Winter at Chesil Beach

Having recently read and reviewed Winter, I was reminded of the winter storms I experienced at Chesil Beach.


The wind is rising. I can hear it buffeting against the windows, thundering its way down the street like it’s throwing a tantrum. The cottage isn’t right next to the beach, but I can hear the waves roaring as they engulf the stony incline and hurtle over the peak into the streets behind.

I decide to walk to the cliffs to see this roaring action with my own eyes. Opening the door, I am almost swept back inside, the wind is so strong and I’m not exactly large in stature. With determination, I step out and force the door closed behind me. It takes a lot of strength to slam it shut. I make my way down the road, face half-buried in my waterproof and eyes already streaming.

Down at the beach, there is an almighty sight to behold. I stand on the footpath, not at the edge of the clifftop as that would be foolish. I value my life. No, this footpath is located about 50m back from the shoreline, on the gradual slope behind the boulders and behind the beach huts. Normally you can see the large pebbles, too big to be called shingle, just in front of the boulders, but they’ve disappeared. The water is covering them all.

The word storm doesn’t do this scene justice. The combination of a high tide and the strong winds has created a furious beast. It roils over the beach with passion, the waves crashing loudly and, when combined with the sound of the wind as well, I can barely hear my thoughts. I do manage to take a couple of photos, but soon retreat to hide in the shelter of a nearby wall. The wind is so strong that I actually have difficulty breathing, the air is whipped away and there is nothing to inhale.

It’s hard to believe that only the other day, it was a calm and tranquil beach scene here, the still blue surface stretching out to the horizon under bright skies. You can normally sit at the top of the beach, thirty or forty metres from the edge of the sea. If you were to sit there now, you would be immediately soaked and swept away. I can’t even guess how tall these waves are, I have never seen such monsters. And these are monsters indeed, devouring the beach, and even hurling themselves over the seafront pub. Later I will see a fantastic photo capturing this scene, and I still won’t be able to believe it happened. This disbelief will continue when I visit the beach again once the storm has passed, and discover that all of the shingle has disappeared from one end, revealing the underlying clay – a remarkable and rare occurrence.

The sea is so high that the Isle of Portland has truly become an island, the road back to the mainland has been flooded and the connecting beach is overrun with waves. I am rather glad not to be in work today, the educational centre where I work is only small building located, on the edge of the currently flooded road, probably about to be flooded itself. As I stand on the footpath, I can’t even see the centre from here, so obscured is the view by spray and cloud.

I have never before experienced a storm like this, and I wonder if I ever will again. Across the news, between the internet cutting out, I read about railway lines collapsing, beach towns flooding and the sad loss of life. That summer, I enjoy my time on the beach, both for work and for pleasure, but these memories linger in my mind as a reminder that while nature can be peaceful and beautiful, she can also be a mighty and dangerous force.

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NB – there are better photos of the waves online, this photo doesn’t do them justice at all

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So long and thanks for all the proverbial fish, Part Two

Having been visited by my parents, packed up my belongings in Dorset, finished my job, had a mad couple of days getting my car fixed, and finally moved house, I have finally got to the end of a very hectic couple of weeks. Despite being so busy, I have still managed to get out and about to see some wildlife!

w/c 12th October

Weekend with the parents over, and my last few days with Dorset Wildlife Trust commenced. However, I didn’t get much time to wander around, especially after work as I needed to dash up to London to attend the launch of the Response For Nature : England report. I was there with two hats on – first, as Matt’s plus one since he was giving one of the speeches in the marketplace, and second, as a member of A Focus On Nature. I have written a full blog post about the event for the AFON blog, but personally I had a fab time meeting people and discussing conservation – particularly with those who are interested in supporting AFON in different ways.

Another mad dash in order to get back to Dorset for my last day! Very saddening, but I have had an excellent time these last few months! After a day at the Sherborne Literary Festival, I had a super yummy leaving dinner in Weymouth where I had to say goodbye to everyone. But I am sure I will see them all again – if only when I’m on holiday in Dorset (bound to happen, how else will I see Lulworth Skipper next year?).

Then suddenly it was the weekend and time to leave Dorset! When did that happen?! Of course, I couldn’t leave without heading over to Portland Bird Observatory for some last minute chilling out and wildlife watching. I got slightly distracted from birding by a male Speckled Bush-Cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima) that was resting on the door. The others weren’t so interested, but I was fascinated. Particularly when he started grooming himself, it was brilliant to watch and learn more about the behaviour of this species.

I was moving to Cambridge via Sussex (of course!), and travelled across to Sussex via a village called Amberley as Matt had read about a juvenile Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus) being seen there. We didn’t manage to spot it, but we did still have a wander around, and up to the top of the South Downs! In doing so, I managed to get two (birding) lifers – Red-Legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa) and Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix)! And whilst we didn’t see the Pallid Harrier, we saw at least three birds of prey – Red Kite (Milvus milvus), Buzzard (Buteo buteo) and Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus). The latter is a particular favourite having spent early summer watching the kestrels at Lorton. But then, I also love Red Kites – having spent many hours watching them in Wales!

It being mid-October now, I’m going to swap into winter mode and write every two weeks. However, there may be the odd extra blog post in between – guest posts, opinion pieces, and who knows what else!

So long and thanks for all the proverbial fish, Part One

Having been visited by my parents, packed up my belongings in Dorset, finished my job, had a mad couple of days getting my car fixed, and finally moved house, I have finally got to the end of a very hectic couple of weeks. Despite being so busy, I have still managed to get out and about to see some wildlife!

w/c 5th October 2015

A great start to week at the Chesil Beach Centre. Despite getting confused by Sophie’s directions to the Starry Smooth-Hound shark (Mustelus asterias) as I thought she meant the other bridge, I had a lovely wander looking at crabs and picking up litter. I also spotted my first Brent Geese (Branta bernicla) of the autumn, though they were pretending to be interior design (flying ducks anyone?).

I swapped locations and spent a few days at Lorton Meadows, managing to spot two Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus) from the office! They can often be seen grazing in the play / picnic / pond area. Whilst a bit cautious, they spent a fair bit of time there before disappearing into other fields.

A new experience for me when our wildlife camera person came to check that the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) box and camera were still in good condition (they are), and I got to go up into the loft. Ignoring the anxious voice inside me muttering about heights, I went up and looked at the box for the first time – in which we found seven Small Tortoiseshell butterflies (Aglais urticae) hibernating!

As the name suggests, at the end of the week came the weekend! Sadly it was my last full weekend in Dorset but I made the most of it! My parents came down to see me and amongst visiting awesome places, we also went out to local restaurants and watched a sunset over the Fleet. Our first location of awesomeness was RSPB Arne Nature Reserve in the Purbeck area of Dorset. I have been meaning to visit for ages and despite a touch of chill in the day, it was fantastic – dragonflies, birds, fungi, deer and more!

The weekend wasn’t over yet though! Oh no, we also went to watch Motor X on Weymouth Beach followed by a visit to Portland Castle! Naturally, I was most interested in seeing what wildlife was about, but I did enjoy reading about the castle’s history, using their interpretation and playing (well, winning) a game of Nine Men’s Morris with my dad. The game is basically a big version of Noughts and Crosses, and was good fun to play. I am tempted to make my own set!

Crossing the bridge to see the rest of the gardens, I found a ladybird wandering around on a bush. The proceeded to find another 100+ ladybirds – some in larvae form, some as pupae and some as adults. I found three different species, but also a couple of different versions of some species. For example, the Ten-Spot Ladybird (Adalia 10-punctata) has a few possible colour variations. Flick through the photos below for the identifications, or you can look at my Twitter thread on them.

The larvae look like they are quite evil, don’t you think?

I couldn’t let my parents without taking them to Lorton of course! Neither had been before, so a late evening walk across the meadows was perfect. As well as pointing out the birds, we ate blackberries and I showed them oak galls. In the pond area I found an Elephant Hawk-Moth caterpillar (Deilephila elpenor), which was rather small so presumably one of the earlier instars (stages of being a larva). It looks like it is plotting world domination!

And the aforementioned sunset, such beauty to finish off my penultimate week in Dorset.

 

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

A bewildering start to the week, as I awoke in the east side of Dorset. Not by magic mind, I had travelled over on Sunday evening to visit a friend who has just started a Masters at Bournemouth University. Watch out Bournemouth! A lovely start to the week, due to seeing both my friend and also a Red Admiral first thing in the morning. As she (my friend, not the butterfly) went off to her first lectures of the term, I wondered how to pass the time for the rest of my day off. There was no question of course – at a nature reserve! But which one …

I settled upon Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Upton Heath Nature Reserve, as it had been over a year since I had visited, and I haven’t wandered around heathland much. Naturally I popped my head around the door at the Beacon Hill Urban Wildlife Centre to say hello, then headed out to see what I could discover.

Ah, heathland … still purple in autumn, with the bright splashes of other colours, plus the more subdued oranges and browns of drooping leaves and partially hidden fungi. The quick glimpse of a snake as it is startled by my footsteps and slides away into the gorse and heather. (I think it was a Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca), but not 100% sure as I haven’t got much experience with snakes).

I was drawn to examine the stems of the plants as I could hear the singing of a cricket … it took me a while, but I finally spotted a male singing away. It was a Bog Bush-Cricket (Metrioptera brachyptera), a new species for me and my eighth Orthopteran. I soon found a couple more, including one with the green patterning.

I also saw a couple of different grasshoppers and a groundhopper, but I haven’t yet worked out which species they are. With the grasshoppers, I think one of them was a Meadow Grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus), and the others are Field Grasshoppers (Chorthippus brunneus). The groundhopper is most likely a Common Groundhopper (Tetrix undulata).  I also took a video of the bush-crickets/grasshoppers singing, but haven’t uploaded it yet.

And then the fungi … no idea what they were, but they look rather cool!

A few days of working at Lorton, and I made sure to eat my lunch outdoors. I had allowed myself to get into the bad habit of eating at my computer, which is not at all healthy. I even sat in the sunshine by the pond for my lunch, which was just lovely – and still warm despite being the beginning of October! I enjoyed watching the dragonflies zooming about – and even managed to get a few shots of one in flight. A tad blurry, but the best I’ve ever got! This particular one was very curious and kept flying over to see what I was doing (or to work out what I was?).

At one point, I was rather startled as suddenly a bird appeared suddenly overhead and splashed into the pond. A duck! Rather surprisingly, this is actually the first duck I’ve seen at Lorton! I wonder if she was hiding from a bird of prey?

A few more photos from lunchtime outside, including a slow-worm (Anguis fragilis) who was really chilled out and let me take lots of photos!

A post-work weekend walk with Sean took us down to Two Mile Coppice as we peered into the undergrowth attempting to find fungi. However, it has been rather dry recently so we weren’t expecting much. We found a few scattered about though and Sean managed to identify a few (I got one too, wahey!).

End of the week, I was sleepy and wanting my bed. But I headed up to Portland to show Christina and Amy (two of the trainees) where the Portland Bird Observatory is. We saw a Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) in the PBO garden, plus the Little Owl (Athene noctua) in the quarry, ate plenty of blackberries, saw some tiny caterpillars and listened to Great Green Bush-Crickets (Tettigonia viridissima). All in all, a very nice Sunday evening.

As I finish writing up this post, I can hear the wind howling outside. Looks like our spell of good weather is over for now! I wonder if there will be any more decent periods of weather before I leave Dorset? There’s still so much to see and do!

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dorset Wildlife Trust’s positions, strategies or opinions (or any other organisation or individuals for that matter).

 

Our hands were peppered With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.

As the title suggests, I went blackberry picking this week! If you attended school in the UK you are likely to have read the poem from which I’ve taken my title – Blackberry Picking by Seamus Heaney. If not, do go and read it – it’s one of my favourites. Anyway, the blackberry picking was late in the week, so shall come onto that in a bit!

Earlier in the week, I was based down at the Chesil Beach Centre. A mixed bag in terms of weather, but I managed to take some nice photos after work. Sadly I can’t get out much during work as the centre tends to be quite hectic, and I usually end up gulping down my lunch!

A day at Lorton mid-week, no groups in so I was getting on with work in the office. Thought had a stroll had to be taken of course.

This week was a bit topsy turvy, as I was then back at Chesil again! As before, busy during the day. I had an unplanned wander after work – the weather was very calm, with no wind for once, and the sunshine was glorious. I popped across the road to Hamm Beach and photographed the Turnstones (Arenaria interpres) for a while. They are such wonderful birds, and as the name suggests, they turn stones!

I also filmed them for a bit as their stone-turning is brilliant to watch, plus they call – I think to each other. Using an educated guess, I would say they are contact calls? I.e. letting the other(s) know they are still there?

I also saw this massive bumblebee – I think it may be a queen? She really was huge!

Despite being the end of September, I literally took the plunge and went paddling. The water was actually a decent temperature, once I got used to it!

Some others photos from the evening:

Back to Lorton again for the weekend and the theme of Pond Life, which means … pond dipping! Woohoo! One of my favourite activities! We discovered a myriad of insects, molluscs and other invertebrates within the pond, as well as seeing some adult dragonflies zooming about above it.

Saturday evening I went blackberry picking – even though the freezer is already full of fruit thanks to Matt’s foraging efforts. And on both days, I had someone else at the centre with me (membership recruiter, then a volunteer) so we peered at wildlife together during a couple of quiet moments.

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dorset Wildlife Trust’s positions, strategies or opinions (or any other organisation or individuals for that matter).

Autumn is coming. Actually, it’s here already!

I know I have been saying it for a little while, what with the ripening berries and the variety in, and number of, butterflies seen declining, but summer is truely ending and autumn is upon us. Now the majority of berries I’ve seen are ripe, though a few are still lagging behind. It’s a pleasant surprise, but not yet very uncommon, to come across some flowering buddleia. I suppose that’s how the remaining butterflies feel too. Our September seems to be rather mixed so far, a few glorious days but also a few days of utter downpours. I don’t feel it is qualified to be an Indian summer, but then I’m not entirely sure of the definition … something else to read up upon!

Lorton Meadows revealed a couple of its secrets to me this week, though I am aware that it stills keeps me in the dark as to much of what it contains within its green fields, sun-dappled woodland and shimmering ponds. You will note the slight creativity creeping into this blog post. I now have less than a month until the end of my contract and am feeling rather sad about leaving Lorton Meadows. I have come to love it, and can you blame me? I feel a blog post devoted to the wonders of Lorton Meadows coming on …

Anyway, back to the wildlife at Lorton. After the dismal failure of my moth trapping the previous weekend, I was looking forward to an activity that never lets me down – pond dipping! Before I even got to that, my day started well with a new species on the porch wall of my landlord’s house. An unexpected Speckled Bush-Cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima)! And then a new moth species at Lorton, a Red Underwing Moth that would not let itself to be photographed.

That day, I ran an evening session with a local group of Brownies, with pond dipping and a meadow minibeast search. Despite having done pond dipping a couple of times, we still managed to turn up a couple of new creatures for me!

Two terrestrial larvae were also discovered during our session. One was a bright orange creature, crawling across one of the tables during the pond dipping. Of course, I hoped it was from the Lepidoptera group (butterflies & moths), but it turned out to be a new Hymenoptera species for me – the larva of a Poplar Sawfly (Cladius grandis)! Then we found a number of Fox moth (Macrothylacia rubi) caterpillars crawling about in the meadow. I warned the children that they need to be careful of fluffy caterpillars (the hairs can cause rashes), but truthfully I’m not sure if the Fox moth caterpillar is one of those to be careful of?

A downpour mid-week didn’t inspire me to take a wildlife wander, but I just had to on Friday. Lovely sunshine outside and I was spending a lot of time at my laptop! I am very glad that I did, as I identified at least 11 different insect species, plus found a new fungi species. New to me, not new to science, I should add!

The new fungus was a Shaggy Ink Cap (Coprinus comatus), sometimes known as Lawyer’s Wig or Shaggy Mane. There were at least ten fruiting bodies (the mushroom part, I think) spotted around one area – I bet they are all connected though. Fungi has a tendency to do that I vaguely remember. The fruiting bodies were all in different stages of development (ripeness)? I think I’ve put the ones I saw into the correct order of development below (left to right, top row then bottom row).

The weekend rolled around, as it is wont to do, and I headed north to Malvern (Worcestershire). A garden stroll resulted in a surprise new species tick – a Hempiteran, the Hairy Shieldbug (Dolycoris baccarum). Pottering further around the garden, I examined spiders, spotted five 7-spot Ladybirds (Coccinella 7-punctata) and took photos of some hoverflies with the vague hope that I will get around to identifying them at some point!

End of the week, and time to head back to Dorset. Via Cambridge. Because I’m logical like that. No, truthfully it was to give Matt a lift back – typical train engineering works would have meant a very long and arduous journey for him. The warming autumn sunshine (with the right level of breeze) was a perfect for an afternoon walk. As I commented to Matt, there were much fewer butterflies as well as a number of other changes as the seasons plod on. The leaves are losing their green pigment, and flashes of yellow, orange, red and brown can be seen as the trees dance in the wind. Ivy flowers are starting to bloom, much to the delight of the pollinators, whilst the lanes are busy with local people foraging berries – blackberries, elderberries and of course sloes to make some sloe gin. Scrumptious!

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dorset Wildlife Trust’s positions, strategies or opinions (or any other organisation or individuals for that matter).

A little bird said …

This week I had the almighty pleasure and joy of taking over the Biotweeps account. This Twitter account is curated by a different biologist each week, who discusses their research, knowledge and interests. From a cursory glance over the contributors, the majority are in academia, but I queried whether a naturalist could curate for a week – with an affirmative answer!

During the week I wanted to cover a variety of things across two topics: people and nature, and pure wildlife. One of my regrets is not setting aside enough time to plan thoroughly and thus fit more in. Nonetheless I fit in a fair amount:

  • twitching and panspecieslisting
  • mental health and nature
  • young people and nature (including A Focus On Nature of course)
  • wildlife recording
  • getting a career in conservation
  • mammals of the UK
  • moths
  • butterfly identification
  • photos from scotland / south africa

You can see a selection of my tweets in the images below.

As I began my tweeting, I made sure to venture out into the sunny garden in Cambridge a couple of times, spotting a couple of different insects about, although the Old Lady moth (Mormo maura) had been caught in Matt’s moth trap. I’m not sure how clear it is in the photo – but the wasp is eating a fly caught in a spider’s web!

On the way back to Dorset from Cambridge, I popped into my parents’ house in north London where I was promptly distracted by a jam doughnut, plus a Hornet hoverfly (Volucella zonaria), a Large White butterfly (Pieris brassicae) and a dead bumblebee in the garden.

In work this week, there was a lot of sitting inside working away at various tasks, but I managed to get out for a couple of walks and see some wildlife – including a Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi) in a field that hasn’t got any records for them as far as I know! I attempted to do a bit of moth trapping at Lorton for Moth Night – but caught mainly Hornets (Vespa crabro), so I gave up after a little bit. Luckily the hornets weren’t in stinging mode so I was able to get them out of the trap without getting hurt myself! However, I did find a few moths, albeit not in the trap itself!

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dorset Wildlife Trust’s positions, strategies or opinions (or any other organisation or individuals for that matter).