agriope bruennichi)

Here on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset we have extensive areas of heathland; indeed most of the remaining areas of this unique habitat are to be found down here.

Dorset heathland is home to a range of creatures that are quite rare elsewhere and the wasp spider is one of them. Not easy to see, but not hard to find, wasp spiders like heather, scrub and rough pasture to build their webs which have this distinctive zig-zag down the middle.

The spider itself is a striking animal in appearance with its distinctive yellow, blue and black stripes. The female is much, much larger than the male (but then that is quite common in spiders).

This creature is right at the northern edge of its range here on the south coast, being more common in Europe, but it has spread and, having been quite rare 20 years ago it is now well established and quite common in this area of Dorset. I photographed this one on Hartland Moor, a National Nature Reserve just outside Wareham but I have seen them in several places where the habitat is right.

20 August, 2010

Lacewing (Chrysopa perla)

Lacewings are mainly nocturnal and are rarely seen. However, when the emege from their cocoon, just like a damselfly or dragonfly they have to wait for their wings to straighten out and fill with blood and so, for a short time they are very vulnerable, not only to predators but also to the camera. I am sure this one would like to have flown away but it just had to sit on the leaf and hope I was friendly!

Lacewings live up to their name. They are exquisitely made little insects,with amazing patterns in their wings. Usually green, sometimes brown, this one with the black spots down its back inhabits deciduous woodland from May through until August.

Related to caddis flies, lacewing larvae tend to camouflage themselves with the empty skins of their victims; they eat mainly aphids.

19 August, 2010

Common Hawker (Aeshna juncea)

Late summer is the best time of year for dragonflies. There seem to be more of them about in late August and September and, in particular it is the best time to see 'hawker' dragonflies.
Hawkers derive this collective name from the way the species in the family fly around their territory almost continuously, just occasionally resting. They defend their territory fearlessly and will even approach human beings who enter their patch to check them out! Whilst that can be a bit disconcerting the dragonfly is, of course, totally harmless to people. This 'hawking' seems to form two purposes, the same to driving forces behind all of nature; one is food and the other reproduction.They are hunting for food and hunting for a mate!
The tricky bit with hawkers is telling the species apart because of this constant movement but we ttend to have three here in Dorset, the most common is the Southern Hawker, and the rarest is the Migrant Hawker. The third species is the Common Hawker and, peversely, is not the most common.
If the insect looks green and/or blue then it is probably the Southern Hawker and most will be. If it is brown and blue it is the Common Hawker and if it looks brown/black then it is probably Migrant Hawker but you really do need to see them at rest like this to be certain.

18 August, 2010

Hoverfly (Eristalis pertinax)

Hoverflies are everywhere now. As late summer approaches we have many flowers of the daisy family in full bloom, especially thistle, knapweeds and fleabane. These are ideal places to take a closer look.

One of the most common species of hoverfly is this one, Eristalis pertinax. It is quite a large insect with a slightly pointed or tapered abdonmen which is black but with two noticeable white lines across. The thorax is bright orange but with a dark 'X' shape on it.

This insect is actually on the wing continously throughout the summer from March to November but as adults only live three or four weeks it means that there must be almost continuous broods throughout the spring, summer and autumn.

Larvae have been found in farmyard drains and other organically rich areas and so they are very common insects on farms.

17 August, 2010

Dropwort (Filipendula vulgaris)

This could actually be a close up picture of Meadowsweet but it actually a totally different species.

As Dropwort and Meadowsweet look so alike this is a case of using other criteria to make an identification. Whereas Meadowsweet is a plant of wet (or at least damp) ground Dropwort thrives on dry chalk grassland. Similar plants, totally different requirements in terms of habitat.

Locally common but not widespread Dropwort is always a nice find in June through to August.

If you want to be totally sure which of the two species you have found then look at the leaves, they are very different. Meadowsweet has bold rose-like leaves whereas Dropwort are much more akin to ferns.

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)

Along with the sea cliffs there is no better place to walk in summer than along the banks of Dorset's wonderful chalk river. There is such a rich variety of plants, insects and other animals that thrive in these habitats.

Among the plants in summer you will frequently find this dense, fluffy creamy white flower, Meadowsweet.

It flowers from June right through until October and is immensely popular with insects of all kinds probably attracted by the lovely fragrance of the flower.

It occurs away from rivers in other wet places such as fens and swamps but it is not keen on acid soils the chalk rivers are the best place to find it.

16 August, 2010

Gipsywort (Lycopus europaeus)

Continuing a look along the banks of our rivers and neighbouring wet meadows this is another local flower, common where it occurs but difficult to find places it does occur!

Gipsywort is another of those classic labiate family plants. The square stem, pointed nettle shaped leaves and small tubular flowers in whorls are so typical of this family.

Gipsywort is found on stream banks, in drainage ditches and wet 'fen' areas from June through to September and is out now on Wareham Common.

Sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica)

Those of you who know Yarrow might well think that that is what this is, but it's not. It is an Achillea like Yarrow but this is a smaller plant with less feathery leaves.

This time of year, riversides and wet meadoes are good places to look for flowers a bit out of the ordinary and that is where you find Sneezewort.

Sneezewort is described as being 'local' and so where it occurs it is usually quite common but finding places where it occurs is a bit more difficult. Certainly, the lower reaches of the River Frome is one place. It has a preference for acid soil rather than chalk so it is unlikely to be found further up stream in the chalk areas where our streams tend to originate.

Flowering in July and August you can find it now on Wareham Common. I have no idea why it is called Sneezewort but I suspect it has connections to the Great Plague!

15 August, 2010

Common Cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense)

I was a bit surprised to find lots of Common Cow-wheat along the side of the lane leading to Coombe Heath nature reserve, I had always though of it as a spring flower but I see from my book that it flowers from May right through to September. There was certainly a lot of it in flower today.

Common Cow-wheat is primarily a woodland plant bit also occurs on heaths and boggy areas and so the approach to Coombe Heath must be ideal as the lane passes through woodland before opening up on to the heath which has a fantastic bog in the middle of it.

Cow-wheat is an interesting flower in that it is a member of the figwort family but unlike many other members of the family the Cow-wheats are partially parasitic on other plants.

Common Cow-wheat has very delicate tubular flowers and, whilst not rare, I would call it uncommon.

Common Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris)

I expect most of us are familiar with snap-dragons as we called them when I was a child. If you press the sides of the flower near the base the mouth opens!

This is natural version of the flower we used to grow in the garden, Common Toadflax.

As the name implies, it is fairly common and thrives on calcareous soils and hence does well in parts of Dorset.

It flowers from July right through until October and you can find in waste areas, on grassland, in hedgerows, along roadside verges and railway tracks, anywhere where the competition from other plants is not too great.

I have also heard this called Tom Thumb and Eggs and Bacon but I think both of these country names really apply to Bird's-foot Trefoil.

Common Toadflax is a lovely flower, well worth taking a closer look at it if you find it.

14 August, 2010

Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris)

If the rain doesn't spoil your late summer picnic or barbecue then there is a pretty good chance that everyone's pet hate, the Common Wasp, probably will!

Sadly, although extremely 'intelligent' insects they can be a bit dumb when it comes to picking up signals that a Human Being means them harm. As a result, the Wasp is quite prepared to fight back with that painful sting it has.

I describe it as 'intelligent' as it is one of those remarkable insects that work selflessly together for the good of its colony. Tireless workers, each with a job to do they know what to do and how to do it!

This is a photo taken earlier in the year of one collecting wood to help build the wonderful 'paper mache' nest. It is chewing up a wooden bench seat!

I like wasps; I admire wasps; but I hate wasps hanging around me when I am trying to enjoy a nice cream cake outside my favourite tea rooms!

13 August, 2010

Mullein Moth Caterpillar (Cucullia verbasci)

This is a familiar caterpillar often seen on the leaves of verbascum plants, especially Great Mullein and Dark Mullein as well as Common and Water Figwort. Anywhere these plants thrive then so do the Mullein Moth larvae. It is quite common to see large whole in 'Mullein' leaves and when you take a closer look you find these attractively marked caterpillars.

The verbascum family of flowers tend to grow in waste places and scrubby areas, often where their is open ground and little competition from more aggressive species. Not surprising then, that is where you find this moth.

The adult flies in April and May and I have never seen it despite being a common moth. The reason it is fairly seen is that it is one of the few species that does not seem attracted to light and therefore a moth trap is of little interest to them.

The caterpillars emerge in late June and are just about at the end of their time now; they will shortly pupate and over winter in this state ready to emerge in the spring. However, they can stay a pupa for up to four years before emerging which is quite remarkable.

Common White Wave (Cabera pursaria)

Some moths are easily disturbed from their daily slumbers as they await nightfall and a return to active life. It does not take a lot sometimes, perhaps the merest brush against a bush or a shoe near grass or vegetation is enough to get them to spring in to action.

Mostly, these seems to be Geometrid moths that are inclined to do this and the Common White Wave is certainly one of the more frequently seen. It is a small moth, pure white with wavy veins running though the wings and some speckles to go with them.

A common moth of woodlands and scrub everywhere, it has two broods down here in Dorset, the second brood is just emerging now which will be the off spring of those on the wing earlier in the year in May and June.

11 August, 2010

Corn Mint (Mentha arvensis)

Less well known than its close relative Water Mint, Corn Mint is, none the less, a very common flower in Dorset.

Unmistakably a labiate with square stem, pointed leaves and tubular flowers but it is quite different to Water Mint despite its similarities. The flowers are blue, often a pale blue, and the occur in whorls around the stem just above where the leaves occur. The leaves are green rather than purple.

The Corn Mint flowers from May trough to September and occurs mainly in woodlands and sometimes in meadows, often where the ground is damp rather than wet.

It can grow in similar places to Water Mint and there are known to be hybrids of the two so that can make identification difficult.

Water Mint (Mentha aquatica)

When walking by a pond or a slow moving river you will almost certainly encounter Water Mint. It grows anywhere there is fresh water, indeed, anywhere the ground is usually damp.

It is very common in Dorset where its preferred habitat exists flowering from July right through until October.

It is easy to identify this species as being mint, just take a leaf and have a sniff, all that is missing is the roast lamb!

Water Mint has this purple tinged green in the leaves like many of the labiate (or mint) family. The flowers are pale mauve and are formed around the top of the stem.

10 August, 2010

Indian Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera)

Indian Balsam is a plant introduced from the Himalayas into water gardens and has escaped in to the outside world. It is now widespread on river banks around the county especially the Stour and the Frome.

Sadly this is another unwelcome arrival from over sees and another case of us paying for the Victorian habit of collecting 'nice things' from the colonies and bringing them home. This plant is something of a pest as it is free growing, spreading rapidly and becoming dominant at the expense of other natural species.

It is not even very good for insects or as a food for any other living thing so it is a flower we could well do without but impossible to eradicate. We put more effort into pulling Ragwort which is far more beneficial, than we do in to controlling this plant.

What the plant does have in its favour is these lovely large pink flowers that give the plant its nick-name, Policeman's Helmet. Ever see a policeman with a pink helmet?

Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum)

Go anywhere where the ground is normally damp in Dorset and you are likely to find Hemp-agrimony. It will be found along river banks, fens, marshes, wet meadows, damp woodlands; it just needs damp ground.

No relation to Agrimony despite the similar name (both English and scientific), Help-agrimony is a member of the daisy family and has these lovely soft padded flower heads which insects adore. It is always worth browsing the flowers of Hemp-agrimony to see who is at home!

Once the flowers go over then the finches move in to feed on the seed heads.

All things considered Hemp-agrimony is a top flower! Good to see, good for insects and good for seed feeders.

09 August, 2010

Betony (Betonica officinalis)

Betony is a classic example of the Labiate family; multiple tubular flowers on a square stem and with pointed leaves coming out in opposite pairs up the stem.

Although Betony flowers from June September it seems to be at its best now that August has arrived.

Betony is at home in woods, on grassland and even heaths and does not mind whether the the soil is calcareous (therefore alkaline) or acid.

It is quite common in Dorset where it occurs but it does not occur everywhere, you have to look for it!

Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria)

After the purple and mauves of summer flowers we are beginning to see the predominant colour move back to yellow and it a sure sign of high summer when Agrimony starts to come out in to flower.

Agrimony is a common flower of our roadsides, hedgerows, grasslands, and scrubby areas where the soil is inclined to being dry and chalky and there are plenty of areas like that in Dorset.

Surprisingly, perhaps, this is a member of the rose family, each individual flower up the flower spike having five petals opening flat into a small rosette.

In flower now and through in to September, these attractive yellow flower spikes are now to be seen across the county.

08 August, 2010

Large Black Slug (Deroceras reticulatum)

If snails are a ;problem in gardens, what does that make the slug? Slugs would probably come out number 1 in a poll of gardens to say which is the most troublesome garden pest. People will stop at nothing to try and keep them under control it seems. My wife used to do a morning patrol of their favoured hiding places and collect them up in a pot and we would dump them somewhere well out of range when we went out. Even slugs are protected from harm in our garden but they are not safe from eviction!

This Large Black Slug also occurs in various other forms including brown and a chestnut versions. Although it will apparently eat anything it is not a species that does much damage in the garden, that honour falls to the smaller Netted Slug.

I guess the poor slug is not going to be popular with anyone as it has little going for it. However, Hedgehogs, Frogs and Grass Snakes are all very partial to a tasty slug so someone loves them.

Garden Snail (Helix aspersa)

The most common snail in gardens is, not surprisingly, called the Garden Snail. Not a popular garden resident with keen horticulturists but popular with Song Thrushes!

Although not the most popular if creatures we all learn about them at junior school, how they carry their homes on their back and in winter how they seal over the entrance whilst they sleep soundly inside.

The frequency of snails is not down to the abundance of food. They need calcium to form their shells and so are more common in chalk and limestone soil areas. They also have problems crossing sandy soil so are rarely found in such environments.

The Garden Snail is unpopular with gardeners for good reason, being very fond low growing fruit and vegetables.

They tend to be most active at night and spend the day behind flower pots and other sheltered places. It is apparently true that if you mark them and follow their movements that they will return to the same sheltered spot every morning after a night on the rampage amongst your plants.

07 August, 2010

Hoverfly (Metesyrphus luniger)

This hoverfly is predominantly black with comma like yellow markings on the abdomen. It could be one of three very similar species but Metesyrphus luniger is the most common and so I expect it will be that through sheer force of numbers.

Common in the summer in open places such as meadows and verges it also inhabits gardens which is where I photographed this one.

This is a migratory species and some years it can be more common than others and I would venture a guess that this is a good year for incoming insects here as there have been a few of these in the garden recently.

We recognise the wonders of bird migration and tend to forget that even small insects migrate too. Quite remarkable really that an insect no more than half an inch long can fly across the English channel from Normandy to Dorset!

Hoverfly (Eristalis horticola)

The Eristalis genus of hoverfly are both generally common and very similar. Any flower of the carrot or daisy families are liable to be playing host to them and often the best way to identify them is to get a photograph and take a close look when you get home!

It took me a fair while to come down on the side of Eristalis horticola and I may still be wrong. However, my book says that horticola is a brighter colour than most of the family and that is true of this insect here. In addition, black 'shadows' on the wings are a feature and it is smaller than most similar species. It is also quite common here in the south.

Taking all those things in to account then Eristalis horticola would seem to fit but if anyone thinks otherwise I would really like to know.

06 August, 2010

Harvestman (Leiobunum rotundum)

Nature is a wonderful thing (if you can call all of nature a 'thing'). The body of this harvestmen is barely 3mm long from tip to tail and yet the legs are seven or eight times longer! How can a small body like that manoeuvre eight long legs and keep them synchronised? Not only that, if you disturb one you will see just how quickly it gets its act together and gets mobile!

That small round single body contains not only its vital organs, but also some sort of brain and enough muscles to move eight long legs. Incredible!

These are insect feeders but they do not spin webs to catch their prey. They use speed and surprise - all coordinated through that tiny little control centre in the middle which also houses some pretty strong 'fangs' and a mouth capable of consuming insects larger than itself.

Isn't nature amazing?

Harvestman (Phalangium opilio)

Eight legs? Must be a spider although it doesn't seem to look quite like a spider.

These creatures with small bodies and eight legs are commonly known as harvestmen although I have no idea why other than they are most commonly found about now, harvest time.

Although they are not spiders they are related but they are very different in that they have an undivided body, spiders have a thorax and abdomen whereas harvestmen have just one compartment for all their bits!

They are mainly nocturnal but you do see them by day, usually resting. What I find even more incredible is that they feed on other small animals, both living and dead. They may not look much but they are obviously ferocious little creatures. They are venomless and quite harmless to us of course.

05 August, 2010

Spotted Crane-fly (Nephrotoma appendiculata)

There are a number of species of crane flies and they can often be hard to tell apart, there are two species of Spotted Crane-fly and you need to examine a specimen under a magnifying glass to be certain which species you have found. Killing samples for examination is not might scene!

If this is not N. appendiculata then it will be N. quadrifaria! Which ever it is, it is a Spotted Crane-fly ...

Summer flying, it is the most likely crane-fly to be seen at the moment and is common in cultivated areas and the larvae can be something of a garden pest.

Stripe Winged Grasshopper (Stenobothrus lineatus)

Here in the south of England on calcareous limestone grassland, and there is a lot of that in Dorset, we find the Stripe Winged Grasshopper.

Grasshoppers are tricky chaps to tie down as they can fly away from you (yes, they fly in short bursts rather than hop) as they are pretty sensitive to movement.

With the aid of a bat detector one can home in them and if you are really careful you can strike lucky, especially if the sun goes behind a cloud at the right moment!

They have white and black stripes on the outside of the wings but they are hard to tell apart from the Meadow Grasshopper which is similar. In any event, adults of the same species can vary!

All grasshoppers make differing sound patterns (stridulation) and that is the best way to identify them.

03 August, 2010

Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae)

he Common Ragwort has the scientific name of Scenecio jacobaea so little wonder that the Cinnabar Moth, whose larvae depend solely on Common Ragwort should be named Tyria jacobaeae! The Cinnabar Moth is undoubtedly the Tyria of the Common Ragwort.

Twenty years or so ago these caterpillars would be seen everywhere this time of year stripping Ragwort of just about everything but the tough stem. Nowadays, you have to look very hard to find these distinctive looking caterpillars dressed in their yellow and black whooped jerseys!

I can't help thinking that the modern day obsession with ragwort pulling has had a dramatic effect on these striking larvae, and so too, on the numbers of this attractive moth in its adult stage.

02 August, 2010

Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)

I am often asked what the difference is between a Cormorant and a Shag and the simple answer is that there are many differences when you see them close up and side by side!

From a distance they are much harder to separate, the Shag being a bit smaller and having darker colouring all over.

However, the best guide, and a pretty reliable one too, is to say Cormorants like sandy areas off shore or inland seas, rivers and large lakes whereas the Shag is very much a bird of the cliffs and open sea.

If you see a bird diving in sandy Swanage Bay, for example, it will be a Cormorant, but round Peverell Point and head along the Purbecks coast and they will almost certainly then be Shag. Take care, though, whilst a good guide it does not always work! Shag can be seen in Poole Harbour sometimes, especially in the winter months.

Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

As it is now August we can start to expect the Autumn migration to begin and one of the signs of this are the occasional sightings of Common Sandpiper that will now occur during this month and next.

The Common Sandpiper is quite common nesting on fast flowing rivers in Scotland, northern England and Wales and head south for the winter. They can turn up in all sorts of unexpected places here in Dorset as they stop off for a final meal before heading out across the channel.

I watched two ferreting around amongst the large stones on the bank of the River Frome opposite the quay in Wareham. They also trn upon the sea shore, especially rocky areas.

01 August, 2010

Buck's-horn Plantain (Plantago coronopus)

So some plants are just boring! No nice flowers, no impressive foliage, nothing. Well I suppose plantains fall into the boring category and are not much to look at.

The Buck's-horn Plantain is very much a part of the seaside vegetation and is common near our coasts on grassy areas, sandy and rocky, close to the sea.

Although not much to look at it is quite distinctive with the 'flower' heads on stems that come out from the centre of the plant in a curve upwards to form a sort of crown (coronpus?) It is the leaves of the plant that give rise to 'buck's horn' as they are the shape of deer antlers.

Parsley Water-dropwort (Oenanthe lachenalii)

In amongst the Cord Grass on the mudflats and coastal marshes of Dorset you can encounter a flower that looks like a bit Cow Parsley. It is another of those hard to identify members of the carrot family.

However, the fact it is growing on salt marsh can lead you to a pretty positive identification straight away, Parsley Water-dropwort is probably the only one who likes such habitat.

Being restricted in its preference for habitat this is not a common plant but around Poole Harbour one encounters it quite frequently from June until September.

Sea Mayweed (Tripleurospermum maritum)

Sea Mayweed is a classic daisy in appearance. Much larger then the lawn daisy, of course, but it has that yellow centre surrounded by an array of white petals.

On the surface,very similar (and closely related) to Scentless Mayweed which is a very common flower of arable farmland but the fact that this grows near the sea on the upper reaches of the shoreline, often at the base of cliffs, that can be a pretty definitive guide to identification without resorting to a hand lens.

Not a common plant, more 'occasional', but you can easily find it at places like Ringstead, West Bexington, Worbrarrow, and Kimmeridge