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  • Small Heath in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

    The small heath is certainly a small species and that can help identify it from other browns. The underside of the wing is quite similar to the meadow brown and the gatekeeper so in this case size matters if it is at rest with its wings closed. The small heath has several overlapping broods each summer so the can be seen almost consistently from May right through until October in mainly grassy areas on downs, cliffs and heath. The small heath is probably the most common grassland species over the course of a summer but it may be outnumbered by Meadow Brown in mid-summer.

    Here in Dorset they start to emerge in week 18 which is around the second week in May. There is one report from week 16 in late April for 2017. There are then reports in most weeks through until week 43 at the end of October but there is a break three week break between broods from week 30 to 32 in July. The number of reports is greater in late summer than earlier in the year and I think that reflects the fact that they do seem to be more numerous later in the season.

    The are records of small heath from many sites across the county with the dominant vegetation of those sites being calcareous grassland and also heath.


  • Ringlet in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

    It is just my perception, with no data to support it, that the ringlet may be being seen more frequently now than it was, say, thirty years ago. That said the Nature of Dorset database only has twenty records for 2017 and 2018 combined so it is one of the least reported of the more accessible butterflies; by that I mean that some species are hard to find because of their preferred habitat and so have few records. The ringlet is seen mainly in near lush vegetation in damp, shady areas in woodlands, along hedgerows and riverbanks. Being mainly dark brown with just a series of light brown rings on its underwings it cannot really be confused with any other species if seen at rest. 

    The reports we have for Dorset from tweeted sightings show emergence of the single brood in week 25 and ends in week 28; just a four week flight period around the latter part of June and in to early July. The textbooks agree on mid-June for first sightings but consider ringlets likely to be seen in to mid-August. May be as more data is accumulated the position with the ringlet here in Dorset will become clearer.

    We have records from fifty-three different sites in Dorset with broadleaf woodland being the dominant habitat type across these sites, however grassland and heath also feature. That said, many of the sites with grassland or heath are also part woodland so I think we can consider this butterfly a woodland species. The distribution map shows sightings scattered across the county with no real concentration in any particular area and it is something of a scarcity on the Purbeck and Poole heathlands. 


  • Meadow Brown in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

    I do not have access to any figures from surveys but I suspect that the meadow brown is the most numerous and possibly most widespread butterfly in Dorset. They lay their eggs on various species of frequently found grasses and so where you find those grasses you will possibly find meadow browns and that is just about everywhere! It is very common on limestone and chalk grassland and we have quite a lot of that in Dorset but the meadow brown can also be found along woodland rides, on coastal dunes, by hedgerows and on road verges (unless they are the ones cut every other week by the Council) and areas of 'wasteland'. They are not that common in gardens though thanks to our lawn mowers and our desire to keep our grass cut short, assuming there is grass in the first place given the current trend to decking and paving.

    The database reports show the meadow brown taking flight in week 21 in late May but June produces the most reports. From then on reports are lower in numbers but continue right through until week 43 in late October. My textbooks quote late May to late October as the flying period so it seems Dorset conforms to the national norm. 

    There are reports from almost a hundred locations across Dorset which does indicate how widespread they are. The most frequent habitat types occurring on those sites are grassland followed by woodland and heath. The distribution map confirms the density of records but there are a few gaps mainly it seems around the agricultural belt south of Cranborne Chase but that may be due to lack of recording rather than lack of meadow browns.


  • Gatekeeper in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

    I always new this delightful little butterfly as the hedge brown; it is a member of the 'brown' family and is often found along hedgerows, especially hedges with brambles present. With name standardisation it is now known as the gatekeeper and I think that is a much more interesting name than the rather dull hedge brown. The gatekeeper is found in a wide range of habitat, not just hedgerows. You will find it along sunny woodland rides, in parks and gardens, on sea cliffs, scrubby grasslands and even heath. Whist they adore bramble they are happy on almost any nectar bearing flower including thistles and ragwort and in our garden they have a particular passion for marjoram.

    The reports we have in the Nature of Dorset database show the gatekeeper emerging in week 26, reports peak in week 27 and then continue every week until week 32 and then that is it for another year. This means they can be seen in Dorset from late June until late August which ties in exactly with the textbooks.

    The gatekeeper is widespread and common here in Dorset and has been recorded at nearly 100 locations and, as the distribution map shows, there is hardly an area of Dorset where they will not be seen. Where there are gaps I suspect this is due to lack of recording rather than the lack of gatekeepers.


  • Grayling in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

    The grayling is considered to be a mainly coastal species favouring a variety of open habitat types from heath to limestone grassland. It does not seem to be a woodland species as it likes to sunbathe on dry, bare soil or rock and as such it can also be found in disused quarries and we have few of those here on the Dorset coast. It rarely rests with its wings open and when the wings are closed it can be incredibly well camouflaged and hard to spot; the first you see of it is when it suddenly taking flight as you pass close by its resting place. It also has the amazing ability to tilt to one side to reduce its shadow on the ground! 

    The Textbooks indicate that the grayling flies in July and August. Here in Dorset it seems to emerge in week 25 towards the end on June and then there are reports every week through until week 35 which is the first week in September. The most reports come in week 29 and July certainly seems the prime month for them. There is one record in the Nature of Dorset database for week 41 in late October which is certainly a late record and well separated from the main stream of reports.

    Forty two locations have recorded grayling in Dorset with Tout Quarry on Portland seemingly a hot spot for them; Tout is a disused limestone quarry which ticks most of the boxes for the grayling's preferred habitat. The distribution map, though, clearly shows that outside of Portland it is the heathland around the Poole basin where grayling are most likely to be seen.