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Arctic Skua in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Arctic Skua in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Although named the Arctic skua because its main breeding grounds are within the Arctic circle this species also nests in the far north of Britain in northernmost Scotland and the northern Isles, Orkney and Shetland. However, once the breeding season is over they are quick to head south and spend much of their time at sea in warm coastal waters and some travel as far as the southern regions of Africa. During this time of migration they can often be seen off British shores and it is not unusual for them to be seen in small numbers off of the Dorset coast.  Sparsely reported on Twitter during the winter months Arctic skuas are more evident from about week 14 in early April as they start to return north to breed and there are frequent reports up until week 19 in mid May.  They start to lay eggs from early May and southerly migration starts in July with birds that have been unsuccessful in breeding followed in August and September by adult …

Grasshopper Warbler in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Grasshopper Warbler in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

The grasshopper warbler is associated with nesting in deep reed beds but although we have some superb reedbeds here in Dorset it seems they are not to their liking and it is rare that a grasshopper warbler actually breeds here. They are seen and heard as a passage migrant and can be encountered singing from within a red bed in spring but sadly that singing does not usually represent a male in a breeding territory. They do have a more diverse range of habitat than just reed bed and they can also be found in thick scrub and dense cover, often near freshwater fens and marshes. Their 'song' is a distinctive long warbling that sounds very much like a grasshopper stridulating hence its name. Its colloquial name amongst birders is 'gropper' which you will often see used in tweets. The spring arrivals start to happen in week 14 in April and seem to be at a peak in week 16 in late April/early May. There continues to be t…

Manx Shearwater in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Manx Shearwater in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

The manx shearwater is another one of those birds that do not come ashore in Dorset but can be included in the Dorset list as they can be frequently be seen by anyone with a foot in Dorset! Manx shearwater nest on various islands off of the west coast of Britain but spend much of their life as an ocean wanderer, usually in small flocks. They travel great distances and they are not an uncommon sight along the English Channel, often in spring as they start to return to their favoured nesting location.  There are reports of manx shearwater off of the Dorset coast for much of the spring, summer and autumn with reports starting in week 9 at the beginning of March and continuing through until week 36 at the end of October. After that they are seen just occasionally, often when bad weather encourages them closer to land to seek some shelter. April and May are the best times to see them and this coincides with their return to shore to nest…

Little Tern in Dorset; what your tweets tell us ...

Little Tern in Dorset; what your tweets tell us ...

The little tern is a summer visitor to Dorset but we have only one breeding colony here. The population level at this one nesting site on Chesil beach was declining but substantial efforts have been made involving extensive fence protection and volunteers manning a 24 hour a day watch over the site and this has meant the negative effects of predators and egg collectors have been minimised. These efforts have been rewarded by a gradual reversal of the downward trend and the population numbers are now healthier. Once breeding is finished the little tern flies south to avoid our winter. Unlike some migrating species they avoid crossing the Sahara and follow the western coasts of Europe and then Africa with some flying as far as South Africa.  First spring arrivals are seen in week 14 in April and numbers build over the following couple of weeks and many reports come in during May but once established and breeding starts from about week 20…

Lesser Whitethroat in Dorset; what your tweets tell us ...

Lesser Whitethroat in Dorset; what your tweets tell us ...

The lesser whitethroat is a summer visitor to Dorset and whilst it breeds here it is not found in great numbers. It is mainly seen in Dorset as a migrant species passing through the county on its way to find territories elsewhere in south-eastern and central areas of England. Its preferred nesting environment is scrub and thick hedgerow and away from coastal locations this is not a frequently found habitat type in Dorset hence is scarcity here as a breeding species. They winter in north-eastern Africa and migrate across Europe via Italy and central Europe and they are much more common in these areas than they are here in Britain. The lesser whitethroat starts arriving back on our shores from week 15 at the beginning of April and the main migration influx seems to be over by week 20 in early May. There are further reports through until week 25 in late June and some of these reports will be of breeding birds. It is in week 34 in A…

Water Pipit in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Water Pipit in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

The water pipit seems to be the exception to the rule; the rule being birds fly south in autumn and north in spring! The water pipit's breeding range extends across central and south eastern Europe and in to parts of Asia and yet a small number fly north and turn up here in Britain for the winter and some of those visit Dorset. It is a close relative of our rock pipit, which is a resident breeding species here, and it is very difficult to tell the two apart, but different habitat preferences can help put you on the right track. When here in Dorset the water pipit is usually seen on marshy ground, often saltmarsh, and it also has a liking for watercress beds and we have some of those here in Dorset; rock pipits would hardly ever be seen in these habitats. Water pipits seem to arrive from week 42 in late October as that is when the first tweeted reports occur. They are then seen regularly right through the winter until week 16 in lat…

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

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

The woodlark is considered to be a resident species in south west England but its scarcity in Dorset in winter indicates that our breeding population is inclined to move further west in cold weather or some may head across the Channel into Europe. There does not appear to be any noticeable passage migration at specific times of the year here. As a breeding species it is most likely to be encountered on heathland featuring scattered areas of open woodland, usually conifers such as Scots pine. It is a ground feeding bird eating seeds in autumn and winter but insects in spring and summer. It is an early breeding species with nests containing eggs found as early as March in some years and pairs often have two or three broods during the breeding season. The tweeted reports in the Nature of Dorset database indicate a general absence of woodlark between week 48 at the end of November and week 2 in mid January but from week 3 onwards reports are …