Sunday, 12 June 2016

11th June - Durlston Country Park & RSPB Arne, Dorset

June, not best time for birding, but a time to catch up on some specialist species, and also to enjoy the butterflies and flowers that are now out and about around the country.  It was with this in mind that Ian and I ventured outside of the county, and headed west into the wilds of Dorset, not as far as Helen and I went last week, but this time down to Swanage, and then up the cliffs to Durlston Country Park.  The park has been owned by Dorset County Council since the early 1970s and is mostly open access to fields and the cliff tops.

We made our way down to the South West coast park, joining it just after the lighthouse, we were going to walk the path as far as Dancing Ledge about just over 2 miles from where we were, so technically the day would not all be in the park.  On the journey here there had been light rain all the way, and there were still a few drops about as we headed along the path.

Durlston and the cliffs are very popular with climbers, there are poles to allow them to abseil the steep cliff faces.  However after s short distance we came across a sign stating that the cliffs here were not to be used for climbing due to nesting birds.

I turned to talk to Ian, and noticed a shape on the edge of the cliff, I suddenly relised what birds were nesting on the cliff that were so special.  A female Peregrine was sitting there just looking at me.


Not sure how long it would stay, I kept shooting away, she moving her head avery so often to watch us.


Gulls and Jackdaws would pass, and she would just keep an eye on them.


I moved slightly so as to get a clearer view, there was grass that could get in the way, she followed my movement but stayed quite still.


What a bird, the dark ink black eyes with slight reflections of the sky behind us.


From our right the male bird appeared, flying just beneath the cliff, then out over the sea.  The female stayed where she was, but when it came back again he called quite loudly, and she just dropped from her perch and out of sight.  In the last week I have been treated to some wonderful views of Peregrine, but this has to be the best I have had, just a wonderful start to the day.

We waited to see if they would reappear, and out to sea we watched a Gannet pass heading east.


Once we realised they were not coming back we set off along the path.  After a short distance we came across a vocal Great tit, there was also the calls of young near by, but there was no sign of them.  It seemed a strange location for Great Tits to nest in.


While we watched the Great Tit, a Stonechat appeared on the top of the bush, it too was calling, and like the Great tit it had young close by.


There were at least three young birds, and all were happy perching high on the bushes as the parents called and worked hard to collect food.

A Whitethroat burst into the air from within a bush where it had been singing, it dropped back down into the bramble and thorn bushes only to appear still singing.


A little further on another male was singing from the top of a bush.


Another falcon appeared, this time a male Kestrel, and it flew along the top of cliffs behind us, and then settled on one of the mile markers.


We had now reached the cliffs at Blacker's Hole, and below us on the water were several small rafts of Guillemots.


Every so often there would be a Razorbill fly past, and also a few Kittiwakes, there bright white and slate grey colours contrasting with the dark grey of the sea below it.


Stonechats were everywhere along the cliff, their calls being constantly heard.  Some had fledged birds while others it would seem were still feeding young in the nest.


Out to sea and above us Swifts were whizzing past us, every so often the sound of the sea below us was punctuated by their screams as they raced past.


The Purbeck stone that the cliffs are formed with has cracks and crevices that would make ideal nesting sites for the Swifts and it appeared that this is why they were there, one or two being seen flying right up to the cliff face.

As we approached Dancing Ledge the temperature started to rise despite the fact that it was still completely overcast.  The cloud though seemed thin, there was little wind, and the sun was definitely managing to get through to us.  We stopped for a break over looking Dancing Ledge that seemed very popular with walkers.


A Rock Pipit appeared on the barbed wire close to us.  It looked  a little bedraggled, the effect of a rather busy breeding season.


On the other side of us a Herring Gull appeared from behind a curtain of grass and thrift.


On the slopes above us several people were stopping and photographing on the ground.  It clearly wasn't butterflies as they almost stayed in one place using tripods.  We decided to go and have a look ourselves, having our suspicions but wanting to have them confirmed.

They were confirmed before we reached anybody, Ian pointing out a lovely Bee Orchid in the grass just below his foot.


As I waited my turn to photograph a blue butterfly went past me, I chased it down and saw that it was an Adonis Blue, but refused for now to open up and fully show those beautiful shimmering blue upper wings.


It now became clear the field was full of Bee Orchids, we moved carefully taking it all in, they were all differently marked with some having more than one flower on the stem.


The bee shape is the attraction, the insect or bee settling on it, and the back of the insect is then covered in pollen from the stamens that hang down, as the insect then moves from flower it pollinates them.  You can see the stamens hanging here.


Beautiful markings:


By now we had met up with some of the other people and were advised that there were rarer forms in the field too.  Showing a completely different body to the Bee Orchids, these are known as the "Wasp Orchid".


Wasp Orchid is one of six variants of Bee Orchid but with 'wasp' type flowers. The 'wasp' type flowers can also occur on the same plant as 'bee' type flowers. The other variants do not have common names.


There were also some tiny snails that could be seen on the orchids, and on the grasses.


The majority of the bee Orchids had two flowers on a stem, but some had three, and we even managed to find this one with four flowers.


As we were looking at the orchids, the temperature continued to increase, and with this the butterflies started to appear.  After the earlier Adonis Blue, a male Common Blue.


Then another Adonis male.


My second, and Ian's first Meadow Brown of the year.


As well as the butterflies a grasshopper appeared in the very long grass.  This is a Common Green Grasshopper, of course.


We were now walking back down the hill to return to the coast path, more butterflies appeared, mostly Adonis Blue they showed very well now, opening the wings to give us the chance to see the shimmering blue on the upper wings.


We decided to head back to Durlston, and as we walked we realised that wee had walked by many Bee Orchids, and even this Pyramidal Orchid that was just starting to flower.


Away from the edge of the cliff Meadow Pipits would perform their parachuting display flight, and then settle on the bushes and bramble.


Stonechats continued to appear and pose in some very prominent positions.


We continued to scan the sea in the hope of finding maybe a lone Puffin in amongst the Guillemots and Razorbills.  Unfortunately we were not successful, a passing Kittiwake providing some interest though.


The sun was out now, and it was hot on the cliffs, this suited the butterflies and they started to come in very good numbers.  The Small Heath has a habit of settling in the grass, and usually as it lies to one side with wings closed it gets covered by grass or leaves.  I managed though to find this one in the perfect spot.


In sheltered spots Speckled Woods dueled then broke away to rest and settle on the ground to regain their energy.


A white butterfly in amongst the thrift set us some identification challenges.  This is I consider to be a Large White, Ian may beg to differ


The the butterfly we hoped to find, there has been a small influx along the south coast, and this Painted Lady was attracted to the Thrift on the cliff top.


It looks to have suffered a considerable amount of wear on both the fore and hind wings.  We thought at first this could be an abnormality but a close look shows it to be wear.

I came across a patch of grass that looked like it would be good for orchids.  After a good look I didn't find any orchids, but I did find the first Large Skipper of the year.


As I an tried to get the shot it flew off, he then started to search for it, but wasn't successful, what he did find though was much better.  He came across a very small skipper, that we were comfortable with being a Lulworth Skipper, a first for both of us.


The Lulworth Skipper was first discovered in 1832 on a stretch of coast around the village of Lulworth in Dorset.  As its name suggests, this distribution of this species is centred around Lulworth in Dorset, between Weymouth and the Isle of Purbeck.  In Britain, this species is at the northern limit of its range, and is rarely found more than 5 miles from the coast. However, this is not a maritime species, except in Britain.


What you do not appreciate from the photographs is how small this little butterfly is.


Back on the coast path a Red Admiral was disturbed from the ground flying up to a nettle.


As we approached the boundary of the park tiny butterflies flew from the grass, once they settled we could see that they were Small Blues, mostly males.


The grass was now shorter, with a lot more flowers, trefoils and clover.  With the flowers came more butterflies, Small Blues and skippers.  This Large Skipper nectaring on the clover.


The cliff top was covered in the yellows and pinks of the flowers.


We walked on past the lighthouse, and then down past the old Tilly Whim Caves towards the small Guillemot colony.  On the trefoil on the side of the cliff yet another Adonis Blue showed off the beautiful colour of its wings


Jackdaws have been everywhere along the cliffs, their acrobatics, and calls seemingly everywhere.  I managed to get this one as it appeared above the cliff.


It was now very warm, and inland there was blue sky, but at Durlston it was overcast once again with a few drops of rain about.

The RSPB reserve at Arne was on the way back, so we decided to drop in there in the hope of finding some Dragonflies, and maybe another falcon.

From the car park we walked around the Coombe Heath stopping at a small pond in the bog to watch the dragonflies that were about.

The first to see settled though was an Azure Damselfly.


There were two dragonfly species, a Southern Hawker and Four-spot Chaser.  The Chaser were more inclined to settle on a stick or branch.


This is a rather uniformly brown dragonfly and is quite active in late spring and summer. The sexes are alike with a brown abdomen becoming darker towards the rear, a brown thorax and brown eyes. 

The is a row of yellow spots along each side of the abdomen. The most noticeable feature is the colouring of the wings.  Half-way along the leading edge of each wing there is a very dark spot, which gives the insect its name. 

Another Damselfly appeared this time A Blue-tailed.


The Southern Hawker never settled, so we were left with the challenge of getting a flight shot.  In this one I managed to get both, but not as sharp as I would have hoped, but the best I was able to achieve as they darted about.


Leaving the pond we came across some grassland that had several Cinnabar moths in the grass, and then flying up to the bracken.


Looking like no other British species, except perhaps the burnets, this is a fairly common moth in much of Britain.  It is generally nocturnal, but is quite often disturbed during the day from long grass, as it was here.


At the end of the path was a row of Scot's Pines, and from above our heads we could hear the calls of what sounded like a young bird of prey.

We found the nest and watched in the hope that it might be that of a Hobby.  But every so often the young bird would move about in the nest, showing the white downy feathers of what we consider to be a Buzzard.  We felt it was much bigger than a Hobby chick.


We returned to the car park, and took the other trails walking through the farm, and the along a track leading towards Shipstal.  In one of the fields we passed two Sika Deer grazing.  Sika are similar in size and coat to Fallow deer, but darker. They are reddish-brown to yellow-brown in colour with a dark dorsal stripe surrounded by white spots in the summer. 


Sika were introduced from the Far East into Britain in 1860. While several subspecies, including Chinese, Japanese, Formosan and Manchurian, were introduced into parks the only free-living form in Britain is the Japanese Sika.  The preferred habitat is coniferous woodlands and heaths on acid soils.

We reached another pond where there were more Hawkers and Four-spot Chasers.  Once again the Hawker just kept going while the Chasers would rest.  This photograph was over exposed due to the dark black peaty water, but with some work at home I think it makes an interesting picture.


Around the pond were Heath Spotted Orchids, our third orchid species of the day.


These Chasers seemed to be quite happy to rest amongst the reeds and grasses which allowed the opportunity to get some interesting shots from a different angle.


And that was about it, yet another wonderful day out, treated to some fine weather despite the forecast, and some wonderful wildlife, from the beauty of the many orchids and butterflies to the majesty of the Peregrine.

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