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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!

31 March, 2011

Long-Billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus)

I may be keen on wildlife but no one can say I'm a twitcher! This Long-Billed Dowitcher turned up a Lodmoor at least six weeks ago, has since visited Radipole, been to Poole and is now back at Lodmoor and today, purely by chance I caught up with it! Lunch with friends in Weymouth meant we stopped of at Lodmoor on the way back for a quick look and someone said "Would you like to see the Dowitcher through my telescope?".

Not long after he was captured on camera! A bit grainy but he was a long way off.

Is the Long-billed Dowitcher a rarity? I guess so. It is a North American bird that has found itself off beam during southerly migration. I guess, in the five years we have been in Dorset this is the third so it happens, but not often!

What is intriguing is whether this bird will ever find its way home. At some point I guess it is going to head north in search of the breeding grounds and so hopefully it will find some of its own kind somewhere up there in the Arctic.

In the meantime it seems quite content as a guest of the RSPB, wading around in the Lodmoor shallow scrapes being watched by British birders.

30 March, 2011

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 ..."

28 March, 2011

Mining Bee (Andrena haemorrhoa)

For the amateur naturalist the extent of ones knowledge is going be restricted by the quality of ones reference material which is usually going to be a field guide. I have looked for years for a top quality field guide to insects but have yet to find one so inevitably I find and photograph a number of insects I never identify.

At the moment we have a number of these small bees in the garden. Less than half an inch long they fly around almost continuously, perching only briefly on a leaf before launching off again.

I believe this to be a 'mining bee'; one that nests under ground and you often see little 'volcanoes' on sandy soils from which they have emerged or where they intend to lay their eggs.

I can find no such mounds in our garden as yet but then, if this is the species I think it might be, they appear to be nearly all males.

Andrena haemorrhoa in one of the very early species of mining bee to appear, March and April are their peak months. They are very partial to dandelions and blackthorn blossom. The females have quite a brownish-red back, the male is duller as in this photo. The male also has a yellow tip to its abdomen which one can just make out in this photo.

So, from the limited information at my disposal I am putting this down as Andrena haemorrhoa but if I am wrong I would be really grateful if someone can enlighten me. Thanks.

27 March, 2011

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 what, at first, seems to be two small black dots on each. The black dots are, in fact the tips (or anthers) of the white stamens. Early insects will pollinate these flowers to give us sloes in the autumn.

The colder winter means that the Blackthorn is a little later this year. If we get another cold snap then it undoubtedly will bring to mind the country saying of it being a 'Blackthorn winter'.

25 March, 2011

Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

All right, I agree, seeing one today at Radipole hardly means it's summer but at least it does constitute a further sign that spring is with us (almost).

What surprised me at first was actually seeing one in a tree! I am sure I have never seen this before. Then, looking at it, a tired, hungry little chap it was obvious he was happy to perch anywhere just to give his wings a rest. Despite a small group of people gathering under the tree for a look he just had had enough and wanted a breather!

Although they said at Radipole that they usually get Swallows in Mid March this is the first time I have ever seen one before April is here.

So, for me at least, this one was very special. I wish him a long and happy summer and a safe journey back south when the time comes.

24 March, 2011

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 from March until 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 summer but by then, in July, Western Gorse (a separate species) takes over as does the Dwarf Gorse (Ulex minor).

Superficially all three are very simlar. Dwarf Gorse is often overlooked as a young Gorse bush but it is actually 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.

22 March, 2011

Colt's-foot (Tussilago farfara)

There is no doubt that the much colder winter this year has meant that signs of spring are still few and far between. Maybe, as a result, there is more obvious evidence of this little flower this year - it has less competition.

Colt's-foot is a member of the Daisy family and is related to Butterbur, Yarrow and Hemp Agrimony.

It is a small, almost insignificant flower, perhaps dismissed as a Dandelion but it is worth a closer look. It grows on bare patches of ground where the earth may be quite thin and can be seen frequently on the tracks of old railway lines for this very reason.

It flowers mainly in March and will soon be over. In keeping with its family ties those yellow flowers will quickly turn to fluffy seed heads to be dispersed by the March winds and then all signs of the plant will be gone for another year

21 March, 2011

Buff-tailed Bumble-bee (Bombus Terrestris)

One of the first insects of spring is the humble bumble-bee, Bombus Terrestris. Also known as the Buff-tailed Bumblebee this can be confusing as it is not the only bunblee-bee with a buff tail! However, the two honey coloured bands, one on the thorax and one on the abdomen help you pin it down.

Down here in Dorset the queens, which hibernate, can be up and about in February although they are much later this year.appearing now, well in to March.

B. terrestris is a common garden species and can be seen throughout the spring and summer but it is very difficult to tell the workers apart from their cousin, the White Tailed Bumblebee, Bombus Lucorum which is also common.

As its name implies, Bombus terrestris is terrestrial! It prefers to nest under ground. Again, this is misleading as other species of bumblebee nest under ground too!

They will visit a wide range of flowers but they have a very short tongue and so will often bite through the base of the corolla on long tubed flowers to get to the nectar.

Bumblebees are lovely, furry creatures and pretty harmless too. They add another dimension to your garden wildlife and should be encouraged.

20 March, 2011

Little Grebe (Egretta garzetta)

Now you see it ... in a moment you won't! You get your camera on to it, focus, shoot and you have a photograph of water, this little chap has gone down again. I reckon that the Little Grebe spends as much time under the water as it does on it, perhaps even more below the surface. It's a good game, watching one dive and then trying to guess where it will reappear - one is never right.

Little Grebe or Dabchick? Both are accepted names for this bird but it is little and it is a grebe so for me it is Little Grebe.

You can see the Little Grebe around the waterways of Dorset all year, occasionally on inland stretches of our main rivers but usually on large ponds and near river mouths They are quite common and freely breed here although easily overlooked because of the time they spend under water.

19 March, 2011

Gt Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)

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.

18 March, 2011

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 ...

17 March, 2011

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 recent milder winters they have come out gradually from February onwards but this year it seems they are going to explode in to colour together! Soon 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.

16 March, 2011

Yellow Dung Fly (Scathophaga stercoraria)

This is a fly! It is yellow and is usually found on cow pats or other dung. It is exactly what the label says, a Yellow Dung Fly.

Not one of nature's 'lookers' I grant you but an essential part of the ecosystem none the less.

The Yellow Dung Fly lays its eggs in dung, the larvae hatch out and then consume the dung until they become adults and lay their eggs in dung. A life cycle governed by the cow pat and one that gives the cow pat a definitive life span otherwise we would be inundated with cow pats!

You may not like creatures like this, but we could not survive without them doing the dirty work!

15 March, 2011

Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis)

There are some species that really are specialities here in Dorset. In fact, in the National Biodiversity Database there are more species recorded for the Isle of Purbeck than for any other area of similar size in the whole of the United Kingdom (This is what I am told, I have never checked it out!). This is primarily because of the Dorset heathland and the special animals and plants found there; some are very rare indeed and found only in this habitat.

So it is with the Sand Lizard. Along with the Smooth Snake they are nationally very rare creatures and they are not that common here, they take some finding!

Being cold blooded they often use metal, especially corrugated iron, to warm themselves. The metal quickly heats in the sun and retains that heat and the lizards and snakes are quick to take advantage of it. However, until they are up to temperature there is little they can do to avoid the glare of the camera!

The male Sand Lizard has this lovely green colouring and are quite 'chubby' and so they are quite easily told apart from their duller, slimmer cousins, the Common Lizard.