If you would like to read my Dorset nature notes about any of these featured species or sites please click on the post title
- 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!
29 January, 2016
Being a light sleeper it does not take a lot to disturb the red twin-spot carpet moth (Xanthorhoe spadicearia) from its day time slumbers. If you do wake one and it flutters to another spot to go back to sleep then following it can prove pretty tricky as they find a way of hiding very quickly! If you are fortunate enough to follow it then it is an ideal time to get a good look.
The red twin-spot carpet is quite common and is found in bushes and hedges. They are not attracted to light and so seeing them during the day when disturbed is the best way to see them. They have two broods here in the south, the first flying from May to June and their off-spring are on the wing from Mid July until the end of August. The Geometrid moths are generally known as carpet moths, not because the larvae infest your carpet, but because they rest with their wings open and have lovely intricate designs, a bit like best Axminster or Wilton!
This one give the distinct appearance of being primarily red in colour and it has two twin spots on the outer corner of each wing. That is why it is the red twin-spot carpet moth!Red Twin-spot Carpet: lights out
28 January, 2016
Where there are bare patches of ground on the heath, often alongside footpaths, or sparsely grassy places then you may well find sheep's sorrel (Rumex acetosella); it certainly thrives on acid soils. It is a common plant and where it occurs it is usually quite well established.
Sheep's sorrel is a member of the dock family and its maroon flowers quickly give way to red seeds and the whole plant takes on a reddish-brown hue giving the appearance of being withered and finished when actually it is still quite active. The leaves are shaped like an arrowhead and I recall, as a lad, we used to bite them to release a bitter taste, we called it the vinegar plant! It is apparently also known as sour weed and the taste comes from oxalic acid. It is a small plant, rarely growing to no more than a few inches tall. It is much smaller than its similar relative, common sorrel.
It seems to be well thought of as a medicinal herb and is used for anti-cancer therapy, as an anti-inflammatory agent, an anti-bacterial agent and immune system booster, an all round good egg it seems!Sheeps Sorrel: the sour weed
27 January, 2016
26 January, 2016
25 January, 2016
23 January, 2016
When walking in old woodland with lots of fallen branches and twigs you may encounter a piece of rotting wood with a metallic green appearance. It is easy to pass this by thinking it is just natural colouration but it is, in fact, produced by a fungus, Chlorociboria aeruginascens. The fungus does produce fruiting 'cups' later in the year although these are small and rarely seen and, of course, the fungus itself which lives inside the rotting timber may not be seen until the wood starts to break up.
The Chlorociboria fungus particularly infects oak and the resulting effect is sometimes called green oak and is used in marquetry and other wood working techniques to give a green/blue appearance to the finished product. This is very common, often over looked, and sometimes not visible but it worth keeping an eye out for as it looks really lovely, especially in good light.
I think you might break your teeth if you tried to eat it!Chlorociboria aeruginascens: the green elf cup fungus
22 January, 2016
21 January, 2016
Stop and look into any pool formed on the Dorset heathlands and you may well see bog pondweed (Potamogeton polygonifolius) growing. Pondweeds are quite common on still water and here are various species but, as the name suggests, bog pondweed is the one you are most likely to see growing in acid water and that means, in Dorset, on the heaths.
The leaves mainly float on the surface of the water but some occasionally protrude above and others remain submerged. I suspect varying water levels due to rainfall and evaporation may have something to do with this. It can survive if the water disappears completely and you can encounter it on muddy surfaces with no water present. The leaves look dead and over because, although they start green they quickly turn to their natural colour, reddish brown (that probably comes from the chemistry of the water). The leaves are narrow and pointed witch also helps distinguish it from its most common relative, broad-leaved pondweed. The flowers appear on spikes that emerge from the water above the leaves; these too are reddish brown in colour. They look a bit like plantain flowers and have no petals.
This plant can sometimes be found in garden ponds provided the water is acidic enough but it can be quite invasive so I would not seek to try and encourage it in our pond!Bog Pondweed: the floating voter
20 January, 2016
I am not sure if any 'wild bird' survey or count should include the pheasant, it is not a natural British species after all. They are an Asian species that seems to have been introduced for food all over Europe and the British Isles by the Romans. That means they have been here c2000 years so they are now pretty British I suppose. However, If they were not bred specifically for 'sport' then there would be no pheasants here at all. It is only because they are farmed and habitat is managed for them that they survive.
What I find distressing is the practice of some gamekeepers of killing all possible predators of young pheasants so that people can pay for the 'pleasure' of doing it. How many birds of prey are illegally poisoned because they might have an impact on farmed pheasant numbers?
There seem to be less pheasants in Dorset than where we used to live in Hampshire. On the main road from our village to the nearest town you would see countless dead pheasants killed by cars and yet the local gamekeepers would complain that they lost pheasants to foxes and buzzards! Hypocricy rules it seems!
Pheasant: cannon fodder
19 January, 2016
Whilst many of us will be familiar with the common viper's-bugloss we may not be so with plain and simple bugloss (Anchusa arvensis). The two species are not closely related with bugloss being a lungwort whilst the viper's-bugloss is an echium; both are sub-groups of the borage family, boraginacaea.
Bugloss is very much an arable weed and is far less common that it once was due to modern herbicides, indeed it is considered an obnoxious weed in some quarters and has been singled out for attack. It is often found close to the sea and I have only found it on neglected farmland at Holton Lee near the shore of Poole Harbour. Viper's-bugloss is a flower of scrubby and bare calcareous soils. Bugloss has bright blue flowers with white 'honey guides' and can be seen in flower from April to September. It is short plant rarely growing more than a foot tall.
Sadly I have not been able to find out much else about this species.Bugloss: true blue
18 January, 2016
16 January, 2016
15 January, 2016
14 January, 2016
12 January, 2016
Anyone who has grown onions in their garden will probably recognise this flower immediately, the wispy little florets growing from what appears to be a cluster of seeds; once pollinated they do, indeed, become seeds of course. All the onion (or allium) family have flowers like this and the wild onion (Allium vineale) is no exception. After ramsons, the wild garlic, the wild onion is the most likely member of the family to be encountered in the countryside. It grows in bare or sparsely grassed places and can be a real problem in agricultural settings if it gets established as it can give cereal crops around it the taste and smell of garlic; ready made garlic bread perhaps?
This is also commonly known as crow garlic, indeed two of my reference books call it that, the other three settle on wild onion. Wikipedia uses wild onions to reference all members of the family that grow wild and uses crow garlic for this particular species. Whilst edible it is not considered suitable for human consumption like cultivated garlic as it is much stronger in flavour and does tend to spread its aroma about!Wild Onion: crow garlic
11 January, 2016
09 January, 2016
08 January, 2016
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06 January, 2016
Another common duck on the shores of Dorset in winter is the wigeon (Anas penelope). Breeding in the far north a good number, thousands in fact, come this far south arriving from October onwards before heading back north again in March and April.
Wigeon are lovely little ducks, multicoloured with a yellow forehead on a maroon head but, from a distance, it is the white in the wing and tail that shows up.
The males make a gentle whistling noise which is nothing like a traditional duck 'quack'. Quite often you will hear them before you see them.
Always in large flocks, more often on fresh water than saline and frequently seen grazing on land you will find wigeon on the Fleet, in Poole Harbour and Christchurch Harbour as well as other places like Radipole and Lodmore.Wigeon: whistle down the wind
05 January, 2016
The persicarias are members of the dock family and include common weeds such as redleg (or redshank as was) and water-pepper. Pale persicaria (Persicaria lapathifolia) is much like these two species but perhaps less common being a lover of rich soils. Indeed, this does not seem to be a common species in Dorset at all, probably because in the heathlands and on the calcareous soils the earth will not be rich enough for it. It also, apparently, is not a good competitor and so would struggle to survive against more dominant heathers and grasses that one would find in these common Dorset environments.It is a much bushier plant and the flowers are paler cream or white, with just a tinge of pink, compared to the other two and the flowers often tend to droop over under their own weight when fully developed. It lacks the intense red stem that redleg has; a much paler plant in stem and flower hence, as its label implies, 'pale' persicaria.
Pale Persicaria: always read the label
04 January, 2016
If you think identifying little brown birds is difficult, there are far more taxing issues! And once you have sorted out common milkwort from chalk milkwort have a go at crane flies ... Tipula oleracea has 13 segments in its antennae and Tipula paludosa has 14! Otherwise they are 'very alike'.
Crane Fly: Tipula oleracea
Crane Fly: Tipula oleracea