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.

 

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).

A few twitches might a twitcher make!

No glorious weather on Monday to potter around in, so I attempted to get my affairs in order (job applications and the like since my contract will soon be finishing!). With better weather the next day, I headed south for the evening (after work) and pottered around in King Barrow Quarries Nature Reserve for a little while. It felt like I hadn’t been there for far too long! It was quieter than earlier in the summer – some of the butterflies are reaching the end of their flight season. Plus, it was rather breezy. However, there was enough wildlife about to keep me occupied!

A lunchtime walk at Chesil called to me, having spent the morning within the centre wistfully thinking of the outdoors. I hadn’t been over the road for a little (just like the quarries), so dodged and ducked between the traffic (lies! I walked across the road, but that sounds more exciting). Traipsing around over there revealed some hidden beauties tucked amongst the grasses – Common Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris), White Campion (Silene latifolia), Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) and Grey Bush-Cricket (Platycleis albopunctata), plus a cute but unidentified little snail shell.

A wander back to the Fleet Lagoon to see what the receding tide was revealing. In this case, a dead Barrel Jellyfish (Rhizostoma pulmo), plus some of the usual bird suspects flitting about.

Whilst working that afternoon, in the back of my mind I was um-ing and ah-ing whether to head up to Portland again. I had heard / seen the news that a Wryneck (Jynx torquilla) was about, and I was tempted to twitch. First, it looked like a pretty awesome bird. Second, it seemed to be showing quite well. And of course, it would add to my list! Three good reasons, and so I climbed the hill (in my car) and zoomed (within the speed limit naturally) over to the Portland Bird Observatory to get directions.

Thanks to them, I was soon in the right spot and casting my eye around the place. I could see a bird quite far away, just a brown blob even through the bins. So I zoomed in and took a photo, just as it took off! Bah, no chance of working out what it was. Oh well. A bit of wandering – a male Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) over on a Ministry of Defence fence, and a number of gulls circling above. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw something fly. Quickly with the bins, and success! I had seen a Wryneck! Then snapping away with my camera, before settling down to watch it for a while (though it didn’t do much, it seemed to just be looking about!). I flicked back to the first blurry photo, and was surprised to see it was the Wryneck! Turns out I had seen it about 10 minutes before I knew I had!

A few other photos from my twitch.

There ends my time on Portland for the week, as I was at Lorton Meadows for the other working days working out my workplan for the next few weeks so I can get my various projects finished before I leave! Of course, I still went out to see the wildlife too, even attempting some oak gall and bush-cricket identification!

My weekend off, and so up to Cambridge I went – including a walk in the fields nearby and watching grasshoppers in the garden. The latter is very interesting indeed, to see how they interact with each other, and I even saw one eating some grass and cleaning its antennae! So go and watch some grasshoppers!

I recently rediscovered some lovely Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) photos that I took a while back on a lovely evening at PBO – it was sitting in tree only about 10-15metres away, bathed in some glorious light from the setting sun. What a superb bird!

In other news:

  • I have set up a Facebook group for UK Orthoptera because they didn’t have one and they are wonderful insects which deserve their own group!
  • For the next week, I shall be curating the Biotweeps Twitter account and will be talking about a variety of topics, including moths of course – but also getting a career in conservation, inspiring the next generation, and more!
  • I recently recalculated my Pan-Species List as the number I had online was different to the one on my notebook. I need to add a couple on from this week, but as it stands I am on 732! Will I reach my 1000 target by the end of the year?
  • The title of this blog post refers back to another blog post last year when I went on my first twitch.

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).

Pre-Birdfair Wildlife Adventures

The week was all about Birdfair, except that I had four days before it began. Which, to be fair, were pretty awesome days in themselves. So I shall cover those before I even attempt to write about Birdfair – which is going to require a separate post(s?!).

It began on a lunchtime wander at Lorton, with the realisation that autumn has started to creep upon us … quite a few of the flowers are gone, and berries decorate the bushes instead. However, there are still some butterflies flitting about! Plus it was a warm sunny day in which I could take yet more photos of the Wasp Spiders (Argiope bruennichi) which are now in my favourite animals list (a long list I’ll admit).

Mid-week led to the final preparations and unveiling of our hand-printed animal (remember last week’s fun?) – a basking shark for Weymouth Carnival! Due to my back issues (can’t carry anything heavy) AND my short stature (causing lopsidedness), I was unable to help with carrying the shark. However, that was ok with me as I got to be jellyfish! A dancing one at that! Despite the rain and wind, we had a fantastic time, but we are still waiting to hear who came first out of the walking floats, sure it had to be us?!

Thursday was a little bit of a struggle for us at Lorton and Chesil – we were all trying to recover from Carnival. It was surprisingly tiring, and the weather had undoubtable made it worse. At Lorton, the rain was continuing and I had to lead a butterfly activity! Luckily I had plenty of activities to replace looking for butterflies – including making a butterfly mask using one of the resources on the Wildlife Watch website. What do you think?

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).

Pain, but no gain (only partially true)

Strictly speaking, the title is not true. I’ve had very little pain this week, and a lot of gain, but you’ll see later why the title. As I write, I am in a sickeningly “I love life” mood. I want to take a moment to examine this mood. As a sufferer of both Seasonal Affective Disorder and, more recently, bouts of depression, spending time outdoors in the sunshine and talking to people (aka my job!) is bound to have a positive effect on me. People can often underestimate how much nature can help us, not least with our mental health. We are intricately connected with nature, even with today’s technological distractions. Taking a moment, even just a little one every now and then, to appreciate nature can benefit you.

Back to my week. It began with paint. An odd beginning to the week one might say, but I work in environmental education (/community engagement) and my tasks are varied! For the first couple of days this week, I was tasked with ensuring that a big roll of white fabric got covered in handprints! I relished the task, and got involved with an appropriate amount of enthusiasm (i.e. getting my hands covered in paint and encouraging others to do as as well). Soon enough, and with help from volunteers, centre visitors and even Taste* cafe staff, the sheet was covered. And my hands were blue no matter how much I scrubbed them! And the purpose of this? Well, that shall remain a surprise until the next blog post.

A midweek lunchtime stroll on Chesil Beach resulted (as usual) in a quick beach clean! I just hate seeing litter on the beach (and elsewhere!). So I am continuing well with that wildlife resolution!

We sailed off into the sunset, almost literally, when The Fleet Observer took some centre volunteers (and a couple of DWT staff) out on a trip. I know, I know, I went on a trip only a couple of weeks ago! But I do so love going out on the boat and we always see something fun. This time I even managed to get some good photos of the hares (Lepus europaeus), and some sunset photos too, so I was particularly pleased.

Inland to Lorton, and I was leading our Caterpillar Kids session on grasshoppers and crickets! What great fun it was, and we had some children that were absolutely brilliant at catching them! I have realised that there aren’t actually that many grasshoppers and crickets, so I didn’t feel too daunted in trying to identify a couple. I got them wrong mind, but I gave it a go and I shall continue to try, which is the important thing!

I must apologise here to the residents of Weymouth and the surrounding areas. The torrential rain on Friday was my fault. I had a day off you see. However, I wasn’t too put out as it provided me with a decent opportunity to sort through some photos and the like. The weekend dawned bright and clear, but Weymouth did soon cloud over (unlike Portland which stayed sunny all day, grr!). I was meant to be leading a reptile walk at Lorton, but the slight chill in the air made me dubious that we would find any. So I turned it into a general nature walk and we had a fantastic time! A good variety of wildlife was seen, including my first Wasp Spiders (Argiope bruennichi) which are incredibly awesome! I also picked up a bush-cricket and much to the amusement of everyone there, yelled in startlement when it bit me! The cheeky thing (though I don’t blame it)! I can’t say which species it was, as the unexpected pain caused me to throw it into the grass. Oops! Note to self – it isn’t just Great Green Bush Crickets (Tettigonia viridissima) that bite! The end of the walk ended on a reptile sighting, as we found two baby slow worms, but they slithered away before I got photos. I caught one the following day, prompting it to defecate on me – charming! – but again no photo I’m afraid.

A quick evening dash up to Portland Bird Observatory as Josie Hewitt was visiting and I wanted to say hi. I also got to see this lovely Painted Lady  (Vanessa cardui) which was very obliging with letting me take photos. I even persuaded it to sit on my finger, but naturally it flew off before I could actually take a photo of it doing so! I also saw a Hummingbird Hawk-Moth (Macroglossum stellatarum), but that was not at all obliging and disappeared before I could even grab my camera.

The weekend, and thus the week, drew to an end. With sunshine above, and no big plans for the evening, I just had to go for another wildlife wander in Lorton. I looked for the Wasp Spiders again, and found two, as well as some galls on oak (presumably caused by a parasitic wasp?).

A note on Wasp Spiders. It is actually only the female that has the stunning stripes. The male is smaller and brown, I think there is a male in one of the photos above. Apparently, the male has to wait until the female reaches her mature form, make the most of her soft jaws, and then go into mate with her. Even so, a number of them do get eaten still! As one of the orb-weaving spiders, you can see the white zig-zag in her web, which is called a stabilimentum. According to the Wildlife Trusts webpage on them, there is no known function to this stabilimentum.

Next week’s post is likely to be delayed as I shall be travelling back from BirdFair (which is going to be amazing!). Let me know if you’re going and would like to meet up!

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).