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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, 2012

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

Thirty years or so ago a walk on the rolling southern hills of Hampshire or Dorset would have soon yielded a familiar, thin sounding bird song from a nearby hedge or tree; the 'famous' "Little bit of bread and no cheeeeese" of the Yellowhammer. Sadly, along with so many other farmland birds this is now quite a rarity as the population of the Yellowhammer has plummetted.
The bird in this photograph was not singing that song, of course, as this is the female; a yellowish brown on the back rather than the bright canary yellow of her mate. Nonetheless, still a very attractive little bird and always a joy to see.
As a member of the bunting family the Yellowhammer eats seed in the winter and the lack of fallow ground and spilt seed from pre-intensive farming times means that winters are now very hard. I find that I encounter them most now on the heaths around Moreton, Puddletown and also at Holt with occasional sightings from the Purbeck coastal cliffs but they are not the common bird of farmland that they one were. Such a shame.
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Find out more about the nature of Dorset at www.natureofdorset.co.uk

16 March, 2012

Early Dog Violet (Viola reichenbachiana)

It may be just me and the way I use my camera but I always feel that it never does anything coloured purple justice! This Early Dog-violet looks decidedly blue and not its true deep violet colouring.

The Early Dog-violet certainly comes out early in the year being in flower in March and is a few weeks ahead of its close cousin, the Common Dog-violet which is more prevelent in April and May and it really that timing that I base my observations on as I find them exceedingly difficult to tell apart., The 'early' has a narrower flower than the 'common' and the 'early' has a darker centre with 'common' being yellowish in the centre. Both species grow in open woodland, on hedge banks and verges; the 'early' preferring shade whereas the 'common' can be found in more open areas and can occur on pasture and grassland too.

Tricky chaps, dog-violets, I hope have got this one right!

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Find out more about the nature of Dorset at www.natureofdorset.co.uk

15 March, 2012

Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus)

Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus)

The rocky limestone of the Purbeck and Portland coasts is home to a good number of Rock Pipits. Not a common bird nationally but not uncommon here in Dorset in the right places.

Pipits are all much the same really, streaky brown back with a 'thrush-like' spotted front and telling Rock Pipit from Meadow Pipit and Tree Pipit can be a bit daunting until you realise that you find the Rock Pipit on rocks, Meadow Pipit in grassland habitats and Tree Pipits in trees! If only it were that simple for some other species and their allotted English names! Garden Warbler in a garden for example, I don't think so ...

Like other pipits the male Rock Pipit has a lovely 'parachute' display, flying up and then gliding down, making a piping sound as it descends to a prominent roack and you can see them doing that from late March through until mid-May.

The Rock Pipit and the Water Pipit, although named as separate species are considered to be almost one and the same but Water Pipits are usually found in land and sites where there is water present, such as watercress beds.

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Find out more about the nature of Dorset at www.natureofdorset.co.uk

13 March, 2012

Dor Beetle (Geotrupes stercorarius)

Beauty or the beast? An ugly "creepy crawly" or an amazingly coloured beetle?

The Dor Beetle is bit of a beast I suppose, it certainly does not have a pretty face. It is often found on cow dung and actually spend a lot of time under ground where it digs shafts below the dung and burying it. They then use it to lay their eggs in so that the larvae have an instant food supply. My book says that this species is also called the Lousy Watchman because it is commonly infested with mites! Not a very pleasant little creature then.

But see them plodding along a woodland or heathland path in bright sunshine and they are wonderfully metalic in colour varying between blue and green as the angle between them and the sun changes. Their legs, too, despite being 'hairy' share this wonderful colouring. As well as the brilliant coloroung they are also very useful creatures clearing up waste products and helping in the recycling of materials by turning cow dung back to fertile soil which will support further plant life in future and provide more food for the hungy cow which is food and drink for us.

So, spare a thought for the Dor Beetle; may be it is not so ugly after all?

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Find out more about the nature of Dorset at www.natureofdorset.co.uk

09 March, 2012

Wax-cap Fungus (Hygrocybe spadicea)

One of the first laws of species identification is the principle that statistically you are more likely to see a common species than a rare one and so if, if in doubt, err on the side of the common species.

One sunny afternoon in December 2012 I was walking along the cliff tops at Durlston Country Park when I happened across this lovely, shiny wax-cap fungus. I am no expert in fungi and I certainly did not recognise this one and so I took a photograph with a view to idenifying it later. I often do this only to find that it is impossible to be sure which species it is as there are so many that look so similar. I have two field guides to fungi and I could not find this one in the first but found it in the second. I say 'found it', I was pretty sure from the illustration and the description it was Hygrocybe spadicea but it indicated it was an uncommon species in Britain which put me off somewhat! However, it being found only in pastures on limestone or basalt and pasture on limestone is exactly what you find on the Dorset coast at Durlston I plumped for it. Subsequently I have discovered from the County Recorder that this species has not been recorded in Dorset before and it is a nationally very scarce species.

Now, I do not claim any real credit for this discovery; it could have been found by anyone with enough interest in fungi to stop and look, but it does show that although you statistically you are more likely to see a common species you should also always expect the unexpected!

I have no idea whether it is edible but as it is such an attractive toadstool I think it is better left for others to see rather than to pick it for the table, there are plenty of mushrooms in your local supermarket to eat!

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Find out more about the nature of Dorset at www.natureofdorset.co.uk

05 March, 2012

Common Whitlowgrass (Erophila verna)

Common Whitlowgrass is not a grass at all, as you can see it is a flower. It is a tiny flower at that but one that is worth a closer look under magnification.

The flower head of this plant is so small it is very easy to not see it in the first place! It grows where there is very little soil, often on concrete or tarmac in gutters of roads or car parks. Not only does it grow in harsh conditions it thrives in February and March, long before the majority of other flowers have even started to appear above ground. It can be pollenated by small insects but, flowering so early in the year, the species is basically self-pollentating.

The four deeply lobed petals make this a member of the cruciferae (or cress) family.

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Find out more about the nature of Dorset at www.natureofdorset.co.uk