National Trust Purbeck Wildlife


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Gull Power

A conversation with a visiting birdwatcher reminded me how easy it is to overlook the ordinary. He was a big fan of house sparrows and gained as much enjoyment from these as he did from finding scarcer species. So I spent some time this morning watching gulls from the Shell Bay ferry.

First up were some distant Mediterranean gulls. Lacking any black in their wings, they appeared like snowflakes against the grey surroundings. When I first started birdwatching these were rare birds and worthy of a ‘twitch’. But now it’s not unusual to see large flocks of several hundred around the harbour.

Two greater-black backed gulls were on the water going through an early courtship ritual. At close quarters these are very big birds, the largest species of gull in the world in fact. And handsome too, though their ruthlessness doesn’t endear them to us. I’ve seen one eat a whole puffin without pausing for breath.

And I couldn’t help but chuckle at the black-headed gull hitching a ride on the ferry itself. Though perhaps it was having the last laugh. After all, their Latin name, ridibundus, does translate as the laughing gull.

black-headed gull cropped


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Beachcombing for ever!

I’ve enjoyed beachcombing since I was a youngster so a new seashore book was an ideal gift. And an eye-opener too, answering some questions that have always puzzled me. For example, how come those egg masses laid by common whelks, that look like decayed bathroom sponges, are so much bigger that the animal itself? Well, it’s the result of many individual whelks glueing their eggs together.

So what causes the patterns of small holes and tunnels on the shells of slipper limpets and oysters? It’s a type of sponge, Cliona celata, which secretes acid to dissolve the calcium carbonate that the shells are made of, creating a space to live in.

And did you know that Cuttlefish breed only once, and then die leaving just the bone to wash up on beaches, and keel worms, that form intricate sculptures of small white tubes on stones and shells, really do colonise the hulls of ships?

keel worms on an oyster shell

keel worms on an oyster shell