Questions about birds

Questions I’m asked about birds by Alwyn Jackson

Whilst walking in the Derbyshire Dales recently I was asked whether Dippers migrate.

The British races Cinclus cinclus hibernicus; C. c. gularis are sedentary which means they do not move far at any time apart from local post-breeding dispersal. This affects juveniles more than adults and males more than females. However in winter in Wales and elsewhere, mountain streams are regularly vacated in favour of the lower reaches and some birds cross watersheds or in severe weather move to the coast or estuaries.

Birds which breed in Fennoscandia are subject to medium or long distance partial migration and a few from Norway and Sweden winter each year in eastern England including Norfolk. These birds are usually of the nominate race C. c. cinclus, known as the Black-bellied Dipper.

The most recorded on a single stretch of river in Norfolk were three on the River Yare at Earlham in 1855. Since 1950 the species has been noted in all except 15 of those years but it is unusual for more than three birds to be found in a single year. Dippers were recorded annually between 1972 and 1977 but since then it does appear to have become a less frequent visitor to the county.

In Norfolk most Dippers are found near watermills and weirs so the Wensum valley is likely to attract a wintering bird. The earliest autumn arrival was a bird at Bawburgh in mid-August 1983 which stayed for over a year. During this time it roosted on the rafters of a garage and became increasingly tame. Unfortunately it was found dead on the garage floor on the 24th October 1984. It had become such a part of village life that it had an obituary in the Parish Magazine. Apart from this bird and three recorded in September and one on 1st October most have been reported after 18th October, with most sightings between December and February.

The records I have been able to find for the Wensum valley are:-

Taverham Mill 24 Nov 1950 to 24 Mar 1951

Gressenhall 7 Jan 1965

Lenwade end Dec 1968

Bintree Mill 1 Jan to 16 Mar 1969 plus a second bird from mid-Feb to 9 Mar

Elsing end Nov 1973 to 1 Feb 1974

Honingham end Oct 1973 to 10 Mar 1974 also from 22 Dec 1973 to ?

Taverham 1 to 8 Mar 1973

Honingham 1 Feb to 11 Apr 1975 also 1-14 Dec 1975

Taverham 13 Feb and 16-31 Dec 1975

16 Jan-27 Feb 1976

Honingham 1-29 Jan 1976

Lyng 1 Feb 1976

Costessey 21-23 Feb 1976

Honingham mid-Dec 1976 to 24 Feb 1977

Old Costessey 22 Jan 1977

Hellesdon Mill 6 Feb 1977

Gressenhall Nov/Dec 1977

Honingham 13 Nov 1981

13-21 Feb 1982

19 Feb-23 Mar 1984

Costessey Mid-Dec onwards 1985

25 Jan – 9 Feb 1986

Lyng 21 Nov 1988 to 27 Mar 1989

22-224 Mar 1999

So if you go birding during the winter months at a watermill near you keep an eye open for this wonderful species.

(Note: the nominate race refers to one subspecies under each species which has a subspecific name identical to the specific name. For example, in the case of the Blue Tit Parus caeruleus the nominate subspecies is the continental one, with the name Parus caeruleus caeruleus, while the one breeding in the British Isles is named Parus caerulus obscurus.)

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