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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 April, 2015

Sandwich Tern: fishery patrol | Nature Notes from Dorset

In mid summer Brownsea Island is one of the best places in the country to see sandwich terns (Sterna sandvicensis). There are scattered colonies elsewhere in the British Isles but here in Dorset they nest right in front of the hides on the Brownsea Lagoon. 
Although yet another white sea bird with a black head the sandwich tern is much more streamlined than a gull. It is a fishing bird that dives in to the shallow sea for small fish (mainly sand eels) and is usually seen in flight patrolling the sea just off shore; you will never see one swimming on the water. 

Read more: Sandwich Tern: fishery patrol | Nature Notes from Dorset

29 April, 2015

Dingy Skipper: unfairly acccused | Nature Notes from Dorset

My dictionary defines dingy as lacking brightness; drab, dirty, discoloured. Whilst the dingy skipper (Erynnis tages) does not have the beautiful colouring of many of our more familiar butterfly species nonetheless, close up, it does have a unique and subtle colouring. I think the common name is some what unfair!
On the wing in May and June, with a possible second brood here in Dorset in late August, the dingy skipper can be seen where birds-foot trefoil grows and in Dorset that means almost anywhere! 

Read more: Dingy Skipper: unfairly acccused | Nature Notes from Dorset

28 April, 2015

Hairy St Johns-wort: the hairy hypericum | Nature Notes from Dorset

I have included hairy St John's wort (Hypericum hirsutum) in my series on woodland flowers but, in truth, it could have been included elsewhere as in addition to open woodland rides and woodland edges it occurs on river banks, in ditches and along hedgerows. It has a preference for lime-based soils and so, in Dorset, my perception is that it is most likely to be found in woodland on the chalk.
At first one might mistake it for yellow loosestrife; it is a tall plant with spikes of large, pale yellow flowers. On closer inspection, however, it can be seen to be quite different in many ways and that it bears the hallmarks of the Hypericum family; opposite, rounded leaves and five pointed petals with pronounced stamens.

Read more: Hairy St Johns-wort: the hairy hypericum | Nature Notes from Dorset

27 April, 2015

Hoverfly: Platycheirus albimanus | Nature Notes from Dorset

Spring is the peak time of year for dandelion and daisy flowers and it seems that in spring nearly every dandelion has a small, dark coloured insect feeding on it. Closer inspection shows these to be hoverflies, many of them this species, Platycheirus albimanus.
This is one of our most numerous hoverflies and it occurs throughout the British Isles and will be found along woodland rides and margins, hedgerows and in gardens. Because it is so small and almost insignificant it is just not really noticed by anyone other than the enthusiast. It is also one of a range of similar species and identification can be difficult without actually catching a specimen and examining it under a microscope.

Read more: Hoverfly: Platycheirus albimanus | Nature Notes from Dorset

25 April, 2015

Wood Forget-me-not: a puzzle | Nature Notes from Dorset

Many gardens have a cultivated form of wood forget-me-not in them as it is an attractive flower with lovely bright sky-blue petals, deep green leaves and it grows in a way that suits flower beds! Other members of the forget-me-not family tend to be somewhat straggly and untidy with smaller, paler blue flowers. This cultivated form readily escapes in to the countryside, often through dumped garden rubbish, and it can be frequently found on roadside verges and other 'waste' ground.
The true wood forget-me-not is very much a part of the native woodland spring flora and is far less common;

Read more: Wood Forget-me-not: a puzzle | Nature Notes from Dorset

24 April, 2015

Ground Beetle: Harpalus affinus | Nature Notes from Dorset

Ground beetles are generally found ... on the ground! Many are flightless, many are black in colour, and many are nocturnal and rarely seen by day. Many feed on small insects. This species, Harpalus affinus (it has no common name), is the exception to all of these rules! 
Harpalus affinus is seen by day and is a wonderful metallic green when newly emerged from its larval stage but the metallic colouring wears off with age. It is vegetarian and feeds mainly on pollen from flower heads and so is quite often seen on flower heads rather than on the ground. 

Read more: Ground Beetle: Harpalus affinus | Nature Notes from Dorset

23 April, 2015

Razorbill: the awkward auk | Nature Notes from Dorset

A fair number of guillemots nest along the Dorset coastal cliffs and, if you look carefully, amongst them you will find a lesser number of of their cousins, razorbills (Alca torda). They are not easy to get close to from the heights of the cliffs as they nest on the lower edges and this photograph I took is about as good a view as I have ever been able to get. It does show the two features, however, that enable you to pick them out from amongst the many guillemots.
Firstly, and usually the most obvious feature, is the razorbill's razor bill!

read more: Razorbill: the awkward auk | Nature Notes from Dorset

22 April, 2015

Large Skipper: a vein creature | Nature Notes from Dorset

The large skipper (Ochlodes venata) is the most common member of the skipper family and can be found on grasslands, open spaces and especially on the edges of woodland where there is lots of shrubby vegetation. Adults can be seen throughout most of the summer from June until early September.
The Latin name of venata gives a clue as how to identify this butterfly as the male has a dark, almost black vein running across the fore wings. It is also rather patchy, an orange and brown pattern whereas the other common skipper, the small skipper has a much more consistent orange all over the wings with a dark border. 

Read more: Large Skipper: a vein creature | Nature Notes from Dorset

21 April, 2015

Three-veined Sandwort: three nerved leaves | Nature Notes from Dorset

Three-veined sandwort (Moehringia trinervia) has a tiny star shaped flower despite the plant itself being quite sturdy with pointed leaves in opposite pairs. Running the length of the leaves are three distinctive veins (tri-nervia) which give the plant its name; in some books it is actually called three-nerved sandwort. Apart from the leaves its other distinctive feature is its long pointed sepals that extend beyond the petals.
Easily dismissed as lesser stitchwort or, perhaps, a mouse-ear, three-veined sandwort occurs in woodlands on rich soils

Read more: Three-veined Sandwort: three nerved leaves | Nature Notes from Dorset

20 April, 2015

Hoverfly: Melanostoma scalare | Nature Notes from Dorset

I have identified this species as Melanostoma scalare but, in truth, distinguishing it from Melanostmoa mellinum is very difficult. However, as Melanostoma scalare is more common in lowland areas and mellinum more abundant in uplands and moors, I have chosen Melanostoma scalare as being the most probable choice of the two. 
Both are grassland species and can be abundant where they occur but, again, Melanostoma scalare is more inclined to woodland than Melanostoma mellinum which adds weight to my diagnosis! 

Read more: Hoverfly: Melanostoma scalare | Nature Notes from Dorset

19 April, 2015

Pied Wagtail: Polly Dishwasher | Nature Notes from Dorset

The pied wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) is a real trial to photograph as it just does not keep still! It is always running around, here and there, chasing this, chasing that! It is, in fact, the smallest bird that actually walks; other small birds tend to hop. You quite often see them running on tarmac or concrete (ie hard surfaces) rather than grass, I guess it is an easier surface to walk on!
The other interesting thing about this bird is that it is almost indistinguishable from the white wagtail.

Read more: Pied Wagtail: Polly Dishwasher | Nature Notes from Dorset

18 April, 2015

Sanicle: woodland sparklers | Nature Notes from Dorset

Although sanicle (Sanicula europaea) is a member of the carrot family, which typically have umbel (umbrella) flower heads, it is quite distinctive. The umbel is replaced by a series of small 'globes', each a cluster of small white, sometimes pale pink, flowers. Each flower head occurs at the end of a stem branch and they always remind me of sparklers we used to wave about on bonfire night as kids. Once they have gone to seed each globe forms a bristly seed cluster which readily clings to animal fur or human clothing. It is not a large plant typically growing to a bout a foot tall.
I associate this species with woodland in the spring but my book says it flowers from May until September.

Read more: Sanicle: woodland sparklers | Nature Notes from Dorset

17 April, 2015

Lichen: Cladonia chlorophaea | Nature Notes from Dorset

When walking on heathland you often find amongst the heathers a patch where grass and moss becomes dominant and, amongst the moss, you may find these small golf tees sticking up. The 'golf tees' are fairly typical fruiting bodies of the Cladonia genus of lichens and there are a number of species, some more common than others. In drier areas then Cladonia chlorophaea is the most likely to be found. Chlorophaea is a common species and is also identifiable by the brown rim to its cups, these are the actual places the spores are produced from.

Read more: Lichen: Cladonia chlorophaea | Nature Notes from Dorset

16 April, 2015

Fulmar: a foul mere | Nature Notes from Dorset

If you stand on the cliffs at Durlston or Portland or, indeed, anywhere along the Dorset sea cliffs in spring or summer you will often see a fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) circling on the breeze, stiff wings outstretched, rarely having to beat them. The fulmar is a master glider; it is a member of the albatross family and displays many of the family characteristics. Its main claim to fame, however, is its inclination to eject a foul, fishy smelling oily substance at anyone who annoys it. This 'foul mere' is where it gets its name. 

Read more: Fulmar: a foul mere | Nature Notes from Dorset

15 April, 2015

Lulworth Skipper: our very own butterfly | Nature Notes from Dorset

The Lulworth skipper (Thymelicus acteon) is named after the place where it was found, Lulworth in the Isle of Purbeck, and is a butterfly exclusive to Dorset. It occurs all along the Dorset coast but most noticeably along the cliffs from Ballard Down to White Nothe Point. It once occurred on most of the Purbeck Ridge too, from Ballard Down to Lulworth but sadly it now seems to have disappeared totally from this area. Whilst is becoming scarcer, where it occurs it can be an abundant species. 
The other thing with Lulworth skipper seems to be that it is emerging as an adult sooner than it used to. 

Read more: Lulworth Skipper: our very own butterfly | Nature Notes from Dorset

14 April, 2015

Climbing Corydalis: the climbing fumitory | Nature Notes from Dorset

Climbing corydalis (Ceratocapnos claviculata) is an occasional woodland plant found in partial shade along rides and open glades in broad leaf woods, especially on acid soils. It is not a common plant anywhere and, in Dorset, seems to occur mainly in the Poole Basin where the soil is most suited to it but in this area broad leaf woodland is not common so that restricts the scope of this plant somewhat too. 
It is quite a delicate climber that weaves its way over other plants and, although it can be quite a large in size, it never grows very high. Climbing corydalis is a member of the fumitory family and has clusters of small, creamy-white tubular flowers that are typical of this group

Read more: Climbing Corydalis: the climbing fumitory | Nature Notes from Dorset

13 April, 2015

Nuthatch: down the hatch | Nature Notes from Dorset

At number nineteen in the top twenty garden feeding birds is the nuthatch (Sitta europaea). It is an active feed bag visitor to gardens that are near woodland and if you have nuthatches at all they will be frequent visitors. Not only do they like seed but they are very keen on peanuts and adore cheese, especially if it is rubbed in to the bark of a tree.
The nuthatch is very much a part of the woodland fauna and is common right across the woods of Dorset. All year round, and especially in spring, its load and very distinctive 'piping' call makes them unmissable - hear the sound, locate the bird! 

Read more: Nuthatch: down the hatch | Nature Notes from Dorset

11 April, 2015

Pignut: the pigs nut | Nature Notes from Dorset

Pignut (Conopodium majus) may seem an odd name for a flower and one might ponder on how it came about! The answer is quite simple; pignut is a member of the carrot family and as such has a well formed tap root which is more bulbous and not as long as carrots you might buy at the greengrocers (or, more likely these days, the supermarket). It is, in fact, nut shaped and was sought out and eaten by free ranging pigs who had a real taste for them. The plant became known as the pigs nut and is also called groundnut, earthnut and hognut.
Members of the carrot family can be tricky to sort out but pignut is quite a small flower but has the classic umbelifer head that is common across the whole family.

Read more: Pignut: the pigs nut | Nature Notes from Dorset

10 April, 2015

Lichen: Lecanora chlarotera | Nature Notes from Dorset

A smoothish, grey background (the thallus) with reddish brown discs (the apothecia) growing on tree bark indicates that this is almost certainly Lecanora chlarotera.
This is a very common crustose lichen and is widespread and common on smooth, nutrient-rich tree bark, both trunks and branches and it is a characteristic early coloniser of young, planted, semi-urban trees, as in supermarket car-parks. [ http://www.lichens.lastdragon.org/Lecanora_chlarotera.html]. It can also be frequently found on fences and timber. 

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

09 April, 2015

Mediterranean Gull; a black headed gull | Nature Notes from Dorset

Once you establish that the black-headed gull would be more appropriately called the chocolate-faced gull it leaves the question "What is this gull with a really black head that you see on the coast of Dorset, mainly around Poole Harbour and, in winter, at Radipole?" This is the Mediterranean gull and it generally inhabits the coasts of Europe, especially the around Mediterranean and the Iberian peninsular and, in recent times, the southern coast of Britain. It was once only rarely seen here. I started bird watching back in the 1970's and when one arrived near us at Titchfield Haven in Hampshire it caused quite a stir and ended up being featured on the front of a book about the Birds of Hampshire. The Dorset Bird Report (2007) describes it as a rare breeding species in Poole Harbour and a scarce wintering species, especially around Weymouth.

Read more: Mediterranean Gull; a black headed gull | Nature Notes from Dorset

08 April, 2015

Small Skipper: a butterfly not children at play! | Nature Notes from Dorset

The small skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris) is a common butterfly species on the Dorset hillsides, downland and open countryside in high summer. it has a preference for tall grasses with wild flowers intermingled and as it flies from early June through until August (even in to September in some years) it particularly favours knapweeds and thistles.
The eggs are laid on the leaves of grasses, usually Yorkshire-fog and creeping soft-grass but they also use various other species including Timothy grass and catstail. The hatched larvae build little tents for shelter by pulling several blades of grass together

Read more: Small Skipper: a butterfly not children at play! | Nature Notes from Dorset

07 April, 2015

Goldilocks: but no porridge | Nature Notes from Dorset

The goldilocks buttercup (Ranunculus auricomus) is very much a plant of broad-leaf woodland in spring, flowering in April and May. Indeed, apart the creeping buttercup, it is our only woodland buttercup species and is quite distinctive with flowers that never quite seem perfect! It readily drops its petals and so finding one with all five petals on a flower head is quite unusual. It is much taller than creeping buttercup and the leaves are narrow and pointed whereas creeping buttercup leaves are much broader. All in all, if you find a buttercup in woodland then if it is not the creeping buttercup then it almost certainly is goldilocks.
It is not a common flower in Dorset.

Read more: Goldilocks: but no porridge | Nature Notes from Dorset

06 April, 2015

Great Spotted Woodpecker: going nuts | Nature Notes from Dorset

They say the camera never lies and so, if proof is needed, here it is - the great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) loves peanuts and as a result is at number 18 in the RSPB top garden bird visitors survey.
We associate the great spotted woodpecker with woodland, of course, and so gardens near woodland will have a higher chance of a visit from one. They are quite striking birds and always bring a bit of excitement when they appear. They are very keen on peanuts but less so, it seems, on seed. The container needs to be easily accessible so that they have a clear flight path in and then out again, and they need a container they can cling to easily.

Read more: Great Spotted Woodpecker: going nuts | Nature Notes from Dorset

05 April, 2015

Common Darter: | Nature Notes from Dorset

One sunny afternoon we were sat by our garden pond and were fascinated to watch a pair of common darter dragonflies (Sympetrum striolatum). The female was dabbing her tail into the water weed at intervals of about one second laying an egg with each dip and as she did this the male sat nearby on the stones watching the proceedings and every now and again he would take off, do a quick patrol to ensure there were no rivals about before returning to the same stone.
The common darter is not only the most common of the darter species here in Dorset, it probably the most common species of dragonfly.

Read more: Common Darter: | Nature Notes from Dorset

04 April, 2015

Yellow Archangel: the artillery flower | Nature Notes from Dorset

The yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon) displays all of the characteristic features of the Labiate family (the mints); a square stem and tubular flowers. It is much like a yellow version of the more common white deadnettle.
This flower is found almost exclusively in broad-leaf woodlands, especially along woodland edges and rides. It flowers in May and June and is widespread in Dorset but not particularly common. It prefers rich calcareous soils which does limit its range a little.
 
This is also known as the artillery flower for reasons that are not exactly clear

Read more: Yellow Archangel: the artillery flower | Nature Notes from Dorset

03 April, 2015

Lichen: Parmelia sulcata | Nature Notes from Dorset

Many years ago I was anxious to find out more about lichens and so I bought the definitive guide to British lichens written by the all time specialist in the subject, Frank Dobson (the book is called 'Lichens: An Illustrated Guide'). This is part of what it says about Parmelia sulcata:
"Thallus orbicular, grey to glaucous-white. consisting of overlapped ridged and sinuate lobes, normally covered with a faint white reticulum along which soralia develops, these may spread and cover the centre of the thallus. Under surface very dark brown with black rhizinae. Apotheccia with a dark brown disc. Distinguished from P saxatillis by the presence of soralia as opposed to isidia."
I have never mastered lichen in twenty plus years of trying and above is the reason why!

Read more: Lichen: Parmelia sulcata | Nature Notes from Dorset

02 April, 2015

Great Black-backed Gull: wonderful gliders | Nature Notes from Dorset

The great black-backed gull (Larus marinus) is quite common along the Dorset coast although by no means as numerous as the black-headed or herring gulls but you can potentially see them anywhere along the coastline from the harbours to the cliffs. 
They do not seem to be keen on the company of other great black-backs and prefer to hang around with other species of gulls and it is quite usual to see a couple in amongst a flock of other gulls.
 
They are by far the biggest of the common three and, indeed, of all the gulls we get in Dorset. They have, as their name implies (which is not always a good guide!) a very dark back. 

Read more: Great Black-backed Gull: wonderful gliders | Nature Notes from Dorset

01 April, 2015

Wood Spurge: what an irritating plant | Nature Notes from Dorset

Some large Euphorbias are popular as garden flowers, some small Euphorbias are despised as garden weeds; funny world isn't it?  The one Euphorbia amygdaloides is better known as wood spurge and is neither!
Wood spurge is quite a large plant and it grows freely in broad-leaf woodlands across Dorset. It is amongst the few plants that actually thrive in shade and but it still likes to flower early, between March and May, before the upper tree canopy gets too dense with leaves. The flowers are rather curious, as are most flowers in this family, being yellowish green and appearing a little like disk shaped leaves.

Read more: Wood Spurge: what an irritating plant | Nature Notes from Dorset