27 May, 2017

Portland Ribbon Wave

Put a moth trap out on the slopes last night expecting a calm, muggy and clear night. Instead I was woken up with a jolt at 3am by some of the most spectacular thunder, lighting and torrential rain I've ever experienced. It was unrelenting for half an hour, with the surrounding countryside completely illuminated every few seconds by overhead sheet lightning. The guttering on my caravan was overflowing and there was a temporary river flowing down the track towards me!

My caravan survived as did I, but I half expected to find the trap charred by a lightning bolt when the weather finally calmed down at dawn. Amazingly it was still standing and brimming with 107 moths of 40 species including some fine local cuisine in the form of a Portland Ribbon Wave. It's a moth very much associated with the Dorset coast, historically restricted to a tiny area of the UK on its namesake island but apparently spreading out along the south coast in more recent years.

Portland Ribbon Wave

 Pretty Chalk Carpet added colour to the catch

Oedemera femoralis was a new one on me. Apparently nocturnal so perhaps no surprise that it turned up in the moth trap

26 May, 2017

SANG in the making

I've been up and out in the field at early o'clock all week carrying out bird surveys on one of our local semi-natural woodland sites called Coombe Wood. It's going to be turned into something called a SANG (a Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace), which means that it'll get a big makeover in anticipation of a large housing development project nearby; the idea behind this being that the SANG will have the effect of pulling in dog walkers from the new housing, thus reducing disturbance on the nearby Smooth Snake, Sand Lizard and Nightjar infested Winfrith Heath.

At the moment access to Coombe Wood is via a 4x4 vehicle track, and one of our jobs is to draw up a suitable new circular route for the public to use. Of course it isn't that simple though. The wildlife on Winfrith Heath may benefit from the new SANG designation of Coombe Wood, but this relatively undisturbed woodland has its own ecosystem that will take a hit. Bird surveying in the woods so far this spring has revealed Firecrest, Marsh Tit and Siskin breeding territories, and vegetation surveys are suggesting a similarly lush ground flora. It's the classic ecological conundrum that comes with urban development.

I've been building up a nice little list of invertebrates found whilst surveying in the woods. Nemaphora degeerella, Alabonia geoffrella and the bluebell tortrix Hysterophora maculosana are the commonest day flying moths at the moment, with a few each of Small White Wave, Cream Wave and Nematopogon metaxella disturbed from vegetation every now and again. I found my first dung beetle of the year, a stunning Onthophagus coenobita, by rummaging through some fresh horse doo-doo along the bridleway, and an equally superb Two-banded Longhorn beetle landed on me whilst we had our heads in a plant quadrat underneath a canopy of Corsican Pine. You know, as you do.

Hysterophora maculosana

 Two-banded Longhorn

Alabonia geoffrella

Cream Wave

A lot of Coombe Wood looks like this - mature stands of hazel with herb-rich glades. Other parts are dominated by conifer plantations (full of Siskin and Firecrest territories) owned by the Forestry Commission.


24 May, 2017

Lulworth Skippers

Today it all hands on deck to complete the week's butterfly surveys while this superb run of weather lasts. Up on the Bindon Hill transect there was plenty of activity. Wall, Green Hairstreak, Small and Adonis Blue were all out in force, with smaller numbers of Brown Argus, a tatty Painted Lady and the star of the show a single Lulworth Skipper. I haven't seen one of these since a family holiday in Dorset back when I was just a wee little lad. I was very much new to world of lepidoptera at the time, and I still vividly remember my elation when one whizzed into view and landed on the slopes at Dancing Ledge. 12 year old Bill's Birding would have had a hard time believing you if you told him he'd be back a decade later getting paid to survey Lulworth Skippers.

 Lulworth Skipper

Lots of silky balls of crawling Small Eggar caterpillars are appearing in the blackthorn hedges around Lulworth. The adults of this nationally scarce moths are a spectacular sight; the caterpillars maybe not quite so much.



 Small Eggar nest

It was another stunning day on the cliffs.


23 May, 2017

In the Kingswood


Sunday's wanderings led me though this gorgeous stretch of woodland tucked away on the secluded slopes of the Purbeck Hills. It was densely carpeted in Ramsons and there was a fresh garlic aroma in the air. Combined with the fact that there wasn't another soul in sight and this is definitely up there with the most alluring spots I've stumbled across in a long time. 





Early Purple Orchid


I can just imagine a medieval king escaping here to let off some steam after a hard day's work running Corfe Castle back in the day.


22 May, 2017

Studland to Godlingston

It was a real scorcher of a Sunday. I headed down to Studland Bay armed with a sweep net, binoculars and a pair of trunks on underneath my shorts just in case I felt keen enough for a dip.

Unsurprisingly, half of Dorset seemed to have the same idea, and with the beach being way too packed for my liking I scurried off into the surrounding heathland to see what I could turn up. It was much hotter here without a cooling sea breeze, and not a lot was happening. Several Heath Tiger Beetles were buzzing around, and it was nice to watch a pair of Dartford Warbler hunt insects amongst the gorse. In one of the waterlogged ditches it was a pleasant surprise to see Royal Fern growing. I remembered this one from back when I was working on an organic croft on Mull. Up there it flourished in the dykes surrounding the croft; sprouting up to easily 2 metres or more. This one's a tiddler in comparison, but still nice to find...

Royal Fern

Opting for a change of scenery I consulted the OS map, scouted out a nicely labelled area of chalk downland and made for it. I was soon standing at the bottom of Godlingston Hill at the eastern end of the Purbeck Hills, a prominent backdrop to the Purbeck peninsula famously bisected by Corfe Castle. 

It felt like I'd died and gone to heaven. The views were stunning and there were things everywhere. Most of those things were blue and shiny butterflies but there were a few moths mixed in too. Dichrorampha petiverella and Ancylis comptana flushed with every other foot step and every now and then a Wood Tiger would whizz past. 


 Dichrorampha petiverella

Wood Tiger

 Longitarsus dorsalis

 Agromyza myosotidis/abiens leafmine on Hound's Tongue

 A carpet of Crosswort

Fairy Flax

Slowly but surely, as the evening wore on and woodland shadows began splaying across the valley, the Adonis Blues began to chill out. Having spent the majority of the afternoon chasing after them with my camera like a madman, the cooler temperature was making them much more lazy and approachable. They seemed way more concerned with catching the last warm rays of good stuff than worrying about me getting all up in their face, so I had a bit of fun with the wide angle lens...



Adonis Blue

21 May, 2017

Life on the cliff edge


I had plans to spent a lazy Saturday lounging about the caravan in my pants, but as the rain subsided after lunch and blue skies began to appear, the urge to get outside became too much. I snapped out of a Nick Drake induced daze, put some walking boots on (I wasn't just in pants at this point) and headed out to the abandoned village of Tyneham a little further east along the coast from Lulworth.

Unfortunately for the residents of Tyneham, their village stood slap bang in the middle of a large secluded valley that the MoD decided would be a superb location for a temporary military firing range during the Second World War. Villagers were displaced with the belief that they would be able to return after the end of the war, but this wasn't to be the case. The army placed a compulsory purchase order on a large part of the coastline between Lulworth and Kimmeridge after the war, and Tyneham remained abandoned; wild garlic growing in place of pavements and knarled blackthorn branches slumping over roof trusses.

A rather sombre story but it isn't all bad news. Ironically, turning the area into a massive firing range has helped preserve its natural history interest from human disturbance and development, and the coast path is still open to the public when military things aren't going on.


Up on the exposed cliff top there was a strong wind brewing. The kind of wind that makes most people not want to get too close to the edge. The urge to poke around in the undergrowth was just too much though...

The hairy little weevil Barypeithes pellucidus

  Helcystogramma rufescens pupa rolled up in Tor-grass

Knotted Hedge-parsley, a scarce and tiny relative of Cow Parsley!

Fern-grass

 Rest Harrow

 Intermediate Screw-moss (Syntrichia intermedia) is common on exposed chalk here


Down in the slightly more sheltered Pondfield Cove there was further botanical interest...

 Golden Samphire

 English Scurvy-grass

 Rock Samphire

The secluded Worbarrow Bay looking stunning in the evening sun...


20 May, 2017

I twitched a plant and I liked it

When I came to Lulworth I had in the back of my mind a bit of a personal ambition to become more familiar with flowering plants. Over the past year they've really begun to catch my interest, but apart from a basic knowledge of the common stuff that I've slowly gained through leaf-mining, kingdom Plantae remains a big and scary new world of tricky green things.

Dancing Ledge

It certainly seems as though I've come to the right place. Only two weeks into the job and I've already seen over 50 species for the first time, across a range of habitats I've never knowingly botanised in before. Admittedly in most cases the hard work of identifying has been done by someone else during our survey work and I've simply strolled up and asked what it is, but I'm slowly teaching myself to become familiar with some of the chalk-loving species that inhabit my temporary back garden.

Last Wednesday I even rushed over to Dancing Ledge after work to twitch one of Dorset's rarest species, the stunning Early Spider Orchid. If the fact that I'm ready to get in my car and drive miles to twitch a plant doesn't show my outright dedication to learn more about them, then... erm... I don't know what does.



Early Spider Orchid, a spring-flowering species very much at the northern edge of its European range along the cliffs of the Jurassic coast