3rd - 13th August 2006 - Portland, Dorset
After the unhindered 6 hour drive it was to the obs cottage for a quick unpack, well deserved cuppa and customary salutations and check of the recent sightings list. The always welcoming Martin Cade (Obs Warden) greeted us and showed us Garden Dart, Rosy Minor and Cloaked Minor moths. Not a bad greeting at all. After more mooching about we decided to pay nearby Broadcroft Quarry a visit and see if we could find any late flying Silver Studded Blues. It was fairly warm and bright but the coastal breeze was being its mischevious self and kept the butterflies tucked away. Despite this we came across a couple of Chalk Carpets, Ringlet, Holly Blue and several Clouded Yellows. A Sloe Bug was an expected sighting as were the 4 Slow Worms we uncovered with one specimen being exceptionally large. Not a bad start to what promised to be a great holiday.
It was the first full day of the hols and ever the eager beaver I was up early and out to the Bill for a spot of birding. Having been down this way 2 months earlier I couldn't believe the contrast as in the lack of birds. A few passing Gannets and swirling gulls left much to be desired so I decided to have a tootle around the nearby fields. A few Common Blues and 2 Short Tailed Voles were the highlights and I went back to the Lighthouse a little bewildered. Maybe my initial optimism for new sightings was a little hasty.
The morning consisted of a visit to a local Maize Maze (Rodden Farm) which my little un' loved. Lots to do and a few wildlife gems were unexpectedly seen. A pristeen Oak Eggar was had at rest on an outdoor pool table obviously preferring the green baize to natural grass. Around the maze we found a curious Golden Ringed Dragonfly that allowed us within inches and tantalisingly offered some close up snaps. Unfortunately a plastic orange fence for a background does this stunning insect no favours so the photos will be filed under 'bloody frustrating'. A couple of male Black Tailed Skimmers were nice to see which flew endlessly in pursuit of food and females (a bit like all men really).
After a pleasant lunch we decided to try Lodmoor Nature Reserve and test our birding skills. Not much again on the ornithological front with a couple of Little Egrets and a few Black Tailed Godwits the highs. Obviously the migration period hadn't started. A few Wall butterflies and an approachable Clouded Yellow var. Helice improved the visit.
Back to the Obs and tea was taken care of and some moth catches from the previous evening were scanned with a nice chap called Angus. He obviously knew his stuff and we marvelled over Maidens Blush, Four Spotted and his own catch, namely a Chevron. All good stuff.
The day ended with some crabbing that brought about with a furious Blenny attack (that got away) and a chat to a bloke from Fleetwood about his 30 years of visits to the island and his fishing enterprises. My little un's ears pricked at the thought of fishing, a thing she had mentioned several times and the question of indulging was pondered. Time for bed me thinks.
Well after a half decent nights sleep and a trip to the local Asda a rash decision was made and we visited the local fishing shop and checked out the rods. Very interesting indeed. We'll think about it. Anyway we had a moth evening planned tonight so it was a late start for us and we spent some time around the Obs looking at the recent nights moth catch. For Martin it was an average haul but for us moth starved Northerners it was an impressive selection. Small Rufous, Muslin Footman, Pale Mottled Willow, Marbled Green, Small Mottled Willow, Bordered Sallow, Crescent Dart, Brussels Lace and the rare Many Lined were the pick of a plentiful crop and the close up views of a netted Melodious Warbler rounded off a satisfying morning. Hey up - things are getting going.
After lunch we set out for Piddles Wood, a Dorset Wildlife Trust location that as is per usual with these places offers little in the way of signposts. Eventually we found it and the less than secure parking situation meant we had to walk about a mile to the reserve entrance after parking further away for peace of mind. Immediate impressions were tainted as upon entering the woodland a terrible stench accosted our nostrils and gave rise to suspicions of a nearby rotting animal. By the foul odour in the air it was obviously something large. Should I have a gander and see if I can increase my Burying Beetle list - perhaps not!
The walk around the reserve was pleasant and tranquil and despite my hopes of a late flying White Admiral being dashed we enjoyed the stroll and saw some unexpected treasures. Several Silver Washed Fritillaries frequented a well concealed Buddleia and a few Keeled Skimmers were seen in more open areas. On the boundaries we had lunch and scanned the nearby countryside for circling Buzzard or scuttling Partridge. No such luck but the 16 or so Migrant Hawkers that flew around us was quite impressive. We finished the walk by having a picnic by the side of the Stour River where we watched six Banded Demoiselles gracefully flutter over the waters surface in a wonderful display of courtship.
Next up Alners Gorse for the aforementioned moth evening. Oh what delights would we uncover? Due to my unreliable map reading skills we set off early to find our destination and as luck would have it we arrived without any hiccups and were there a full one and a half hours early. My wife decided to use this time to chill so me and my dynamo daughter played some football and indulged in some gymnastics (well forget the gymnastics for me). During this period I started my moth list and clocked up Yellow Shell, Rush Veneer and Magpie. We photographed an obliging Bush Cricket too which I still need to ID.
Before we knew it the time had passed and local moth enthusiast Gordon Hopkins greeted us. What a delightful man who had that winning zeal and gusto that just dragged you hook, line and sinker into the world of moth mania. His eyes practically shone with excitement of the things he had recently caught and the prospect of a good nights mothing. Brilliant. In my naivety I thought we would be mothing around the cars as it was well vegetated and seemed ideal. Oh no - not Mr Hopkins - he had bigger and better things planned.
'We'll set up right at the far end and have one trap East and one West'.
Mmmmmm. We trudged down laden with gear and eventually (after a quick jolt from an electric fence) set up two traps approximately one hundred metres apart.
'Excellent and when Peter arrives he can set his 3 traps down there', came Gordons enthusing tones.
Mmmmmmmmm. Well, the said Peter Butter arrived (a little more laid back but obviously hell-bent on a good nights mothing) and the extra traps were set.
A few locals arrived and that was it but despite a lowly turn-out it didn't dampen the mothing extravaganza that followed. Black Arches, Double Kidney, Bordered Beauty, Mocha, Dingy Mocha, Maidens Blush, Bloodvein, Scorched Carpet and Small Dotted Buff were gems in a jewellery box of delights. At just gone midnight we'd had enough and with 62 species recorded thought that there was little else to see. Imagine our surprise next day when we found out that the final total was 132. Oooops. Still - a fantastic night!
It was a case of up and out this morning (what’s new) with another trip to Alners Gorse for a butterfly walk held by the Dorset Butterfly Group. A Small Rufous and another Many Lined were the pick of the Portland moths and after a quick shuftie we headed for the arranged walk.
Upon arrival we were quite staggered by the turn-out. It must have been around 30 people which is always pretty good for any wildlife walk. Obviously somebody knows something (wishful thinking or what?). After a few brief introductions and chats we were split into 3 groups and off we set. The guy who led us was another of those Dorset characters who rattled off lepidopteran tales and ID tips like a real good un’. His jovial promptings at anyone who lagged behind or stopped for a natter tickled us no end and it added to the character of the walk. Ringlet, Clouded Yellow, Brimstone and Small Copper were rattled off as well as Small Skipper and Common Blue. The first real ID tester came in the form of a suspected Essex Skipper whereupon close inspection by several members of our group led to much head scratching and debate. I managed to get a quick snap of the little blighter and after a zoom in on the antennae swung thought towards Essex rather than Small. Pretty convinced we moved on. Must check that picture again though!
Next up we came upon a rough strip of land that contained various Thistles, Knapweeds (including Saw Wort – a new one for us I think) and grasses. We were all mooching around when a lady asked me to identify this peculiar moth. OK – I’ll have a look. Imagine my delight when yo and behold we had our first target species of the day – Brown Hairstreak. Classic views of this little beauty and all present clicked away as the ogled critter posed whilst feeding. 2 more were almost immediately spotted and a great start to what would be a great walk was had.
Further on we eventually entered a wooded area which gave rise to many Silver Washed Fritillaries including a rather shabby Valenzia form. Peacock and Green Veined White were added and another ticking off was given for unnecessary dawdling. The walk around the boundaries and back produced 5 Purple Hairstreaks, 2 more Brown Hairstreaks, a Yellow Tail moth and a Coxcomb Prominent. The walk ended in usual fashion with the group split in all directions but all thoroughly appreciative of a good day at a wonderful place. Thanks must go to the Dorset Butterfly Group for providing 2 great opportunities to visit Alners Gorse.
Back to the Lighthouse, tea and a spot of sea watching which produced a Balearic Shearwater and several Turnstones. The day ended with the capture of a Blenny (I’m sure it was that little sod from the night before) and another chat with the Fleetwood man who caught several Wrasse.
Up at 9.30 – disgraceful (and on holiday too). Bunged up and a bit achey the day started slowly with a browse through the Obs moth traps. Brown Veined Wainscot, Annulet, Rosy Footman, 3 Oak Eggars, Rusty Dot Pearl and another Small Mottled Willow were the pick of a nice selection.
Our first fishing venture took place this morning and in all truth was a bloody disaster. With my remarkable ability to ignore all advice and shun the reading of any guide books I paid the price by being absolutely clueless.
First cast and I nearly took out my wife's eye as the hook and weight went backwards instead of out to sea. Hey ho! Another go and foul language flowed and accusations towards the tackle shop were made as to how they would be confronted about selling me a dodgy rod. My wife and little un’ recognised their danger and left the scene and paddled in a nearby (but far enough away) pool. Much fiddling and untying of line brought about my next cast. This time for sure. Wrong. The line still went backwards but through sheer ignorance and brute strength came forward and over the cliff edge. Success? Not! The bloody hook had picked up our recently acquired catching net and flung the thing over the edge. Raging and frustrated I looked towards my wife and daughter who just stood there motionless with mouths agape. Say nothing – just stay calm and say nothing.
After a brief climb to recover the net, more untying of line I was persuaded to ‘jack it in’ for the day and so being sensible enough to know when I’m beat – I did.
Calmed and re-motivated another visit to Broadcroft Quarry resulted in another Slow Worm, 2 fast flying Oak Eggars, 2 Marbled Whites, 3 Chalkhill Blues and several Clouded Yellow. No Silver Studded Blues – too late this year….again.
A quick visit to Radipole Lake gave us cracking views of a nearby Cetti’s Warbler and a chat with a friendly fisherman gave me some sound advice for my next days angling. A nice trip to the cinema watching ‘Cars’ capped a rewarding and in retrospect, memorable day.
Already half way through the holiday but the species are clocking up and we are seeing some seriously good stuff. The usual start to the day was made with a moth trap check in which we were accompanied by keen mother Steve Whitehouse. Pretty good we did too and with Martins excellent pointers we came across Gem, Ni Moth, Striped Hawkmoth, Lychnis, Mullein Wave and Galium Carpet. Wow. A Great Brocade that Martin had caught several nights before capped off a great morning and an in-the-hand Garden Warbler only added to the quality.
After much debate myself and my family decided on an easy day and a walk from the Bill to Blacknor was chosen. A gentle stroll was had with various butterflies seen the highlight being the sudden appearance of numerous Chalkhill Blues. Literally there must have been a hundred plus and they came in all shapes, shades and sizes. It really is an eye opener to see a comparatively easy species to ID come in so many variable ways. Loads of mating couples were noted (yes I’m still on about the butterflies) and during our observations we came across our first Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi) of the week. My oh my what a creature! With striped legs and a stripy green, black and white abdomen this sizeable arachnid was a genuine stunner. The fact that she was located on her web about to devour a large grasshopper tells you all about the power of this grassland predator. A real masterpiece in Mother Nature’s unrivalled collection.
A couple of Sand lizards were nice finds with a green male typically un-obliging and almost immediately disappearing into the surrounding vegetation. The walk back was leisurely and the day ended with ice cream and a lazy evening around the obs. What no fishing – don’t panic I will be back.