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Showing posts from February, 2015

Wood-sorrel: the Alleluia flower | Nature Notes from Dorset

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A walk through broad-leaf woodland in early spring will probably reveal wood-sorrel (Oxalis acetosella), a small white flower that one casts an eye to, you say "It's wood-sorrel" and then walk on. Closer inspection reveals more detail, especially the violet veins in the petals. I believe insects, especially bees, can see ultra-violet light and these veins lead to the centre of the plant and so guide any visiting insect to the nectar source and so to the pollen on the stamens. If the bee has already visited a previous plant of the same species then accumulated pollen may be acquired by the stigma (the tube in the centre) from where it finds its way down the tube to the ovaries where the seeds are.

Read more: Wood-sorrel: the Alleluia flower | Nature Notes from Dorset

Lichen: Caloplaca heppiana | Nature Notes from Dorset

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Lichens are a headache for me when it comes to naming them. I think they are fascinating organisms but have they a structure and accompanying language all of their own which I struggle to understand! There are several of these orange, crusty ones so I have to use all the powers of deduction I have to try and make an educated assessment of what each is and, as far as I can tell, this is Caloplaca heppiana. Caloplaca heppiana is very common on calcareous rocks rather than bricks (see Candelariella aurella) and forms even, closely compressed oval shapes with large orange disks in the centre.

Read more: Lichen: Caloplaca heppiana | Nature Notes from Dorset

Barnacle Goose: an Irish folk tale | Nature Notes from Dorset

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The barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis) is much rarer in Dorset than its cousins, Canada and Brent Geese. Indeed, many records are probably feral birds that have escaped from collections. However, extreme colder weather in the north of Britain can drive birds futher south and very occasionally as far as Dorset. This was the case back in the cold winter of 2011 which seems to have driven a small family party of six birds south to Dorset. The group was in the company of Canada geese and Brent geese but preferred to keep their distance and as five of them grazed peacefully this one stood guard and saw off any of the other two species that dared wander their way!

Read more:Barnacle Goose: an Irish folk tale | Nature Notes from Dorset

Toothwort: the root of the matter | Nature Notes from Dorset

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Hazel coppice can be one of the best habitats in which to find spring flowers and by April the woodland floor is covered in yellow, white and blue blossoms from an array of species. However, if you go to a coppice in late February or in March you may be rewarded by the discovery of this quite rare and unique flower, toothwort (Lathraea squamaria). Toothwort is a parasitic plant that grows on the roots of trees and has a particular affinity to the hazel. Being parasitic it does not need chlorophyll and so it is a creamy white colour tinged with purple. Those of you familiar with the broomrape family will see a resemblance as they are also parasitic plants and they are distantly related.



Read more: Toothwort: the root of the matter | Nature Notes from Dorset

Golden-ringed Dragonfly: the band of gold | Nature Notes from Dorset

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The golden-ringed dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) is a very distinctive species and one that cannot really be mistaken for anything else. It is not difficult to see where the common name comes from because, as it says on the label, it is 'golden-ringed' with the abdomen being a series of alternate gold and black rings. It is the longest, though not the biggest, of our native dragonflies. It has strong, purposeful flight and is not easily deflected from its route as it hawks up and down its preferred track. It has a slow flight and often halts to hover before continuing on its way



Read More: Golden-ringed Dragonfly: the band of gold | Nature Notes from Dorset

Magpie: not guilty my lord | Nature Notes from Dorset

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This is they bird people love to hate! If you listen to many people you would soon believe that the poor magpie (Pica pica) is the sole reason for the decline in numbers of garden birds. This is, of course, absolute rubbish and these prejudices against the magpie have no basis in science at all.  The fact is that garden birds populations reflect total populations. If a bird has decreased in numbers across the country in all habitats it will, obviously, be seen less often in gardens! The decline in many bird species populations are usually complex and revolve around loss of suitable breeding territory and problems with food supply.



Read more: Magpie: not guilty my lord | Nature Notes from Dorset

Lichen: Opegrapha atra | Nature Notes from Dorset

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Pale, smooth barked trees often have pale grey or greenish patches with little black specs in the middle of them. This is not a bark blemish but a living lichen.  Named Opegrapha atra it is the commonest of the family of six British species and possibly the easiest to identify becuase of these patches that enclose the central speeckled marks. Silver and downy birch, as well as members of the willow family, are the favoured host trees for Opegrapha atra but it also, very occasionally, occurs on fence posts too.



Read more: Lichen: Opegrapha atra | Nature Notes from Dorset

Common Dog-violet: the spur of the moment | Nature Notes from Dorset

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Every spring the dog-violets appear and it is easy to dismiss them all as just 'dog-violets'. There are, however, four species that appear although the pale and heath violets are early summer rather than early spring. The most common and earliest flowering are the common dog-violet (Viola riviniana) and the early dog-violet and telling them apart can be a bit tricky. 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 prevalent in April and May.



Read moreCommon Dog-violet: the spur of the moment | Nature Notes from Dorset

Southern Hawker: check it out | Nature Notes from Dorset

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Dragonflies are so exciting, especially the hawker family; they are colourful, large and imposing insects. They are also quite inquisitive and will approach people entering their territory for a closer look! You just cannot ignore one; in my view, you just have to look and marvel.  In Dorset there are five resident species of hawker dragonfly; the southern, the migrant, the brown, the common and the hairy. The sexes of each differ so there are various subtle differences to get to know when trying to identify them. The southern hawker (Aeshna cyanea) is undoubtedly the most common of these five species in Dorset



Read more: Southern Hawker: check it out | Nature Notes from Dorset

Dunnock: the hedge accentor | Nature Notes from Dorset

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If you are like me you eagerly await spring; the new season of bird song, summer migrants, wild flowers, busy insects and so, as soon as the shortest day is past, I start looking for signs of spring! A bit early perhaps? No, if you start looking early you see just small but significant changes. In early February there is a small but delightful change. The dunnock (Prunella modularis) starts to utter the first few tentative notes of his song. As the days progress through the month he grows in confidence and soon the dunnock will join with the robins and song thrush heralding in the spring. When I was young I remember my father calling this a hedge sparrow but, as it is not a sparrow, the name changed back in the 1970's to dunnock. It is a member of the accentor family and so, on the formal British nomenclature list it is known as the hedge accentor. Three names for the same little bird.



Read more: Dunnock: the hedge accentor | Nature Notes from Dorset

Lichen: Placynthium nigrum | Nature Notes from Dorset

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I know lichen are an acquired taste and that people, in general, prefer the more exotic wildlife; orchids, for example, or the more dramatic animals such as birds of prey. I do my best to try and enthuse people with these lower organisms which are all too often over looked but I can find little to say in support of Placynthium nigrum! It is a dull, black crust that grows on hard calcareous substrates and so it is very common on walls and tombstones. Apart from being black and crusty



Read more: Lichen: Placynthium nigrum | Nature Notes from Dorset

Canada Goose: a long way from home | Nature Notes from Dorset

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This is a bird that is familiar in Dorset (and throughout the British Isles) now that has its origins elsewhere in the world and is now considered a 'bit of a pest'. Following its introduction in to collections in country parks and gardens during Victorian times the Canada goose (Branta canadensis) is now widespread on lakes, ponds and other waterside locations. A handsome bird, the Canada goose is, as its name suggests, a North American species where there are several variable races.



Read more: Canada Goose: a long way from home | Nature Notes from Dorset

Early Dog-violet: earning its spurs | Nature Notes from Dorset

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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 (Viola reichenbachiana) looks decidedly blue and not its true deep violet colouring. The early dog-violet certainly comes out early in the year being in flower by March and is a few weeks ahead of its close cousin, the common dog-violet which is becomes more prevelent in late April and in to May. The early dog-violet has a narrower flower than the common dog-violet



Read more: Early Dog-violet: earning its spurs | Nature Notes from Dorset

Migrant Hawker: on patrol | Nature Notes from Dorset

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Hawker dragonflies derive their collective name from the way they patrol their territory almost continuously, just occasionally resting. They defend their territory fearlessly and will even approach human beings who enter their patch to check them out! Whilst that can be a bit disconcerting the dragonfly is, of course, totally harmless to people. This hawking seems to form two purposes, the same two driving forces behind all of nature; one is food and the other reproduction. They are hunting for food and hunting for a mate! This almost constant movement can make it difficult to tell species apart.



Read more: Migrant Hawker: on patrol | Nature Notes from Dorset

Goldfinch: a little red faced | Nature Notes from Dorset

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Back in the 1970's a goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) in your garden would  have been quite an unusual sight. Gradually, however, possibly as our way of feeding birds has changed, the goldfinch has become a regular visitor to many gardens and it has reached number 11 in the RSPB Garden Birdwarch top twenty. Initially they started coming to gardens later in the winter after food supplies in the countryside were exhausted and a British Trust for Ornithology study showed that numbers of goldfinches in gardens built up from mid-February onwards. That now seems to have changed and they can turn up at almost any time. Definitely a seed eater, they will pay little attention to peanuts



Read more: Goldfinch: a little red faced | Nature Notes from Dorset

Daisy: chains of flowers | Nature Notes from Dorset

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The ubiquitous and humble common daisy (Bellis perennis) is one of the first flowers we can name when, as youngsters, we are taught to make daisy chains! When a bit older we pull the petals off one by one saying "She loves me, she loves me not" or "He loves me ....!". Love them or hate them if you have a lawn you almost certainly have the daisy growing there. Surely everyone has daisies on their lawn apart from one of my neighbours whose lawn is like astro-turf. Cutting the grass gets rid of them for an hour or two but it is not long before those familiar white and yellow flowers reappear.The name daisy comes from a corruption of the 'day's eye', the flowers close up at night and open during the day.



Read more: Daisy: chains of flowers | Nature Notes from Dorset

Lichen: Graphis scripta | Nature Notes from Dorset

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Until I happened to be looking in my reference book for a lichen I had seen and stumbled across something called Graphis scripta I had always assumed that the black marks one often sees on silver birch bark were just blemishes in the bark itself! How wrong I was. These black marks are, indeed, a lichen that is common on smooth barked trees but it shows up best against the pale coloured silver birch.

Read more: Lichen: Graphis scripta | Nature Notes from Dorset

Spoonbill: will they wont they? | Nature Notes from Dorset

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Will they, won't they, start to nest near Poole Harbour?   I am sure we are all aware of how the little egret has spread as a nesting species in this country in the last twenty or so years and that raises the question; will its cousin, the spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia), follow suit? Spoonbills actually nest quite nearby in Holland and a pair have bred in Somerset recently so the prospects are good.  In Poole we have had wintering birds in recent years spending a lot of time on Brownsea Lagoon and at Middlebere Lake.



Read more: Spoonbill: will they wont they? | Nature Notes from Dorset

Primrose: the common primula | Nature Notes from Dorset

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Yellow seems to be the dominant colour amongst early spring flowers. Lesser celandine, daffodil, dandelion, colt's-foot, gorse and primrose all display lovely yellow tones to brighten the woodland floor and our hedgerows. It is not long though before white takes over with shrub blossoms like blackthorn and hawthorn in the hedges and wood anemone, wood-sorrel and ramsons in the woodlands. These, along with early umbels such as cow parsley, will in turn give way to pinks, mauves and purples before yellow returns in the autumn. The primrose (Primula vulgaris) was once extremely common, Primular vulgaris means the common primula but these days it seems it is a little less so.



Read more: Primrose: the common primula | Nature Notes from Dorset

Emperor Dragonfly: in its birthday suit | Nature Notes from Dorset

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The Emperor's new clothes? Well, this emperor dragonfly (Anax imperator) looks splendid in its birthday suit! This is undoubtedly our most impressive dragonfly, the biggest and most beautiful; whoever named it certainly chose well. In some years they seem quite scarce, other years almost common. Quite often they are confused with the southern hawker which is also a blue colour but once you have seen the emperor dragonfly I doubt you ever forget it.



Read more: Emperor Dragonfly: in its birthday suit | Nature Notes from Dorset

Robin: the gardeners companion | Nature Notes from Dorset

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The robin (Erithacus rubecula) is special to us British, our folklore is littered with references to this enchanting little bird. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it stands quite well in the RSPB Garden Birdwatch top 20 garden birds at number 10; nearly every garden must have one but, of course, in small numbers with an average of 1.33 per garden. Despite its diminutive size it is a real fighter, especially when confronted by another robin on its patch.



Read more: Robin: the gardeners companion | Nature Notes from Dorset