Archives for the month of: May, 2014

As dawn broke and James’ body returned to a working temperature we began the day. I did my morning ablutions, which when staying in a car consists of spraying oneself with an unhealthy amount of deodorant and hoping no one looks at you for the rest of the day. I may have been putrefying. I think at one point my sweat glands were hissing like overworked kettles.

I’m not sure how long we spent wandering around the reserve waiting for reptiles to appear but at some they did and we looked at them, including a very confiding sand lizard.

Sand Lizard - Dorset

This broad-bodied chaser was also understanding of our plight.

Broad-Bodied Chaser - Dorset

After throwing in another smooth snake, common lizard, grass snake, sika deer and downy emerald we made for Wareham Forest.

Sika Deer - Dorset
With some basic maps and directions we stumbled down a forest path to find, what I believe, is our first introduced plant twitch, if you can call it that. I’m not entirely sure on the history of pitcher plants at the site but there were several “colonies” over a small area and they seemed to be in rather rude health.
Introduced Pitcher Plant Colony - Dorset

After our shortest stay at a site we quickly hightailed it, briefly passing through a cloud of pure evil which burnt off my nostril hairs and a healthy amount of skin.

Cerne abbas is best known for having a large fella waving his bits and pieces around. Pagans are into it but pagans are into all sorts of shit. I saw some praying at a pond with a burst lining the other day. The best thing about Cerne Abbas, much more so than chalk penises, are the butterflies. It hosts Duke of Burgundy, marsh fritillary, adonis blue and grizzled skipper. The last one was completely new for us, causing much glee and giddiness.

Grizzled skipper - Dorset

Several stands of early purple orchid began a trend for the day.
Early Purple Orchid - Cerne Abbas

After chatting to a few photographers, seeing a new moth in form of Pyrausta nigricans and some beautiful demoiselles by a nearby stream we made haste and after some debate a new location was plugged into the sat nav. Besides an unassuming section of motorway in Somerset James showed me some rather unusual orchids.

Bee x Fly Orchid - Somerset
 

Bee x Fly Orchid - Somerset

We drove by stonehenge. I bet there were pagans there, trying to work out what date it is.

Then we looked for dragonflies. We didn’t see them. Not much point mentioning it in this blog. If I start listing things which didn’t happen this post would take even longer. Although I can see these following things didn’t happen:
– I fell over on some railway tracks and a bolt hits my mouth, driving a tooth free in a flash of screams and spraying blood
– Whilst climbing up a steep chalk-lined hill my foot slips into a rabbit hole, snapping my femur. I also stand in a nest of baby rabbits.
– I find a plastic bag filled with £20 notes. There is only a bit of blood on them.

Luckily the site without any dragonflies was close to a site with orchids. 2 orchids in fact. 2 orchids which we hadn’t seen before and their hybrids.

Monkey Orchid

Lady x Monkey orchid

Lady Orchid

We admired their glory, toyed with a rhinoceros beetle or two then it was time for me to head home. We had 3 hours to make an hour and a half journey and catch my train home. Brilliant. Enough spare time to watch the first half of 2 movies. Unfortunately, due to diversions and selfish, horrifying traffic accidents, it took 3 hours and 1 minute to get to Bedfordshire. Very luckily the train was 2 minutes late, so after much hand-wringing and swearing at law-abiding drivers I got onto to the train with 60 seconds to spare, smelling like a bag of hospital waste topped off with cat piss.

Having woken refreshed from a nice 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep and myself briefly wrestling with a un-openable packet of shower gel we set about to conquering the previous days omission; green lizard. Now we specifically knew what time the lizards started to become active saved us several hours of fruitless searching.

As we strolled down the ravine James spotted this bombastic beauty
Cream Spot Tiger - Dorset

Our first new lepidopteran of the trip and a rather covetous species and that. A couple were found and the cool morning made them easy to photograph while joggers did their best to upend us.

We began our search for green lizard looking for searching some key features we were told to find. This proved more difficult than we first thought as we searched the recesses behind the chalets while trying to remain inconspicuous. I imagine we failed miserably at this but no one said anything so kudos to us. Flipping over some roof tiles found us a lovely rosy woodlouse and a southern coast speciality I had hoped for. Native cockroaches. I’m still not sure which of the 3 British species we encountered but my hunch is tawny cockroach. They are remarkably charming and I wholeheartedly recommend looking for them if you are in the vicinity.

Back on lizard search we discovered some black pieces of wood which matched pictures we had seen. Based on our CSI style level of forensic work we determined this would be a good place to focus on. James hoisted himself onto the cliffs while I scanned around from the bottom.   After a few false starts James hollered down, saying there was one just in front of him. I scrambled into action. Sadly, James is a lot stronger than me so I struggled to pull myself up the wall. James is freakishly strong though. I saw him punch through a bank. Another time he tried to take a thorn from a lions paw and he kicked it to death instead. Another time he spat a cherry stone over a church only for it to enter orbit then kill George Clooney. Another time he read all of English literature in a day. That’s not a feat of strength but still beyond impressive. He may also have a demon’s heart.

I’m just to give a little more background to our search here. Having failed the day before, we studied the photos available to us online. After forensically examining the materials the lizards were basking on, along with the surrounding vegetation, we narrowed the search area down. Robert discovered a piece of dark wood which he was convinced was some sort of sign or symbol. As it transpired, he was correct. I clambered around the shifting sand, eyeing up suitable bits of dark wood. They all looked pretty much perfect, lacking only their lizardy mounts. Curses. I kept scrambling. After ten minutes of search I felt downhearted. I looked further up the slope. The terrain looked particularly awkward, but I decided to give it a go. I stretched out my arm to the nearest handhold of grass, and suddenly noticed there was a green lizard directly in front of my hand. It had been in my eye-line for some time, but it blended in delightfully with the fresh green of the grass. It was only when I started to move that my brain interpreted the shape correctly and it popped into clarity. I then immediately got Robert’s attention through arm gestures and very gentle hollering. I don’t have a demon’s heart, by the way, I have half of a dragon’s heart. I’m like David Thewlis in Dragonheart, only marginally less arrogant.

Anyway, as I managed to pull myself up and get within a short distance of the lizard, a van pulled up at the base of the cliffs. He asked what we were doing. We said we were looking at a lizard and wouldn’t be long. He got back in his van and waited. I managed to get this picture before the guilt of a security guard waiting to make sure we don’t die in a crumpled heap forced us down.
Green Lizard - Dorset
Not long after taking that picture the lizard shot off into the undergrowth and I started to make my down. The vanning gentleman pootled along on his vanly way. I then realised that one my legs wasn’t working. Not sure why and it certainly didn’t hurt, but one muscle in my upper leg decided that it was done for the day. The moral of the story is do exactly what you want just tell the security guard you will be done shortly. I can confirm that this works for burglary as well. I remember stealing a sapphire the size of a duck’s egg from a French casino and the guard was all like “Hey, whatcha doin’?”, and I was like “I’m just stealing this sapphire the size of a duck’s egg, I’ll be quick” and he was like “Urgh, it’d better be” and he rolled his eyes.

Having filled our mucky chops with lizard goodness we headed to Higher Hyde Heath. It’s a reserve which seems to be a mix of old woodland, heath and brownfield. It was heaving with rare treats and delights and boasts every single native reptile. We found this slow worm with blue specks which, for whatever reason, aren’t showing. Still, it’s a slow worm and we can all agree it’s the best reptile.
Slow Worm - Dorset

We also enjoyed numerous sand lizards. Vowing to return the next morning before the heat got everything worked up we went to Kimmeridge for some rockpooling. I’m a rank amateur when it comes to rockpooling so it was an afternoon of roasting in the afternoon sun whilst James pointed at things and I believe everything he said about them. Despite that I managed to see around 20 species I hadn’t before.

Shanny - Dorset
Rock-Pooling haul - Kimmeridge
Velvet Swimming Crab

If you stand around long enough with a box of animals eventually the curiosity of passers by will overwhelm them into asking what you’ve got. I think I spent half an hour passing crabs between children. Jesus, that was a poorly worded sentence. I spent half an hour informing children about crabs. Better but misleading. I said stuff about crustaceans to children. That will do for now. Another child claimed that starfish were “his worst enemy” because “they stick to you forever”. He was delightfully stubborn but possibly an idiot. To this very day I have never found out why he considered them his nemesis.

Some ice creams and sunburn later we were on our way to our final site for the day to look for orchids. There may have been a small stop on the journey so James could vandalise the promotional efforts of a particular political party. The memory is a bit hazy but I’m certain he shouted “VIVA LA REVOLUTION” as he did it. If I had been in France during WW2, I’d have definitely joined the resistance. Anyway, who’s complaining about a ruined UKIP sign? I hear Farage likes to throw darts a schoolchilden. And he only eats bombay mix, even though he hates it.

At Durlston County Park we spoke to a nice, informed man about the possibility of seeing early spider orchid. He basically said “Fat chance suckas” before punching a jukebox into life. He obviously didn’t but mentioned seeing a lot of other nice things to make up for it. There will be a post coming up about what makes a good reserve warden/information assistant. It could be scathing.

It didn’t take long for us to find a few blue blobs on some downland which were new for both me and James. Adonis Blue.
Adonis Blue - Dorset

Durlston also provided a welcome bit of botany in the form of Early Gentian. Neither Robert or I are ‘hardcore’ as far as plants are concerned (we’d certainly never drive to Fair Isle to twitch an unusual seed that had blown across from foreign climes, as some people presumably do) but we’ll happily admire an unusual plant. The gentian was eclipsed, however, by Robert’s magnificent discovery of a Bloody Nosed Beetle, so named because of all the bar fights it gets into. Bloody Nosed Beetles combine several delightful features that make them very endearing. They are big, but slow moving. I’d go so far to say that they plod along, lost in their daydreams. They are basically made of rounded ball shapes, which gives them the appearance of an animated character. They also have big stupid feet, like a tiny six-legged puppy. I adored it. It was essentially a real-life pokemon.

We were also brilliant enough to find a pair of Lesser Bloody Nosed Beetles. They are essentially the same as a Bloody Nosed Beetle, but smaller. They’re still great, but just not quite as great. We didn’t find an Early Spider Orchid, which was a shame. I’ll have to be back again next year.

After Durlston, Robert said we should have a cooked meal. I readily agreed. We found a pleasant eatery in Swanage. Swanage. Swanage seemed very pleasant, like a nice south-coast Bridlington. The name bothers me though. ‘Swan’ is fair enough, but the ‘-age’ sound really sours it. I think there is a lesson there for the local council. Anyway, we had a pizza, which was delightfully hot, and asked for as much free water as they’d give us to stave off our heat stroke. I had started to hallucinate that Robert was Bill Oddie and Robert had started to hallucinate the same thing about me so we were both very confused. I’m sure something amusing happened at the eatery but I don’t recall exactly what. Did we have a staged argument whilst a waitress looked on? I don’t quite remember.

After Swanage we headed to find a Tesco for necessary goods. The Tesco couldn’t be found. It didn’t appear on the internet, we could only see it from a distance but as we got closer it vanished. It was deeply perturbing. Eventually we stopped at a garage so that Robert could ask one of the locals for advice and directions. As he was doing so I saw a winged beast flapping around a light on the forecourt. I took my net, jumped, and deftly swept it up. A cockchafer. Standard fare for me, but a species that Robert had never seen alive before. I went over to the glass and waved it at him. He was tickled pink.

It turned out Tesco was basically right next to us. We must have driven straight past it about thirty-eight times. It also seemed to have nothing in stock. No chocolate milk, no houmous. It was distressing.

We then head to our sleeping site, Higher Hyde Heath. We had a bit of a walk first, which gave us pleasing views of a nightjar. Robert slept in the car, and I slept outside under a thin blanket. It was pretty good actually, I got hear nightjars churring all night, along with a cuckoo that obviously wasn’t very sleepy. The only problem was when it got really, really cold at about 4.00am and it felt as though I’d never be warm again. Here ends day two of our trip.

Grenliness. /ˈgren.li.nəs/ Noun. The state of being green, or the act of keeping things green.

Example. Our weekend was defined by it’s grenliness.

 

Having arrived in James’ county of residence late on Thursday night, we made haste towards sunny midnight Dorset. This trip has been in the works for years. In fact, I believe there are several posts which begin with “Having cancelled our trip to Dorset…”. Well we’ve done it now and I have photos to prove it, just in case someone claims it was a creation of my fever addled mind.

Not long after 2am we arrived at our first destination, Hengistbury Head, to look for natterjack toads. Getting out of the car, the sky was clear and my breath was visible. Immediately it seemed as though toads were not going to be roaming around in such frosty conditions, but we headed out none the less. We had failed to see natterjacks several times before, so one more time couldn’t hurt. The walk to the natterjack ponds was relatively short and soon we could watch over the water and admire the complete lack of activity. After giving it a good ten minutes we decided to meander back to car for chocolatey treats. We took a slightly different route back which was occasionally interrupted by some bird song. Then, suddenly, at the side of the path was a bumpy lump of flesh with a clear line down it’s back. It was a natterjack and it was lovely.

Natterjack - Dorset

I’d like to point out that this picture doesn’t do the size of the toad justice. It was like a pudgy bulldog. I gripped it under its front legs and tried to hoist it up but was unable to get its bulk off the floor. In fact, just imagine the image below but with me and an enormous rare toad:

download

 

Elated, we celebrated with chocolate and treats from the local Tesco. Unfortunately, the staff didn’t seem to find our toad-fuelled whimsy infectious.

I’m just going to interject here to say that the Tesco in Dorset sold cheese and onion dougnuts. Let that sink in. Tesco has sinned against  Man and Nature in one fell swoop. May god have mercy on our souls

We found a spot to bed down for the night near where we intended to start the next day. As we pulled up, the headlights of the car shone upon a gang of youths. At all times one of them were looking at us. Maybe they were worried we were undercover police? Maybe they were undercover police who were worried that us, undercover police straight out of the academy, would blow their cover? Either way they started to walk towards us, all 6 of the brutes. I had several options:
1. Claim my dad is massive and will “do them in”.
2. Pull out my wallet, shout “FBI” and hope that it’s convincing enough for them hightail it.
3. Challenge them to a rap battle. This would require James to drop a beat, something he always seem reluctant to do.
4. Do some sweet tricks on my skateboard. This seemed the least likely due to my lack of a skateboard and skateboard-related skills.

I would have gone for option 3. Most problems can be solved with rap.
Fortunately they walked passed the car, obviously impressed by our potential swagger and were not seen again. Another roaring success. Then we fed a fox some crispy m&ms and I fell to sleep for an hour.

Just has the sun started to eke into existence, James awoke me excited by his finds. He had decided that sleep was for chumps, suckers and rubes. He had potted an interesting looking earwig and a something completely new for me, a very small wall lizard. I tried to convey my excitement through bleary eyes and hoarse throat. I sprung into action over several minutes and began to join him in scouring the cliffs for more reptilian delights.

Young Wall Lizard - Dorset

The wall lizards started to emerge regularly from about 8am, on wherever the sun was shining. They proved more than willing photographic subjects.

Wall Lizard - Dorset

Wall Lizard - Dorset

We always knew the wall lizards would offer themselves to us without great difficulty. Our next aim was to find the introduced population of western green lizard. We searched the cliffs for over 3 hours, hoping for brief views of anything that fitted the directions given to us. Having believed we found the spot we then intensified our search but alas, no green lizards were to be found that morning. We decided to cut our losses and head on to our next site.

The sat nav may have tried to drown us, or take us by ferry. Either way it was misleading.

Our next site was a small reserve dominated by hills covered in heath. We had been given directions to a place to see smooth snake basking. While trudging through the heath I heard James proclaim loudly about him seeing a blue damselfly. He deftly netted it and brought it to my beady peepers. I proclaimed it to be a southern damselfly (because it was) with its distinctive marking on the 2nd segment of the abdomen. First new odonata of the trip and a lovely local one at that.

We then found the smooth snake site with directions and quickly spied a smooth snake, who also clocked us and quickly made haste into the undergrowth. Our last native british snake. Done. I’m essentially done with the UK now. Maybe I should just stop writing? NO I WON’T BECAUSE THEN WE SAW A SAND LIZARD. More accurately, James saw a sand lizard and I saw a lizard-shaped creature bounding through the heather. As much as we tried to relocate it we had no luck. Every now and again James would spot another which I still only got fleeting views of. A pond festooned with odonata caught our attention so we bee-lined for it. Amidst the four spotted chasers and large red damselflies. James then struck paydirt with his net skills and swooped a stunning downy emerald (a contender for the species containing the most grenliness). I have coveted the emerald dragonflies for a long time so this was rather special. Unfortunately I was unable to get a good picture of it without my hand holding it in place so google it and revel in it’s monstrous amounts of beauty.

By now it was midday and the sun was feeling pretty cocky and blasting me with all it’s UV goodness/badness. I fashioned by shirt into a makeshift do-rag, much as I imagine explorers did in days of yore. More heath trudging found me my first Dartford warbler, pictures of which are purple smudges and will not be posted. We seemed to meet the limit of the reserve and started to make our way. Some more water found us a lovely, freshly emerged emperor dragonfly, who has nice enough to let me keep it’s discarded exuvia.

Recently Emerged Emperor - Dorset

I then managed to get a good view of a lovely male sand lizard, basking in the entrance of a rabbit’s borrow. The sun got to us at the point and a short nap was had in the shade of some birches. After we rested I scanned the horse fields near the reserve car park and found some of the horses looking a bit small, brown and skinny. When I brought my binoculars up it became clear they were deer.  We knew they were sika deer but it was decided the views weren’t good enough so we hastened forth to Arne.

When we got to Arne the combination of heat and sleep exhaustion was turning us into some sort of vitamin D drunks. I think our conversation with reserve warden/assistant could be considered emotional assualt. The following things definetly happened:
1. We saw loads of sika deer, but they were obviously very used to people. It still didn’t feel like a proper sighting.
2. I took this picture
Four Spotted Chaser

3. James put his hand in a wood ant nest and emerged unscathed but vinegary.
4. Arne has the nicest dragonfly ponds I’ve ever seen. This was enhanced by the profusion of downy emeralds.

The wood ants were Formica rufa, a new species for me and my third ant. I was faintly disappointed that they didn’t really do any damage to me, but I have since been told that if I had left my hand in the nest long enough the acid would have made my skin slough off. Not a spot to leave a damp newborn unattended.

The following things almost definitely didn’t happen but the heat is making me believe they did
1. A shrew swore at me
2. A horse swore at me
3. A bee set up some festive bunting
4. I died and came back to life as a demon made entirely of fire

As I say, they almost definitely didn’t happen, it just feels like they did .

We moseyed onto to our hotel, the plan being to rest for a short while then go out to look for stag beetles. We also considered hitting the hotel bar so we could speak to travelling salesmen and escorts. This are the only 2 types of people I imagine in hotel bars. The plan didn’t happen. We slept for 10 hours straight.

I didn’t even get out of my clothes. I lay on my bed briefly to test its springiness and to eat some houmous and the next thing I knew it was 4.00am. I only woke up because Robert had put a wig on me and was spooning me. I was okay with it. 

Favourite quote of the day – “Brian Cox is the Ted Bundy of physics”

Does that need any explanation? I think it might be better to leave that a mystery. Though if anyone would care to guess what I meant, please leave a comment below. In all seriousness, there might be a prize in it for you.