Saturday, 5 May 2012

Saturday 5th. May 2012 ( Dorset - Part 1. )

Back in the depths of last Winter , when it was cold and damp , I planned a Spring visit to the Purbeck Hills in Dorset , an area that I have always wanted to visit . With reptiles and migrant birds on the 'want list' , I booked a b&b for Carol and myself at Corfe Castle , not actually in the castle but in the village that bears the same name , right in the middle of the area . After last year's incredible Spring , I went for the beginning of May , envisaging wall to wall sunshine and Mediterranean temperatures . We all know what the second half of April was like , and as last weekend approached , my dreams seemed to be in tatters as wind , rain and cool temperatures were the order of the day . It came as some surprise as we prepared to set out that the sun was actually shining , but accompanied by a very cool wind , but at least it wasn't raining , but the forecast for our four days was not encouraging . We arrived in the area still in sunshine , so I decided to make the most of the conditions and headed for RSPB Arne . It was obvious straight away that the deluges of rain recently had not escaped the area , and although the reserve is on sand and well draining under usual conditions , large puddles of water covered many of the trails and heathland areas off the main trails were also flooded . Leaving Carol with her book in the car park , I set off for a look around , with Dartford Warbler on top of my list . One of the main centres of interest , the pond where Raft Spiders can usually be found , had burst it's banks and was now just part of a flooded heathland and unapproachable , unless you happened to be wearing waders . Looking over the area of the heathland trail , I couldn't see anyone else about , and when the trail opened out , the reason became apparent , as an almost bitter wind was blowing in off the sea , ensuring that any birds were sheltering . Every
now and again , the odd call or movement , especially in sheltered dips , but all of these turned out to
be pairs of Stonechats , warning each other of my presence , then quietening down once I had passed . A very distant sighting of a Hobby , one of a pair that have returned to the site again this year , a few Corvids and the odd Linnet and I was down by the viewing screen overlooking the saltings , half way round the trail . Lots of Shellduck , a few Black-tailed Godwit and a mix of Canada and Greylag Geese were all that was seen , surprising as the tide was out with plenty of mus revealed . As I started the second part of the trail back towards the car park a movement on top of some Gorse allowed a very quick sighting of a male Dartford Warbler , but before I could raise the camera , he was gone , not to be seen again . And that was just about as exciting as the return journey got , in fact there was more birdsong in the car park than on the way around the trail , with Blackcap , Chiffchaff , Willow Warbler , Blackbird , Wren and House Sparrow all chiming in , to say nothing
of a male Peacock who had wandered in from an adjoining property , and taken up station on one of the picnic tables . With Carol happy with her book , I set off on the woodland/farmland  trail leading out from the village church . I had only just started down the track , when I heard  the sound of calling Common Buzzards somewhere beyond the trees behind the church . Eventually four birds
showed , but I only managed to get any two in the viewfinder at any one time , before two drifted over the farmland and the other two back from where they came from . The expected woodland birds started to show up , but the trail went to a high area with plenty of fence posts , but not a sign of a migrant sitting on any of them . Almost at the saltmarshes on this trail , I came across a small herd of
Sika Deer , and probably wouldn't have spotted them had one not 'barked' as I approached . The saltmarshes produced another individual grazing , two snoozing Shellduck and two Black-headed Gulls , and that was it , really worth climbing to the top floor of the hide . A few Lesser Redpoll were seen high in a Pine and a 'rattling' Mistle Thrush flew over , before a much large herd of Sika Deer , sheltering out of the wind in a field . There must have been 30/40 that I could see , all watched over
by a white stag . I read later that he isn't a true albino as he doesn't have pink eyes , and is described as a white morph . And that was it for my first much anticipated visit to Arne , the only consolation being that if I had come the previous week , I would probably have got soaked as well as not seeing much . On our way down to the b&b , we would pass the turning to Studland , another area I wanted to visit , so just went down for a quick look . Another great heathland area and beautiful sandy beach on one side of the peninsular , and a good site for Sand Lizards I had been told , but the conditions were not conducive whilst we were there , so a look at the beach and a shot of a passing
Oystercatcher , and it was off to the b&b , a meal in a local pub and fingers crossed for the weather for tomorrow , which wasn't looking too promising .
The morning dawned bright and not too windy , so after breakfast I couldn't wait to get to Durlston Country Park , on the cliffs near Swanage . Plenty of gulls about , a male Kestrel passed under me , no more than 5 metres away , but I wasn't ready for him and he was gone . Jackdaws seemed to be
nesting below and a few Carrion Crows passing by , then , a much larger Corvid flew in , a Raven . It soon became very apparent that it had not yet had it's breakfast , as it began searching the ledges that the Guillemots were nesting on , and it wasn't very long before it found what it was looking for , an
egg , which it took further along the cliffs and devoured the well formed embryo . Shortly after this , I met up with a local birder who told me that this was one of a pair that were nesting on the cliffs for the first time , which was good , but not good for the resident Guillemots , whose nests were being predated by the pair at an alarming rate . I personally saw three eggs being taken . The birder also showed me where the resident Kestrels were nesting on the cliffs , and sure enough , there was the
male I had seen earlier , on sentry duty outside the nest , and directly below him was a group of
Guillemots , no doubt discussing the thieving Ravens . Another chap came along and stopped to ask if there were any Orchids on the site , so whilst the local birder and this chap chatted , I left to look for Dartford Warbler in the thick Gorse above the cliff path , but I only found Linnets , Common Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs , but I did meet a couple of reptile enthusiasts from Derbyshire , who told me of a site that they had visited the day before , with good numbers of Sand Lizards present , a site that we had passed driving from Arne to Corfe Castle . I tried not to be too rude , but with the sun still shining , I couldn't wait to get back to the car and do some reptiling , in case it didn't last . We got there just after noon , and I set off searching , knowing that the best part of the day , the morning whilst things are warming up and the Sand Lizards do the same , was already passed . I found some good habitat for the species , sandy slopes with Gorse cover , but the lizards obviously hadn't read the script . Thinking back , yesterday was probably the first warmish day for the best part of a week , so it would have encouraged a lot of movement , but I carried on searching . Eventually
I did find a female , well camouflaged , basking just outside a rabbit hole . She allowed me a few shots before disappearing down the hole . Another half hour went by without finding any more animals , but I did see two teneral Large Red Damselflies , making their maiden flights after hatching . I decided to try my luck on the other side of the road , which was flatter and more Gorse covered . It soon became obvious that the Gorse was home to at least two pairs of Stonechats , the males noisily telling me to keep moving . I also put up a Roe Buck from a thick clump of Gorse , which barked at me as it bounded off . Then , within another stand of Gorse , I found a 3mtr. x 1 mtr.
corrugated sheet , and underneath was the first of three Smooth Snakes that I found on the site . The Smooth Snake is by far the scarcest of the three snakes in the UK , and although resembling an Adder , does not have the continuous zig-zag pattern along it's back , is not poisonous , and has a
round pupil , compared to the vertical pupil of the Adder . But , apart from a few Slow Worms , I didn't find any other reptiles on this side , so I returned back to the other side again . I must admit , I was starting to think that it was getting late in the afternoon , when , just like waiting for a bus ,
two males were found almost together , both looking very dapper in their green breeding colours . Before leaving the site as it clouded over , I found another two males and another female , I was well satisfied . We decided to head for Swanage to get an evening meal , which was a good choice as the sun was still out there , and we had a nice walk along the front and even managed to get a shot of one
of two Sandwich Terns that were noisily looking for food some way out in the bay . After the meal and heading back to the b&b , I stopped at some very good looking Barn Owl habitat . We didn't strike lucky with an Owl , but we did get two more Common Buzzards and a non-stop calling Cuckoo , which we never did get sight of .
The forecast wasn't good for the next two days , so it was back to finger crossing .
I'll write those two days up tomorrow / Monday .


Warren Baker said...

Nice read Greenie :-) Shame about the weather, but if its any consolation we're all suffering :-)

Phil said...

Shame about the weather, but it could have been worse by the sound of it Greenie. Bad luck with the Raft Spiders, I saw them there last year, super creatures. Hoping to get back to Arne in June, will be hoping to see Smooth Snake and Sand Lizards as you did.
Nice read.

ShySongbird said...

It still sounded like a very enjoyable time despite the weather not being too good Greenie. Glad you managed to find some Sand Lizards and Smooth Snakes. The male lizard was looking beautiful in his green finery.

The Stonechat photos are lovely and yes, the Guillemots do look like they are holding a meeting regarding the Raven problem!

I keep meaning to ask if Carol's foot is fully healed now?

Rob said...

If anyone can find the silver lining in a cloud, Greenie, you can - what a great haul of natural history.

We've only been to Corfe Castle once, and caught the old steam train down to Swanage - very enjoyable it was too.

Greenie said...

ShySongbird ,
Thank you for asking , but I'm afraid to say that after nearly a year , Carol is still suffering with the foot , especially at night and when walking on uneven ground , hence staying in the car whilst away .
She has been referred to a foot specialist at Guy's in London , but hasn't got an appointment yet .
Just hope it comes soon .