Purbeck coast, Dorset, England, late July 2013

17 October 2013 -  

St Oswald’s Bay is a perfect semicircle, the fine shingle of the beach segmented into cusps, the sea glittering turquoise below the cliffs. We arrive early on an idyllic morning of blazing sunshine. While swimming on my back across the bay, I see the unmistakable form of a Peregrine cruise into view above. Even without my glasses, the powerful, deep-chested shape with broad-based, pointed, wings and heavy face mask leave no doubt about its identity. It traverses the clifftop in a few short seconds, then circles out towards the point and back across the bay, directly overhead, returning towards the cliffs.

The clifftop is sprinkled with summer flowers, prominent among them the purple, bristly, prickly trio of teasel, thistle and burdock. The Ragworts host colonies of Cinnabar Moths, both deep red and metallic black-green adults, and comical-looking, yellow and black hooped, football sock caterpillars.

At Chapman’s Pool the tide is out and the wave-cut platform is fully exposed. The three or four species of seaweed in the rock pools shelter dozens of tiny crabs and schools of fish fry dart about, their shadows more visible than the fish themselves. At the far end of the platform we find the stunning imprint of an ammonite, the width of my hand. The spiral shell of this squid-like creature is one of the most distinctive and frequently found fossils along this coast, but it is always a thrill to be one of the few that have seen something that lived 150 to 200 million years ago.

On Studland Beach, thousands of territories are spaced evenly between dunes and shore, marked out by wind breaks, deckchairs and towels. Offshore, Sandwich Terns fly purposefully up and down, scanning the shallows for fish, oblivious to swimmers below, their wonderful wild “kirrik” calls incongruous in this farrago of humanity. A perfect adult Mediterranean Gull joins them. This is one of the most gorgeous of the gulls, with unmarked, pearl-grey and silvery white wings, and in summer plumage, a jet black head set off by a bright red bill. Once quite a rarity, they are now regularly seen along the Dorset coast.

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