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Showing posts from March, 2019

Bearded Tit in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Bearded Tit in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Although it seems most bird books still call this attractive little bird the bearded tit there is a move to rename it the bearded reedling. It is not remotely related to the great tit or blue tit and so bearded tit seems to be misleading hence the desire for change but it does not have a beard, it is more of a mustache, so bearded reedling does not seem the right choice if it is going to be renamed. At least reedling seems appropriate as it is rarely seen anywhere other than in phragmites reed beds and so mustached reedling may be more accurate perhaps? I still favour bearded tit myself. Apart from two three weeks periods, firstly between week 19 and 21 in late May and then from week 31 to week 33 in August when there are, strangely, no reports, the bearded tit can be seen all year round here in Dorset. The reason for the gaps, and I am purely speculating, is possibly because during the first break they are feeding young and will be le…

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

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

Goosander nest throughout upland Britain in Scotland, northern England and Wales. They can be found on rivers and lakes in these regions, usually near woodland and forests as they like to nest in holes in trees although do also nest on the ground. They are diving ducks of the sawbill family and feed on fish and they are now in trouble in some Scottish salmon rivers and the local fishermen want their numbers 'controlled'; that is to say they want them dead! It is estimated that there are over 2,000 breeding pairs in Britain and they are not great travellers, they are forced to move south when the going gets tough up north and that seems to be where most of the Dorset birds come from. There may be an influx from elsewhere in northern Europe if conditions there get severe. It is unlikely that goosander will be seen in Dorset after the end of April until the autumn arrivals start in late July. It is interesting that there are a few r…

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

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

Like so many duck species that we see in Dorset the delightful pintail is purely a winter visitor and not a breeding species. A few pairs nest further north in Britain but the main breeding areas are in the Arctic regions of Europe, Asia and America. Although widespread they are not a numerous species anywhere and winter populations in Dorset are a few birds rather than many. The wintering populations in Britain prefer coastal marshes, estuaries and large areas of inland marshes. The RSPB  estimates that about 28,000 winter in Britain but this number is declining. Most of the British winter visitors can be found in the east and south-east of England. The weekly reports chart shows pintail are missing from Dorset from around week 18 in mid-May until week 32 in early August but it is not until November that numbers pick up. Reports decline from the middle of March with just a small number remaining for a further 8 to 10 weeks. It seems Novem…

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

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

As members of the auk family guillemots are true seabirds spending most of their life at sea and only coming to land during the breeding season. It is unusual to see them away from open sea, just occasionally one will turn up in one of our harbours but this is not often. Outside of the breeding season they travel in search of food and are known to go as far as the bay of Biscay and sometimes even as far as Portugal but. in general, they are not really migratory. They are a colonial breeding species and they return to the same colony they were brought up in each spring. Colonies nest on rocky cliff spaces with narrow ledges and birds can be crammed together which can cause some upset between them and so nesting colonies tend to be quite noisy! They make a curious growling sound during breeding but otherwise are silent. Here in Dorset we see guillemots off the coast for much of the year with small numbers staying on the sea around the foot…

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

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

I would describe the knot in Dorset as an 'in between' species; it is certainly not common but could hardly be described as rare. Knot breed in the Arctic and are renowned long-distance migrants some travelling to the far south but they do so in hops by flying a considerable distance and then dropping in at a favourable stop-over point where they rest and feed for a few days before moving on. It is generally these stop-over birds we see here in Dorset. Good numbers stay the winter on the eastern England coastal marshes but very few stay the complete winter with us here. The weekly reports chart shows this pattern quite well. There are usually no reports during June and then a few in July and August as the early leavers start to pass through. The reports peak from week 35 until week 40 during September and in to early October  nd then after that there are just a record or two most weeks until the following May. There are far less seen …

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

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

Having never seen a little ringed plover I confess to knowing little about them and so looking at the results of your tweets has been quite an education. In my early years 'birding' before I diversified into other interests little ringed plover were considered rare but that was in Hampshire so whether they have always been frequent visitors to Dorset or whether it is just that they are increasing un numbers I do not know. They nest in man-made habitats like quarries and gravel pits and there are a number of those here in Dorset however I do not think many, if any now, have breeding pairs. We must assume, I think, that the birds seen in Dorset are migratory passage migrants. The weekly report charts is interesting. It seems that little ringed plover start passing through the county in late March from week 10 onwards, there is certainly a rush of records from week 12 to 17 during April. Numbers seem to reduce in May befo…

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

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

The sound of the skylark singing in the Dorset countryside was a once common occurrence but, sadly, like so many birds the skylark has now all but gone from farmland and is now found mainly on open downland where farming is not possible. There are still breeding locations in Dorset but the skylark is now more common in winter when the local population is boosted by the arrival of birds from further north. The skylark is not a greatly mobile species but those nesting in upland areas in northern Britain are forced to move to lowland and more southerly areas as the winter sets in. Despite being a breeding species here in Dorset the weekly reports chart shows virtually no reports in June, July and August and this I think shows how scarce it has become although the places it is likely to breed are, perhaps, not the sites most watched in summer so some care should be exercised before jumping to conclusions. October is certainly the best month fo…

Red-throated Diver in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Red-throated Diver in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Red-throated diver are birds of the open sea here in Dorset; almost invariably seen off shore and usually whilst in flight. They winter here in small numbers having bred in north western areas of Scotland as well as in the northern regions of Europe. When swimming on the water's surface some distance from shore they can be hard to spot and, even when seen, can be hard to identify and be separated from other diver species which is why it is when they take to flight identification becomes easier; even then telling them apart from other diver species can be a challenge to the new observer.  Red-throated diver are reported in most weeks from week 44 at the beginning of November right through until week 19 towards the end of May and there are very occasional reports during the summer months too. November through until March would seem the most likely time for them to be reported. As the distribution map shows, virtually any coasta…

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

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

Every autumn thousands of wigeon arrive back in Dorset from their breeding sites further north in Britain and northern Europe. Although they favour freshwater lakes and rivers for nesting in winter they generally opt for saltmarsh and mudflats in estuaries and harbours. A very few move further inland to freshwater sites but this is a small number. This species of contrast in breeding habitat versus wintering habitat is reflected also in their solitary nature in the breeding season but then forming large flocks for the winter; safety in numbers of course when there are hungry peregrines about. Although some early arrivals are seen from week 30 in August it is in week 35 at the beginning of October that the main influx starts. There are then regular reports throughout the winter until week 15 in early May. A very small number of non-breeding birds hang around until June but then there are no wigeon in Dorset for a couple of months during the …

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…

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

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

The siskin is closely associated with conifers and is often seen high in pine and spruce trees where it feeds on seeds it extracts from cones. In winter they are more catholic in taste and visit alder and birch trees and are now quite frequent at garden feeding stations that provide suitable seeds, especially sunflower seeds. Not a great migratory species but certainly mobile they are resident in Dorset and do breed here in small numbers in conifer plantations or mixed woodland. As with many species of birds numbers are boosted during the winter months by incomers from further north where they are more common in breeding months. Being resident in Dorset one would expect records for every week of the year but this is not, currently at least, the case. There are far less records in the summer months with May (weeks 20 to 24) being quiet. There is also an absence in weeks 32 to 35 in August; whether there is any significance in this is not cle…

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

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

Whilst not uncommon in Dorset the grey heron is not a numerous species here; it is widespread in small numbers across much of the southern part of the county. It may be that sites from inland and further north are less watched and therefore grey heron are less recorded but it is more likely that this part of Dorset is just not the sort of habitat that suits them. A hundred or so pairs of grey heron nest in Dorset each year in about eight colonies and so in summer months they are likely to be seen near these breeding sites but out of the breeding season they spread out to coastal marshes, along rivers and to the margins of large lakes. They also make themselves unpopular by taking an interest in garden ponds in urban areas! There are reports of grey heron in just about every week of the year as you would expect in a resident species but the number of reports is greater in autumn as they spread out away from their nesting sites and there …

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

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

The brambling is one of those species like waxwing, crossbill, hawfinch and so on that occur in Dorset in most winters but usually in small numbers and then occasionally there is an irruption and large flocks arrive. Closely related to chaffinches they often join chaffinch flocks when here and if you encounter a large flock of chaffinches then it worth looking to see if there are brambling amongst them. A northern European breeding species they migrate south in autumn with many going into southern and western Europe for the colder months of the year.  There have only been about 60 reports of brambling in each of the years since the Nature of Dorset database of records started in January 2017 and the bulk of these reports come during weeks 42 to 46 in late October and early November which is a reflection of the southerly movement of birds in autumn passing through Dorset. There are then a small and variable number of records throughout th…

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

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

The common tern is a summer visitor to the shores of Dorset and is seen here both as a breeding species and as a passage migrant. Long distance travelers, they spend our winter months far away in west Africa with some going as far south as southern Africa and return in our spring to nest around most of the British coast although scarce in the south west and west coast of Wales. The weekly reports show the first arrivals in Dorset coming in during week 14 in mid-April and by week 17 in early May movement is at its peak.  After regular reports from breeding sites here in June and July the autumn outward movement seems to take place during August with a few lingering birds being seen through until week 42 in October. Common tern nest on the lagoon in Brownsea, on the scrapes at Lodmoor and in the Swannery at Abbotsbury. There are also a good number of reports from Ferrybridge although this is not, as far as I know, a nesting location but m…

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

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

Snipe breed throughout much of the British Isles in mainly upland areas. Once a Dorset nesting species in damp heathland bogs it is sadly no longer seen in these locations. Snipe are not great travellers and tend not to migrate long distances for the winter but they do move from the harsh upland habitats to warmer coastal locations here in the south. They are not as common as they once were here in Dorset and they are masters of camouflage so finding them can be tricky. The weekly reporting chart shows that snipe are never frequently reported now. Whilst there are a couple of weeks in summer when they have been recorded they are virtually absent from week 19 at the end of May until the first of the autumn arrivals start to appear in week 28 at the end of July. They are then seen throughout the autumn, winter and spring and there does appear to be a slight surge in sightings in weeks 46 and 9 which might imply evidence of passage movement as …

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

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

The oystercatcher is a familiar sight around the Dorset coast; it is a resident species with numbers boosted by arrivals from further north for the winter months. The oystercatcher's main diet is molluscs, especially cockles and mussels, but they also eat crabs, lugworms and so on. Tidal waters with stony/muddy flats when exposed at low tide are a preferred feeding location for oystercatcher and they can also be seen at high tide on beaches, rocks and even grassy places near to their feeding areas whilst they wait for the tide to turn. Being a resident species the oystercatcher it is not always reported by observers who tend to tweet about less common species and so the weekly reports chart only shows that they are, indeed, reported throughout the year. There is no particular seasonal trend although reports are possibly a little lower in summer than the rest of the year. Given their preferred feeding habitat it is not a surprise t…