FIRST OF THE WINTER LAMBS IN DORSET


In September I posted about the 7 pregnant Poll Dorset sheep that a young farmer in our village had put in our paddock. I predicted “pastoral scenes, evenly-cropped grass… with pre-Christmas lambs in prospect…”.  The sheep were removed for a month or so to let the grass regrow. Yesterday morning there was an unusual sound coming from the field. Rounding the corner of the house we saw a single tiny lamb, 2 days old, mewing rather piteously.

Number 2: the first in its field…Totnell Lambs Nov 3

It was soon joined by twin lambs a few days olderTotnell Lambs Nov 12

Then came the 2 mothers. Then the 5 still-pregnant sheep waddled into the field, all due to lamb within the next 3 weeks. Here’s one of the proud mothers.Totnell Lambs Nov 11

The sheep and lambs were numbered so it was easy tell which belonged to which. But whereas the mothers also knew their own lambs, it was taking the lambs a while to cotton on to the numbering system…  

Correctly matchedTotnell Lambs Nov 7

Number 2 has still to get the hang of the system…Totnell Lambs Nov 1

Number 2Totnell Lambs Nov 10

Number 2 and one of the twinsTotnell Lambs Nov 9

Pretty lambs all in a row

Totnell Lambs Nov 4

Settling in

Totnell Lambs Nov 8  Totnell Lambs Nov 5   Totnell Lambs Nov 2

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OTTER STUDIES


There’s no great kudos in finding these particular otters. They are Asian short-clawed otters and they are one of the attractions at WWT Barnes, where a number are kept in a spacious enclosure. There’s plenty of water for them, obstacle courses (pipes and so forth) have been set up, and they look sleek and well-fed (as well they might be, with feeding times twice daily). I managed to see 3 at an uncrowded time, and one in particular seemed to enjoy being admired.

OTTER WWT 5OTTER WWT 4OTTER WWT 2  OTTER WWT 3   OTTER WWT 6 OTTER WWT 7 OTTER WWT 8 OTTER WWT 9 OTTER WWT 10

COMMON SEALS IN THE STOUR ESTUARY, RAMSGATE, KENT


The estuary of the River Stour (“Store”), Kent lies between Ramsgate and Pegwell Bay a short distance to the south. Common seals can reliably be found near the mouth of the river, sunning themselves on the banks. These seals come in a variety of colours. In September some of this season’s pups could be seen growing up among the adults. To be frank, although I took plenty of photos of these lovely creatures looking appealing and / or in amusing poses, the end results were disappointing.  Partly, a rocking boat made sharpness difficult to achieve but mainly the adult seals just looked like bloated sausages lying in an unattractive landscape of mud and coarse grass. Here are a few pictures that were spared deletion…

Common Seals, River Stour, Kent 1 Common Seals, River Stour, Kent 2 Common Seals, River Stour, Kent 4 Common Seals, River Stour, Kent 5 Common Seals, River Stour, Kent 6 Common Seals, River Stour, Kent 7 Common Seals, River Stour, Kent 9 Common Seals, River Stour, Kent 10 Common Seals, River Stour, Kent 11 Common Seals, River Stour, Kent 12

‘SHEEP MAY SAFELY GRAZE…’: PASTORAL DORSET


Alpaca Dorset

For six years we had our neighbour’s 3 alpacas in our paddock. Advantages: they mowed the grass and were decorative. Drawbacks: they caused a lot of damage by digging and from their peculiarly toxic waste; and were annoyingly passive / aggressive. So we moved them off, spent last winter filling in all the holes with a ton of topsoil and re-seeding, followed by a programme of regular harrowing, mowing and rolling to make the field ready for our son’s wedding on midsummer’s day (where we had our own reception a few years decades ago).

Wed Pad

Now what? The answer is: sheep. Peaceful, munching grazers with no obvious drawbacks. A young farmer in the village has put 7 pregnant Poll Dorset sheep in the paddock. Result: pastoral scenes, evenly cropped grass, and a damage-free field – with pre-Christmas lambs in prospect. Dorset Poll Sheep 7Dorset Poll Sheep 1Dorset Poll Sheep 8Dorset Poll Sheep 6Dorset Poll Sheep 3

The Dorset breed of sheep comes in both poll and horn varieties. Here are specimens of each kind photographed at a recent show in Dorset. The breed is hardy (as befits Hardy country), and unusually they can lamb 3 times over the course of 2 years, making them a productive option for a young farmer building up his flock. 

Dorset Poll Sheep, Stock Oak Fair Dorset Horn Sheep - Stock Oak Fair

A BUG THAT’S BUGGING ME: ANY ID IDEAS? [It’s a Gasteruption Jaculator, a parasitic wasp]


Mystery Insect Dorset03 It doesn’t take much to stump me in the natural world, even with online resources. But what the heck is this little bugger I photographed today? It’s probably obvious; maybe it’s an insect in an intermediate state of metamorphosis. Or something. But I’ve never seen one before. Or if I have, I didn’t notice it. The last time I found a mystery insect (not in the UK), it turned out to be a spider or pepsis wasp, also known as a tarantula hawk, which has the second most painful sting of any insect. I posted about this creature in my main blog HERE, but here is an excerpt dealing with the sting and the ‘pain scale’.  The sting of these wasps is among the most painful of any insect, though the most intense pain lasts on a few minutes. Entomologist Justin Schmidt bravely submitted himself to the stings of various insects and described this pain as “…immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything, except, perhaps, scream. Mental discipline simply does not work in these situations.”  Schmidt produced his SCHMIDT STING PAIN INDEX The pain scale, based on 78 species, runs from 0 to 4, with 4 given for the most intense pain. Spider Wasps of the species Pepsis – i.e. Tarantula Hawks – have a sting rating of 4.0, described as “blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath” Only the bite of the Bullet Ant (not found on Abaco!) is ranked higher, with a 4.0+ rating, vividly described as pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel”

ADDENDUM (within 2 hours of posting!)

I knew someone would ride to the rescue. Jessica Winder of the excellent blog http://natureinfocus.wordpress.com has come up with the answer – see Comments for details. Suffice it to say that this creature has the Monty Pythonesque name Gasteruption Jaculator (there are other… no. Im not going down that road). It is a parasitic wasp. WIKI says “The head and thorax are completely black. The head is strongly rounded, the thorax is elongated in a sort of long neck, which separates the head from the body. The abdomen is strongly stretched, broader at the posterior end and placed on the upper chest. The colour of the abdomen is black, with reddish-orange rings. The tibiae of the hind legs are club shaped. In the female the ovipositor is usually very long with a white tip. In resting position, these wasps slowly and rhythmically raise and lower the abdomen. The females of this parasitic wasp lays its eggs by its long ovipositor on the body of larvae of solitary bees or wasps. On hatching its young larvae will devour grubs and supplies of pollen and nectar of its victim. The adults grow up to 10–17 millimetres (0.39–0.67 in) long and can mostly be encountered from May through September feeding on Apiaceae species.” Mystery Insect Dorset04 Mystery Insect Dorset05 Mystery Insect Dorset06 Mystery Insect Dorset07 Mystery Insect Dorset09 Mystery Insect Dorset10

‘SILFLAY’: RABBITS I SHOT LAST NIGHT…


With a camera, OK? Clearing a gateway to the field opposite our house has revealed a burrow.  It’s no surprise, it’s a good year for rabbits in this part of Dorset, and I have already filled 3 burrows dug in our garden… But I suspect there’s a massive warren, and they just pop up again somewhere else. A couple of nights ago I took a few photos of rabbits enjoying ‘Silflay’ (© Richard Adams, Watership Down), the evening feed in the open. A glitch eradicated them. Yesterday evening in the sunshine, I took some closer shots of 2 rabbits by the burrow. Very picturesque. As long as they stay that side of the road…

Rabbit, Totnell, Dorset 1Rabbit, Totnell, Dorset 7Rabbit, Totnell, Dorset 10Rabbit, Totnell, Dorset 4Rabbit, Totnell, Dorset 9Rabbit, Totnell, Dorset 8

SPRING IN THE AIR IN DORSET THIS WEEK


The sun is shining, the birds are twitterpating (©Disney), the trout season has opened. Also, the first swallows arrived on Tuesday, followed by the martins on Wednesday. These birds are already checking out the mud nests under the eaves that remain from last year.Martins' Nest Totnell 4.14

The hedges are suddenly greening up and the grass is beginning to grow fast. The Alpacas, formerly the official lawnmowers for the paddock, have been banished to another field to give the ground a rest. That means resorting to the mechanical method for the first cut of the year.Alpaca Totnell 4.14Paddock Totnell 2014

Some creatures appear to have got Spring fever. The rabbits for a start, who are clearly ‘going at it’ for all they are worth. And the sheep over the road surprised me one evening when I opened the kitchen door (the notice on the gate is good for their self-esteem). Sheep climbing bales Totnell 14

My first fishing of the season yesterday, on the River Piddle (as in Tolpuddle) – very pretty, pretty unproductive…  Today on the River Frome, the swallows were skimming insects off the surface of the water. There were heron and egrets, and a pair of common sandpipers clearly looking for a suitable nesting site. It’s been a great Spring week.Piddle 1 Dorset 4.14 Piddle 2 Dorset 4.14 Piddle 3 Dorset 4.14

The moon and stars have been wonderful all week. There have been plenty of moon photos around, pink or otherwise, but one evening Mars was gleaming brightly too. Only one shot was steady enough to use – at maximum zoom most of the images looked like squiggles.

Full Moon Totnell 14Mars Totnell 14