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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!

13 November, 2011

Web Spider (Araniella cucurbitina)

This is a small species of spider that is common and widespread throughout Britain in summer and through in to the autumn. You can find it on low vegetation such as taller flowers, shrubs and even trees.

There are five species of araniella spiders found in the UK and they are all bright green in colour and have a series of samll apired dots in the abdomen. Of the five Araniella cucurbitina is consider to be the most common and so that is why I have chosen to call this specimen as that species. However, to be really sure one needs to examine a specimen under a microscope and I am not about to do that!

It is a web spinning spider, spinning very fine webs between leaves on bushes and trees.

Dung Beetle (Aphodius fimetarius)

Scarab or dung beetles perform a vital role in the world, their job is to clear up droppings of various herbivorous animals, especially farm animals. This species, Aphodius fimetarius does not bury the dung but feeds directly on it above ground but they are rarely seen as they are mainly nocturnal, indeed they can be frequently found in moth lght traps.

Quite small and hard to find but very common.

Antler Moth (Cerapteryx graminis)

Another one of those moth species that puts paid to the common notion that mpths fly by night, butterflies by day. The Antler moth is frequently seen by day, especially in the warm weather of August (sometimes!), visiting the flowers of thistles, ragwort and other members of the daisy family. It is also active at night as well and can be found by using a moth light trap and also by pasting sugary substances on tree trunks!

It likes open country and where it occurs it can be very common in mid-summer. The obsession with 'ragwort pulling' undoubtedly took its toll on this species but as we now seem to be becoming a bit more realxed about ragwort these days its numbers may well be recovering, time will tell.

Annual Mercury (Mercurialis annua)

I am reluctant to use the term 'boring' for any aspect of nature as everything really is special and unique but, in trying to write notes about Annual Mercury boring is about the only word I can come up with!

A fairly non-decript flower to look at, it grows on nutriant rich soils in arable fields, gardens and waste ground in mid to late summer and can eaily be easily overlooked. However, whilst common in south east England it does not appear elsewhere in Britain so in Dorset it is right on the edge of its range and so is quite 'rare'. I used to find it a lot in Hampshire but since moving to Dorset I have seen it, to date, just once. May be it is not so boring after all!

Mining Bee (Andrena thoracica)

The Andrena family of bees are mining bees and as such, nest in holes they excavate in the earth, usually sandy soils that are easy to burrow in to. There are several species, some difficult to tell apart but this one, Andrena thoracica is quite distinctive because it is generally black but with a bright orange/brown thorax.

The Andrena's also have short toungues which limit the sort of flowers they can visit to gather pollen and they can be important pollenatotrs of such flowers whereas bumblebees have long tongues and specialise in tubular flowers.

Andrena's are also amongst the first species of bees to appear in the spring although thorcica comes later. This one was photographed on Wareham Common on a Meadow Thistle in July.

11 November, 2011

Mining Bee (Andrena cineraria)

The 'andrena' bees are often known as mining bees as they nest underground, usually in sandy banks and soil; as a result they are quite often seen on the heaths of Dorset where they feed on heather. They are honey bees, collecting pollen from a wide range of flowers, but only the female takes pollen back to her nest to feed the young grubs.

Seen in spring and throughout the summer, Andrena cineraria is best identified by its genrally black body with white hairs, the thorax in particular has a lot of white hairs but these can wear and fade as the summer goes on.

Amethyst Deceiver (Laccaria amethystea)

This is a lovely, delicate fungus of shaded woods where it can be quite abundant. It occurs else where but shaded woods, both decidous and coniferous, are the most likely place to find it. It is especially associated with Beech trees.

An autumn species,especially in September and October, it is most easily distinguished by its unique colouring and is probably the only mauve (or lilac) fungus to be found in the United Kingdom.

It is edible but has very little taste or smell so it is probably best left alone to delight others who may pass by later!

Ichneumon Fly (Amblyteles armatorius)

Ichneumon flies are not flies at all, they are more closely related to wasps and bees in the order hymenoptera and that is not hard to believe when you see them, especially this one, Amblyteles armatorius, with its striking yellow and black colouring.

This species is very common in mid-summer, frequently seen on the flowers of umbeliferae (especially Hogweed and Angelica) but you will also find them on thistles and brambles. It is probably the most common of the Ichneumons and can be seen by day in sunshine.

The colours say 'keep away, I'm dangerous' and although harmless to humans having no bite or sting, they are far from harmless to moth caterpillers, especially those of the noctuid family. The ichneumons are parasitic, laying their eggs inside a living caterpiller and the larvae then eats the caterpiller from the inside out! Nature can seem cruel at times and yet it is fascinating too. One can feel sorry for the moth or admire the ichneumon (or may be both?).

Allseed (Radiola linoides)

It is not, perhaps, hard to see why this flower is called Allseed, it is nearly all seed! The flowers are very small and soon become seeds.

This is a very inconspicuous and dull plant, not really worth a look to be honest. It grows on damp bare acid sandy soils on heaths and also on paths in open woods.Not uncommon but very 'overlooked' but it can be found frequently on the Dorset heaths.

There is not much else you can say about this plant really.

10 November, 2011

Longhorn Moth (Adela reaumurella)

This is a small, day flying moth but with incredible antennae. In the male they are four times as long as the moth's body, the female's are much shorter. You have to wonder how on earth they manage to fly with these long appendages emanating from their head! It is easy to see why they have the coloquial name of 'loghorn' moths.

These moths have a short season and can be seen on bright, sunny days in May when they dance in whirling swarms, usually under the newly emerged leaves of Oak, and sometimes Beech and Hazel. Eggs are laid on the oak and the caterpillars feed on dry fallen leaves.

Not uncommon and on a good day you can encounter swarm after swarm as you walk through decidous woodland.

13 July, 2011

Hawthorn Shield-bug (Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale)

This insect is shield shaped and is found mainly on the leaves and fruit of Hawthorn so it has the common English name of ... Hawthorn Shield-bug!

Shield bugs are part of the order Hemiptera, sub-order Heteroptera; they are not flies or beetles, they are a separate taxonomical group. They can vary in colour quite considerably depending on age but the red triangle is usually visible on the Hawthorn Shield Bug.

These are insects that tend to hibernate as adults and so are most frequently seen in spring when they emerge or in autumn as they are looking for somewhere safe to pass the winter. That said, they are not uncommon in summer either and are frequently seen in gardens.

One of the bigger shield bugs, one of the most distinctive in appearance and and one of the more frequently seen, there is likely to be one near you soon!

12 July, 2011

Cardinal Beetle [Pyrochroa serraticornis]

Soldier beetles are everywhere now but, if you like beetles, it is good time to take a closer look as amongst the three common reddish coloured soldiers may find something like this Cardinal Beetle.

Named the Cardinal Beetle because of the scarlet colour of its wing cases and thorax it also resembles a cardinals hat too so it is doubly aptly named. This species has a scarlet head as well, there is a similar species with a black head called Pyrochroa coccinea that has a black head.
You will find Cardinal Beetles on flower heads, especially umbelliferae and thistles, but it is not a pollen hunter, it preys on small insects that are pollen hunters. Its larvae are also insect eaters but they live in rotting tree stumps and trunks.

A smartly dressed little insect and worthy of attention in my view.

11 July, 2011

Thick-headed Fly (Sicus ferrugineus)

Some species of insect are really quite unmistakable, they are so unique. Unmistakable, that is, if you know what they are.

After spending half an hour thumbing through my field guides I could not put a name to this species which annoyed me as it should have been quite obvious from the shape and the colour. In the end I gave up and posted he photograph on the Open University Ispot website [http://www.ispot.org.uk/] and within an hour or so it had been identified and three other people confirmed that it was the Thick-headed Fly (Sicus ferrugineus).

Referring back to my field guides this species is in neither of them so thanks to those enthusiasts on Ispot without whose help this would be another photograph an unidentified insect.

I guess the name thick-headed fly is descriptive of its appearance and not its mental intelligence?

10 July, 2011

Hoverfly [Chrysotoxum bicinctum]

I am always on the look out for new hoverflies to photograph and learn about. I find them fascinating as they are so variable in size, appearance and behaviour.

When I discovered this one I thought I was photographing a wasp and it wasn't until I got a closer look at home on the computer screen I realised it was not a wasp species but a hoverfly. That deception is, of course, intentional. Potential preditors may think twice before having a go at this particular harmless insect; mind you, they would have to catch it first - hoverflies go from nought to gone in less than a second!

This species is vary variable in its distribution, common where you find it but not found everywhere if that makes any sense. My book says that this species usually occurs in grassy situations but likes the shelter of scrub and shrubs. In both places I have now seen it this has been true.

09 July, 2011

Leaf Cutter Bee (Megachile centuncularis)

This is a bee I am very fond of; sadly my wife, who is the gardener, is not quite so keen.

Not only is it an attractive little package in appearance (well I think so anyway) it is a fascinating insect to watch as it brings pieces of leaf and drags them in to the end of garden bamboo canes where it is making its nest. Each leaf taken in forms the basis of a sausage shaped egg cell. The problem is, they have a liking for rose leaves for this purpose and can take chunks out of several leaves as they go about making a home for their little ones.

You can't claim to have a wildlife garden on the one hand and then complain about a few rose leaves being taken away and put to good use on the other. As a result, we gladly tolerate them, indeed we both actually welcome them they are lovely little B's

08 July, 2011

Parasitic fly [Thelaria species]

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!

22 June, 2011

Pond Skater (Gerris lacustris)

I'm afraid to say I take some species of wildlife for granted. Everyday from April through to October, possibly even November, the little Pond Skaters relentlessly make their around the surface of our garden pond and I take very little notice of them; they are always there. It took years before I even thought about pointing a camera at one but now I have I am quite taken with them!

In every way "just another insect" but they are perfectly adapted for their environment and they take advantage of a micro-habitat no other insect is interested in, the surface of still water. They wait for small insects to get in to trouble on the water and they are quickly there and strike. They have developed an ability to rapidly move across water without getting waterlogged and that is mainly down to the shape of the legs, as this picture shows, with the back legs from the 'knees' downwards running along the water's surface.

There is so much of interest right under our noses in our gardens and all too often we choose to overlook it.

21 June, 2011

Horse Chestnut Moth (Pachycnemia hippocastanaria)

Whilst walking across heathland I disturbed this moth. It took a while to track it down and photograph it and then, when I got home, the process if identification started. Now there were no Horse Chestnut trees anywhere to be seen when I found this moth so initially I discounted it although the photo match was a good one. Eventually, nearing the point of defeat, I turned to the text on the Horse Chestnut moth fully expecting it to be associated with the tree of the same name; instead I read that it is "occasionally put up from heather during the day but is more frequently found flying at dusk or at light." Not only that but also "Well established and not uncommon on the heaths of Hampshire and Dorset. A very local species."

One has to ask, who names these creatures? How can a heathland species bear the common name Horse Chestnut Moth? It has nothing to do with Horse Chestnut trees and the choice of name for this moth is grossly misleading! Rant over.

20 June, 2011

Fleabane Tortoise Beetle (Cassida murraea)

A small selection of the leaf beetles (chrysomeidae) are known as 'tortoise' beetles because they appear to have a complete casing with no real visible head giving the impression of a tortoise with its head withdrawn into its shell. Leaf beetles are small and can resemble ladybirds and this is probably true of this one, the Fleabane Tortoise Beetle.
The Fleabane Tortoise Beetle spends its entire life eating the leaves of the common late summer flowering plant, Fleabane. Just imagine, the same for breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper every day of its life and possibly living on the same leaf day after day!
It has a reddish orange colour to its casing with dark spots, hence its likeness to a ladybird but close up it becomes obvious the abdomen is a different shape and the thorax is noticeably separated from the abdomen whereas the ladybird is, on the face of it, one complete unit.
Not uncommon but easily overlooked, watch out for this little beetle on the leaves of Fleabane when you are out and about.

19 June, 2011

Common Mosquito (Culex pipiens)

If, like me, you have some nasty sore bites on your legs from walking on heath and cliffs then you may not want to see one of the possible perpetrators! The Common Mosquito, along with the Common Wasp are probably the two most hated insects in the country.

It is not only the mosquito that bites of course; there are some pretty nasty relatives, the midge family, that do so as well. These insects are dependent on blood to enable their eggs to develop and so ensure the species survives. They have to bite, they have no choice.

Many of us, then, will swat a mosquito on sight and never actually get to see one so here you are, this is what they look like close up and personal. Actually, I think their looks belay 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.

18 June, 2011

Clouded Border (Lomaspilis marginata)

Although a night flying species the Clouded Border is one of those moths that you frequently encounter by day as they seem to be light sleepers! 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 black markings so the one you find might not look exactly like this one!

17 June, 2011

Hoverfly (Pyrophaena granditarsa)

Hoverflies come in all sorts of guises, some wasp and bee mimics, some quite slim, even very small, and others much bigger and chunkier. One thing that instantly distinguishes them, of course, is their incredible ability to hover and to fly at exceptional speeds - nought to gone in less than a second!

You often do not get much to go when identifying them, the designs on their body being the usual feature but unless they are perched on a leaf or taking nectar from a flower they can be difficult to get a close view of.

With this one, I disturbed it from a bramble bush alongside the river Piddle on Wareham Common and as I did so it revealed a bright reddish orange thorax which may be just discernible from the photograph. To complete the identification I needed my text book on hoverflies that says this species, Pyrophaena granditarsa, is common on marshy meadows with lush vegetation and ditches and if one description describes Wareham Common it is precisely that!

So, no arguments, this is the awkwardly named Pyrophaena granditarsa!

16 June, 2011

Froghopper (Cercopis Vulnerata)

So who does not know cuckoo-spit when they see? It must surely be one of the first things in nature we see and learn to name in our early years?

Of course, the bubbly secretion on plants has nothing at all to do with the Cuckoo but because it starts to appear when the Cuckoo arrives each spring so it got its country name. The substance is actually secreted by a family of insects known as Aphrophoridae but are better known to us as 'froghoppers'. Very small insects, a few millimetres long, and easily over looked as many of the genera are dull brown and very well disguised as they lurk in the shrubbery.

This one, Ceropis vulnerata, bucks that trend however with its bright red and black attire and being very common they are very easy to find. Although predominantly a spring species you can find them around until July and even in to August.

15 June, 2011

Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages)

The Dingy Skipper is something of an overlooked species I think. True, it does not have the beautiful colouring of many other British butterfly species but, nonetheless, close up it does have a unique and subtle colouring.

On the wing in May and June, with a possible second brood here in Dorset in late August, the Dingy Skipper can be seen where Bird's-foot Trefoil grows and in Dorset that means almost anywhere! It is much more common than many think and can be found in quarries, on open rough ground, edges of woodland, even on heathland; it is particularly associated with chalk and limestone.

The Dingy Skipper is easily confused with one of our day flying moths like Mother Shipton or Burnet Companion, especially as it often rests, like a moth, with its wings open, indeed it is rarely seen with its wings closed above its back like other skipper species.

Well worth looking out for, it is not really 'dingy' at all in my opinion.

14 June, 2011

Greater Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera chlorantha)

Finding an orchid is always a bit of a thrill! They are apart from other flowers, they have that certain something extra. People will go miles to see a rare orchid just as others will to see a rare bird.

One of the biggest orchids you will find in Dorset is this one, the Greater Butterfly Orchid. Orchids are often named after something they resemble (bee, spider, frog, wasp, etc) but I find it hard to see a resemblance with a butterfly here. That said, it is a lovely flower.

Not common, the Greater Butterfly Orchid can be found in woodlands and grassland where the soil is calcareous so north Dorset is probably the most likely area. They may not be common but, if you find one, you will probably find several.

13 June, 2011

White-tailed Bumble-bee (Bombus lucorum)

The White-tailed Bumble-bee, or Bombus lucorum, is also commonly known as the Garden Bumble-bee. It is very common throughout the spring and summer visiting a wide variety of flowers for nectar. This catholic taste means that garden flowers are as popular as wild flowers.

This time of year thistles are coming in to bloom and quite often it is a case of find a thistle, find a bumble-bee. They are particularly keen on Musk Thistle where you can often find three or four to a flower head.

Bumble-bees, especially ones with white tails, are very difficult to distinguish but this, I believe, is a female of this species due to the band markings on the thorax and abdomen. These bands are the usual way to separate bumble-bee species but it does not always work!

These bumble-bees are vital to the pollination of plants and are essential to the future of human food supplies and need to be encouraged and helped to thrive. They are also just lovely in their own right, useful or not!

12 June, 2011

Shieldbug (Coreus marginatus)

One might think at first sight that this is a beetle but it is in fact a squash bug, so called because the family as a whole are a significant pest of squashes in north America.

This UK member of the family is quite common in the the spring and autumn, especially favouring dock leaves but the later brood are found on blackberries and other fruits as well.

Not an attractive insect it has to be said, its big 'padded' shoulders making it look quite fearsome but it is quite harmless of course being vegetarian.

It is also very variable in shading and can be lighter than the one I photographed and can also be much darker, almost black.

11 June, 2011

Spider (Tetragnatha extensa)

With apologies to all you arachnophobes out there here is today's wonder of the world; a spider with no common name, Tetragnatha extensa. The name 'extensa' hints at the incredible shape of this creature.

At first sight you could be forgiven for not even realising it was anything living at all! Although quite large, about 1.5" from tip of its feet to its rear end it is quite had to find as it is so thin and has colouring that makes it 'disappear' in to its background.

This is a spider that likes grassland and low vegetation, especially close to water and boggy habitats. I have seen them motionless on reed stems almost impossible to distinguish as a spider. I have also seen them in curled up nettle leaves where they can be virtually hidden but I was lucky enough to find this one doing some house work on its web and so it was out in the open.

Its shape makes it perfectly adapted for its environment; very difficult for predators to find and very difficult for its prey to spot before it is too late! A fantastic creature.

10 June, 2011

Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo)

The Beautiful Demoiselle and the Banded Agrion rate as two of my favourite insects. Stunningly beautiful in the sun with their metallic finish making them look almost unreal, the colours just being possible to make!
The Banded Agrion is quite common but the Beautiful Demoiselle less so, it having particular preferences in habitat. The Beautiful Demoiselle likes fast flowing clear, unpolluted water with abundant aquatic vegetation. The upper reaches of some of Dorset's chalk streams are ideal for them.
This preference for a special habitat means they are far from common anywhere. They are also inclined not to move far from where they laid their eggs so are, by nature, a local species.
It is the absence of the dark patches on the wings that immediately distinguishes them from the Banded Agrion.

09 June, 2011

White Crab Spider (Misumena vatia)

This is a very small spider but what it lacks in size it makes up for in cunning and courage!

Although the 'white' crab spider it can also be cream or tinged with green. It then chooses a flower of a matching colour and sits on the petal so it can hardly be seen by the human eye, and certainly not by the flying insect eye. An unsuspecting insect flies in to the flower to collect the nectar or pollen and that's it, the spider pounces.

It can tackle quite big prey which it stuns with its digestive juices and then it just sits and dissolves it prey. No sticky web for this spider,

It is thought that this spider an actually change colour to match the plant it is on although I am not sure this has been totally proven yet.

08 June, 2011

Mother Shipton (Callistege mi)

Butterflies fly by day and moths by night? Far from an accurate way of separating the two I'm afraid. There are several moths that only fly by day and this one, Mother Shipton, is one of them.

It is called Mother Shipton because if you look at the dark patch on each fore wing and use your imagination you can see the face of an old hag - long nose, pointed chin, black eye; can you see it?

Mother Shipton is one of two common day flying moths that you can see on downland and other grassy places across Dorset in May and June, the other is the Burnet Companion which is similar.

Easily mistaken for a butterfly until you see it at rest like this and then it looks just like ... a butterfly! However, it is a moth, all the books say so.

07 June, 2011

Green Nettle Weevil (Phyllobius pomacues)

Nettles are one of the best places to look for insects, all sorts of things can turn up on them. They sting us but insects seem immune from the effects.

If you look closely you will some times see small, shiny green weevils like this one, no more than 1/4" long. Until they move you might think they are not even insects at all. This particular species is often abundant on nettles and hence its common name.

The green colour comes from tiny scales that easily rub off leaving a black 'shell' underneath. As a result they can be very variable in appearance depending on their age.

Around from April to September but best viewed with a magnifying glass or hand lens.

01 June, 2011

Green Tiger Beetle (Cicindela campestris)

Tiger by name; tiger by nature! If you are a small, ground living insect this is one sight you never want to see. This beetle may be less than half an inch long but it has the most enormous jaws.

The Green Tiger Beetle nests in holes that it makes in the ground and so loves soft sandy soil, the sort found on the Dorset heath.

It is quite common and you will generally find it on bare paths leading through the heather. That said, you don't often see them as they are small, they move quickly and readily fly, not great distances but will take to air and fly a few yards as soon as they feel your footsteps approaching.

I have been trying to photograph one for five years. In the end I found this one by a trail of Wood Ants. After tracking it for just a minute or so it snapped up an ant and stopped to eat it and despite the attentions of my camera lens it didn't budge as it munched its lunch. You may just be able to see the rear end of the unfortunate ant sticking out of its mouth.

I think these are really beautiful beetles when you see them close up like this.

28 April, 2011

Brimstone Moth (Opisthograptis luteolata)

The Brimstone butterfly is on the wing this time of year but you may also flush out the Brimstone Moth whilst gardening or walking by hedgerows.

This is one of our common species and it has three broods a year down year in the south of England whereas 'up north' it tends to hove only one brood in mid-summer.

It has no real preference for food plant for its larvae and they can be found on many types of shrub and flowering fruit trees which is why they are frequently found in gardens

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

The field guides tell you what this plant looks like but they do not tell you what it tastes like. Given its name, it must be quite potent!
This is a plant I have always known as Jack-by -the-Hedge and it almost exclusively grows along hedgerows and woodland edges, mainly on chalk soils so it is not uncommon down here in Dorset.
It comes in to flower in April and can hang on in to July. In May it can line a hedgerow with these white clusters of small, four petalled flowers.
Although easily passed by without a second glance, this plant is a good place to look for early insects. It is an important food plant for several species, especially the Orange Tip butterfly which emerges in to its flight stage to coincide with Garlic Mustard coming in to flower.

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)

A walk through woodland at this time of year will probably reveal Wood Sorrel. It is a small white flower that one casts an eye to, says "It's Wood Sorrel" and you walk on.

Closer inspection, however, reveals more detail and especially the violet veins in the petals. I believe insects, especially bees, can see ultra-violet light and these veins lead to the centre of the plant and so guide any visiting insect to the nectar source and so to the pollen on the stamens. If the bee has already visited a previous plant of the species then accumulated pollen may be acquired by the stigma (the tube in the centre) from where it finds its way down the tube to the ovaries where the seeds are.

I was also interested to see the yellow at the base of the petals. I assumed at first that this was pollen that had stained them but looking in the book it seems that the inside of the petals are naturally yellow even though on the outside they are pure white.

Wood Sorrel is not related to other plants bearing the name sorrel. It is a member of the Oxalis family and I have heard it called Wood Oxalis. Common in Oak and Beech woodland, especially in dryer areas. They flower in March and April and will soon be over for another year.

27 April, 2011

Crustose Lichen (Lecanora dispersa)

If you stop at one of the bridges over the lower reaches of the River Frome, as well as plants such as Wall Rue and Maidenhair Spleenwort you will, I am sure, notice the extensive areas of crusty white stuff on the tops of the walls.
I find it hard to believe that this dried up and cracked substance is actually a living thing - in fact it is two living things; an algae and a fungus living together as one lichen.
I accept that it is not much to look at nor particularly exciting to find but, that said, I do find it fascinating. It is very slow growing and you can only stand and wonder just how old it is.
There are several similar species but I am fairly certain that this is Lecanora dispersa and you will find it on walls, tomb stones and calcareous rock substraits right across the county. It is very common and is very resistant to pollution and so has no problems growing close to roads even there there are high levels of toxins there.
Why not take a magnifying glass and go out and have a look at these crusty old things!

26 April, 2011

Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys)

When I was young we used to know this plant as 'Birds-eye'. It is now better known as 'Speedwell' I think, but my field guide lists fifteen species of Speedwell so how do you know which one this is?

Looking just at the flower alone is not going to get you to the answer! In general, Germander Speedwell is a darker blue than many of the family but this is not always the case.

About a half of the Speedwell's have a flower the shape of these, with three small lobed petals on top and a single longer one below.

There are three other factors you can take in to account however to help you decide. Firstly, and most importantly, the leaves. Germander grows in small 'bushes' and has many leaves with a slightly serrated edge. Secondly, it grows in many environments; woods, hedgerows and on grassland, whereas other species are more habitat selective and many are weeds of cultivation.

Finally, of course, the Germander Speedwell is by far the most common of the family as well as flowering from March to July so, if you see a Speedwell then decide first if it is not Germander before thinking about what it might be!

25 April, 2011

Common Quaker (Orthosa stabilis)

There are a limited number of moth species that fly in March and April, lack of food plants and cold nights being the obvious reasons why. As a result the moth trap at this time of year tends to yield the same species each night.
As well as the Hebrew Character, Common Quaker are frequently in the trap.
At first site these are small, plain, brown moths with not much to distinguish them but, as so often in nature, a close up look shows this to not really be the case.
The Common Quaker is not, I agree, a stunner, but it does have intricate markings which set it apart from other species.
This a widespread and common species that feeds mainly on Sallow which is in full bloom now. It lays its eggs on Oak, Sallow and other trees and the larvae hatch in May and then pupate which is how they spend the winter, hatching out in March and April.

24 April, 2011

Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis)

Walk through any of the meadows alongside our Dorset rivers about now and you will almost certainly see the Cuckooflower; so named as it flowers around the same time as the Cuckoo returns to our shores in spring.

Also known as Lady's Smock, this a common plant of damp places and can be found along ditches and damp woodland as well as water meadows.

The flowers of the Cuckooflower are a very pale mauve/pink.

This is a favourite food plant of the Orange Tip butterfly and if you watch closely for a while you will see Orange Tips laying eggs on the plants. After the butterfly has gone, take a look on the plant stem and you will see a small egg, appropriately orange in colour.

23 April, 2011

Raft Spider (Dolomedes fimbrata)

If you don't like spiders look away now!

What an amazing little animal this is? The body of the female Raft Spider can be up to 20mm, over half an inch, which means those eight legs are over an inch long and the whole beast over 2 inches long from front to back tips.

The Raft Spider, as its name implies, is only found near water, inhabiting swampy areas that have larger clear pools amongst them. Although widespread they are much commoner in the south and are, because of their particular habitat requirements, quite local.

The marshy areas around Arne RSPB in Dorset is as good a place to see them as anywhere. Look for lilly pads on the many 'dragonfly' ponds, then look for the spider waiting on it with its front four legs touching the waters surface. When they detect an insect struggling in the water they run across the water and strike.

Seen in Spring and summer, to my mind they are worth a visit to Arne alone!

20 April, 2011

Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus)

Is the Holly Blue not an adorable little butterfly? Totally exquisite when seen close up!

The Holly Blue is also a fascinating little creature. The insect over winters as a pupae, usually hidden in amongst Ivy. In April (there seem to have been quite a number this year) they emerge, mate and lay their eggs on Holly flowers. First broods will be gone by early June and then the eggs from the first brood (laid on Holly) emerge, mate and lay their eggs on Ivy. The larvae pupate and over winter in amongst the Ivy and so the cycle continues. Second broods are only briefly on the wing in late July/early August.

Most 'blues' are grassland species but the Holly Blue is, because of its affinity to the Holly and the Ivy, more at home in woodlands, shrubby areas and gardens. It is the most likely blue you will see in your garden in most areas.

The other feature of the Holly Blue is wonderful silver colour with black spots on the under wing. It is possible to detect the silvery colouring even when the butterfly is in flight.

19 April, 2011

Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)

This is a very common, and yet often overlooked, plant of the spring. It flowers from late March through to May.

Ground Ivy is so called because its leaves supposedly resemble those of ivy (but that is not how it appears to me!)

It is member of the labiate family which includes deadnettles, herbs such as Mint and Basil, and woundworts. This family have square stems and long tubular flowers which are popular with any insect with a long tongue such as butterflies or a long proboscis like the Bee-fly.

Ground Ivy does not grow very tall and you should take care not to confuse it with Bugle, a similar but taller plant.

Ground Ivy can be found almost anywhere where the soil is not over run with other taller dominant vegetation.

17 April, 2011

Angle Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa)

Despite dramatic falls in the population levels of moths they are still very common insects. Most are nocturnal and most are masters of camouflage and so one does not see them often in the day time.

The striking pattern of this one, called the Angle Shades, means that it is very hard to see when it is at rest during daylight hours on fences and leaves. However, this newly hatched one in pristine condition obviously missed the point of its wonderful colouring and thought it would show everyone who stopped to look just how gorgeous it is!

Fortunately, it chose our bungalow to do this on and so my nature loving wife tenderly moved it to a more secure location.

The Angle Shades is one of our most common moths and can be found from April right through to October as it is multi-brooded. Common may be but hard to find once they learn the technique of disguise.

13 April, 2011

Minotaur Beetle (Typhaeus typhoeus)

Nature's dustmen! The scarab beetles form the order Scarabaeoidea and they specialise in dung.
OK, they have what is an unpleasant job through human eyes but it is, none the less, an important one in the natural cycle of things.
This is a male Minatour Beetle, identified by its amazing array of three thoracic spines (ie spines coming from the thorax rather than the head like a Stag Beetle).
They are found mainly in sandy soils where they bury rabbit droppings on which both adults and larvae feed. They tend to be on the move in the evenings and we found this one, upside down and struggling to right itself near the farm fields at Arne where the Sika Deer feed. As these beetles also specialise in sheep dung it occurs to us maybe deer droppings are suitable too?
Not much to look at perhaps but interesting. The male collects the dung (using those horns presumably) and the female, without horns, does the burying. I guess those horns would be a major impediment in getting below ground?

11 April, 2011

Oak Beauty (Biston strataria)

How do you tell a moth from a butterfly? Not a joke, a serious question! Answer? Moths have feathered antennae where as a butterfly has clubbed antennae.

A look at this photo will quickly tell you then that this is a moth with those lovely, long feathered antennae. In fact, that makes this a male moth. They use those antennae to pick up the scent of female pheromones up to 200 yards away.

The Oak Beauty is a resident species, single brooded, flying in March and April and it is widespread and not uncommon in woodlands and parkland in England, especially in the south.

Eggs are laid on a range of trees including Oak, Hazel and Alder. The larvae emerge in May and pupate in July and over winter in that state before being one of earliest species to emerge.

Common Daisy (Bellis perennis)

The humble Common Daisy, one of the first flowers we can name when, as youngsters, we are taught to make daisy chains! When a bit older we pull the petals off one by one saying "She loves me, she loves me not".

Love them or hate them if you have a lawn you almost certainly have the Common Daisy growing there. Everyone has daisies on their lawn apart from one of my neighbours whose lawn is like astro-turf.

Cutting the grass gets rid of them for an hour or two but it is not long before those familiar white and yellow flowers reappear. I like them and have no problem with them, my wife hates them and wants them cut off by the mower.

The Common Daisy flowers from March to October on short grazed (or mown) turf everywhere and they are so familiar we take them for granted but looked at close up they are attractive flowers.

08 April, 2011

Oil Beetle (Meloe proscarabaeus)

I am not sure what I marvel at most, the bewildering complexity of nature or the dedicated research scientists who unravel it for the rest of us to understand!

Seeing this creature climbing up the garage wall sent me running for the camera and the field guide. I had seen Oil Beetles before but normally on the Purbeck coastal cliffs; I did not expect one in our garden. What I discovered was, frankly, amazing!

It seems that in spring the female Oil Beetle lays an enormous amount of eggs in soil, several thousand per batch and several batches per individual.

The eggs soon hatch in to wriggling larvae with strong jaws and claws. They climb up on to the heads of Dandelions and await the arrival of their host insects.

When an insect comes along to feed on the Dandelion the larvae attaches itself but only a very few actually attach to the right host, a species of solitary bee! Those that make the wrong choice perish while the lucky ones cling on and are transported back to the bee's nest.

Once there, it eats ONE egg! After that it turns its attention to eating the bee's food.reserves, nectar and pollen. After several moults the larvae turns in to a grub, pupates and emerges as an adult in spring ready to mate and start the complex cycle again.

Now is that amazing or not?

Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)

At this time of year there are not a lot of moths about but the most common by far is the Hebrew Character.

It is not hard to see why it bears that name; that distinctive mark on the wings.

The Hebrew Character is a resident species as opposed to migratory. It overwinters as a pupa and hatches into an adult and is flying in March and April and is particularly fond of Sallow blossom.

It is single brooded and the larvae hatch and are active on a wide variety of trees during May and June before pupating.

03 April, 2011

Marsh-marigold (Caltha palustris)

A bright bit of 'sunshine' to cheer a dark, damp and dreary early April morning, the first Marsh-marigolds in flower in our garden pond.

I usually call these King-cups or Marsh-cups but the book calls them Marsh-marigold so I will have to change my ways!

These are, of course, members of the buttercup family and are common anywhere it the ground is wet, You will see them on wet meadows, river banks, edges of ponds and lakes, even in damp woodland.

At the moment, there are masses of them on the meadows beside the Wareham by-pass, they are so striking you can see them clearly from the car as you pass.