Wildlife at Durlston
Wild Flowers | Butterflies | Moths | Birds | Guillemots | Marine
By month: (See also today's Daily Diary)
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Through the ever-changing seasons and colours, Durlston is a fascinating place.
On a calm summer's day it is difficult to imagine the harsh winter conditions of crashing seas and strong winds.
The bare statistics merely hint at the amazing diversity of wildlife: 33 species of breeding butterfly, over 250 species of bird recorded, 500 wildflowers, 500 moths and thousands of other invertebrates.
A Special Place
The reason for Durlston's natural riches lies in a combination of geography, geology, history and careful management which has created a mosaic of nationally important wildlife habitats: sea-cliffs, downs, ancient meadows, hedgerows, woodland even dry-stone walls each with their characteristic plants and animals.
In winter there are Ducks and Divers from the Arctic, in spring and autumn Terns and Skuas, in summer majestic Gannets and Shearwaters. Sometimes, emerging from the waves you may see Bottlenose Dolphins or a Seal. In the late autumn the sky will be peppered with huge flocks of southern-bound Swallows, Martins and Wagtails.
Life on the Edge
From March to July the cliffs are alive with Seabirds, a magnificent spectacle which can be witnessed from the coast path and through the cliff camera at the Visitor Centre.
The season captures the Guillemot life cycle: nesting, hatching, feeding and the first ventures of the uncertain fledglings.
Razorbills and Guillemots launch from the cliff in a blur of whirring wings to search for fish. The Guillemots crowd together on broad ledges half-way up the cliffs, just downstairs from the Razorbills. Gliding Fulmars, Shag and Herring Gulls help fill the space. Very occasionally you may glimpse a Puffin or two.
On the breezy cliff-top, plants adapted to salt-spray and wind can be found, Thrift or Sea Pink, Sea Campion, Wild Carrot and Rock Samphire, and the late-flowering Golden Samphire.
Flowers in the Grass
The downland is a mosaic of short turf and tiny, colourful flowers typical limestone plants like the pink Centaury, yellow Horseshoe Vetch, Birds-foot Trefoil and Milkwort (which in May transforms the land into a haze of blue).
In the meadows the taller flowers Pale Flax, Ox-eye Daisy and Hay Rattle flourish.
In the hedgerows and sheltered hollows where Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Gorse and Bramble predominate, shade-loving plants like Cuckoo Pint and Stinking Iris thrive whilst Old Man's Beard climbs upward over the bushes.
But that is not all in this botanical paradise - Orchids abound at Durlston.
From April through until September there is a succession of different species, embracing the rare Early Spider, Early Purple, Green-winged (in spring), the summer flowering Bee and Pyramidal Orchids and finally Autumn Lady's Tresses.
The orchids, like all the flowers at Durlston, should not be picked and visitors are urged to remember that a rich heritage depends on a caring public.
The flowers are not only a source of colour but also an important food source for numerous insects, especially butterflies with over 33 species, including many that are nationally rare.
These inhabitants provide a colourful experience from April to September.
The Adonis Blue amongst the Horseshoe Vetch in the company of Dingy Skippers in the spring and Chalkhill Blues in the summer.
The nationally rare Lulworth Skipper is abundant in the longer grass, while the Meadow Brown, Marbled White, Common Blue and Small Skipper can be spotted almost anywhere.
Nectar-rich Thistles, Knapweed and Fleabane attract migrants like the Red Admiral and Painted Lady but the resident Gatekeeper find Bramble irresistible.
Durlston has become nationally famous for its insects. In downland and meadow lurk insects for every taste: the plodding Bloody-nose Beetle and 10 species of Grasshoppers and Bushcrickets, including the Stripe-winged Grasshopper.
Durlston is host to over 250 species of bird and is an important resting place for spring and autumn migrants.
Some migrating birds stay a few days, including Redstart, Wheatear, Pied Flycatcher and Sedge Warbler, occasionally, a rarity like Hoopoe or Golden Oriole may join them.
Other migrants like the Whitethroat, Blackcap and Chiffcaff nest in the scrub in the summer, exploiting the rich insect life to feed their young.
A few migrants such as the Redwing and Fieldfare, arrive in October / November to feed on Durlston's plentiful berries and stay through the winter.
The wildlife at Durlston will keep an interested person busy for years and an expert for even longer.