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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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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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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Recent wildlife sightings

The Rees Cox hide was the place to be with daily sightings of both water vole and kingfisher for a spell mid-month. The water vole was very active, repeatedly swimming out from the bank beneath the hide, chewing through a green reed stem then carrying it back to the bank. At the same time, a kingfisher regularly used a perch beside the hide to dive from and, whenever successful, flew by under the noses of the watchers in the hide, carrying its catch to a more distant lakeside tree.
Rare migrants usually grab the birdwatching headlines this month but don’t overlook the mass movements of common species. For example, on the morning of the 16th September, a local birder counted 2000 siskin, 1200 swallows and 300 meadow pipits flying over Shell Bay in just two hours.

image from northeastwildlife.co.uk

image from northeastwildlife.co.uk


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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


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Small is Beautiful

cowrie1aMonstrous, ‘big as a dustbin lid’, barrel jellyfish may be taking centre stage, but for me, the star of the seashore show is the tiny, but very lovely, cowrie. These lemon-shaped, finely ridged sea snails grow to a length of only one centimetre though some tropical cowries can reach 15 centimetres.
When active, the brightly coloured mantle (the outer wall of a mollusc’s body) wraps around the shell so that it is almost totally covered. Their target is sea squirts, as cowries both eat them and lay their eggs inside them.
Two species occur around the UK, the European cowrie, with three dark spots on the shell, and the plain Arctic cowrie. Look for their empty shells along the strandline in patches of coarse gravel.