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).

A Merry Dance

I had so much fun leading a family activity on Tuesday. The theme was butterflies, so I got to train some young children (the oldest couldn’t have been more than 7) in the art of identifying common butterflies. By the end, they were getting quite confident at their Gatekeepers, Speckled Woods and Meadow Browns. Future lepidopterists/naturalists in the making! I also challenged the families to become citizen scientists and do a butterfly count.

Mid-week and I was down at Chesil. I was out of the office and away from my computer much of the time, so naturally that’s when the kestrel chicks at Lorton decided to begin fledging! At least two chicks hopped out, and when I returned to Lorton the following day, I managed to get a photo of one in the nearby trees. On Saturday, the last one was seen leaving the nestbox! Though you can still hear them nearby, and they have occasionally popped back in.

I was dashing back to Chesil again soon enough, as Dr Martin Warren (the CEO of Butterfly Conservation) has been doing a 100-mile long Big Butterfly Hike (#ButterflyHike on Twitter) along the Jurassic Coast to raise money for butterflies (particularly Wood White, Duke of Burgundy and High Brown Fritillary). He has asked if I was working there that day, which I wasn’t, but I went down after work to say hello. As well as generally chatting about butterflies, moths and the Jurassic Coast, I had to ask a couple of questions. It turns out that (a) he has seen all the British butterflies, and (b) his favourite is Red Admiral as it was the species that got him interested in butterflies as a child. You can read back on his hiking blog on the BC website.

Upon bidding farewell to Martin, I had a small ponder. It was early evening, sunny with plenty of hours left. Do I go to look for wildlife or head back and prepare dinner? Well, there’s no real choice and so I was soon at Tout Quarries Nature Reserve, wandering about with my camera. I wasn’t expecting to see much, the wind was a touch chilly. But I decided to try and look for suitable Grayling butterfly (Hipparchia semele) spots. I didn’t really know where they preferred, but I figured a slope in the sunshine and out of the wind would be a good start.

Now I should say here, that the Grayling is my “bogey” species. I.e. it’s one that I have gone looking for a number of times, and never found it! Hence the title of this blog post – this butterfly has led me on a merry dance! Imagine my joy (and yes, I exclaimed out loud) when I saw one. And then triple it, because there were actually three of them fluttering about! Then increase it again as one of them landed on me, and again when two begun their courtship (see video below). I felt like I was going to burst from the happiness.

To give you an idea of how brilliant the camouflage of this species is amongst the quarries, I took the photo below. Taken without a zoom, so that you can see exactly what I was seeing! Can you spot the Grayling butterfly?

On my first day off in a while, I gave myself the luxury of a lie-in before heading out to watch wildlife, only to be texted by a friend (at the reserve I was heading to) saying that he had achieved the hairstreak hat-trick there. Time to get up and out there! So I drove on up to Alners Gorse Butterfly Reserve, one that I had been meaning to visit for ages. I hear and see a lot about this reserve, not least on Twitter from the aforementioned Martin Warren. What better way to spend a sunny day off than exploring somewhere new and (hopefully) seeing some new butterfly species! And indeed, it was a stupendously fantastic afternoon!

I didn’t get the hairstreak hat-trick (brown, purple and white-letter), but I did see 17 species of butterfly in one afternoon, so that’s not bad if I do say so myself. Highlights were: Brown Hairstreak (Thecla betulae), Purple Hairstreak (Favonius quercus) – both new species to me!, Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia), Essex Skipper (Thymelicus lineola) and Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni, my first ones in ages!).

I just had to include lots of photo of the Brown Hairstreak (above) as it is such a gorgeous species, don’t you think? Although I am likely to say that about all butterflies/moths/wildlife in general! A few more butterfly photos from Alners Gorse:

At one point, I sat in the lush grass of a woodland ride, content to look about and allow myself to notice the wildlife around me. When sitting in such a way, you gradually become aware of creatures, their behaviours and sounds that you might otherwise pass by.

I watched as a male Silver-washed Fritillary patrolled his territory, dive-bombing and chasing off any intruders – be they the same species or not! He even chased off a dragonfly, and I believe he attempted to chase me off, flying in close to me. Luckily I’m made of stern stuff! Or something like that. A grasshopper crawled onto my backpack to investigate it. Nothing of interest apparently as it wandered off again. I could hear rustling in the bushes, most likely a blackbird foraging for food. They are surprisingly noisy on dry leaves. I was taken by surprise after 10 minutes of sitting there, when I suddenly realised that a dragonfly was resting motionless in a bush nearby – I just hadn’t spotted it until then!

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).