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Showing posts from June, 2019

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 …

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

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

Dorset is something of a stronghold for the nightjar. Whilst they breed across all of the southern counties of England, parts of Wales and then also on the moors of northern England and southern Scotland it is the Dorset heathlands that seem to suit them best. They are summer visitors to breed here and they are something of a mysterious bird and not much seems to be known about their migration and where they overwinter but it some apparently get right down to southern Africa. That air of mystery surrounds them here too as they fly at dusk in erie light emitting their wonderfully unique churring 'song'; they are difficult to see by day as they are so well camouflaged and remain quite inactive unless disturbed. The first nightjar reports seem to start in week 17 in late April but it is week 19 in early May when they are reported more frequently. There are then a good number of reports each week until week 26 at the end of June but t…

Grey phalarope in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Grey phalarope in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

The grey phalarope is one of those scarce waders that will probably turn up in Dorset in very small numbers each autumn. An arctic breeding species it travels vast distances during the winter as it wanders over the oceans and those that are seen on land in autumn and winter are probably those blown off course by storms. Only a very small number are seen in Britain each year and a very small number of those might be seen in Dorset. The RSPB Handbook of British Birds says that the non-breeding birds leave the breeding grounds in June, the females in July and the males and young leave in September and October and it is likely to be the latter group that encounter autumn storms and end up here for a while. The weekly reporting by tweets of sightings of grey phalarope would seem to paint a quite clear picture of first sightings being in week 36 in late September, peaking in week 38 at the beginning of October and then falling to week 42 …

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

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

Although a breeding species in south eastern England the shoveler is not known as a breeding species here in Dorset; there may be occasional successful broods but as I understand it shoveler breeding in Dorset is a rare occurrence. The shoveler is also migratory and British birds tend to head south into southern Europe and north Africa once breeding is over. Despite this, you will see shoveler in suitable locations in Dorset for much of the year because in winter birds from northern Europe arrive here and replace those that left us. It gives the impression that the shoveler is a resident species but it is a trick of the light!  The weekly reporting chart of tweets shows continual records of shoveler from week 34 in mid-August right through the winter until week 21 in the following May. Between week 22 and week 33 reports are less frequent but it does show that shoveler are here abouts during the summer even if they are not breeding. Certa…

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

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

Whilst the sedge warbler is a summer breeding visitor to Dorset a significant number of the reports of this species are of those on passage to elsewhere in Britain to breed. As with many summer migrants they arrive over a short period of time generating a peak in reports but the outward journey is spread over a much longer period and so it becomes less obvious to detect from the number of reports. The names of most, not all, warblers are fairly descriptive of their preferred habitat or of their appearance and this is so with the sedge warbler as they nest in deep sedge or reed beds and as Dorset has a number of reed beds the sedge warbler is not uncommon in the locations where suitable habitat exists. Birds seen elsewhere will, in general, be passage migrants. The twitter reports would suggest that the sedge warbler arrivals begin quite early in spring in week 12 in late March but the peak for arrivals is between weeks 16 and 19 in A…

Slavonian Grebe in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Slavonian Grebe in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Whilst the Slavonian grebe is a very scarce breeding species in Britain, the RSPB says the total number of pairs is probably about forty, every winter a small number turn up off the Dorset coast. This species also breeds in Iceland, Scandinavia, Siberia and northern America and it probable that the ones we see here in Dorset are from further afield than Scotland. The numbers visiting Britain overall in winter are quite low, estimates say less than a thousand, so most of the British visitors will be from Iceland and Scandinavia it seems. Of the Dorset wintering grebes it is far less common than the great-crested grebe and the black-necked grebe but probably more common than the red-necked grebe but telling the black-necked, red-necked and Slavonian appart is far from easy, especially if they are some distance off-shore so possibly the Slavonian is under recorded. As winter visitors to the Dorset coast twitter reports in the Nature o…

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

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

Does the gannet actually occur in Dorset? Should it be on the Dorset list? It is very much a sea bird that never comes ashore here and so I suppose by that definition it is not. However, if you have at least one foot in Dorset and you look out to sea you will see gannets passing by from time to time and by that criteria then it counts! As many birders do sea watches from time to time the popular answer is a bird can be counted on the Dorset list if it is seen in the county or seen by someone whilst they are in the county. The nearest breeding colony of gannets to us here in Dorset is on Alderney in the Channel Islands and that is not far as the gannet flies! Most gannets seen off our coastline will be from this Alderney colony but it is possible, of course, some are from further afield as they do move some considerable distances outside of the breeding season. The weekly reports chart shows that you can see gannets in pretty much every week…

Purple Sandpiper in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Purple Sandpiper in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

The purple sandpiper is probably one of the scarcer regular winter visiting waders to Dorset. A small number come every year to a select number of sites and are present for quite some time but reports are somewhat limited. They can be difficult to see without a close look for them as they like rocky coasts and they get down amongst the rocks near the seaweeds. They nest much further north; a small number in Scotland but mainly in Iceland, northern Scandinavia and the Arctic circle. They overwinter around the rocky shorelines of Britain as well as further south along the Atlantic coasts of France, Spain and Portugal. Some birds we see in Dorset are passage migrants but generally the small groups here tend to stay the whole winter. The weekly reporting chart shows that they mainly start to arrive for their winter vacation in week 45 at the beginning of November although in some years there are a small number of reports in October. N…

Garden warbler in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Garden warbler in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...:

There is one place in Dorset you are not likely to find a garden warbler and that is in your garden! The origin of some common names is certainly bewildering at times and leads to all sorts of confusion amongst people becoming interested in birds for the the first time; more than once I have had someone tell me they have had a garden warbler in their garden! The garden warbler is a bird of dense scrub and thickets and as we do not have a lot of that sort of habitat here in Dorset the garden warbler is a very restricted breeding species here and is mainly seen as a passage migrant. Like many of our warbler species it spends our winters in Africa and is with us here in Britain for just a few months in the summer.

The weekly reporting chart of tweets shows the main spring influx happening between week 16 and 20 from late April through until the end of May although a small number arrive as early as week 15 in early April and in 2019 …

Sand Martin in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Sand Martin in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

The sand martin, like its more well known cousin the house martin, is a summer visitor to Britain to breed. It is a colonial breeding species and nests in tunnels it builds into soft, sandy banks. With its preferred nesting habitat sand and gravel extraction pits are popular with them especially after the mineral extraction process has finished. Here in Dorset in the Purbeck and adjacent areas we have many gravel pits and some of those are exhausted and abandoned but its seems there are very few sand martin colonies here. There are a few small colonies in Dorset but not a significant number and so most of the birds recorded here are passage migrants. In spring and autumn they can be seen in good numbers feeding over lakes and rivers prior to moving on to their breeding grounds elsewhere. The sand martin is one of the first of the summer migrants to return with birds arriving here from about week 11 in mid March although a very small  n…

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

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

The raven is a resident species in Dorset but it is my perception, with no data to support it, that they are less numerous than ten years ago. It may just be that I do not get the wilder and more remote areas that ravens tend to favour these days but I am surprised that there have not more tweeted reports of raven in the last couple of years. The raven nests around the cliffs and remote places of the western half of England and Scotland and throughout Wales; Dorset is at the extreme eastern edge of their range in England and that may be why numbers fluctuate. I recall that back in the 1970s and 1980s ravens were very, very scarce and there is no doubt numbers have recovered since then but may be that improved population level is now reversing again? I am sure that somewhere there is some reliable data on this.  Although a resident species there are weeks when ravens are not reported in your tweets at all with April and June seemingly the tim…

Tree pipit in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Tree pipit in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Whilst the tree pipit is a breeding species in Dorset it does not seem to be numerous or widespread here. Its preferred nesting habitat is heathland, moorland or wooded commons especially where there are conifers present so the Dorset heaths should be prime territory for them and that is where the bulk of our nesting birds are seen. The tree pipit is a summer visitor to Britain and is certainly far more common in Wales and Scotland than Dorset and so there is a significant amount of passage migration of this species through the county in spring and autumn of birds making their way further north to breed and then returning south to central Africa. The weekly reports on Twitter suggest that early arrivals can be seen from week 12 in late March but the bulk of the inward movement seems to be during April. Numbers fall off from week 18 but with a peak in week 20 in May which may coincide with males singing on territories. Weekly reporting l…

Pied Flycatcher in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Pied Flycatcher in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Sadly, I think, the pied flycatcher is not a Dorset breeding species. All pied flycatchers seen here are just passing through on their way further north, probably in to the mature woodlands of western England, Wales and Scotland. They are not uncommon in these westerly and northern regions and so a fair number naturally pass this way both on their way to breed in spring and then on their way back south to Africa for our winter. Inward migration is compressed in to a six week period that appears to start in week 14 in mid April and continues until week 19 in May. Outward migration is spread over a much longer period from week 29 towards the end of July with birds then being seen regularly but in small numbers until week 41 at the beginning of October. August would seem to be the month when the largest numbers go their long journey south. Thirty sites in Dorset have reported pied flycatcher and the distribution map shows a definite le…

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

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

Goldeneye breed in the far north, both the far north of Europe and the far north of Britain, where they favour lakes and rivers in wooded areas for nesting. Once the breeding season is over they make for the nearest coastline where they gather in moulting flocks before then heading south when the winter weather starts to set in. Some move some distance south, others stay closer to home and a small number come to Dorset for the winter. In most winters there are goldeneye in the Dorset area but never large numbers. From the weekly reporting chart it seems clear that week 44 at the beginning of November is when they arrive and then there are reports virtually every week through until week 12 at the end of the following March. Reporting levels fluctuate but November and December certainly seem the peak months for them here with reports tending to fall off as the new year starts presumably as those birds that first arrived are driven further …

Reed bunting in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Reed bunting in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

The reed bunting has earned its common name through being primarily associated with reed beds and other wet habitats such as river and lake margins and coastal marshes. Whilst this is true it is mainly in the breeding season they are found in these habitats where insects are usually lavishly available for their offspring but out of the breeding season they can be encountered almost anywhere other than in urban situations. They are a resident Dorset species and not known for extensive movements although winter populations here are undoubtedly bolstered by arrivals from further north. They were once common in stubble fields on farmland but the coming of winter wheat in the 1970s saw an end to stubble and consequently the reed bunting has declined somewhat since those days. Being resident in Dorset the weekly reporting chart shows records for most weeks of the year with just the odd week in mid summer seeing no reports at all. In general…

Long-tailed duck in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Long-tailed duck in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Whilst the long-tailed duck is an annual visitor to Dorset that visit is often just one bird that stays for some time rather than flocks of them over wintering here. As an Arctic breeding species the long-tailed duck is more frequently seen off of the northern and eastern coasts of Britain in winter and Dorset is some way off from their normal haunts. Nevertheless the odd one or two do make it here in most years. The weekly reporting chart shows that week 46 in mid-November is likely to be the sort of time they arrive and there are then regular reports right through until week 17 in early May the following spring which shows that once here they seem happy to stay! Strangely one was here for a few days in June 2018; this was obviously a non-breeding bird, possibly an immature juvenile. There are records from eight locations and seven of these are along the Fleet and the Weymouth area and so conditions here obviously favour them. The…

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

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

The eider duck is a fairly common sight around the northern shores of Britain where they breed as well as over winter. They also breed across much of northern Europe too of course and those from further north do move south when the cold weather comes and every winter a very small number appear off of the coast of Dorset. The eider is a diving duck and so is most often associated with open sea but occasionally they enter one of our large natural harbours. Often they are more visible when in flight rather than when they are settled some distance off shore. Although a relatively scarce visitor there are eider present off our southern coast every winter and the weekly reports from Twitter users show that eider have been seen in just about every week from week 32 at the end of August right through until week 16 at the end of April. There are occasional reports during the summer months which are probably immature non-breeding birds. The number of …

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

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

The little stint is a passage migrant in Dorset; it is not resident and is not a regular winter visitor, it is seen only as it passes through the county on its way south in autumn from its breeding grounds in the Arctic or in spring on its way back. It is not a regular visitor either, its presence in the county each year is variable but, in general, it seems far more likely to be seen on autumn passage south rather than spring passage north. It is also more common on the east coast of Britain and only the odd bird strays as far west as Dorset. They are long distance migrants going down in to Africa for the European winter months. This tendency to autumn appearances is verified by the Twitter reports contained in the Nature of Dorset database. Of the 104 reports for 2017 and 2018 only 1 is a spring record in May 2017. In general reports start in week 30 at the end of July and continue through until week 44 at the end of October. The bu…