Tuesday 31st. Small Elephant Hawk-moth was the latest addition to our year list last night and prior to visiting Simon Fairlie with a view to purchasing a scythe for our meadow we decided to visit the DWT reserve at South Poorton near Bridport on the way. Well, all the plans of mice being what they are we failed to find the reserve in the maze of narrow lanes surrounding Powerstock and eventually parked in the village and walked up the hill from the stream that runs through the valley, so we can’t have been too far away. As luck would have it we chanced upon the Marquis of Lorne on top of the hill at Nettlecombe and with sullen clouds approaching we stopped off for lunch, which took as long as it did for the rain to pass. We walked back in warm sunshine, found Simon in part of the old rectory at Monkton Wyld Court near Charmouth and returned home equipped with our brand new grass-cutting equipment.
Saturday 28th. The moth trap produced little of interest but as the day warmed to 18°C our Brown Argus was joined by another in a total of eight butterfly species for the day. These also included a Painted Lady and the first spring brood Small Tortoiseshell of the year.
Friday 27th. A Privet Hawk-moth was our 100th macro species for the year; pretty amazing when set against the total of only 38 at the end of May last year.
Thursday 26th. Results from our moth trap continue to reflect the relatively benign night-time temperatures, with Snout and Common Swift new for the year. However, daytime values remain stubbornly mediocre, not helped recently by fresh winds and overcast conditions. As a sign of things to come, hopefully, the sun appeared in the afternoon, encouraging a Speckled Wood into the garden; butterfly species #13 for the year so far, plus another Hobby, hunting over the valley.
Tuesday 24th. With a strong wind blowing at dusk yesterday we decided not to operate the moth trap. However, there was adequate compensation later in the morning in the shape of some notable bird of prey activity, coinciding as with last year with cutting for silage, which took place yesterday up on Tatton hill. In half an hour from 1040 at least 4 Buzzards were floating about, a Red Kite flew west up the valley, a Hobby flew west along the inland ridge and 15 Swifts also flew west.
Monday 23rd. There is clearly a fair bit of moth immigration taking place at present and last night brought very early records of the migrants Vestal and Gem, together with our first Elephant Hawk-moth for the year.
Sunday 22nd. Although the last couple of nights have been quieter for moths, last night brought our first ever Small Angle Shades and a pristine example at that. Calm and with bright sunshine it seemed ideal to head for Broadcroft Quarry on Portland to look for butterflies, but as we crossed the causeway from Ferrybridge a shroud of fog cloaked the harbour and the cliffs above. However, it had started to burn off as we arrived and we spent a very enjoyable hour and a half, finding Small Blue and Small Heath for the first time this year and a couple of very smart Mother Shipton and Burnet Companion moths. Surprises for the day were not over, though, as we found a Six-spot Burnet nectaring on field scabious on our meadow at home.
Friday 20th. A calm, overcast night was the best of the year so far, bringing 77 moths of 38 species, including Light Emerald, Flame and Vine’s Rustic, plus a couple of immigrant Rush Veneers and a Diamond-back. However, it didn’t take long for rain to set in and even if it was light it was the last thing Martin will have wanted with silaging to be done. However, none of this deterred a Great Spotted Woodpecker from visiting our feeders; the 14th species to do so.
Thursday 19th. Showers continued from late yesterday afternoon into the night and the damp, misty conditions produced the best night of the year so far, with 50 macros of 30 species, including Grey/Dark Dagger. Clouded Silver. Clouded-bordered Brindle and Common Carpet. Not to be outdone, the striking micro Alabonia geoffrella was in the front garden when the sun appeared. The photograph below was taken at St.Margaret’s in June 2019.
Tuesday 17th. Our mothing efforts continue to be in almost total contrast to last spring. A calm, warm night brought six new species for the year: Straw Dot, Purple Bar, Common Wainscot, Mottled Pug, Cinnabar and only our second Coryates record of Pinion-streaked Snout. The morning warmed nicely, encouraging a Painted Lady to visit the garden; our 11th butterfly species this year so far. While searching for more butterflies I heard a distinctive mellow ‘prrp’ coming from above and scanning around found a Bee-eater hunting insects about 200 feet up. It spent about two minutes in view/earshot but by the time I’d got Karen to try to see it it had disappeared. While scanning my first Coryates Swift of the year rattled by and a Linnet flew over; a species that has been surprisingly absent since a few migrants moved through in April.
Saturday 14th. To great scenes of celebration, Marbled Minor was new for the year in this morning’s moth catch. With Sandy down for the weekend we decided to spend the day at Abbotsbury, visiting the Swannery in the morning then the subtropical gardens in the afternoon with lunch at The Swan in between. None of us realised, but the view from the top of Magnolia Walk was voted third best view in Britain in Country Life magazine. Good though it undoubtedly is I can’t help thinking that its readers should probably get out more, having placed a view of Salisbury Cathedral in first place and a view across Derwent Water in second.
Friday 13th. It’s a month since my release from Moorfields after my eye operation, celebrated by the capture of our first Pale Tussock and Scorched Wing this year, even though windy nights are currently supressing numbers significantly. The rest of the day became increasingly breezy but before it got up seriously we were treated to the welcome sight of a female Orange Tip at the honesty that we planted last year.
Wednesday 11th. Monday night was the warmest night of the year so far at 13.1°C and despite being rather breezy by dawn still turned up our first V-Pug, along with an initially confusing Treble Lines f.obscura (which has only two bars) and Small Fan-foot. As for this morning, Small Square-spot was in the trap after a breezy night that contributed only six moths to this month’s efforts. The rest of the morning was increasingly windy and overcast with some much-needed rain either side of midday.
Monday 9th. Last night’s brisk easterly wind turned out to be the double-edged sword that it often is, reducing our catch to 11 moths of 10 species but enticing two Light Brocades to the trap, presumably from the heaths to the east of us.
Sunday 8th. Last night’s moth trap continued the good start to May with species new for the year in Buff-tip, Common Marbled Carpet and Pale Mottled Willow and while checking the contents a Yellow Wagtail flew over.
Being the final day of Karen’s week’s holiday we decided to visit the food fair at Shaftesbury, which was pretty much cheeses and cider! However, despite all the weekend shenanigans we had superb views over Blackmore Vale from the small town museum.
Saturday 7th. Last night’s mothing was a bit more subdued than Thursday, but still brought new species for Dorset in Small Phoenix and Chocolate-tip. We have added 18 macros for the year in the six days of May so far and now need only 19 more to reach 300 for the county. A Common Blue became butterfly species #10 for the garden this year and after a visit to Portesham for their coffee morning we headed off to Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens. Despite the fact that it was midday there was plenty of bird song, notably from Blackcaps which seemed to be everywhere and Firecrest, which we found in three places, involving at least five individuals.
Friday 6th. This morning’s first surprise was a Lesser Whitethroat that sang briefly while I was getting the moth trap in. In the trap six new species for the year included Silver-ground Carpet, Lime-speck and Brindled Pugs, the latter new for Dorset, Engrailed, Clouded Border and Peppered Moth in a catch of 20 macro species. Also of note were another Cockchafer and the impressive burying beetle Nicrophorus humator.
We settled on Ferrybridge for our first birding spot and quickly found at least 20 Little Terns in the nesting area along The Fleet, while 10 Wheatears, a Whimbrel and 3 Dunlins were also present; a predictably poor return for a mid-morning high tide with the attendant disturbance. Our next stop was Broadcroft Quarry, still one of my favourite spots on Portland despite the fact that it is still being worked and is noisier than those that have been worked out. Large areas of horseshoe vetch testified to the management of the ranker areas of grassland that has taken place and although it is still quite early in the season we still came across a good variety of butterflies, including Common Blue and Dingy Skipper, as well as several Wall Browns. 2 singing Lesser Whitethroats greeted us as we entered the quarry and other migrants included a singing Willow Warbler and our first Swift of the year.
Thursday 5th. A late night with Angus and Sue meant that the trap didn’t go on until past 10 but its contents this morning still contained our first White-point for the year. We decided to talk the circuit around Lodmoor and although it was probably quiet by the standards of the regulars we still added a singing Lesser Whitethroat, a summer-plumage Turnstone and a flyover Yellow Wagtail. A male Marsh Harrier put in a couple of appearances, a Greenshank was among small numbers of waders and a Water Rail squealed from the dyke at the western edge of the reserve.
Wednesday 4th. Last night’s moth trap attracted 47 macros of 17 species, including firsts for the year in Poplar Hawk-moth, Rustic Shoulder-knot and Common Pug. Having failed in our efforts to visit Sculptures on the Lake yesterday we tried again and whoopee! The walk around the site in mostly warm sunshine was notable mainly for insects, with Scarce Chaser and Hairy Dragonfly the only Odonata and butterflies including my first Red Admiral of the year. On our way to Bridport we stopped off at Maiden Castle and added Corn Bunting to our Dorset list, as well as the (presumably introduced and embarrassing to admit) Greylag Geese at Tincleton.
Tuesday 3rd. The stark contrast with the same time last year continues, with another good moth catch, this time amounting to 32 macros of 17 species, including Red Twin-spot Carpet, Heart & Dart, a pristine Yellow-barred Brindle and Blood-vein. We had intended to visit Sculptures on the Lake but arrived to find it closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so headed off to the nearby DWT reserve at Higher Hyde Heath. A Garden Warbler was singing by the car park and a walk around the circular route, mainly following woodland at the edge of the open heath added Willow Warbler, several Siskins, at least 2 singing Treecreepers and an overflying Woodlark. Out on the heath we added several Tree Pipits and 2 pairs of Stonechats, heading back just after midday as shower clouds built ominously around us, though they never came to much on the drive home.