There are lots of great things happening at Arne at the moment and this is one of my favourite times of the year! Because of the wet weather dragonflies seemed to take a while to get going but now they are starting to reach a bit of peak with lots of different species flitting about. I am not an expert so I am relying on reports from visitors and the muggy weather earlier in the week saw a bumper crop of sightings. These included brown hawkers, four-spotted chasers, black-tailed skimmers, keeled skimmers, common darters and the biggest of the lot the impressive emperor dragonfly! Of course there are plenty of damselflies about as well including azure blues, blue tailed and both large and small reds. The latter is a less common species and yet another heathland specialist to be found at Arne.
Dragonflies and damselflies are pretty impressive predators but in the world of the heathland pond nothing is safe as Sarah discovered when she took a school group for a walk yesterday. As they were watching a damselfly laying eggs in Coombe heath pond a large female raft spider emerged from the deep and grabbed it before pulling it to its watery doom!
Female black-tailed skimmer by AP Read
The reserve is ablaze with colour at the moment and in the last couple of weeks the heather has started to come in to bloom but equally impressive is the abundance of foxgloves this year. I can't remember them being this good last year and I am wondering if it has anything to do with the amount of rain we have had? Also foxgloves are bi-annuals so I was wondering if every other year gives a better display. I took the photo below just to show how green Arne is looking at the moment. The picture doesn't do the foxgloves justice so come along now before they start to go over!
Last Wednesday saw the best nightjar walk of the year so far. The weather was perfect - cloudy and muggy with plenty of insects about. We heard plenty of churring and got some great views as well. At one point it was difficult to know which way to turn when three birds appeared at once.
This great picture was taken by Graham Macpherson on one of last years walks. You can clearly see that this is a displaying male with its prominent white spots on the end of both its primary and tail feathers.
There are still lots of female sand lizards excavating egg burrows at the moment and again on her walk Sarah got really excited see three all together in a 2 metre square bit of path! The lizards will have started laying eggs a few weeks ago and the earlier hatchlings will start appearing soon. Infact we saw a very early one on the Nightjar walk. Look out for baby common lizards appearing along the path by the Shipstal ponds in the next couple of weeks as well. Common lizards give birth to live young hence their other more complicated name viviparous lizard (which literally means giving birth to live young). Interestingly the common lizard gestation period takes the same amount of time as the sand lizard incubation time.
Arne is completely buzzing at the moment! With the welcomed change in weather over the weekend (such that it actually felt like June!) there were a few new sightings of unusual bugs and butterflies!
On Sunday we had the first reporting of the Silver Studded Blue Butterfly, which is found specifically on lowland heath and calcareous grassland. They are generally quite rare as they have a pretty restricted distribution across the UK, and Dorset is a real hotspot for them! Their preferred foodplants at Arne are Bell heather (which has recently come into flower making the heath come to life!), Cross-Leaved heather and Gorse. Normally they appear in early July so this is quite early-probably brought about by the sudden change in temperature.
Beautiful Silver Studded Blue butterfly by A P Read
Another amazing sighting was the unusual Striped Ladybird which was reported at the weekend. This is a species commonly associated with pine woodland, and simliarly with most ladybirds their preferred prey is aphids. This is possibly a first for Arne as we were not aware of any reportings previously; and there are obviously more to come according to the photograph below! So keep your eyes peeled on your next visit!
Striped Ladybird by A P Read
Plenty of dragonflies and damselflies have been seen at the ponds including Four-Spot Chasers, Broad-Bodied Chasers, Common Darters, Emperor and the Azure blue damselfly. Amazing sightings of the Four-Spot Chasers mating mid-air! There were also really good sightings of the Raft Spider yesterday-including a view of a pregnant female with an egg sack which was pretty amazing!
Bird-wise there have been several reports of Spotted Flycatcher which is fantastic. The Dartford Warblers are still regularly heard and seen displaying on the gorse. The Kestrel fledglings have moved further from the box with the recent good weather, though there has been some fantastic views of them sitting on top of the box and in the local area, as in the photograph below.
The kestrel fledglings by pudweena
Last night on the Nightjar walk there was plenty of activity which was great news as the bad weather has been keeping the churring activity relatively low until now. At least 6 Nightjars were heard on the walk and there was a couple of pretty good sightings! The glow worms have also been out in force recently, with the females laying on their backs showing off their bioluminenscence and wafting thier pheremones in order to attract the males attention. Quite amazing animals!
Last night there was also fantastic views of a couple of female Sand Lizards choosing where to lay their eggs. The females tend to be pretty choosy about their laying sites (and rightly so!) so will dig out holes in several places before actually laying. These females were seen burrowing and resting in the dug-out holes, deciding if this was the right spot! It is a great time to see Sand Lizards at the moment (relying on it being good weather!) as the females are often checking out sites alongside the path, and recently there have been several sightings down by Shipstal Point. In terms of reptiles, yesterday there was a sighting of a Grass Snake outside the hide on the Coombe Heath trail which was quite exciting, and quite an unusual place to see them due to it being very dry up there.
Burrowing female Sand Lizard by Gordon MacPherson
If you fancy learning more about Arne's reptiles, and would like to see Rob's impression of a Grass Snake playing dead, check out last week's Countryfile on iplayer:
Also, if you fancy coming along on one of our brilliant Nightjar walks give us a call on (01929) 553360 or pop into the visitor centre to book a place. Places are filling up fast so don't delay!
So Arne is a very exciting place at the moment with lots of changes as we move into the summer. Fingers crossed for more good weather!
Never ones to be camera shy at Arne we have had our fair share of TV appearances over the years and it is always a great way of high lighting some of the amazing willdlife we have on the reserve! So we were excited a couple of weeks ago when a film crew from BBC's Countryfile came along to the reserve. They had heard that Arne is one of the best places in the country to find all six species, so with the help of our very own Rob Farrington and Nick Moulton from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation presenter Ellie Harrison was set the task of trying to track the six down in the space of one day!
I am not going to tell you how they got on so you will have to tune in to Countryfile on BBC 1 on Sunday 17 June to find out!
As a taster here are a couple of pictures from the day courtesy of Chris from ARC.
This time last week I was getting really excited about all of our nest cameras as everything was happening all at once! I can now announce that all four kestrel chicks have fledged and are now all learning to fly around the fields near the farm! The smallest of the chicks hung around the box for a couple of days longer than the others but even he/she has taken the plunge and left. If you do look at the webcam you may be lucky enough to see one or even two chicks come back for a rest! Yesterday when the last chick was still in the box one of the parents had brought in a very alive bank vole. It sat frozen in the corner of the box for ages but when I turned my back it disappeared. Reading our forum later I discovered that the vole suddenly sprang in to life, ran across the box and leaped to freedom. I am not sure what happened after that but it is quite a drop!
I was also talking about the mallards in the buzzards nest and against the odds 8 ducklings hatched and fledged from the nest. The blue tits on the third camera also fledged at the weekend and the wrens in the work shop left the day after I blogged about them. So it is good news for all of our chicks this year!!
The guided walk today produced spoonbills and Dartford warblers and there are still plenty of siskins on our feeders. There are lots of fledgelings about at the moment and one of the birds that causes the most confusion is the great tit. Juveniles are very yellow in colours and for a while look like they couldn't be something different!
Something a little bit different was reported over the weekend in the shape of a Southern Marsh Orchid. This was spotted along the path by the Shipstal ponds (which have just been reopen). It is a fairly common plant but unusual at Arne. As its name suggests it likes wetter boggy areas and this position by the ponds is ideal.
It is the time of year when the sika deer hinds are calving and a few very young calves have been spotted amongst the heather already. I stumbled across one myself on the heath last week. If you come across one it is best to leave them alone as the mother will not be far off although she may not be in sight and often calves can be left on their own for a couple of hours at a time. So don't worry everything in normally OK! The really nice thing about the Sika deer this time of year is there rich spotty coats which is a bit different from their dark grey/brown winter coats.