If you would like to read my Dorset nature notes about any of these featured species or sites please click on the post title
- I have been interested in nature for most of my life but since I retired I spend as much time as I can exploring the nature reserves and wildlife hotspots of my adopted home, Dorset in southern England. Whilst out I record what I see and take snaps where I can (I am no photographer!) and that forms the basis of my Nature of Dorset website. When I find something new I like to research it and write about it in my nature notes, it is how I learn and hopefully you might find my notes helpful as well!This website is for the people of Dorset interested in wildlife and for people from elsewhere interested in the wildlife of Dorset!
31 January, 2010
Little Grebe or Dabchick? Both are accepted names for this bird but it is little and it is a grebe so for me it is Little Grebe.
You can see the Little Grebe around the waterways of Dorset all year, occasionally on inland stretches of our main rivers but usually on large ponds and near river mouths They are quite common and freely breed here although easily overlooked because of the time they spend under water.
30 January, 2010
Pochard are related to the Tufted Duck and are often seen in the company of them, they both favour fresh water locations. In general, however, while the Tuftie is an active duck, always going somewhere, doing something, saying something (see my Tufted Duck photo!) the Pochard is much more laid back. In fact, they seem to spend most of the time drifting around, often with their head under their wing like this one.
Not as common as the Tuftie, the Pochard has these unmistakable grey flanks and an attractively coloured maroon neck and head. When the head comes out from under the wing it is often hunched up with little trace of the neck and the head has a rather pointed appearance!
So, the vote for the most 'chilled out' duck goes to the Pochard!
29 January, 2010
The Shoveller does what it says on the label, shovelling its food up by taking in large amounts of water and filtering out through the sides of that large beak and digesting what is left. Often, you will see little lines of them with the leader disturbing the water and the ones behind in its 'slip stream' benefiting from the stirred up water.
Another duck that is far more common in winter than summer with inward migration into Dorset where you will find them mainly on fresh water, especially in areas where there are reed beds or marshy areas. They particularly like scrapes on nature reserves and the North Hide at Radipole Lake is usually good for a dozen or so.
From a distance their mainly white colouring with rusty sides usually make them clearly identifiable.
28 January, 2010
This is another duck that is more common in winter in Dorset and is very much a fresh water bird. It is usually seen in the company of other ducks, especially Mallard.
They strike me as being a very serene, calm bird. They float regally around surveying the scene and rarely make a fuss or any noise.
This is a duck that seems to have grown in numbers in recent years, I certainly see them more often these days than I once did when I started birding.
27 January, 2010
Breeding in the far north a good number come this far south, arriving from October onwards before heading back north again in March and April.
Wigeon are lovely little ducks, multicoloured with a yellow forehead on a maroon head but, from a distance, it is the white in the wing and tail that show up.
The males make a gentle whistling noise which is nothing like a traditional duck 'quack'. Quite often you will hear them before you see them.
Always in large flocks, more often on fresh water than saline and frequently seen grazing on land you will find Wigeon on the Fleet, in Poole Harbour and Christchurch Harbour as well as other places like Radipole and Lodmore.
25 January, 2010
Although the Tufted Duck is widespread, almost always on fresh water lakes and ponds, throughout Dorset it is far more common in winter with extra reinforcements arriving from the frozen north.
It is a quite distinctive duck too, Its white sides being a marked contrast to the dark metallic blue/black of the back and head. Early in the year its breeding crest is clearly visible too. The only duck you could confuse this with is the Scaup which is a close relative but generally found on salt water, out at sea in bays and estuaries.
This photograph is, of course, of the male. The female is very similar but the white is replaced by a less conspicuous buff and the crest is much shorter.
The Tufted Duck is a diving duck, as opposed to a dabbling duck, so it will frequently disappear beneath the surface of the water before popping up again a feet away from where it originally dived.
A small compact duck but with a big character.
24 January, 2010
This is a sociable little crow, not only enjoying the company of its own kind but often found with flocks of Rooks and also with Carrion Crows too. Despite these flocks you will often find them in pairs, when perched they are often in twos.
The origin of their name is not really known. The daw is a country name for a crow and it seems to me that their distinctive harsh 'jack' call must lead us to Jackdaw but jack also means both common and small in the country so they could be common crows or small crows, take your pick.
Apart from their characteristic call they are easy to tell apart from the other crows because they are smaller and the back of the head is grey (this is not a sign of ageing!). They are also accomplished fliers, with a more direct and purposeful flight than their cousins. They can be quite aerobatic too, just watch them over the cliffs at Durlston for example.
They have lovely blue eyes and are quite endearing, very intelligent and quite pompous too, just watch them strutting around.
22 January, 2010
The Rook has this distinctive 'bony' look to its beak where as the Crow has a totally black beak.
Another feature is that the Rook is much more untidy in appearance and has baggy short trousers! The Crow is a much more sleek creature all round.
Rooks are very gregarious and are raely seen in small numbers and often flocks are boosted by large numbers of Jackdaws as well. It is difficult to know whether the Jackdaws tag along with the Rooks or whether the Rooks like the company of Jackdaws. Whichever way, mixed flocks of well over 500 are quite common and when they take to the sky the noise can be deafening!
By January Rooks are already thinking about nesting and can be seen circling around their favoured nesting site, or Rookery, as again they nest in social groups.
I can't imaging what it is like to live near a Rookery! Is there any peace?
21 January, 2010
Seen clearly it is no contest with the Carrion Crow a much sleeker looking bird than the Rook and without that distinctive beak the Rook has.
There is an old saying and quite a true one; "One or two its a Crow, many more they are Rooks". Carrion Crows can get together in groups but prefer to operate in pairs whereas you nearly always see large flocks of Rooks. Indeed, in terms of life style the two similar looking birds are very different.
The Carrion Crow is, as its name suggests a scavenger; picking at dead carcasses, clearing up people's picnics, harrying other birds who have food to make them drop it, and yes, they do take young birds from nests.
Along the water front in Poole they are much more successful than the gulls in finding shell fish, flying up in to the air and dropping the shell fish on to the tarmac of the car park to break the shell. The gulls just have not twigged that you break more shells on tarmac than on mud and stones!
Clever chaps crows!
20 January, 2010
The Jay is not an uncommon bird nationally but I rarely seem to encounter them down here in Dorset. They are certainly about seem less frequent than elsewhere but then, apart from the Wareham/Puddletown Forest area, I suppose we do not have that much suitable woodland.
Jays are well known for two things. Firstly, they like to roll around in Wood Ants nests to get the acid they spit onto their feathers. They are also great hoarders of nuts in the autumn to tide them over until spring comes.
Good to look at but aggressive, bad tempered birds in general!
19 January, 2010
Thirty years ago when the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch began it was recorded from most gardens and the results showed an average of 10.0 per garden; last year, the average was 3.2 per garden. The number of gardens reporting has fallen but where they occur they are still pretty numerous.
The House Sparrow is a confident little chap that nothing seems to phase. Bouncy, noisy, quarrelsome, enthusiastic, greedy, messy; surely all adjectives that apply to this rather plain, everyday little bird.
As its name implies it has long been associated with human activity, especially around dwellings where it is happy to scratch a living from just about anything it can find. It is not a fussy eater! It must surely be a change in our life style that has had such a dramatic effect on the Sparrow population. Happily, the figures seem to show that the decline has halted in recent years and there may even be a hint of a recovery but it is far too early to tell for sure.
18 January, 2010
This is, of course, absolute rubbish. These prejudices against the Magpie have no basis in science at all.
The fact is, as any reasonable person will know already, that garden birds populations reflect total populations. If a bird has decreased in numbers across the country in all habitats it will, obviously, be seen less often in gardens! The decline in many bird species populations are usually complex and revolve around loss of suitable breeding territory and problems with food supply.
The Magpie is NOT increasing in numbers and not, therefore, decimating our garden birds. The Magpie eats more carrion than live prey and benefits from road casualties in Pheasants, Hedgehogs, etc. The Magpie is responsible for less losses amongst baby birds than domestic cats and Grey Squirrels.
These facts are based on scientific research done by Sheffield University and supported by RSPB findings.
Although it looks black and white in colour the Magpie in bright sunshine if seen close up is a wonderful mixture of iridescent blues and green - a bit like a Mallard's head only generally darker!
The Magpie is, however, number 12 in the chart of the most common bird in gardens but that is because they feed on scraps, not other birds.
Justice for the Magpie!
17 January, 2010
Now you don't see them very often, no one ever seems to mention them, they have not featured on Spring Watch or Autumn Watch (as far as I can recall). When species that are causing concern because of falling numbers are talked about the Mistle Thrush does not seem to get mentioned. As I say, to me it is the forgotten bird which is such a shame.
Although similar in colouring to its more familiar close cousin, the Song Thrush, it should not really be confused. It is larger, more slender and more upright.
Usually seen on farmland it was once common in parkland and gardens. Indeed, the orchard was its favoured home, especially one where the fruit trees had Mistletoe growing on them, as the name suggests the two are linked.
The Mistle Thrush is also known as the Stormcock in some areas because it will sit and sing from a high perch on even the worst spring days!
16 January, 2010
The bark starts smooth but as the tree ages it soon takes on this rugged appearance, quite often black at the base but much greyer higher up. The ruggedness helps lichens to readily colonise it.
Lombardy Poplar (Populus nigra 'Italica') [2 of 2]
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard
Lombardy Poplar (Populus nigra 'Italica') [2 of 2]
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard
The wood is virtually useless for timber as it is riddled with knots and that is probably why they usually get the chance to grow so big and tall.
Both in winter in silhouette like this or in summer dressed in shimmering pale green leaves, they are a lovely sight.
There are three sorts of Poplar but this tall, elegant version is the most well known and most common. The Lombardy Poplar is not our native Poplar, the native tree is the Black Poplar bit that is now quite unusual.
The Lombardy was introduced from Italy in about 1758. There are more male trees than female tress for some reason.
15 January, 2010
These cones, which are quite unique for a deciduous tree, are quite often the defining feature in winter.
The Alder bears on its roots little nodules that contain a live bacterium which enable it to take soluble nitrogen salts out of the inert nitrogen of the air. Consequently, the spoil on which Alder grows is remarkably fertile.
The female catkins develop a little later in the year, are smaller, cylindrical and are purplish brown in colour.
The flowers are wind pollinated.
This is just one of many trees by the marsh at Upton Country Park where the water is, of course saline, so it seems to be tolerant of salt.
In some boggy areas it grows in great perfusion and forms the habitat commonly called Alder Carr.
Alder is rarely planted as it has little forestry value although wood turners quite like it because the wood is both strong yet easily worked.
14 January, 2010
In Dorset we are seeing extensive work to restore our precious heathland habitat and so many areas are being cleared of the Scots Pine. Indeed, at Arne people had the opportunity to 'pull a pine' for Christmas to remove newly , self seeded plants before they got too big. Elsewhere large areas are being felled and not replanted.
We may actually be witnessing the end of the Scots Pine in the area; good or bad? What effect will this have on the Squirrel population?
If you stop to look underneath any Scots Pine you will often find ones that have been extensively chewed to get at the seeds and this is, usually anyway, the work of the Grey Squirrel.
The trunk grows straight and tall making it an ideal forestry product and the timber is used for telegraph poles, fencing, construction work, boxes, paper pulp and wood board. It was also used extensively for railway sleepers and pit props, the market for which has now all but disappeared so the demand for Scots Pine as a timber is reducing.
The Scots Pine is a native British tree but is found only in its truly wild state in Scotland. Here in Dorset it was introduced for timber production and much of heathland was covered in it after WW2 and it has prospered. It so likes the habitat that it readily seeds and young trees can be seen sprouting up almost everywhere.
Being a native tree wildlife uses it, particularly in winter and it is the place to look for visiting Crossbill, Redpoll and Siskin during the winter months.
13 January, 2010
They are one of our native trees and very good for wildlife in general. You could be forgiven for thinking this was an organised plantation but it is not; it is an area on Arne nature reserve where they have been allowed to grow naturally with all the resulting benefits to other wildlife that they bring.
The fungus itself is fascinating as it starts out brown on top and white underneath but as it dries out it takes on the same colouring and appearance as its host and you would think it was all part of the natural tree itself.
On younger trees the bark is almost unblemished but as it grows larger and older so these warty areas appear and that is why this is sometimes called the Warty Birch.
This tree is at its best in spring when dressed in a covering of light green fresh leaves but even in winter it has a certain delicacy about it.
In Dorset this is a very common tree on our wet heathland but it also occurs all over the County, especially, but not exclusively, where it is a bit damp.
12 January, 2010
Ash is commonly harvested as it is used for tennis rackets, billiard cues, hockey sticks, oars, hurdles, tent pegs, tool handles and furniture.
The flowers turn in to these splendid clusters of brown keys which often stay on the tree all winter and then fall to the ground in spring as the new flowers appear. The wind will then disperse them thanks to that 'wing' each has.
The twigs have the definite nobly appearance and tend to have a greenish tinge to them.
The Ash is a fine, tall, upstanding member of the tree community. The main trunk reaches a point where it divides in to many branches that go upwards rather than stretching outwards.
They are usually found in clusters too, rather than as occasional loan trees like the Oak. It is a widely distributed tree across the country and can be found extensively in Dorset.
It is one of the last to get its leaves in spring and yet one of the earliest to shed its leaves in autumn.
11 January, 2010
When cut the trunk reveals its age buy the number of rings you can count, tis one was about 40 years old when felled. It is also much darker in the middle.
[continued on picture 4]
Oak trees can grow to a ripe old age and this ridged bark means that quite often it can be well covered in lichen or moss. The Oak also supports a wider range of insect life than any other tress (over 1,000 species) which make Oak woodland just a wonderful place to be in summer.
[continued on picture 3]
In winter we do not have a lot to go on, leaves are often the best indicator of tree species but the silhouette of trees without leaves does vary and this rounded appearance with a solid trunk and major branches is indicative of the English Oak.
It is also one of our most common trees so they are not hard to find and large trees of this nature are only going to be one of a handful of species anyway.
There are three other oak trees, the Sessile which I will talk about in the other photos, the Holm and the Turkey. The latter two are very different and cannot really be confused with the good old English Oak, they have acorns but the tree itself is quite different.
[continued on picture 2]
10 January, 2010
The meteoric rise up the charts has pretty well ceased now and it seems to have found its level at 7th.
Of all the birds, this is the one we almost always see in pairs, no matter what time of year. When one flies in its mate is not far behind and they always seem to leave together too. I had hoped to find out whether they mate for life but I have had no success but the fact they are usually in pairs and that they breed for nine moths of the year feeding one lot of young whilst brooding the next clutch of eggs must indicate that it is likely.
Already, the prelude to another years frantic family life has started with the occasional male singing its monotonous tones around our neighbourhood.
They are lovely together though aren't they, the perfect loving couple!
So it is with the Wood Pigeon. There have always been a lot of Wood Pigeons about in my time birding but I had really not noticed a change in the garden.
However, the data from bird surveys shows that gradually, over the last thirty years this species has been steadily rising up the charts. In 1979 it was barely scoring at around 18th place, by 1989 it had risen to 13th and was at number 10 in 1999. Last year it had reached number 9.
Why the increase? The rise of the Wood Pigeon is partly due to the success it is having as a breeding species in this country and there are now staggering numbers of this bird across the country. The other reason is the decline and fall down the ratings of others such as the Song Thrush and the Dunnock to mention just a couple.
The Wood Pigeon is a strong bird, versatile in the habitat it can stand and it is certainly not a fussy eater! Is it destined to go above 9? Yes, I think it probably is.
By far the most aggressive bird in our garden is the Blackbird. We usually have about five of them but the cold weather means we now have nine and they spend most of the day trying to protect their food supply from the others. They must use enormous amounts of energy shadowing their opponent, staying between it and their food supply, having the occasional flutter at each other.
They chase round and round the garden, under shrubs and out again, up in to the trees and down again, into the water dish and out again, all energy, all action packed.
Being ground feeders they eat almost anything thrown on the ground but prefer fruit to seed. We recently bought a tub of RSPB fruity nibbles which have been a great success and, at first light every morning we have a queue outside waiting for them to be put out. To try and avoid arguments we have to scatter them round different parts of the garden.
It will not belong before most the TV arials around us will have a male singing away at dusk.
Blackbirds are real characters and make garden bird watching fun
As we looked out to sea we saw several birds flying in, followed by more, then even more. I estimate that they were coming in at around twenty a minute and we were there an hour so we probably saw over 1000 birds come in and that was just where we were sat.
The vast majority of these birds were Fieldfare and Redwing but there were also a good number of pipits too. They seemed to be coming from the South East so presumably bad weather in northern France had driven them westwards.
Since then Purbeck has been full of these birds and they are now turning up regularly in our garden and eating us out of apples!
Large flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare are not uncommon here in winter. Last year there were over 1,000 near Rushton Farm at East Stoke. Fieldfare and Redwing keep each other company and you rarely see one without the other close by.
They breed in the north, particularly Scandinavia, but when winter comes they head south in enormous numbers but it was wonderful to watch them come pouring in off the sea after what must have been an epic journey. How did they know that when they flew off over the coast in France out to sea they would find land? What confidence ...
06 January, 2010
Initially they started coming to gardens later in the winter after food supplies in the countryside were exhausted and the BTO study shows that around mid-February would see numbers in gardens build up. But that has changed now too and they can turn up at almost any time.
Definitely a seed eater, they will pay little attention to peanuts and even less to fat balls; anything on the ground is usually overlooked too. Their particular favourite is nyger seed and you can now buy it in special 'Goldfinch only' containers!
They are smaller than most finches but what they lack in size they make up for in fighting spirit. They can more than hold their own against all comers.
It being so cold I had to take this photo through the window so it is not quite as sharp as I would have liked. I will try and get a better one when the weather improves.
05 January, 2010
We associate the Greater Spotted Woodpecker with woodland, of course, and so gardens near woodland will have a higher chance of a visit. They are quite dramatic birds and always bring a bit of excitement when they appear.
They are very keen on peanuts, less so it seems on seed. The container needs to be easily accessible so that they have a clear flight path in and then out again, and they need a container they can cling to easily. The squirrel proofing cage here only helps to support the bird rather than prevent it getting access to the nuts.
The Great Spotted Woodpecker is common across Dorset so there could be one in your garden on your nut bag any time soon.
04 January, 2010
Initially an Avocet at Arne (or anywhere else for that matter) was just a dream. Then they started arriving, more and more each year and now there are hundreds, if not a thousand or more.
They are such special birds and are bound to create debate in our family as to whether they are the most beautiful of birds or whether that honour belongs to the Barn Owl. I love to see the way they will often team up and work an area of mud together.
From near extinction in the UK to now a common winter visitor to Poole Harbour (and the River Exe, Pagham Harbour and other places) the Avocet is a real success story and one that the RSPB can be rightly proud of as they have a had a major hand in the revival of this birds fortunes; indeed they use it as their logo.
The Avocet is, to me at least, nature in perfection!
03 January, 2010
Yesterday, for example, I encountered a Dunnock just beginning to utter the first few tentative notes of his song. As the days progress now so he will grow in confidence and soon Dunnocks will join with the Robins and Song Thrushes in heralding spring.
Actually, when I was young my father called this a Hedge Sparrow but, as it is not a sparrow the name changed back in the 1970's I suppose. It is a members of the Accentor family and so, on the formal British nomenclature list it is known as the Hedge Accentor. Three names for the same little bird.
As a garden bird it ranks number 11. In the RSPB Garden Bird Watch it is reported from 54% of gardens but in the BTO garden recording scheme it is seen in 81% of gardens, a major difference. I put this down to under recording in the RSPB event as many observers will just put this down as a sparrow and not realise exactly what it is.
What it is is a rather plain little brown bird that skulks around the bottom of hedges and shrubbery minding its own business. But it is also a little brown bird with a delightful song that is a very welcome addition to our garden and the countryside in general.
02 January, 2010
You would think, of course, that it was related to the Great, Blue and Coal Tits but it's not. It is the only British member of the family Aegithalidae whereas the others are Parudae; not a lot of people know that!
The Long Tailed Tit is a gregarious little fellow, especially in winter when they come together in feeding parties. You never see one alone; as you look around you see more and more. They also huddle together at night for warmth.
Being so small they are very susceptible to the cold and suffer heavy losses in hard winters. However, the run of continuous mild winters here in Dorset has seen numbers increase through enhanced winter survival rates and that increase in population levels is reflected in them being seen more and more in gardens. Having not featured in the top 20 garden birds before, in the last couple of years they have become our 15th most common garden bird.
I wonder how this cold spell is going to affect them? I hope they will be allright
01 January, 2010
They are active little birds that don't stay around long, in and out for a quick raid on the seed normally but this one paused long enough for me to get a snap and, obligingly, he turned his head to one side to show the diagnostic white stripe down the back.
Coal Tits have a reputation for hoarding seed and we were amused for a couple of days last winter watching two of them in turn collect a seed from the container, then fly down and bury it in the garden. They never came back form them of course but I think the Blackbirds found most of them.