Archive for November, 2020

October Big Poole Harbour Bird Count: The Results

Posted on: November 21st, 2020 by Birds of Poole Harbour

Explore our interactive map

The Big Poole Harbour Bird Count brings together the community to carry out an in-depth census of the birdlife in Poole Harbour, and we are excited to announce that the October results are in!

The Birds of Poole Harbour team would like to say a huge thank you to everyone that got involved on the big day. Thanks to you, we have generated another incredible harbour-wide dataset, providing a fascinating insight into Poole Harbour’s important birdlife this autumn.




The Results

Because so many people helped to collect this data, we want everyone to be able to enjoy it! Follow the button above to explore the interactive map to visualise every sighting from the big day and generate a range of statistics.

Did you know?

Birds of Poole Harbour will be hosting the Big Bird Count every quarter, allowing us to better understand how our birdlife changes throughout the seasons. We are already gearing up for next season and look forward to building on this fantastic community-based dataset. We hope you enjoy exploring the results and thanks once again to everyone that took part.

Soldiers Road, October 25, 2020 © Brittany Maxted

Winter Birding with Birds of Poole Harbour: Pipits

Posted on: November 13th, 2020 by Birds of Poole Harbour

Pipits have been on the move in recent weeks. Of the four pipits that regularly occur in Poole Harbour, two are resident, one is a summer visitor and the other is a scarce winter visitor. Meadow Pipits, often referred to as Mipit by birders, can be seen all year around. During the summer months, Meadow Pipits breed across our local heathlands, with strong populations at Arne, Studland and Godlingston. Numbers fluctuate in autumn and winter, especially out on open heathland where numerous feeding flocks of 50+ individuals assemble during the winter. Autumn passage can be an impressive spectacle, with counts of 500+ over the harbour during favourable vis-mig conditions. Much like with the finches we discussed several weeks ago, early morning visits to North Haven, South Haven and Ballard Down during September and October are best when looking to connect with large numbers of passage birds.

Despite being widely under-appreciated, disregarded as small, brown and squeaky, Meadow Pipit plumage is in fact an immaculate rich olive-brown, complimented by a yellow-based bill and pale pinkish legs. Their resident status unfortunately shrouds the considerable movements these attractive pipits undertake at this time of year. Estimates put the breeding population in Britain and Ireland at approximately 2.5 million pairs, and the wintering population at more than half this. Sizeable numbers (over 450,000) have been ringed in Britain and Ireland, but only a fraction are recovered.  This is considered to be due to their excellent camouflage plumage and the remote areas Meadow Pipits frequent. On the plus side, Meadow Pipits are amongst the most conspicuous daytime migrants, not least because of there piercing seet flight calls, and this assists in plotting there migratory flyways.

Ring-recoveries and observations reveal a steady southward movement spanning July to October and November. Some of the British breeding population do not leave our shores for the winter, and simply leave the inhospitable uplands in search of milder lowland areas, such as Poole Harbour. Those that leave Britain head typically move south into France and then southwest into the Iberian Peninsula, some even crossing over into North Africa! Movements of British birds are augmented in spring and autumn by birds en route to and from Scandinavia and Iceland.

Meadow Pipit. Photo © Ian Ballam

Rock and Water Pipits are visually and audibly very similar, both are more easily separated from the commoner Meadow Pipit in being bulkier, more upright birds with longer legs and a noticeably longer, more dagger-like bills. In flight, Meadow Pipit are shorter-winged and shorter-tailed, with a more hesitant flight. Flight calls are helpful when separating Meadow Pipit. Both Rock and Water Pipit give a strident single pseep, whilst the thinner Meadow Pipit call is a string of more feeble seep notes, generally delivered in pairs or triplets.

Meadow Pipit flight call

From Catching the Bug web-book © The Sound Approach


Rock Pipit flight call

From Catching the Bug web-book © The Sound Approach


Water Pipit flight call

From Catching the Bug web-book © The Sound Approach


Locally, Rock Pipits breed on cliffs around Ballard Down where they can be encountered throughout the year in small numbers. Rock Pipits are widely recorded during winter on the saltings across the harbour, sometimes in large numbers, with 60 recorded at Swineham on November 26, 1989 and 50 at Lytchett Bay on December 18, 2005. In spring, when these birds begin to acquire their summer plumage, it is apparent that many, if not all, are in fact Scandinavian Rock Pipits (race littoralis). Unlike our British birds, which are highly sedentary, Scandinavian littoralis are a separate subspecies that breed in – you guessed it – Scandinavia. February 22, 2016 saw eight spring plumage (presumed) littoralis Rock Pipits at Lytchett Bay. Ringing data from the Bay also supports these observations with two birds recovered with foreign jewellery, one with a Norwegian ring and the other with a Belgian ring (captured and ringed on migration from Scandinavia en route to its British winter grounds).

Rock Pipit. Photo © Ian Ballam

Previously considered a subspecies of Rock Pipit, Water Pipit was granted full species status in 1986. Water Pipits are scarce seasonal visitors to Britain. Locally, Lytchett Bay, Holton Pools, Wareham Water Meadow, and the Wytch Causeway are the most reliable sites during the winter. However, it is always worth checking any suitably wet marshy fields over the coming months. An incredible historic record logs a max count of 50 birds at Wareham Water Meadow on December 9, 1984.

The fact that Water Pipits winter in Britain is a curiosity. Water Pipits are an altitudinal migrant, breeding in the alpine meadows of the Alps and the Pyrenees, moving down to lowland freshwater habitats, mainly the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts of southern Europe to overwinter. The 200 or so individuals estimated to winter in Britain embark on a north-west migration in the autumn, highly unusual for a wintering passerine in Europe! Freshwater wetlands including cress beds and sewage works, as well as wet coastal pastures and marshes are favoured winter habitat in the UK.

Water Pipit winter plumage. Photo © Shaun Robson (left) & Ian Ballam (right)

Water Pipit. Photo © Shaun Robson

Late winter and early spring brings about additional challenges as pipits begin to moult their head and breast feathers. The transition sees Water Pipits transform into their gorgeous summer plumage, with bedazzling pink breast and dark ash-grey head. Confusingly, Scandinavian Rock Pipits (unlike our resident breeding population) may also acquire a peachy tint to their breast, although some breast streaking in typically retained, so be sure to scrutinise any moulting birds later in the season.

And of course, please check all Water Pipits for colour-rings! Report any sightings to Birds of Poole Harbour and find out how (and why) to report a ring here ». To date, three birds have been captured and ringed at Lytchett Bay, look out for yellow rings and marked 0K, 1K and 2K…

Water Pipit. Photo © Shaun Robson

Winter Birding with Birds of Poole Harbour: Woodpigeon Migration

Posted on: November 6th, 2020 by Birds of Poole Harbour

Found ubiquitously around the harbour, you would struggle to go a day without encountering the familiar Woodpigeon. However, to truly appreciate the gregarious nature of these plump pigeons you need to witness the autumn passage that takes place every year in early November.

Woodpigeon are a common diurnal (daytime) migrant across much of Europe. Owing to their stocky size, Woodpigeon movements are relatively easy to observe on a crisp November morning in Poole Harbour, and last Wednesday was no different! The first few birds began to move just before sunrise, appearing over Evening Hill, the harbour’s premier Woodpigeon watching vantagepoint. Small numbers began to trickle through with flocks averaging 20, 40 and 100 strong at first, gradually building over the next hour to between 500 and 1,000. But then, 8am saw a notable shift as flocks between 500 to 2,000 individuals began streaming high above the harbour, passing south west over Brownsea Island and Sandbanks.

In the end, we estimated 75,014 passed over Poole Harbour on Wednesday morning, but it is likely high-altitude flocks may have passed through unnoticed, and so actual count is almost definitely higher. A respectable total, but this does not come close to the staggering 161,257(!) Woodpigeon logged over the harbour in a single morning on 7th November 2010.

The spectacle takes place every autumn, but peak passage only lasts a single morning when conditions are perfect, typically falling between November 1st and 10th, coinciding with clear skies and a light north easterly breeze.

Intriguingly, the origin and destination of these passage pigeons remains uncertain. It is assumed these are all UK Woodpigeons that have moved south through the country during the late summer and early Autumn and are departing the south coast, heading down into cork oak forests of Portugal and Spain.

British and Irish breeding Woodpigeons are generally sedentary, so it is unlikely that our local breeding populations are undergoing these migrations. That said, dispersal of first-year birds has been documented in late summer, ranging 30 km on average, before returning to their natal area to breed. Despite many long-distance recoveries on the Continent, ring-recovery data shows only very local movements of birds breeding in Britain to date, and similarly there is little evidence for birds arriving en-masse from Scandinavia. It could be the case that the Woodpigeons observed on the move are from highly migratory northern European populations, but ring-recoveries are lacking to back this up. It seems likely that the majority of these birds are from Fennoscandia and heading for France or Iberia and are not in Britain long enough to be ringed or for any rings that they are carrying to be recovered.

During large movements like this there are often a few Stock Doves hidden amongst the flock so be sure to scrutinise the clouds of passage pigeons. Stock Dove are similar in size and shape to the widespread Feral Pigeon, and so slighter and shorter-tailed than Woodpigeon. These features standout when scanning mixed flocks in flight. At closer quarters, Stock Dove plumage is a smart blue-grey with a flashy green neck patch. Woodpigeon are best distinguished by the large white neck patch and broad white transverse band on upperwings in flight. Note that juvenile Woodpigeons lack the diagnostic white neck patches.

Winds remaining fairly light as we progress into the weekend, however clear spells are looking unlikely and yesterday’s blanket of fog that settled over Poole Harbour north meant big movements never really got going. Evening Hill is the best location for the full Woodpigeon experience in Poole, however passage can be recorded across the harbour area. In recent days, Lytchett Bay has recorded c.2,000 Woodpigeon and Westbourne has logged over 13,000 in a single morning.

Call 01202 641 003