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These are records and photographs contributed to the Nature of Dorset by nature enthusiasts from across the county. If you would like to contribute there is a guide as to how HERE.
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After the long and, at times, bleak winter months April raises the spirits of the wildlife watcher! There are still overwintering birds to see before they move off north to their breeding grounds but they are joined by an amazing flow of birds returning to Britain and beyond from further south in Europe and Africa. This would go largely unnoticed if it were not for the meticulous work of dedicated amateur ornithologists who survey and record species seen during this exciting time. Many of us notice the first swallow in the air or maybe (less often these days) hear the first cuckoo but who sees the pied flycatchers, the ring ouzels, the whinchats and many other species just passing through. Dorset, of course, is well suited for migration watching as for so many birds it is their first landfall after crossing the channel.
A look at the records retrieved from Twitter noting these observations shows just how diverse these incoming species are. From the tiny willow warbler to the much, much larger osprey and from small passerines to larger waders and raptors there is something for everyone to look out for. In amongst the annual incoming species, some of which are only seen in Dorset whilst on migration, are some real 'oddities', species not usually seen here but blown off course perhaps by adverse weather conditions elsewhere. This year Bonaparte's Gull, Iceland Gull and Little Gull were seen during this extraordinary time along with red-rumped swallows, a subalpine warbler, a Kentish plover and a purple heron. Some others from March and before remained for a while including the Hume's leaf warbler on Portland and the lesser yellow-legs in Lychett Bay. The movement of waders at this time is quite noticeable too if you watch with species not normally associated with Dorset such as little ringed plover, ruff, knot and whimbrel passing through. This year seemed to be particularly good for whimbrel being seen in reasonable numbers from several sites.
Not all returning birds are heading further north of course. Whilst many warblers and hirundines (swallows and martins) will nest here the most obvious examples are the little terns that return to nest on Chesil beach near Ferrybridge and the sandwich terns that nest on the lagoon at Brownsea. Both nationally scarce species with important breeding colonies here.
In amongst all the birding activity April is also a prime time to see our resident reptiles emerge from hibernation as they sun themselves when ever they can to warm up ready to resume life. Sand lizards, common lizards and slow-worms are quite easy to find whereas adders, grass snakes and smooth snakes less so.
April, of course, also sees the emergence from their larval stages of early species of insects. Butterflies are the most prominent with some hibernating species also seen after awakening. Given favourable weather this spring seventeen species of butterfly were recorded during the month including the orange-tip which is always a feature of spring as well as holly blue and early Adonis and small blues. Moth traps across the county began to attract early moths and the day flying emperor moth was seen on the Dorset heaths. As well as large red-damselflies and the downy emerald dragonfly the rare vagrant emperor was seen on Portland.
Other insect records included several species of hoverflies and bees as well as two common beetles here, the green tiger beetle on the heaths and the bloody-nosed beetles on the sea cliff grassland. Not an insect but also emerging on good days in April are raft spiders that can be found on many heathland pools.
Add to all this the flush of spring flowers and you have what makes for one on the most beautiful and interesting times of year. I love April!