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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!

22 June, 2011

Pond Skater (Gerris lacustris)

I'm afraid to say I take some species of wildlife for granted. Everyday from April through to October, possibly even November, the little Pond Skaters relentlessly make their around the surface of our garden pond and I take very little notice of them; they are always there. It took years before I even thought about pointing a camera at one but now I have I am quite taken with them!

In every way "just another insect" but they are perfectly adapted for their environment and they take advantage of a micro-habitat no other insect is interested in, the surface of still water. They wait for small insects to get in to trouble on the water and they are quickly there and strike. They have developed an ability to rapidly move across water without getting waterlogged and that is mainly down to the shape of the legs, as this picture shows, with the back legs from the 'knees' downwards running along the water's surface.

There is so much of interest right under our noses in our gardens and all too often we choose to overlook it.

21 June, 2011

Horse Chestnut Moth (Pachycnemia hippocastanaria)

Whilst walking across heathland I disturbed this moth. It took a while to track it down and photograph it and then, when I got home, the process if identification started. Now there were no Horse Chestnut trees anywhere to be seen when I found this moth so initially I discounted it although the photo match was a good one. Eventually, nearing the point of defeat, I turned to the text on the Horse Chestnut moth fully expecting it to be associated with the tree of the same name; instead I read that it is "occasionally put up from heather during the day but is more frequently found flying at dusk or at light." Not only that but also "Well established and not uncommon on the heaths of Hampshire and Dorset. A very local species."

One has to ask, who names these creatures? How can a heathland species bear the common name Horse Chestnut Moth? It has nothing to do with Horse Chestnut trees and the choice of name for this moth is grossly misleading! Rant over.

20 June, 2011

Fleabane Tortoise Beetle (Cassida murraea)

A small selection of the leaf beetles (chrysomeidae) are known as 'tortoise' beetles because they appear to have a complete casing with no real visible head giving the impression of a tortoise with its head withdrawn into its shell. Leaf beetles are small and can resemble ladybirds and this is probably true of this one, the Fleabane Tortoise Beetle.
The Fleabane Tortoise Beetle spends its entire life eating the leaves of the common late summer flowering plant, Fleabane. Just imagine, the same for breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper every day of its life and possibly living on the same leaf day after day!
It has a reddish orange colour to its casing with dark spots, hence its likeness to a ladybird but close up it becomes obvious the abdomen is a different shape and the thorax is noticeably separated from the abdomen whereas the ladybird is, on the face of it, one complete unit.
Not uncommon but easily overlooked, watch out for this little beetle on the leaves of Fleabane when you are out and about.

19 June, 2011

Common Mosquito (Culex pipiens)

If, like me, you have some nasty sore bites on your legs from walking on heath and cliffs then you may not want to see one of the possible perpetrators! The Common Mosquito, along with the Common Wasp are probably the two most hated insects in the country.

It is not only the mosquito that bites of course; there are some pretty nasty relatives, the midge family, that do so as well. These insects are dependent on blood to enable their eggs to develop and so ensure the species survives. They have to bite, they have no choice.

Many of us, then, will swat a mosquito on sight and never actually get to see one so here you are, this is what they look like close up and personal. Actually, I think their looks belay their 'evil' streak. They are a truly delicate and exquisitely made insect; its just a shame they are one of man's worst enemies! At least in this country we do not have to fear that they are carrying the dreaded malaria.

18 June, 2011

Clouded Border (Lomaspilis marginata)

Although a night flying species the Clouded Border is one of those moths that you frequently encounter by day as they seem to be light sleepers! It is not uncommon to be walking through woodland or scrubby places and see a white coloured moth fly up. It will not always be a Clouded Border, as other geometrid moths are easily disturbed too, but if you are able to keep your eye on them and watch for where they settle you will often get a good look at them as they try to go back to sleep.

The Clouded Border is quite common down here in Dorset flying in June and July. It is comfortable in many habitats including heaths, common and marshy places as well as woodland and scrub.

One word of warning, the wing markings can be quite variable in terms of black markings so the one you find might not look exactly like this one!

17 June, 2011

Hoverfly (Pyrophaena granditarsa)

Hoverflies come in all sorts of guises, some wasp and bee mimics, some quite slim, even very small, and others much bigger and chunkier. One thing that instantly distinguishes them, of course, is their incredible ability to hover and to fly at exceptional speeds - nought to gone in less than a second!

You often do not get much to go when identifying them, the designs on their body being the usual feature but unless they are perched on a leaf or taking nectar from a flower they can be difficult to get a close view of.

With this one, I disturbed it from a bramble bush alongside the river Piddle on Wareham Common and as I did so it revealed a bright reddish orange thorax which may be just discernible from the photograph. To complete the identification I needed my text book on hoverflies that says this species, Pyrophaena granditarsa, is common on marshy meadows with lush vegetation and ditches and if one description describes Wareham Common it is precisely that!

So, no arguments, this is the awkwardly named Pyrophaena granditarsa!

16 June, 2011

Froghopper (Cercopis Vulnerata)

So who does not know cuckoo-spit when they see? It must surely be one of the first things in nature we see and learn to name in our early years?

Of course, the bubbly secretion on plants has nothing at all to do with the Cuckoo but because it starts to appear when the Cuckoo arrives each spring so it got its country name. The substance is actually secreted by a family of insects known as Aphrophoridae but are better known to us as 'froghoppers'. Very small insects, a few millimetres long, and easily over looked as many of the genera are dull brown and very well disguised as they lurk in the shrubbery.

This one, Ceropis vulnerata, bucks that trend however with its bright red and black attire and being very common they are very easy to find. Although predominantly a spring species you can find them around until July and even in to August.

15 June, 2011

Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages)

The Dingy Skipper is something of an overlooked species I think. True, it does not have the beautiful colouring of many other British butterfly species but, nonetheless, close up it does have a unique and subtle colouring.

On the wing in May and June, with a possible second brood here in Dorset in late August, the Dingy Skipper can be seen where Bird's-foot Trefoil grows and in Dorset that means almost anywhere! It is much more common than many think and can be found in quarries, on open rough ground, edges of woodland, even on heathland; it is particularly associated with chalk and limestone.

The Dingy Skipper is easily confused with one of our day flying moths like Mother Shipton or Burnet Companion, especially as it often rests, like a moth, with its wings open, indeed it is rarely seen with its wings closed above its back like other skipper species.

Well worth looking out for, it is not really 'dingy' at all in my opinion.

14 June, 2011

Greater Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera chlorantha)

Finding an orchid is always a bit of a thrill! They are apart from other flowers, they have that certain something extra. People will go miles to see a rare orchid just as others will to see a rare bird.

One of the biggest orchids you will find in Dorset is this one, the Greater Butterfly Orchid. Orchids are often named after something they resemble (bee, spider, frog, wasp, etc) but I find it hard to see a resemblance with a butterfly here. That said, it is a lovely flower.

Not common, the Greater Butterfly Orchid can be found in woodlands and grassland where the soil is calcareous so north Dorset is probably the most likely area. They may not be common but, if you find one, you will probably find several.

13 June, 2011

White-tailed Bumble-bee (Bombus lucorum)

The White-tailed Bumble-bee, or Bombus lucorum, is also commonly known as the Garden Bumble-bee. It is very common throughout the spring and summer visiting a wide variety of flowers for nectar. This catholic taste means that garden flowers are as popular as wild flowers.

This time of year thistles are coming in to bloom and quite often it is a case of find a thistle, find a bumble-bee. They are particularly keen on Musk Thistle where you can often find three or four to a flower head.

Bumble-bees, especially ones with white tails, are very difficult to distinguish but this, I believe, is a female of this species due to the band markings on the thorax and abdomen. These bands are the usual way to separate bumble-bee species but it does not always work!

These bumble-bees are vital to the pollination of plants and are essential to the future of human food supplies and need to be encouraged and helped to thrive. They are also just lovely in their own right, useful or not!

12 June, 2011

Shieldbug (Coreus marginatus)

One might think at first sight that this is a beetle but it is in fact a squash bug, so called because the family as a whole are a significant pest of squashes in north America.

This UK member of the family is quite common in the the spring and autumn, especially favouring dock leaves but the later brood are found on blackberries and other fruits as well.

Not an attractive insect it has to be said, its big 'padded' shoulders making it look quite fearsome but it is quite harmless of course being vegetarian.

It is also very variable in shading and can be lighter than the one I photographed and can also be much darker, almost black.

11 June, 2011

Spider (Tetragnatha extensa)

With apologies to all you arachnophobes out there here is today's wonder of the world; a spider with no common name, Tetragnatha extensa. The name 'extensa' hints at the incredible shape of this creature.

At first sight you could be forgiven for not even realising it was anything living at all! Although quite large, about 1.5" from tip of its feet to its rear end it is quite had to find as it is so thin and has colouring that makes it 'disappear' in to its background.

This is a spider that likes grassland and low vegetation, especially close to water and boggy habitats. I have seen them motionless on reed stems almost impossible to distinguish as a spider. I have also seen them in curled up nettle leaves where they can be virtually hidden but I was lucky enough to find this one doing some house work on its web and so it was out in the open.

Its shape makes it perfectly adapted for its environment; very difficult for predators to find and very difficult for its prey to spot before it is too late! A fantastic creature.

10 June, 2011

Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo)

The Beautiful Demoiselle and the Banded Agrion rate as two of my favourite insects. Stunningly beautiful in the sun with their metallic finish making them look almost unreal, the colours just being possible to make!
The Banded Agrion is quite common but the Beautiful Demoiselle less so, it having particular preferences in habitat. The Beautiful Demoiselle likes fast flowing clear, unpolluted water with abundant aquatic vegetation. The upper reaches of some of Dorset's chalk streams are ideal for them.
This preference for a special habitat means they are far from common anywhere. They are also inclined not to move far from where they laid their eggs so are, by nature, a local species.
It is the absence of the dark patches on the wings that immediately distinguishes them from the Banded Agrion.

09 June, 2011

White Crab Spider (Misumena vatia)

This is a very small spider but what it lacks in size it makes up for in cunning and courage!

Although the 'white' crab spider it can also be cream or tinged with green. It then chooses a flower of a matching colour and sits on the petal so it can hardly be seen by the human eye, and certainly not by the flying insect eye. An unsuspecting insect flies in to the flower to collect the nectar or pollen and that's it, the spider pounces.

It can tackle quite big prey which it stuns with its digestive juices and then it just sits and dissolves it prey. No sticky web for this spider,

It is thought that this spider an actually change colour to match the plant it is on although I am not sure this has been totally proven yet.

08 June, 2011

Mother Shipton (Callistege mi)

Butterflies fly by day and moths by night? Far from an accurate way of separating the two I'm afraid. There are several moths that only fly by day and this one, Mother Shipton, is one of them.

It is called Mother Shipton because if you look at the dark patch on each fore wing and use your imagination you can see the face of an old hag - long nose, pointed chin, black eye; can you see it?

Mother Shipton is one of two common day flying moths that you can see on downland and other grassy places across Dorset in May and June, the other is the Burnet Companion which is similar.

Easily mistaken for a butterfly until you see it at rest like this and then it looks just like ... a butterfly! However, it is a moth, all the books say so.

07 June, 2011

Green Nettle Weevil (Phyllobius pomacues)

Nettles are one of the best places to look for insects, all sorts of things can turn up on them. They sting us but insects seem immune from the effects.

If you look closely you will some times see small, shiny green weevils like this one, no more than 1/4" long. Until they move you might think they are not even insects at all. This particular species is often abundant on nettles and hence its common name.

The green colour comes from tiny scales that easily rub off leaving a black 'shell' underneath. As a result they can be very variable in appearance depending on their age.

Around from April to September but best viewed with a magnifying glass or hand lens.

01 June, 2011

Green Tiger Beetle (Cicindela campestris)

Tiger by name; tiger by nature! If you are a small, ground living insect this is one sight you never want to see. This beetle may be less than half an inch long but it has the most enormous jaws.

The Green Tiger Beetle nests in holes that it makes in the ground and so loves soft sandy soil, the sort found on the Dorset heath.

It is quite common and you will generally find it on bare paths leading through the heather. That said, you don't often see them as they are small, they move quickly and readily fly, not great distances but will take to air and fly a few yards as soon as they feel your footsteps approaching.

I have been trying to photograph one for five years. In the end I found this one by a trail of Wood Ants. After tracking it for just a minute or so it snapped up an ant and stopped to eat it and despite the attentions of my camera lens it didn't budge as it munched its lunch. You may just be able to see the rear end of the unfortunate ant sticking out of its mouth.

I think these are really beautiful beetles when you see them close up like this.