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Showing posts from April, 2014

Large Red Damselfly: a sign of the times

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The large red damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) is the first of our odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) to emerge each year and it is a sure indicator that things are warming up and summer is coming! Warming water temperatures in ponds where the nyphs live trigger their emergence. It can be seen as early as March in a mild spring and is at its peak in July. There is a

Ramsons: come to your senses

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There are not many botanical sights that take your breath away. A bluebell wood may be the best known but visit Kilwood Nature Reserve in Purbeck (Dorset) and you will see a carpet of white flowered ramsons (Allium ursinum), almost like snow, that stretches as far as the eye can see across the entire woodland floor.  Ramsons is also known as

Whitethroat: back from the brink

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It seems that the warblers come back to us from Africa in phases; first comes the chiffchaff, then the willow warblers, the blackcap next, and then, in late April, the whitethroat (Sylvia communis).  As I wander the hills of the Purbeck coast and the ridge these, and their close cousin the lesser whitethroat, can often be heard but not always seen on scrub, gorse, hedgerows and bramble. Their 'song' is a rasping, vigorous, rambling, continuous chatter and this is the best way to tell them from the 'lesser' which has more pattern to its song, a bit like

Grass Snake: the snake in the grass?

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Over thirty years ago my wife and I were out for a stroll near our home and were returning along the roadside footpath that led towards our house. Stood in the road was a policeman who looked rather concerned and apprehensive; he was staring intently at the ground. As we approached we could see he was looking at a snake in the middle of the road! He obviously wanted to move it but was not at all sure whether he would survive the experience. I was pleased to be able to tell him it was not an adder, it was a grass snake. "Err, how can you be sure?" he asked

Early Grey: just my cup of tea!

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One does not generally see a lot of moths in the day time. In summer there are day flying species but most moths like to find a quiet, dark place in the middle of a bush to spend the daylight hours away from potential predators. I was surprised, then, that this little chap (about half an inch long) spent the day asleep on a fence post in our garden. I should not have been surprised however, as a reference to my moth book said

Bluebell: home thoughts from abroad

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What can be more English than a bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) wood? If I was on a desert island and could have one picture to remind me of home then it would have to be of a carpet of bluebells spreading across the woodland floor under tall oak trees. I know I am not alone as visiting bluebell woods seems to be an obsession. In April the number of visits my website, the Nature of Dorset, gets increases dramatically as people

Guillemot: all at sea

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Migration is not just about birds leaving us for Africa in autumn and returning to us in spring. As amazing as those journeys are for swallows, warblers, terns and others, remember also our sea birds. They do not leave our shores to fly to Africa, they spend the winter months flying around the oceans. Indeed, it is only with the coming of small GPS tracking systems that we are beginning to understand the migration of our sea birds by attaching these devices

A tired common lizard?

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I was leading a walk when we encountered a common lizard (Lacerta vivipara) on a discarded car tyre. Despite being very vulnerable and with over a dozen people staring at it it did not budge an inch. After a short while one of the party said "Is it tired?". I explained that reptiles are cold blooded and as it was not a particularly warm day this lizard would be short of heat and so would be lethargic. The rubber tyre was absorbing some heat from the sun and the lizard was then absorbing heat from the tyre ... then the penny dropped

Orange-tip: watch it flutter by

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If you watch birds for long enough over the years you come to know many species without really looking at them, there is just something that you know is characteristic of that species. A word was coined to sum that up - jizz; it just is! The jizz of a species is not confined to birds though, it can apply to insects too, even plants to a  degree! One such insect is the

Wood anemone: the star of the woodland floor

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The increase in light from longer days as the sun moves closer to us brings out the spring woodland flowers. These need to flower, pollinate and set seed in a short space of time before the trees above them break in to leaf and the amount of light to the woodland floor is thus reduced. One of these early spring delights is the lovely white star-shaped flower of the wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa). They aremembers of the buttercup family and thrive on the edge of woodland rides and

Willow warbler: the sound of music

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I always feel that the spring has milestones; as you pass each milestone so summer gets closer until you suddenly realise summer has arrived! The first milestone is the first chiffchaff singing, then the first swallow over head, then comes hearing the musical notes of the willow warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus), usually in the second week in April. Bird song is not normally like human made music but the closest to it must be the song of the willow warbler as it enthusiastically sings its phrase of descending notes down its preferred scale, there is nothing quite like it

Great crested newt: a national treasure

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This may not be the greatest of photographs but I do not have an underwater camera (yet!). This is, however, something of a special picture for me as this it was taken the first and only time in nearly forty years of nature watching that I saw (let alone photographed) a great crested newt (Triturus cristatus). They are found at various sites in Dorset and I chanced upon this one in a pond on the north

Honey bee: a hive of activity

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The arrival of spring is marked by many things but one of the most noticeable is the almost sudden presence of honey bees (Apis mellifera) in our gardens again having been absent during the winter months. They busily work around any flowers that are open and providing pollen and nectar. They are constantly active and going to and fro from their hive where new grubs are waiting to be fed. Unless you are a bee keeper it is so easy to take them for granted and perhaps not

Danish scurveygrass: life in the fast lane

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Scurvygrass will be well known by name, if not by sight, as we all learn about Nelson, the history of the Navy, tots of rum and the scurvy when we are at junior school, it is part of our heritage! Scurvy was associated with sailors in the 16th to 18th centuries who spent long periods at sea without enough vitamin C in their diet and so frequently perished from the condition. It was believed that eating

Common tern: the sea swallow

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Do we often associate summer migrants to Britain as being hirundines (swallows, martins, etc) and warblers; generally small insect eaters? This is not the case as the tern family clearly illustrate. Terns fly south for the winter returning to us in spring to nest when our warmer seas are (hopefully) teaming with small fish. The most numerous of the tern family nesting in Dorset is

Sand Lizard: the sun worshipper!

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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 (Lacerta agilis). Along with the smooth snake

What is that b... fly? It is a bee-fly!

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The bee-fly (Bombylius major) is a curious little insect which is quite quite common in early spring. The adults do not fly for long so there is a limited oportunity to see them, just during the month of April each year. It is furry like a bee and yet is a true member of the order diptera, common flies, hence its common name of the bee-fly. There are twelve species of bee-fly in this country but this is the most common. You will find this insect around

Dogs mercury: the real dogs dinner?

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Dog's mercury (Mercurialis perennis) is not a lot to look at, indeed it is an insignificant plant than can look as though it has no flower at all. Close up, however, it has spikes of cream/green flowers in March and April. It is also a plant that has separate male and female forms. It does, to be honest, look a dull, rather boring plant. It is, however, quite a significant flower as an indicator of primary (or long standing) woodland. It needs shade to thrive and so woodland is its preferred habitat and it spreads mainly by