My Diary ...

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  • Nature Diary: October 2018

    Published Date: 
    Thursday, 1 November, 2018

    October was something of an Indian summer with generally clear, sunny skies and warm temperatures. This regime was interrupted briefly for a couple of days by the arrival of storm Callum, the effects of which were far more severe further north than down here in Dorset. This fine settled weather meant there was little activity on the birding front with migration seeming to be almost at a stand still on some days and with only the one Atlantic storm there were few notable records. Words used to describe 'birding' this month included dire, dead and dismall! 

    That said some oddities turned up as well as some more predictable rarities. A rough-legged buzzard over Portland was a notable record as were reports of red-throated pipit and little bunting. A honey buzzard was also seen along with Caspian gull, glaucous gull and little gull. The arrival of barnacle geese and a flock of white-fronted geese on the Fleet towards the end of the month was a surprise especially as they seemed wild bird not feral. A young whooper swan settled in amongst the mute swans at Longham Lakes which was also rather odd. Records too of barred warbler, lapland bunting and little auk were unusual.

    More predictable were a number of records for both cattle egret and great white egret again this month with people asking whether these were notable species any more as they have become quite common; a dramatic change over the last three years or so. The lesser yellow-leg has become something of a fixture on the Weymouth reserves and reports of that quickly tailed off even though it remain there all month. The more usual 'scarce' visitors included hoopoe, a number of grey phalarope along the coast and several records for yellow-browed warbler, another migrant species that does little to raise pulse rates among the county's birders anymore! 

    Some of the familiar winter residents were returning during October too with brent geese and black brant arriving in their usual wintering quarters along with good numbers of wigeon and teal. Wder numbers were increasing too as the month wore on with spoonbill, avocet, black-tailed godwit and curlew all returning to the harbours. Off-shore black-necked grebe, great northern diver and common scoter became apparent along with occasional sightings of great and arctic skuas and Balearic shearwaters.

    The warm weather meant a good number of butterflies were still on the wing with good numbers of migrant clouded yellows being seen along with some painted ladies. Eighteen species were recorded in all including a late brood of Adonis blue but also other species such as brown argus, grayling and wall that were about a little later than normal. Some good immigrant moth records came in from the trappers with Radford's Flame Shoulder now being quite common in places where this was once very scarce. The same could also be aid for Dewick's plusia and Clancy's rustic. Not to be outdone, dragonflies were still active and record of red-veined darter and vagrant emperor were probably the most notable. Other insects seen included a number of hornets and ivy bees were seen in a number of places, it is certainly spreading its range and is now common.

    There few plant records and very few fungi records. Perhaps it has been too dry for fungi to start fruiting?


    Photo: Colletes hedera, the ivy bee

     

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  • Fire in the sky

    Published Date: 
    Wednesday, 24 October, 2018

    We have seen some wonderful sunsets since we moved to Dorset but last night must have been one of the best!


     

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  • Nature diary for September 2018

    Published Date: 
    Monday, 1 October, 2018

    September turned out to a bit of a storm sandwich! A settled spell with some lovely days suddenly gave way to a week of westerly storms before the calm returned with more sunny skies and gentle breezes. The coming of the autumn storms quickens the pulse of 'twitchers' hoping for a series of exotic stray birds coming in on the strong westerlies but this time it was not to be with just a lesser yellow-legs showing up and staying a while at Lodmoor.

    There were some other special sightings of course with three cranes visiting Poole Harbour and Portland producing records of common rosefinch, rose-coloured starling and ortolan bunting. Little gull and Caspian gull were seen offshore and a pectoral sandpiper ashore, again at Lodmoor. It seems strange now that what a couple of years ago would have been considered rare sightings were fairly 'ordinary' this year with almost daily reports of great white egret and cattle egret from along the west Dorset coast and around the main harbours further east. The odd grey phalarope is seen during the autumn migration period in most years but this year they were almost 'common' being seen in several places and one in particular stayed for quite a few days, yet again at Lodmoor. Lodmoor was certainly the place to be this year if you wanted to see unusual birds.

    The migration season is in full swing in September and lots of reports reflected this with large numbers of chiffchaff, willow warbler, blackcap, wheatear, whinchat, yellow wagtail, meadow pipit and spotted flycatcher along with swallows and house martins of course.

    The settled weather seemed to suit butterflies with eighteen species being reported during the month. The most bizarre record was a monarch butterfly in and around Portland Observatory garden for a couple of days the origins of which are unknown but as it was on Portland it is possible it was a migrant from the south of Europe or even north Africa. The top recorded species was the clouded yellow, a regular autumn immigrant and certainly coming in in good numbers this year. Small copper seemed to be having a good autumn too and there reports of wall (browns) and Adonis blue. There were two special moth sightings, the very rare passenger moth both on Portland and at Hengistbury Head and another rare visitor, the oleander hawk-moth in Swanage. Other hawk-moths included convolvulus hawk-moth and hummingbird hawk-moth. The striking Clifden nonpareil moth turned up in a couple of moth traps and the scarce annual migrant, Radford's flame-shoulder, was trapped on Portland again this year.

    Other insect reports were mainly what one would expect for the time of year but hornets seemed to be doing particularly well and the delightful ivy bee started to be seen towards the end of the month. Red-veined darter dragonflies were seen again at a site near Warmwell and it is fairly certain this species is now successfully breeding here and, perhaps, elsewhere in Dorset. In the latter weeks of the month there seemed to be an explosion of migrant hawkers with reports from several places where there is a large expanse of open fresh water.

    Being autumn the floral interest was mainly over but there were a number of reports of autumn lady's-tresses and marsh gentian to keep the botanists happy.

    It was a quiet month for mammal sightings with a pod of bottlenose dolphins around Durlston for three days and a report of two common seals in Poole Harbour; not much else apart from that. Adders were more visible during September as were grass snakes and wall lizards.


    Photo: Clouded yellow

     

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  • Quite shocking ....!

    Published Date: 
    Wednesday, 26 September, 2018

    I had a nerve conduction test on my left arm today to try and find out what might be causing my 'frozen' arm. It was quite a strange experience as it involved sending electrical pulses down my arm to measure the effectiveness of the main nerves in the arm. In general it was not uncomfortable, just a mild 'twitch' but one or two were quite painful and made my fingers jerk! It took half an hour and it was done on both arms to compare the results. Early indications were that there was nothing wrong which is both good news and bad news. At least there is no permanent nerve damage but then again, we are no closer to finding out what is wrong.


     

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  • Bowls: Club Men's Singles

    Published Date: 
    Tuesday, 25 September, 2018

    When I saw I was drawn as number 13 I just knew this was not going to be my afternoon! I started well enough seeing off Stuart Duncan 5-2 and then I rather demolished poor Eric Axon 13-0. With two wins behind me I was feeling mildly confident facing Bob Bates who I have to say I would expect to beat 10 times out 10 and I started well but on end four I claimed two shots but Bob thought it was one. Instead of measuring John Holloway who was marking said he favoured one (markers are not supposed to pass comment, it is for the two players to agree the score) and so Bob kicked the woods away. It may well have been only one but there should have been a measure and, me being me, felt aggrieved and conceded three shots on the last two ends to draw 4-4, at that point I knew my afternoon was over. 

    Having played three games in a row I was now very tired, especially mentally, as I have done ever since the stroke and still needlessly upset by what had happened in the previous game I faced Peter Lane who was unbeaten during the afternoon. Needless to say I was a complete mess losing 7-2 after bowling several woods off of the mat! Peter went on to win the competition and I finished fourth. Even if I had beaten Bob I would have still only finished third as Norman Brown won all four of his games to finish second.


     

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  • Nature notes for August 2018

    Published Date: 
    Friday, 31 August, 2018

    August turned out to be the proverbial "game of two halves"; the first two weeks saw the baking heatwave continue and then, suddenly, the weather changed, turned cooler and the breeze and cloud returned. Despite the change there remained a serious lack of rain. The first two weeks also saw little bird movement and then, in the second two weeks there were visible signs that the autumn migration was beginning in earnest.

    August is not usually a great month for notable birds but a few oddities did turn up. There was a brief sighting of a bluethroat and then of a melodious warbler before an aquatic warbler was trapped and ringed. A juvenile purple heron came to roost near Little Sea at Studland for a series of nights before eventually moving on and great white egret and cattle egret sightings completed the 'heron' fest. Other notables on land included a woodchat shrike, ortolan bunting and a couple of wryneck whilst at sea pomarine skua, sooty shearwater, Balearic shearwater and little gull were the pick of the bunch.

    With bird activity limited, being August and warm, insects were the main area of interest for many and the most interesting record was the discovery of three southern migrant hawker dragonflies at Lytchett Bay. These were the first ever recorded in Dorset but the species has been gradually colonising and spreading across southern England so their arrival in Dorset had been anticipated. The origin of a swallowtail butterfly seen and photographed in Bournemouth remains a mystery, had it escaped from a collection or was it a migrant? We will never know! A number of interesting migrant moths were trapped including a scarce silver Y on Portland which was one of very few ever recorded here. Jersey tiger moths were reported from several sites as well as convolvulus hawk-moths and hummingbird hawk-moths. Butterflies seemed to prosper in the hot summer sun with reports of reasonable numbers of silver-spotted skipper, Adonis blue, Essex skipper and clouded yellow. Indeed, it thought that the Essex skipper may be more common in Dorset than was previously recognised.

    Some good records of insects from heathland sites included the very rare heath potter wasp, the rare large velvet ant (actually a flightless wasp), the scarce hornet robber fly, the local heath bee-fly, the uncommon bee-wolf and the specialist bog bush cricket. It also seemed a good summer for raft spiders and wasp spiders, especially at Arne.

    The usual mammal sightings included common seal, common dolphin and bottle-nosed dolphin out at sea and, back on land, there were records of all six of the UK reptile species plus wall lizards.


    Photo: The vividly marked wasp spider

     

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  • A Wake-up Call

    Published Date: 
    Friday, 10 August, 2018

    The worst thing about my mini-stroke was not being able to drive for four weeks! I was fortunate there were no lasting physical effects and so was quite peeved at being told it was mandatory that I did not to drive and as I was feeling fine I felt I was being punished. Now it is all over I realise that perhaps it was for the best as my head is not always working as I would wish it too ...

     

    We always thought that being near to a town and with nearby bus and rail services we could get by without a car but how wrong we were! Being unable to use the car left us as virtual prisoners in our own home and took away much of what is important to us in our daily lives. It showed up the limitations of depending on public transport and created restrictions that severely changed our lives. That was for just four weeks and there was an end in sight but what if I was immobilised for longer and may be less able to walk into town or to the bus and station?

     

    The problems with buses are:

    • There is only one an hour to Swanage and one and hour to Poole. There is a very limited other option provided by the X54 every couple of hours
    • The bus stop is a ten minute walk away, that is quite a long way with heavy shopping bags or after a longer day having been further afield
    • The bus gives you either 30 minutes or 90 minutes in Wareham; not long enough but far too long to do the shopping
    • The destinations are limited to Wareham, Stoborough, Corfe and Swanage
    • The time between buses means eating out as we like to do a couple of times a week is limited to just a couple of options
    • The buses are unreliable and are rarely on time making journey planning difficult
    • The buses go when the buses go making them unsuitable for travelling to essential appointments and do not always stop near to where you need to be

    The trains are a little better but not much:

    • There are two trains an hour to Poole, Dorchester and Weymouth (and Bournemouth)  and one an hour to Wool and Moreton.
    • Poole, Dorchester and Weymouth are fine for ‘non-grocery’ shopping and some other services but are not too good for eating out
    • The station is a ten minute walk away, that is quite a long way with heavy shopping bags or after a longer day having been further afield
    • One is limited to fixed times and fixed locations and so so make them unsuitable for travelling to essential appointments other than, perhaps, Poole Hospital
    • The train is not cheap, £10.00 for the two of us to get to Poole and back for example

    It should also be borne in mind that Ann could not use either buses or trains on her own.

    Some existing commitments would not be possible to fulfil. During the four weeks in question:

    • We had to get a neighbour to take Ann to her hairdresser in Bere Regis where she goes every four weeks
    • I was offered an eye scan in Wool which I had to change to Poole Hospital
    • Ann’s appointment with rheumatology outpatients in Swanage coincided with the day I was able to drive again otherwise we would have had to cancel and reschedule
    • I was unable to get to bowls without having to rely on other people

    Taxis were not used during the four weeks but could be used on occasions to avoid the walk from the bus stop/station. An increase in the use of online shopping also helped but that can never remove the need for ‘short life’ products such as fruit and vegetables. The local SPAR shop does have a limited selection which can help sometimes but a weekly trip in to Wareham to the supermarket and the butchers is pretty much an essential.

    Shopping can, perhaps, be accommodated without a car and essential other appointments may be changeable to more accessible locations but this would include a need for Ann to change from the hairdresser she has known for over ten years and who she is very comfortable with; a change would be unwelcome and stressful.

    The real problem is that our main interest in life is to go for a stroll and to have lunch out somewhere. Without a car we cannot do this and life comes to a stand still, we are bored!

     

    I am concerned about how we would cope if I was unable to drive again in the future, especially for a longer period of time ... it has certainly been a wake up call


     

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  • Nature records for July 2018

    Published Date: 
    Tuesday, 31 July, 2018

    July turned out to be something of a heatwave; after a timid start the sun really got into full gear by mid-month with temperatures reaching 28 here in Dorset and it was even hotter elsewhere. As far as nature reports went it was like July in mostyears I suspect, quiet on the bird fron but lots of insect records with some being quite notable.

    Starting, as usual, with birds there were very few rarities about; the juvenile purple heron which was roosting by Little Sea at Studland for a few nights was probably the pick. It was a 'heron' month really with numerous reports of great white egret and several of cattle egret plus a few spoonbills. The main interest centered around the number of osprey sightings in Poole harbour, it must surely only be a matter of time before they nest here? One species that is nesting here now and doing well in the marsh harrier and several records of family parties around the Weymouth reserves as well some individuals around Poole Harbour. The early return of waders noted in June continued into July with lots of records of little ringed plover, ringed plover, green sandpiper, common sandpiper, greenshank, redshank, dunlin, sanderling, whimbrel and black-tailed godwit. The beginning of warbler migration was also apparent towards the end of the month with several grasshopper warblers amongst those reported.

    Invertebrates were the main feature of the month, especially odonata making the news. The real headline was the find of three (or possibly four) southern migrant hawker in Lychett Bay by Ian Ballam. These were the first records for Dorset of this species that seems to be spreading rapidly across southern England. Other notable odonata included lesser emperor, lots of scarce chasers, some scarce blue-tailed damselfly and both red-eyed and small red-eyed damselfly.

    Butterflies were in good numbers too and it seemed they were having a good year for a change. The wood whites from the Eype area were the first records of this species in the county for some time. There was a large tortoiseshell on Portland for a few days but its origins were unknown and considered 'dubious' (ie: possibly a captive escape). Clouded yellows turned up in small numbers and the Dorset specialities of adonis blue, silver-studded blue and Lulworth skipper were all reported. There were a good number of a day flying moth, the jersey tiger this year too and it does seem to be spreading now reaching as far east as Bournemouth and Christchurch.

    There were records of other rare insect species too; both cliff tiger and heath tiger beetles were seen and so too the Purbeck mason wasp and the mottled bee-fly, all good records. The once rare but now increasing bee-wolf was reported from a couple of sites whilst the hornet hoverfly (Volucella zonaria) always excites and generates a number a tweets.


    The hornet hoverfly, Volucella zonaria

     

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  • After the Stroke: Status Report

    Published Date: 
    Saturday, 14 July, 2018

    Physical condition:

    Good. No apparent difficulties. Right arm may be a little “off the pace” but not a real concern. No problems walking or in general mobility. Still tired but getting better.

    Mental condition:

    Good. Still some muddled thoughts but overall seems normal. Having felt stressed for some time I am now, surprisingly, quite relaxed. Maybe I am not fully aware of the seriousness of the situation and should be concerned? I wonder if the stress up to now was because something was brewing and putting pressure on my brain and that has now been relieved? Time will tell.

    Follow-up Plan:

    I have an eye screening test on Monday. I have a heart ultrasound scan in early August and I have a heart monitor to wear for a weekend in mid-August. I need to see my GP in early August and I will receive an outpatients appointment for late August. Who knows what the postman will bring tomorrow?

    Ongoing Support:

    Almost ‘business as usual’ but not being able to drive four weeks is inconvenient. Most day to day activities unaffected and use of bus and train services available for exceptional travel requirements. Shopping probably the biggest issue but will up the use of on-line shopping and will have to make do with the local SPAR shop for simple needs. Friends and neighbours offering support and will get Ann to the hairdressers next Tuesday (critical requirement). Nearby bowler offering to take me to bowls (essential requirement).

    Prognosis:

    Good. Confident in medical support to find the cause and prescribe an answer. Expect to be back to normal and bowling again within a week or so.

    Other Issues:

    Events of the last couple of days have highlighted some concerns about the contingency plans to care for Ann should a repeat crisis occur. Needs addressing in due course; not deemed urgent but considered important.

    Conclusion:

    Things could be a lot worse. Very grateful for the care and concern from remote parties, really appreciated and will not be forgotten. Also grateful the effects on Ann seem minimal as she is unable to remember any of it!


     

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  • A Stroke of Luck

    Published Date: 
    Thursday, 12 July, 2018

    What? A stroke of luck? Well, I suppose I am lucky it was no worse and there seem to be no lasting side effects! Otherwise my stroke was far from lucky.

    At 9.00pm on Tuesday 10th July I was at my computer as usual. A couple of odd things seemed to happen but as I felt so incredibly tired I thought little of it and decided to have a very early night. I went into the kitchen, saw the dishwasher had finished, went to turn it off with the index finger of my right hand and missed the button completely. Surprised by this I used my left hand to do it but I put my right hand on the worktop as I did and I could hardly feel the surface at all, my right hand was numb. I had a similar experience pouring a glass of milk and then cleaning my teeth was a somewhat peculiar experience.

    I 'flopped' into bed and just lay there. Ann asked me if I was alright and I could not answer straight away and it took a couple of attempts to explain my right hand was numb although by now I had realized that my whole right arm was 'dubious'. I had no idea what was wrong; saying anything became difficult and when I did start a sentence the words just seemed to crumble away. After a while Ann decided she "didn't like the look of this" and decided to call for help and I guess she rang 999. She explained what was happening and they said a doctor would ring us back. 

    It was about 00.30am when the doctor eventually rang, about three hours later. I was able to talk to him but struggled to put sentences together to answer his questions. After about 20 minutes he said that someone ought to take a look at me and within a further 15 minutes an ambulance crew arrived. They did some routine tests (blood pressure, temperature and so on) and asked similar questions to the doctor and after while the senior medic said he was sure I had had some form of "neurological event" and I needed to get to hospital quickly for investigation.

    I was concerned about leaving Ann on her own and they agreed she should come with us, which in hindsight was a big, big mistake! We were soon speeding along, blue lights flashing, siren blaring, to A&E at Poole, arriving about 1.30am where an emergency nurse and doctor greeted us and went through the assessment process. The medical doctor said she was pretty certain I had had a mini-stroke and that they would keep me in and do some tests the following day but, in the short term, I was taken off for a CT scan. A couple of hours in A&E followed, which is not a pleasant experience seeing (and hearing) the other casualties of the night, and was eventually taken to the Stroke Recovery Unit and in to a room, fortunately on my own so we were away from other patients.

    After being checked over and connected to monitors we were left alone to supposedly get some sleep. The bed was extremely uncomfortable and all Ann had was a chair. Ann kept fussing around doing this and that and was clearly agitated which didn't help my frame of mind. The room had an 'en-suite' toilet which she decided she needed to use; she went in, locked the door and then could not get out again! Being linked to the monitor with multiple cables I could not get out of bed to try and get help and there was no one about. Ann started banging on the door and eventually a nurse arrived to find out what was going on and was able to free her. 

    By now it was getting daylight and neither of us were getting anywhere near sleep and we waited as time dragged by. About 6.30am Ann decided to use the toilet again. I told her not to lock the door this time and she didn't. Well, not when she went in but on the way out she did! After more banging on the door she was eventually freed. In all, she got locked in that toilet FOUR times. I was, to say the least, distraught.

    At about 8.30am things started to liven up. We eventually got a small bowl of cornflakes for breakfast, the first we had eaten since lunch the day before. Ann continued to be agitated and wanted to go home and kept asking where the car was. The stress was now beginning to really show on me as I battled to make her understand what was going on; it became clear she had no idea where we were, what had happened and what was going on. In the end I told the nurse I wanted to be freed from the equipment so I could take her down to the main entrance and try and get her into a taxi; I knew it was the wrong thing to do but she clearly wanted out and the only way to relieve the stress on me was to try and help her get home although we had no money with us.

    The nursing staff blocked any idea of that by a series of stalling measures for which I should really thank them. Eventually Ann settled down again, perhaps because things seemed to start happening. At 9.30am the consultant doctor walked in with her team, probably seven or eight of them. She asked me some questions, got me to do some things and then barked out the action plan! It was interesting see how as each instruction was issued the various members of the team made notes of what they had to do. After about 20 minutes they left.

    The first event was an ultrasound to check the arteries in my neck for narrowing or blockages. Ann stayed in the room whilst I went down to the X-ray area for this. I was gone some time and she was totally bewildered when I got back wondering why I had left her alone! No sooner than I was back in the ward I was called and taken down for an MRI scan and this time I insisted Ann come too, that seemed the better option. Once down at the MRI suite Ann had to stay in the waiting area whilst I went through what I had always feared, an MRI scan. It was not quite as bad as I expected as I kept my eyes firmly closed and so the fear of claustrophobia did not materialise during the 15 minutes but it was still a very strange experience. Afterwards, I went to my wheelchair and waited for the porter but no one came. After 20 minutes I knew Ann would be getting concerned but I could not get out of the suite as the door was, not surprisingly, locked. Eventually I found someone to let me out into the waiting area much to my, and Ann's, relief! We waited a further 10 minutes for the porter but still no action. We were hungry, tired, had headaches, were stressed and confused and when we enquired we were told that there was a shortage of porters but one would be with us in 20 minutes; I said "we will find our own way back" and started to walk towards the door. This had the desired effect, action started and five minutes later I was being wheeled back to the stroke unit, Ann following on behind.

    Our lunches were waiting for us which were surprisingly quite good! Then after a little recovery time the occupational therapist arrived and we went through a thorough assessment process to establish the full extent of any problems the stroke may have left; fortunately the effects seemed minor and she was happy we could function at home without help. Next, a short session with the speech therapist and got the all clear from her. Then one of the doctors in the team came in, confirmed that I had had a mini-stroke, told me i needed medication, yet another scan and then would be seen in a follow up clinic as an outpatient but that we could go home. It was now 2.30pm and Ann thought we could pack our bags and go but, of course, it was not that easy.

    We had to wait for my medication to come from the pharmacy, then it took a while to get the input tube from my arm removed. After that I had a briefing from the staff nurse who told us we could go as soon as transport could be arranged. It was 4.00pm by now and the estimated time for transport availability was 2 hours! I opted for a taxi which the ward facilitator ordered for us and eventually we were on way back home where we arrived at 4.30pm absolutely exhausted. The taxi fare was £25.00, plus a tip of course, but it was worth every penny.

    We got indoors, sorted one or two things out, flopped in the chair and Ann admitted she had no recollection of anything that had happened and could not even remember that I had had a stroke! In some ways it is perhaps good she does not remember the stress and trauma of the day but it is a really worrying indicator at just how bad her memory is now and, in her own words, "it is getting worse isn't it". 

    So I cannot drive for four weeks, I have a series of further medical appointments coming up and I am on medication for the rest of my life and one of the tablets is the statins I tried to avoid earlier in the year. This was not a good point in our lives but some valuable lessons were learned which need to be acted upon in case we have another crisis in future.

    Did I say a lucky stroke?


     

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