Not strictly a house as such, but very much a place to call home for this critter…
There’s nobody at home right now, but all will be revealed soon – along with a host of other wildlife from the same place.
Walking along any scrubby bit on the edge of a Dorset heathland, you’ll no doubt see plenty of insects, hear plenty of grasshoppers and find quite number of spiders webs. Look a little closer at the webs… If you find a web with a zig zag pattern of thicker silk, you’ve found the home of a wasp spider. What fantastic spiders they are! Horizontal stripes of white, black and yellow are the obvious reasons for it’s name, but it’s also a bit of a killer – especially if you happen to be a grasshopper.
They are big spiders as well, easily reaching up to about 3 cms in length (including the legs). It can take a while to find them, which seems odd when you look at how strikingly marked they are. The webs are generally low down, and I found quite a few new dwarf gorse. I got some pretty good scratches for my efforts in getting a few pics – but they were well worth it.
I’ve also had a pretty good time with sand lizards recently. With the sun having lost a bit of its intensity, the reptiles do seem to be a little more sluggish, or maybe they just like posing for the camera. I spent a while stalking a male sand lizard and having got as close as I dared I fired off a few shots and got ready to move back. Just then a small grasshopper hopped and landed a bout a foot away from the lizard, which duly dived after it, missed it and chased it down the slope towards me. It then eyed me up for a while (you can see my reflection in its eye!) while I took a few more shots and then it scooted away into the undergrowth.
A few days later, and the lure of the heath called me back again..
The first thing that caught my eye was a massive fly – and I mean MASSIVE! It’s called tachina grossa, and one I know quite well from my days when I managed a chalk downland site. I really didn’t expect to see one on a heathland but there it was, happily bumbling around in the bramble before deciding it was time to move and lifting off and away it went – rather like a large cargo plane.
Out onto the open heathland, and I decided to have a look for some marsh species for a change. I was a shrill, persistent calling that drew me towards a section of wet heath with a few sparse pines scattered around. A young hobby was sat in one tree calling away and a female kestrel was sat in the very next tree, occasionally dropping to the ground to grab a prey item. Pity I had decided to leave the long zoom lens at home, so only had the mid-range available. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?!! I got a couple of record shots anyway so all was not lost.
As I approached the wetter, marshy bit of the heath my boots got lower and lower into the boggy bits, and I contemplated turning back when a bright blue tubular flower stopped me in my tracks. Marsh Gentian! Nothing like the diminutive flower of the early gentian or the atumn gentian – marsh gentians want you to see them! Big and bold, with a beautiful deep blue colour they really are a stunning plant of the open marsh.
It all turned into a bit of a dragonfly fest after that – with Brown hawkers, Keeled skimmers, balck darter, common darter and migrant hawker all putting on a bit of a show.
I spent ages playing around with various zoom settings to get a shot of a dragonfly in flight, and while I got a few I think there is still very much room for improvement and I do like a good challenge!
The sky looked a bit dark by now, and it was pretty obvious we were in for a bit of a downpour quite soon, so I made my way off the wet heath passing by a few deeper ponds on my way to the main track. It was here that I found a female Southern Hawker dragonfly, laying her eggs. Oddly, she seemed determined to lay them not in the water but on the damp wood a few inches clear of the water…
Afetr a few hurried snaps, I headed off determined to get home before the drencing arrived! I had nearly made it off the heath when I was accosted by a small, brightly coloured butterfly. I say accosted, all it really did was flew across the track and I followed it..
It turned out to be a rather freshly emerged Small copper – a bit of a beauty as butterflies go. It refused to open its wings very far though and I really didn’t have time to hand around!
You’ll be pleased to know (I hope!) that I made it home safe and dry – and already planning for another trip on a fine day, to get the perfect dragonfly shot!