National Trust Purbeck Wildlife

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Warbler Explorer

Grasshopper warbler (

Affectionately known as LBJ’s or ‘little brown jobs’, warblers can be tricky to identify.  Some do what it says on the tin, so a whitethroat has a white throat and a male blackcap has a black cap, but try picking out willow warbler from wood warbler or chiffchaff in a leafy tree.  The answer of course is to listen – they all sound very different.  Learning the song makes identification so much easier.

This is most useful with the ‘skulkers’, secretive birds like Dartford warblers that creep amongst the thick heather or reed warblers that stay low down in the midst of a dense reedbed.  I was lucky enough to come across a grasshopper warbler earlier this week.  These are champion skulkers so I didn’t get a sight of it, but still enjoyed hearing its distinctive reel, rising and falling as the bird turned its head.


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A Murmuration of Starlings

If you happened to be using the chain ferry recently as the daylight was beginning to fade, you would have been taken aback to see the Shell Bay car park overflowing and hundreds of people lining the high points of the dunes.

Word spreads fast when nature hands us a great wildlife spectacle.  For swirling around above the watchers, in ever changing patterns of synchronised twists, turns and spirals, is a great mass of starlings, perhaps as many as fifteen thousand.

They have chosen the reedbed there as an ideal winter roost and this mass aerial display is a prelude to their sudden disappearance as they funnel into the reeds and surrounding trees.

It is a mesmerising thing to see and the grand finale often brings a hushed round of applause as the spectators show their appreciation, respectful not to cause any disturbance to the birds.

It is difficult to say how long the murmuration will continue, so take the opportunity to see it now.  If you can’t visit, there are some brilliant film clips on youtube – just search for ‘starlings at Studland’.


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A Happy New Wildlife Year

Adonis Blue - David Lonsdale

Adonis Blue – David Lonsdale

Another year of wildlife watching on Purbeck lies ahead bringing enjoyment, wonder and great moments to cherish.  What will be your nature highlights in 2017?

Could it be seeing puffins off Dancing Ledge or a bright green sand lizard on the way to Agglestone Rock?  How about finding a brilliant Adonis blue butterfly on the slopes of Ballard Down or an early spider orchid on the coast path?

Can you identify a Lulworth skipper at Seacombe Bottom or discover a clump of the rare Dorset heath (Erica ciliaris) on Godlingston?  Have you heard the churring of nightjars across Hartland Moor on summer nights or the cry of a peregrine over Old Harry Rocks?

Set yourself some targets, get helpful advice from knowledgeable Purbeck National Trust staff and head for the great outdoors!

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We Three Kings


Get out and about in Purbeck this month and celebrate the festive season by tracking down these three regal beauties.

You might think that a bird with the Latin name Regulus regulus would be a rather grand and imposing thing but in fact our ‘king of the birds’ is Britain’s smallest; the tiny goldcrest.  Sporting a yellow crown, goldcrests belong to a family of birds called kinglets.  Look for them in pine woodlands throughout Purbeck.

Firecrests are another kinglet found in Purbeck.  This is a stunner to look at with bronze shoulders and a black and white head pattern topped by a fiery orange crown.  Firecrests occur in coastal woodland with holly trees.  They are rare, but a good place to try is behind the huts at Middle Beach.

Finally, a kingfisher fly-past, with a flash of royal blue and a loud, piping whistle, makes any birdwatchers’ day.  Look for them at Little Sea or along the Poole Harbour shoreline.

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Settlers from the South

Spoonbill by northeastwildlife

Spoonbill by northeastwildlife

Spoonbill by northeastwildlife

Forty years ago, when I started birdwatching, spoonbill, little egret and Mediterranean gull were all rare species and to find any one of them on a day’s birding was a good achievement. Today, I can go and watch them any day of the week without leaving Purbeck.  Perhaps this is a case where climate change has allowed birds to extend their range northwards.

Of the three, spoonbills are the least common though a recent count of sixty within Poole Harbour was a national record for a single site. Look for them at Middlebere or take a harbour boat trip to view birds on Brownsea lagoon.  In fact you can often see spoonbills on a live Brownsea web cam at

Studland is great for the other two species. Little egrets feed in Brands Bay and sometimes commute to Little Sea to roost in the lakeside trees there.  Go to South Beach for Mediterranean gulls where you will see birds scavenging on the shoreline and flocks of up to fifty birds roosting on the sea.

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Harmless Hornet

Hornet hoverfly at Knoll Beach

Hornet hoverfly at Knoll Beach

Hoverflies, exquisite creatures that are important pollinators of many flowers and whose larvae often feed on plant pests, are usually either overlooked or mistaken for stinging insects.

But one species that is hard to overlook when insect watching, but definitely mistaken for a stinger, is the hornet hoverfly.

At almost 2cm long, the hornet is the largest and most impressive hoverfly in Britain. As its name suggests, it is an excellent mimic of the Hornet, so keeping predators such as birds away, but lacks a sting.

Only a very rare visitor to the country up to the 1940s, in recent years it has become more common in southern England and is still spreading northwards, perhaps as a result of the warmer climate. The adults are migratory so this is a good time to look for them on late-flowering buddleia.

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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.