Archive for October, 2020

Winter Birding with Birds of Poole Harbour: Focus on Finches

Posted on: October 30th, 2020 by Birds of Poole Harbour

Understanding where and when to ‘bird’ Poole Harbour is vital when looking to connect with the impressive finch movements that take place in October and November. While many species migrate at night, finches get moving at first light. The early risers form large flocks, travelling along invisible migration corridors during the first few hours of the day. Early morning visits to top visual migration (or ‘vis-mig’) sites such as South Haven, Ballard and Glebelands are the most rewarding.

Let’s start by looking at one of our most familiar garden visitors. Goldfinch are now one of the most common visitors to our urban and rural gardens across the harbour. It’s pretty much expected that any garden feeder offering sunflower hearts will attract Goldfinch. But beyond the boundaries of our gardens, the musical twitterings of these familiar finches are readily encountered during October and November when thousands can pass over on migration in a single morning! Local parks and gardens offer a great opportunity to familiarise yourself with their cheery calls before venturing out vis-migging.

In this sound recording of a mixed finch flock at Hartland Moor in 2014, note the musical notes of the Goldfinch interspersed among the drier, lower pitched calls of the Linnet. The first half of the recording is dominated by Linnet calls, switching to Goldfinch after c.30seconds. Notice the greater variation in pitch of the Goldfinch calls, making for a delightfully ‘bouncy’ quality.

Birds of Poole Harbour · Linnet And Goldfinch Flock Being Spooked By Sparrowhawk – 27/08/14 – Hartland Moor, Poole Harbour

Linnet are a splendid finch of our heaths, scrub and farmland. Although a common resident, breeding is not as evident in Poole Harbour compared to only 10-15 years ago. Singing birds can still be encountered throughout the summer at Arne, Holton Lee, Canford Heath, Studland, Godlingston and Upton Heath. Whilst on passage, large numbers pass over our coastline, with impressive counts of 700+ logged in a matter of hours from first light over Ballard Down or South Haven during mid to late October. Listen out for the lower pitched flight calls, often delivered in pairs. Winter feeding flocks can occur where farmers’ fields have been left.

Closely resembling Linnet, the hardier Twite typically migrate from late October into early November, with most wintering further northeast. As a result, they are extremely rare in Poole Harbour, however the occasional bird could easily be overlooked. Twite are most likely to be encountered as a passage migrant in late autumn at Ballard, Glebelands or South Haven. However, there are a few over-wintering records, so it’s well worth scanning through winter Linnet flocks for the chance to pick out the gorgeous pink rump of a male Twite.

Siskin and Greenfinch can also be encountered visiting artificial feeders, along with their golden counterparts. The chunkier Greenfinch are predominantly unstreaked green in most plumages, while the smaller Siskin it differs in being strongly streaked, with boldly barred wings. Greenfinch are evident as a breeding species across the harbour, despite a slight decline in recent years due to the outbreak of Trichomonosis (find out more about the disease in this BTO article). Winter flocks do occur, but passage is much more evident in October and November, with birds passing over on migration in good numbers, although numbers have fallen. Almost merging into a trill, the rapid-fire ‘jupp‘ calls of the Greenfinch are delivered in fast bursts. The ever-increasing breeding status of Siskin has resulted in the species becoming far easier to locate in the harbour. Winter sees adults bringing their young to our niger seed feeders around the harbour, however large flocks of 500+ strong can be counted on passage during the autumn as birds pass the harbour mouth early morning. Listen out for the diagnostic, ringing ‘tilu’ calls.

Birds of Poole Harbour · Greenfinch – Flight calls of an autumn migrant over Ballard Down, Poole Harbour 19/09/15

Birds of Poole Harbour · Siskin – Calls of autumn migrants – Glebelands, Ballard, Poole Harbour 28/09/15

Chaffinch and Brambling are remarkably similar in shape and pattern, with colour details important in separating the two. Both colourful finches, the Brambling has an orange ‘shoulder’ and narrow white rump. Often with Chaffinches, Brambling will feed under trees (Beech often a firm favour), in fields and occasionally beneath bird tables with spilled seed. Chaffinch breed across the harbour, encountered regularly in both urban and rural areas. Large numbers can be viewed during vis-mig watches from South Haven, Ballard and Glebelands. Large winter flocks of up to 300 birds have been recorded at numerous sites including Arne, Swineham and Soldiers Road. On the other hand, Brambling are no longer guaranteed to overwinter as in previous years but remain a regular passage migrant in October and early November. An impressive 300-500 birds overwintered at Arne back in 2003/04!

Keep an ear out for the distinctively grumpy ‘nay?’ social calls among the plain ‘yeck’ flight calls of the Brambling, averaging roughly 30% lower than that of the Chaffinch.

Birds of Poole Harbour · Brambling – Calls of Autumn Migrants – Glebelands, Ballard – 25/10/18 @ 07:44

Birds of Poole Harbour · Chaffinch – Calls of day flying migrants – Ballard Down – 20/10/15

The taxonomy of redpolls divides opinion, with some regarding the complex as comprising of several species and others suggesting a lumping of just one, maybe two species. Difficult to tell apart, separation of the various forms is possible, but beyond the scope of this article. Local breeding Lesser Redpoll are by far the most familiar to us in Poole Harbour. October sees birds move away from their breeding grounds and are regularly encountered on ‘vis-mig’. The tiny, tit-like finches are a delight to see up close, with their jet-black bibs and striking red forecrowns. Try search Alder and Birch trees during the winter for birds feeding on the seeds and catkins, with flocks of 50–100 birds often be found at Studland, Arne, Upton Heath and Hartland. However, these flocks are known to wander, not particularly sticking to strict wintering grounds. Listen out for the distinctive harsh ‘che che che’ flight calls, delivered in rapid-fire bursts of two or three notes. Common and Arctic Redpolls are less likely to encounter, but not impossible.

Birds of Poole Harbour · Lesser Redpoll calls of ‘vis-mig’ flock – Glebelands, Ballard Down, Poole Harbour – 28/09/15

Bullfinch breed across the harbour, favouring areas with thick hedge rows and fruit trees and can be regularly encountered at Upton House, Lytchett Bay, Holton Lee, Studland and Swineham. Movements into more unusual location may also be detected at peak times of passage and is typically a result of local dispersal. However, genuine migration does occur in some years. This was most noticeable in 1987, when a flock of 40-60 birds were recorded at Studland coinciding with an autumn influx of birds into the county the previous October. Other notable historic counts include 30 at Parkstone in December 1974 and 40 at Holton Heath in November 1984. Listen closely for their insignificant-sounding, muted call.

Birds of Poole Harbour · Bullfinch calls of 9 autumn migrants – 14/10/14 – Glebelands, Poole Harbour

Crossbill numbers around Poole Harbour are very much dependent on invasions. Although the local population (centred around Rempstone heath) is now quite low, irruptions are frequent and can become very common during irruption years. Parties of Crossbill are on the move during August, September and October, and can frequently be observed passing over head any habitat. However, memorising their distinctive flight call is essential to help confirm identification. Once again, Glebelands, South Haven and Ballard are all top sites for witnessing Crossbill on migration. Often heard before they are seen, Crossbills are best located by their powerful, metallic ‘glip’ flight calls.

Birds of Poole Harbour · Crossbills – Calls of Autumn Migrants at Dawn – Glebelands, Ballard 23/10/18 @ 08:37

Hawfinch, a highly sought-after migrant locally, are very rare visitors to the harbour, with the best opportunities arising during autumn migration at South Haven, Ballard Down and Glebelands. However, autumn 2017 experienced an unprecedented irruption from southern and eastern Europe, with thousands arrive into the UK. Sightings began in Poole Harbour at the expected coastal locations, however by November they were regularly being seen at inland sites like Lytchett Fields and Lytchett Minster, Arne, Wareham Churchyard and Holmebridge. They even began appearing in suburban gardens in Upton! It’s unknown exactly how many over-wintered during the 2017/18 winter period, but estimates suggest several hundred in Poole Harbour alone and possibly over 1000 across Dorset. Hawfinch calls are far from any other the previous finches discussed, with the ‘vit’ flight calls possessing a Robin-like quality.

Birds of Poole Harbour · Hawfinch ‘vit’ call – Lytchett Matravers Churchyard – 22/01/18 @ 08:59

Winter Birding with Birds of Poole Harbour: Tiny October Jewels

Posted on: October 23rd, 2020 by Birds of Poole Harbour

Much like the flocks of hardy thrushes we discussed last week, these long, dark and often dangerous journeys are also undertaken by their diminutive counterparts. Possibly owing of their size, it’s hard to get your head around the fact that thousands of tiny Goldcrests arrive from northern Europe, crossing the North Sea to overwinter in the UK. These minute gems are Europe’s smallest bird and are readily encountered as a breeding species across the UK during the summer. However, each autumn sees a mass Goldcrest arrival from Northern Europe as birds depart from the plunging temperatures, settling here for the winter.

Minute size, fine bill and short tail help to identify Goldcrest in the field. The plumage is pale green above and off-white below, with a black bordered head crest, yellow in females and admixed orange in males. An hyperactive feeder, Goldcrests restlessly flit along branches, often hanging tit-like in search of small insects among the foliage, regularly making short flights between trees. While feeding, Goldcrests flicks their wings and give a high-pitched see-see-see call.

Found across any suitable breeding habitat throughout the harbour during the summer, Goldcrest favour the large stands of coniferous woodland along the southern and western shores of Poole Harbour. Arne, Upton Country Park, Canford Heath, Sandbanks, Studland, Middlebere and Lytchett Bay are all excellent sites to go in search of breeding birds locally. Even common garden evergreen hedging leylandii can attract Goldcrests, but birds only tend to visit our more urban gardens during cold snaps, when foraging for natural food sources becomes more challenging. During October, large numbers grace our woodlands and hedgerows around the harbour, associating with various warbler and mixed tit flocks. The headlands around Ballard and along the Studland peninsular support large falls in October during irruption years. Working the surrounding gorse and bramble bushes in late October can reveal the newly-arrived visitors as they begin their frantic search for food, calling constantly to each other and sheltering from the wind.


Birds of Poole Harbour · Goldcrest – Calls Of An Autumn Migrant – The Sound Approach to birding

Firecrests also travel these vast distances, but in much lower numbers than their golden cousins – which for a bird weighing a mere 5 grams is simply remarkable! The more striking of the two, Firecrests display handsome black, white and orange head markings and vivid green plumage, which makes spotting them on a cold October morning a real joy.

Most easily located in March and October/November when our local breeding populations are supplemented by migrants from mainland Europe, with ringing recoveries revealing French, Belgian, Dutch, German and and Spanish origin. In Poole harbour, Firecrests seem to favour the southern-most regions of the harbour. That said, Upton Country Park, Lytchett Heath, Fleets Corner and even Poole Park can all feature passage Firecrest, with holly and ivy serving as their favoured habitat. During the summer, recent breeding success at numerous sites including Arne and Brownsea Island indicate that Firecrest are now building a small but growing population within the harbour. Note the accelerated, rising pitch of the Firecrest call below, compared to the more constant pitch of Goldcrest calls, which are delivered in a uniform series.


Birds of Poole Harbour · Firecrest – Calls Of Two Autumn Migrants – The Sound Approach to birding


Although not a crest, another tiny green jewel has already begun making an appearance this month in the shape of the Yellow-browed Warbler. Fifty years ago Yellow-browed Warbler were an extreme rarity to the UK, and needed a description written to the BBRC (British Birds Rarity Committee) for the report to be considered for acceptance. However in recent years, these Siberian migrants are rapidly becoming familiar visitors to our shores in October, with between 10-20 logged each year along the Dorset coastline each autumn. They too migrate at night, although they are seldom recorded calling during the hours of darkness. Instead, their presence is typically given away as they make landfall at dawn, giving their distinctive, high-pitched tsoeest call from stands of sycamore trees. Birds have already been recorded at Lytchett Bay, Holes Bay and Canford Heath this autumn. Scanning through Long-tailed Tit flocks anywhere around the harbour could yield a Yellow-browed Warbler in the coming days and weeks!

Yellow-browed Warbler 

Birds of Poole Harbour · Yellow-browed Warbler call of autumn migrant – 31/10/14 – Knoll Beach, Studland, Poole Harbour

Winter Birding with Birds of Poole Harbour: Thrushes

Posted on: October 16th, 2020 by Birds of Poole Harbour


October migration is magnificent, and there’s no better example than the arrival of our handsome winter thrushes. Huge numbers travel overnight from their Scandinavian breeding grounds to arrive on our shores from the break of dawn, desperate to feast on our plentiful supply of autumnal fruits and berries. The harsh chack chack chack of the Fieldfare and the thin, descending tseee of the Redwing are a joy to listen to on dark autumn nights as flocks pile over our homes overnight. Having left the Dutch coastline at dusk, they navigate their way through the darkness using singular calls to stay in contact with one another until sunrise. As dawn breaks, they form large flocks and follow visual landmarks before dropping out of the sky to feed. Of the six thrush species that regularly occur in the UK, most make frequent movements across the UK to settle for winter, although our breeding Mistle Thrush populations exhibit little seasonal movement. The first tseee calls of Redwing arriving into Dorset have already been heard in recent nights and Song Thrush have been on the move too, with more Continental immigrants set to arrive imminently, supplementing our local breeders.

Let’s begin by looking at a garden staple, the Common Blackbird. Instantly recognisable and regularly encountered throughout the year, come late October, tens of thousands arrive into the UK from Scandinavia to join our local breeding population. We are most familiar with their beautiful, full-bodied songs as a soundtrack throughout our summer months. However, at night, their tuneful songs are exchanged for a subtler nocturnal call. The Blackbird’s srrri flight calls are similar to that of Redwing, but are shorter and do not descend in frequency as markedly. They also have a diagnostic modulating quality, appearing as though the call is delivered at a slower speed than Redwing.

Take a close listen to the recordings below, headphones recommended. Familiarise yourself with the first two examples which contain single nocturnal calls of Redwing and Blackbird, respectively. The third recording captures the nocturnal passage of a mixed thrush flock.

1. Single Redwing tseee call. NB: frequency and descending quality

Birds of Poole Harbour · Redwing – Call of passing night migrant – Holton Lee 06/10/18 @ 01:47

2. Single Blackbird srrri call. NB: modulating quality

Birds of Poole Harbour · Blackbird – Flight call of nocturnal migrant – Lytchett Matravers 27/03/15

3. Redwing, Blackbird & Song Thrush Passage

Birds of Poole Harbour · Redwing, Blackbird, Song Thrush 29/10/16 @ 00:42 Old Town Poole Nocturnal Listening Station

During the spring, Song Thrush give themselves away with their masterfully rich song. However, in autumn a single tic is all that’s offered as they flies over our gardens at first light, having travelled overnight in huge numbers from northern Europe. The sharp-eyed/eared may have noticed that Song Thrush calls appear in the previous recording, and these unobtrusive flight calls are hidden among the stronger Redwing and Blackbird calls. Revisit the previous recording to listen out for the subtle tic of the Song Thrush after exploring the below recording which provides an example of an isolated nocturnal flight call.

4. Single Song Thrush tic call

Birds of Poole Harbour · Song Thrush – Flight call of nocturnal migrant – Lytchett Matravers 27/03/15

Hardiest of them all, the Fieldfare is best recognised by its ochre breast, light grey nape and rump and white underwing. Favoured sites include Soldiers Road, Middlebere, Upton Country Park, Arne, Bestwall, in fact anywhere with large fields and berry bushes for them to feed on. Cold weather movements can occur with counts of 20,000+ birds passing over the harbour in a single day! Flight averages less undulating than its smaller counterparts, which is readily identified by its dry chuckling chack chack chack flight call.


5. Fieldfare

Birds of Poole Harbour · Fieldfare 11/03/16 @ 21:50 Old Town Poole Nocturnal Listening Station

Significantly rarer than our other autumn thrushes, Ring Ouzel are a late migrating summer visitor that are currently returning to Africa for the winter, often accompanying flocks of their Scandinavian cousins during their journey south. Ring Ouzel are annually reported from Ballard Down. Arne, Hartland, Slepe Heath, Lytchett Bay and Ham Common all hold recent records, but unfortunately it’s not an easy bird to catch up with in the field. Most recently, a couple of individuals have been kicking around Godlingston Hill Gully. However, Autumn 2016 saw a huge number passing through the UK, with birds turning up at urban sites in Poole including the Fleets Corner, PC World Drain! Listen out for their tongue-tutting tock tock tock calls, delivered in rapid outbursts for the best chance to observe these scarce summer migrants.

6. Ring Ouzel Passage


Ring Ouzel

And finally, the only non-nocturnal thrush is the Mistle Thrush, which loves to feed on Rowan berries during October in flocks of between 10-50 before dispersing later in the month to areas unknown! Often confused with the smaller, more compact Song Thrush, use our plate below to help separate these two confusing species.

Comparison of Mistle Thrush (left) and Song Thrush (right)


South Haven is excellently situated to witness huge cold weather movements. A typical cold weather movement can consist of an impressive 6,000 to 10,000 birds. But you don’t need to travel to experience huge numbers, a recent study recorded over 3,000 Redwing passing over Poole Town centre in a single night! To spot these striking winter visitors during the day, try visiting large fields or fruit bearing bushes which provide much needed feeding opportunities. Great sites to work include Lytchett Bay, Soldiers Road, Upton Country Park, RSPB Arne, Bestwall and Upton Heath.

So, rather than retreating to your warm lounges and comfy sofas as the month progresses, venture out and welcome the arrival of our hardy winter thrushes.

Returning Eagles to Wales

Posted on: October 15th, 2020 by Birds of Poole Harbour

© Eagle Reintroduction Wales

We want to draw attention to an exciting project happening in Wales, where a feasibility study is being conducted for the reintroduction of the Golden Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle by Eagle Reintroduction Wales. Led by Cardiff University, working with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Wildlife Trust Wales, there are hopes for the restoration of these two species, both of which have been missing as breeding birds from the Welsh landscape for over 150 years. The team are working hard to engage with various communities across Wales, spreading the word about the potential for eagle reintroductions, as well as furthering education about the two species. Through researching the suitability of landscape for the species in present times the project is building the foundations and evidence required for the translocation of these species.

White-tailed Eagle, from the Eagle Reintroduction Wales website

For many people, their vision of eagles always features a mountainous backdrop, with a dramatic landscape to match the dynamism of the birds. The two UK species actually have the potential to be far more widespread, not just being confined to the mountains, in particular White-tailed Eagles. However, their population numbers have been severely impacted, much like the Ospreys, through persecution and pesticide-use.

The White-Tailed Eagle, although not having a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), has a UK Species Action Plan, which involves the restoration of the species in suitable areas. Having previously been extinguished in the the UK, the current population was, and continues to be, rebuilt through a series of translocation projects. The recolonisation of these raptors has boosted eco-tourism in Scotland, capturing people’s imaginations, whether they are well-seasoned wildlife watchers or beginners just starting out. The feasibility study seeks to provide evidence for the suitability of the Welsh landscape for these birds, which would allow for another translocation project, echoing the current work on the Isle of Wight. Golden Eagles do not currently have a BAP, which means that a translocation project is not yet feasible, which is why the research that the project is conducting is of high importance. Without this research, the prospect of returning Golden Eagles to their previous breeding grounds will be a long way off.

Golden Eagle, from the Eagle Reintroduction Wales website

Of course, it’s not just people in Wales who will see the benefit of this project and the return of these species. As we’ve seen with the Isle of Wight reintroduction, these birds have the capabilities to range far and wide, adding excitement to birdwatching across the country. For us, it won’t be long until White-tailed Eagles are a regular(ish) sight in Poole Harbour, we may even see them breeding here in the future. By boosting eco-tourism and restoring two magnificent species that can spark inspiration and a love for the UK’s wildlife, this project has the potential to have huge impact. The project has faced major financial setbacks due to Covid-19, and are crowdfunding to cover the employment of their research assistant and continue the work of the project. With a matter of days before their fundraising deadline, we hope that Eagle Reintroduction Wales are able to gain the support that they deserve. You can donate through their Crowdfunder here and more information can be found on the Eagle Reintroduction Wales website:

Winter birding with Birds of Poole Harbour

Posted on: October 9th, 2020 by Birds of Poole Harbour

The uncertainties of winter 20/21 are a struggle we will all face together. To help navigate these testing times, Birds of Poole Harbour is releasing weekly birding features, providing the resources to help you unlock, understand and connect with the harbour’s rich winter birding scene. Each Friday, we’ll release a new article focusing on key winter species, birding hotspots and local insights.

To kickstart your winter birding bug, we’re opening the series with a Birds of Poole Harbour Winter Birding Checklist (download available below). Featuring 160 species (including a couple of distinctive subspecies), the checklist gathers our most familiar residents and common wintering birds, as well as several scarcer seasonal visitors, accompanied with a brief comment on the status of each species in Poole Harbour. Use the checklist, alongside our weekly articles, to hone your winter birding and help you identify new species may not have encountered before or discover more about our fascinating winter visitors. A spectacular twenty-five thousand(!) waders and wildfowl can winter in Poole Harbour, many having bred in Scandinavia, Iceland or even Russia! Desperate to escape the harsh winter conditions further north, thousands of birds choose the comparatively mild climate of Poole Harbour to spend their winter.

But hang on… it isn’t quite winter yet. The rest of October is yet to unfold! Our first few articles will explore the impressive autumn movements of finches and the imminent arrival of our thrushes and crests. So, check in next week when we release our first article examining the oncoming invasion of Redwings and Fieldfares.

We hope this series inspires a connection with the superb birding spectacles Poole Harbour has to offer over the winter, helping you get the same thrills we get out of birding our local area over the coming months. And don’t forget to share your sightings with us! Tag us on social media (Twitter & Facebook), or you can share your sightings via email. Contact with any sightings or identification queries.


Article One: Thrushes
Article Two: Tiny October Jewels
Article Three: Focus on Finches
Article Four: Woodpigeon Migration

Wigeon, Holes Bay

The Big Poole Harbour Bird Count Is Back!

Posted on: October 1st, 2020 by Birds of Poole Harbour

Birds of Poole Harbour is hosting a second Big Poole Harbour Bird Count.

Back in January, Birds of Poole Harbour organised our first Big Poole Harbour Bird Count, generating a wealth of community-led data. You can find our full analysis, as well as exploring species totals and distributions from the big day here. We received 189 submissions in total, collectively counting 63,072 birds of 131 species (including sub-species) across 137 sites in Poole Harbour. After accounting for potential duplications, we estimated total number of birds present in the harbour on 19th January was 48,854(!).

Poole Harbour is an important site for a whole range of species throughout the year. In recognition of this, Birds of Poole Harbour is now coordinating a Big Bird Count four times a year, covering every season. The collation and analysis of this important dataset is then used to generate a comprehensive snapshot of bird species diversity, totals and distribution across the Poole Harbour area in a single day.

How to get involved in this local citizen science project?

Contributing to the Big Bird Count is easy, simply visit your local patches across the Poole Harbour area on Sunday 25th October and share your bird records with us. Use our recording sheet (download available below) to record the bird species and numbers present at your site(s) and share your counts with Birds of Poole Harbour for in-depth analysis. You can also send us your lists via your favoured platform such as BirdTrack or eBird!

All records are valuable. Whether it’s working your local birding patch, or recording the abundance of our familiar garden residents as they become boosted by migrants from mainland Europe for the winter, all records help to formulate the picture of bird population numbers and distribution locally. October is an exciting time of the year, providing opportunities to connect with newly-arrived winter visitors and late-departing summer migrants.


All records are important to us but not as important as yours and other members of the publics health and safety. Please, if you’re heading out for the day to join in the Big Poole Harbour Autumn Bird Count please follow and stick to all current government guidelines and follow site specific rules and regulations. Different nature reserves and areas of land currently have their own rules and procedures in place, so upon arrival make your self aware of route plans, social distancing rules etc to keep your selves and other people safe. Getting out and enjoying the fresh air, the landscape and the birds is a big part of the Big Poole Harbour Bird Count and we can all do our bit to keep stress levels low and each other safe.

Essential information to record

Big Bird Count Recording Sheet (Word Document)

Please send your sightings to

Looking for inspiration? Visit our GO BIRDING page to explore the numerous birding sites across the harbour.

Things to consider on the day

Sunrise: 06:48 | Sunset: 16:55 | Low tide: 11:30

Call 01202 641 003