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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, 2016

Lycoperdon excipuliforme: the pestle puffball



It is not hard to see how this fungus got the common name of the pestle puffball (Lycoperdon excipuliforme) when you see its distinctive shape, just like a pestle used to crush things in a mortar in the laboratory or the kitchen! It looks as though a cap should burst forth any moment but it soes not, it is a species of puffball.
This is a species of rich, acidic soils and can be found on short turf and woodland path edges on heathland here in Dorset. My book reckons it is common but my limited experience of fungi tells me it is not seen that often. A summer and autumn species, it is a bit difficult to tell apart from another species, Lycoperdon utriforme, however, excipluliforme is somewhat slimmer than the plumper utriforme and so I have based my identification on that. It starts white but soon turns a dull greyish brown.
Supposedly edible when young but how do you decide how old they are?
Lycoperdon excipuliforme: the pestle puffball

29 April, 2016

Yponomeula cagnatella: the spindle ermine moth



As you travel the country roads and lanes of mid-Dorset, the chalk landscapes, in early summer you may frequently find amazing extensive white webbing along the hedgerows. In some years there can be masses of these webs, in others hardly any. They are the work of the spindle ermine moth (Yponomeula cagnatella) and is home to its larvae.
This is an abundant moth all across Europe and especially so here in Dorset where the soil is calcareous and where spindle commonly grows in the hedgerows . The adult moths fly in June and July and the resulting larvae live gregariously on the leaves of spindle, stripping it completely of foliage. They pupate in large numbers and over winter as pupae in the foot of the tree.
The adult moths can be seen by day in chalk grassland habitats.
Yponomeula cagnatella: the spindle ermine moth

28 April, 2016

Blue Fleabane; blowing in the wind



Blue fleaabane (Erigeron acris) is a rather insignificant flower, the heads are quite small and do not attract your attention like many of the daisy family do. That said, it carries all the hallmarks of the daisy family, just smaller!
The flowers have a central 'core' suurounded by a ring of narrow petals which then go on to produce small thistle-like seed heads and that spread quickly in the wind. Indeed, where you do find them you will usually find a small colony together. In my experience they like bare patches where there is little competiton and they are often found alongside stony paths in on the heaths and woodlands of the Poole basin.
Blue Fleabane; blowing in the wind

27 April, 2016

Mistle Thrush: the storm cock



It seems to me that the mistle thrush (Turdus viscivorus) is something of a forgotten bird. In my memory it was once quite common; forty years ago we used to have a pair nest every year in an ornamental cherry tree right by the entrance to our driveway. Even then we somewhat took them for granted!
Now you don't see them very often, no one ever seems to mention them, they have not featured on Spring Watch or Autumn Watch (as far as I can recall). When species that are causing concern because of falling numbers are talked about the mistle thrush does not seem to get mentioned. As I say, to me it is the forgotten bird which is such a shame.
Although similar in colouring to its more familiar close cousin, the song thrush, it should not really be confused. It is larger, more slender and more upright. Usually seen on farmland it was once common in parkland and gardens. Indeed, the orchard was its favoured home, especially one where the fruit trees had mistletoe growing on them, as the name suggests the two are linked.
The mistle thrush is also known as the stormcock in some areas because it will sit and sing from a high perch on even the worst of spring days!
Mistle Thrush: the storm cock

26 April, 2016

Smooth Catsear: bring me sunshine



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

Chrysopilus cristatus: the black snipe-fly



This is one of a sub-set of flies commonly known as snipe-flies although I have not been able to establish exactly why they should have this name. 
There are twelve snipe-flies in the British fauna and this one is the black-snipe fly (Chrysopilus cristatus) because it is mainly black whereas the others tend to be quite colourful. All have a tapered abdomen.
This particular species is one of the most common of the group and is found in damp meadows and woodland and this one was by the stream at Kingcombe in exactly this sort of habitat. The larvae live in leaf litter where they predate smaller insects like springtails and thrips.
Chrysopilus cristatus: the black snipe-fly

24 April, 2016

Calvatia gigantea: the giant puffball



You cannot mistake the giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea) for any other species, it is truly unique. The dome can be a foot or more in diameter; they are like giant ostrich eggs! My book says they can actually grow up to 80cms across which is huge and that, from a distance, they can even be mistaken for sleeping sheep! They are almost pure white but soon discolour or become pitted as they are attacked by insects. Widespread and, apparently common, they can be found on soil in grassy habitats especially near stinging nettles which are an indicator of phosphate rich soil which this species thrives on.
You can eat them when young but surely better left to let them reach their full potential?  
Calvatia gigantea: the giant puffball

23 April, 2016

Scotopteryx chenopodiata: the shaded broad-bar



The shaded broad-bar moth (Scotopteryx chenopodiata) is a species of grassy habitats, especially grassland with lots of flowers like ragwort and knapweed. It is widespread and common throughout the British Isles.
Being at rest in grass during the day it is easy to disturb them and that probably is the most likely way you will see one. They emerge at dusk and fly in the evening and are far from being purely nocturnal. The adults may like daisy flowers to feed on but the larvae are found on members of the pea family such as vetches and clovers. So, you need a good mix of flowers to find the shaded broad-bar.
Scotopteryx chenopodiata: the shaded broad-bar

21 April, 2016

Alexanders: the horse parsley



The carrot family is a diverse one with many species, some very common and others, as you might expect, very rare. One of the first of the family to flower each year is alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) which can flower from March onwards until June.
The 'umbels' (ie carrot family) are named as such because of their 'umbrella' shaped flower heads and they can be difficult to tell apart but alexanders is easy because it has a pale green flower head where as most of the family are white, cream or yellow. It also has large glossy leaves which is unusual in the carrot family. It is a stout and robust plant and cannot be missed, it is quite an imposing plant.
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.
I have no idea where it gets its name. It is really a native of the Mediterranean region but may have been introduced to Britain, possibly by the Romans, as a food crop similar to celery but that has long since stopped. Apparently it is much savoured by horses hence its other common name of horse parsley so may be their is a connection with Alexander the Great and his horse? 
Alexanders: the horse parsley

20 April, 2016

Jay: antacid medication



Quite often the first you know of a jay (Garrulus glandarius) being in the vicinity is the dreadful shreak they make. It is unmistakable and, if you are not expecting it, it can be a bit unnerving!
The jay is not an uncommon bird nationally but I rarely encounter them where I live here in the Purbeck area of Dorset. They are certainly seen less frequent here than elsewhere in Dorset but then, apart from the Wareham/Puddletown Forest area, I suppose we do not have that much suitable broad leaf woodland which is their main haunt.
Jays are well known for two things. Firstly, they like to roll around in a nest of wood ants so that the ants respond with a spray of formic acid which helps the jay remove parasites from their feathers. They are also great hoarders of nuts in the autumn to tide them over until spring comes.
Intellegent and good to look at but aggressive, bad tempered birds in general!
Jay: antacid medication

19 April, 2016

Common Cudweed: or perhaps the uncommon cudweed



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

Culex pipiens: the common mosquito



All too often in summer one can return from a walk on heath or meadows to find nasty sore bites on ones hands and legs. I suppose one of the most common perpetrators of these attacks is the common mosquito (Culex pipiens) which along with the common wasp are probably the two most hated insects in the country.
It is not only the common mosquito that bites of course; there are some pretty nasty relatives in the midge family that do so as well. It is the female of these insects that bite because they are dependent on blood to enable their eggs to develop and so ensure their species survives. They have to bite, they have no choice.
Many of us, then, will swat a mosquito on sight and never actually get a good look at one so here you are, this is what they look like close up and personal. Actually, I think their looks belie their 'evil' streak. They are a truly delicate and exquisitely made insect; its just a shame they are one of man's worst enemies! At least in this country we do not have to fear that they are carrying the dreaded malaria or, for the time being at least the zico virus.  
Culex pipiens: the common mosquito

17 April, 2016

Carex paniculata: the greater tussock sedge



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

Clavulinopsis corniculata: the meadow coral



Meadow coral (Clavulinopsis corniculata) is a small, yellow, branched fungus grows amongst grass on lawns and in pasture. It is common and, because of its size, I am sure it is often overlooked. It grows in solitary clusters, usually in the autumn. It is easy to see why it is called the meadow coral; it looks like it could, indeed, be a coral, and it grows in meadows!
It is not edible of course, there is not enough of it.
Clavulinopsis corniculata: the meadow coral

15 April, 2016

Abraxus grossulariata: the magpie moth



Although the magpie moth (Abraxus grossulariata) flies mainly at night it can often be seen by day. It is easily disturbed from shrubbery and vegetation and because of its magnificent, conspicuous black and white colouring it does tend to stand out somewhat. It is also quite big and you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a butterfly at first.
It is, then, a common species, attracted to light and quite easily identified. Flying in July and August the magpie moth is often found in gardens, especially if there are fruit bushes present, but you will also find it in woodlands, in hedgerows, on commons and even on grassland.
The larvae appear on fruit bushes and hedgerow shrubs in September and they over winter as larvae before pupating in the spring and emerging in July.
Abraxus grossulariata: the magpie moth

14 April, 2016

Creeping Buttercup: running wild



By far the most common of our buttercups is the creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens). It flowers from May through until October and even on after that in milder winters.  
It tends to be lower growing than the meadow buttercup and it has a vigorous display of large leaves which is the best way to tell them apart. The other common buttercup, bulbous buttercup, does not have these sturdy leaves either and is a much more delicate flower. It spreads mainly by producing runners that take root when in contact with the earth, hence creeping buttercup. It can be rampant where it occurs because of this method of reproducing.
Found across the county in hedgerows, woodlands, meadows, grassland, and waysides, especially in damp conditions. Indeed, you can find it just about anywhere, including on your lawn! Like most buttercups this is a poisonous plant but, although often found in meadows, it has an acrid taste and cattle tend to avoid eating it. The poison is post when the plant is dried so it does no harm in hay cut from those meadows.
Creeping Buttercup: running wild

13 April, 2016

Dartford Warbler: of gorse it is



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

Crane-fly: Limonia nubeculosa



One tends to think of crane-flies as resting with their wings open and at right-angles to the body and this is, indeed, a typical trait of the larger crane-flies of the common Tipulidae family. However, there are several crane-flies where this is not the case as you can see from this species,Limonia nubeculosa, Those folded back wings hide a small, slender body and long legs and they can look a bit like a large mosquitoe! These are, though, quite harmless.
Mainly a woodland species, they can be found at any time of year but less so in winter of course. The larvae feed on rotting leaf litter, fungi and so on and are an integral part of the woodland recycling system.
Crane-fly: Limonia nubeculosa

10 April, 2016

Carex caryophyllea: the spring sedge



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

Lycoperdon pyriforme: the stump puffball



As the leaves turn to the colours of autumn, on the woodland floor fungi begin to burst from the soil and leaf litter. At the forefront of this emergence is the stump puffball (Lycoperdon pyriforme). In broad-leaved woodland they can be found on dead tree stumps but, more often, seemingly growing from the soil but actually there will be a piece of wood buried that they are growing on.
This very common autumn species is the only British puffball that grows on wood. When they first emerge these puffballs can have a scaly appearance. but as they age and dry out they turn paler and lose the scales.  The ball is full of spores and when raindrops land on them the impact causes puffs of spores to be emitted from a hole on top of the ball, a bit like a volcano blowing ash. As the fruiting body ages further so the wind will cause spores to distribute too.
So, if you see a puff ball, don't stamp on it - let it do its job naturally!
Lycoperdon pyriforme: the stump puffball

08 April, 2016

Xanthorhoe fluctuata: the garden carpet moth



Although named the garden carpet (Xanthorhoe fluctuata) this moth can be seen just about anywhere and is common in suburban gardens as well as in more rural areas. It can often be found during the day resting on walls and fences.
This is a very common species and can be seen any time from April right through until October which suggests it has multiple broods each year that overlap in flying time. Its larvae feed on flowers of the cruciferae family, and there are many members of that family, and they are well able to grow in all sorts of urban environments which accounts for the wide distribution of this species.
Xanthorhoe fluctuata: the garden carpet moth

06 April, 2016

Brambling: in from the cold



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

Annual Wall Rocket: the stink weed



Annual Wall Rocket (Diplotaxis muralis) is a native of southern Europe that has become naturalised in this country and as a result tends to be found near human habitation where it has escaped from gardens. You can find it along pavements and road gutters as well waste places where it needs virtually no soil. It particularly likes sunny spots in the shelter of walls from which it derives the 'wall' in its name.
The flowers distinctively indicate this is a member of the cabbage family, the crucifereae, having four petals in the form of a cross. It has a distinctly unpleasant smell when bruised apparently (I have not put this to the test) which gives it is alternative name of stinkweed!
Annual Wall Rocket: the stink weed

04 April, 2016

Tachina fera: a parasitic fly



Some species of wildlife are exquisitely beautiful to the human eye, some are considered down right ugly but, regardless of human perceptions in this way, all species are quite fascinating. Well, I think so anyway. 
By human standards this parasitic fly (Tachina fera) is an unpleasant character all round, not just in looks, but because it parasitises butterfly and moth larvae, usually one grub per host. It is identifiable by its rusty colouring on the sides of the abdomen, fera being iron which rusts.
I took this photograph on brambles near the reed beds along the River Frome at Swineham Point, near Wareham and my book says it is often common on waterside plants in late summer.
Tachina fera: a parasitic fly

03 April, 2016

Carex nigra: the black sedge





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

02 April, 2016

Daldinia concentrica: cramp balls



These black, crusty balls that appear on dead twigs and branches are called cramp balls (Daldinia concentrica) but are also commonly known as King Alfred's cakes. It is not hard to see why but if this what the cakes looked like after Alfred neglected them then I am pretty sure the old woman who left him in  charge of the cooking would have been pretty livid! I have no idea why they are called cramp balls however, medical connection perhaps? 
Cramp balls do not really look like a fungus, in fact they don't look like anything else really! Just round and, at first brown, but soon a shiny black. If you cut one in half you will find silver coloured concentric rings inside - concentrica. Common all year round on dead ash and beech and so common throughout Dorset.
Not edible, burnt cakes rarely are!
Daldinia concentrica: cramp balls

01 April, 2016

Antler Moth: what is the point





The antler moth (Cerapteryx graminis) is species that can be seen by day, especially in the (sometimes!) warm weather of August when it visits the flowers of thistles, ragwort and other members of the daisy family. It is also active by night as well and can be found by using a moth light trap or by pasting sugary substances on tree trunks!
The antler moth likes open country and where it occurs it can be common in mid-summer although it does appear to be declining in frequency and numbers in the south of England. The obsession with ragwort pulling and spraying thistles has undoubtedly taken its toll on this species but as we seem to be becoming a bit more relaxed about ragwort and thistles these days its numbers may well recover in time.
Sadly, my photograph does not really show the pointed and branched cream coloured markings on the wing from which its name is derived. 
Antler Moth: what is the point