Archive for June, 2019

Corfe Castle Nocturnal Goings On!

Posted on: June 10th, 2019 by Birds of Poole Harbour

Those of you that have been following our work for a number of years now will know about the nocturnal migration work we’ve been carrying out since 2015. At night, throughout the year, when we’re all in bed, many thousands of birds migrate across the night sky, their presence only given away by the calls they make to one another as they move from A to B in the darkness. Now, these movements may only involve short local movements that birds like Barn and Tawny Owls make or it may be long distance movements like waders, thrush’s and terns make. Regardless of the distance covered, many of these birds call at night and its only now that we’re getting our heads around what species do move at night and just how many there are.

Since 2015 we’ve been pretty obsessed with learning about this topic, so have been deploying sound recording equipment at night at sites we think birds will be travelling through. After a nights recording we can then analyse and listen to the recordings to find out what species have been passing over that very night. Interesting recent discoveries have including the discovery that Ortolan Bunting, a rare passage migrant in Dorset is actually a regular night migrant over Dorset sky’s each August and September. Also, each October and November, vast numbers (thousands) of Redwing, Song Thrush, Blackbird and Fieldfare are passing over Poole Old Town during the dead of night. We also record lots of waders, all of which migrate long distances at night, as well as a few geese and tern species too.

Forever wanting to learn new things, we recently approached the National Trust Purbeck team about the possibility of setting up our sound recording equipment at night within the high grounds of Corfe Castle. The reason for this is because we’ve long assumed that ‘the Corfe Gap’ is in fact a migration route in and out of Poole Harbour for many birds as we often see finch, hirundines and pipit migration through there in the autumn. But what goes through there at night?

With kindness and enthusiasm the Purbeck NT team said yes to our hair-brained idea, so this summer and autumn we’ll be carrying out night recording sessions from within Corfe Castle its self….HOW COOL IS THAT!

What have we learnt already?

In prep for the autumn, which is the busiest time for bird migration we’ve recently carried out three tester recording sessions (two in late May, one in early June) and have already discovered something quite interesting. It seems some local water birds are using the Corfe Gap as a short cut to other water bodies close by, with Moorhen, Water Rail and Little Grebe all being logged in our recordings flying over Corfe Castle at night. In one of our May recordings we also logged Dunlin and Knot flying past distantly, suggesting already that some waders are using this route as a short cut to the harbour.

Little Grebe – Call of night migrant through the Corfe Gap 30/05/19 @ 23:10

Water Rail – Call of local bird moving at night – Corfe Castle 09/06/19 @ 23:01

Moorhen – Call of local bird moving at night over Corfe Castle 10/06/19 @ 02:19

Also, its been discovered that the local Tawny Owls have been successful as we’ve been hearing calling juveniles in our recordings. And who can ignore the eerie call of the Barn Owl which seems to be calling frequently around the castle with it’s rasping screech giving it the old nickname The Demon/Devil Bird.

Barn Owl – Call of local bird flying through the Corfe Gap – 31/05/19 @ 23:35

With so much heard already in just our first three recording sessions, its hoped the peaked months (Late July to late October) will turn up some more exciting surprises.

We’d like to thank the Purbeck National Trust Team for their cooperation and willingness to allow this to happen and we look forward to updating you all again soon with more Corfe Castle sounds from the darkness.

We wonder what William the Conqueror what have thought all these noises were?

Puffin Boat Cruise Trip Report 25/05/19 – Tom Weston, BoPH HQ Engagement Supervisor

Posted on: June 5th, 2019 by Birds of Poole Harbour

On a warm, sunny May evening I wondered over to the Puffin boat after a day’s work in the Birds of Poole Harbour HQ. It was nice to see a gathering of likeminded birders all queuing up, waiting to alight the boat.

The trip was the first out of three sold out Puffin cruises, so we did not know what we were going to expect. With six o’clock approaching fast we alighted the boat and sat ready to go. The first few birds were recorded: Cormorant, Great-black Backed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull and Oystercatcher. The latter sat on a nest near the quay sea wall.

Then, to my amazement a group nearer the front saw a Bottle-nosed Dolphin just off the quay swimming south. This individual was more than likely the lone individual from Portland who likes moving between Studland and Swanage. His name is ‘Danny’ and has become a local celebrity with his own Facebook page and many eager fans. Unfortunately, I did not see him.

After an introduction by Paul Morton and Mark Constantine as well as health and safety by the skipper we started the cruise. Jake Blade and I, both Engagement Assistants in the BoPH HQ, were spotters for the evening. We started the cruise by heading towards Brownsea Island to view the Dorset Wildlife Trust’s lagoon. Instantly, we saw Sandwich Terns and Common Terns both leaving their breeding grounds to feed out in the harbour as well as two Little Terns who were first picked up on the webcam earlier in the day. Six Avocets were loitering on the mud with a single individual sat on a nest, an iconic Poole Harbour species. Other birds present included the seemingly resident Shelducks, Gadwall, Black-tailed Godwits and Grey Heron as well as a small flock of migrant Dunlin which included a Knot.


Arctic  Skua chasing Common Tern

Our cruise continued, I pointed out multiple Sandwich and Common terns to the public as we headed out of the harbour entrance and into Studland Bay. A migrant Arctic Skua was picked up by Paul as it darted across Poole Bay. It started to chase and harass the local Terns as it gave an amazing display beside the boat.

Just before we left the BOPH boundary, a flock of Guillemots and Razorbills passed distantly and members of the public gained nice views of a Peregrine, two Fulmars, a Gannet, Kittiwake and the local Cormorants around Old Harry’s rock. Paul mentioned how Cormorants are persecuted throughout the United Kingdom and how this may be affecting the local population. Surprisingly, a Little Egret flew high North headed towards Poole Harbour and a flock of House Martins circled the cliff tops near Ballard down.


Kittiwake – Blackers Hole

A very informative chat by Paul and Mark as we headed past Swanage and Durlston about a range of topics including the breeding sea birds. Along this section of the coast we saw large flocks of Guillemots and Razorbills as well as a small population of cliff nesting Swifts and twenty-four Kittiwakes. At this point we were closing in on Dancing Ledges and people eagerly looked out for the Puffins.

Just past Dancing Ledges we had success! We saw five Puffins mixed in with the other auks and were provided with prolonged views of the flock for a long time. This was the highlight for many people on the boat as this species was a new for them.


Puffin – Dancing Ledge

After some breath-taking views of the Puffins, we headed back along the coast. The evening chill picked up but allowed a nice sunset over the harbour mouth as we passed Old Harry Rocks. The only new bird seen for the trip was a Mediterranean Gull before having one last look on Brownsea Lagoon and alighting back on Poole Quay finishing around 21:00.

All in all a stunning trip and here’s looking forward to the next one!

Birds of Poole Harbour exciting new partnership with Osprey Backpacks

Posted on: June 5th, 2019 by Birds of Poole Harbour

Since Birds of Poole Harbour began in 2012, we’ve seen a wonderful rise in interest and support for our work right across the harbour. Our various projects and research have seen us working with private landowners, tenant farmers, BCP council, RSPB, National Trust and the Dorset Wildlife Trust and its through these progressive partnerships we’ve been able boost the profile of bird conservation, preservation and observation in and around Poole Harbour.

Now, we’re thrilled to be announcing a new partnership with Osprey Packs, a world leader in outdoor and all weather terrain rucksack and backpacks. By some kind of amazing coincidence, their European head office is here in Poole, where of course, it just so happens we’re carrying out our Osprey translocation project, in an effort to restore a south coast breeding population right here in Dorset. Osprey Packs have kindly offered to tell our story to their international customer base and we’re hoping that within a few years Osprey will be breeding right here in Poole Harbour, providing an exciting story to tell.

Below are a few words from our new partners and we look forward to seeing this relationship grow as our Osprey project develops over the coming years.


Up with the Lark – Spring Bird Boat Report – 20/04/19

Posted on: June 5th, 2019 by Birds of Poole Harbour

On a beautifully sunny Saturday morning I board the busy boat and find a seat for the 8am sharp departure. With Safety procedures covered, Paul starts his commentary as we swiftly motor out into the harbour to start our 3.5 hour tour. Paul gives us an outline to the organisation, some history to Poole harbour and some information about current bird life in the harbour and what we might expect to see. Freshly arrived spring migratory species and Osprey are at the top of our list!

As we make our way towards the mouth of Wareham river we get our first spot from Ian Ballam, another local, on board, expert. A majestic Sandwich Tern flies past the boat having arrived in the harbour recently on its migration. Paul gives us a few tips to identifying different tern species and goes on to give some invaluable information about the best local sites to see Osprey over the coming months.

The next spot are a group of late winter leavers, a group of Brent Geese flying in a ‘V’ formation over the boat. An unusual species for this time of year as most have already left the harbour heading to cooler climate of Siberia on their migration.

Some Mediterranean Gulls join us off the back off the boat as we head closer to a small set of islands where they now breed. With a quick bird ID tip from Paul we could then tell this species apart from the similar, more common relative, the Black Headed Gull, which we also see flying above us. Paul goes onto tell us about an interesting and disturbing event that happened a couple of years ago which involved the illegal collection of these birds eggs and how BoPH played a crucial role in putting a stop to this poaching.

As we head past Fragmites’ Reed beds, the largest in Poole Harbour, we can see a large number of juvenile Mute Swans hanging out together at their ‘youth club’. Paul goes on to inform us of the threat to the reed beds from the invasive Sika deer grazing and how this has impacted bird habitats across the UK in a number of ways.

With our eyes still pealed for the illusive Osprey, we are fast approach Wareham river and some Greylag Geeseand hear the distinct call of a Whimbrel, before we see it rush past us. Paul gets a small round applause following an informative display of various bird calls that we may hear within the reeds of the river banks as we enter the river. Slowly we come across a variety of calls from warblers and Paul points out the key differences between your Sedge and your Cetti’s Warblers. As we move along the warblers calls get more frequent, giving us a good opportunity to practice our call identification skills that Paul had advised us on. A reed warbler then added his call into the mix, which totally threw me, as a slightly less experienced birder on the boat!

As we passed a large open area of water within the reeds we spotted a group of Tufted Duck and10 Great Crested Grebes, diving for food. A raven then flew alongside the boat, a species that you may be surprised to know drastically dropped in number but has since made a steady recover.

Paul points out some paths in the surrounding area that are some of the lesser known about locations for spotting birds, with hints and tips to where and when to go to tick off some of the ‘must see’ species.

As we approach Ridge Warf we continue to hear the call of warblers around us and an additional species, a Willow Warbler is pointed out by Paul. In the surrounding fields we see a couple of Curlew surrounding by a group of resting Whimbrel.  As we approach Redcliffe Sailing Club we see some of the first of the seasons Swallows speedily swooping across the water. One has landed on the top of the mast of boat directly ahead of us, giving us a lovely view of it as it takes into flight as we pootle past and ponder about the toilsome journey the swallows have completed before their arrival.

As we approach Wareham Quay we pass some more urban species such as a Great tit, House Sparrow and a Starling before everyone goes soppy at the site of a  group of small Mallard ducklings!

Heading back up the river we see a pair a Jay’s following the boat before they land and Paul points out the majestic song of a Skylark and identifies a lone Reed Bunting, singing at the top his voice as he sits at the top of a bush. As we pass Ridge Warf again we see a small group of Gadwall  bobbing up and down as the drift along.

We pass some jet black Cormorants chilling out on a gate and a group of chatty Oystercatcher with their distinctive red bill and quirky call.

As we creep out of the river we find ourselves passing group of feeding Sandwich Terns, as one dives into the water at high speed it then re-emerges and takes flight as it gulps down a large, tasty Sand Eel right beside us, providing a fantastic photo opportunity for those with a quick trigger finger?

As we head around the to Arne, Paul gets a frustrating report of 2 Osprey over the Wareham Channel (where we just came from) only minutes ago, so we all up our game and keep a watchful eye on the skyline as we head back in that direction, on our war to Brownsea Island. We pass a group of Black-tailed Godwits in their vibrant rusty summer plumage as they hand out at the back of the marsh.

The sea is stunningly crystal clear as we approach Brownsea and Paul fills us in on some its interesting and colourful history. As we come in close to the lagoon we have an excellent view as we cruised slowly passed. A lone Spoonbill sat with its head down as in amongst a flock of Black-Tailed Godwits. A group of 10 or so Avocets gracefully linger along in the shallow water. Paul informs us that these few remaining individuals, who haven’t migrated with the other flocks, may stay throughout the summer months and breed. The first Common Terns have arrived to enjoy plentiful food after their long journey and a flock of Grey Plover are not what they seem as Paul’s eagle eye spots a couple of Dunlin and single Knot in amongst the crowd. Our last spot of Shelduck, Shoveler Duck and a Grey Heron bring our spectacular trip to an end as we turn and head back to the quay.

Paul rounds up the trip by highlights the importance of the support we receive from the public and how these bird boats not only enthuse people about the birds we are lucky enough the see in Poole Harbour but also go along way to supporting the projects that we run.

Although we weren’t lucky enough the to spot the illusive Osprey this time, we saw a wonderful variety of over 34 bird species out in the harbour today, showcasing what an Internationally important habitat we have here on our doorstep and highlighting how important it is that protect this stunning sites for not only birds but our next generation to enjoy.

If this has inspired you to book onto one of our bird boats or bird walks please check out our website to get more information and book a trip. Alternatively pop into our HQ on the quay where our friendly staff will always be on hand to answer any questions and help you find a trip that will suit your needs.

New Birds of Poole Harbour App Launches April 1st

Posted on: June 5th, 2019 by Birds of Poole Harbour

A new iPhone app that provides the public with the tools and information needed to experience Poole Harbour’s incredible birdlife is now available to download from the Apple App Store.

DOWNLOAD THE APP – Birds of Poole Harbour by Birds of Poole Harbour: .

The iPhone app, which was created by Dorset-based charity Birds of Poole Harbour, launches on April 1st and has been created to provide information on locations to watch and monitor birds, as well as allowing the public to input their own sightings to the charity.

Poole Harbour boasts some of the richest & rarest habitats in Europe and is nationally and internationally important for a whole range of bird species. With much of the harbour’s landscape in the hands of conservation, the variety and numbers of bird species present make it a birders’ paradise right through the year. The Birds of Poole Harbour charity’s main charitable objectives are to boost the profile of bird conservation, preservation and observation in and around Poole Harbour and, by providing an app for the public to use, the charity hopes it builds on a citizen-science approach to local conservation.

Paul Morton, one of the charities co-founders stated,

We’re really proud of this new app. Providing people with the tools to learn about the harbour and to also submit their valuable sightings is an important step for local conservation. We know there are many people out there who enjoy watching birds around the harbour, but if we can extend that enjoyment to provide a conservation benefit then great”

The app, which focuses on 33 publicly accessible sites around Poole Harbour, provides information on the facilities at each site, the parking and cycling options, and detailed info on how and where to find birds at each location. It also provides a selection of seasonal highlights for each place plus a detailed account of every bird species that’s ever been logged in the harbour.

With scannable plaques placed at key spots around the harbour, instructing the public to download the app and scan the plaque, users will then be able to get site- and bird-information about the very spot they’re standing at. Then, once on the users phone the information will remain there to use in the future. The app wouldn’t have been possible without the cooperation of all the local landowners who kindly agreed to host the plaques on their land so people can discover the app and begin submitting their sightings.

Paul Morton added,

“We’d like to thank Borough of Poole (BCP), Dorset County Council, Dorset Wildlife Trust, Livability Holton Lee, National Trust, and RSPB for allowing us to place the app plaques on various fence posts at their sites as this demonstrates great partnership working and will both in the long and short term be a positive for local conservation”

The app, which is initially only being produced for Apple devices due to costs and  production time, will launch on April 1st 2019. For those without an Apple device, don’t worry – the same information will be on the new Birds of Poole Harbour website, which will be available later in the year. Depending on the success of the first launch, an Android version may be considered in the near future.

Once users begin entering their bird sighting data through the app, it will then be collated and forwarded onto Birdtrack, which combines all bird records from across the county and enables the BTO to analyse and assess national bird populations. 

DOWNLOAD THE APP – Birds of Poole Harbour by Birds of Poole Harbour:

Struggling Swifts to get help in Old Town Poole

Posted on: June 5th, 2019 by Birds of Poole Harbour

Partnership project between Birds of Poole Harbour and Poole-based PR agency Saltwater Stone pledges to help boost the numbers of a declining Swifts in the town centre by sponsoring the installation of nest boxes.

Spectacular aerobatic displays of swooping flocks of swifts, circling as they feed on airborne insects, have long been a familiar sight on summer evenings in the UK. Sadly, these birds have become a rarity in Poole, so maritime PR specialist Saltwater Stone is assisting a project run by the charity Birds of Poole Harbour to bolster the numbers of these remarkable long-distance migrants.

The quantity of common swifts visiting the country each year has declined by more than 50% since 1995, according to the British Trust for Ornithology, and the rate of decrease continues to accelerate. While some reasons for this decline lie in Africa, where they spend the majority of their lives, a reduction in suitable nesting sites in this country is also to blame.


Common Swift – Poole Park – Paul Morton


Swifts have traditionally made use of holes in man-made structures, nesting under roof tiles, in eaves, lofts, barns and spires. But renovation of old buildings and the drive to make homes more energy-efficient has meant many houses have been made impermeable for these visitors.

To encourage swifts to continue to breed in the heart of town, Birds of Poole Harbour and Saltwater Stone are putting up eight to ten purpose-built nest boxes. In order to encourage birds to use these boxes, they will contain equipment to play swift calls to make them more attractive, a technique that has been proved to work well for this species.

Saltwater Stone, based at Strand Street near Poole Quay, will be providing 50% of the funding for the ‘Swift City’ project. The firm’s founder and Managing Director, Georgina Bartlett, said: “I have lived and worked in Poole for 20 years but never seen a swift here. We hope that by providing nest boxes, we will encourage a colony of these remarkable birds to re-establish and thrive in the heart of our town for many future generations to enjoy.”

Birds of Poole Harbour is still seeking additional assistance for the project and donations can be made by visiting the charity’s JustGiving page at:

Birds of Poole Harbour founder Paul Morton added: “Swifts are incredibly charismatic and are true signs of summer. One of the major problems facing these birds is a lack of nesting sites – our modern buildings simply don’t have the nooks, crannies and cavities that swifts need to build their nests in.

“We hope that with this project we can safeguard their future here in Old Town Poole, where it’s likely they have been for many hundreds of years.”

About swifts:

Swifts are remarkable in that no other bird spends as much of its life in the air, feeding, mating and even sleeping in flight. The majority of their time is spent in Africa but each year they navigate thousands of miles to northern breeding grounds to nest and raise chicks before returning home in August. Characterised by scythe shaped wings and a forked tail, common swifts are dark brown in colour with lighter patches at their chins. Often swooping low and fast around buildings, they have a distinctive high-pitched call. In level flight, the common swift holds the record for the fastest recorded flight speed of any bird. 


Paul Morton (Birds of Poole Harbour) & Georgina Bartlett (Saltwater Stone)


About Saltwater Stone:

Saltwater Stone is a PR, design and communications consultancy delivering compelling strategic solutions to leading maritime brands. Offering integrated, full-service marketing support on a national, European and global level, Saltwater Stone can be engaged as a press relations partner, media planning agency or creative hub.

Saltwater Stone has been a central force within the global maritime industry for over 27 years. From cutting-edge technology and ground-breaking products to new boats and industry exhibitions, its 12-strong team has experience covering the entire oceanspace and beyond. For more information see:

About Birds of Poole Harbour:

Birds of Poole Harbour is a charity dedicated to educating people about the stunning variety of bird life in one of the country’s most picturesque locations. It aims to raise the profile of bird conservation, preservation and observation in and around this designated RAMSAR site which hosts nationally and internationally important species. For more information about Birds of Poole Harbour see:

Eye on the Sky for Osprey this Spring!

Posted on: June 5th, 2019 by Birds of Poole Harbour

This year is an incredibly exciting and potentially pivotal time in our project to re-establish breeding Osprey on the South coast of the UK. After two years in Africa following their first migration, our inaugural ‘class’ of translocated Osprey chicks could be winging their way back to the UK this Spring to check out nesting sites. You can read all about the background of our project, which is run by us in partnership with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Wildlife Windows,  here.

First-time returning Osprey usually spend the season prospecting for nest sites and looking for potential future partners. Furthermore, migrant birds attracted to the harbour by our chicks and nest platforms may also show signs of attempting to nest. Needless to say, we’re all on tenterhooks waiting for them to arrive in the next few weeks so we can check for the 2017 chicks returning to the harbour and monitor behaviour of visitors!

“We are now at an incredibly exciting time in the project as 2019 is the first year that we may see some of our 2017 chicks making their first return from Africa!”

That’s not say that we have been passively awaiting their arrival – quite the opposite! In anticipation for this year’s Osprey arrivals, we’ve put up three new Osprey nests, two on private land and one in partnership with RSPB Arne at Middlebere. Big thanks to Phil Stubbington for his kind donation which allowed us to get these nests installed in time the this spring season.

The female below, CJ7, is from Rutland, and is our top pick as the bird most likely to attempt to breed in the harbour first. In 2017, she spent a couple of weeks hanging out with our translocated chicks, and in 2018, she spent the summer prospecting around the harbour. If one of our males joins her this Spring, it’s possible that it could be the beginnings of a future pair-bond. Here she is perched at, RSPB Arne in May 2018.


Female Osprey CJ7, photo credit Paul Morton.


Here’s a time-lapse of the BoPH team clearing scrub around the new nest pole site at Middlebere – hard but rewarding work!


 The new nest, installed by Wildlife Windows, in all it’s glory!


All throughout the Spring and Summer, we’ll be closely monitoring and recording all Osprey behavior at our nest sites and around the harbour. This will allow us to assess which sites and habitat characteristics the Osprey are favouring, which will then mean that we can make improvements where necessary and allow us to make sure that any breeding attempts are not disturbed.

One of our biggest challenges will be reading ring numbers from any colour-ringed birds that pay us a visit. These rings will have been put on birds’ legs when they were chicks, to allow Osprey conservation managers to keep track of where the birds are and what they are up to.


A variety of Osprey colour rings, image from the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation.


When taking colour ring information, there are four key things to note:

1)    the colour of the ring

2)    the colour of the text on the ring

3)    the leg that the ring is on

4)    the code written on it (always read from the foot up)

Here’s an example from one of last year’s chicks. You can see that her ring colour is blue, the text colour is white, the colour ring is on her right leg and the code is 014.



Osprey 014 from the ‘class’ of 2018.


With that in mind, and thanks to donations from supporters Jan Toomer, Phil Stubbington and Mike Simmonds, we’ve invested in some brilliant technology – 4G trailcams! These are motion-triggered and will directly email us with images of anything that moves in our nests, making it much easier to read leg rings without disturbing the birds – pretty cool! We’ve already had some lovely (though non-Osprey) images from one camera, including this small flock of beautiful Starling. In terms of Osprey behaviour, we’ll have our team out this spring stationed at key locations around the harbour where we believe Osprey activity will be most interesting. Everything from feeding, hunting and perching behaviour will be logged and noted and of course, interaction between two birds will be especially interesting!


1st birds on the new trail cams – a flock of Starling!


If you spot an Osprey in the harbour over the Spring and Summer, we’d love to hear from you! You can Tweet us @harbourbirds, email us at info@birdsofpooleharbour or, or you can phone us on 01202 641003.

Kestrel Diet Study

Posted on: June 5th, 2019 by Birds of Poole Harbour

As part of a new project on Kestrels, Birds of Poole Harbour are putting up 14 new Kestrel nesting boxes, kindly assembled by Men’s Shed charity and installed by Wildlife Windows, at sites around the Harbour. Locations have been identified and permissions gained from all relevant landowners, including the RSPB, Dorset Wildlife Trust, National Trust, Poole Council, Livability Holton Lee and private landowners. As availability of nest sites is thought to be limiting Kestrel breeding in the UK, these boxes should help to boost our local Kestrel population as well as giving us the opportunity to collect important data on Kestrel diet and breeding success.

Eurasian kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) (hereafter referred to as kestrel) are included on the Amber list of the UK Birds of Conservation Concern due to an estimated 46% population decline; their global numbers are also exhibiting a negative trend. Heavy pesticide use in the 1950’s – 1960’s, including organochlorines, resulted in past population declines, but it is unclear what is driving current negative population trends, including if and how they are influenced by dietary factors or nesting sites.


Male Kestrel – Wareham Water Meadows – Paul Morton


Data describing UK kestrel diet were largely collected several decades ago, and because land use has changed, as well as perhaps prey availability and climate, it’s important that recent kestrel diet data are collected if we are to have the best information on which to base conservation management for the species.

We are putting together a project to do just this in Dorset. We’ll be using a combination of traditional raptor diet analysis (identifying prey remnants in regurgitated pellets) and a relatively new technique that has not yet been used for the species, stable isotope analysis.



Unlike owls, falcons don’t tend to swallow their prey whole, and they have much stronger digestive systems. This means that pellet analysis is much more difficult and a significant prey data are often missed. Stable isotope analysis can tell us what an animal has been eating just by analysing a small piece of its tissue. Stable isotopes are “heavy” versions of elements, which are passed up the food chain. In the case of wildlife studies, we usually look at an animal’s signature of heavy nitrogen and carbon to find out what it has been eating and where. In this case, under licence from the British Trust for Ornithology, we can use small clippings of kestrel feathers to see what they have been eating and in which proportions e.g. how much of their diet is made up of mammals, birds, reptiles and invertebrates. This could be really interesting for us as it seems that some of our kestrels may be feeding largely on lizards in the breeding season – this is unusual for the UK! The stable isotope analysis will be conducted in partnership with the University of Exeter.

Keep an eye out for project updates throughout the summer!

Winter Grebes of Poole Harbour

Posted on: June 5th, 2019 by Birds of Poole Harbour

A total of six grebe species have been recorded within Poole Harbour, although only five of them are either regular or semi regular. Below we describe the status and plumages characteristics of each species.

Resident grebe species

The Great-crested Grebe is one of the most well-known grebes within Poole Harbour and the United Kingdom. Their elegant displays can be seen during March when pairs return to their breeding sites. Within the harbour the best place to see birds in breeding plumage are Hatch Pond, Little Sea (Studland) and Swineham GP where young are seen throughout the summer. Once the young are old enough to fledge, breeding sites are generally abandoned, and birds move to the harbour itself. In the Autumn, flocks begin to build with the arrival of migrants generally peaking late Autumn/ Winter. During this period, the grebes moult out of their summer attire and become the largest black and white grebe to be seen in the harbour. Communal feeding flocks can total 200+ in the central and southern part of the harbour with roosts of 100+ generally noted around Furzey island and Round Island. However, Great-crested Grebes can be seen in smaller numbers around Baiter Park, Poole Quay and Studland.

Great Crested Grebe © Agami Photo Agency |


Little Grebes, also known as Dabchicks, are another resident grebe found in the harbour. They are the smallest grebe and are browner than any of the rarer wintering grebes making them easy to identify. They breed on the Brownsea lagoon, Hatch Pond and at Little Sea (Studland) but can be found in areas such as Holes Bay, Lytchett Bay and Poole Park in the winter. Like Great-crested Grebes, their numbers in the winter are influenced by migrants who begin to arrive in November through to March.

Little Grebe © Shijianying |


Over-wintering grebes

The most common out of the three over-wintering grebe species is the Black-necked Grebe. Poole Harbour hosts nationally important numbers in the winter with Studland Bay, Shell Bay and Brands Bay forming some of the most important wintering sites in the UK. Other regular records come from the South Deep area off the southern shore of Brownsea and also out in central harbour between Arne and Brownsea. This species is slightly larger than a Little Grebe but characteristically black and white in the winter. As seen in the photo, a characteristic dark grey neck, steeper forehead, longer, thinner neck and slightly upturned bill differentiates this species from the Slavonian Grebe. Before returning to continental Europe to breed summer plumaged birds develop a black neck, brown flanks and yellow ears tufts making them unmistakeable.


Black-necked Grebe © Mikelane45 |


Poole Harbour formally hosted nationally important numbers of Slavonian Grebe, also known as the Horned Grebe, up to the late 90’s, but this species has suffered a significant reduction in wintering numbers. Studland Bay is a favoured site although records from Swineham GP’s, South Deep, Baiter and other areas of the harbour are occasional. The species is similar in the winter to a Black-necked Grebe, but differences can be seen in the photos by the sloping head which has an obvious cut off line between the black forehead and the pale white cheeks as well as a thicker bill. However, in the spring and summer, when records are lowest, this grebe is easily distinguishable by the orange ‘horns’, reddish neck and black head and back.


Slavonian Grebe © Mikelane45 |


The rarest of the wintering grebes is the Red-necked Grebe. They are almost annual in Shell Bay and Studland with fewer records inside the harbour, generally off the southern shores of Brownsea but also out in central harbour too and more recently in the north Channel. Red-necked Grebes are smaller than Great-crested Grebes but larger than Slavonian Grebes. If an individual was associated with ducks, they are about the size of a Wigeon. In the winter, Red-necked Grebes are dull brown on the wings and mantle than Great-crested Grebes. A characteristic identification feature is the dagger-like yellow bill. No other grebes have yellow on the bill and this can be seen even at a distance.  However, in late spring and summer, this grebe is unmistakeable with a bright red neck, contrasting grey cheeks and a black forehead.


Red-necked Grebe © Paul Reeves |


Rare vagrant grebes

The rarest grebe recorded within Poole Harbour is the Pied-billed Grebe with a single record of this American vagrant between 10th February-24th May 1980 at Little sea, Studland. Generally long staying vagrants, this bird has a similar structure to a Little Grebe but larger, plumper and greyer than any of the grebes. The characteristic black tip on a thick, heavy looking bill as well as a black chin is apparent on adults throughout the year but not the juveniles. There is generally a single record of this species in the United Kingdom each year. The best bet for the next record is Swineham GP’s, Little Sea or Poole Park.

Kingfishers of Poole Harbour

Posted on: June 5th, 2019 by Birds of Poole Harbour

Our harbour plays an important role for many wintering species, including the well-known wader and wildfowl species. We are inundated with over c25,000 waterbirds during the autumn and winter months, flocking to our mudflats and lagoons for frost-free feeding. But did you know that we have another visitor, traditionally considered a denizen of the riverside, that spends the winter here? Most only make a short journey to the harbour, flitting like a spark of electricity down the Rivers Frome and Piddle, but some have made the journey all the way to Poland. Blink and you might miss the Kingfisher in flight.

The Kingfisher’s migration to the Harbour is one we don’t know in great detail; where do they come from exactly? This is a question we have been asking while watching a recently-arrived Kingfisher from our quayside office, perching on a ladder run that dips into the sea, orange breast puffed in indignation at the encroaching cold. Most of the migrants that set up shop on our shores are juveniles leaving their natal home, easily identified with their ‘dirty feet’ when they arrive.

A Kingfisher at Holton Lee, photo by Sacha Crowley

They start to arrive at Holton Lee and Holes Bay in August and September, with greater numbers appearing from October to settle in the Quay area and Poole Park. Studies of Kingfisher migration in Iberia show that the earliest arrivals are more likely to stay for longer, having become established. Latecomers stayed for a shorter period, presumably having been ousted from all the good spots; the early bird catches they fish, as they say!  The Iberian migration was also dominated by juveniles, with just 6% being adults, and there was an equal ratio of males and females. We hope to conduct similar research into our harbour Kingfishers and gain a better understanding of their migration patterns.

As you go about your winter birdwatching we’d love to know of your kingfisher sightings – your reports will help us build up a bigger picture of the kingfishers in the harbour over the winter.

Where can I see a Kingfisher in the harbour?

– The small bridge over the sluice gate and eastern reedbed in Poole Park lagoon

– The rocky groynes, mooring ropes or ladders at Poole Quay

– Wooden posts at Holton Pools wetland scrapes at Holton Lee

– Shoreline along the Holes Bay NE cycle path

Ageing and sexing Kingfisher

In the early part of the autumn (August and September) adults will have bright orange feet; juveniles feet will appear dark or ‘dirty’ on top. The well recognised orange breast on an adult will be bright and vibrant, where as a freshly arrived juvenile into the harbour will be tinged green on its front. The main differences between sexes are the colour of the bill. By October males will have all dark, black dagger like bills, where as the females have an obvious orange lower mandible.

Call 01202 641 003