May 2021

Shears was new for the year in our moth trap on Monday 31st and a visit to Kingcombe Meadows later in the morning was a relief from the queues of Bank Holiday traffic heading for the coast in more warm sunshine. An hour and a half walking through the meadows and lanes of the reserve served to confirm that although it is warm at present we have had only five days of good weather and everything is held back as a result. In fact we saw only 7-8 Common Blues and 3 Beautiful Demoiselles along the river and Early Purple Orchids were in much the same condition as would be expected in early May. A Spotted Flycatcher was also doing its thing over the river near the field centre.

Although the night was quieter, a pristine Lime Hawk-moth, Gold Spot and Common Wave were new for the year in the moth trap on Sunday 30th. For the rest of the day we decided on a visit to the RSPB reserve at Arne, which was initially cooler than yesterday, but warmed considerably as the breeze dropped away. Avian interest started with a Nuthatch in the car park, several Siskins flying over, excellent views of at least one singing Dartford Warbler, a Tree Pipit and, as we prepared to leave, a Hobby circling over the car park. For lunch, we raided from the already denuded shelves at the supermarket in Wareham and spent a very pleasant and very warm hour or so having a picnic by the river Frome, in the company of some Hemlock Water-dropwort, Cuckoo Flower, Aquatic Mint and a Water Ermine moth.

Dartford Warbler

Friday 28th. After yesterday’s sea-change in the weather, five new moth species for the year from last night’s efforts included Waved Umber, Poplar Hawk-moth, Buff-tip, Treble Lines and Rustic Shoulder-knot. Here’s Georgie the Cat in her latest tribute to the work of Henri Rousseau.

Thursday 27th. Sunshine! At last, a cloud-free morning that was actually warm. A walk through the village and up to Top Hill, the south-facing slope above, confirmed that for butterflies recovery from this dreadful spring is going to be a slow affair, with only Holly Blue and Orange Tip in the village and a Large White on the ridge itself. However, at least 8 Silver Y moths were disturbed from the masses of Red Campion and Knapweed. The afternoon brought another addition to our expanding garden list with the visit of a Common Blue, together with a female Muslin Moth; all those we have trapped have been males.

After so much cool, wet and windy recent weather it was not surprising to find only one Muslin in the moth trap on Wednesday 26th but the positive news was that today is to be the start of something more like spring. However, like a recalcitrant child, a midday shower put paid to the notion that all would go smoothly, a bit like the insolent tail-flick given by a cat when it has been caught doing something bad. Still, in some afternoon sunshine a Holly Blue turned up in the garden – our sixth species there so far – and as we settled down for the night two bats were whizzing to and fro against a very nice sunset.

Tuesday 25th. A walk from the Elm Tree down to The Fleet and along to Rodden Hive. In bright conditions with a freshening W breeze and a few spots of rain as I got back to the car it was fairly uneventful, save for a Wall Brown and an Orange Tip, a Lesser Whitethroat singing from scrub at the edge of The Fleet and a Sparrowhawk in the village.

Having got two days of complete vileness out of the way Sunday 23rd was still breezy but worth taking a look at the sea off Portland Bill. What we saw was doubtless routine fare for the locals, but a constant procession of Guillemots and Razorbills, with small numbers of Gannets, a couple of parties of Kittiwakes, 11 Common Scoter and a single Manx Shearwater kept us very happy for an hour or so.

We met a few birders who told us of a Spoonbill and a first winter Bonaparte’s Gull at Lodmoor, so on the way to buy stuff to stock up our new fridge/freezer we dropped in to the reserve and had very good views of both, along with a Marsh Harrier and some pleasantly helpful locals.

Guillemot and Razorbill

Thursday 20th. With the forecast for the next couple of days being a return to the wet and windy weather that has characterised much of May, our moth trap showed tentative signs of a long-awaited improvement. Although there were only 12 moths there were 10 species; our first double-figure species count of the year so far. They included a Scalloped Hazel, which we failed to record back in Sandwich, Pebble Prominent, Red Twin-spot Carpet, Pale Tussock and a Marbled Minor type.

A Red Kite flew W along the ridge opposite at 0955 on Wednesday 19th and in good sunshine we headed off to Cerne Hill again to try our luck with Duke of Burgundy. Well, it didn’t quite equal the six hours I spent trying to see my first ever Bar-tailed Desert Lark at Km33 in Israel but it did take two hours before we found this little beauty ….

Duke of Burgundy

10 moths of 6 species were in the trap on Tuesday 18th, including our first micro, the migrant Rusty-dot Pearl, and three macros new for the year: Peppered Moth, Heart & Dart and Swallow Prominent.

The rest of the morning was reasonably bright, ahead of yet more rain in the afternoon, giving us the chance to look at Higher Hyde Heath NR, east of Dorchester. We were guided by an American voice on Google Maps that got us there but which memorably mangled some place names on the way, particularly Dick O’ Th’ Banks Road. This was early in the season for a site that comes into its own in the summer, but avian interest included 2-3 singing Woodlarks, an overflying Siskin, 1-2 singing Tree Pipits, a superb male Stonechat and, probably the least common of all these days, a singing Willow Warbler. Very few butterflies were on show, but 4-5 Common Heath moths were flitting around in the heather and a Large Red Damselfly was basking on some gorse.

Higher Hyde Heath NR

A sunny morning on Monday 17th prompted a walk along the dismantled railway line at the bottom of the lane, but in 35 minutes only singles of Orange Tip, Holly Blue and Speckled Wood showed themselves. We were also treated to the sight of a Carrion Crow anting on our lawn, picking up an ant in its bill and transferring it onto its back or rump, which it did several times in the two or three minutes that we watched.

Sunday 16th had an inauspicious start, with a tap, tap, tap on the window at 2am. Not Greta Garbo, but heavy rain that forced an end to our moth trapping efforts for the night. Then, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, inspection of the trap in daylight revealed only flies. The remainder of the day consisted of hoping in vain that occasional patches of blue sky would overtake the more or less persistent soggy gloom.

It was mostly dull all morning on Saturday 15th, but as brighter spots developed we decided to visit Cerne Hill, in the hope of finding Duke of Burgundy. We passed through some heavy rain on the way, which had eased considerably when we arrived and at 1245 we were treated to a 30 minute window of warm sunshine, after which cloud took over and the temperature fell by several degrees. Hopefully the people we met on the way back to the car avoided the torrential downpours that accompanied our drive home. Although we found no Dukes there were plenty of Grizzled and Dingy Skippers and singles of Small Heath, Green Hairstreak and, best of all, a pristine Marsh Fritillary.

Marsh Fritillary

Friday 14th.

There has been talk lately of Painted Lady butterflies being seen along the south coast so it wasn’t an enormous surprise to find 2 Silver Y moths inside the trap this morning. The catch was the best so far this month, which is not saying much, amounting to a heady 12 moths of 5 species. Intoxicated by our success we wandered off to Langdon Herring, walking down to The Fleet and along to Rodden Hive before returning for a very pleasant lunch at the Elm Tree. The avian highlight here was a Spotted Flycatcher, catching insects from a lovely umbellifer-fringed hedgerow, but the outstanding numbers of cowslips that dotted the slopes along the way recalled the days when I was much younger and they were common in Kent. The sun came out while we lunched so we decided to take a look at Lorton Meadows, a DWT reserve near Weymouth, which was quiet for insects, though we did find a freshly-emerged Small Copper.

Cowslip

Two days ago Thursday 13th was forecast to be rainy all day but in the event dawned dry, if still too much like an early summer day in Greenland. We decided visit Ferrybridge for waders on the falling tide. Unfortunately, being new to the place, we had failed to realise that high tide at The Fleet is an hour later than at Weymouth and even after three hours of waiting no waders had appeared. Apparently they are rather fickle in their habits and tend to favour highs that are closer to first light, which minimise disturbance. Still, we had time to watch the comings and goings of the inhabitants of the nearby Little Tern colony, a species I haven’t seen for four years, while about 6 Wheatears were kicking about.

So, off we went to Lyme Regis, along the undulating and winding coast road, where after a brief shower we walked around the harbour, finding 20 or so Turnstones, 3 Sanderling and a few Dunlins feeding on seaweed deposited on the beach just outside the harbour wall, A few Rock Pipits were making use of the boulders at the mouth of the rushing outfall, as was a Grey Wagtail.

With our friend Sandy (nothing to do with Round the Horne) down for a few days we decided to make Wednesday 12th a day to visit Sculpture at the Lakes, an exhibition of sculptures at Pallington Lakes, east of Dorchester. Apart from the quality of the exhibits there was also some interesting wildlife in a lovely setting, including Cuckoo, at least 2 Siskins and a good selection of singing warblers. Before we set out from Coryates a party of 7 Whimbrel flew in from the west and settled among the cattle on the hill opposite; a most unexpected garden tick.

Our moth trapping stutters on and new species for the year on Tuesday 11th, mostly on the lawn around the trap, were White Ermine and Green Carpet. Numbers remain excruciatingly low, however.

Green Carpet

Chores done, we decided on Monday 10th on an afternoon visit to Lodmoor; a site new to both of us. The wind had died away appreciably and walking around the reserve was very pleasant, although butterflies remained scarce, with just 2 Peacocks and a Small Tortoiseshell on view. A party of 5 Bar-tailed Godwits was feeding in the shallows close to the gull and tern islands, where Common Terns and Black-headed Gulls were busy making as much noise as possible and a small group of Sandwich Terns were loafing close by. About 50 Swifts were constantly in view over the reed beds, a Lesser Whitethroat sang briefly and Cetti’s and Reed Warblers did their best to keep up.

Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th continued the unsettled spell, with strong winds on Saturday and drizzly, overcast weather on Sunday. Still, it gave us the chance to finish off our unpacking and get the cottage into something resembling home and although it took three days to do so I reckon we did remarkably well. So well, in fact, that we celebrated with a glass or two of quite acceptable Tannat red, all the way from Uruguay. Well, from Aldi down the road in Chickerell to be accurate.

Sika deer in the field opposite

Friday 7th dawned bright but cold, with an empty moth trap after a miserly 4.2°C overnight. However, a Sedge Warbler was chuntering from the elm hedge bordering our garden and as we optimistically inspected the trays a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over the house.

With a very light breeze and plenty of sunshine it felt a good deal more pleasant than for much of the spring, though as we neared Butterfly Conservation’s Alners Gorse butterfly reserve it began to cloud over and sunshine was intermittent. 2 Nightingales were singing lustily from the scrub and we had good views of a Garden Warbler, singing at the edge of a clearing, but for butterflies it was fairly quiet, with ones and twos of Brimstone, Peacock, Holly Blue, Speckled Wood, Green-veined White and Orange Tip. However, we bumped into Martin Warren who suggested we take a look at the west-facing slope of Cerne Hill, where Grizzled Skipper had been in good numbers the previous week, so off we went, arriving at 1230.

Several people were out and about searching the base of the hill and we quickly encountered Dingy Skipper, of which there were easily a dozen, along with 3 Green Hairstreaks, a Brimstone and, after half an hour or so of searching, the first of 3 Grizzled Skippers.

Back at Coryates in mid-afternoon it was starting to cloud over but our first Wall Brown of the year was basking on the path by the side of the cottage.

Grizzled Skipper at Cerne Hill

Wednesday 5th was the day our furniture and possessions arrived and Thursday 6th was a case of rescuing ourselves from the mess, which at times resembled a re-make of a Bruce Willis-type post-devastation movie. The forecast was for a good day on Friday so we resolved to take a break and spend some time looking for butterflies.

The previous night’s storm had abated to a mere gale with gusts to 52 mph by dawn and Tuesday 4th was a case of gradual improvement. A party of 7 Swifts flew across the valley with 5 House Martins but by and large everything was keeping its head down.

Monday 3rd began with a light NW breeze and good, if not warm sunshine. Our first moth trapping session produced just seven moths of three species – Muslin, Brimstone and Hebrew Character – though this was typical of the dreadful start to the year felt by everyone from Cornwall to Kent. At 0630 a small party of warblers made their way N along the lane outside, among which were Blackcap and Whitethroat. Pulses of Swallows started to move through from mid-morning ahead of some very windy weather that steadily increased during the afternoon to reach a heady 67 mph overnight.

Sunday 2nd was our long-awaited moving day. Packing as much as we could into our car and making Georgina as comfy as possible in her basket we set out at 0615. It proved to be the best journey we have had from Kent to Dorset and we arrived at 0930, well ahead of the usual 3¾ – 4 hours.

One of our new neighbours in the field opposite

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