Well, I haven't written a blog post for a couple of months now, but wanted to share my sheer delight at how well our 'Reptile Ramble' weekend went. I entertained over 30 people on guided walks, and over 300 on scheduled Show and Tell sessions over the weekend. The group I took out yesterday helped me track down Common Lizard, Slow Worm, Grass Snake and Smooth Snake, Whilst the group today had similar luck with the added bonus of a female Sand Lizard. We also saw Woodlark, Cuckoo, Hobby and Dartford Warblers whilst hunting out our scaly friends. I then hosted regular show and tell sessions on both afternoons allowing the public to get a closer look at five of our six native reptiles (excluding Adder). This was such a buzz for me, as I have been searching and studying the reptiles on Dorset heath for over 15 years now, and love being able to show the public certain species they may not normally get to see.
Spotted Flycatchers seem to be popping up at numerous places, especially down near the double decker hide. The years first Dartford Warbler Chicks have fledged and on the less windy spots can be seen flitting around in small groups. Hobby keep dashing by at numerous viewpoints and the Seal is still inhabiting the small beach opposite Shipstal. Singles of Brent Goose and Avocet seem to be the only evidence of a long tough winter. Lots of Linnets, Goldfinches, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers everywhere. Looks like the weather is going to put a dampener on the Bank Holiday Weekend, but lets hope this passes soon, and we can get summer well and truly under way, because I'm not sure about you, but I'm getting very bored of all this wind and cloud !!!
Well after 6 months and 360 + images entered our photographic competition is finally at an end.
Chris Packham was here last week and after some long consideration he came to his decision. Firstly, he wanted to comment on the overall high standard in the competition which he thought really captured all aspects of this wonderful reserve. Secondly, not content with just giving us 3 winners, he also wished for these images to be highlighted as highly commended:
Chris Packham- Highly Commended
Photo by Susieb
Photo by rob t
Photo by lisa lawley
Photo by gwillas
Photo by camera happy
Photo by simon
Photo by dom greves
Photo by scioux
Photo by adje
But of course, there have to be three winners and here they are; in third...
Photo by piterozis
Photo by monkey
And in the top spot....
Photo by benbound
I think you'll agree, there are some absolute crackers there, and the great thing is, there are plently of others that could have been in the ones selected, not mentioned. Truely the standard was incredibly high and I'd like to thank everyone who took part, it really does highlight the reserve and what it means to so many people (and more importantly the wildlife that depends on it).
Oh and look out for the next edition of Birds magazine; the editor is choosing his own favourites to include in the mag, it has a readership of around 1.7 million!
We will be contacting the three winners as soon as possible to inform them on the prizes. Don't hesitate to contact me guys!
Wednesday is always the day for our brilliant Heathland ambles, when we take visitors to the less known parts of the reserve and show them the great wildlife and landscape that Arne has to offer. This time of year we have a double bonus of the Wednesday evening Nightjar walks. We ran the first one of the year last night and it certainly didn't disappoint!
Despite road works all the way up the Arne road we had a good turn out for the morning walk and showed people great views of stonechat and Dartford warbler families. It was encouraging to see at least 3 fledged Dartford warbler chicks and this may be the start of the recovery that we are hoping for. Other great birds were two hobby circling the car park and a marsh harrier joining two buzzards as they soared over the heath. Along the sandy paths we found several sand lizard burrows as it is the time of year that the females will lay their eggs.
Another great thing to show people is the sundew that grows along damp boggy fringes all over the heath. This is a fascinating insect eating plant that is another specialist of acid Heathland. They are easily recognised by there red stems topped with a sticky hairy pad. Insects are attracted by the sweet nectar and once landed there is no escape. The plant slowly digests the unfortunate insect allowing it to absorb essential nutrients. Sundew likes very specific conditions and won’t be found on the dry parts of the heath or where it is too wet.
Sundew are found on the boggier parts of the reserve
There were lots of insects about too and the pond on Coombe heath was alive with broad bodied and four spot chaser dragonflies. The sand bank by the toilets is a good place to watch masonry wasps burrow into the soft soil to lay their eggs. This in turn attracts the predatory green tiger beetle that also lays its eggs in these tunnels so that the young can feed on the wasp larvae.
The green tiger beetle is a faster moving predator also known as the cheetah of the heath.
On to the Nightjar walk, after a stroll looking at Dartford warblers, cuckoos, hobby and ravens we arrived at the prime nightjar spot from last year. It wasn’t long before we heard the first male churring, this happens at dusk and prior to that the nightjars spend the day either sitting amongst the heather or along the branch of a tree. They are so well camouflaged that you could be within a few feet of a resting nightjar and never know! We didn’t have to wait long before we were treated to great views of a male displaying. Thanks to Paul's skills with some handkerchiefs the male came in very close to investigate what was going on. This sounds weird but it is supposed to mimic the white flashes on the under side of a male nightjars wing and will look like an intruder is in the territory.
This particular male also used a churring post that Paul and I risked life and limb putting up a few weeks ago. This post is located above the horizon so we can see any birds that land on it. The male continued to display for about 15 minutes before disappearing. The churring around the heath didn’t seem to go on for too long but as we go into June we expect this to go on for longer periods and also see more males displaying across the whole heath.
As we walked back we saw a couple of glow-worms which are beetles that emits a light produced by chemical reactions from a special organ in its tail. It is the female that emits light to attract males. We ended the walk by looking at a moth trap we had set up at the visitor centre and Rob showed people a lime hawk moth and fox moth which had been caught earlier.
All in all a pretty fantastic day and well worth staying out late for!
The Heathland ambles are every Wednesday at 10am and are free to all and there is no need to book. The Nightjar walks continue every Wednesday from 1 June until the 13 July booking is essential and spaces are limited. Check the Arne website for more details.
And as if that wasn't enough the reserve is going reptile mad this weekend, with two (fully booked) guided walks, 1 each day and from midday onwards at the visitor centre there will be hourly reptile show and tells....not to be missed! If you fancy brushing up on your reptile skills before hand, there is no better way than to have a peek at our latest video diary on our reptiles: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvcppJFmvxA&feature=channel_video_title
Finally we still have four ever growing kestrel chicks so remember to check the live camera at http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/a/arne/webcam.aspx