1 Jul 2014

1 July 14 - Lulworth Skippers On An Old Patch

Before I moved to Dorset, I spent the previous few years birding heavily in Spring & Autumn around St Aldhelms Head and it's neighbouring valleys: Seacombe, Winspit & Chapmans Pool. Many of the non local birders who were birding/twitching 20 years ago will know Winspit better as 'The Bluetail' valley as this was the site of the first mainland twitchable Bluetail. These days Bluetail numbers have increased & there are a few each Autumn, mainly on the East coast. After moving down, I carried on birding this area for a few years, before trying Durlston & finally switching to Poole Harbour. The whole area is still good for birding, but it a large area & hard to work. It also tends to be an area that is best in the migration periods. However, interest was raised, when Dorset birder George Green was out walking & came across a Swallowtail Butterfly & missed another two. It seemed very likely to be a local hatching from a Swallowtail that made it to the area & bred. Therefore, I was up there the following morning to look for them. By 10:00 the sun was hazy, but finally came out strongly later in in the afternoon. However, the steady 10 knot wind wasn't helping. I abandoned the search after 5 hours of looking without having seen any Swallowtails. But it was a great day & plenty of other Butterflies & other wildlife on view. It is also a good place for great views. I will come back at some point in the future with more of the history associated with the Chapel & Radar Memorial. But this post covers the other species seen on the first attempt to see a local continental Swallowtails.
St Aldhelms Chapel: This is a 13th Century Norman chapel
St Aldhelms Chapel: What a stunning ceiling
St Aldhelms Chapel: It's dark inside as the only window is a small slit window and light from the door
The Radar Memorial: This memorial, unveiled in Oct 2001, commemorates the work to develop new radar equipment by the RAF between May 1940 & May 1942. About 200 scientists were initially involved, but this had grown to 2000 people when they relocated to Malvern two years later. The main radar base was close to the Renscombe Farm car park for St Aldhelms Head
The Coastguard Lookout: This is run by volunteers from the National Coastguard Institution. There are stunning views from here. Wish there was a seawatching lookout next door
This is the seawatching site: I've never been down, but my mate Steve Morrison has spent a lot of  time seawatching from down here & reckons it's really good. It looks too much of a steep scramble for me to want to try it
The Coastguard Cottages: These cottages were formally occupied by coastguard staff, but are now privately owned. They must have some rough nights in the Winter storms
A few hundred metres East of the Coastguard lookout, there are steps down into a quarry with some overgrown ruined buildings in them. This is a great place to have a look around. It always looks like it ought to have a skulking rare Warbler or a Wryneck in it, but I've yet to find any good birds there, despite a lot of looking. But it is very sheltered & is good for Butterflies, Orchids & the occasional Wall Lizard.
How good goes this quarry look for a rare bird?
Another view from inside the quarry
On each visit, I'm pleased to see these stones are still standing
Looking East to the Durlston lighthouse: This is the Eastern part of the Jurassic World Heritage Coastline. The grey shape in the far distance are the cliffs of the Isle of Wight over 25 miles away
There was a good selection of Butterflies in the quarry, enjoying being in the sun & out of the wind.
Common Blue: Everybody likes to see photos of nice fresh Butterflies, but here is an old pensioner for a change. I think it's a Common Blue (rather than an Adonis Blue) based upon general colouration, but all the white fringes have worn off, as have the orange markings on the underwing (thus making it harder to figure out)
Marbled White: On Thrift (I think) with a Meadow Brown back on 
Lulworth Skipper: This is a local speciality which occurs from Portland to the Purbeck coastline. They are rarely seen away from the coast, but are locally common on the coastal Downlands
Lulworth Skipper: Female. Lulworth Skippers are smaller than Large Skippers (about the same size as Small Skippers) & have superficially similar markings of light & dark orange brown on the wing. But overall they are a dull Skipper compared to Large Skippers
Lulworth Skipper: Female have this back to front ? mark on the forewings
Large Skipper: Male. Note the more contrasting & brighter markings. The strong black line in the middle of the forewing indicates this is a male
Large Skipper: Male. What I like about the camera is all those little things I've never noticed in the field - check out those hooked antennae. I wonder what the significance of the shape
Six-spot Burnet: Taking full advantage of the Pyramidal Orchid's beauty to get onto this blog. Nice & easy to identify & a common Downland species
Pyramidal Orchid: A quick scan indicated there were over 60 in the quarry
It's just starting to get to the time of year when the Bush Crickets & Grasshoppers start becoming more obvious. So that's another insect group that is likely to feature a bit more on the blog in the coming weeks as not surprisingly Dorset is home to many of the UK species.
Great Green Bush Cricket: Female nymph. This is the largest of the UK resident Orthoptera. This one is a large nymph which is why I initially assumed it would be a Specked Bush Cricket 
Great Green Bush Cricket: Female nymph. It kept hiding on the back of the grasses, but then sat quite happily once an alternative perch was provided. The long straight ovipositor at the end of the abdomen indicates it's a female & also it's a Great Green Bush Cricket. Specked Bush Cricket would be more speckled overall & would have a broad, upturned sickle-shaped ovipositor
Meadow Grasshopper
It is not unusual to see helicopters flying around the Purbeck coastline: today was no exception.
Coastguard helicopter: This is an essential safety net for the thousands of sailors in the English Channel as well as a number of unfortunate coastal climbers. Therefore, it's frustrating to see the current government is intent on closing the Portland Coastguard helicopter base in the next 3 or 4 years to save an absolute pittance of government's annual budget. No doubt the ministers who took the decision will be 100% safe in a different job when the first lives are lost as a result of their decisions
Royal Navy Lynx helicopter: Again a fairly common sight locally