Portland Heights Special Interest Breaks Friday July 20th - Sunday July 22nd 2007

During the wettest July for many years we enjoyed two days of perfect weather (well, one and a half anyway!)

click here for a list of species seen over the weekend
Saturday July 21st

Weather: weather – rain in the morning with some sunshine in the afternoon

Kingbarrow Quarry, 0700
We started with a walk round one of the oldest quarries on the island, now a Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve.
The highlight here was the Little Owl perched on a rock face. We were also treated to a good range of butterflies including Chalkhill and Common Blues and countless Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns and Marbled Whites (see right). The quarry provided a good introduction to the island’s limestone flora with local specialities such as Yellow Vetchling growing amongst commoner species such as Birdsfoot Trefoil.

Portland Bill, 0930
Another Little Owl here gave us a reluctant view of the top of its head here as it peeped out from its hole in the rocks. As we approached the Old Lower Light (Portland Bird Observatory) a pair of juvenile Ravens flew over. At the Bird Observatory we examined the night’s catch from the moth trap, see the list for details. The warden Martin Cade updates the Portland Bird Observatory web site every day with a summary of the day’s sightings – see www.portlandbirdobs.org.uk.

In somewhat wet weather we walked out to the Westcliffs and found a few seabirds including several distant flocks of Gannets and some closer Fulmars and Kittiwakes.

Cheyne Point, Southwell, 1200
A totally different day here with warm sunshine making us wish we’d left our coats in the bus. Our main target was Wall Lizard, which we soon achieved with sightings of a fine male along with several smaller females. The breeding Peregrines were out looking for food as were there two well-grown female young. We also found our first Lulworth Skippers of the day here and the very rare Portland Rock Sea Lavender (see below). Not so rare but nearly as pretty was the Blue Fleabane (see below) growing perilously close to the cliff edge. Back at the bus we found an astonishing trio of bush-crickets in the verge – a beautiful little Short-winged Conehead along with Great Green and Speckled Bush Crickets.

Portland Rock Sea Lavender

Blue Fleabane

Mediterranean Gull

Ferrybridge, 1400
As well as enjoying an excellent lunch we very much enjoyed looking at the gorgeous adult Mediterranean Gull which was sat out on the mud just in front of the car park (see above).

Walking across the bridge into Wyke Regis we found some very special plants on the old Weymouth to Portland railway line, including Bithynian Vetch, Sea Holly and Little Robin (see below).

Bithynian Vetch

Sea Holly

Little Robin

Broadcroft Butterfly Reserve, 1630
Our final visit for the day was to a quarry run as a butterfly reserve by Butterfly Conservation. We failed to see any new butterflies here although we would have all liked to have a better view of the large nymphalid that was chasing the Red Admiral s around (several Large Tortoiseshells had been seen in the previous week). There were plenty of good plants though including Yellow Vetch and the much showier Viper’s Bugloss.

Sunday July 23rd
Weather: sunny intervals with a cold northerly breeze in the morning , warm sunshine most of the afternoon

Tout Quarry, 0700
This quarry and sculpture park gave us our first Grayling of the weekend as well as lots more Chalkhill Blues and Marbled Whites.

Admiralty Quarry, 0930
A plethora of outstanding sightings here including the only Silver-studded Blue of the weekend. A very pale Clouded Yellow (see right) turned out not to be a rarity after all. The photo shows the extent of the black border around the upperwing and the bright yellow colouration. Reptiles were a feature here with Slow-worm and Adder seen - although only one of them was picked up! The plant specialities here included Balm-leaved Figwort at one of its most easterly sites in the UK. One of the very few Buzzards on Portland put in a fine display diving into the trees just in front of us.

Clouded Yellow
(photo by Jeremy Aldred)
Ferrybridge, 1300
Just a short break here for lunch but we were glad to see the Mediterranean Gull again.

Culpepper’s Dish, 1430
After lunch we set out to the Dorset heathlands for a different set of insects and flowers. On the way some of us were lucky enough to see a Hobby dash across the road in front of the bus with several Buzzards further on.

Reaching Culpepper’s Dish (part of Bovington Heath) we walked out on to the heath and overlooked Rimsmoor Pond with its fine display of Bog Asphodels and Round-leaved Sundews. A huge Emperor dragonfly was cruising over the pond with a far smaller Common Blue Damselfly much closer on the heather just at our feet. This last species proved tricky to identify at first with several much rarer species present in the area, but examination of photos revealed the large round spot on segment 2 which clinches the identification. Amongst all sorts of interesting plants and animals seen over the next hour or so were this Sand Lizard (see right) which for some reason was perched on the top of a gorse bush.

Fungi here included a host of Common Earthballs and a fine specimen of the delicious Bay-capped Bolete.

Back at the bus we thought we had finished the weekend when a superb female Silver-washed Fritillary appeared on the roadside right next to us!

Back at the hotel we enjoyed a well-earned cream tea and went through the enormous list of species we had seen. Here’s to the next time,

Bob Ford