Dorset SW of Poole & Bournemouth. Why? A summer weekend chasing
dragonflies & relaxing.
Weblogs - diaries, profiles and reports recorded on the web
for others to read - and enjoy!
Friday - late
morning: With Spring birdwatching behind us, Autumn migration
still a month or so away, and a decent weather forecast for the weekend, we
decided to enjoy a few days in the sun chasing butterflies and dragonflies.
The dry heaths of Dorset promised new species and some old favourites too
and so we set off on a sunny Friday morning in mid July with a welcome
forecast of a hot and sunny weekend, absolutely ideal weather for
dragonflies and butterflies.
across country to avoid the manic Friday motorways we stopped for lunch at
Silbury Hill in Wiltshire and found an unbarriered(!) car park nearby with
adjoining grassed picnic area complete with a super view of the ancient
hill. As the weather was so good we got out the table and chairs and
lunched al fresco, joining the occupants of two continental campers doing
the same - but they were sitting in the shade of course!
We walked off
lunch by climbing the hill across the road to see West Kennet Long
Barrow. Neill saw it referred to on TV recently and was reminded that he'd
been there as a kid when the new side chambers had just been excavated and
were hot news. I said I'd like to see it so a lunch stop was duly
scheduled! After a modest
up the hill you can walk past the impressive guard stones to go right inside
this burial chamber built by the Beaker people 5,500 years ago. People
must still regard this barrow as mystical as there were candles in the rock
crevices and a simple “shrine” of feathers, flowers and wheat had been
assembled on the floor. A fascinating experience enhanced by swallows
swooping past our ears to feed their young in a nest tucked on top one of
the massive stones deep in the chamber - though this did seem to rather
spook some later visitors!
This whole area
is dotted with ancient sites and from the top of this long barrow you can
see Silbury Hill, East Kennet Long Barrow and the three prominent round
barrows on the Ridgeway - quite a sight - made even more significant to know
a thousand years elapsed between the building of the barrow and Silbury
We continued on
our way south picking up the A350 and stopping for coffee in a lay-by at
about 5pm. Skirting round Blandford and Wareham, with the help of a
Garmin GPS Neill is reviewing, we made our way onto that piece of coastal
land SW of Poole known as the Isle of Purbeck - bounded by Lulworth Cove in
the West, Swanage & Studland in the East and Poole Harbour in the North.
arrived at our target of Corfe Castle to check out a reputed “sleepy spot”.
The main NT car park had new signs forbidding overnight parking but a
motorcaravan was already installed in the lay-by parking in the lane
opposite - a little too close to the main road for we country
bumpkins. We already knew that the Ferry Road Sleepy Spot was now off
limits, so we headed for a CCC CS field at Church Farm in Church Knowle a
couple of miles away and arrived about 8 pm. It turned out to be quite a
large field, with a tap and bins, rather sloping, but level enough at the
bottom and with good views of the Purbeck Hills especially from the top. The
church nestles in the corner of the adjacent field and the farmer has made a
small pool which should attract more wildlife when it has matured, there
were damselflies and a common hawker dragonfly in residence and meadow
browns in the field too - so wildlife already then.
disturb the farmer but settled down on our Fiamma levelling blocks at the
top of the hill and sat out in the evening sunshine with an aperitif to
enjoy the view. There was one other motorcaravan, a Swift/Marquis
Lifestyle, and also a caravan already ensconced and we were delighted to
hear the sound of evening birdsong with no traffic accompaniment! As the
evening cooled further we retired indoors to enjoy a Lamb Rogan Josh and a
bottle of Rosemount Chiraz Cabernet and to watch the sun set in a clear sky.
morning: felt cooler but the sun was already well up when we
ventured outside to have a quite leisurely breakfast and coffee. We drove
down the field to service the camper and as the tap was close to the other
motorcaravan, we got talking to a nice couple from Southampton. They were
lucky enough to have retired and are enjoying their first motorhome (but why
wait that long?!!). After chatting for some time we gave them our web
address and went to pay at the farm.
farmer was not about so we left our £6 in an envelope in the conservatory by
his site book - he was obviously well organised, certainly much better than
average, with the site book and tariff being easily found.
By this time we
had been accosted by a pleasant German girl who had been walking the Ridge
with her English boyfriend. They were looking for the Woodland Park
campsite with 'facilities' suitable for tent campers and we directed them a
mile or so down the road where we had noticed the campsite entrance the
previous evening. As we drove into the farmyard to find the CDP we noticed
that they looked hot and tired and the girl seemed inappropriately dressed
for walking, wearing a long black dress and pulling a suitcase on a little
trolley behind her! Her taciturn boyfriend was carrying an enormous
backpack no doubt containing their tent and camping paraphernalia. They
perked up no end when we offered them a lift to the site and climbed on
board with alacrity – chatting to us enthusiastically as we drove down the
lane and deposited them right outside the site office where a notice greeted
them proclaiming “Party Tonight until Midnight” !!
the best of luck we quickly made our escape and set off to drive along the
narrow lane across the heath towards Arne stopping by the roadside for lunch
at one of the highpoints. In the distant heat haze ponies were grazing and
nearer to butterflies were fluttering about in the sunshine. We quickly
spotted a Gatekeeper in addition to the usual Meadow Browns, lots of Small
Heaths and Skippers, a Marbled White, a Lulworth Skipper - a first, a
possible Grayling and several 6-Spot Burnet moths - all within a 20
foot radius of the camper! The heather all round was a haze of purple
flowers and alive with grasshoppers and Soldier Beetles. A very special
Afternoon: After lunch we drove to the RSPB Arne Reserve and
managed to find a shady spot in the car park. There are no restrictions on
entry but members park free while non members are charged £4 for parking.
A short walk to Spittal’s Point took us to a tiny beach with a view across
the harbour. The tide was well up so there were no birds feeding
there. We climbed up to the viewpoint for a panoramic view of the harbour
and all the islands in wonderful light, Brownsea, Long Island, Round Island,
and more. Poole is claimed to be "One of the World's largest natural
harbours" - quite a sight. Common Terns were fishing in the Bay, diving
from a height like little white darts shooting into the sea. Ospreys are
We could have
watched for hours, but it was now very hot and we elected to do the Woodland
Walk for the welcome shade. The pathway gave us super views over the
Saltings where we spotted some distant Sika deer with young calves through
the heat haze. We soon came upon some pools and our first Large Red
Damselflies. Broad Bodied Chasers were defending their territories over the
water and we got a brief sight of a possible Keeled Skimmer, one of the
species we hadn't seen for a very long time. We moved on to the next couple
of pools to find a magnificent Emperor dragonfly patrolling up and down and
flashing electric blue - then he perched and posed for us (most unusual) and
allowed us to look at him in detail at close focus through a monocular.
Most of the time we wander around with 10x50 binoculars but an ultra close
focussing monocular is excellent for insects!
These pools were alive with
damselflies - Blue Tailed, Large and Small Reds and also dragonflies in
profusion - Southern Hawker, Four Spotted Chasers, more Broad Bodied
Chasers, Common Darters and undisputed Keeled Skimmers both male and female.
further on a boardwalk which took us through the woods and suddenly realised
that we were approaching a small group of Sika deer half hidden in the
dappled light of the trees ahead. They were aware of our presence but
seemed unafraid as long as we stuck to the boardwalk. They are such pretty
deer especially with the several little ginger-brown calves among them and
so confiding too - well they are here at least. We reached the hide and
found it gave us a wide view over the Saltings and across the harbour to
Poole. More terns were fishing near the hide and in the distance many boats
filled the harbour. We could see everything from small sailing dinghies to
large ferries. Looking at some brown dots through the binoculars
revealed about 500 Curlew roosting on a little island, some feeding
Oystercatchers and a couple of Redshank. A pair of Shelduck were roosting
on another island along with their fluffy ducklings. A Sika deer was
feeding out on the Saltings with two Starlings sitting on it’s back like a
couple of oxpeckers on an antelope! High tide was approaching and slowly
more and more deer came out onto the Saltings to graze until there were
eventually 18 including a small bachelor group with an adult stag with
antlers in velvet.
These deer are often
seen in the late afternoon and evening.
We left the
hide after a time - and after a welcome cool drink from a Ribena carton -
and walked to the pool close by where there were more red damselflies laying eggs
in the water, another Emperor patrolling in earnest and yet more Keeled
Skimmers and it was 6 pm by now! We walked back over the heath and spotted
a family of Green Woodpeckers calling to each other and flying into the
woodland. A female Stonechat flitted past the car park as we approached the
camper and the sun was still shining as we drove back to the site at
Church Farm, surely we must be in Spain not England?!
now, we enjoyed a little smoked salmon and a glass of White Grenache al
fresco before tucking into minted Lamb Kebabs and rice and a bottle of Gallo
Cabernet Sauvignon with fresh grapes to follow. Ah this is the life!
The farmer came to visit to collect his dues and told us he had been a dairy
farmer for 40 years and still got up at dawn! We confessed to 'not doing
mornings' unless birdwatching and received that disbelieving look that all
early risers give you! He's a really nice chap though with family in
New Zealand and is looking forward to a long visit in the new year. The
“Lifestyle” couple arrived back later and parked in the same place as
dawned to sunshine yet again! We breakfasted at leisure, outdoors
again, and had the field all to ourselves. We left about 10.30 for Studland
Heath stopping at Godlington Heath on the way for a high level view of the
harbour. Studland was packed with day trippers, the car parks overflowing
and cars were parked on the verges both sides of the road most of the way
from Studland to the ferry! We stopped to ask an NT man for a map and drove
up the road to get away from the crowds until we found a space off road big
enough for the Hymer and close to a well hidden walkers gate into the woods
adjoining Little Sea, a well known land locked coastal lake. Most
approach it from the seaward side but we thought it would be quieter in the
the woodland and bracken towards the 'Grebe Hide' we were surrounded by
wispy clouds of Common Blue damselflies some joined in pairs - 'in cop'.
On entering the hide we could see a dense swirling cloud of them just above
the surface of the water near some lily pads. Under the water lily was a
clump of pondweed and the females were laying their eggs on it, lowering
themselves deep into the water to insert their eggs in the stem of
the plant. As a female came back up to the surface a male would “rescue”
her, hooking her behind the head and pulling her through the water’s
meniscus back to the safety of the air! The females can stay under water
for up to 60 minutes but often have to be rescued by the males because they
can't break free from the water's surface tension. Scores of life and
death dramas in miniature completely ignored by most of the rest of the
Out on the
water we could see a Little Grebe, Canada Geese, Tufted Duck and a
Cormorant. As we watched four little Tufted ducklings paddled round past
the hide, diving and bobbing back up to the surface again. They spotted the
damselfly cloud and snapped up a few of them as they passed!
walked south through the woods and found more damselflies and a Common
Darter and then in full sunlight, and resting quietly on a leaf, a female
Downy Emerald dragonfly - a first for us. It has a very hairy thorax
and a stunning bronze body, a real beauty. Further along in a clearing in
the wood a bramble was in full flower attracting insect pollinators and
there we spotted our first ever Silver Washed Fritillary butterfly,
beautifully marked, delicate, and partly translucent in the sunshine. We
walked back to the camper well satisfied with our new sightings - and not
having seen or heard another soul away from the road!
We decided to
go up to the north end dunes to make our way to the beach side of Little Sea
but found the road heaving with happy campers determinedly heading for the
beach with lilos and windbreaks under their arms and their cars parked both
sides of the road barely leaving enough room for the traffic to pass
between. Parking spaces big enough for a motorhome were definitely not
available though they plainly had been earlier in the day. We turned
round at the end (the ferry to Poole) and tried to escape between the parked
vehicles and oncoming traffic, several times kissing wing mirrors while
breathing in hard! Once away from Studland we stopped for a welcome ice
cream - New Forest cornets - in a lay-by viewpoint overlooking the vast
natural harbour before continuing up to the heath again for lunch nearer the
woodland and scrub.
time we found we had parked in the territory of a family of stonechats. The
male and female and at least four young flew around us calling and begging
for food. Then we got our first view of a Dartford Warbler flying low over
the heather, dark and small bodied and long tailed, it’s fluttery flight
looked as if it was catching flies. We enjoyed a salad lunch with a small
glass of Grenache and then drove back to the Arne Reserve car park to walk
the Coombe Birdwatchers’ Trail across the heather.
The small pool
we came across had all our favourites, Small Reds, Common Blues, a few
Spotted Chasers and a female Keeled Skimmer glowing golden in the sunshine.
We also noticed some sticks with little flags on them dotted amongst the
heather and went to investigate. They seemed to be insect traps -
presumably a research project - they didn’t seem to have caught anything
though. The wonderful views across to Poole never seemed to pall and the
added interest of dragonflies with wings like translucent gold in the
afternoon sunshine helped produce a wonderful feeling of well being.
While enjoying more if somewhat distant views of the
alternately fluttering and skulking Dartford
Warblers we were careful to top up our protection against the unaccustomed
strength of the Sun. Eventually back off the heath we walked back
across a “rabbit lawn” near the car park and put up two juvenile green
woodpeckers, all spotty and somewhat silly. They perched on the fence and on
a fallen tree for some time and we got good views of them there.
left Arne around 7 pm hoping to avoid the Sunday night traffic on the way
home. We decided to drive home across Salisbury Plain and stopped for
dinner at Stonehenge. Although now often closed, fenced and gated, we
know a track nearby where you can park up with a reasonable view over the
monument. No sooner were we installed than we witnessed a minor “invasion”.
We were watching a group of about 50 tourists photographing and standing
within the circle and commenting that we thought you were not allowed to
walk among the stones any more when the police arrived! They were evicted
fairly promptly by a couple of bobbies who then handed over to a young
security guard who had presumably phoned them in the first place! The whole
episode was quite bizarre. Why is the car park closed on a Sunday evening
when people want to visit the ancient stones in the sunset?
Why is there
such a high fence all around so visitors cannot view the monument properly
“out of hours”? If it really is necessary to keep people at a distance from
the stones so they can be viewed in the landscape why have they developed
the intrusive road which intrudes so audibly and visually on the scene?
Many foreign visitors there plainly thought it bonkers!
We finished the weekend watching the sun going down on
Stonehenge over a meal of peppered chicken in white wine with mushrooms
accompanied by french beans and new potatoes, plus a can of Boddingtons,
and listening to the skylarks in full song soaring up in the still clear
sky. A perfect end to a super weekend.