Saturday 27th June 2015.
John Cronin and John Goodall by Tillywhim Caves.
John Goodall, John Cronan and myself took the drive down to Durlston Head for the annual Puffin tick off Durlston Head, in sunny Dorset. This is the third time in four years I have been coming here as we walk from the car park to the Dancing Ledge to view the Puffins and have lunch, followed by the long hilly walk back. It is a five mile round trip but it is challenging on the calf and thigh muscles with all the hill climbing we do. No matter how bloody fit you think you are, the last half mile is a killer on those poor feet!
Razorbills and Guillemots offshore below the cliffs.
The weather was truly on our side today with a nice onshore wind and a clear blue sky enabling us to really enjoy all the superb wildlife we came across. It couldn’t have started any better, when as we were getting all our stuff ready from the back of the car, I heard something unusual flying overhead. Confused at first, it looked like a Siskin but with a very different call. I have heard singing Serins before but I wasn’t familiar with their flight call. When I got home later in the evening, I checked my bird app for flight calls of Serin and it was a dead match! I, therefore, quickly put it on Birdguides.
Fulmar flying below the cliffs.
Roesels Bush Cricket nymphs.
Durlston Head has a wealth of wildlife to look at and we were quickly checking the sea down below the cliff path for the Auks. Both Guillemot and Razorbill were in good numbers and in attendance, the odd Fulmar flew past and a few Shags were seen perched on the rocks below. A scan out over the relatively calm sea revealed a few adult Gannets drifting past. A single Sandwich Tern flew past heading east low over the water and much further along the coast, I picked up several adult Kittiwakes over the water.
Adult Gannet drifting west offshore.
Oak Eggar caterpillar on the footpath.
A Peregrine flying away from us after being flushed by a fencepost.
Peregrines gave everything the chase, seeing there was at least one pair with their two offspring all on the wing to harass the local Pigeons, Gulls and Crows! Occasionally, we would come across one of the beautiful falcons perched on a fencepost, but never allowed a close approach. We notched up over 32 species of bird on our journey and though the Puffins were seen (although probably just the one individual seen several times), we also found a pair of Black Redstarts searching for food where we had our lunch! I know they are present at this location, but it was the first time we had seen then here.
Dock Leaf Shield Bug.
Other interesting birds included at least six Stonechat, Common Whitethroat, a couple of Yellowhammers, Raven, Linnets, a pair of Kestrels, up to two Common Buzzards and plenty of Rock Pipits. I have to be honest, I was more in search for butterflies, insects and plants and came across a huge variety to look at. We came across our first Slow Worm in many a year, which John Goodall spotted on the footpath in front of us. We quickly picked it up so I could take a decent photo of it and then carefully released it back into the tall grass.
Peregrine flying overhead.
A couple of interesting Beetles were found and the good chaps on Facebook have identified them as a Summer Chafer and a Bloody-nose Beetle. Butterflies were abundant on the footpath near the cliff edge but there was definitely a lull in them up on the hill on our walk back. Probably Meadow Brown, Small Heath, Marbled White and Common Blue were by far the most common; though a Large Skipper and a Dingy Skipper were found. What I thought were Small Skippers were actually re identified on Facebook were in fact Lulworth Skippers, which are a ‘lifer’ for me. A pair of Small Tortoiseshells were seen all too briefly by the cliff edge and a superb Hummingbird Hawk-moth was seen too briefly also near where we had our lunch. Unfortunately, I was the only one who saw it.
Peregrine perched on a post.
Kittiwakes on the sea.
Other moths seen included a couple of Silver Y’s and a single Yellow Shell along the footpaths. A couple of Oak Eggar caterpillars were seen on the footpath and carefully replaced into the undergrowth to avoid them being trod on by the walkers. By 11.45am, we had actually reached are location by the Dancing Ledge. Here, we relaxed for about an hour, enjoying our lunch while watching the Auks, including a single Puffin, which preened on the sea. Rock Pipits flew overhead and the odd Oystercatcher was seen flying past low over the waves to add to our day total, along with a Raven. Amazingly, I watched a small passerine chase an insect on the small quarry wall and I released it was a male Black Redstart. I quickly called the guys over to view and both a male and female were seen, but the birds were quite secretive. I only managed a few half decent photos of the birds. Where we sat, the wall around us looked very unstable and likely to topple at any moment. We did have one fright when a rock landed not too far away from where we sat. I was convinced that a passer-by had deliberately thrown the rock over, but this couldn’t be proved.
Female Black Redstart.
After our lunch, we made our way back for the return journey. Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were singing overhead, while a pair of Common Buzzards gracefully hung in the air to survey their territory and what food they could find lurking somewhere in the grass. Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Stonechat were calling down below in some of the gulley’s and as we neared the Lighthouse road, we decided to follow it back up to the main car park. A few Swifts were seen flying around the cliffs and as I said to John G, they were probably nesting on the cliffs.
Raven passing by.
Puffin on the sea.
I have not mentioned the wild flowers yet, but where do you start? The whole area was dominated by Pyramidal Orchids and among these, I did find a few Bee Orchids. I was hoping to find the Southern Marsh Orchid, but being unfamiliar with this species, I have sent a photo to my friend Geoff Farwell for his expert ID. Wild Iris were present as expected along the main footpath, while clumps of pink Centaury and lavender coloured Thrift were swaying in the light breeze. I would have a job to name all the flowers seen, but as we walked back up the hill and along the top, we certainly noticed a lack of butterflies up here.
Bloody nosed Beetle.
It was nearly 4pm by the time we got back to the car and with very sore feet, I gratefully accepted a very warm bottle of Lucozade to quench my first from Johnny G and reflect on the way home, what a superb day we had.
Compo, Foggy and Clegg alias myself, John Cronin and John Goodall!