Thursday, 27 October 2011

Dancing Ledge


A spectacular area named after the rocky ledge of the former quarry on the outskirts of  Langton Matravers.

In Spring the chalk downs above the seacliffs are home to 75% of the UK population of Early Spider Orchids, in addition it’s the most southerly breeding location of Puffins, the first point of arrival for many of our Summer migrants and later in the year the departure point (see the online diary at the adjacent Durlston Country Park for an idea of what’s around), home to  Roe Deer, Common and European Wall Lizards, Adders, Greater Horseshoe Bats, Peregrines, fossilised Palm trees and rock pools full of sponges, anemones, prawns and fish.

The NT owned Eastington Quarry on the western side of the headland is also well worth exploring especially for reptiles.


Rockpool at Dancing Ledge, Langton Matravers.

Blenny sp. and Beadlet Anemone’s.

I’m not too sure what these orange blobs are but the central opening suggests they’re a type of sponge possibly Suberites carnosus.
Snakelock Anemone’s at Dancing Ledge. Unlike many of the other common Anemone’s the Snakelock is unable to draw its tentacles back in therefore its typically found in the deeper water.

Steps down to Dancing Ledge. Note: the lower ledge on the far right of the photo can only be reached at low tide.

DSC_7120Early Spider Orchid taken earlier this year on the 4th May 

Fossilised base of a Jurassic palm tree. Note: there’s also a fossiled forest just east of Lulworth Cove on a MOD firing range - normally accessible on weekends at low tide. One for our next visit down South.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Sand Lizards

Restricted to the Dorset Heathlands, parts of Surrey and closer to the home the sand-dunes of Formby, the Sand Lizard is the rarest of the UK’s native lizards. Fortunately they’re relatively common at the RSPB’s nature reserve at Arne. Apparently the resident Kestrels successfully raise their family each year on an almost exclusive diet of Sand Lizards . Likewise they also form the majority of the Smooth Snake’s diet.

Normally I can get relatively close to reptiles before they disappear into the undergrowth however the Sand Lizards at Arne are unsurprisingly reluctant to break cover. Their cryptic colouring blends into the dead foliage and sun bleached leaves. If ever proof of Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection is needed these lizards are it. Thanks to the Kestrels only the  wariest of the wary survive.

Male Sand Lizard at Shipstal Point, Arne, Dorset. September 2011

Male Sand Lizard again at Arne in May 2011. Note the green pigment lost later in the year when the breeding season is over.

About as close as I’ve got to a Sand Lizard.

Female Sand Lizard again taken in mid-September at Arne at the base of a grass tussock

Thursday, 13 October 2011


Originally introduced to Brownsea Island in the centre of Poole Harbour during the1860’s. For some unknown reason it didn’t occur to anybody that most types of Deer are actually quite good at swimming. Sika are no different. During the 1880's faced with a choice of burning to death in a forest fire or taking a swim they took their chances. If they waited until low tide the harbour is so shallow it’s likely they didn’t even need to swim!
The Sika are actually doing very well along the entire Arne peninsula with their numbers increasing by 10% per year. With no natural predators they're carefully controlled by culling during the winter months.
During the daytime they’re easiest to see grazing on the marshes however at dawn and dusk they can be seen almost anywhere. In addition to Sika there are also a few Roe Deer around. These tend to prefer areas of longer grass and the woodland edges.
Rutting begins in September and is best viewed at dawn (before the dog walkers arrive).

Sika Stag on Grip Heath  - when he started stamping his feet and tossing bits of vegetation onto his antlers I decided it was time to move on.
DSC_8866Sika Doe in summer coat, the darker one in the background has moulted into the winter coat
Eye to Eye
Rutting Stags at dawn
Is she impressed ?

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Spiders from Arne


What an amazing place. For all round interest the RSPB managed Arne peninsula is hard to beat. Initially purchased to conserve the Dartford Warbler and the Smooth snake the range of wildlife using the site is incredible.

Two of the more unusual insects recently seen include the Raft Spider seen below at Coombe Heath and the Wasp Spider.

The more common Cross or Garden Spider can be found in the thousands with at least a dozen per Gorse bush. Likewise the Common Orb Weaver. Perhaps not surprising that the area contains approximately 56 pairs of the secretive Dartford Warbler. In total we managed to see 5.


Raft Spider at Coombe Heath
Wasp Spider
Wasp Spider, Coombe Heath
Wasp Spider
Wasp Spider
Wasp Spider’s nest
Cross or garden spider
Cross or Garden Spider wrapping up an unfortunate Hoverfly
Common Orb Weaver
Orb Weaver – the photo doesn’t really do justice to the sheer size of it’s web