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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!

22 January, 2017

Anabolia nervosa: the brown sedge caddis fly

There are several species of insect that spend most of their life in water as a larvae before climbing in to the open air, pupating and then emerging as a flying adult with the sole purpose of mating and then dying when their part of that process is complete. Dragonflies and damselflies are probably the best known examples along with mayflies of course but caddis flies do this too. Caddis flies are insects of fresh water rivers and are best known for the habit the larvae have of coating themselves with sand grains to protect them from predation.
There are about ten species of caddis fly and this one is the brown sedge caddis (Anabolia nervosa). The adult has wings about half an inch long and are quite a small insect. Like mayflies large numbers tend to hatch at the same time and so finding them is not difficult as one tends to encounter a swarm of them. Most numerous in August and September, widely distributed in or rivers and not uncommon.
Anabolia nervosa: the brown sedge caddis fly

21 January, 2017

Marsh Mallow: sugar and spice



What does marsh mallow mean to you? Is is surely a soft, spongy, sticky, sickly piece of confectionery., I remember the dome shaped, chocolate covered ones wrapped in silver paper I used to have in my lunch box back in my school days. You can still buy them but I think they are known as tea cakes these days.
Actually a marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) is a plant of the malvaceae family, the mallows. It has large pale mauve or pink flowers in July and August and the main plant itself can grow to to nearly five feet tall with a strong central stem to bear the weight and support the multiple flowers. The stems and leaves are a velvety grey colour which helps to make the plant quite distinctive, No longer a common plant, it is found in damp places, usually near the sea.
So is there a connection between marsh mallow and marsh mallow; the confection and the plant? I was surprised to learn that a sweet, sugary spice can be obtained from the roots of the plant and that this was the basis for the confection until around 1950 when someone came up with today's alternative. Originally the marsh mallow substance made from the plant was used as a traditional medicine for coughs and sore throats.
Marsh Mallow: sugar and spice

20 January, 2017

Acronicta leporina: the miller



People with the name Miller are usually given the nickname of dusty, a throwback to the days when each town, and even village, would have had their own flour mill powered by water or wind. Naturally, the chap who tended the mill would get covered in a fine white/grey powder from the milling process. One look at this moth, then, and it is not hard to see how it became known as the miller (Acronicta leporina). The miller is predominantly has a greyish white colouring with occasional black marks on the forewings. It has a slightly furry head to compound the connection with milling as it looks as if the covering on the head could well be flour! The underwings are shining white.
Flying from late May until early August this is a nocturnal species which you may discover at rest by day. The one I discovered had found a white background to rest on to try and hide itself from potential predators. A widespread species found in a variety of scrubby habitats which would readily include a garden with lots of shrubs although they are generally associated with birch and alder. The larvae overwinter as a pupae ready to emerge in spring.
Acronicta leporina: the miller

19 January, 2017

Glasswort: the salt in the wounds



It seems to me that although glassort (Salicornia dolichostachya) is a very simple name it reflects what must be quite a complex story.  It is certainly a simple plant, basically just a green plant with no apparent flower, upright and branched, a bit like a small cactus I suppose. It starts green in May then turns yellowish before reaching reddish brown by September. It is plant found solely on saltmarsh and is very common at the western end of Poole harbour and it also occurs on tidal mudflats elsewhere in the county.
I cannot find much else to say about the plant itself other than it has a salty taste (from the sea water of course) and is used in salads in posh restaurants around here. In hope of more I turn to the Internet and, sure enough, there is stacks of information about this plant and its relatives. Its resistance to salinisation is being studied in some depth to see if it has genetic content that might help make crops salt resistant in other parts of the world where the soil is becoming more saline as the level sea rises. It is all very complicated but it is all there to read in papers if you are interested!
And glasswort must have some connection to glass? Sure enough, its ashes where used in the production of glass until the middle of the 19th century when better chemical formulae were created.
Glasswort: the salt in the wounds

18 January, 2017

Long-stalked Cranesbill: at the end of their tether



Gardeners will now the cranesbills better as Geraniums, there are many cultivated forms some of which occur naturalised in the countryside now, usually near human habitation and often as a result of someone dumping garden rubbish! The long-stalked cranesbill (Geranium columbinum) is not one of these, it is a native species found across southern England, throughout much of mainland Europe and in to north Africa.
Whilst the flower is much like other wild cranesbills they occur at the end of long stalks, hence their name and hence the best way to identify them. An upright plant that can grow to as much as two feet tall, but usually much less than that, the flowers look quite delicate tethered to the end of the long stalks and one wonders how they manage to stay there with bees and flies visiting for pollen. The plant produces flowers from May until August and when they go to seed they produce they have long, pointed seed cases, just like a crane's bill! The leaves are very fragmented and could be confused with cut-leaved cranesbill and that is why the long flower stalks help to distinguish the two.
Long-stalked cranesbill can be found in bare patches on grassy areas with a distinct preference for limey soils.
Long-stalked Cranesbill: at the end of their tether