Purbeck Weekend

This week we have spent a couple of days on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. We stayed in the lovely town of Wareham which is not far from the spectacular Corfe Castle…

Corfe Castle

…and also not far from the Arne RSPB reserve, where we happily spent a few hours. It was our first visit to Arne and we loved it – it has a great range of habitats supporting distinctive species, many of which we are unfamiliar with, living as we do on chalky Kent downland. We set ourselves the target of seeing two sandy and heathland specialists, the Dartford Warbler and the Sand Lizard.

Father and son birding at Arne. The town of Poole is in the distance.
Sandy Cliff habitat
The cliff in more detail with so many insect burrows into the soft sandiness. A Jersey Tiger Moth gives scale
Sika Deer on the salt marsh

Sadly we didn’t see either a Dartford Warbler or a Sand Lizard, but we did see two other iconic species of the area:

A tree stump, close to the path in a heathland area of the reserve
Zooming into the picture a bit more, there is a Nightjar resting up for the day there, relying on its camouflage not to be seen
Zooming in yet more and you can see the row of bristles which are thought to help funnel the night-flying moths, flies and beetles into its mouth. Although the beak is so small, the gape is enormous
A different species of Nightjar but with a similar gape to our European Nightjar. Photo from the Bird Ecology Study Group

In the meadows, we know that spring has come when the Bee-flies arrive. Emerging during the first warm days in March and April, they are around for a short while and then they are gone. So we were very surprised to see a tiny Bee-fly still flying at Arne, so much smaller than the Dark-edged and the Dotted Bee-flies that we get at home and flying several months later. This is the Heath Bee-fly (Bombylius minor), now confined just to the heaths of East Dorset and one of the species being championed by Back From The Brink, an organisation working hard to save Britain’s most threatened species from extinction.

Heath Bee-fly, a parasitoid of tunnelling bees. These tunnelling bees can fly much later into the summer here because of the soft, sandy ground
A super-sized model of the Heath Bee-fly at the RSPB visitor tent
Outside the visitor centre there is an even larger scale model of a different Back From The Brink heathland species – the Ladybird Spider, the male of which is actually only a centimetre long and looks like this. In the 1980s, only a single colony of seven of these spiders remained in the UK but they have subsequently been re-introduced at Arne and are doing well although they remain very rare. One day I hope to see one.

Back in the familiar territory of the meadows, this Crow photo from one of the trail cameras, made me wonder if the bird was ‘anting’

This behaviour is surrounded by much speculation but the general consensus seems to be that the bird tickles a nest with its wing to cause the ants to swarm up and over its feathers, shooting out Formic Acid as they do to defend their nest. The acid is thought to possibly kill ectoparasites on the bird although there are many other hypotheses as well.

The resolution of the photo is not fantastic, but I can see ants on the bird in this next photo if I peer hard at it:

I can also report that there was indeed a small nest of black ants in front of the camera

On a sunny morning this week, I saw a metallic green damselfly by the hide pond. I moved smartly off to get my camera but inevitably it had gone by the time I returned. There are several species that it could have been, but any one of those would have been new for the meadows and so I sat in the shade by the pond and lurked there to see if it would return. Sadly it didn’t but, while I waited, I did see plenty of other dragonflies and damselflies:

Britains largest dragonfly, a male Emperor awaiting his Empress
Female Southern Hawker laying eggs
Blue-tailed Damselfly with its bi-coloured wing spots
Female Common Darter, with yellow stripes down her legs

Hopefully I will see that metallic green damselfly again so that I can add it to the list.

Having removed all the flower heads off the Wild Parsnip with secateurs and bagged them up to get them off-property, we decided to mow the area with the tractor so that it is easy to spot any subsequent regrowth – we are taking this eradication programme oh so very seriously this year.

One of the two areas that had Wild Parsnip growing

We have noticed before that, as soon as there has been any mowing, the large mammals are very interested to see if this has created an opportunity for them. As dusk fell, the foxes moved in…

Foxes entering the Wild Parsnip mowed area

..followed by a Badger once it became a little darker:

There is so much variation in foxes that each one is individually recognisable. As an extreme example, here is the vixen who had the single cub in the meadows this year…

…and this male fox from the wood looks so completely different:

Looks like battle lines have been drawn up but they are all just busy eating peanuts

Other photos from around the meadows and the wood this week:

It is quite a while since we have seen this female Kestrel who was ringed here as a youngster in September 2019
A Magpie having an unfortunate moult – we mustn’t laugh.
I found this little fly on my washing machine. It is Palloptera muliebris, the Looped Flutter Fly
A sweet young Robin getting ringed this week
We have had several bouts of intense rainfall this week – the ponds have never been so full at this time of year
Playful young Grey Squirrels in the wood
A family of Jays in the wood

We really enjoyed watching the sailing in the Olympics and we are now enthusiastically noticing the variety of yachts going past:

The three-masted Eendracht from the Netherlands and the Belgium two-masted Zenobe Gramme

Both these yachts are used as a sail training ships. The Eendracht is run by a foundation that wants to give young people an introduction to the sea. She has a crew of thirteen but also space for forty more passengers. I see that in 1998 she ran aground at Newhaven and all 51 people on board were rescued by helicopter but she was able to be refloated and returned to service.

The next morning, we saw the magnificent Eendracht again, this time far out to sea and heading back to the Netherlands:

I finish with some photos from the Highlands of Scotland, visited by one of our daughters this weekend, travelling up by sleeper train to Aviemore. She spent one of her evenings there in a wildlife-watching hide and was rewarded with fantastic views of Badgers and a Pine Marten:

On a walk the next day she saw this little thing:

I am hoping that one day our beautiful native Red Squirrels will once again be seen in Kent, although I have to admit that there is an awfully long road ahead before that can happen.

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