National Trust Purbeck Wildlife

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Anyone for Cricket?

Anyone for cricket?

Great green bush-cricket

Great green bush-cricket

We often hear the various chirping, trilling and buzzing of crickets and grasshoppers at this time of year but finding them, let alone catching them, is a great challenge that quickly brings back childhood memories. So I couldn’t resist when this spectacular great green bush-cricket, the sword-shaped ovipositor indicating a female, appeared beside a grassy path at Middle Beach.

Despite being by far our largest bush-cricket, the expert camouflage of the great green makes them hard to spot though males can be located by their very loud ‘song’, produced by rubbing a hind leg against a wing, that sounds like a sewing machine going continuously for long periods.

However, the song of some species, for example the widespread speckled bush-cricket, is so high pitched that it cannot be heard by most people. One useful method for finding these is by scanning with a bat detector because, just as with bats, the device makes their sounds audible.


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Heathland Star



It is always a great pleasure to hear, and hopefully see, a Dartford warbler on the heath.  Most often skulking in a thicket of gorse, it’s easy to understand why an alternative name for them is furze-wren.


My subjective impression this summer is that they have had a successful breeding season.  Certainly they seem to be quite conspicuous just now along the Ferry Road and around the Knoll dune heath.


This is good news, strengthening the role of the Purbeck heaths as an important area for Dartford warblers.  Furthermore, although they are mainly restricted to southern England, good breeding success and better winter survival has allowed them to expand their range northwards in recent years, reaching up to the Midlands.


And perhaps they are losing their renowned shyness and secrecy a little – one of the most reliable places to see them this summer has been by the BBQ area at the Knoll Beach car park.



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Seashore Safari

A keyhole limpet on Studland Beach

A keyhole limpet on Studland Beach

A group of keen-eyed and eager primary school children on a Studland ‘seashore safari’ found a fantastic variety of marine life along the strandline and, amongst the seaweeds, shells and various bits of crab, there were a few surprises.

A small, unfamiliar crab with attractive sand-particle colouration, was identified as a Pennant’s Crab.  This species has flattened back legs for swimming.

Small sea gooseberries, or comb jellies, were spotted in the shallows even though they are almost invisible apart from rows of delicate hairs called cilia that resemble tiny combs.  These propel the sea gooseberry through the water and, in sunlight, their regular, beating motion generates bands of iridescent colours.

Best of all was a keyhole limpet.  Unlike the common limpet, this species has an oval-shaped hole at the top of the shell that allows more efficient circulation of water over the gills and faster removal of waste products.

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Tern it on

June is the perfect month to look for terns.  These slender seabirds are widespread along our coastline now, patrolling inshore waters in search of food for their chicks.

Look for a flash of white as a tern plunge-dives from around 20 feet to catch a small fish just below the surface.  As it flies off, notice the long wings and deeply forked tail that gives the alternative name of sea swallow.

Many of these terns nest on the Brownsea Island lagoon.  Here, the terns have been encouraged to nest by the construction of small gravel islands surrounded by protective fences that keep out predators such as crows and herons.  Nesting boxes and drain pipes set on the ground provide cover for the chicks in poor weather.  Over the years the number of pairs has varied but on average there are around 200 pairs of Sandwich terns and 100 of common tern.

A group of nesting Sandwich terns with chicks on Brownsea can be viewed by webcam from the ‘Birds of Poole Harbour’ website.

common tern

common tern

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Dragons in the dunes

sand lizard 14-04-16

I have always enjoyed stalking lizards and as a boy, spent many happy hours searching, and sometimes catching, common lizards on the golf course. I well remember my first sighting of a male sand lizard and being amazed at its vivid green sides.  Having been used to the dull tones of common lizards, this struck me as something almost tropical.

The male sand lizards are in full colour now and well worth searching for, though spotting reptiles is quite a challenge as they are so sensitive to the vibrations of your approach. It seems contradictory, but I’ve found that the best place to get good views is around the beach huts.  I think this is because the lizards there are more used to the passing of people and less likely to disappear into the undergrowth.

This was well demonstrated recently when Joe and Liz were busy repairing steps at Middle Beach. Despite the hammering and sawing, a pair of sand lizards stayed in open view on the ground below, even when being photographed from only a few feet away.

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An osprey summer?

Early summer migrants are passing through the area now. The first wheatear appeared on the 21st March and a swallow flew over on the 22nd. Chiffchaffs are in full voice and the resident Dartford warblers, stonechats and green woodpeckers are very active and easy to spot.

As we move into April, look and listen for willow warbler, reed warbler, blackcap and cuckoo. Amongst the regular waders, new spring arrivals will include greenshank, whimbrel and common sandpiper.

Poole Harbour’s first osprey of the year drifted over Middlebere on 24th March and another flew over Little Sea on the 27th so keep your eyes peeled for more throughout April. Perhaps this is the year when a pair will set up home in one of the artificial nests constructed around the harbour in recent years.

A fly-over osprey

A fly-over osprey (

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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