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Showing posts from February, 2019

Red-breasted Merganser in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Red-breasted Merganser in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Whilst obviously nesting on land, in winter the red-breasted merganser prefers a life on the ocean wave! They are not a breeding species in Dorset but they do breed in Britain in western Scotland but the main population in spring and summer occur in the Arctic regions of Europe, Asia and America. We see them in the autumn and winter months where they spend their time on open water; usually the sea but also on some large lakes. They tend to stick together in small rafts but are fish eaters so regularly dive. As there are usually a group of them they are, however, usually quite visible with some being on the surface whilst others are below. We do not see normally red-breasted merganser in Dorset in June, July or August. The autumn inward movement starts about week 39 in late September and numbers build during October. They are then present for the autumn and winter until April and whilst there are still some about in May by we…

Review Features | The Nature of Dorset

Review Features | The Nature of Dorset

In winter, apart from the ubiquitous mallard, teal must surely be the most numerous wildfowl species in Dorset? Whilst a small number breed further north in Britain this is another bird species that prefers to nest in the far north of Europe and Asia and are forced to migrate south when the harsh conditions set in. As well as Dorset these birds also migrate into southern Europe and even in to Africa. They are usually seen on tidal waters in sheltered locations where they feed on both small invertebrates and vegetable matter; they prefer to feed on mudflats at low tide and unlike many ducks do not seem to like swim on water! Although primarily a winter visitor and certainly not a breeding species here in Dorset teal are reported in most weeks of the year but it is week 36, as October approaches, that the autumn influx starts and records increase. Reports continue at higher levels until week 9 at the beginning of March and then the bulk of the birds …

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

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

Not that long ago, say ten years, the curlew was quite a common site around the mudflats of Dorset's shoreline but sadly their numbers, like so many species, seem to be declining and there is concern over the future of breeding curlew in Britain. They breed mainly in northern moorland areas in the United Kingdom and further afield it nests in northern Europe and Russia. Until those ten years ago there were occasional breeding attempts in Dorset in some of the boggy heathland areas but that is no longer the case. Although not a breeding species in Dorset any more curlew can be seen in small numbers throughout the summer months but it is when the autumn migration starts and the winter arrivals start to land that reports pick up, this happens from about week 28 at the end of July. The number of reports then seems fairly consistent through the autumn and winter months but a spell of bad weather further north will see numbers increase but ba…

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

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

The Dartford warbler in Britain is right on the northern edge of the species range with it being more at home in Spain, France, Italy and along the north African coast. It is a species closely linked with heathland and here in Britain that means Dorset and the New Forest are its strongholds although it does occur even further north in Surrey, Norfolk and Staffordshire and possibly elsewhere too. Here in Dorset it is widespread on the heaths but it is not common anywhere but Dorset does provide one of the best opportunities to see them in the United Kingdom. Unlike many of its warbler cousins the Dartford warbler does not migrate, it is a resident species and the weekly reports charts shows this with records for every week of the year with, currently at least, only week 37 being devoid if records! That said, in general there are not that many reports each week although there is a marked surge in records in April during weeks 14 to …

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

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

The fieldfare is a common winter visitor to Dorset but the times of their appearance and the numbers seen can vary each winter. This is because the fieldfare seems to live on the edge, they keep just ahead of any bad weather that will impact their ability to feed. They are primarily a Scandinavian breeding species but in winter form nomadic flocks that are mobile and always willing to move on when the going gets tough. They eat both invertebrates, especially worms, and berries and so can be seen foraging on soft ground in fields and in hedgerows and trees laden with fruits. As the ground freezes and berry stock are depleted they move on. The weekly reports chart quite clearly show this behavior. Fieldfare are absent from Dorset between week 16 at the end of April and week 42 in mid October. During the period outside this gap they are seen here on most weeks but the number of records is variable. There are distinct peaks occurring later i…

Yellow-browed Warbler in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Yellow-browed Warbler in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

The yellow-browed warbler is probably the most common of Dorset's rare birds! It is a species that breeds in eastern Russia, China and other parts of Asia and normally overwinters in India and other parts of southern Asia and so this is not a species you would expect to find in Dorset yet, nevertheless, every autumn a small number turn up here; it is expected not hoped for! The RSPB estimate about 300 birds reach Britain each autumn although some years can see something of an irruption with far more arriving. Of those 300 birds most are seen on the east coast but probably 10 or so are reported in Dorset each winter. The first autumn arrivals are reported from week 38 onwards with the number of records increasing each week through to a peak in week 43 after which there are then just a trickle of reports through until week 7 at the end of February. There are reports for every week from week 38 until week 7 so whilst the Oct…

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

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

Merlin spend the summer months in their breeding territories which in Britain are primarily the upland moors of the north and west but when the harsher weather comes they readily move in to more low lying south easterly areas and that is when we see them in Dorset. They do not, in general, migrate great distances but it is likely that some birds from northern Europe also come this far south in deepest winter. I was interested to learn from a tweet that the merlin likes to follow a hunting hen harrier ready to catch any small birds the hen harrier may flush and so the two are often seen together. The weekly reports chart shows clearly the absence of merlin from Dorset in the summer months with just one report between week 13 at the end of March and week week 31 at the end of July. The early returning birds start to appear during the first couple of weeks of August but it is October when reports start to peak. After the initial surge the numb…

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

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

As a breeding species in Britain the whinchat is now restricted to upland hills and moors of the north and west where it prefers open grassy areas on moorland edges and also young conifer plantations. There being none of this habitat type in Dorset it does not breed here and is very much a passage migrant in spring and autumn. The inward spring migration can start as early as week 13 at the beginning of April but the bulk of reports come during weeks 16 to 19 during late April and early May. Spring migration is over by week 22 and then there are no reports, as you would expect, until the early leavers pass through from week 29 onwards. As with most migratory species the autumn outward movement is spread over a much longer period than in spring as birds reach the point of departure at different times depending on their breeding success. Whinchat are seen more here from week 33 until week week 40 and by week 43 they are gone; August and Sep…

Spotted Redshank in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Spotted Redshank in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

The spotted redshank is much less common in Dorset than its close cousin the common redshank; it is, perhaps, a more mobile species travelling from the Arctic to winter here whereas the common redshank is more local. I confess that I find it impossible to tell the two species apart as to me they are so similar but then I possibly lack the eye for detail that others have. The spotted redshank is the slightly larger one of the two and has greyer plumage which then shows up a dark eye stripe but they both have the distinctive red legs of course. The weekly reports chart shows clearly that this is a winter visitor to Dorset with no records between week 20 and week 26 and so it is not seen June and early July and the weeks either side of this have very few records and so it is not until week 34 in late August that they start to appear on a more regular basis. The picture over the winter months is somewhat erratic and that may indicate …

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

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

Whilst the meadow pipit is a fairly common breeding species in Britain it tends to favour high moors and open downland and so during the spring and summer it is more likely to be encountered in the north and west rather than here in Dorset. In Dorset we have little of the type of habitat they prefer for nesting and so the meadow pipit is primarily seen as a passage migrant species here. Indeed, large flocks can sometime be seen during autumn migration especially. The weekly reports chart reflects this general view of the meadow pipit as a species passing through on migration. The spring incoming birds can start to arrive quite early in February and the reports then show regular arrivals through until week 16 at the end of April.  The restricted breeding in Dorset is shown by the very few reports during the May to July period with the autumn exodus starting in August and reaching a peak from weeks 37 to 42 through September and early O…

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

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

In Britain the redstart is primarily a species of wooded valleys and hillsides in the the west and north of the country and is often associated with ancient oak forests. Dorset has little of this habitat and so as a breeding species here it is very scarce and it is seen more as a passage migrant. It also breed across much of mainland Europe and even in parts of Asia and Africa and it winters in Central Africa. It is likely that the migrant birds seen here are destined for other parts of Britain rather than location further east. Spring migration appears to occur mainly in April with the earliest report since the Nature of Dorset database started in January 2017 being in week 13. The peak of spring migration is between week 15 and 17 and is effectively all over by week 19 in early May. There are then scattered reports during the summer months from its very few nesting sites before the autumn migration kicks off in August with the first sig…

Common Scoter: what your tweets tell us ...

Common Scoter: what your tweets tell us ...

Common scoter are not unusual in Dorset in winter and there are always reports of them but in my experience they are often particularly difficult to see. This is because they are a sea duck coming only occasionally to estuaries or large lakes and lagoons near the coast. Most often they are some distance off shore and difficult to see and they continually go out of sight as they bob up and down on the waves or dive in search of food; they are usually just far off black specs on the water! However, all is not lost as they tend to gather in rafts and so there are several to see but they are also quite mobile and often fly together and that is when they are at their most obvious.   Common scoter are winter visitors seeking relief from the harsh conditions in their breeding grounds in northern Europe and in some northern areas of Britain. That said there are sparse sightings in summer too with non-breeding birds moving off shore here. There does no…

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

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

The turnstone is one of Dorset's more familiar waders to those who know what they are looking at! They can be seen, often in small parties, on beaches usually feeding along the strand line. They also feed on stoney mudflats at low tide as they turn over stones and seaweed looking for invertebrates otherwise hidden; this of course gives them their name of turnstone. Although an Arctic breeding species they can be seen for most of the year here in Dorset. The weekly reports show that although there are less reports between week 22 and week 29 in mid summer there are usually turnstone about even during the nesting season with non-breeding birds choosing to stay over here for the summer. Otherwise you can reliably see turnstone almost any time of year although most reports seem to come in August as birds return for the winter or are, perhaps, just passing through on their way further south; there is a further peak in May as the reverse m…

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

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

In common with several of the wader species we get on the shores of Dorset the grey plover is an Arctic breeder coming south to spend the winter here. That said grey plover can be seen all year round with a small number of non-breeding birds choosing to stay here throughout the summer. Less like other waders they tend to be more solitary, even a little territorial, and are rarely seen in any numbers together although they are not uncommon in favoured sandy or muddy sites along the Dorset coast.  The presence all year round is reflected in the weekly reports chart with records for virtually every week of the year but bizarrely, at the time of writing in February 2019, there have been no records for weeks 7 and 8 during the time the Nature of Dorset database has been operating. This may just be coincidental or it may show that wintering birds here decide to move further south in the depth of winter to warmer climes. There is a peak of re…

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

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

The whitethroat is one of Dorset's summer visiting warblers. After spending our winter months in central Africa it makes the long journey back to us for a relatively short stay while it raises its young and then heads back south again. In both directions it has to cross the Sahara desert and is a species that is susceptible to great losses in unfavourable conditions on this part of the journey. It is called the whitethroat of course because of the prominent white plumage on its throat! A harbinger of spring the first whitethroats start to arrive back here in Dorset from about week 15 at the beginning of April. The bulk of the reports come during April as the number of birds passing through the county is at its highest and then the frequency of reports levels out during the summer months until the autumn exodus starts in week 34 in mid August and continues through until the end of September. Although a nesting species in Dorset ther…

Black Redstart in Dorset: what your tweets tell us

Black Redstart in Dorset: what your tweets tell us

The black redstart is primarily a species of mainland Europe where it is common around towns and villages; curiously it seems quite at home in industrial situations and can be found around large factories and warehouses. In Britain there are apparently a few nesting pairs in south east England but they certainly do not breed in Dorset, well not yet anyway, they are a winter visitor. Whether our wintering birds are from central Europe or from elsewhere in Britain is not clear but the probability is that they are from more northerly locations. The numbers wintering in Dorset vary from year to year but the winter of 2018/9 seems to have been a good one with birds being reported from a number of places and not just solitary birds, sometimes two or three in one place which I think is a little unusual. In January 2019 there were seventy reports alone; that is not seventy birds but reported sightings.  The weekly reports show that black redsta…

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

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

There was a time, not so long ago, that the kestrel was probably our most common bird of prey. They could often be seen hovering over roadside verges and roundabouts, especially along the newly built motorways, in the 1960s and 1970s. Now they seem much more scarce and I rarely see one from the car like I used to. Whether this is due to a general decline in kestral numbers or a decline in small mammals found along roadsides I do not know; maybe this is another indication of the harm over tidiness along our roadsides can be or possibly the cumulative effects of pollution from car emissions? In Dorset the kestrel is a resident species and reports are fairly evenly distributed throughout the year with, perhaps, a tendency for more records in the autumn so that may be evidence of some inward migration over the colder months or may be the dispersal of young birds raised in the county.  Although widely distributed in Dorset the distribution map w…

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

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

Some bird species are subject to irruputions when their numbers surge and go way above what is considered to be the norm. This is a well known characteristic of the waxwing and crossbill and in the winter of 2017/8 here in Dorset we witnessed an irruption of hawfinch. Not a breeding species in Dorset, it is considered a scarce passage migrant with just the occasional record in some winters so to have Hawfinch being seen daily in a good number of locations was an unusual experience. The irruption of winter 2017/8 started in October of 2017 when there reports from week 40 onwards. Starting with just three reports in week 40 there were 20 by week 43 before the number of reports each seek started to decline. This decline was, I am sure, partly due to the initial wave interest with birders dashing off to known sites to see them waning and then we entered a period of reports from people revisiting occasionally to monitor the hawfinches presence…

Hen Harrier in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Hen Harrier in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

The hen harrier is a specialist of moorland habitats in northern Britain and so the heathland in the Poole basin makes a good wintering alternative location and a small number of these magnificent birds can be seen here outside of the breeding season. Sadly they are a much persecuted species in their breeding areas where they are perceived to be a threat to commercial grouse shooting and so numbers in Britain are now very low and consequently the numbers in Dorset in winter are inevitably low as well. Hen harriers start to be reported in Dorset during late August from week 33 onwards but the number of reports starts to pick up from week 40 in October. This might imply that earlier sightings are birds intent on moving further south and are just passing through whereas the October birds are possibly staying long term. Reports are fairly consistent right through the winter until week 7 in late February and then they start to tail off. By …

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

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

The goldcrest is a resident breeding species in Dorset and it occurs, too, right across northern Europe in Scandinavia, Poland and Russia. Being such a small bird it is very susceptible to cold weather and those northern European birds head south and west in winter and despite being so tiny they cover incredible distances and many come to Britain. If the weather turns very cold here they, and our resident birds, will head off across the Channel in search of warmer climes but this species suffers large population declines in cold weather.  As a resident species you would expect the goldcrest to be reported all year round but this is not the case . The weekly reports chart shows hardly any records from week 16 to week 30 which would imply that there are no goldcrest here during May, June or July and this clearly is not the case. These months, of course, are the prime breeding time here in Dorset and the goldcrest is associated with conifer…

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

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

The buzzard population declined dramatically in the 1950s when myxomatosis decimated the rabbit population. This decline was exacerbated in the 1960s through the widespread use of a potent chemical, DDT, on crops which had a major impact on small mammals. Despite these setbacks the buzzard population has seemingly recovered over the past thirty years or so and it may now be the most frequently seen bird of prey in Dorset. That said it is my perception, and I have no real evidence to support this, that buzzards are again declining in numbers again. The buzzard is a resident Dorset species and numbers are probably inflated during the winter months by birds arriving from further afield and the weekly chart shows that most weeks produce reports of buzzards somewhere in the county but, strangely, there were no reports in March 2018 and just one report in March 2017. I will watch March 2019 with interest; could it be our buzzards are forced to l…

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

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

Like many of our wintering ducks the scaup nests in the far north in Arctic regions and migrates south when the harsh weather sets in. Scaup are long distance migrators and they disperse over a wide area and good numbers visit the North Sea coasts of Britain but far fewer generally venture as far west as Dorset and they are quite scarce here. The weekly reports chart gives the impression that the scaup is a regular visitor here with several reports each week from week 38 in mid-September right through the winter until week 20 in late May but this is a bit deceiving. The sites reporting chart shows that most of the reports come from Abbotsbury Swannery and this seems to be a favourable wintering home for them with a small number of long staying birds being reported. October and then April do seem to produce a number of reports each year and this coincides with the migration periods and so should, perhaps, be expected as passage birds may be s…

Black-necked Grebe in Dorset: what your tweets tell us

Black-necked Grebe in Dorset: what your tweets tell us

Whilst the black-necked grebe is primarily a northern European breeding species from Denmark eastwards it does breed in Britain, mainly in Scotland and in northern areas of England. Being from the northern regions it is another bird species forced south by the severe winter weather and the southern coast of England suits some of them and they can be seen in suitably sheltered locations around Dorset. The first arrivals seem to come in around week 40 in late September and reports then increase over time with peak numbers being reported in December and January. Numbers seem to start to decline during February and by week 15 in mid-April they are all gone for another winter. It could be that numbers vary from year to year depending on weather conditions and bad weather in February might also drive some of our winter population further south in to France and Spain. They like open but sheltered sea water locations and so the records mainl…

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

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

Ruff rank as one of Dorset's less common waders. They nest mainly in Siberia, Scandinavia and northern Europe down as far as Holland and then migrate in winter, some going as far as South Africa. It is not surprising, then, that only a few end up visiting Dorset as passage migrants or, very occasionally, to over winter here.  The charts show that the numbers reported seem to vary each year, some years seeing far more than others. The number of reports might give the impression they are quite numerous but this is not the case. They are unusual enough here for every sighting to be reported and so what we are seeing is few visits but each visit being well recorded. The weekly chart shows that ruff can be seen all year round but, again, that is distorted by the presence of one or two long staying individuals who did not return to their breeding area in spring or decided Dorset was warm enough without having to go further south for the winter!…

Spotted Flycatcher in Dorset: What your tweets tell us ...

Spotted Flycatcher in Dorset: What your tweets tell us ...:

It is not that long ago that the spotted flycatcher was a familiar sight during the summer months in rural gardens across Dorset where they would happily nest but sadly this is no longer the case. This charming little bird has declined dramatically in numbers in the last 20 years or so and is now quite scarce both here in Dorset and across the country as a whole. I am not sure the reasons for the steep decline are fully understood but increased use of garden pesticides and changes in the way we use gardens is considered one possible factor. The spotted flycatcher is a summer visitor to Britain migrating here from Africa to breed before returning back south in the autumn. The weekly chart shows that they start to return from week 16 in early May and are all gone by week 40 at the end of September. There are more reports, of course, during migration periods when the number of these birds will be greatest. The main spring peak run…

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

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

Where you find gorse in Dorset you will surely find stonechat! They can often be seen perched on the highest-most branch of a gorse bush surveying the scene and deciding on their next move; they are active little birds frequently on the move. In Dorset you can see stonechat all year round but there is undoubtedly an increase in numbers during the winter months with the resident birds being joined by an influx from colder northern European areas. During winter they are not only more numerous but they are also more widespread. The weekly reports chart is not a good indicator for this species other than to show how frequently they are seen and to confirm that they can be seen all year. The chart really just reflects which observers have been visiting which sites and what species they choose to report and the stonechat may often be omittedin favour of more 'interesting' species. The distribution map seems to show quite clearly this as…

Bar-tailed Godwit in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Bar-tailed Godwit in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

The bar-tailed godwit is far less common in Dorset than its black-tailed cousin. This may be partly due to lack of recording due to difficulties some less experienced birders may have in identifying them as the two species are superficially similar but, despite this, there are far, far less bar-tailed than black-tailed godwits seen here. The bar-tailed godwit is, apparently, much more common further north in Britain with less coming down to the south coast from their breeding grounds in the Arctic regions of Scandinavia and Siberia. Some bar-tailed godwit migrate to the coastal waters of southern and western Europe and some go as far as north Africa. This may be reflected in the weekly reports chart which shows a pronounced spike during weeks 16 to 20 in April and there also seems to be higher level of reports from week 35 to 40 around September time. Outside of these peaks the reports show that you can see bar-tailed godwit at a…

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

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

Anyone who has taken up 'birding' in the last twenty years or so will take little egret as an almost everyday sighting and not unusual at all and will not know that that has not always been the case. In these days of doom and gloom with so many species in decline the little egret is certainly one, along with a small number of other 'water' based species, who are bucking that trend, doing very well and spreading their range in Britain. Apparently you can see little egret as far north as Inverness now. I saw my first one in 1986, ten years after starting bird watching and that was quite an event at the time. In Dorset you can now see little egret all year round and in all sorts of locations. They can be frequently seen in coastal marshes and along the county's rivers, sometimes in good numbers; I have seen nineteen in a single tree at Middlebere. The distribution map shows just how widely spread they now are and how …