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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 May, 2015

Wool Carder Bee: wishing and hoping | Nature Notes from Dorset

When I discovered this insect in our garden I thought at first it was a bee-mimicking hoverfly as it would rest a while on a leaf, then take off and hover around for a minute or two before returning to its resting place. Having failed to find a hoverfly fitting the description I widened my search and discovered that it is, in fact, a bee - the wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum). It is related to leaf-cutter bees but this one does not cut up leaves it gathers (cards) fibrous hairs from the leaves of some garden plants to line its nest.

Read more:

Wool Carder Bee: wishing and hoping | Nature Notes from Dorset

30 May, 2015

Woodruff: the scented woodland bedsraw | Nature Notes from Dorset

Woodruff (Galium odoratum) is also known as sweet woodruff because it has a strong scent, a scent that becomes stronger as the plant ages and dies, especially when dried. For this reason it is often used in pot-pourri and other perfumed products. This is the only woodland member of the bedstraw family that we have in this country; bedstraws are known as Gallium and so Galium odoratum means 'the scented bedstraw'. 
It does prefer shaded conditions on lime soils and so is especially likely to occur in broad-leaf woodlands. It is not common in Dorset but where it does occur it is likely to be common, indeed even abundant, as it can form large carpets.  It flowers from April through to June

Read more: Woodruff: the scented woodland bedsraw | Nature Notes from Dorset

29 May, 2015

Summer Chafer: a fly by night species | Nature Notes from Dorset

The summer chafer (Amphimallon solstitiale) is similar in appearance in many ways to its cousin, the cock-chafer. It is, however, much smaller being about half the size of the cock chafer. The cock-chafer is known as the May bug as it flies mainly in May but the summer chafer flies in June and July so it is not hard to work out why it is called the summer chafer! Although nocturnal they are attracted to light and you may find one indoors if you have the light on and a window open. If you do have one in you home they are harmless and do not bite!

Read more: Summer Chafer: a fly by night species | Nature Notes from Dorset

28 May, 2015

Bell Heather: purple haze | Nature Notes from Dorset

The soil under the Dorset heathland is very sandy; that is to say, made up of large granules rather than the finer grains found in clay or loam soils. As a result of this granular soil plants find it difficult to get a 'root hold'. Any nutrients get easily washed through the sand by rain and it makes it a very difficult environment for plants to grow in. The primary type of plants that are well able to cope with this hostile environment are the heathers.
The bell heather (Erica cinerea) comes out in August and the Purbeck heaths, in particular, become the most amazing colour purple 

Read more: Bell Heather: purple haze | Nature Notes from Dorset

27 May, 2015

Brown Argus: the brown blue | Nature Notes from Dorset

The brown argus (Aricia agestis) is far from common and was, for many years, thought to be in decline because of its dependance on chalk and limestone grassland. However, more recently, it seems to have adapted to other habitats and so now appears to be seen a little more and in more varied places.
Despite being brown it is a member of the blues! The females of many blue butterflies are brown but the brown argus is quite a small butterfly; both sexes have a deep brown colouring to the wings and has very clearly defined orange dots that go along the complete edges of the wings.

Read more: Brown Argus: the brown blue | Nature Notes from Dorset

26 May, 2015

Creeping Jenny: penny-wise, moneywort | Nature Notes from Dorset

Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) is possibly best known as a garden plant used as ground cover especially in damp soil near ponds. As its name implies it is a rather prostrate plant rather than an upright one. It has attractive five-petalled yellow flowers with glossy heart-shaped leaves. It can spread rapidly in the right conditions and in some places it is considered an invasive weed!. 
Although occasionally seen in the wild as a garden escape it is also a native flower and is found mainly in damp woodland, usually where a bare path is prone to puddling. There is a similar plant which can easily cause confusion

Read more: Creeping Jenny: penny-wise, moneywort | Nature Notes from Dorset

25 May, 2015

Hoverfly: Xanthogramma pedissequum | Nature Notes from Dorset

This is a species that rests with its wings open which is unusual in hoverflies and it certainly helps with identification. Xanthogramma pedissequum is not a common species by any means and nor are the other two members of this genus.
These particular species are believed to lay their eggs in ants nests and so are usually found on low shrubs, such as bramble, on grassland where ants are present, especially the yellow meadow ant.

Read more: Hoverfly: Xanthogramma pedissequum | Nature Notes from Dorset

23 May, 2015

Common Cow-wheat: the plant for ants | Nature Notes from Dorset

Common cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense) is an interesting flower in that it is a member of the broomrape family and, like other members of the family, it is partially parasitic on other plants. Unlike the broomrapes, however, it does have chlorophyll and so has green leaves and stems and has very delicate yellow tubular flowers.
Whilst primarily a woodland species it is sometimes also found on heaths and in boggy areas; it has a preference for acid soils but does occur elsewhere. Where it occurs in woodland it is usually considered an indicator of ancient woodland. It has a unique association with wood ants 

Read more: Common Cow-wheat: the plant for ants | Nature Notes from Dorset

22 May, 2015

Common Cockchafer: the May bug | Nature Notes from Dorset

The common cockchafer (Melolontha melolontha) is also known as the May bug for good reason. As soon as we get to the middle of May each year my moth trap fills up with these little beasts. They are probably far more common than you realise as they are seldom seen. Occasionally one might fly in to a window with bit of thud or, if you have a window open, they might actually end up indoors as, like moths, they are certainly attracted to light.
 
They are not the most beautiful of creatures 

Read more: Common Cockchafer: the May bug | Nature Notes from Dorset

20 May, 2015

Oblong-leaved Sundew: in at the deep end | Nature Notes from Dorset

Sundews are quite common on damp areas of heathland and one might assume that they are all the same species but that is not the case. In addition to the very common round-leaved sundew which has ... round leaves there is also the oblong-leaved sundew (Drosera intermedia) which is very similar but the leaves are less rounded and more oval in shape.
Found on acid soils in boggy areas of heathland oblong-leaved sundew is less common than its round-leaved cousin 

Read more: Oblong-leaved Sundew: in at the deep end | Nature Notes from Dorset

19 May, 2015

Small Blue: hide and seek | Nature Notes from Dorset

The small blue (Cupido minimus) is certainly a small butterfly; indeed it is the smallest British butterfly with each wing is little more than 1/4 inch across so my photo may be a little misleading. Whilst it is small it is not blue however! This is the male which has just a hint of blue on a charcoal background whereas the female lacks the hint of blue altogether. It has no other markings on the upper side of the wing but does have the light coloured border like most of the other members of the family. 
Small blues are hard to find for a variety of reasons.

Read more: Small Blue: hide and seek | Nature Notes from Dorset

18 May, 2015

Tutsan: the healthy hypericum | Nature Notes from Dorset

Gardeners will be familiar with Rose of Sharon, a large flowered shrub of the Hypericum family and Rose of Sharon has escaped and become naturalised in the wild here in Britain but if you encounter a largish, shrubby Hypericum in woodland it is more likely to be our native version, tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum). Tutsan grows in damp woods and shady places and is not uncommon in woodland in Dorset. The lovely yellow flowers of June and July give way to large poisonous berries, red at first turning black with age.
Tutsan sounds to me as if it should originate from the southern states of America but Wikipedia reveals that the name appears to be a corruption of toute saine

Read more: Tutsan: the healthy hypericum | Nature Notes from Dorset

17 May, 2015

Hoverfly: Chrysotoxum bicinctum | Nature Notes from Dorset

I am always on the look out for new hoverflies to photograph and learn about; I find them fascinating as they are so variable in size, appearance and behaviour. When I discovered this one, Chrysotoxum bicinctum, I thought I was photographing a wasp and it was not until I got a closer look at home on the computer screen I realised it was not a wasp species but a hoverfly.
That deception is, of course, intentional. Potential preditors may think twice before having a go at this particular harmless insect

Read more: Hoverfly: Chrysotoxum bicinctum | Nature Notes from Dorset

Michaels Peace: crazy man Michael? | Nature Notes from Dorset

The name "Michael's Peace" intrigued me before visiting this reserve. I had (and still have) no idea how the name came about but I imagined a quiet spot, miles from anywhere where someone called Michael would go on his day off to enjoy nature, perhaps even do a bit of fishing. Perhaps he had a tormented mind? Indeed, as a great fan of Fairport Convention in my younger days, I was left to wonder whether there was any connection to "Crazy Man Michael" 
"Michael he whistles the simplest of tunes and asks the wild woods for their pardon; for his true love is flown into every flower grown and he must be keeper of the garden."
Having now visited the reserve I can confirm that much of that is true; I am not sure about the Fairport connection!

Read more: Michaels Peace: crazy man Michael? | Nature Notes from Dorset

16 May, 2015

Peascombe: the peaceful cwm | Nature Notes from Dorset

All too often it seems that for a site to be deemed worthy of protection it needs to have an array of rare and endangered species present. We are seeing that battle being fought in Dorset in more than one location. Sometimes a piece of land that has escaped modernisation and demonstrates how our lovely world was before the advent of machinery and chemicals occurs and rightly it is saved for future generations to enjoy as a nature reserve.
Such is the case with Peascombe, a Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve in west Dorset. Possibly unchanged for generations this is damp pasture with some woodland and a delightful stream running through it

Read more: Peascombe: the peaceful cwm | Nature Notes from Dorset

Wood Speedwell: the mountain speedwell | Nature Notes from Dorset

Whilst retaining the well recognised flower shape of the speedwell family wood speedwell (Veronica montana) is a pale lilac colour although my camera shot perhaps does not actually show this very well. It is a sprawling, rather hairy plant, found in damp woodlands, often where the soil is mainly clay. Few other members of the speedwell family are found in these conditions although the well known, and close relative of the wood speedwell, germander speedwell can be found in woods but the flowers are a much deeper blue so there should not be confusion.
The Latin name 'montana' not surprisingly means 'of the mountains' so it seems an unusual choice for a name for a plant found in lowland woodlands.

Read more: Wood Speedwell: the mountain speedwell | Nature Notes from Dorset

15 May, 2015

Scarab or dung beetle: Aphodius fimetarius | Nature Notes from Dorset

Scarab or dung beetles perform a vital role in the world; their job is to clear up droppings of various herbivorous animals, especially farm animals, and several members of this family of beetle can sometimes be found feeding on cow-pats if you take the time to crumble one up (something I have never done)!
This particular species, Aphodius fimetarius, does not bury the dung but feeds directly on it above ground but they are rarely seen as they are mainly nocturnal, indeed they can be frequently found in moth light traps.

Read more: Scarab or dung beetle: Aphodius fimetarius | Nature Notes from Dorset

14 May, 2015

Round-leaved Sundew: the common sundew | Nature Notes from Dorset

In nature many insects thrive on flowers eating the leaves or taking pollen and nectar; the sundew is one of the few species to turn this around and use their attraction as a flower to snare and consume insects. The leaves have very sticky hairs on them that any insect landing on will get stuck to, the leaves close and the plant absorbes the nutrients from its catch.
Whilst the leaves are quite noticable, indeed sometimes mistakenly thought to be the flowers, the sundew produces a small yellow flower

Read more: Round-leaved Sundew: the common sundew | Nature Notes from Dorset

13 May, 2015

Small Copper: butterfly not policeman | Nature Notes from Dorset

Open grassy fields, downland and even heathland are the places to look for the brilliantly coloured small copper (Lycaena phlaeas) butterfly. It is not that common but it is widespread and is not unusual in suitable habitat in Dorset.
It is an unusual butterfly in that it has three broods a year, possibly even four in hot years with an Indian summer. That means that you can see them any time from May right through to November. In good years there will be more adults flying from the later broods so they seem far more common in late summer. 

Read more: Small Copper: butterfly not policeman | Nature Notes from Dorset

12 May, 2015

Trailing St Johns-wort: the procumbent hypericum | Nature Notes from Dorset

In general St John's-worts are fine, upstanding members of the plant community, the exception being trailing St John's-wort (Hypericum humifusum) which is a prostrate plant with a thin stem unable to support the weight of the small, vibrant, rich yellow star shaped flowers. The flowers usually have a few black dots on them otherwise they are typical of the Hypericum family. Humifuse means spread over the surface of the groundprocumbent.
Found usually in woodland it tends to be woodland where the soil is acid

Read more: Trailing St Johns-wort: the procumbent hypericum | Nature Notes from Dorset

11 May, 2015

Hoverfly: Platycheirus granditarsus | Nature Notes from Dorset

Hoverflies come in all sorts of guises, some mimic wasps, some bees, some quite slim, even very small, and others much bigger and chunkier. One thing that instantly distinguishes them, of course, is their incredible ability to hover and to fly at exceptional speeds - nought to gone in less than a second!
You often do not get much to go on when identifying them, the designs on their body being the usual feature but unless they are perched on a leaf or taking nectar from a flower they can be difficult to get a close view of. To actually distinguish between some species you need a microscopic examination!

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

09 May, 2015

Foxglove: purple fingers | Nature Notes from Dorset

Every June a wonderful display of foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) occurs at sites across Dorset, especially at Arne. They continue to flower on through until September with even some late specimens seen in October some years. Although commonly a flower of acid woodland they also occur on acid grasslands and heaths. They are less likely to be seen on chalk or limestone.
We all know foxgloves; the pixie hats of our younger days! The Latin name has a pretty obvious English translation, purple fingers, and I am sure we all have put one of the flowers on our finger at some point in our younger days. The foxglove is, however, poisonous

Read more: Foxglove: purple fingers | Nature Notes from Dorset

08 May, 2015

Burying Beetle: Silpha atrata | Nature Notes from Dorset

Burying beetles are best known for their ability to use their keen sense of smell to find dead creatures and then to remove the earth from underneath the corpse so that it sinks in to the ground. They then cover it up and lay their eggs in the buried body. They are commonly known as sexton beetles and the job they do is not pretty but someone has to do it! They are rarely seen being primarily nocturnal and spending much time under ground.
There are always exceptions to the rule it seems, and this species of burying beetle does not bury anything! Silpha atrata is a specialist snail predator able to reach deep into shells to devour its prey. Seen by day in damp, shady places

Read more: Burying Beetle: Silpha atrata | Nature Notes from Dorset

07 May, 2015

Little Tern: turning it around | Nature Notes from Dorset

The little tern (Sterna albifrons) is one of Britain's rarest species of breeding sea bird. It nests in colonies on shingle beaches and there are few such colonies here. I am delighted to say, however, that Dorset has such a breeding colony on the Chesil Beach; the only colony in south west England. Recently the number of nesting pairs became dangerously low due to human interference and natural predation by other species but stringent controls and monitoring, mainly by enthusiastic volunteers, means that the numbers have risen and it is, once again a thriving community raising about sixty fledgeling in 2014. A real success story for conservation in general and the RSPB in particular who oversee the project.

Read more: Little Tern: turning it around | Nature Notes from Dorset

06 May, 2015

Grizzled Skipper: streaks of grey | Nature Notes from Dorset

The grizzled skipper (Pyrgus malvae) is a far from common species, it may be overlooked of course but I see it only very occasionally. Dorset is one of its strongholds as it likes flowery downs and slopes and so the Purbeck Ridge and the sea cliff tops at places like Durslton and Portland Bill are good places to find them. They are quite a small butterfly and tend to fly close to the ground preferring soil and rocks as resting places.
They have two broods here in the south. The first brood fly in May and June and the second brood briefly in September. They lay their eggs on wild strawberry where possible

Read more: Grizzled Skipper: streaks of grey | Nature Notes from Dorset

05 May, 2015

Slender St Johns-wort: the honourable hypericum | Nature Notes from Dorset

There are a number of hypericum, probably ten in all, that one is likely to encounter in the wild and they all have a fairly similar yellow flower and pointed leaves. The key to identifying them in my experience is to look for the feature that makes each unique. In this case, the slender St John's-wort (Hypericum pulchrum), for me it has to be the red undersides of the flowers that have yet to open. When the plant is in flower it will usually have at least one still to open and displaying this distinctive feature. There are other features that make it unique of course but often in nature watching it can be a single thing you notice at once that is diagnostic. 

Read more: Slender St Johns-wort: the honourable hypericum | Nature Notes from Dorset

04 May, 2015

Hoverfly: Platycheirus scutatus | Nature Notes from Dorset

Platycheirus scutatus is another tiny species of hoverfly that seems little more than a speck on spring flowers such as daisy and dandelion. This is an abundant species found almost everywhere there is low vegetation such as a woodland edge, an area of scrub or perhaps garden shrubs.
It is as common as its cousin Platycheirus albimanus and found in similar habitat but scutatus has yellow spots on the abdomen whereas albimanus has grey spots. There are a couple of other closely related species which are much rarer

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

03 May, 2015

Garston Wood: a truly ancient wood | Nature Notes from Dorset

I try hard not to have 'favourite' woodlands or other sites for that matter; I try to enjoy each one I visit and admire the nature it has to offer me. Having said that there are some special places that stand out in ones memory and to where one will return as frequently as one can without ignoring the many other delights to be found. One of those special places in Dorset for me is Garston Wood. The RSPB has excellent reserves in Dorset at Arne and Radipole/Lodmoor which are well known and well visited but their reserve at Garston Wood is the forgotten one; not forgotten by the RSPB, however, that have put considerable effort in to restoring a once neglected woodland habitat.

Read more: Garston Wood: a truly ancient wood | Nature Notes from Dorset

02 May, 2015

Corn Mint: mint of the fields? | Nature Notes from Dorset

Where would you expect to find a flower species called corn mint (Mentha arvensis)? Arvensis means 'of the field' so it is, on the face of it, likely to be weed of cultivated ground is it not? Such are the vagaries of English common names, however, that I have only ever encountered this flower in damp areas of woodland, often on or by pathways. My book says it also occurs in damp fields and grasslands but it adds that as something of an after thought.
It is less well known than its close relative water mint, but corn mint is, none the less, a fairly common flower in Dorset 

Read me: Corn Mint: mint of the fields? | Nature Notes from Dorset

01 May, 2015

Pterostichus madidus: the strawberry beetle | Nature Notes from Dorset

This little beetle, Pterostichus madidus, is common in gardens but I suspect even if one saw it one would take little notice of it unless you have a particular interest as I do! 
It is about one centimetre long (excluding the antennae) and is flightless. They are part of the family known as ground beetles and this species does live its life on the ground or on plants and it has a particular fondness for fruit, hence its colloquial name of the strawberry beetle. It is a shiny metallic black beetle but part of the legs are a brownish colour.

Read me: Pterostichus madidus: the strawberry beetle | Nature Notes from Dorset