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

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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 May, 2013

Tout Quarry, Portland

Tout Quarry, Portland by Peter Orchard
Tout Quarry, Portland, a photo by Peter Orchard on Flickr.

Tout Quarry on Portland has recently (in 2012) come under the management of the Dorset Wildlife Trust. Also known as Tout Quarry Sculpture Park it was once a working quarry for the extraction of Portland stone but has been redundant for some time now. In the early 1980s it became a sculpture park but many of the early sculptures lasted only for a year or two; that said, some remain. Work is underway to restore the habitat for nature as it has become somewhat over run with invasive species such as cotoneaster and buddleia.

If you visit Tout Quarry you will get four things. Lots of flowers including the Portland spurge, a view of the history of Portland stone extraction, a look at some of the sculptures that remain and wonderful views; not many nature reserves can give you all that! There is no doubt that the flora and fauna will improve given time but it is still well worth a visit now. Although it takes an expert to tell them apart and name them do take time to look and wonder at the lichens on the rocks.

Just a word of caution. Away from the main tracks the going can be a bit difficult on loose stone chippings and some steep drops. In addition, the main path around the sea cliff has had to be closed due to recent erosion and land slips. That said, do thake the chance to wander in amongst the craggy gullies where the limestone has been removed, all sorts of things can be found there.

See more photographs and a species list here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/sites/tout-quarry-nature-reserve

29 May, 2013

Emerald Damselfly

Emerald Damselfly by Peter Orchard
Emerald Damselfly, a photo by Peter Orchard on Flickr.

With a distinctive bright band around the tail the emerald damselfly can easily be dismissed as a blue-tailed damselfly as the emerald green colouring really shows up best in good light. However, the best distinguishing feature is that the emerald rests with its wings at 45 degrees to its body rather than along its back.
The emerald damselfly is not uncommon in Britain but it does tend to favour shallow water and is very tollerant of acidic bog pools so it is on the damper areas of Dorset heathland that you will most frequently encounter them. They are also quite able to survive in sites that dry out in late summer as it over winters as an egg rather than a larvae.
The emerald damselfly can be seen from May right through until October but are most common in August and September.
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/species/emerald-damselfly

28 May, 2013

Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi)

The green hairstreak is the only truly green British butterfly and so it is unmistakable, provided you see it in the first place that is. Being green and leaf shaped they are well camouflaged and they have a fast fluttery flight so they quite often go undetected. However, it is a really lovely butterfly and a joy to behold.

They are generally in flight from about the middle of May and until the end of June. Many years go by without me seeing them at all but in 2011 by the end of May I had already seen them at three different locations. Those were my first sightings in Dorset since I moved here in 2006. This year, 2013, despite the weather, there were several along the Ballard Down footpath on Sunday.

The green hairstreak is associated with the edges of woodland, scrub, heath and downland, anywhere there are plenty of shrubs about. Here in Dorset they should be seen in all sorts of places but, sadly, this does not seem to be the case. This might be a species that could benefit from better springs should the climate change that way.

Find out more about the green hairstreak here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/species/green-hairstreak

27 May, 2013

Site Review: Ballard Down

Many people visit Ballard Down each year. It forms the eastern end of the Purbeck Ridge and is well known because Old Harry Rocks stand in the sea off the very end of the down. A challenging climb from some directions but the reward is stunning views away to the Isle of Wight in the east and over Poole harbour and on to the north Dorset hills to the west. To the south you can see over Swanage Bay and Durlston Point and way out to sea.

Although the top of the down provides the best views, the south facing escarpment slope provides the best natural interest with an abundance of flowers and a prime site for butterflies. Indeed, two of the rarest British butterflies, the Adonis blue and the Lulworth skipper can be found here in good numbers along with many other species including the declining wall brown.

My preferred route is to take the road from Studland to Swanage and to park in the lay-by on the left; right by the Swanage town sign. From the end of the lay-by you can go through a gate and take the path that runs up the slope. Not only is this one of the easiest routes to the top it takes you past the best wildlife.

See more photographs and my species list here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/sites/ballard-down

18 May, 2013

Site Review: Stonehill Down

This is another Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve that offers you tremendous views as well as great wildlife! Set high on the Purbeck Ridge, when standing on top of the knowle you can see for miles across Poole Harbour and away to the far hills of north Dorset.

In some ways you could consider this two reserves in one. There is broadleaf coppiced woodland on the nothern slopes of the Purbeck Ridge which are a must in spring with masses of flowers across the woodland floor. This is also the place to look for toothwort in spring around the base of hazel trees. Just a word of warning, this is pretty steep in places and can be heavy going!

The Purbeck Ridge is, of course, primarily chalk downland and so the area of the reserve on the top of the ridge is rough pasture with some scrub. This is best in late summer and early autumn when the autumn ladys tresses, autumn gentian (or felwort) and nettle-leaved bellflower are in bloom. Unfortunately, a local farmer has long term grazing rights on the open downland and so the area is very heavily grazed which prevents it from reaching its full potential.

There is little parking and there are some steep slopes so access can bit a little tricky and there are no visitor facilties but then, apart from us keen wildlife enthusiasts, there are few visitors so that does not matter in the slightest. Stonehill is always worth a visit but chose a nice day for the best views.

See more photographs and a species list here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/sites/stonehill-down-nature-reserve

10 May, 2013

Site Review: Kings Wood

Site Review: Kings Wood by Peter Orchard
Site Review: Kings Wood, a photo by Peter Orchard on Flickr.

A visit to Kings Wood in early May reveals one of the most awesome botanical sights in Dorset, millions (yes millions) of white-flowered ramsons carpeting the woodland floor. They spread as far as the eye can see, quite amazing! Ramsons is also known as wild garlic and there is a definite scent of garlic as you make your way through the woodland.
Kings Wood is not just a one trick pony, however. Much of it is ancient woodland and there is a good display of bluebells and primroses along with a number of ancient woodland indicator species such as moschatel and wood anemone.
The path through the wood is steeply uphill and has a treat in store at the top as it leads out to Ailwood Down on the crest of the Purbeck Ridge which provides wonderful views across Poole harbour to the north and towards Swanage to the south. Whilst you can meander from the main path through the wood it takes a lot of effort and needs a lot of care, especially if you walk through the carpet of ramsons as it can be very slippery and many trip hazards lie hidden by the big green leaves.
Kings Wood is one of the little known gems of Purbeck; worth a visit anytime but especially in spring.
See other photographs and my species list for Kings Wood here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/sites/kings-wood

08 May, 2013

14-spot Ladybird (Propylea 14-punctata)

Some creatures you cannot miss when out for a walk but others are so small that you could certainly be forgiven for never seeing. Even if you do see them then you need the advantage a close up camera lens can bring to actually see exactly what it is. This is certainly the case with little chap!

The fourteen-spot ladybird is only about 3mm long and they spend their lives on the leaves of shrubs and large leaved plants. Spotting one is usually pure chance, a tiny blob of yellow on a green leaf. Quite often then will be hidden from view anyway as well as being tiny. They are, however, quite common even if not commonly seen.

To add to the difficulties than can vary from almost entirely yellow to almost completely black, finding one that is mostly black is even more difficult as, at least the yellow ones do show up against their background. The black spots are variable too, often merging together so they do not always appear to have fourteen spots. In the text-book format, however, they have a pattern that resembles a smiling dog!

Although much smaller and mainly yellow it is a relative of our more familiar 7-spot ladybird.


Find out more about the 14-spot ladybird here

04 May, 2013

Slime Mould (Reticularia lycoperdon)

After spending quite a while thumbing through my fungi books looking for this species I reverted to puting the photograph on to the Open University Ispot website for the experts to take a look at and in no time at all I have an identification, Reticularia lycoperdon.
So why was it not in the fungi books? Because it is not a fungus, it is a slime mould! Slime moulds were once believed to be a form of fungus and do share many properties but they are now classified as a seperate life form and they are very much a specialist subject. There are not that many common species as far as I am aware but this one is quite common on dead willows and birches.
Find out more about this slime mould here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/species/slime-mould-r-lycoperdon

01 May, 2013

Wilkswood (Langton West Wood)

This wood is also known locally as Langton West Wood but as it is signposted Wilkswood and the National Trust sign says Wilkswood that is the name I am using on this site. The ordnace Survey map has no name for the wood.

Wilkswood is ancient woodland; it contains many of the indicator species that one associates with ancient woodland including wood anemone and butchers broom. These are plants that spread very slowly and therefore colonoies of them that exist have often been in that location for many, many years. This particular woodland appears on maps that date back before 1800 and the woodland itself is almost certainly much older.

A stream runs through the wood which has steep banks on each side which form a wooded valley and that is why it has escaped agricultural improvement, it would be very difficult to farm this area. This also means that the paths are often very muddy and quite steep in places so, sadly, this is a site for the more physically able- bodied only!

The best time for any woodland of this nature is the spring, before the leaf canopy opens. The woodland floor is ablaze with golden lesser celandines, yellow primroses, white wood anemones and green dogs mercury. Birds are then singing as they feed amongst the scrub and early insects, especially hoverflies, abound. There are few better ways to spend a warm spring day than wandering slowly through ancient woodland and Wilkswood is certainly one of the best in southern Dorset.

See my species list and more photographs of Wilkswood here:
www.natureofdorset.co.uk/sites/wilkswood-langton-west-wood