Last weekend one of our daughters got married at beautiful Firle Place near Lewes in Sussex.
On the perfect June day, it was an occasion filled with unalloyed joy, love and friendship.
The bride is known for her admiration of seals and her sister had made seal toppers for the ‘cake’ of cheeses
The following day, happy but exhausted, we made our way onwards to a comfortable hotel we know in Wareham in Dorset for some rest and relaxation. The hotel is set in four acres of charming gardens on the banks of the River Frome and we were really looking forward to returning there.
This time, we stayed in the hotel’s old boathouse which is on the banks of the river. We could sit outside on our little terrace and quietly watch the water as it flowed in and then flowed out again with each turning of the tide.
Wareham is three miles upstream from the sea and we were surprised to see a seal so far inland:
It made the kayakers happy too. A few seconds later, the seal had gone back under but the camera caught the mens joy:
Sitting on our terrace, we often heard a cuckoo calling and the local mallard and swan families frequently swam by, just to check if we had any bread for them.
Directly across the river from the boathouse was one end of a row of trees:
These trees are a major crow roost and thousands of these charismatic birds converge on them at dusk, presumably flying in from all over the Isle of Purbeck. It was quite a spectacle to watch from our terrace as it got dark- and to listen to as well because it was all quite a racket.
One day we took advantage of the long summer evening and went on the two rivers walk, carrying a picnic supper with us – out along the side of the River Piddle, returning along the River Frome.
Along the way we came across this wonderfully eccentric Wareham house:
We had a look in the Priory Church of Lady St Mary and this font, astoundingly dating from 1100, is the only hexagonal lead font in existence. The twelve apostles surround the bowl and I wonder how many children they have helped baptise over the last thousand years:
In the graveyard of the church, I was very moved to see this border collie, who has been waiting by his master’s grave since 2005:
As we were wandering around, reading the gravestones, the strawberry moon came up:
By then it was gone nine o’clock and time to get ourselves back to our terrace to watch the crows coming in to roost.
Dorset has some of the biggest and best lowland heath remaining in the UK. A lot of specialised species are supported within a heathland ecosystem – most of which we are totally unfamiliar with. But when we were in the area last August, we did spot two exciting heathland species:
This time we returned to Arne RSPB reserve and also went to two Dorset Wildlife Trust reserves – Higher Hyde Heath and Tadnoll and Winfrith Heath – and were successful in seeing some more wonderful heathland species.
A butterfly that I had long wanted to see is the Silver-studded Blue, a specialist of heathlands. This butterfly has a close association with black ants which look after the caterpillars within the ant nest, feeding off their sugar-rich secretions in return. Although I had never seen this butterfly before, I have now seen hundreds and hundreds of them, since all three of the reserves we visited had good numbers of them fluttering around. I read that an individual butterfly never travels further than twenty metres from the ants nest where it emerged.
The butterflies got their name because the underside of the hindwing often has beautiful metallic blue-centred spots, as seen in the brownish female below. Although this doesn’t explain why they are not called blue-studded rather than silver-studded:
These butterflies were much less easy to photograph when they were not mating because they rarely stayed still for very long. The upperside of the wings has a thick border of black between the blue and the white:
We had never really come across sundews before and so were very excited to see lots of them growing in the nutrient-poor heathland soil at the Tadnoll and Winfrith Heath reserve. Although they are very small, once you got your eye in for them, you realised that there were so many growing at the sides of the paths where the heather was low. These carnivorous plants supplement their diet by catching and digesting insects on their sticky leaves:
These Red-banded Sand Wasps were very busy digging out nests on the heathland floor:
There are several heathland dragonflies. I had never seen a Keeled Skimmer before. The thin dark line down the length of the abdomen gives it the name:
Another heathland dragonfly is the Four-spotted Chaser:
Sika Deer were introduced into the country from the Far East in the 1860s and there is a large population of them in Dorset. Whilst they do help maintain the heathland habitat with their grazing, these deer have no natural predators and so the RSPB now hires professional stalkers to control numbers at their Arne reserve.
Common Cotton-grass – a plant of boggy moors and heaths:
The final heathland species we saw was the Stonechat. These birds are a birdwatcher’s dream with their penchant for perching in prominent positions and calling attention to themselves with their chatting noise.
There are so many more heathland species that we wanted to see but failed to – the Dartford Warbler for instance. Arne is famous for having all six species of British reptile living there (including the Sand Lizard and the Smooth Snake) yet we saw not a single one of these. It does look like we are just going to have to return to our comfortable hotel in Wareham sometime soon and do some more searching…