Thursday, 11 July 2013

Dorset Holiday-Day 5: Studland Heath NT

Another day where it was going to be an absolute scorcher. My family were going to Swanage so I got a lift to Studland NT which comes highly recommended by all the sources I had looked at. It is a dune filled heathland with large bodies of fresh water. Its most well known for its reptiles and winter birds but since I did not really rate my chances of finding either of these I decided to just go and see what was there. 
No sooner did I arrive than did I spot my first bird, a Kestrel flew over me. I was moving pretty cautiously with my eyes down looking for sand lizards when I spotted it moving over me. There might have been a nest nearby but I did not find it if there was.
At first I did not really have a clue where I was going as many smaller paths crossed the main paths and so I followed these into the woods to get to the 'Little Sea' and see what was there. It did not help that my OS map did not have paths that corresponded to the actual paths, but no matter as I eventually found my way around. 
There were quite a few people around wielding nets in small groups and though I tried to avoid them I overheard them talking about dragonflies, so I assume that they must have been surveying dragonflies. As soon as I entered the small wooded section next to the little sea were I surrounded by dragonflies. There were quite a few Keeled Skimmers in the heather, and occasionally there would be a Black Tailed Skimmer too. I also found Common Darter, as well as one Southern Hawker, and that was all in one small space.
-Black Tailed Skimmer
-Common Darter
-Southern Hawker
I found a small path that went down to the side of the Little Sea and here I found a lot of damselflies. These were mainly Azure and Blue Tailed Damselflies. Since it was boggy I also found some Round Leaved Sundews, which had been a pretty regular feature of all the heathlands that I had visited.
-Round Leaved Sundews
I was though, a bit dissapointed by the little sea. I could see a hide opposite but there were no birds on it at all, except perhaps a few Black Headed Gulls. Making my way back onto the dunes I found another Black Tailed skimmer, only this one had just caught a Bluebottle, and seemed content to let me photograph it while it ate it. These are without doubt the best photos I have ever got of this species, but since the only one I have ever found that seemed keen to land. 
-Black Tailed Skimmer
I made my way along the edge of the woodland next to the Little Sea to see if there was an actual major path down to it with a good viewpoint. On my way I saw my first reptile of the day: Common Lizard. I had seen ample tracks in the sand, as well as seen fleeting glimpses, but this one slunk out of the heather and sat down on the path in front of me.
-Sand Lizard

--In mid 2015 I have encountered this photo again and after a quick google search its pretty clear this is in fact a female Sand Lizard, which was a reptile lifer at the time. The gold dots all along it should have given it away at the time, but I guess I just did not click. So here we have a Sand Lizard, reptile lifer at the time. Superb, just unfortunate that I did not recognise it at the time--

I then found a way down to the Little sea, or at least I thought it was the little sea, but it was closed it seemed, unless it went through the reeds at the northern end to join the LS. Either way this pond had more aquatic vegetation than the any of the LS so far had done, and there were more dragonflies here. I could only access it at this little site though, and here there were too many horseflies.
The dragonflies included the species already seen today and Four Spot Chaser. But there were others. There were three dragonflies slightly larger than darters that kept flying round holding territories very aggressively. It was only when they turned to me and I saw their vivid Green eyes that I realised that these were Downy Emeralds, though very late emeralds. Either way they were a new species and so I waited for one to land. And waited. And waited but they just did not seem keen, even despite the presence of an Emperor Dragonfly which was meant to relegate these smaller dragonflies to the waters edge.
-Four Spot Chaser
While I waited I looked at the birdlife on the pond, which was significantly better than it had been anywhere else on the reserve. There were Moorhens and Coots in the reeds, and opposite me there was a flock of Black Headed Gulls being shadowed by a Grey Heron.
-Grey Heron
The highlight of the birds was though a Little Grebe that was fishing at the far corner of the pond. I only just noticed it, as it was keeping its distance from me, but it was the only one I saw all holiday.
-Little Grebe
All this time the Emeralds had not landed, so I decided to have a mooch up the side of the pond and see if there were any others. I wont bore you with the account, but I found no others, and found that a sedge patch had built up between the waters edge and me so that I was unable to actually see the water. In this sedge patch though a lovely Reed Bunting came and landed next to me.
-Reed Bunting
With this in mind I decided to return to where I was. I was building a path of my own around the area with my to-and-fro-ing. The emeralds were still there but they were still not keen to land so I started trying to photograph them in flight. They came really close but moved too quick. I tried to focus on one point and wait for them to come but they kept being a little above or below the point of focus. 
What really struck me beside their eyes was that their tails seemed to be bent at one point. I don't know if this was an injury on the individuals I was watching or a regular thing with this species, but it struck me. Then, I was following one and it came and landed in a bird tree near me. It was a pain as I could not get a good angle on it and so my photos from that landing were poor. However, it soon took off and landed in the heather in front of me. It was not an ideal position, but allowed me to really get photos of their eyes, which were what had really struck me. 
-Downy Emerald
After a bit of Downy Emerald photographing it took off again and once more began to terrorise the other dragonflies that were there. And so that was the new dragonfly species I had been after, though it came from a source I had not expected it being so late in their flight season.
After I had watched the emerald I spotted that an Emperor Dragonfly had landed in front of me and was beginning to oviposite, so I took a few photos. It was looking at me while it was laying so the photos are more striking.
-Emperor Dragonfly
I left that section of the pond to continue exploring the dunes. I kept the woods to my left though and found that it quickly turned into a flooded forest, where the marsh came right up to the edge of the woods. Here the only dragonfly species that was in any real abundance were Black Tailed Skimmers. I found on that had caught a Blue Tailed Damselfly and was sat on a branch happily munching away.
-Black Tailed Skimmer
I soon found the main path again. I decided to cut across the woods via the path to the west side of the reserve to see what was ahead. The heat had become extreme and that was noticeable in the lack of butterflies around. There were a few Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers but otherwise it was very quiet.
Indeed, it was very quiet in all departments on the western side of the wood. I made my way towards the top car park to see what was about up there. The only thing I saw was a lizard scurry across the path, but too quick for anything other than to notice it. I found its tracks though, which was nice to find. It remained the same until I reached the northern section of the reserve near to the beach. Here the sand and heather was replaced by gorse and the birdlife greatly increased. It started when in a dried river bed I flushed a family of Pied Wagtails and a pair of Greenfinches
The gorse was well endowed with birds, heathland species such as Linnet, Stonechat, Skylark in song flight and Meadow Pipit. In fact, it was rather like Soil Hill in terms of its birdlife.
-Meadow Pipit
Having said that it was like soil hill, soil hill does not have any Dartford Warblers which were in abundance here. The only issue was that all I could see were their long red tails dissapearing into the gorse or them flying across the path. I headed to the car park to see what was there before I headed back to chase them, as it was very hot for chasing birds. 
On the way I spotted Sandwich Terns fishing on the beach but that was about it. The path from beach to car park was a boardwalk over a well reeded pool, but it was void of wildlife. As a result I headed back to the gorse to see if any dartford warblers would sit conveniently for me. After about 10 mins chasing them I finally found one hunting spiders in a dead gorse bush where I could see all its movements. From here I was finally able to get some record shots that actually look like Dartford Warblers. Not only that but I got a great view of the bird as it was feeding. Eventually after about 3 mins it took off again and dissapeared into more gorse.
-Dartford Warbler
I then returned to the path feeling very satisfied. Only to find once i got there another warbler, only this one was much bolder, it was a juvenile I think, and I was able to get quite close to it. It started hunting at the base of a gorse bush right in front of me and I watched it for some time before it slipped through a hole in the bush to the otherside and I lost it. 
-Dartford Warbler
I made my way back to the car park where I had begun by going down the Eastern side of the wood. There was not much going on, though there continued to be Skylarks singing and a Greater Spotted Woodpecker flew over me. In testament to this fact I have hereby included a photo of a tree...
-A Tree
In all honesty the remainder of the walk was quite limited in its wildlife appeal. As with Arne the day before the late afternoon sun seemed to come early and it had a twilight feeling at around 4 in the afternoon. All the wildlife seemed to have agreed and the only thing I saw on the way back was a lizard scurry across the path. I made my way to where the downy emeralds had been, but it was not a busy now, and there was only one emerald hunting, and it did not stop to land.
My mum text me saying meet up at the car park where I had been dropped off so I made my way that direction. It wasn't until I had joined up with them again that it really got interesting again. I joined my family on the beach and after a few mins of sharing what I had seen I noticed that some of the Black Headed Gulls were bulkier, their heads darker and their beaks darker. I had found some Mediterranean Gulls, only my second time ever, and this time I had a real camera. There were about 5 of them, though there could have been more, but I enjoyed watching them as they made their way up and down the beach hunting in the seaweed. 
-Mediterranean Gulls
Despite it become much quieter later on, this was without doubt the best day of the holiday so far. It was nice so see some unusual birds, and even then I got good views as well as some nice dragonflies and a new species.
So here ends day 5, again with sunburn and various scratches, but well worth it. 

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