Plummeting temperatures and the end of a fortnights glorious sunshine coincided perfectly last week with our first camping trip of the year. Our destination for the long Easter weekend was to be Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast, a location famed worldwide for its fossil giving cliffs and spectacular scenery. An entire room in our house stuffed with fossils is testament to just how productive the area can be, but on this occasion we were really after quality over quantity. Having found Ammonites, Belemnites and assorted shells in the past we were really hoping for a genuine piece of dinosaur this time, a feat that we remarkably achieved only a few hours after arrival.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The first challenge of the holiday was to erect the tent which after almost a year since our last camping trip I was not particularly looking forward to. As it turned out we hit upon the perfect sequence of moves and it was up in no time, though the presence of rocks a few inches below the surface means that some new tent pegs are definitely in order. After getting settled we walked the couple of miles into Lyme Regis and quickly got the impression that spring is definitely more advanced down south than here in Wales. Singing Chiffchaffs were absolutely everywhere and bravely competing with them was my first Blackcap of the year, a splendid male in full voice. We also spotted a pair of Nuthatches visiting a nest box and watched a superb aerial display from a Sparrowhawk, but it was the butterflies that really grabbed our attention. Having only seen a single Small Tortoiseshell so far this year it was great to see a Peacock, Comma and this Speckled Wood all on the wing.
In the middle of Lyme Regis itself we stumbled across something rather unexpected in the shape of a new piece of Banksy artwork (or graffiti depending on your stance). Although it’s not the normal subject matter for this blog I really liked it and it does feature a bird at its heart after all.
Down on the seafront hoards of holiday makers were soaking up the sun, accompanied as always by the ever present Herring Gulls. As a result of their constant contact with people they have become incredibly tame which is great news for a photographer such as myself after some head shots. The first photo below is particularly pleasing as the gulls third transparent eyelid, also known as the nictitating membrane, is visible. This membrane has the dual purpose of both lubricating the eye and providing some extra protection whilst still retaining vision.
Nearby were several Feral Pigeons which although not the prettiest of birds I always find myself photographing. Part of this is down to the sheer variety in plumages that exist, but its mostly down to a sense of pity. They are almost universally unloved as a species, probably as a result of their urban residence and ability to produce copious quantities of droppings, and yet they seem to live very hard lives. For instance if you look closely this individual is missing at least one toe.
Having traversed the crowds we made our way out under the cliffs and began searching for fossils. With so many people hunting during busy periods it’s always unlikely that anything large will be found but there are often some very nice smaller finds lurking. That was indeed the case on this occasion with a very nice fossil oyster shell and a couple of well preserved Ammonites making it into our collection. It was on our way back though that I made my prize find. Sitting on top of the shale was what I believe is an Ichthyosaur vertebrae. To say that I am over the moon with it would be an understatement.
The landscape below shows the beach to the west of Lyme Regis from roughly the point at which the vertebrae was found. The large sections of flat rock are known as an Ammonite graveyard and, as the name suggests, are full of fossil Ammonites that are either too large or too impractical to move. I will share some photos of them in a later post.
By now the day was drawing to a close so we made our way back towards town. With the crowds much reduced I took the opportunity to photograph the famous sloping harbour wall, star of at least one Hollywood film (French Lieutenant’s Woman if you are interested).
It was along this very wall that we had our final treat of the day. A very tame Rock Pipit was hopping along the floor and benches looking for food, completely ignoring my presence in the process. Unfortunately for me it refused to remain still which in very dull conditions was proving challenging from a shutter speed perspective. In the end though I got a couple of shots that I am happy with.
While taking these I seemed to attract a little crowd of onlookers who seemed fascinated in what I was doing. Either that or they were laughing at me as I desperately tried to follow the Pipit along!