National Trust Purbeck Wildlife


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.

 


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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


Leave a comment

What’s About?

Storm Frank may have let us off easy compared to other parts of the country but it did bring some seabirds closer inshore and great skua, kittiwake, gannet and Sandwich tern were all seen from Studland beach yesterday (30th December). There were also unusually high numbers of great northern divers with ten individuals at various points offshore.

Earlier this week I saw a good variety of birds on a walk from Shell Bay to Knoll Beach that included red-breasted merganser, shag, Brent goose, oystercatcher, ringed plover and sanderling. I especially enjoyed seeing grey plovers foraging for food with their characteristic short bursts of running in between long, watchful pauses.

Finally, the great white egret that has been present for most of the year was seen again in Brand’s Bay – let’s hope it continues its stay into 2016.

A moody sea at Studland yesterday

A moody sea at Studland yesterday


Leave a comment

An idyllic afternoon at Little Sea

Carp cruising around the lily pads; a singing chiffchaff away on the far bank; a four-spotted chaser perched on a reed stem just three feet away and black-tailed skimmers too. Two cormorants and a grey heron are just visible but then a handsome great-crested grebe appears out of nowhere, collects a floating reed stem and swims off again. Six house martins swoop low over the surface, catching flies in the warm sunshine and a swift powers by at height. My attention is drawn to a delicate wake coming this way and a grass snake undulates across the lake to the near bank, somehow keeping its head above water.
And not a soul to be seen; only a distant dogs’ bark and the faintest of shouts from the beach to indicate a human presence. Perfect.

View from the hide

View from the hide


Leave a comment

Snakes Awake!

Smooth snake

Smooth snake

Snakes are on the move again after their winter shutdown and, with great stealth and a bit of luck, it’s possible to see all three native British species on National Trust land in Purbeck.
Look for adders in the heathland or the edges of open woodland. Interestingly, they have the widest global distribution of all terrestrial snakes and are the only species to occur within the Arctic Circle.
Grass snakes are sometimes known as water snakes because they are good swimmers and their preferred food is amphibians and fish. Their Latin name, Natrix, means swimmer or water lover. Look for them around the margins of Little Sea.
Smooth snakes are the biggest challenge because they are a very secretive heathland specialist preferring areas of deep mature heather on south facing slopes. Most species of snake have a keel on their scales, a raised ridge like the midrib on a leaf, but smooth snakes are extra-smooth because their scales lack this feature. Their Latin name, Coronella, means ‘small crown’, referring to the dark, heart-shaped mark on the top of the head.