Saturday, 6 July 2019

Beaut of a day in Dorset

I've been thinking about getting down to Dorset for a day of reptiles and butterflies.

So with me free to spend the day out, I made my way south on Sunday 30/06, starting at Higher Hyde Heath, near Wool - a reserve that boasts all 6 UK reptile species, together with several other gems.

I arrived just after 10am and began by taking the circular route through what is a really big site. It was already pretty warm, under light cloud initially. Having passed through some woods, I made my way out onto a large area of slightly boggy heath.

I was immediately greeted by the sight of several, mostly pristine Silver-Studded Blues, basking on the heather by the path. The more I looked, I realised they were everywhere - it was ace! It was only the second time I'd seen SSBs and wow, they are a stunning butterfly. Heck of a good start to the day.

A group of 9 vocal Crossbills headed over, before I carried on round, seeing stacks loads more Silver-Studded Blues.

Having completed the loop, I then tried a different track towards the hide and onto the larger heath area. I bumped into three other people, also looking for reptiles. Carefully keeping our eyes out, we managed to see a couple of Common Lizards out basking on low-lying bramble leaves, as well as a Slow Worm. Two down, four to go!

One of the people I was walking around with, was a regular to the site and he next lead us onto the edge of a bit of wasteland that I'd heard about, reading up on the site. Here were a few piles of old broken rooftiles, ideal for basking reptiles and where I had my best chance of seeing a Sand Lizard. Fingers crossed!

As luck would have it, a female Sand Lizard was waiting for us - very chilled on the edge of the largest pile of tiles. Absolute result! I was amazed how beautiful they are and although they don't have the bright green of the males, they have a series of lovely markings down their side and back.

The others left, but I hung around for a while, in the hope of seeing a male. None materialised and so I carried onto the open heath, encountering a fresh female Silver-Washed Fritillary on the way.

Out on the heath, I was chuffed to spot an Adder curled up in some grass, on the edge of a patch of gorse, basking away. I managed a quick photo before it slid away into the undergrowth. 

Four reptile species down, I wandered further onto the heath, encountering several vocal Woodlarks, Stonechats and a few flyover Siskins, as well as constant Silver-Studded Blues.

With no sign of any more reptiles and time pressing on, I decided to head back for one more look for Sand Lizards at the tiles. Again the / a female Sand Lizard was on view, showing fantastically well, while a Common Lizard made a brief appearance too.

I waited a while longer, tip-toeing around. I decided I'd give it a few more minutes, before moving on. Just when I thought I wasn't going to see one, amazingly a beaut of a male Sand Lizard appeared and slowly trundled past my feet, onto the edge of the tiles. YES!

He then slowly moved to the top and sat there resplendent for a few minutes, showing off his beautiful colours. What a creature - I was buzzing!!

On the shortish walk back to the car, I had a quick look in a small overgrown area by the path, where the people I'd met earlier had found a Grass Snake and a Sand Lizard first thing. I was very surprised to stumble across presumably the same small Grass Snake which quickly zipped off. A great end to my visit which had yielded 5 out of the 6 Reptile species - very good going indeed!

While it was quite breezy, the sun was really quite hot now. I had a bit of lunch and then cracked on, driving 15 minutes down the road to West Lulworth. It was time to look for my first ever Lulworth Skippers!

I found somewhere to park in the village, before walking a short way through the village, up Bindon Road and onto the vast Bindon Hill. This is a large hill / ridge overlooking Lulworth Cove and is covered in fantastic, wildlife-rich grassland. It is regarded as one of the better places to see the Lulworth Skipper, in the UK, confined to just this part of Dorset.

Walking the steep incline, lots of Pyramidal Orchids of all shapes, sizes and shades of pink were dotted around. The butterflies were great too with lots of Marbled Whites and unexpectedly, good numbers of Dark Green Fritillaries. As is typical of DGFs, they rarely stopped for more than a second, so I consider it quite an achievement that I actually managed a photo!

It took a little while, however eventually I discovered what looked to be a Lulworth Skipper, being small and dark. It appeared to be a male, however to be doubly certain I'd seen a Lulworth, I needed to find a female which have a diagnostic sun ray pattern on their forewings. As luck would have it, I didn't have to wait long - in fact walking around, there were quite a few. UK butterfly species no. 53!

I spent quite a bit of time wandering around the undulating top of the hill, an ancient Iron Age Hill Fort site, complete with ditches and ramparts. Some of these dips in the landscape proved good for butterflies, offering shelter from the stiff on-shore breeze. 

One such dip, produced a surprise male Silver-Studded Blue for a short while, together with a couple of Painted Ladies and more Marbled White, Dark-Green Fritillaries and Lulworth Skippers closeby too.

Having taken in the views of Lulworth Cove below me, I slowly made my way back down, again enjoying more of the same 

It was now 17:30pm and so I set off back to Northants, completing a bloody successful day, full of highlights.

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