This is the holiday where we take mum with us – same place – same caravan as previous years. The only difference, it was two weeks later so we could catch up with things appearing later. As we all know the very cold spring has held a lot of species back – especially flowers – so would we see the same things as last year? What did we hope to photograph this time? – given that it’s Dorset you must always think about reptiles – many of the Dorset Wildlife Trust reserves claim to have all six and most will certainly have four or five. Last year at least every other day we saw a fox out in daylight behind the caravan and Green Woodpeckers were regularly ‘shouting’ close by, so both these would be good subjects. Wild flowers are in abundance and there are plenty orchids in the county. One that Pauline was desperate to catch up with was White Helleborine – we were too early last year so would we be lucky enough this time? It’s a few years since we saw Birds Nest Orchid and photographed them, so knowing that they can be found at Kingston wood, along with White Helleborines and Greater Butterfly Orchids made Kingston a priority visit!
The first evening, after settling into the van, saw us calling in at the chippie in Swanage and then a quick look at Townsend D.W.T. reserve less than a quarter of a mile away – a site that has the Early Spider Orchids that really should be over and done with by now. As expected we searched the usual area and found just six plants all with faded brown remains of flowers.
Sunday the first full day saw us visiting Durlston Country park just a mile out of Swanage. The flower meadows close to the car park were not as far on as we had hoped but kept us busy for a few hours.
A further walk produced something I hoped to catch up with this year but not here – Pocket Plum. Until last year I had never heard of it but while looking through one of our fungi books it was on the same page as Alder tongue that we found late last summer at Orrell Water park. Pocket plum is the name of the abnormally developed fruits of many of the Prunus family – in this case Prunus Spinosa also known as Blackthorn or Sloe. It is an infection by one of the Taphrina fungi – resulting in distorted fruits. I found the shriveled up remains of some last October on a car park in Lancaster and thought we would go back this year to get some pics, but this find has saved us a journey !
We continued with our search and came up with some Early Spider Orchids still in flower.
On day two we visited Corfe common. There were lots of marsh orchids but unfortunately we couldn’t find any Bee Orchids. It was good to see lots of Bog Bean, a plant that has been in decline recently and also Lesser Spearwort.
We carried on to Ballard Down to check on the Butterflies and on returning to the caravan saw a fox in the field but there wasn’t much light and there would be further opportunities – wouldn’t there?
Next day saw us at Studland with the thought of Sand Lizards – alas none - only common Lizards. It was disappointing but that’s the way it goes at times. Studland is too well used and it probably takes an early morning walk to see anything natural, before it fills up with ‘holiday makers’ and sun bathing ‘naturists’! On the harbour side Pauline saw Sanderling, some in summer plumage, others in winter dress! We pondered whether this was already ‘return migration’ and these birds were on their way back from Arctic breeding grounds – or had they never left our shores?!
On day four we decided on a walk near Worth Matravers taking in views of Chapmans Pool and St. Aldhems Chapel. It was a hot sunny day and we were hoping for flowers and insects. We reached the coastal path that over looks Chapmans pool and the views were just as stunning as we remembered. There have been recent land slips resulting in closed paths and along some stretches no paths! Almost immediately we were stood less than 25 feet from a Yellowhammer and no big lens – oh well - it’s been done before so we weren’t too upset. All the way along the path there were Wall Browns, Painted Ladies and Grayling butterflies, but they were never still long enough to point the camera at them. The doors to the chapel were open and as we entered we found that a Swallow had decided to build a nest and was busy feeding young. There were several small gaps above the door so even if some one shut the door there was no need to panic. It was a painful mile and a half walk back to the car along the hot and dusty track and the plant – Milk Thistle – that we hoped to see again was no longer there.
The next day we boarded the Studland to Sandbanks ferry and 65 miles and an hour and a half later we reached Chappets Copse, the Hampshire Wildlife Trust reserve that is noted for its Sword leaved Helleborines. It is reckoned that it holds 90% of the British population. We met up with a friend and fellow WABer Steve who showed us round part of the wood. For a small reserve it is impressive. The number of S.L. Helleborines is staggering and as there are some White Helleborines also present there are now also hybrids of the two. Throw in Birds Nest and Fly Orchids and we were kept busy with the cameras.
Day six. The morning didn’t begin well – Paulines laptop wouldn’t start up –its been playing up for some time and it seems it has given up the ghost. Pauline re downloaded yesterday’s images on to my laptop and then spent most of the day catching up with editing pics. We knew we wouldn’t have much time to do this at home due to other commitments so it was time well spent.
Day seven and it was off to Weymouth and up on to Portland. After taking views overlooking Chessil Beach and Weymouth we carried on to a stretch of coast at Church Ope cove just north of Freshwater Bay. It had proved to be a very interesting place on a previous visit – this time we saw plenty butterflies including Dingy and Grizzled Skippers, Painted Ladies, Wall Browns and Grayling. Common lizards ran for cover as we approached – the only reptile of the day. Broomrape was growing up through the ivy but still very small. A short distance along the path Buzzards were flying low and as we reached the area we saw climbers using a rock face – couldn’t see a nest belonging to them but crows had big young in an old buzzard nest so I took a record shot with the 150 macro lens. A short distance away we called in at a disused quarry that is now a nature reserve but it was scarily empty. Large areas of the site were covered in dead Cottoneaster – all of it had obviously been weed killed for some reason – taking away lots of food for insects, bees and especially Silver Studded Blue butterflies? A few Skippers and whites were about but not much else. On the journey back we kept to the minor roads as much as possible taking in Lulworth and then the ridge of the Purbeck hills with some fantastic views. Just before the minor road joined the major road at Corfe we passed a Green Woodpecker on a grass verge next to the road but the light by that stage wasn’t good so no photo.
Day eight and it was off to Martin Down N.R. The hot and sunny weather continued and we headed off towards the far side of the reserve to look for the Burnt Tip Orchids. Along the way we found Thistle Broomrape just starting and plenty butterflies including Grizzled Skipper that Pauline managed to get a photo of. There was a horse endurance ride taking place round the major tracks of the reserve with the result that there were a few piles of fresh wet dung! The butterflies were on this immediately taking moisture and important salts. Something Pauline hadn’t bargained for was that like most mammals having a poo means relieving the bladder at the same time and she came up with wet stinky knees! Her comment (the printable bit!) was that ‘for something that eats grass and hay that sure is stinky pee!’ The Yellowhammers and Whitethroats that had been every where on our visit last year were noticeable in their absence this time – but the sky was full of Skylarks and the song was a pleasure to listen to. After passing hundreds of Common Spotted Orchids we eventually found the ones we wanted. We set about taking pics only to be told later that there was a better area for Burnt Orchid further along so off we went and sure enough in a spot that we checked last year without any success, was an impressive display with some good clumps that were begging to be photographed!
Day nine started off dull so it was a late start. I spent the morning reading the D.W.T. reserve handbook while Pauline caught up with laptop work. The trust has a few sites close to Swanage that we have never visited so after dinner we thought it was worth a look round. We visited a small reserve close to Wareham and found our first Sand Lizards. On arrival we bumped in to some of the wardens who very kindly told us that they had seen a Sand Lizard about half an hour previous and pointed us in the right direction. We also saw Common Lizards and Grass Snakes but they were far too quick for pics.
The weather was worse the following morning with wind and rain lasting until mid afternoon. Last year we were told about the Otters on the River Stour at Blandford Forum so we thought it was worth a look calling in at other stretches along the way. No Otters this time but it was worth a try and a Kingfisher is always a pleasure to watch.
We lost day eleven completely – it rained all day and with strong winds we opted for a full day in the caravan.
Day twelve dawned dry but dull and still windy - not the best conditions for Sand Lizards but with just two days left it was worth another try. Pauline dropped me off and her and mum went off to a nearby church to take some pics. No Lizards could be seen but on searching other areas i was very surprised to see a mole running about – and I do mean running – in a small patch of rough long grass. A few pics were taken and a couple of ‘movies’ to prove it was alive and to show the speed it could travel. When Pauline came back the sun had come out and a Sand Lizard was trying to warm up, flattening his body to maximize the area being heated. Pauline took a few shots of the mole and then joined me taking a few more Lizard shots. We also found more Common Lizards, Slow Worms but no snakes this time. We moved on to the River Stour again calling in at a chippie for tea and sat waiting for otters – another blank. As mentioned earlier Pauline really wanted to see White Helleborines this time so on our way back we called in at Kingston wood near Corfe where, many years ago, we photographed them (badly!) using slide film ! We had called in at some point last week but found nothing and after a couple of minutes searching found one - then another – and another – in fact we probably counted 70 + , some in tight bud, some with no buds at all but more importantly one with a flower almost as good as they get. In amongst them we found a single Greater Butterfly Orchid in very tight bud. They were all growing in thick ivy, under trees and a low leaf canopy but how had we not seen them the week before when we searched the same area? Sometimes its all about ‘getting your eye in’ and then it becomes so easy – sort of!
Day thirteen and our last day - so what to do? The sun was out so we decided to go back to Durlstone C.P. but before we got out the car there was a change of plan! (One of those classic spinning in circles and wondering what to head for the best!) A few days earlier we had spoken to a couple who said they had seen both Greater Spotted and Green woodpeckers on the bird feeders at Kingston Lacy – a National Trust Stately home with lots of grounds. We found the feeders and the G.S. Woodpeckers but no ‘Greens’. It didn’t feel right - we couldn’t see any ant hills and couldn’t hear any ‘yaffling’ calls so distinctive of the Green Woodpecker so moved on to Badbury Rings a few miles away. Badbury Rings is an Iron Age hill fort. The rings are a mixture of short and tall rough grass and are grazed by cattle so can be excellent for flowers –especially orchids and butterflies. The center top is now a small wooded area with a couple of very small ponds used by the cattle so is very muddy around most of the margins. Some of the usual orchids were present along with hundreds and hundreds of Greater Butterfly orchids. We couldn’t find the Frog Orchids or the White Helleborines but the larger of the small pools produced Broad Bodied Chasers. A pair of Kestrel were hunting the rings –great to see a bird that we seem to be seeing less and less of.
So another holiday in Dorset comes to an end. We saw so much over the two weeks with things of note for me getting a mention in my diary to remind me in years to come. A few disappointments - It is very worrying with the lack of numbers of insects about, but with weather so mixed, as things emerge they are soon killed when the weather takes a change for the worse – we need a few years of ‘normal’ weather to help build numbers back up or we may loose some altogether. Less important we only saw a fox once – may be they haven’t bred close by. The Green Woodies that we saw and heard so much last year were conspicuous with their absence. No Adders or Smooth Snakes – it would be great to see all six of the British reptiles on one holiday though we were more than made up with the sand Lizards. No badgers this time - but my fault as I only went to the local sett once and I can quite easily watch them ‘at home’ so not a major concern. It would have been good to watch Otters but we didn’t put enough time in and again we’ve seen a few over the last twelve months and that trip to Scotland is not long off. After Scotland, the only place I would ever consider moving to would be Dorset – not that we would ever be able to afford the sort of place we would want to live in down there! The wild life is varied and there are some cracking areas – but then again that can be said of many places around Britain so we should appreciate what we have on our door step. We will stay put for the time being and it is relatively easy to travel in all directions from Lancashire, so we can get the best out of the whole of the U.K. But Dorset – we will be back….