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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!

31 March, 2015

Black Darter: darting here, darting there | Nature Notes from Dorset

The black darter (Sympetrum danae) is a dragonfly of the heath and moorland; it favours acidic boggy waters and whether that be bog pools, ditches, or whatever does not seem to matter as long as sphagnum mosses are present. With this as its main habitat it is not surprising that the Dorset heaths are a good place to find this particular insect. It can be seen flying from July through until October.
It is a very active dragonfly, darting here and there around its patch. It is not one of the more territorial species, far more interested in looking a mate than a fight with another male.

Read more: Black Darter: darting here, darting there | Nature Notes from Dorset

30 March, 2015

Song Thrush: the herald of spring | Nature Notes from Dorset

Even before we get to the shortest day in mid-winter and when all birds, other than the robin, are quiet somehow the song thrush (Turdus philomelos) will be able to tell better times are ahead. It will perch high in a tree and proclaim to anyone who will listen that the darkening days are almost behind and the corner towards spring is about to be turned. The robin is the sole singer (or is it the 'soul' singer with that plaintiff winter song?) for the previous three months but gradually the song thrush joins in. With its clear melodious phrases it is a true herald of the coming of spring.

Read more: Song Thrush: the herald of spring | Nature Notes from Dorset

28 March, 2015

Wild Strawberry: the woodland strawberry | Nature Notes from Dorset

April through to July is the time to look for the wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca). The fruit it produces is very similar to the garden strawberry we all love to eat only much smaller and, inevitably, the flower is smaller too. it can easily confused with the barren strawberry which is very similar but that flowers earlier from February through to May and is has blueish leaves whereas the wild strawberry has shiny green leaves. 
Also known as the wild strawberry, it is common in woodland where there is plenty of light so it is mainly found on sunny banks, rides and glades. 

Read more: Wild Strawberry: the woodland strawberry | Nature Notes from Dorset

27 March, 2015

Lichen: Lecidella elaeochroma | Nature Notes from Dorset

I always think that this lichen, Lecidella elaeochroma, looks like a child has been drawing with a pencil on the bark of the tree (purely as my drawing ability is so poor and it looks my attempt at drawing but I would not want anyone to know!). These lichen form a crust on the bark of a tree and have blackish edges which merge together to form a larger mass giving the impression of continuous wiggly lines. In the centre of each distinct area there are black specks, some more pronounced than others.

Read more: Lichen: Lecidella elaeochroma | Nature Notes from Dorset

26 March, 2015

Lesser Black-backed Gull: less black on the back | Nature Notes from Dorset

Amongst the more common gulls we have all year round here in Dorset (great black-backed, herring and black-headed) we get a number of other visitors from the family. The lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus) is not an uncommon species in winter around our shores, and it is always worth having a closer look at any gull with a dark back to see if it is 'lesser' rather than 'greater'.
As you might expect, the lesser black-backed gull is smaller than the greater and the lesser's back is less black than the greater's

Read more: Lesser Black-backed Gull: less black on the back | Nature Notes from Dorset

25 March, 2015

Moschatel: the town hall clock | Nature Notes from Dorset

Spring in deciduous woodlands, before the leaf canopy forms and darkens the woodland floor, is a time when the most flowering plants can be found in this habitat. Many only grow in such woodland and are often indicators that the wood itself has been continuously present on that site for many hundreds of years. One such flower is moschatel (Adoxa moschatellina), the only member of the adoxaceae family in the whole world.
Moschatel forms carpets of green, five lobed leaves. From amongst these leaves the flower stems rise up and at the top of each stem five small greenish yellow flowers form; one points upwards and the other four face outwards at right angles to each other like the four faces of a clock tower which is the origin of its familiar name, the town hall clock. 

Read more: Moschatel: the town hall clock | Nature Notes from Dorset

24 March, 2015

Keeled Skimmer: on an even keel | Nature Notes from Dorset

The keeled skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) is a specialist of wet heathland and bog, especially in areas where sphagnum mosses thrive. As a result the heathland areas of Dorset are one of its strongholds in this country and it is, nationally, quite rare. Where it does occur, however, it can be abundant.
Easily dismissed at first sight as a broad-bodied chaser because of its bright blue body (the male that is) closer examination, if it settles, will show a narrower body tapering to a point at the tail. It also lacks the yellow side markings on the abdomen.

Read more: Keeled Skimmer: on an even keel | Nature Notes from Dorset

23 March, 2015

Smooth Snake: a real smoothie | Nature Notes from Dorset

All of our three native British species of snake are now scarce to say the least but the smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) is nationally rare. In Dorset, however, thanks to the large area of remaining lowland heath which is now a protected habitat they are actually quite well established. Despite this they are rarely seen as they are very shy and secretive creatures and you are very fortunate if you encounter one. 
It is a small, slender snake with what I consider to be a very gentle face! They are not, however, gentle creatures and are quite capable of killing lizards and slow-worms as part of their diet. They are constrictors squeezing their victim to death before swallowing them whole. They are not venomous and are totally harmless to human beings

Read more: Smooth Snake: a real smoothie | Nature Notes from Dorset

21 March, 2015

Lords and Ladies: the name game | Nature Notes from Dorset

I guess many of us struggle with Latin scientific names. They are so much harder to remember than the English common name. Specific names are important however and this plant really shows why that is so. This is lord's and ladies but is also known as wild arum, cuckoo-pint, snakeshead, adder's root, arum lily, devils and angels, cows and bulls, Adam and Eve, bobbins, naked boys, starch-root, wake robin, friar's cowl, jack in the pulpit and arum lily but is specifically known as Arum maculatum
 
Local English names can cause so much confusion. With birds there is the 'official' list of English names but not so with flora. The specific name is international, everywhere in the world where this plant occurs it will be specifically known as Arum maculatum.

Read more: Lords and Ladies: the name game | Nature Notes from Dorset

20 March, 2015

Lichen: Lecanora conizaeoides | Nature Notes from Dorset

This is a lichen everyone will have seen but only those with a particular interest will have taken any notice of or given any thought to! Not only is it totally insignificant to look at it has a very difficult name to say, let alone remember, it is Lecanora conizaeoides.
This lichen does not look like anything other than some boring, crusty, possibly mouldy skin but it is, indeed, a lichen and is probably our most common lichen at that. It can be found primarily on tree bark and it is probably most notable on oak trees; there can hardly be an oak tree in Dorset that does not bear some of this lichen on it somewhere. It does also occur on walls, rocks and even soil.

Read more: Lichen: Lecanora conizaeoides | Nature Notes from Dorset

19 March, 2015

Herring Gull: sound of the seaside | Nature Notes from Dorset

The most evocative bird call I know is the wonderful 'laughing' call of the herring gull (Larus argentatus). As a youngster, like all kids I expect, I loved going to the seaside and when I heard this call from the chimney tops at Ryde on the Isle of Wight I knew we were there!
The herring gull is, perhaps, a much maligned bird because it has developed a taste for human rubbish. During the autumn and winter upwards of 1,000 fly over us (near Wareham) every morning on their way to the landfill sites on the Bere Regis road and then, every evening, they make their way back to Poole Harbour to roost. Sometimes, when disturbed, they all rise into the sky in a towering cloud of birds all 'mewing' anxiously to each other.

Read more: Herring Gull: sound of the seaside | Nature Notes from Dorset

18 March, 2015

Wood Avens: herb Benedict | Nature Notes from Dorset

Although it may not look like at first sight, wood avens (Geum urbanum) is a member of the rose family. On closer inspection the five petals on the flower and the leaves growing in groups of three make this fact a little more obvious. It is, however, a far cry from the roses you may have in your garden! Many of the rose family are simple flowers, just like wood avens, and it shows just how much we humans can manipulate species by selective breeding and cross breeding of plants and animals.
Wood avens is, as its name implies, a flower of woodland. It thrives in shady places so woodland rides and woodland edges are ideal for it, so too hedgerows. It is quite common in such situations and it flowers from May through until late August, possibly in to September. 

Read more: Wood Avens: herb Benedict | Nature Notes from Dorset

17 March, 2015

Black-tailed Skimmer: skimming the surface | Nature Notes from Dorset

This incredible sky blue is a common feature amongst dragonflies but the much darker, almost black tail end of this one gives it its name, the black-tailed skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum). The female is yellow and black but without the dark tail.
The black-tailed skimmer likes large areas of open water with surrounding vegetation and occur round farm ponds and flooded gravel pits. They also like water gardens! They also occur in boggy areas where there is open water, they are not too bothered by the acidity of the water and so can be seen commonly on the Dorset heaths. 

Read more: Black-tailed Skimmer: skimming the surface | Nature Notes from Dorset

16 March, 2015

Wren: small bird but big voice | Nature Notes from Dorset

Continuing my look at the top twenty winter garden birds, the wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) is number 16. It is a common bird in woodland but far less so in gardens although being so small they be easily over looked in winter when not singing and busily looking for food.
They are one of our smallest birds (only the goldcrest and firecrest are smaller) but it has one of the loudest voices of all our song birds! If you are familiar with its complex song full of crescendos and trills then you will often know there is a wren around long before you see it, if you see it that is! One of the features of the wren from a distance is that it frequently has its tail cocked up, sadly this one did not so I can't illustrate the point.

Read now: Wren: small bird but big voice | Nature Notes from Dorset

14 March, 2015

Bugle: the carpenters herb | Nature Notes from Dorset

Bugle (Ajuga reptans) is a common flower of damp woodlands and meadows in spring and is common across Dorset in such habitat. It flowers for a short time in May and possibly in to early June.
One needs to be a bit careful as it looks, at first glance, a bit like Ground-ivy and it is, indeed, closely related; they are both labiates (the mint family) . A more detailed look will quickly tell you it is not Ground-ivy, the plant being usually taller, the flowers larger and a darker blue and the stem being darkish in colour, almost a dark red and the leaves often have a purple tinge to them. Ground-ivy has a much longer flowering season and grows in drier habitat.

Read more: Bugle: the carpenters herb | Nature Notes from Dorset

13 March, 2015

Lichen: Usnea subfloridana | Nature Notes from Dorset

As you walk by hedgerows and scrub in winter when they are denuded of leaves you surely cannot fail to notice the masses of lichen that adorn the stems and branches. Of these lichens this distinctive 'spidery' one forms great masses of bristly offshoots. It is called Usnea subfloridana.
The Usnea range of lichen are members of the fruiticose set because they produce little fruiting bodies that often look a little bit like golf tee pegs.
Usnaa subfloridana is by far the most common of the British Usnea family. 

Read more: Lichen: Usnea subfloridana | Nature Notes from Dorset

12 March, 2015

Common Gull: not a common gull | Nature Notes from Dorset

This may be the common gull (Larus canus) but here in Dorset it is far from common. This is very much a bird of the northern areas of Britain but they do head to the south coast in winter in some numbers. They have a distinctive call which gives them their alternative name of the mew gull.
I have a problem with identifying them in flight but when you get to see one, like this one, perched on my neighbours roof it is a bit easier. They are about the same size as the black-headed gull but bare very little resemblance to them as they have no black markings on the head and do not have the red legs and beak. The common gull is much smaller than the herring gull and have a green bill and legs not yellow. They also lack the red tip to the bill that the herring gull has. 

Read more: Common Gull: not a common gull | Nature Notes from Dorset

11 March, 2015

Ground-Ivy: creeping Charlie | Nature Notes from Dorset

This is a very common, yet often overlooked, plant of the woodland in spring. Ground-ivy (Glechoma hederacea) is primarily in flower from late March through to June but I have also seen it in flower in the autumn, especially if it stays mild.
It is a small plant and care should be taken to not confuse it with the similar, but taller, bugle. The kidney shaped leaves are different to those of bugle as well. It is member of the labiate family which includes deadnettles, the woundworts and herbs such as mint and basil . This family have square stems and long tubular flowers which are popular with insects that have a long tongue such as butterflies or a long proboscis like the bee-fly.

Read more: Ground-Ivy: creeping Charlie | Nature Notes from Dorset

10 March, 2015

Four-spotted Chaser: spot the spots | Nature Notes from Dorset

One of the more common dragonflies of heathland ponds and bogs is the splendid four-spotted chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata). It gets its name from the four black spots, one on each of the four wings. It is easy to mistake this insect for the female broad-bodied chaser so spotting those markings on the wings can be important.
In many dragonflies the males and females are very different but in the four-spotted chaser this is not so, they are very similar. This is the male as you can clearly see the 'claspers' which is uses to hold on to the female while mating.

Read more: Four-spotted Chaser: spot the spots | Nature Notes from Dorset

09 March, 2015

Coal Tit: boarder and hoarder | Nature Notes from Dorset

I am not sure whether I was surprised to see that the coal tit (Parus ater) was number 15 in the top garden birds list or not. They are certainly a regular visitor to our garden but we live quite close to Wareham Forest where they are very common amongst the coniferous woodland, I rarely see them seem to see them in any other habitat.
They are very active little birds that do not stay around long; in and out for a quick raid on the seed normally but this one paused long enough for me to get a snap and, obligingly, he turned his head to one side to show the diagnostic white stripe down the back.

Read more: Coal Tit: boarder and hoarder | Nature Notes from Dorset

07 March, 2015

Lichen: Ramalina farinacea | Nature Notes from Dorset

Ramalina farinacea is one of the most tolerant of lichen species to air pollution and, as a result, grows just about anywhere and is one of our more common lichens. In more polluted areas its growth can be stunted but here in Dorset we get lovely 'flowering' specimens, especially near the sea.
This is mainly a wood-based lichen growing on the bark of trees and shrubs and around Poole Harbour you can see blackthorn and hawthorn absolutely covered in it; an amazing site. The best place I know is at Swineham Point on the Wareham channel.

Read more: Lichen: Ramalina farinacea | Nature Notes from Dorset

06 March, 2015

Black Headed Gull: the chocolate faced gull | Nature Notes from Dorset

The black headed gull (Larus ridibundus); Mr and Mrs, side by side, so that you can compare. There not much to distinguish them is there? The male, at the back, is slightly larger and has a slightly more stout bill. It also has a little more colouring on its face. These birds are in summer plumage and despite being named black headed gulls they are not gulls with black heads at all! The colouring is chocolate brown rather than black and it is their face, not their head, that is chocolate coloured. In the autumn they moult and lose that lovely dark head plumage and become white faced with just a dark comma shape behiing the ear. 
 
In Dorset this is one of our two most common species of gull, the other is the herring gull,

Read more: Black Headed Gull: the chocolate faced gull | Nature Notes from Dorset

05 March, 2015

Bittern: booming marvellous | Nature Notes from Dorset

When I got home after taking this photograph I thought it was rubbish and was just about to delete it when it occurred to me that this is actually as good a view as you are likely to get of a bittern (Botaurus stellaris) unless you are a professional who is prepared to go to extreme lengths to get a photograph. I like to show people nature as they are likely to see it and, as I said above, if you are lucky enough to see one then this is the sort of view you probably have!
The bittern is a very shy and secretive bird that lives in dense reed beds; its striped brown plumage makes it totally camouflaged in this favoured environment.

Read more: Bittern: booming marvellous | Nature Notes from Dorset

04 March, 2015

Barren Strawberry: a fruitless venture | Nature Notes from Dorset

There are two common strawberry plants that can be seen in the wild, the wild strawberry which actually produces ripe fruit and the barren strawberry (Potentilla sterilis) in which the fruit does not ripen; indeed the fruit does not appear! Fortunately that is not the only difference but they can still be bit of a challenge to tell apart.
They flower at slightly different times with the barren strawberry coming out earlier in spring that the wild strawberry but the real clue is in the flower itself. 

Read More: Barren Strawberry: a fruitless venture | Nature Notes from Dorset

03 March, 2015

Broad Bodied Chaser: the boys in blue | Nature Notes from Dorset

Bright blue is a popular colour amongst odonata. In damselflies we see this in the common blue and azure damselflies and three or four other less common species and in dragonflies there is the mighty emperor of course as well as keeled and black-tailed skimmer but this beauty is the impressive male broad-bodied chaser (Libellula depressa). If you see a dragonfly that is bright blue it is always worth a closer look just to make sure you do not jump to conclusions. 
The broad-bodied chaser is quite common and is one of the most likely blue dragons you will see. The male is very different in colouring to the female which is olive green. The broad-bodied chaser is best identified through its ... broad body!

Read more: Broad Bodied Chaser: the boys in blue | Nature Notes from Dorset

02 March, 2015

Long-tailed Tit: time to move on | Nature Notes from Dorset

What an enchanting little bird the long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus) is! I never cease to be captivated by them whenever I see them.
You would think, of course, that it was related to the great, blue and coal tits but it is not. It is the only British member of the family Aegithalidae whereas the others are Parudae; not a lot of people know that!
Long-tailed tit are a gregarious race, especially in winter when they travel together in feeding parties. They are itinerant and are always on the move and rarely stopping in one place for very long. You never see one alone; as you look around you see more and more. They also huddle together at night for warmth; being so small they are very susceptible to the cold and suffer heavy losses in hard winters.

Read more: Long-tailed Tit: time to move on | Nature Notes from Dorset