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Peter Orchard's blog

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It is not hard to see how this fungus got the common name of the pestle puffball (Lycoperdon excipuliforme) when you see its distinctive shape, just like a pestle used to crush things in a mortar in the laboratory or the kitchen! It looks as though a cap should burst forth any moment but it does not, it is a species of puffball.

This is a species of rich, acidic soils and can be found on short turf and woodland path edges on heathland here in Dorset. My book reckons it is common but my limited experience of fungi tells me it is not seen that often. A summer and autumn species, it is a bit difficult to tell apart from another species, Lycoperdon utriforme, however, excipluliforme is somewhat slimmer than the plumper utriforme and so I have based my identification on that. It starts white but soon turns a dull greyish brown.

Supposedly edible when young but how do you decide how old they are?


 

Other Nature Notes in this series: 
If you would like to see the complete series that this post is part of click here ---->
This nature note was written by ----> Peter Orchard
This nature nore was written ----> 1 year 6 months ago
Published Date: 
Saturday, 30 April, 2016
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As you travel the country roads and lanes of mid-Dorset, the chalk landscapes, in early summer you may frequently find amazing extensive white webbing along the hedgerows. In some years there can be masses of these webs, in others hardly any. They are the work of the spindle ermine moth (Yponomeula cagnatella) and is home to its larvae.

This is an abundant moth all across Europe and especially so here in Dorset where the soil is calcareous and where spindle commonly grows in the hedgerows . The adult moths fly in June and July and the resulting larvae live gregariously on the leaves of spindle, stripping it completely of foliage. They pupate in large numbers and over winter as pupae in the foot of the tree.

The adult moths can be seen by day in chalk grassland habitats.


 

Other Nature Notes in this series: 
If you would like to see the complete series that this post is part of click here ---->
This nature note was written by ----> Peter Orchard
This nature nore was written ----> 1 year 6 months ago
Published Date: 
Friday, 29 April, 2016
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Blue fleabane (Erigeron acris) is a rather insignificant flower, the heads are quite small and do not attract your attention like many of the daisy family do. That said, it carries all the hallmarks of the daisy family, just smaller!

The flowers have a central 'core' surrounded by a ring of narrow petals which then go on to produce small thistle-like seed heads and that spread quickly in the wind. Indeed, where you do find them you will usually find a small colony together. In my experience they like bare patches where there is little competition and they are often found alongside stony paths in on the heaths and woodlands of the Poole basin.


 

Other Nature Notes in this series: 
If you would like to see the complete series that this post is part of click here ---->
This nature note was written by ----> Peter Orchard
This nature nore was written ----> 1 year 6 months ago
Published Date: 
Thursday, 28 April, 2016
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It seems to me that the mistle thrush (Turdus viscivorus) is something of a forgotten bird. In my memory it was once quite common; forty years ago we used to have a pair nest every year in an ornamental cherry tree right by the entrance to our driveway. Even then we somewhat took them for granted!

Now you don't see them very often, no one ever seems to mention them, they have not featured on Spring Watch or Autumn Watch (as far as I can recall). When species that are causing concern because of falling numbers are talked about the mistle thrush does not seem to get mentioned. As I say, to me it is the forgotten bird which is such a shame.

Although similar in colouring to its more familiar close cousin, the song thrush, it should not really be confused. It is larger, more slender and more upright. Usually seen on farmland it was once common in parkland and gardens. Indeed, the orchard was its favoured home, especially one where the fruit trees had mistletoe growing on them, as the name suggests the two are linked.

The mistle thrush is also known as the stormcock in some areas because it will sit and sing from a high perch on even the worst of spring days!


 

Other Nature Notes in this series: 
If you would like to see the complete series that this post is part of click here ---->
This nature note was written by ----> Peter Orchard
This nature nore was written ----> 1 year 7 months ago
Published Date: 
Wednesday, 27 April, 2016
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There have been many times in my years of nature watching when I just knew I was a real amateur; I have no real eye for detail and I am just too impatient. Happily though I have been privileged to meet, and in some cases, to get to know quite well some real experts. These are people to whom little details are important and who will spend a considerable time looking and examining a specimen, be it an insect, a flower, a fungi, even a lichen or a moss. Experts usually have a specific interest in a subject matter that they become experts in. Me, I am a jack of all trades and a master of none!

So it was with this little plant, the smooth catsear (Hypochaeris glabra). I was leading a walk at Arne doing my bit with birds and common flowers and insects when John Wright, sadly no longer with us, suddenly stopped and stooped down while the rest of continued walking. After a little way I noticed John on his knees looking at something and I knew we should be there and not where we were so I took the group back! Sure enough, John had spotted this small, insignificant little flower and, after close examination pronounced it as smooth catsear, a nationally scarce plant and one more often associated with south eastern England and this was one of the few records ever for Dorset. That is what makes an expert.

Just to make identification even harder with this plant is that it only opens fully in bright sunshine and on the day in question it was bright but cloudy and so it was not fully open. I can only marvel at the ability of the experts.


 

Other Nature Notes in this series: 
If you would like to see the complete series that this post is part of click here ---->
This nature note was written by ----> Peter Orchard
This nature nore was written ----> 1 year 7 months ago
Published Date: 
Tuesday, 26 April, 2016
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This is one of a sub-set of flies commonly known as snipe-flies although I have not been able to establish exactly why they should have this name. 

There are twelve snipe-flies in the British fauna and this one is the black-snipe fly (Chrysopilus cristatus) because it is mainly black whereas the others tend to be quite colourful. All have a tapered abdomen.

This particular species is one of the most common of the group and is found in damp meadows and woodland and this one was by the stream at Kingcombe in exactly this sort of habitat. The larvae live in leaf litter where they predate smaller insects like springtails and thrips.


 

Other Nature Notes in this series: 
If you would like to see the complete series that this post is part of click here ---->
This nature note was written by ----> Peter Orchard
This nature nore was written ----> 1 year 7 months ago
Published Date: 
Monday, 25 April, 2016
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You cannot mistake the giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea) for any other species, it is truly unique. The dome can be a foot or more in diameter; they are like giant ostrich eggs! My book says they can actually grow up to 80cms across which is huge and that, from a distance, they can even be mistaken for sleeping sheep! They are almost pure white but soon discolour or become pitted as they are attacked by insects. Widespread and, apparently common, they can be found on soil in grassy habitats especially near stinging nettles which are an indicator of phosphate rich soil which this species thrives on.

You can eat them when young but surely better left to let them reach their full potential?  


 

Other Nature Notes in this series: 
If you would like to see the complete series that this post is part of click here ---->
This nature note was written by ----> Peter Orchard
This nature nore was written ----> 1 year 7 months ago
Published Date: 
Sunday, 24 April, 2016
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The shaded broad-bar moth (Scotopteryx chenopodiata) is a species of grassy habitats, especially grassland with lots of flowers like ragwort and knapweed. It is widespread and common throughout the British Isles.

Being at rest in grass during the day it is easy to disturb them and that probably is the most likely way you will see one. They emerge at dusk and fly in the evening and are far from being purely nocturnal. The adults may like daisy flowers to feed on but the larvae are found on members of the pea family such as vetches and clovers. So, you need a good mix of flowers to find the shaded broad-bar.


 

Other Nature Notes in this series: 
If you would like to see the complete series that this post is part of click here ---->
This nature note was written by ----> Peter Orchard
This nature nore was written ----> 1 year 7 months ago
Published Date: 
Saturday, 23 April, 2016
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The carrot family is a diverse one with many species, some very common and others, as you might expect, very rare. One of the first of the family to flower each year is alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) which can flower from March onwards until June.

The 'umbels' (ie carrot family) are named as such because of their 'umbrella' shaped flower heads and they can be difficult to tell apart but alexanders is easy because it has a pale green flower head where as most of the family are white, cream or yellow. It also has large glossy leaves which is unusual in the carrot family. It is a stout and robust plant and cannot be missed, it is quite an imposing plant.

Alexanders is a fairly local plant confined to coastal regions Britain and I had not seen it until we moved here to Dorset where it is plentiful near the coast. It quite often grows in hedgerows and on banks inland but hardly more than five miles from the sea.

I have no idea where it gets its name. It is really a native of the Mediterranean region but may have been introduced to Britain, possibly by the Romans, as a food crop similar to celery but that has long since stopped. Apparently it is much savoured by horses hence its other common name of horse parsley so may be their is a connection with Alexander the Great and his horse? 


 

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Published Date: 
Thursday, 21 April, 2016
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Quite often the first you know of a jay (Garrulus glandarius) being in the vicinity is the dreadful shreak they make. It is unmistakable and, if you are not expecting it, it can be a bit unnerving!

The jay is not an uncommon bird nationally but I rarely encounter them where I live here in the Purbeck area of Dorset. They are certainly seen less frequent here than elsewhere in Dorset but then, apart from the Wareham/Puddletown Forest area, I suppose we do not have that much suitable broad leaf woodland which is their main haunt.

Jays are well known for two things. Firstly, they like to roll around in a nest of wood ants so that the ants respond with a spray of formic acid which helps the jay remove parasites from their feathers. They are also great hoarders of nuts in the autumn to tide them over until spring comes.

Intellegent and good to look at but aggressive, bad tempered birds in general!


 

Other Nature Notes in this series: 
If you would like to see the complete series that this post is part of click here ---->
This nature note was written by ----> Peter Orchard
This nature nore was written ----> 1 year 7 months ago
Published Date: 
Wednesday, 20 April, 2016

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