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Showing posts from December, 2018

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

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

Thankfully sightings of a peregrine falcon are no longer as rare as they were when I started 'birding' back in the 1970's when the population level was very low. Sightings may now be more frequent but I would venture to say they are no less thrilling; the peregrine is certainly the "special one"! There have been more tweeted sightings of peregrine in 2018 than there were in 2017 (139 against 97) so does this mean the peregrine is becoming more common? A 40% increase in tweets might suggest so but I am not convinced. I suspect we have a stable population rather than increasing one and that there have just been more reports of sightings rather than more birds to report sightings of. I hope I am wrong. You can see a peregrine in Dorset at any time of year and no week goes by without at least one report. However there does seem to be an increase in reports in the autumn, especially in September and October. This increase …

Common Sandpiper: what your tweets tell us ...

Common Sandpiper: what your tweets tell us ...

The common sandpiper is not a Dorset resident species; it is a passage migrant seen whilst making its way north to breed in spring and south to warmer climes in autumn. It produces a good number of reports from Dorset birders but it is never seen in big numbers, they tend to rather solitary birds.  Looking at the charts the first thing I notice is that exactly the same number of reports were found in 2018 as there were in 2017, 122 in both years. I am sure there is nothing too significant in this but it does seem quite coincidental. The second thing I notice is that despite it being a passage migrant there are occasional reports of common sandpiper in Dorset during both the summer and winter months when reports would not normally be expected so it always pays to expect the unexpected when it comes to bird watching. Despite the unseasonable reports the weekly chart shows a fairly typical passage migrant shape with a sudden, steep influx of bi…

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

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

Waders can be a bit tricky to separate for the inexperienced birder but the ringed plover stands out from the crowd and is easily identified by the brown ring around its neck. That is provided you are not looking at a little ringed plover of course! Little ringed plover are, naturally, somewhat smaller than their cousins and tends to be more solitary. It is also less frequently seen. Being a wader you will usually find ringed plover near sea water, often on exposed mudflats at low tide but they can also be found on shingle beaches where they like to explore the strand line for flies and grubs amongst the drying seaweed. The distribution map shows many of the sites around Poole harbour have recorded ringed plover as well as in Christchurch harbour and at various points along the Fleet. Ferrybridge and Lytchett Bay seem to be hot-spots for ringed plover with many of the records coming from these two sites. In common with some other spec…

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

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

Curlew or whimbrel? Similar birds to the untrained eye but to regular birders the difference is quite clear, even from a distance. The whimbrel is a little smaller than the curlew and has a conspicuous white eye-stripe but from a way off the thing you notice is that whilst the curlew has a long bill curving downward in a gentle arc the whimbrel's bill has a distinct bend half way down. In relation to body size the whimbrel's bill is shorter than that of the curlew too. So that is identification sorted but when and where can you see them in Dorset? Most passage migrants can be seen here in both spring and autumn but, curiously perhaps, you have a far better chance of seeing a whimbrel in spring than in autumn. A look at the weekly reports shows that birds start appearing in week 14 (mid April) and then surge upwards from week 15 to week 19, by the end of May most have moved on. That is a fairly standard spring time migration trend …

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

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

Whilst the greenshank could not possibly be described as rare in Dorset it could not be deemed common either. It falls in to what I would call the 'interesting' group where seeing one is not out of the ordinary at the right time of year and in the right place but certainly worthy of a note in your book and worth a mention in a tweet. For that reason there are a good number of reports of greenshank in the Nature of Dorset database. The distribution map shows that greenshank can be seen at many of the Poole harbour sites and they also occur in Christchurch harbour and at sites along the Fleet but by far the most reports come from Lytchett Bay and there are two reasons for this. Firstly, this is a well watched site with reports from there daily whereas other sites may, in general, not be as closely monitored. The main reason, however, is that it is a popular spot for greenshanks to feed, especially when the tide is not fully out an…

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

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

If you were to stop anyone in the street and ask them to name a migratory bird species, apart from them telling you that you are a bit strange, they would probably say the swallow.  The swallow is well known for its migratory lifestyle and this is reflected in the saying that "one swallow does not make a summer". The weekly reports show why this is true! The first reports of swallows arriving seem to come as early as week 11, late March, so certainly one seen then is a long way off from summer! Two weeks later there seems to be a peak with a flurry of activity as the returning birds come in over the south coast and this is picked quickly here in Dorset. The inward stream seems to go until mid May and then reports die away for the summer. The lack of summer records is down to various factors but one is that swallows are not that common as a breeding species in Dorset and those that do breed here are often around farm buildings and…

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

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

The willow warbler is a summer visitor to Dorset; a classic migrant species that spends the British winter months in Africa before making the long journey north for the summer to breed and then returning south in the autumn. The chart of weekly reports shows what I think is a classic summer migrant profile with a surge of reports in spring as birds arrive then a quiet period with few reports despite many birds present and then a further peak in the autumn as they depart. There are probably a number of reasons for this. Firstly, many of the reports are from ringing projects who will be trapping these birds whilst on migration and secondly, obviously perhaps, the numbers of birds in Dorset will be far higher during migration periods than the numbers here during the breeding when just those nesting will be present. A third factor could be that the sites where willow warbler breed are probably less closely monitored than the coastal sig…

Cattle Egret in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Cattle Egret in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Something is happening with the cattle egret but, as yet, I do not think we know exactly what! Not five years ago a cattle egret sighting was a notable event in Dorset but now they are being reported every day from various locations across the county. In 2017 there were 113 tracked tweets reporting cattle egret and 2018 has already (by the 9th December) seen 184, it could top 200 by the end of the year. What is possibly even more significant is not the number of reports but the actual number of birds involved. Last year's reports seemed to be of small groups, three to six, but in 2018 we have large flocks; 37+ at Abbotsbury, 18+ at Stoborough near Wareham, a dozen or so at Waddock Cross near Moreton and an undisclosed number by Fiddleford Mill, Sturminster Newton. Add to that occasional sightings of smaller numbers elsewhere and we see a very different picture with some 80+ birds overwintering in the county; this is new territory.…

Sandwich Tern in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Sandwich Tern in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

If I had been asked about the sandwich tern before I started accumulating tweeted sightings for the Nature of Dorset database I would have said that it was a summer visitor arriving in Dorset in April and leaving to head south in September and that the main location to see them would be the lagoon on Brownsea Island. Now the general thrust of that statement is true but when you look at the detail you see there is more to the sandwich tern's presence here than that. There is indeed a big influx in week 14, the middle of April, and there is an extended period of records in September and October. To my surprise, however, the weekly reporting chart shows records for virtually every week of the year which means there are sandwich terns here in the winter; not many but it seems that some do not migrate south with their colleagues. That is assuming that these wintering birds actually bred here in the Poole harbour colony ... may be thes…

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

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

The firecrest is, along with its close relative the goldcrest as I am sure you will know, one of the smallest birds to be found in the United Kingdom. It is not generally a breeding species in Dorset although it does breed in small numbers in the south east of England but we are right on the edge of its range here so this is a bird that we mainly see during migration times when birds from northern Europe pass through moving south. Whist it prefers conifers for nesting when on migration it will stop over in scrub and woodland edges of any sort but usually in coastal locations and often in well vegetated valleys so this habitat, coupled with its small size, makes it a bit tricky to find. The weekly reporting chart shows sightings during most weeks of the year with a few reports during the breeding season and as Dorset has conifer plantations that suit its needs it may be that we have breeding pairs here but that positive proof of breeding …

Marsh Harrier in Dorset; what your tweets tell us ...

Marsh Harrier in Dorset; what your tweets tell us ...

There is so much bad news surrounding birds of prey these days with their persecution on grouse moors and pheasant shoots in Britain so some good news is always welcome and the marsh harrier is one species that can provide that; at least in Dorset anyway. In recent years it was become well established in Dorset and now breeds here but here it is under the protection of the RSPB so they should be safe. Marsh harriers are such a beautiful creatures I just do not understand how anyone could harm them but, of course, where big money is involved emotion goes out of the window and greed takes its place. I had better stop there! The marsh harrier is closely associated with reed beds where it finds its prey and a look at the distribution map of reports shows this relationship quite clearly with clusters of sightings around Christchurch harbour, Poole harbour and Radipole/Lodmoor in Weymouth and at each of those sites there are, indeed, exten…

Blackcap in Dorset; what your tweets tell us

Blackcap in Dorset; what your tweets tell us

The blackcap is essentially a summer visitor to Dorset arriving in spring after a long journey from Africa where it spends the winter. Its warbling song can be heard from trees and tall hedgerow shrubs from mid April onwards into May and possibly early June but once a territory is established, a nest built and young birds have hatched and need feeding the singing stops. This is quite common species in Dorset in summer although the weekly reporting chart might not give that impression as it shows a low number of reports from week 19 to 34, that is late May through until mid-August. This is because as it is common it becomes of less interest and so is less likely to be included in a tweet. The bulk of reports occur over the five weeks from week 14 onwards, mid-April to late May; this is when the inward migration is at its peak. After the summer lull reports from Autumn migration start coming in in mid-August and has a fairly short peak but then…

Black-tailed Godwit in Dorset: what your tweets tell us

Black-tailed Godwit in Dorset: what your tweets tell us

One can see black-tailed godwit throughout the year in Dorset and one could be forgiven for thinking they are an internationally common species but sadly that is not the case. The prime sites around the coast of Britain are vitally important for them, especially in winter, and a high proportion of the Icelandic race over winter in southern England and in Ireland. These sites are important too for the European race that tend to stop over in early autumn but then go on further south into southern Europe and Africa.  Whilst records show that the black-tailed godwit can be seen in every week of the year this is not a breeding species in Dorset but a small number do breed further north in England. The ones that overwinter are, presumably youngsters not ready to breed but, even so, they do exhibit their lovely red and brown summer plumage. This species stopped breeding in England way back in Victorian times but started again in 1952 on a…

Osprey in Dorset: What your tweets tell us ...

Osprey in Dorset: What your tweets tell us ...

The osprey has become something of enigma in Dorset! Once seen only as a passage migrant in spring and autumn a few years back (possibly c2014?) one bird stayed for the entire summer. Probably a young bird it set up home in Poole harbour but was never joined by a mate and so despite there being some anticipation there was no successful breeding. It seems that every summer since then there has been at least one in the harbour over the summer months but, despite the nesting platform put up at Arne for them, there is still no sign of a positive breeding outcome. Poole harbour is undoubtedly prime habitat for ospreys with a large expanse of not over deep water with lots of fish, mainly mullet, and plenty of suitable perches and potential nest sites to be had along the southern and western flanks of the harbour and there is no doubt that ospreys like the look of it and yet none have taken the plunge and tried to raise young in the locality. That…

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

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

In the last ten years spoonbill have become something of a permanent feature in Dorset having been very scarce prior to that. I wrote some time ago that "In 2008 six young birds stayed in the area all year" and at that time there was great anticipation that they might start to breed here but, as far as I am aware, despite regular birds here and in good numbers too I believewe are still waiting! They have started to nest elsewhere in the UK I believe so perhaps it is just a matter of time. There were more tweeted reports of spoonbill in 2017 than in 2018 but this just could be that they are just becoming accepted as part of the native fauna now and not always worth reporting, I certainly don't think they are in decline although the significant numbers reported in the winter of 2017/8 have yet to be matched this year. On the 17th October 2017 there were 60 on the lagoon on Brownsea alone and there probably others present in …

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

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

The chiffchaff is one of several warbler species that migrate to us from Africa in spring for the breeding season and then head back south again in early autumn. I always reckoned to hear my first chiffchaff on, or about, the 15th March each year and, interestingly, the weekly chart shows a surge in tweets in week 14, around the 15th March! They do start arriving a little earlier than that it seems as reports start to pick up a couple of weeks before week 14. Being an early arriver compared to other warbler species the chiffchaff does get quite a bit of attention from observers when they see their first of the year, it shows that migration is under way and spring, in theory at least, is just around the corner.
The weekly chart makes interesting viewing in my opinion as it shows a sudden decline in reports from mid-May through until early August. There are two reasons for this I would imagine. Firstly, the chiffchaff is a common nesting…

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

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

I would have described the dunlin as a small wader that breeds in the Arctic but comes south in the autumn to spend the harsh winter months feeding on mud flats and could be expected to be seen at suitable sites along the Dorset coast between September and April. However, the sizable number of tweets in the Nature of Dorset database seems to contradict this statement, in part at least. A look at the weekly reporting chart shows that dunlin were reported from somewhere in Dorset for virtually every week of the year during 2017 and 2018 which almost makes it a 'resident' species. It does not breed here so why are there records for May through until August? There could be a number of reasons for this which might include: Some young birds may not be ready to breed and so do not make the journey north with the others Some birds may be not fit enough to travel the long distance to the breeding grounds and so choose to stay putSome birds …

Wheatear in Dorset: What your tweets tell us ...

Wheatear in Dorset: What your tweets tell us ...:

At the time of writing (December 2018) the wheatear has more entries in the Nature of Dorset database than any other species; 460 in 23 months. Initially I found that surprising but then just what species would I have thought would be number one? With some reflection the reasons, I think, become more apparent.

First and foremost the wheatear is not a 'usual' Dorset bird (if there is such a thing as a usual Dorset bird). It is not a species resident all year round or for any extended length of time during a season. It is not regarded as a breeding species in Dorset either although there is an indication that at least one pair may have bred successfully here in 2018. So not being a 'usual' Dorset species it engenders a degree of interest when seen and that means it is more likely to get a mention in a tweet.

The wheatear is, like many other species, a 'passage migrant'; seen in spring on its way north to its breed…