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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, 2016

White Deadnettle: with a merry heart



When you encounter a flower you do not know you will need to look it up in a reference book of some sort. My 'master' book, "The Illustrated Flora of Britain and Northern Europe" by Marjorie Blamey has 544 pages and my pocket field guide, is much smaller, it is only 480 pages. The question you may well ask is where then, on all those pages, do you start to look?
As with all wildlife, animal or vegetable, science has classified all living things into Kingdoms, Phylum, Classes, Orders, Families, Genera and Species (You can remember this by recalling that King Philip called out for garlic sausage!). In other words, if you can decide on the order or the family then you know where to start looking.
The labiate family has some 40 species listed in my field guide over five pages. They all have square stems and tubular, trumpet shaped flowers. The flowers nearly always come as a whorl around the stem. They include mints, nettles, woundworts and bugles. All different yet all with similar features.
This is a photo of a plant with a square stem and tubular flowers in a whorl and can be quickly traced to the dead-nettles, in this case, as the flowers are white, it is white deadnettle (Lamium album); the white labiate. Simple!
My good friend Wikipedia says that folklore has it that a tea made from the flowers is reputed "to make the heart merry, to make a good colour in the face, and to make the vital spirits more fresh and lively." I must try that ...

30 May, 2016

Yellow Dung Fly: pat-a-cake pat-a-cake



Not all nature is beautiful to look at but that does not mean we should not look at and appreciate all nature!
Found mainly around cow pats the yellow dung fly (Scathophaga stercoraria) is, perhaps, not one of natures most beautiful designs and their habits are not really what we humans like to think and talk about but they do an essential job in keeping our environment in balance. I cannot imagine how deep we would be in cow pats if it were not for the umpteen million dung flies that lay their eggs in them. Those larvae munch their way through the pat and then change into adults to fly off to another pat to set their young to work on the next one!
Out in force by the end of March these little yellowish brown flies are visible in adult form right through until October, possibly even later in the year if we avoid frosts. They are far less common now than they were a few years ago. Farmers now feed cows antibiotics as a normal part of their diet and this affects the fly larva's ability to survive in the cow pat.
You may not like creatures like this, but we could not survive without them doing the dirty work! 
Yellow Dung Fly: pat-a-cake pat-a-cake

27 May, 2016

Idaea aversata: the riband wave



The riband wave (Idaea aversata) is undoubtedly one of the most numerous species that I get in my light trap. It can occur frequently between May and October as it can have multiple broods each year and there are always more than one in the trap when they do occur.
They can be variable in colouring with the central band across the wings becoming almost a solid brown bar in some specimens. I also tend to find many worn and damaged individuals so I guess they are either very fragile or tend to live as adults for longer than some species. That is not a scientific fact, just a personal observation! 
The larvae feed on a wide variety of plants and so the adult moth can be seen almost anywhere in Britain and can sometimes be seen during the day if disturbed from a shrub where it is resting.
Idaea aversata: the riband wave

26 May, 2016

Meadowsweet: a bit of a headache



Along with the sea cliffs there is no better place to walk in summer than along the banks of Dorset's wonderful chalk rivers. There is such a rich variety of plants, insects and other animals that thrive in these habitats. Among the plants in summer you will frequently find this dense, fluffy creamy white flower, Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria). Surprisingly, perhaps, it is a member of the rose family.

It flowers from June right through until October and is immensely popular with insects of all kinds probably attracted by the lovely fragrance of both the flower and its leaves. It occurs away from rivers in other wet places and is often found in wet meadows, drainage ditches and streams, fens and even swamps but it is not keen on acid soils the chalk rivers are the best place to find it.
It apparently contains the chemical used in aspirin and the roots were used as a cure for headaches by herbalists in times gone by. It is also known to induce asthma attacks in sufferers if they get too close!
Meadowsweet: a bit of a headache

25 May, 2016

Yellow Wagtail: a pat on the back

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Every autumn here in Dorset we witness the southern migration of species that visit Britain solely for the summer months to breed and all sorts of unexpected birds turn up along the Dorset coast. Some passage migrants are predictable and the yellow wagtail (Motacilla flava) is one of these species that always turn up here on their way south. They are usually in flocks, often forty or fifty birds. 
They like rough pasture and cows. The cows eat the grass and drop cow pats, the dung flies come along to lay their eggs in the pats and the yellow wagtail make the most of a last meal before setting out across the channel by eating up the flies!
We see less of the yellow wagtails in spring when they are heading north, they have other things on their mind then and are fully focused on breeding. Going back in the autumn it is about building up strength and body mass to help them through the journey having put all of their energy into the breeding season.
Yellow Wagtail: a pat on the back

24 May, 2016

Bramble: something for everyone



Whilst out for a stroll, scouring the blackberry bushes for interesting things to see and photograph, it occurred to me just what a vital plant the common bramble (Rubus fruticosus agg.) is. I suspect we all take brambles for granted, they can be found just about anywhere and are usually an untidy mess of entwined twiggy branches with very sharp thorns. Often not tolerated, especially in gardens where they can be an unwelcome invasive weed, and yet they are one of the mainstays of our native fauna. 
Thet are a member of the rose family the white or pink flowers in mid summer and are a key nectar source for countless insects and masses of gatekeeper butterflies gather round them and it where you will often find ringlets. Bees, hoverflies and other flies and beetles can all be found on the flowers. When the flowers are over and the fruits come so, again, it is insects that feed on the them. Red admiral, for example, being a typical blackberry fancier. At night small mammals nibble at the fruits too. 
The leaves are eaten by caterpillars and leaf miners and the little gall wasp, Diplolepis rosae, lays its eggs in in the stem which create the well known Robins Pin Cushion.
Spiders galore, especially the common cross spider, use the branches as anchors for their webs as they know there are rich pickings to be had around bramble bushes. Those branches, with their sharp thorns, provide shelter for other animals and bush crickets can often be found in the inner depths of a bramble bush (I use my bat detector to locate them). On top of all this, a favoured pass time for us humans every autumn is to go blackberrying and take our pick of the choicest fruits.
Thank heaven for the common bramble! 
Bramble: something for everyone

23 May, 2016

Machimus artricapillus: the kite-tailed robber fly



Whilst not a particularly large insect the kite-tailed robber fly (Machimus artricapillus) is certainly a fearsome creature as far as other insects are concerned. It is quite capable of taking flies as big as some species of hoverfly which are actually larger than itself.  They do so by lying in wait on plant leaves or tree branches and pounce when a suitable prey item come by. They have a lot of hairs which protects them against struggling prey.
The larvae are found in leaf litter and are omnivorous eating both rotting vegetation and taking live prey. The adults can be seen from May to August but are most numerous later in the summer when they often form large mating swarms. A locally common species in Dorset you can see them in places where the soil is sandy so heathland woodland is a good spot.
They can give a nasty bite if handled but do not bite humans unless provoked.
Machimus artricapillus: the kite-tailed robber fly

22 May, 2016

Rhynchospora alba: the white-beak sedge



Venture into the wetter areas of the Dorset heaths and one of the most common species of sedge you will find is the white-beak sedge (Rhynchospora alba). Nationally this is quite a scarce plant as its preferred habitat of acid myre is not that widespread at low levels and so this is more common on the mountains and moors up north.
Where it grows it is usually in large colonies and the masses of green shoots each bearing white beak-shaped flowers is a lovely sight. Apart from the much rarer brown beak-sedge you cannot really confuse this species with any others, it is quite unique in appearance.
I cannot recall a wet heath I have visited in Dorset where this does not occur so, if you are an enthusiastic and budding botanist put your wellies on and go hunting!
Rhynchospora alba: the white-beak sedge

21 May, 2016

Thelephora terrestris: the earth fan



If you trudge across heathland or through conifer woods in the late summer through to early winter you may well encounter this fairly common fungus, the earth fan (Thelephora terrestris). It is faily common according to my  reference book but I have only ever found it once but it is easily missed because the 'fans' can look just like dead leaves and in any event it always look like a dead, unidentifiable fungus! The dull brown withered appearance does give the impression they are past their best! 
This is a bit of an unusual species though as it is actually a bracket type of fungus and one usually associates brackets with dead trees and stumps so to find one growing on the ground and out of earth is not what one expects. They are not actually growing out of the soil, however, there is always some buried dead wood underneath them.
They are not edible but then they look very dry and withered I am sure no one would fancy trying them anyway!
Thelephora terrestris: the earth fan

20 May, 2016

Idaea biselata: small fan-foot wave



The small fan-foot wave (Idaea biselata) is a moth of the hedgerow. It lays its eggs on bramble as well as on dandelion, plantain and knotgrass, all of which are plentiful along a hedge or woodland edge.
This is a species that can sometimes be seen during the day at rest on hedgerow plants but, as the name implies, it is a small species and is certainly often overlooked. Being so small my attempts to get a bigger picture resulted in a rather blurred image. The small fan-foot wave is common in June, July and August, not just in Dorset but across the whole country
There are several 'wave' species and are so named because the have a series of wavy lines running through the fore wings.
Idaea biselata: small fan-foot wave

19 May, 2016

Siskin: bottoms up

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In recent years the siskin (Carduelis spinus) has been becoming more and more common in gardens during the winter months and it now features in the lower reaches of the annual RSPB Garden Birdwatch top twenty. Like their close relative, the greenfinch (and both are relatives of the canary), siskins are ravenous seed eaters and the tendency nowadays is to put out seed rather than peanuts or bread for birds in gardens and this may well account for this up turn in numbers.
If you have a feeding station that does not have little perches you will notice that the siskin has a definite preference for eating upside down! This is because it has to point downwards to get at seeds in fir cones in its normal habitat, coniferous forest.
Living not too far from Wareham forest where siskins nest they are frequent visitors to our garden and at their peak we have had as many as nine at one sitting. They are more numerous in spring and early summer because natural food in the forest is in short supply during this time. 
Siskin: bottoms up

17 May, 2016

Dog Rose: the witches briar



In mid-June the Dorset hedgerows show the lovely pink flowers of the dog rose (Rosa canina). They flower in June and July and once pollinated will turn in to the rose hips we all know, those wonderful, shiny red/orange seed fruits of the autumn used to make rose-hip syrup. 
Actually, the dog rose can often be mistaken. There is a very similar rose, the field rose (Rosa arvensis) which is very similar in appearance, the field rose tending to be a low scrambling or trailing shrub whereas the dog rose is more of a climber. Dog rose is the more common but the field rose is certainly not uncommon. The dog rose can have deep pink flowers as well as various lighter shades down to almost white. The field rose is pure white. 
If you like insects then dog rose flowers are a good place to look for them as the open flowers attract a full range of insects from beetles to flies.
Being a well known 'traditional' country flower the dog rose has many country names and is steeped in mystery; one name that reflects this is witches briar.
Dog Rose: the witches briar

16 May, 2016

Thelaria species: parasitic flies



You may not like them but you can't ignore them! Come the summer flies make themselves known to all of us one way or another; climbing our windows, buzzing round our heads, some even biting us. I doubt many of us actually like flies as, like rats, they are connected with spreading disease and that hatred is passed down from one generation of humans to the next.
This genus, thelaria, are particularly troublesome in some parts of the world carrying disease and parasites around people and, more frequently, cattle. The 260 or so species we have in this country are not such a problem, they are just an irritation.
What I find amazing is that to separate and classify these insects you need to examine them under a microscope as wing venation and genitals can be key to species identification. This one flew off shortly after being photographed, it may have thought I was a scientist looking for a positive identification and wanted none of that, thank you very much!
Thelaria species: parasitic flies

15 May, 2016

Carex flacca: the glaucous sedge



It may seem a little paradoxical but glaucous sedge (Carex flacca) is one of our most insignificant sedges and yet one of the most conspicuous and easily identified! The leaves grow to no more than a few inches high and the spikelet (flower) is often less than six inches tall so why is it easy to spot and easy to identify? 
Firstly, where it grows it is often very common with the turf layer holding lots of plants in close proximity. Add to this the distinctive grey (glaucous) leaves and the effect is quite noticeable, the turf turns greyish green. Just to add to the effect the spikelets are deep purple verging on black and stand out against the colour of the turf.
Glaucous sedge is wide spread across Dorset and can be found on damp soils on grasslands, meadows, dunes, fens and even the heaths although it is perhaps more common on calcareous soils than it is on acid ones.
Carex flacca: the glaucous sedge

14 May, 2016

Oxyporus latemarginatus: the frothy porecrust fungus



Some fungi form lovely toadstools, others form amazing brackets, but some are just crusty and boring. Frothy porecrust (Oxyporus latemarginatus} is, as its name perhaps implies, crusty and boring! It is not much to look at forming large patches of grey, cushion-like lumps on the bark of rotting timber in dead oak and beech trees, often when they have fallen to the ground.
The crust is still the fruiting body of the fungus, of course, and the substance ouses from the tree and is soft or frothy at first but after the spores are spent they become hardened and stay on the trunk for some considerable time.
An autumn and winter species it is considered uncommon outside of the south-east of England but there is a suspicion that it is spreading and I have now seen on dead beech wood in more than one location in Dorset so I expect it is now quite widesppread here too.
Is it edible? Well, what do you think? I am not going to try it!
Oxyporus latemarginatus: the frothy porecrust fungus

13 May, 2016

Lomaspilis marginata: the clouded border



Although generally a night flying species the clouded border (Lomaspilis marginata) is one of those moths that you frequently encounter by day as they seem to be light sleepers and are easily disturbed! It seems to be mainly geometre moths that fall in to this category. It is not uncommon to be walking through woodland or scrubby places and see a white coloured moth fly up. It will not always be a clouded border, as other geometrid moths are easily disturbed too, but if you are able to keep your eye on them and watch for where they settle you will often get a good look at them as they try to go back to sleep.
The clouded border is quite common down here in Dorset flying in June and July. It is comfortable in many habitats including heaths, common and marshy places as well as woodland and scrub. 
One word of warning, the wing markings can be quite variable in terms of the black markings so the one you find might not look exactly like this one!
Lomaspilis marginata: the clouded border

12 May, 2016

Travellers Joy: the old mans beard

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Traveller's joy (Clematis vitalba) is also known as old man's beard as well as wild clematis. You may frequently encounter any one of these names but most field guides seem to favour traveller's joy although I am not sure why when the other two seem more appropriate to me! 
The hedgerows of Dorset are full of this vigorous climbing plant, it can be found anywhere on chalk and limestone soils and where it occurs it can be abundant. It is its presence in the hedgerows that border footpaths and bridle ways that make it such a joy to behold for weary travellers.
The traveller's joy is a double win for our wildlife population as the lovely little cream flowers come out in mid-summer and are a popular nectar source and then, in autumn, massed seed heads appear and so our seed eating birds take their turn. It is the white, fluffy seed heads that give it the name old man's beard. It is certainly one of our more scruffy plants but it really is lovely where ever it occurs whether in flower or in seed. 
Travellers Joy: the old mans beard

11 May, 2016

Sand Martin: the hole in the wall gang

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In the Purbeck district of Dorset the area between Wareham and Crossways are subject to considerable mineral extraction work. Whilst this destroys valuable heathland habitat it actually creates a completely new one; large man-made lakes with sandy or gravel walls, ideal nesting sites for sand martins (Riparia riparia).
The two rivers, the Frome and Piddle (or Trent) run past Wareham and into Poole Harbour and on summer evenings we can see dozens of sand martins 'fishing' for insects above the flowing rivers, usually accompanied by house martins.
Photographing these birds is a real challenge as they fly so swiftly; twisting, turning, swooping. You just get a brief chance when they decide to land on something like this one did. I am sure (s)he didn't need a rest but obviously had some motive for sitting on the fence.
They are, like their cousins, summer visitors and sadly, all too soon, they are gone for another year.
Sand Martin: the hole in the wall gang

10 May, 2016

Meadow Buttercup: the giant buttercup



Late May is when the meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris) is at its best. Although it flowers through until August late May is the best time to see damp meadows covered in this lovely flower. The water meadows between Fiddleford and Sturminster Newton as just golden with these buttercups in late spring. From a distance you might think that rapeseed is growing there but as you get closer you become overwhelmed by the huge number of buttercup plants.
If you struggle telling buttercups apart, the meadow buttercup is a tall plant that grows up higher than the surrounding grass and because of this it is also known as the giant buttercup. It has multiple flowers on each stalk and thin, 'spidery' leaves. Along with other buttercup species it contains a toxin that can cause skin irritations and vomiting if swallowed so it is best not to pick a bunch and leave them to grow and thrive where they belong.
It grows in untreated meadows across the county but does seem to prosper best in fields by rivers that regularly flood during the winter. It is considered a troublesome weed in some places and so its distribution has declined in recent times due to eradication measure.
Meadow Buttercup: the giant buttercup

09 May, 2016

Tabanus bromius: the band-eyed brown horse fly



The band-eyed brown horse fly (Tabanus bromius) is one of several related species that are pests to horses and so, not surprisingly, they are called horse flies. It is the females that bite as they need mammal's blood after mating to enable the eggs to develop. These are large flies and despite looking rather intimidating present no danger to human-kind.
Their larvae can be aquatic or semi-aquatic and even terrestrial provided the soil is damp. They are predatory on other insects and worms and so are pretty formidable creatures! The adults fly from May through to September but are most common later in the summer.
This species has been given the common name of the band-eyed brown horse fly because the eyes have a dark band across them.
Tabanus bromius: the band-eyed brown horse fly

08 May, 2016

Trichophorum germanicum: deer grass



If you find yourself in wet heathland in Dorset then you will surely find deer-grass (Trichophorum germanicum) in abundance. It is usually associated with upland moors and bogs and is quite rare in the south of England as a whole but the wet, acid conditions of the Dorset heaths is ideal for it and it thrives.
Also known as deer-sedge, deer-grass is a name applied to at least three species but, in Europe, Trichophorum germanicum has the honour. Even the Latin name has changed in recent year to add to the confusion being originally Trichophorum cesptiosum. It is not a grass, it is a sedge and I have not been able to establish is why it is linked to deer so all in all, it just shows how difficult names can be.
A small plant with small florets and growing in clumps it is one of the easier heathland sedges to identify.
Trichophorum germanicum: deer grass

07 May, 2016

Bovista plumbea: the grey puffball



The grey puffball (Bovista plumbea) always occurs in a 'troop' or cluster. It is widespread and common occurring on grassland and can be found on coastal downland (like these at Durlston), in pasture, even on golf courses, in summer and autumn. The ones in my photograph were taken late in the year and have lost there spores through the hole in to top of the dome. They have also faded in colour too, they can be much whiter when fresh.
Not a fungus for eating unless you like a lot of powder.
Bovista plumbea: the grey puffball

06 May, 2016

Epirrhoe alternata: the common carpet moth



The common carpet moth (Epirrhoe alternata) is not a moth that lays eggs in carpets and where the larvae munch away at your floor coverings! I have said this about other carpet species too and it is worth repeating as I would not want them falsely persecuted because of misconceptions based on their name.
The common carpet is quite variable in colouring but the underlying pattern remains consistent. It is this intricate pattern on the wings that gives them their name, like the design of a best Axminster or Wilton carpet.
It is a very common species that can be found in a wide range of habitats, especially gardens, from April right through until October as it has several consecutive broods.  It can be seen by day but it is not really a day time moth like some other species.The food plant of the larvae are flowers of the bedstraw family and definitely not carpets!
Epirrhoe alternata: the common carpet moth

05 May, 2016

Bulbous Buttercup: the point of it all



I am sure many of us see buttercups and think "that's a buttercup"! Well, it gets more difficult if you ask "but which species of buttercup?" There are several, eight in fact, that look like traditional buttercups! It's not quite that bad as some are very rare now having been affected by intensive spraying of our fields.
 
The corn buttercup, once common, is now all but extinct. Other species are quite distinctive in their own way so it really leaves meadow, creeping and bulbous as the most likely choice if it's a standard buttercup you are looking at. The first thing to do is to gently bend the flower head over and look at the sepals, if they point downwards, as in this photograph, then it is a bulbous buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus).
 
The bulbous buttercup is very common on dry grassland, especially on chalk, and so is very common in Dorset.
 
So, now you know how to tell if it is a bulbous buttercup all you have to do is sort out the difference between meadow buttercup and creeping buttercup!
Bulbous Buttercup: the point of it all

04 May, 2016

Collared Dove: united and together



It would be hard to confuse the collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto) with anything else although I have heard people refer to them as ringed doves which are actually a totally different non-British species. Until the early 1950's the collared dove was a non-British species too, being more at home in the Balkans. During the 1930's it suddenly began to spread across Europe and arrived in Britain in 1954 (as far I can ascertain). Its arrival had the 'twitchers' of its day quite excited but now it is just a common bird seen near human habitation from farms to city centres right across the United Kingdom. It is currently number 7 in the top twenty garden birds having first entered the top 10 at number 10 in 1989. The meteoric rise up the charts has pretty well ceased now and it seems to have found its level and recently there may be signs that it is in decline. 
Of all garden birds, this is the one almost always is seen in pairs, no matter what time of year; when one flies in you can be pretty sure its mate will not be far behind. The fact that they are usually in pairs and that they breed for nine months of the year feeding one lot of young whilst brooding the next clutch of eggs must indicate that it is likely they mate for life. Even as early as January the prelude to another years frantic family life starts with the male emitting its monotonous "united, united, united" song. They are lovely together though aren't they, the perfect loving couple!  
Collared Dove: united and together

03 May, 2016

Marsh Marigold: Mary gold



After a long, dark winter there is nothing like bit of bright 'sunshine' to cheer a miserable, cold, wet early April morning. This is when the first marsh-marigolds (Caltha palustris) usually come into flower in our garden pond. 
I usually call these king-cups and they are also commonly knwn as marsh-cups but my reference book calls them marsh-marigold so I will have to change my ways! They are common anywhere by fresh water where the ground is wet so you will see them on wet meadows, river banks, edges of ponds and lakes, even in damp woodland. Each year there are masses of them on the water meadows of Wareham common and you can see hundreds of them from the Wareham by-pass, they are so striking you can see them clearly from the car as you pass.
Marigold is an English name usually associated with members of the daisy family but these are, of course, members of the buttercup family. It seems marigold is a corruption of Mary gold, these flowers traditionally being put in churches at Easter as a tribute to the Virgin Mary. 
Marsh Marigold: Mary gold

02 May, 2016

Bombylius discolor: the dotted bee-fly



I have been wildlife watching now for many, many years and I always work on the principle that statistically I am likely to see common species when I am out 'in the field' rather than rarities but, equally, one should always expect the unexpected. In spring the bee-fly is a fairly common sight around spring flowers and especially primroses and ground ivy, it has a brown furry body, long proboscis and appears to hover when taking nectar from these flowers.
I happened upon a bee-fly that did not look quite right somehow. It was a bit bigger than usual and had light markings along the side and on closer inspection the wings were dotted. Thinking this was odd I took a photograph and so was able to look it up when I got home. There was nothing like it in my field guide but a bit of digging around and I discovered we actually have twelve species of bee-fly in this country although most are uncommon or rare.
I soon had an identification for this one, a dotted bee-fly (Bombylius discolor), not rare but certainly uncommon and an interesting find. Yes, always expect the unexpected!
Bombylius discolor: the dotted bee-fly