Friday, 10 September 2021

A First For Dorset

The story begins on 31st August, at roughly 16:30, with a discovery that is related in this post.

While trying to photograph some distant Whinchats at West Bexington it seems I had chanced upon a good candidate for Tree Cricket Oecanthus pellucens. Unfortunately I couldn't find it again on 2nd September, and put the event down as a one-off. I didn't write it off completely though, but opened an account with iRecord and entered the record for posterity.

On 6th September I was in the same area once again, in the early evening this time. It was hot and still, with an almost flat-calm sea. Approximately 150m from that encounter a week previously, I heard the sound again. It was close to the path but just the other side of a fence, and quite loud. Once more I recorded it with my camera's video function. The resultant mp3 was much better quality than last time, and there was quite a surprise in store when I looked at the sonogram closely...

A second, much quieter cricket was singing too!

I hadn't heard a second cricket in the field, and even on the recording it was quite hard to detect by ear because the close one was so loud, but it is perfectly visible on the sonogram.This little discovery was just the encouragement I needed, and the following evening I was back down there. This time I took my nocmig kit, the digital recorder and Sennheiser microphone. I was going to do this properly.

Tuesday evening was delightfully warm, but very breezy. The recordings are somewhat blighted by wind noise, but the outcome was still better than I could have hoped: I heard and recorded at least four different individuals.

All good, but what next?

Mike Morse kindly sent me an email address to try. It turns out there is a very good recording scheme for grasshoppers and related insects which has been running for more than 50 years. I composed an email, attached my recordings, and the following day received an exciting reply...

First: yes, these are definitely Tree Crickets.

Second: yes again, they are the first records for Dorset.

Third: the fact that there are at least four 'singing' males suggests the possibility that there may already be a small population in place. But even if that isn't yet the case, it soon could be.

Just to put things in context, this is basically the story re UK Tree Crickets...

The first for Britain was one at Cambridge in 1996. The next was at Sittingbourne, Kent in 2005. Then a breeding colony was found on Jersey in 2010, and another at Dungeness in 2015. According to iRecord, the only other records are two from 2018, either side of Brighton. Here is the iRecord map...

So there it is. Tree Cricket Oecanthus pellucens at West Bexington. The first Dorset records of a species which is actively expanding its range in Europe. Found by a birder. While birding. Talking of birds...

Now, if this had been a bird and not a cricket, some of Dorset's birding population would have been all over it. A county first usually prompts a major mobilisation, and I imagine West Bex would have been stiff with twitchery for a few days. But a cricket? Yeah, okay. Yes, the fanfare might be muted, but I have to confess that I've thoroughly enjoyed the whole event. The initial discovery, the detective work...and as the story unfolded it became increasingly satisfying. Though I am not yet morphing into anything other than a birder. At least, I don't think so.

Before I forget, I must acknowledge Steve Gale's part in this. Firstly, in putting me on the Tree Cricket trail. Until he suggested it, I was stumped. And secondly, in sending me a copy of Dave Walker's account of his discovery of the Dungeness colony.

And while we're talking 'firsts'...

At West Bex this afternoon I was watching a Wheatear and a Pied Wagtail feeding on an area of short grass when I noticed some odd-looking plants poking out of the sward. Many recent photos on my Twitter feed helped me recognise them - or at least I thought so. Thanks again to Steve Gale for confirmation...

Autumn Lady's Tresses

Autumn Lady's Tresses is a new orchid for me. There was quite a big patch of them, with several outliers too. Unfortunately they were on private land, so I couldn't give them the usual 'close-up' treatment.

An insect and a plant. On a birder's blog in the height of the autumn migration season. Should I be concerned...?


  1. Should you be concerned, Gav? No. Keep going - wonders to be had..

  2. It's all about good observations and how targets overlap so you keep reporting them.

    1. There genuinely is never a dull moment. Always something to look at or listen to, and frequently a surprise...😊