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Dartford Warbler

A nationally rare species with its stronghold being the heaths of Dorset.


Photograph by: 
Hamish Murray

Dartford Warbler: of gorse it is

Post date: Wednesday, 13 April, 2016 - 00:00

You will see many lovely photographs of Dartford warblers (Sylvia undata), they seem to be a favoured species amongst photographers. In spring the males perch on the top of gorse bushes to sing and proclaim their territory and so they can be sitting target for the cameraman with the big telephoto lens! I have no telephoto lens and, actually, are fairly unlucky with Dartford sightings overall so my effort with the camera is a bit disappointing. However, it does represent the sort of view you will get when out walking as they are nervous birds and easily spooked if you attempt to get too close.

To quote the much used phrase of the Springwatch team, the Dartford warbler is the 'iconic' species of the Dorset heath. Dorset is its stronghold along with the New Forest. They do occur on heath elsewhere in Surrey, Norfolk, Staffordshire and possibly elsewhere but if you want to be sure of seeing a 'Dartie' come to Purbeck in Dorset, find some gorse bushes, then wait and hope! They feed on small spiders that thrive on gorse and they nest in the middle of gorse bushed for protection so you will not find a Dartford unless there is gorse close by. 


Dartford Warbler in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Post date: Monday, 25 February, 2019 - 18:10

The Dartford warbler in Britain is right on the northern edge of the species range with it being more at home in Spain, France, Italy and along the north African coast. It is a species closely linked with heathland and here in Britain that means Dorset and the New Forest are its strongholds although it does occur even further north in Surrey, Norfolk and Staffordshire and possibly elsewhere too. Here in Dorset it is widespread on the heaths but it is not common anywhere but Dorset does provide one of the best opportunities to see them in the United Kingdom.

Unlike many of its warbler cousins the Dartford warbler does not migrate, it is a resident species and the weekly reports charts shows this with records for every week of the year with, currently at least, only week 37 being devoid if records! That said, in general there are not that many reports each week although there is a marked surge in records in April during weeks 14 to 18. This is not migration driven but occurs because it is in April, at the start of the breeding season, that the birds are most visible with males singing from the tops of gorse bushes establishing their territories. At other times of the year they are more secretive and less prominent.

There are records from 45 locations so far; these are mainly the areas of heath in east Dorset and Purbeck with the bulk of the reports coming from Arne where, thanks to the continuing work of the RSPB, they are well established and regularly seen by many people. They have also been recorded at West Bexington, Portland Bill and Durlston however whether they are resident at these sites I do not know.

A visit to the RSPB Arne reserve in spring is by far your best chance to add Dartford warbler to your Dorset list.


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

Fact File Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: