Go wildlife spotting this summer

Common red darter

Wander through the heathland and here the buzzing of the bees on the heather and spot the dragonflies gliding across the track.

Brownsea boasts a significant amount of the fifty plus species of dragonflies and damselflies that we have here in the UK.  Summer time is the perfect time to find a comfy spot to sit and watch as they whizz around.

Dragonflies and damselflies are signficant indicators of how well a habitat is doing.  They play an important part in the ecosystem of a fresh water system and are also good for us too.  Dragonfly nymphs live in fresh water for up to five years, eating harmful aquatic organisms such as mosquito larvae. 

Once they become an adult, they continue to feed upon harmfly flying insects such as horseflies and mosquitoes.  They are also an important source of food for creatures such as frogs and birds.

Damselflies tend to be smaller and weaker in flight, their eyes are on either side of the head and when they rest (apart from the Emperor Damselfly), they keep their wings closed whereas the dragonflies rest with their wings open. 

From heath and into the woods where you will discover large mounds of small twigs and pine needles, these are the nests of wood ants, a large red and black ant species locally common but internationally scarce and under threat.

Wood ant on Brownsea Island

They play a very important part in the ecology of the woodland, farming the Pine Aphid high in the tree tops for its honeydew, which they take back to the nest along with insect prey. The workers are all female and live for a couple of months, the queen can live for up to fifteen years.

Wood ants are good at giving the unwary a nip with their jaws then squirting a tiny drop of formic acid from their tail into the bite. It stings for a few minutes, so watch where you are sitting! It is this formic acid that the ants use to subdue their prey to carry back to the nest.

Interestingly, some bird species have been seen disturbing the wood ant's nest in order to enrage the ants.  They have then stood with their wings spread, allowing the ants to spray them with the acid, killing the parasites that live on the bird's wings.

Common Lizards

There are plenty of sites on Brownsea where Common Lizard may be seen, small log stacks, the edges of heather patches or even the board walk on the way to the DWT reserve. The best time is on a cool but sunny day when the lizards bask as they need the suns warmth to allow them to become active. Common Lizards are one of the world’s most effective thermoregulators and can be found as far north as the Arctic Circle. 

Common lizard found perching on rock

Sika Deer

There is a breeding population of Sika on Brownsea that are considered to be the initial source of the population that has spread out over much of Dorset. They are an Asiatic species similar to our native Red Deer and are known to hybridise with them where the two species both occur.

The many attractions of Brownsea Island are close by for the East dorset Association
Visitor watching deer on Brownsea Island, Dorset.

They are Crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk) but can be seen in small groups during the day around the island, usually in the quieter areas. They are extraordinarily difficult to pick out should they choose to remain motionless. When the fawns are very young, the mothers leave them alone and hidden for hours at a time, so if you should accidentally come across one, look on from a distance as it hasn’t been deserted. 

You can have a look into the sea from the Quay.....

From late March right through until mid-autumn, the sea off the pier can at times, be thick with fish visible from the side. The three species most commonly seen are Sand Smelt (Atherina Presbyter), the only UK member of the Silverside group of fishes, Sand Eels (Ammodytes Tobianus) and juveniles of both sprats and herrings (Clupidae), collectively known as whitebait.  

Minotaur Beetles (Typhaeus typhoeus)

You may notice small holes surrounded by earth in many places around the island, especially on the grassy and sandy areas. These are created by Minotaur beetles, a type of dung beetle. They fill up their tunnel with deer or rabbit droppings for their larvae to feed on. They are more active at night but should you see one, the male is quite spectacular at up to 2cms in length and with horns on his head like a miniature Triceratops dinosaur. They are common on Brownsea but nationally quite scarce.