Who lives in a house like this?

Not strictly a house as such, but very much a place to call home for this critter…

It's a spiders web.. But which one?

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.

Mrs Wasp spider and her larder

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.

'Where has that grasshoper gone now?'

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.

Tachina grossa.. Just don't get in his way!

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. 

Young Hobby. Not the best of shots, but it does the job!

Kestrel sat in the tree next to the Hobby. I would never have expected them to be so close.

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.

Marsh gentian. A bit of a stunner..

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. 

Male keeled skimmer

Black darter. Quite a small dragonfly

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!

Migrant Hawker in flight. The next challenge is set!

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…

Southern Hawker, having worked out it might be better to egg lay into 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..

Small copper - refusing to open its wings too far!

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!

Cheers

Spudders

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