Parish Nature Notes for June - John Wright

The Met Office tell us that June was the wettest on record and this follows a sequence of months with unexpected twists and turns in the weather. Nevertheless, our wildlife responds to each season as best it can and somehow juvenile birds appear, butterflies take flight whenever the sun breaks through and this month many plants have extended their flowering period instead of shrivelling up in the heat. Other committments early in the month and a holiday in the second half of June mean that my notes are more limited in coverage than normal.

One of the pleasures of a walk beside a hedgerow in June, particularly if you can pick a warm evening, is the heady perfume you encounter as you pass flowering honeysuckle twisting itself around other vegetation. Scent from the tubular flowers of the honeysuckle attracts night-flying moths whose long tongues collect nectar but at the same time pollinate the flowers.

Honeysuckle
 
Honeysuckle

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

My first opportunity to walk round Wareham Forest and Morden Bog was on 9th June when there was some limited sun along with a breeze. Various species of grass have grown to quite a height this year and I'm always amazed at the ability of such long thin stems to support the flowering heads whose task it is to ensure that pollen is caught in the wind and dispersed. Even if you have no interest in identifying grasses, do take a look at the variety of different forms they display.

Sika stags cast their old antlers in April/May and on my walk I noticed a lone stag in a field with new antler growth covered in velvet.This living velvet covering will remain as the antler grows to full size around August, when the antlers are cleaned of their velvet in preparation for the rut in October/November.

Sika in Velvet

Sika in velvet

Photograph: Michael Wright

West of Sherford Bridge the alarm calls of swallows alerted me to a sparrowhawk flying nearby with prey in its talons. Then, further on, as I was watching some swifts feeding high over Morden park Lake, a larger swift-like bird appeared amongst them. This time the hobby took little notice of the swifts, but hobbies are capable of catching swifts. Seeing one master of flight pursued by another must be quite a spectacle.

At a somewhat smaller scale, damselflies were catching minute flies closer to the water surface and resting on the surface leaves of the yellow water lilies which are now in full bloom. Amongst them was a blue-tailed damselfly, a widespread species which you may also see by garden ponds.

Blue-tailed Damselfly

Blue-tailed damselfly

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

As I approached Decoy Cottage in Morden Bog, I heard a redstart singing - the first time this year at this favoured location. Further on a hobby was perching on a conifer near the Old Decoy Pond and another was seen further south within Morden Bog. The breeze and lack of sunshine probably limited the numbers of dragonflies and other insects available for capture in flight.

Hobby in conifer

Hobby in conifer

Photograph: Aidan Brown

The next day, I had a walk round Holton Heath Industrial Estate, where a variety of plants including some quite uncommon species for our Parish were on display. Last year I noticed just one bee orchid in flower on a grassy verge on Blackhill Road. This year more spikes appeared in two locations in late May. Unfortunately seven spikes grew in short grass and were promptly mown soon afterwards but 16 spikes in another factory border flowered throughout June, several of them producing seven or eight flowers per spike. Each flower looks very much like a bumblebee and is indeed pollinated by these insects on the continent of Europe, but in Britain bee orchids are thought to be self-pollinating despite their elaborate flowers designed to attract bumblebees.

Bee Orchid

Bee Orchid

Photograph: John Wright

Another plant which appears at Holton Heath, and also outside our Parish on roadside verges and around the railway station at Wareham, is broad-leaved everlasting pea. This is a large climbing species, originally from southern Europe, which scrambles over other vegetation or man-made structures and catches the eye with its large magenta flowers.

Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea

Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea

Photograph: John Wright

After a holiday break, I was relieved to see that it wasn't raining on 30th June, which was my final opportunity to walk round Wareham Forest and Morden Bog in June. As I crossed Great Ovens Heath a dartford warbler was singing and I noticed our county flower, Dorset heath, starting to flower. This impressive species grows wild in Dorset and parts of Cornwall but has probably been planted in one or two nearby counties.

Dorset Heath

Dorset Heath

Photograph: John Wright

Further on, as I passed a field with luxuriant vegetation, I noticed a doe roe deer feeding from the safety of the centre of the field, and wondered if it had one or two fawns hiding out of sight nearby. Not far from Sherford Bridge a dragonfly flew by and then conveniently hung up on nearby vegetation, allowing me to identify it as a southern hawker. This species, noted for its tendancy to fly up to and investigate walkers passing through its territory is typically seen on the wing somewhat later in the summer, so this was rather unexpected, given our cool summer conditions.

Southern Hawker

Southern Hawker

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

At Morden Park Lake, although the emergent vegetation had grown thick, I noticed that one of the great crested grebes appeared to be sitting on a new nest, with its mate in close attendance. Apparently, they do sometimes attempt a second brood and in the case of the little grebe, two or even three broods are normal. Further on, near Decoy Cottage, there was no sign of the redstart but a spotted flycatcher, usually the latest of our summer migrants to arrive, was flitting around some bracken in search of insects.

And finally, despite the less than ideal conditions, I saw a few silver-studded blue butterflies as I crossed Morden Bog. These remarkable heathland specialists have a mutually beneficial association with ants in which the early stages of the butterfly are protected by the ants in exchange for sugary and other secretions exuded from the caterpillars. The ants also protect the pupae and are even in attendance when the butterflies emerge and inflate their wings before their first flight.

Silver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blue

Photograph: Ken Dolbear