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 April, 2016
28 April, 2016
27 April, 2016
26 April, 2016
There have been many times in my years of nature watching when I just knew I was a real amateur; I have no real eye for detail and I am just too impatient. Happily though I have been privileged to meet, and in some cases, to get to know quite well some real experts. These are people to whom little details are important and who will spend a considerable time looking and examining a specimen, be it an insect, a flower, a fungi, even a lichen or a moss. Experts usually have a specific interest in a subject matter that they become experts in. Me, I am a jack of all trades and a master of none!
So it was with this little plant, the smooth catsear (Hypochaeris glabra). I was leading a walk at Arne doing my bit with birds and common flowers and insects when John Wright, sadly no longer with us, suddenly stopped and stooped down while the rest of continued walking. After a little way I noticed John on his knees looking at something and I knew we should be there and not where we were so I took the group back! Sure enough, John had spotted this small, insignificant little flower and, after close examination pronounced it as smooth catsear, a nationally scarce plant and one more often associated with south eastern England and this was one of the few records ever for Dorset. That is what makes an expert.
Just to make identification even harder with this plant is that it only opens fully in bright sunshine and on the day in question it was bright but cloudy and so it was not fully open. I can only marvel at the ability of the experts.Smooth Catsear: bring me sunshine
25 April, 2016
24 April, 2016
23 April, 2016
21 April, 2016
Alexanders is a fairly local plant confined to coastal regions Britain and I had not seen it until we moved here to Dorset where it is plentiful near the coast. It quite often grows in hedgerows and on banks inland but hardly more than five miles from the sea.Alexanders: the horse parsley
19 April, 2016
It may be called the common cudweed (Filago germanica) but in my experience, in Dorset at least, it seems to far from common. It is one of three species of cudweed that occurs here and the only one encountered frequently is marsh cudweed.
Cudweeds are members of the daisy family and bear those characteristics without actually looking obviously like a daisy! I know that sounds odd and I possibly have not really explained myself very well. Common cudweed has a small compound, yellow flowers which daisy-like in some ways and not in others. The leaves cling close to the main stem without opening out and are a whitish green. Again, some daisy species are similar in this respect but most are not.
Taller than marsh cudweed and much bigger than small cudweed you cannot really misidentify common cudweed if you encounter it. It is found in dry, sandy places on out heaths in July and August. It is listed in the Red Data Book as near threatened in the United Kingdom and yet elsewhere in Europe it is considered an invasive species.Common Cudweed: or perhaps the uncommon cudweed
18 April, 2016
17 April, 2016
Identifying sedges can be a challenge so it is something of a relief to come upon one that can really not be mistaken for anything else. That is the case with the greater tussock sedge (Carex paniculata) which cannot really be mistaken for anything else when you bear in mind that the lesser tussock sedge is a very rare plant in southern England. If you see a tussock sedge in Dorset then it is almost (although not definitely) the greater of the two.
If you see a tussock sedge; that begs the question "what is a tussock sedge?". A tussock sedge is a perennial species that dies back each winter and re-shoots and flowers each summer. Over time the dead matter accumulates and the new shoots grow from the top and eventually the dead matter forms a tussock, hence the name.
Whilst not a common species where it does occur it can be quite prolific. You can find it in fens, bogs, swamps, by lakes and even in damp woodland. It does, in fact, prefer shady conditions.Carex paniculata: the greater tussock sedge
16 April, 2016
15 April, 2016
14 April, 2016
13 April, 2016
You will see many lovely photographs of Dartford warblers (Sylvia undata), they seem to be a favoured species amongst photographers. In spring the males perch on the top of gorse bushes to sing and proclaim their territory and so they can be sitting target for the cameraman with the big telephoto lens! I have no telephoto lens and, actually, are fairly unlucky with Dartford sightings overall so my effort with the camera is a bit disappointing. However, it does represent the sort of view you will get when out walking as they are nervous birds and easily spooked if you attempt to get too close.
To quote the much used phrase of the Springwatch team, the Dartford warbler is the 'iconic' species of the Dorset heath. Dorset is its stronghold along with the New Forest. They do occur on heath elsewhere in Surrey, Norfolk, Staffordshire and possibly elsewhere but if you want to be sure of seeing a 'Dartie' come to Purbeck in Dorset, find some gorse bushes, then wait and hope! They feed on small spiders that thrive on gorse and they nest in the middle of gorse bushed for protection so you will not find a Dartford unless there is gorse close by.Dartford Warbler: of gorse it is
11 April, 2016
10 April, 2016
One tends to think of sedges as liking a damp habitat, wet meadows or the edges of ponds and the like but this is not always the case. There are exceptions to this rule and spring sedge (Carex caryophyllea) is certainly one of them as it is primarily a species of dry grassland where the turf is short, often on calcareous soils. In Dorset it is also common on the acid soil of the heaths.
Low growing, it has a rather compact yet elongated, almost pear-shaped, flower head with the tip being white (or sometimes pale yellow). In some ways this sedge is similar to a plantain flower but the leaves are very different being thin and wiry. It is, in my view, one of the easier sedges to name.
Called spring sedge because it is in 'flower' in May and June.Carex caryophyllea: the spring sedge
09 April, 2016
08 April, 2016
06 April, 2016
Extreme cold weather in winter can mean the normal order of bird life in our countryside can get turned on its head and almost anything can happen. It is possible to find unexpected species almost anywhere including gardens of course. So it was a while back when, in a particularly cold snap, this little chap turned up in our garden, a lone brambling (Fringilla montifringilla).
The brambling is very closely related to the chaffinch and is very common in the conifer forests of Scandinavia where chaffinches do not breed. The brambling is believed to have successfully bred in Scotland in the past but they are very much a winter visitor to here in Dorset. Although related to, and do resemble in appearance the chaffinch they are quite distinctive and easily told apart.
Bramblings are a bit like waxwings in that some years we get virtually none at all and then in other years there are masses of them. They do seem to be more common when the weather is bad further north and food gets in short supply.
This one I photographed in our garden looks a bit bewildered and is not quite sure what way to go next! He didn't stay long.Brambling: in from the cold
05 April, 2016
04 April, 2016
03 April, 2016
There is some thing sinister about the name black sedge (Carex nigra)! The black sedge conjures up thoughts of a plant spreading out across the world devastating everything in its path in an uncontrollable and relentlessness expansion. A bit like the 'Day of the Triffids' I suppose! This is, of course just me and my mind ... or is it?
Also known as common sedge this is, indeed, probably one of our most common and familiar sedge species. It has blueish, vertical sword-like leaves and flower-heads, called catkins on sedges that are distinctively black when they emerge and the resulting seed heads are black too.
Black sedge spreads rampantly and where it occurs it will be in some abundance. It needs quite damp soil to survive and so its extent is limited by the ground conditions but it will often take over and fill the entire area of slack fresh water and boggy conditions around ponds, lakes and marshes.Carex nigra: the black sedge