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An autumn migrant seen on the heath as well has the cliff tops. Much rarer on spring migration.

Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

As a breeding species in Britain the whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) 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 September are the best months for them.

The whinchat can be seen at many coastal locations in Dorset during migration especially the more open, wilder sites around the heaths and downs. The sites along the west of the county from Portland to Lyme Regis are likely to be the most favoured with West Bexington and Abbotsbury prominent in the reporting charts. Portland, as always with migratory birds it seems, is also a hot spot for them. Further east the cluster of sites at Hartland Moor, Slepe Heath and Sunnyside Farm produce a good number of records but there are few from nearby Arne.

To add whinchat to your Dorset list you need to be in the right place at the right time; I hope these notes will enable you do just that!



Common Name Whinchat
Scientific Name Saxicola rubetra
Species Group Birds Thrushes and Chats
Status Occasional
Interest Level
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
Look for

A stonechat-like bird but more slender and lacking the white collar

Identification Notes
  • Only seen on migration in Dorset, more often in autumn than spring
  • It is a much more slender bird than the stonechat and lacks the bold markings of the stonechat
  • Loves open scrubby habitat and rarely seen anywhere other than this
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Thrushes and Chats