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Showing posts from January, 2011

Common Gull (Larus canus)

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Common Gull (Larus canus)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard This may be the Common Gull but here in Dorset it is far from common. This is very much a bird of the northern areas of Britain but they do head to the south coast in winter in some numbers.

I have a problem with identifying them in flight but when you get to see one like this one perched on my neighbours roof it is a bit easier. They are about the same size as the Black-headed Gull but bear very little resemblance to them and they are smaller than the Herring Gull and have a green bill and legs not yellow. They also lack the red tip to the bill that the Herring Gull has.

As with many gulls in Dorset, one of the best places to see them is Radipole Lake RSPB reserve and it is always worth looking amongst the Black-headed Gulls standing in the car park as you will often find a few Common Gull's in amongst them.

Lesser Black Backed Gull (Larus fuscus)

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Lesser Black Backed Gull (Larus fuscus)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard Amongst the more common gulls we have all year round here in Dorset (Great Black-backed, Herring and Black Headed) we get a number of other visitors from the family.

The Lesser Black-backed is not an uncommon species in winter around our shores, and it is always worth having a closer look at any gull with a dark back to see if it is 'Lesser' rather than 'Greater'.

As you might expect, the Lesser is smaller than the Greater but also the Lesser's back is less black than the Greater's!

The Lesser Black-backed Gull is a very close relative of the Herring Gull, it is the same size, has similar legs and beak (including the red patch) and in many ways is just a Herring Gull with a dark back.

In the south of England the Herring Gull is much more common but as you head north so the Lesser Black-back takes over.

Jay (Garrulus glandarius)

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Jay (Garrulus glandarius)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard Quite often, the first you know of a Jay being in the vicinity is the dreadful shreak they make. It is unmistakable and, if you are not expecting it, it can be a bit unnerving!

Very much a bird of woodland it is not often you see them out in the open like this. The Jay is not an uncommon bird nationally but I don't seem to encounter them down here in Dorset that often. They are certainly about but they seem less frequent than elsewhere but then, apart from the Wareham/Puddletown Forest area, I suppose we do not have that much suitable woodland in the Purbeck area.

Jays are well known for two things. Firstly, they like to roll around in Wood Ants nests to get the acid ants 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!

Raven (Corvus corax)

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Raven
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard I have seen many changes in my 35 years of birding and one of them is the rise in numbers of Ravens recently.

Not that long ago I had never seen a Raven and now when I am out and about on the Dorset coast I usually see one and occasionally they are seen at inland sites, especially on the north Dorset downs.

They can be a bit difficult to distinguish from Carrion Crow at first but they are significantly bigger and have 'fingered' wing ends. They also have a definite 'croak' call which they are more than happy to use!

Like all the crow family (corvids) they are very intelligent birds and this can show itself in a variety ways.

Whilst rarely seen in great numbers during the day they do congregate in to communal roosts at night and in some areas of the country I know they can be together in huge numbers. Anyone know of a communal roost in Dorset?

Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)

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Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard he most common of the crow family here in Dorset has to be the Jackdaw. Not only is it found in a wide variety of habitat from sea cliffs to quarries, woodland to pasture, towns and villages, where it occurs it is usually in large numbers. At least 100 are frequently around us here in Wareham.

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 …

Rook (Corvus frugilegus)

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Rook (Corvus frugilegus)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard Want to know the difference between a Rook and a Crow? Look at the beak!

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?
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Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)

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Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard Rook or Crow? Now there is a question that even quite experienced bird watchers can ask from time to time.

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, at Baiter, in Poole they are much more successful than the gulls in finding shell fish, flying up in to the air and dropping the shell f…

Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)

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Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard We must all have seen a Cormorant doing this but why do they do it? Conventional wisdom says it is to dry their wings which obviously get saturated after they have been diving.

This may well, of course, be very true but it raises the question that why do Cormorants need to do it when other diving birds do not? You never see duck or grebes, for example, drying their wings after a fishing expedition.

The answer could well be that the Cormorant has much bigger wings and. as it spends more time flying than a duck or a grebe, then drying them out is more important. However, I have heard a theory that this posture aids their digestion. Cormorants swallow their catch hole, head first, and it takes a good while to get the fish right down the throat and in to the stomach. Holding out its wings like this opens the passage way and eases the flow. There may be truth in both of these.

The Cormorant is very common on the coastal area…

Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)

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Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard The Hooded Merganser is not really a part of the nature of Dorset other than that there has been this single male at the RSPB Radipole Lake reserve for well over a year now and it has become part of the 'furniture'!

My reason for including it is to qualify a message I am always anxious to give budding nature watchers who are keen to find something rare and exclusive.

I have always been a numbers person so early on in my bird watching 'career' I understood very well what someone said to me. "If you are not sure about which species a bird you have seen is then, out of the options, it is statistically likely to the most common one and you need good evidence to be certain that this is not the case." I have always found them wise words.

So, having promoted this message I felt I should add a rider to it - always expect the unexpected! Last weekend I was out with two friends counting wildfowl …

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)

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Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard Each month during the winter I am part of team that counts wildfowl along the River Frome from Wareham up towards Bovington. Each time I am reminded just how well the Mute Swan is now doing compared to when I started bird watching some thirty years ago.

In the early 1980's there was real concern about falling numbers of Mute Swans along our rivers and research on dead birds showed they were consuming significant numbers of lead pellets from fishing equipment which was, unsurprisingly, affecting their ability to breed as well as eventually poisoning them.

As soon as this was known fishermen changed from using lead weights and the problem halted almost as quickly and we now have a thriving swan population again. We regularly see over eighty birds on our three mile stretch of the river.

The Mute Swan for me is, as Chris Packham would say, a top ten bird (along with 25 or so other species!). It must surely be one of our most bea…

Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis)

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Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard The Barnacle Goose is much rarer in Dorset than its cousins, the Canada and Brent Geese. Indeed, many records are probably feral birds that have escaped from collections.

However, in colder winters small numbers arrive as far south as Dorset. Another Arctic breeding species the Barnacles tend to over winter on the Solway Firth in southern Scotland and on the east coat of Ireland.

Often they keep the company of Canada Geese and Brent Geese but somehow also keep their distance from their cousins.

The key identifying feature of the Barnacle Goose is its white face.It is a little smaller than a Canada Goose but larger than the Brent.

The early Irish people could not work out how these birds could disappear in the summer and appear again in the autumn and they formed an association with sea Barnacles and thought that they hatched out from the Barnacles that grew on the rocks, hence the name Barnacle Goose!

Brent Geese (Branta bernicla)

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Brent Geese (Branta bernicla)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard When winter comes so do the Brent Geese. Having nested in Greenland these geese make the long journey here every autumn and return to their nesting grounds in the spring every year.

They come to the east and south coasts of England; the Solent shore, Poole Harbour and the Fleet are particular favourite wintering haunts.

The Brent Goose is related to the Canada Goose but is much smaller. In fact, the Brent is hardly bigger than a Shelduck. Not only is it smaller but the white 'chin strap' is much less pronounced so you should have no trouble telling them apart even from a distance.

They are quite happy in the company of Canada Geese however and mixed flocks are not unusual. They are very keen on Eel Grass that is exposed at low tide but in between tides they are happy browsing on rough pasture, just as this pair are.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

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Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard Here is another creature, familiar in Dorset now, that has its origins in wildfowl collections in our country parks and gardens from Victorian times.

The Canada Goose is, of course, now widespread on lakes, ponds and other waterside areas across the country.

The Canada Goose is a North American species where there are several variable races. The one we are familiar with here is the pale Atlantic coast variety.

In their native environment they are very migratory along the Atlantic coast of North America. In this country the population seems less mobile although they can still make a pretty impressive sight when thirty or more form a 'V' shaped skein and fly over our house and up the Frome Valley in the early autumn making that wonderfully evocative 'honking' call as they go.

Like many imported species they can be a bit of a pest, and they certainly make a real mess with their droppings. In places steps ar…

Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)

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Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard A visit to Poole Harbour at any time of year will undoubtedly yield a number of these handsome ducks. In winter, however, the numbers increase with birds coming south from northern Britain and Scandinavia.

The Shelduck is not actually a duck, and It not a goose either! Scientifically, it placed between the two and actually, it s not hard to see why.

The diet of a Shelduck is somewhat different to ducks and geese who tend to be vegetarian, in that they eat enormous numbers if Hydrobia which are tiny molluscs that live in our estuary mud flats. Molluscs have shells hence the name - Shelduck. Easy!

Males and females are very similar but the male (as in this photo) has a broader brown waste band.

Shelduck make their nests in burrows, often those of Rabbits. How does such a large bird get down into such a relatively small hole?

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Pochard (Aythya ferina)

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Pochard (Aythya ferina)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard My first reaction was that this was not a good enough photo to grace FLICKR where the quality of photos is outstanding. Then, on reflection, I thought that as my motives are not to display exceptional photographs but to show nature as it is then this was a fairly typical view of a Pochard!

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 he…

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)

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Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard I can't help thinking that the model for Disney's Donald Duck, was in fact, our Tufted Duck!

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, 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 aga…

Shoveller (Anas clypeata)

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Shoveller (Anas clypeata)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard Without being too personal that certainly is one almighty beak! That said, it is a really effective feeding tool.

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.


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Gadwall (Anas srepera)

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Gadwall (Anas srepera)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard The Gadwall is a very handsome duck! A little larger than its relatives, it has this wonderful mottled appearance with a distinctive white patch in the black of the rear end.

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.

Wigeon (Anas penelope)

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Wigeon (Anas penelope)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard nother common duck on the shores of Dorset in winter is the Wigeon.

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.

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Do you take photographs of Dorset and its nature? If so then please consider becoming a contributor to the new Nature…

Teal (Anas crecca)

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Teal (Anas crecca)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard As winter progresses so the number of immigrant birds builds all along the south coast and especially in Dorset around Christchurch Harbour, Poole Harbour and the The Fleet.

Amongst the incoming birds are waders, geese and ducks and, surprisingly to me, it seems that the Teal is not only one of the most common but also the most overlooked by the casual observer.

I think many inexperienced bird watchers perhaps dismiss them as Mallard because of the green on their head. Although closely related to Mallard, Teal are easily distinguished as they are much smaller and have a clearly visible yellow triangle to the rear, under the wing. This yellow is visible, especially through binoculars, from a considerable distance and is the essential mark of Teal.

I think it is also true to say that they are a more social bird than the Mallard and tend to keep together in quite large flocks, often a few hundred together.

Generally found on our salt mar…

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

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Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard For me the 'benchmark' for identifying ducks is the Mallard. The Mallard has been so successful in our modern world you will find it all across Europe and in other parts of the world too.

The Mallard can be found anywhere there is water (salt or fresh), anywhere in Britain (both inland and coastal) and any time of year (winter and summer) and so, if you see a duck it is, statistically speaking, most likely to be a Mallard. That is why it is important to know a Mallard well so that you can know for sure when you have seen a different species worth a closer look.

I chose this photo I took of a Mallard because it shows very clearly the blue feathers in the wing. This is important because male and female Mallards are different in plumage but they both have the blue in the wing. In late summer the male moults and loses its gorgeous metallic green/blue head but usually the blue in the wing is still visible. To add to the …

Redwing (Turdus iliacus)

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Redwing (Turdus iliacus)
Originally uploaded by Peter Orchard I suppose one of the most obvious examples of winter migration in the countryside, away from the coast and water, is the substantial numbers of Redwing that come ever year from Scandinavia and northern Europe. Along with their relative, the Fieldfare, get to Dorset very winter.

These two species of thrush are very much at home on farmland and can be seen in hedgerows scavenging the last remaining berries or on the ground hunting for worm and invertebrates.

I have seen mixed flocks of well over a thousand birds at various locations in the county this winter and we have had a small number in the garden too.

The Redwing is very distinctive with its pronounced eye stripes and the reddish coloured plumage on either side that gives it its name as they appear to have 'red wings'.

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