I'd never explored Dorset before. As someone who tries to appreciate the British Isles in all its fascinating natural variety this was perhaps an oversight but at least it has now been remedied. The holiday had been planned for months but with other things on my mind I'd not given much serious thought to what we might see while we were down there.
Sunrise over the campsite, worth the early start on that particular morning!
A week or two before we left it struck me: Dorset, South Coast, Heath land, Warmth. Reptiles - Specifically Sand Lizards and Smooth Snakes.
In fact all 6 native species of reptile had previously been recorded within a mile of our campsite, but having seen neither of the previously mentioned species in the wild they were the greatest excitement, and therefore the greatest disappointment when I returned having still not seen either of them. It is traditional to start with the bad news after all!
Continuing on that theme it turned out that at least some of those recorded sightings were on a military training ground which I could not access for obvious reasons, still others were just across a train line with an inconveniently long detour required to get to them. Further the weather wasn't ideal on several of the days I had spare time. and I missed a few other opportunities, well because I was on holiday so I wasn't going to set an alarm! The final piece of bad news is that I had it reinforced to me on several occasions that the most interesting things tend to happen when I don't have my camera with me...
A small fishing boat in Lulworth Cove, a beautiful spot, if a little busy the day we were there.
Bad news over, time for the good, the week as a whole had cracking weather, including some lovely hot days perfect for getting wet and Dorset didn't disappoint with both beautiful beaches and refreshing rivers easily accessible. It was great to spend time with my own family as well as extended family and while my ultimate goal of adding a few ticks to my 'lifetime list' didn't come about I still got to see some great wildlife and beautiful landscapes, not to mention have quality time with my wife and children: we will certainly be back to Dorset again.
Those heaths which I had looked forward to exploring turned out to be even more diverse than I had anticipated, in a way that worked against me somewhat at the time. The dry heaths I had been envisaging in the run up turned out to have large areas of wet heath, a brilliant habitat with among other interesting species Sundew, a carnivorous plant which feeds on insects (above). Having been expecting dry sandy conditions however, I hadn't packed wellies making exploring them a challenge at best and more often than not impossible!
Dragonflies were not in short supply (such as the Black Tailed Skimmer above) despite me not really being there at the right time of day. And while I never saw any Sand Lizards, I assume from some of the conservation work that the habitat is being managed for them, which means they can't be far away. In fact the only reptile I found were slow worms but these I found in abundance. I haven't seen one for years and I saw 6 or more in just two visits to that part of the heath. None of them were feeling particularly photogenic so I didn't get any great pictures but it was nice to see them and get a bit of practice in locating them effectively and sensitively so as not to disturb them.
Two slow worms do their best to not be photographed!
In mentioning the next few things you will notice a lack of supporting photographs. Some of these are because the conditions weren't right, such as the hornets nest which I identified on our first day at the campsite, nestled securely under a huge ivy plant climbing an equally large and old Oak. The regular stream of the huge insects across the campsite was a bit of a give away and I soon found the source but there was no way without a chainsaw (not on the kit list for this trip) I could have got a line of sight sufficient for a decent photo. I doubt either the campsite owner or the Hornets would have thanked me for that!
The other occasions are simply a case of me not taking the camera with me - like when trying to keep it dry I waded (paddled really) camera-less out to a small island mid stream while playing in a river with my family. No sooner had I reached the trees on the island than a Gold Crest (one of my favourite birds by the way) hopped down onto a branch not 2 feet away and calmly continued its foraging for a minute or so! No camera, no picture, but a pleasant memory for me at least. Another occasion, actually at the Hornet nest tree watching them come and go a shrew (not 100% sure which but possibly a Pygmy Shrew as it was really tiny!) worked its way down through the huge braid of ancient ivy embracing the trunk, obviously looking for its invertebrate food in amongst the crevices and under the flaking bark. Another great memory for me never to be immortalised on film (or on sensor actually in this digital age but it doesn't sound quite right).
Perhaps ironically, one of the natural highlights of the trip for me was organisms long since dead, and I mean looong since! We visited Kimmeridge, a rocky cove, part of the Jurassic Coast. Again I didn't have my 'proper' camera, again through trying to keep it dry and in this instance free of salt too, so I only have photos from my phone camera. There we saw, not only some really interesting Geological processes in action, not just amazing rock pools teeming with marine life, not only more seaweed in one place than I have pre
viously experienced (knee deep piles of it in places) but also some of the best fossils I have ever seen including huge Ammonites but of greatest interest to me that day, very clear fossils of plants (left), clearer than I can recall seeing anywhere else.
Fossils are just brilliant though, aren't they? Even if your not a nine year old boy or a palaeontologist you can't help but be amazed when you find a fossil, and wonder about exactly how it came to be where you found it, and what stories it could tell - fascinating stuff!
As this was never intended as an exhaustive diary of the week, I shall leave it there. it is however only fair to give a shout out to the campsite where we stayed: Snelling Farm, near Moreton, Dorset. Well worth a visit we thoroughly enjoyed it and will be back, both to the campsite specifically and to Dorset generally.
I hope this little update was worthwhile, I'd love to go back and have a week just to take photo's, beyond the reptiles there are also Sika Deer in the area, a species I have never photographed as well as scores of opportunities for Sea-scape photography, something I'm keen to try but located in Stoke-on-Trent don't have many opportunities! I really didn't do the heathlands full justice, especially the dragonflies and you never know, the Gold Crest or the shrew might show up again and allow me to redeem myself from my missed opportunities.