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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 June, 2015

Fat-hen: pernitious weed yet valuable food crop | Nature Notes from Dorset

Anyone who has been for a walk in the countryside and crossed farm land will have seen fat-hen (Chenopodium album) but many will not have given it a second glance, if they noticed it in the first place. Fat-hen is one of the most common weeds of cultivation and yet one of the most nondescript. It has little to attract attention or single it out from other plants.
It is quite variable in appearance and can grow anything up to five feet tall although often it is much, much smaller. The flowers hardly look like flowers at all being crusty in appearance and dull white in colour; they look as though they are yet to fully open. The leaves are pale green with the ones at the bottom looking a bit mealy! Overall, it is wishy-washy, untidy and unremarkable.

Read more: Fat-hen: pernitious weed yet valuable food crop | Nature Notes from Dorset

29 June, 2015

Hoverfly: Scaeva Pyrastri | Nature Notes from Dorset

This is a hoverfly species that I do not have to rush off and get my book to identify. Whilst many hoverflies are wasp mimics and are black and yellow Scaeva pyrastri is clearly black and white and is the only common hoverfly with these markings. In some references this is known as the pied hoverfly.
It is a relatively large and conspicuous hoverfly that in summer can be found on flowers almost anywhere, including gardens, on waste ground, meadows, hedgerows, woodland edges and rides. It is primarily a migrant species with insects arriving from Europe and in some years there seem to be many more than in others. In some years it can be quite common in July and August with lesser numbers during the rest of the summer and early autumn.

Read more: Hoverfly: Scaeva Pyrastri | Nature Notes from Dorset

28 June, 2015

Andrena haemorrhoa: the early mining bee | Nature Notes from Dorset

Andrena bees are commonly known as mining bees because they build nests under ground and you find a pile of spoil around the entrance as a result of their excavations. Andrenas form one of the largest groups of bees and there are many similar species. This one, Andrena haemorrhoa, is one of the first to emerge each spring and so is commonly called the early mining bee. 
It is not a large species, smaller than a honey bee but not dissimilar in general appearance but the brown, furry thorax and the black abdomen set it apart. In older specimens the brown fur may be rubbed away and the bee can be almost totally smooth black. This is the female by the way, the males are smaller, slightly different in colouration and are seen much less often. 
Andrena haemorrhoa emerge in March and can be seen through until June 

Read more: Andrena haemorrhoa: the early mining bee | Nature Notes from Dorset

27 June, 2015

Petty Spurge: the cancer weed | Nature Notes from Dorset

Petty spurge (Euphorbia peplus) is another plant gardeners consider to be a scourge! It is certainly our most common Euphorbia, even more so than the familiar sun spurge. It occurs not only in gardens, of course, but in cultivated ground everywhere and is very difficult to eradicate being one of those flowers that, as you pull them out, you help it spread its seeds!
This is a small plant, petty being a corruption of the French 'petite', and it appears to have no flowers at all but it does; they are green like the leaves around them and so are not immediately obvious. This plant flowers from April through until November but it can easily survive all winter in mild weather or in sheltered locations.
In common with some other Euphorbia it has a white sap in its stems which is highly toxic and it has been used to treat some forms of skin cancer

Read more: Petty Spurge: the cancer weed | Nature Notes from Dorset

26 June, 2015

Rhagium mordax: the black-spotted pliers support beetle | Nature Notes from Dorset

Longhorn beetles are not that common so it is always a bit of a thrill to find one, especially one you have not seen before. This one, that goes under the catchy name of Rhagium mordax, was on rowan blossom at the Arne RSPB reserve. 
It was amazing that this beetle, once aware of my intruding camera lens (and I admit it was very close), just dropped off of the flower to the ground and there, against the moss, it was so well camouflaged it took me a little while to find it again. This seemed to be a pretty effective safety device. I felt a bit guilty at first thinking it had a long climb back up to the blossom but of course it can fly so I am sure it was not long before it was tucking in to its lunch again.
This species lays its eggs on stumps and fallen trees

Read more: Rhagium mordax: the black-spotted pliers support beetle | Nature Notes from Dorset

25 June, 2015

Bilberry: for night vision | Nature Notes from Dorset

The bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is a member of the heather family and here in Dorset it prefers higher areas of heathland around Puddletown Forest and Thorncombe Wood. Elsewhere in Britain it is a common plant of the upper moorlands in the north country.
The pink flowers of spring produce dark, almost black, berries in mid-summer which are useful food for a number of creatures and are favoured by us humans too! They are closely related to blueberries which are now common in British supermarkets. The bilberry is the famous huckleberry of north America.
It has a number of local names across the country including whortleberry here in the south

Read more: Bilberry: for night vision | Nature Notes from Dorset

24 June, 2015

Adonis Blue: the beautiful man | Nature Notes from Dorset

When you see so many Adonis blue (Lysandra bellargus) out on the Dorset cliffs and downs it is hard to believe this is a nationally rare species as it is right on the northern edge of its range here in Britain. At times during the year here they are more numerous than the common blue.
When we first moved to Dorset in 2006 I was worried that I would not be able to tell the difference between the Adonis and common blues. Actually, once you have seen the brilliant blue of the Adonis you will not mistake the species thereafter. I don't think the camera really does the colour justice. I have taken many photos of the Adonis blue and none really seem to truly reflect the stunning colour. What this photo does show however, is that on the Adonis the black veins in the wing run through the white edge

Read more: Adonis Blue: the beautiful man | Nature Notes from Dorset

23 June, 2015

Common Poppy: an act of remembrance | Nature Notes from Dorset

I remember, many years ago, corn fields that turned red in mid-summer with hundreds and hundreds of blood-red common poppy (Papaver rhoeas) flowers. It was an awesome sight. The poppy thrives in disturbed ground and so farm fields were ideal for them. Along with corncockle and corn marigold, both now incredibly rare, poppies were one of most common and most distinctive weeds of cultivation. 
Sadly, poppies are also becoming increasingly scarce and are confined to the corners of fields where the sprays do not reach and to people's gardens. They also crop up in roadside gutters and other unlikely places where they can eke out a living. They are losing the battle against the herbicide along with many other unwanted weeds.
There are many complex issues around this particular subject

Read more: Common Poppy: an act of remembrance | Nature Notes from Dorset

22 June, 2015

Hoverfly: Leucozona laternaria | Nature Notes from Dorset

This rather smart little hoverfly, Leucozona laternaria, is like its cousins in the Leucozona family and is a species of woodlands. It frequents woodland rides in mid-summer feasting on pollen from umbellifer flowers such as hogweed and wild angelica. 
This species is quite similar to Leucozona glauca and is found in similar habitat and glauca is, perhaps, more common on the western side of England. There are differences between the two but you need a good reference book if you want to make any progress with hoverflies

Read more: Hoverfly: Leucozona laternaria | Nature Notes from Dorset

21 June, 2015

Goodens Nomad Bee: cuckoo, cuckoo | Nature Notes from Dorset

This may look like a wasp; indeed I thought it was a wasp until I used the Open University I-spot website to get an identification. This is actually a bee, a nomad bee. In fact, it is Gooden's nomad bee (Nomada goodeniana). 
The adult nomad bee feeds on nectar. They are fond of dandelions in the spring but they do not have pollen or nectar collecting equipment. The female waits until an andrena bee female has excavated a nest tunnel in the ground and has provisioned a nest cell with pollen for her larva which takes many pollen gathering trips. Whilst she is away the Nomad female will take advantage of the host's absence to visit the cell and lay her own egg in it. 

Read more: Goodens Nomad Bee: cuckoo, cuckoo | Nature Notes from Dorset

20 June, 2015

Sun Spurge: umbrella milkweed | Nature Notes from Dorset

If you are a gardener you will be very familiar with sun spurge (Euphorbia helioscopia) as it is a common 'weed' of cultivated areas and it spreads willingly growing in the most unlikely places; sometimes where there is hardly any soil, even in cracks by brick walls! Specimens growing in poor or little soil tend to be much smaller than those growing in fertile soil. 
It mainly flowers from April to July but it does flower on until November in good years and it can be seen in a 'leafy' state throughout the winter 

Read more: Sun Spurge: umbrella milkweed | Nature Notes from Dorset

19 June, 2015

Four-banded Longhorn Beetle: band stands | Nature Notes from Dorset

Insects lead two lives, one as a larva and another as an adult. The habitat in which they thrive is always (well, I think this is true) very different and it certainly is in longhorn beetles. They live their larval stage in dead wood eating their way through dead timbers and helping to break them down in to humus and so the beetles are rarely seen in this stage unless you go specifically looking for them. As adults they become pollen feeders and can be found on a variety of flowers, quite often umbellifers, and so are far more visible.
The attractive four-banded longhorn (Leptura quadrifasciata) is quoted as being relatively common but the adult beetle lives for only a short time and so they are seen far less often than their numerical status would suggest they should.

Read more: Four-banded Longhorn Beetle: band stands | Nature Notes from Dorset

18 June, 2015

Dorset Heath: the county flower of Dorset | Nature Notes from Dorset

Once you know the three common heathers, bell heather, ling and cross leaved heath, you will then be able to recognise the fourth main heather species which is much the same but quite different! Dorset heath (Erica ciliaris) is a nationally rare plant but it can be locally frequent in the Purbeck area of Dorset. It does also occur in South Devon and Cornwall but Dorset is its stronghold. It is quite common in parts of southern Europe.
This is a heather that likes it damp but not wet. It tends to grow taller than the other heathers and has tapered rather than the bell-shaped flowers of bell heather.

Read more: Dorset Heath: the county flower of Dorset | Nature Notes from Dorset

17 June, 2015

Chalkhill Blue: my number one | Nature Notes from Dorset

Sadly the chalkhill blue (Lysandra coridon) has declined significantly in recent years as its preferred habitat of sunny chalk and limestone hillsides have been lost to agriculture. Where it does occur, however, it can be plentiful during the month of August.
The males are seen more often than the females and are likely to be found feeding in small groups on purple flowers such as knapweed and thistles. The males are unmistakable being quite large and a silvery-blue colouring with black markings. The females are much more secretive and are brown with a few orange dots along the edges of the wings.
The chalkhill blue is very much a species of southern England 

Read more: Chalkhill Blue: my number one | Nature Notes from Dorset

16 June, 2015

Enchanters Nightshade: from the dark side | Nature Notes from Dorset

Walk through any woodland in mid-summer and in dark, shady places there is a pretty good chance you will encounter the sparkling white, sometimes pinkish, flowers of enchanter's nightshade (Circaea lutetiana).  They are small flowers that grow in spikes but, although small, they do seem to have a sparkle about them in otherwise dark surroundings. The plant also has a curious smell and whilst not poisonous I suspect it also has an unpleasant taste and is best left alone.
Enchanter's nightshade is a curious, rather evocative name and one wonders on its origins.

Read more: Enchanters Nightshade: from the dark side | Nature Notes from Dorset

15 June, 2015

Hoverfly: Leucozona glaucia | Nature Notes from Dorset

It is a shame that this hoverfly left its leaf before I could get a good photograph of it! However, the photograph is good enough to show the glaucous colouring on the abdoment and thorax which makes it almost unmistakable; Leucozona glauca - named after its blue/grey or glaucous colouring. The female has this more of this distinctive colouring than the male.
In Dorset it is almost at the edge of its range being predominantly a western and northern species where it is very common. It is generally considered to be a woodland species thriving where umbell flowers can be found along woodland edges and rides.

Read More: Hoverfly: Leucozona glaucia | Nature Notes from Dorset

14 June, 2015

Leaf-cutter Bee: Megachile willughbiella | Nature Notes from Dorset

Megachile willughbiella is is a bee I am very fond of; sadly my wife, who is the gardener, is not quite so keen.
Not only is it an attractive little package in appearance (well I think so anyway) it is a fascinating insect to watch as it brings pieces of leaf and drags them in to the end of garden bamboo canes where it is making its nest. Each leaf taken in forms the basis of a sausage shaped egg cell. The problem is, they have a liking for rose leaves for this purpose and can take chunks out of several leaves as they go about making a home for their little ones.
You cannot claim to have a wildlife garden on the one hand and then complain about a few rose leaves being taken away 

Read more: Leaf-cutter Bee: Megachile willughbiella | Nature Notes from Dorset

13 June, 2015

Solomons-seal: ladder to heaven | Nature Notes from Dorset

The presence of Solomon's-seal (Polygonatum multiflorum) is a pretty sure sign you are in ancient woodland; unless, that is, you are in someone's garden as it is grown as a popular cottage garden flower where it can be grown in shaded locations. Not encountered in the wild that often but where it is it can form quite large patches.
This is a member of the asparagus family and has a characteristic arching stem with a series of pale cream bell-shaped flowers falling downwards on the underside of the stem. It has large bright green ribbed leaves. 

Read more: Solomons-seal: ladder to heaven | Nature Notes from Dorset

12 June, 2015

Two-banded Longhorn Beetle: how boring | Nature Notes from Dorset

The two-banded longhorn beetle (Rhagium bifasciatum) is considered to be one of the most common longhorn beetles in Europe but the United Kingdom is bordering on the more northerly part of its range and so, whilst not rare, it is not so frequent as a couple of other 'longhorns', the spotted longhorn and the wasp beetle. It is easily identified by the two yellow bars on the wing cases (the elytra) although the exact shape of the bars can vary between individuals.
In common with other longhorn beetles the eggs are laid in rotting wood and the larvae bore their way through it digesting it as they go and contribute to the breaking down and recycling of the timber; most beetles are part of the natural recycling process in one way or another.

Read more: Two-banded Longhorn Beetle: how boring | Nature Notes from Dorset

11 June, 2015

Cross Leaved Heath: spot the difference | Nature Notes from Dorset

All Dorset heather may look the same at first but after a while you will notice that some of the heather is much paler in colour, a true pink, rather than the deep purple of the familiar bell heather. On closer examination you will find that the pink heather only has a few 'bells' clustered around the top of each stem. This is because it is cross leaved heath (Erica tetralix) rather than bell heather. When not in flower the arrangement of the leaves can be used to distinguish between this species and the other common heathers. 
While bell heather likes the dry areas, cross leaved heath likes damper, almost boggy, acid soils of the heaths.

Read more: Cross Leaved Heath: spot the difference | Nature Notes from Dorset

10 June, 2015

Silver-studded Blue: a hundred eyes | Nature Notes from Dorset

Dorset is home to a number of very rare butterflies and the silver-studded blue (Plebejus argus) is certainly one of them. Argus was a giant with a hundred eyes; the silver-studded blue is hardly a giant and does not have a hundred eyes on the underside of its wing but those numerous black and silver studs on the wings are almost certainly how it came by its Latin name. It is a small butterfly being smaller than a common blue and with much brighter markings on the underside of its wings. On the top of the wings the silver-studded blue has quite a noticeable black margin.
This a species with quite a distinctive preference in habitat however, as a heathland butterfly and can be found from late June until early August on the heaths of Purbeck

Read more: Silver-studded Blue: a hundred eyes | Nature Notes from Dorset

09 June, 2015

Orpine: a nice plant | Nature Notes from Dorset

A popular flower in gardens is the ice plant "sedum spectabile"; it is not only popular with gardeners but with garden wildlife too. Some years ago we had eleven small tortoiseshell butterflies on our garden specimen all at the same time! I remember asking my wife (the gardener) "What is that plant?". She said told me it was an ice pant; I said "Yes, it is a nice plant but what is it called?" - boom, boom!
Anyway, back to the point. There is a native British species of 'ice plant' called orpine (Sedum telephium) which can be found occasionally in woodlands. It is the largest member of the stonecrop family and the only one found in woods.

Read more: Orpine: a nice plant | Nature Notes from Dorset

08 June, 2015

Hoverfly: Leucozona lucorum | Nature Notes from Dorset

Leucozona lucorum, is, to my eye at least, an attractive fly. It seems some people find flies repulsive and dismiss them as dirty and ugly but that is unfair. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder of course, but surely all living creatures should really be worthy of our respect and, in some cases, our admiration albeit based on human values!
The orange/brown thorax and two banded cream/black abdomen of this species make it readily identifiable. Add to that its preferred habitat of woodland rides and edges as well as wooded hedgerows where it feeds on pollen from spring flowers 

Read more: Hoverfly: Leucozona lucorum | Nature Notes from Dorset

07 June, 2015

Colletes hederae: the ivy bee | Nature Notes from Dorset

Now this delightful little solitary bee (Colletes hederae) is a real treat. Although present across much of Europe it was first recorded in this country in Langton Matravers, Dorset in 2001 and in the short time since has spread across much of southern England. It nests in sandy soils and so is found mainly in coastal locations but is appearing more and more inland. 
This species of bee does not emerge until September when its main nectar plant, ivy (Hedera helix) is in flower and that is obviously where it takes it scientific name from, hederae meaning 'of the ivy' and hence its colloquial name, the ivy bee.

Read more: Colletes hederae: the ivy bee | Nature Notes from Dorset

06 June, 2015

Herb-Paris: the true lovers knot | Nature Notes from Dorset

Herb-Paris (Paris quadrifolia) is an uncommon woodland plant in Dorset. It is found mainly on limestone soils and its presence is considered to be an indication that the woodland is long established, probably ancient woodland. Although there is a good deal of calcareous geology in Dorset there is not much woodland that occurs on it, it is mainly farmland with some remnant of open grassland.
The plant itself has four leaves (quad = four, folia =leaved) in a whorl just below the black-centred star-like flower. The flower quickly gives way to a central black berry which, like the rest of the plant, is very poisonous.

Read more: Herb-Paris: the true lovers knot | Nature Notes from Dorset

05 June, 2015

Brown Chafer: the grass roots beetle | Nature Notes from Dorset

Most of the chafer family of beetles are nocturnal and not often seen but occasionally you can be lucky and find one at rest during the day. I was fortunate to find this brown chafer (Serica brunnea) passing some time on a leaf in broad daylight in a deciduous woodland. It is a small beetle, oval in shape with very ribbed wing cases (elytra) which are brown in colour; hence the common name, the brown chafer. It is quite smooth lacking the hairs that some chafers have and it has a black head which helps distinguish it from the similar summer chafer.
The brown chafer flies as an adult from June until August but, as with many insects, much of its life is spent as a larvae.

Read more: Brown Chafer: the grass roots beetle | Nature Notes from Dorset

04 June, 2015

Ling: a clean sweep | Nature Notes from Dorset

I used to think heather was just heather; it was not until I moved to Dorset that I discovered there are, in fact, four different species! Actually, when you take the trouble to look at them you can see the differences and identifying each is quite easy.
Whilst bell heather is common in the Purbeck area of Dorset, to the north and east of the Poole basin and across into the New Forest in Hampshire the more dominant species is ling (Calluna vulgaris). At first ling looks like bell heather just coming in to flower because the flowers themselves are not 'bells', they are more tubular and certainly less full than the other heathers. Once in full bloom ling is a delicate shade of mauve whereas the bell heather is a much deeper purple.

Read more: Ling: a clean sweep | Nature Notes from Dorset

03 June, 2015

Common Blue: peas and beans | Nature Notes from Dorset

Blues can be tricky chaps to sort out; the silvery underside with orange dots is a familiar feature amongst many of the family. You have to take various factors in to account when separating them.
The common blue (Polyommatus icarus) is on the wing from early June right through until late October as they have more than one brood which overlap giving an almost continual presence during the summer and early autumn. Other similar species tend to be more limited in their flying season.
The common blue is certainly more common than most other species of blue (unless you are in Purbeck where, in places, the adonis blue is now as common, if not more so) and so it is the most likely one you will see. It likes rough, open ground, especially chalk downland, where they can find an abundance of clovers, medicks, trefoils, restharrows and other leguminous flowers; 

Read more: Common Blue: peas and beans | Nature Notes from Dorset

02 June, 2015

Yellow Pimpernel: in a shady glade | Nature Notes from Dorset

I am sure most of use are familar with the common 'weed', the scarlet pimpernel; its colour makes it one of our most distinctive flowers. Lesser known is the yellow pimpernel (Lysimachia nemorum) which is similar in shape and structure but obvioulsy a very different colour. The two are both members of the primrose family although not closely, the yellow pimpernel is a loosestrife.
The yellow pimpernel is a low, creeping plant of damp woodlands and is fairly common on heavy soils where moisture is retained for much of the time. The Latin name 'nemorum means 'of a grove or glade'. 

Read more: Yellow Pimpernel: in a shady glade | Nature Notes from Dorset

01 June, 2015

Hoverfly: Sphaerophoria scripta | Nature Notes from Dorset

Thank goodness, a hoverfly species that has a clear identification feature and can hardly be mistaken for anything else! Despite the black and gold bands seen on many species Sphaerophoria scripta has a long thin abdomen that is actually longer than the wings and so, when at rest or feeding, the body protrudes beyond the wing tips.
It is very much a southern species and although it may be seen from March right through until possibly November it is most common in late summer and early autumn.

Read more: Hoverfly: Sphaerophoria scripta | Nature Notes from Dorset