Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Dorset and Somerset Wildlife Tour

A few days away in Dorset began on May 11th with a drive to Dorchester via the coastal road which was a bit of a bust with thick coastal fog obscurring the usually amazing views. Arriving at Maiden Castle near Dorchester and it too was shrouded in mist but it did clear a little during our walk around the site. It was 20 odd years ago that we visited here before and it was as impressive now as then, an amazing Iron Age fort with huge ditches surrounding it. I had seen corn buntings here on my last visit and on getting out of the car I heard and then saw 2 singing males, 1 of the males had a presumed female in attendance nearby. I saw another 2 singing males on the walk and heard a third. It was nice to see lots of cowslips and early purple orchids in flower and I also saw a male yellowhammer, a male and 2 female wheatear and a hare being chased through a wheatfield by an out of control spaniel - it easily got away but the dogs owner took 20 or so minutes to get the dog to come back.

 Corn Bunting, Maiden Castle

 Corn Bunting, Maiden Castle 

Early Purple Orchid, Maiden Castle
Cowslip, Maiden Castle

A drive to Portland Bill was a bust too, the stunning views of Chesil Beach and The Fleet were still shrouded in fog despite it being sunny in Weymouth. It was frustrating driving past Lodmoor and Radipole nature reserves without stopping but I did get to see 5 little terns diving for fish at Ferrybridge as we drove past.

On to Cerne Abbas to see the chalk giant but he was looking a bit tatty due to the long grass obscuring the vertical lines. More cowslips and early purple orchids were on display and I caught a brief view of a dingy skipper feeding on chalk milkwort flowers.

Dingy Skipper, Cerne Abbas

May 12th began bright and sunny with a calling cuckoo heard at the B and B at Tarrant Monkton near Blandford. We headed off to Kingston Lacey to have a look around the house and gardens which was interesting despite having to go on a guided tour of the house and not seeing all of the rooms -  Mondays and Tuesdays are by guided tour only but the rest of the week is unguided and all rooms are open, most odd. Plenty of orange tips and brimstones were on the wing and I saw 2 green woodpeckers and a great spotted woodpecker in the grounds. We also visited the nearby Badbury Rings, another Iron Age fort, smaller than Maiden Castle but still impressive and a part of the Kingston Lacey estate. I saw 2 cuckoos which were resolutely silent along with a songflighting whitethroat and a pair of stonechats and it was interesting to watch a stoat hunting rabbits through the undergrowth. More cowslips and early purple orchids were in flower and I had much better views of a dingy skipper. I also saw what I think were common twyblades coming in to flower.
 Chalk Milkwort, Badbury Rings

 (Out of focus) Common Twayblade?, Badbury Rings

 Dingy Skipper, Badbury Rings

Stoat, Badbury Rings

May 13th and a trip to Stourhead in Wiltshire was interesting on a lovely sunny day. The estate is known for tree sparrows but despite searching around some farms and fields I couldn't find any. I did find a pair of spotted flycatchers around the stables, they appeared to be looking for a nest site in a large conifer tree and the male was busily "singing" his scratchy, single note song. The highlight was a large pike in the ornamental lake, the first I have ever seen.

Pike, Stourhead

May 14th and the weather was awful - cold, wet and windy - and so we visited the Haynes motor museum at Sparkford in Somerset. I wasn't particularly looking forward to it, expecting to feel like David does when I drag him around a nature reserve, but I actually really enjoyed myself. By mid afternoon it was still cool, cloudy and breezey but the rain had stopped and so we headed to Glastonbury for a walk at Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath. Arriving at the Ashcott Corner car park and a cuckoo was singing from the tree tops. Walking to the viewing platform at Ham Wall and a pair of marsh harriers flew over the reeds in what appeared to be a nest change over. From the platform 3 great white egrets were feeding in the pools with a 4th bird flying over towards Shapwick Heath. Also flying over were a common tern and a pair of bitterns in what appeared to be a territorial dispute.

 Great White Egret, Ham Wall

 Great White Egret, Ham Wall

 Bittern, Ham Wall

Bittern, Shapwick Heath

Walking back to the car park and on to Shapwick Heath and a bittern was heard booming with a bedraggled looking bird seen preening in the top of the reeds. A great white egret flew over towards Ham Wall and a male pochard and a pair of shoveler were feeding with mallards and gadwalls.

May 15th and the final day of our trip and we headed off to Sherborne Castle in Dorset where I saw a great spotted woodpecker, 3 red legged partridge, a kingfisher and a common carpet moth. Heading back to Plymouth and we stopped at Montacute House in Somerset for a look around the house and gardens, enjoying the wonderful paintings on display from the National Portrait Gallery. The wildlife highlight was a fox walking through the orchards despite having a totally bald brush.

 Common Carpet, Sherborne Castle

Fox with bald tail, Montacute House

And so it had been a very enjoyable time away and I had managed to see a good range of wildlife along with some interesting houses, gardens, castles, forts and cars!

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