The Monthly Web Magazine for Birdwatchers September 2001  
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 Dotterel - Fact File
Charadrius morinellus
A scarce summer visitor to mountain areas in Scotland, mainly the Cairngorms and Grampian ranges. On passage can be seen in England.
Breeds on flatish areas or plateaux on high fells or mountain tops above 2500 feet. On passage can be found in a wide variety of habitats including moors and hills but also flat arable fields in lowlands.

Distinctive colour scheme with white breast band separating brown breast from chestnut belly. Females brighter than males.

21 cm (8.5")


For wader enthusiasts each spring provides an opportunity to discover a trip of dotterel. These exciting passage migrants regularly halt in Norfolk before continuing their journey to northern mountains and the tundra.

However, numbers appearing locally are small and often sightings are of singles. Almost all the springtime observations are in May.

Among the more regular staging points are the large stony fields just inland from Brancaster and Thornham. In north-east Norfolk dotterel are often discovered in coastal fields between Paston and Waxham and the sugar beet fields near Bacton.

Typical plovers and ever restless, each bird runs on twinkling yellow legs, stops and runs again, tilting to pick insects. The females, in particular, produce striking plumage complete with prominent white eyestripes circling the head and meeting on the nape. Cheeks and throat are white and upper breast fawn-grey. Below, another white band like a ribbon of an illustrious imperial order followed by warm chestnut lower breast and jet black belly.

Early works covering Norfolk ornithology make fascinating reading. Stevenson records a flock of 50 dotterel once arriving in the parish of Eccles. "The birds' arrival locally each spring was eagerly awaited. . . they were netted wholesale, an operation simplified by the fact that all those years ago the dotterels visited the same fields annually."

According to Victorian collectors, one of the main migration routes of British dotterel passed through the borders of west Suffolk and south Cambridgeshire. Substantial flocks arrived in late April and in early May regularly halted to rest and feed on the chalk uplands; hence the names Dotterel Hall and Dotterel Farm.

These ancient inland routes are still followed. Each spring groups of observers scan the hilltop fields on the chalk-warrens and sheepwalks, especially in Breckland. Spring movements nowadays are considerably later and the birds are doubtless travelling to northern breeding grounds seldom far from the snow-line in Scandinavia.

Other dotterel seek summer homes on the highest and barest tops of the Cairngorms. Pioneers return at the beginning of May when the high tops are still deep in winter snow. Ptarmigan and an occasional golden eagle are almost the only other birds on the move.

First eggs may be laid in mid-May, but nesting can be delayed a full month by late snowfalls and low temperatures.

.By Michael J Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.