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Linnet in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Linnet in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

The linnet is yet another bird species associated with farmland that is declining in numbers with quite substantial falls in population in the last 30 years or so. It is a seed eating species that used to thrive in fallow fields in winter but now, with fields ploughed and sown in autumn, its preferred food source has gone. Linnets form large flocks in winter with our resident birds joined by others from further north. These flocks can be encountered in open countryside and the species seems to favour scrubby places with gorse, sometimes venturing on to heathland.  Linnets do breed in Dorset and records come from most weeks of the year but never in large numbers. There are very few reports from week 45 at the start of November until week 9 at the beginning of March which might imply that there is a degree of migration southwards into Europe. Given that the bulk of reports are usually during October this would seem to confirm autumnal migrati…

Swift in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Swift in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

What an amazing little creature the swift is; once it has fledged from the nest it spends almost its entire life on the wing only pausing briefly whilst it builds its own nest and then to feed its young. Once breeding is over they often form flying squadrons and race around screaming as they go! We used to see lots of swifts in Hampshire, indeed they nested on the house next door to us in the Test Valley, but here in Dorset we only see the odd one during migration times. It is well documented that their number are declining. They are usually one of the latest arrivals back in the spring and yet are one of the first to leave again in mid-summer once breeding is over. It seems the first arrivals pass through Dorset from week 16 at the end of April and the bulk move through between then and week 18 in mid-May. Reports continue  through the summer months with a sudden peak in week 22 in mid-June but I have no idea why this might be. Reports cont…

Short-eared Owl in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Short-eared Owl in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Like so many of Dorset's special birds the short-eared owl breeds in northern regions and comes to us for the winter months. In Britain they nest mainly, but not exclusively, in upland moorland regions of northern England and Scotland but they also breed throughout northern Europe as far south as France. The more northerly areas are not suitable for them in winter so they migrate south and a small number turn up in Dorset every year but the numbers vary depending on the severity of the weather further north and the abundance of suitable prey available to them. The weekly reports chart shows a small number of records of short-eared owl during the summer months but it is week 42 in mid-October that the reports start to increase and then there are frequent reports right through the winter until week 10 in mid-March and a few remaining reports come in until week 16 at the end of April by which time they have returned to their breed…

Yellow-legged Gull in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Yellow-legged Gull in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

I have never knowingly seen a yellow-legged gull. Indeed, as I started to write these notes I realised that I knew virtually nothing about them other than they look very much like a herring gull. I could find little about them in Britain other than in the excellent RSPB Handbook of British Birds which rarely fails to deliver at times like this! With their help I can now tell you that the yellow-legged gull nests mainly along both sides of the south western Mediterranean coast in Africa and Spain but has, in recent years, spread its range further north. After breeding they disperse northwards and increasing numbers are now being seen along the south coast of England. Unlike herring gulls it tends to be a somewhat solitary bird choosing to feed on the tide line on its own. It also prefers the company of lesser black-backed gulls that herring gulls. The weekly reports chart seems to bear out what the RSPB Handbook says. Occasional …

Cuckoo in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Cuckoo in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...:

The cuckoo comes to us in April, sings its song in May, lays its eggs in June and then it flies away. That may be a little bit of over simplification but it is not that far from reality. The cuckoo can be heard from late April and it was always considered to be confirmation that spring was truly here and letters were written to the Time newspaper to report the first cuckoo. Now the cuckoo's 'song' is less common than it was even ten years ago and research into why it is declining so rapidly is ongoing. It is only my perception but I think they may have fared better in 2018, there were certainly a lot more reports than in 2017. The cuckoo's main host species are reed warblers, dunnocks and meadow pipits so here in Dorset cuckoos are most common near our substantial reed beds but they can also be found in open heath and countryside.

Apart from a record in week 12 (late March) which must be considered abnormal the weekly rep…

Golden Plover in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Golden Plover in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

The golden plover is not like other waders; you never see it wading! Rather than frequent mudflats the golden plover prefers soft, damp grassy areas or fallow fields to feed in whilst spending the winter here in the south. It is not a great traveller; in Britain it breeds on high moorland in northern and western areas and moves to lower areas in south eastern England for the winter when they form large flocks that feed together. We have a couple of flocks each winter here in Dorset but it is not a common bird. Being dependent on soft ground for food, however, if the weather turns really cold and the ground freezes or is covered with snow they are forced to move on and we see large flocks on the move along the south coast of Dorset. There are no reports of golden plover in Dorset between week 21 at the end of May and week 39 at the end of September; indeed, there are very few reports after week 12 at the end of March. During the winte…

Bullfinch in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Bullfinch in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

I am not sure the bullfinch was ever 'common' however it was once seen far more often than it is now; it is yet another farmland associated bird that is declining in numbers. I say farmland bird but that is not entirely accurate, it is more associated with orchards where it has been seen as a pest as it loves to eat the buds on fruit trees in spring. It is actually more likely to be seen in shrubby areas and thickets in wooded areas as well as thick hedges where it feeds on seeds, emerging buds and insects. Although not thought of as a migrant species numbers in Dorset are far greater in winter then they are in summer, it is a fairly scarce breeding bird here. The weekly reporting chart shows only very few records of bullfinch during the summer months, from week 16 at the end of April until week 39 in late September. During the autumn numbers rise and stay at a fairly consistent level until the spring. That would suggest that tho…