Archive for December, 2021

The Big Poole Harbour Bird Count Returns

Posted on: December 13th, 2021 by Birds of Poole Harbour

Birds of Poole Harbour are hosting our third Big Poole Harbour Bird Count!

Back in 2020, we organised our first two Big Poole Harbour Bird Count events, encouraging everyone to head out and record the birdlife in our local area. Over the course of two days, on 19th January and 25th October, with your help we surveyed every corner of the harbour and collected loads of valuable community science data. This all helps us build a better understanding of the ecology and trends of birds using Poole Harbour throughout the year. You can explore the results and data from the first two counts on our interactive webpage.

We’re keen to make this a quarterly tradition, dedicating one day during each season throughout the year to monitoring the birds in and around Poole Harbour. Over the past year restrictions and a very busy schedule have prevented this, but now it seems the time is right to get the ball rolling again. So kick things off, on Sunday 16th January 2022 we will be hosting our third Big Poole Harbour Bird Count and you’re all invited to join in!



How to get involved:

It’s simple, on Sunday 16th January just head out birding in your local area and record what you see. This could be a nearby park, urban space, nature reserve, or even just your own back garden (please just ensure you have permission to be there first). If you’re not sure where to go, why not head to the GO BIRDING page on our website looking for inspiration. Once you’re out and about, make a note of which bird Species you can identify and the Total number of individuals of each species you count. Please also document the Names those taking part (this information will not be shared), the Location where you were birdwatching and what Times you were there.


To make submitting your sightings as easy as possible we’ve created a Recording Sheet (Word Document) which you can download here. Once completed, please send to: Alternatively you can submit your sightings via eBird or BirdTrack.


When you head out we recommend taking some binoculars with you if you have any, as this will help you identify the birds that you see. But don’t worry if not, or even if you only see a few birds: all sightings are valuable so please share them with us! January is the peak time in the harbour for our overwintering birds, so there should be plenty to spot.


Things to consider on the day

Sunrise: 08:03 | Sunset: 16:34 | Low tide: 14:30


Coronavirus Safety

All records are important to us, but not as important as the health and safety of yourselves and other members of the public. If you’re heading out to take part please make sure you abide by the most recent government guidelines and rules. Reserves and other public areas may also have their own safety procedures in place, so please ensure you also observe these at all times. Activities outdoors are generally considered to be low risk, so by taking additional measures such as social distancing, and wearing masks in hides or other indoor settings, we can all enjoy birding and help to protect one another at the same time.

Poole Harbour: an important area for overwintering and breeding wetland birds

Posted on: December 7th, 2021 by Birds of Poole Harbour

An analysis of Poole Harbour bird populations has highlighted the area’s importance for both breeding and overwintering water birds. Two reports that were carried out by the Birds of Poole Harbour charity, one focusing on breeding waders and the other overwintering water birds, have just been published and highlight which species are doing well across the Poole Harbour area and which ones show cause for concern.

Poole Harbour is a designated Special Protection Area (SPA) due to the volume of certain species that visit each year. One report is an analysis of nearly 50 years of Poole Harbour Wetland Bird Survey data, These surveys are organised centrally by the British Trust of Ornithology but carried out by trained local volunteers each month throughout the winter and are aimed at assessing long and short-term trends in bird populations in specific areas of Poole Harbour. The results from these surveys are incredibly important as they form the decisions that are made as to what protection Poole Harbour is afforded.

The analysis of the data has highlighted that several of our best-loved species are out-performing relative to populations across Great Britain. The charismatic Spoonbill, a bird that doesn’t breed in Dorset, has now become the second most important overwintering site in the country with on average c50 individuals residing at RSPB Arne between October and March each winter. The hardy dark-bellied Brent Goose, a visitor from Arctic Russia is now doing incredibly well in Poole Harbour having been almost completely absent in the area during the early 1970s with on average c1,700 frequenting the southern shores of the harbour as well as a small group of c200 that regularly feed on the open grassy area of Baiter Park. Wintering numbers of the elegant Avocet have boomed over the last 50 years with Poole Harbour now the 4th most important site in the UK. These stunning pied waders were once restricted to single figures visiting each winter, but as breeding populations recovered elsewhere in the UK and mainland Europe, numbers increased here with c1,500 now present each winter. Although a tiny number of Avocet stay for the summer each year and attempt to breed on the Brownsea Lagoon, none have successfully raised chicks over the last 10 years. Poole Harbour is internationally important for Black-tailed Godwit, a wader that visits from Iceland each winter. On a low tide during the winter between 3,500-6,500 feed predominately on the mudflats of Holes Bay, Lytchett Bay and the Wareham Channel with many choosing to roost at the top end of Middlebere during the high tide. In total, the report identifies twelve species where winter populations have increased more strongly in Poole Harbour over the past 20 years than in Great Britain as a whole.

Despite the increases of some species, the analysis has also highlighted that there are several over-wintering birds that aren’t faring so well. Dunlin, a small sparrow-sized wader, no longer arrives here in the numbers they used to with numbers dropping from c7,000 to now only c2,000 per winter. Shelduck, which Poole Harbour is nationally important for, is also on a downward trend, with only c1,000 present between October and March compared to c4,000 in the late 1990s. One of the most dramatic declines is Pochard, a duck that used to over-winter in good numbers on Little Sea, Studland and saw peak counts of c1,300 25 years ago. However, the average peak count over the last five years was only three individuals per winter. In total, the report identifies thirteen species where winter populations have declined more severely in Poole Harbour over the past 20 years than in Great Britain as a whole

The second report published was a full ‘Breeding Waders of Poole Harbour’ study. This report specifically focused on nesting Redshank, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover and Avocet. An assessment of all suitable breeding habitat for each species was carried out and found that, by far, the most numerous breeding wader in Poole Harbour was Oystercatcher. In total the survey found 80 nesting pairs which not only makes it one of the most important sites in the region for breeding Oystercatcher, but is also considerably higher than previous estimated totals of c35 pairs. Brownsea Island was found to be the most important site with 31 pairs while other birds opted for the safety of urban rooftops including pairs on Parkstone Yacht Club, Purbeck Sports Centre and Poole Port.

A 1979 RSPB survey highlighted that 85% of nesting Redshank in Dorset were using wet flooded meadows during the summer. That number is now barely 5% with most now dependent on the health of Poole Harbours saltmarsh. The survey logged 60 pairs of nesting Redshank, which is only slightly down from 69 pairs logged during a 2004 survey. Lapwing, also known as the ‘Peewit’, have had a mixed history in Poole Harbour as a breeding species. Nationally their populations have declined by 80% since the 1960s and that decline is reflected in the recent Poole Harbour survey with only 12 pairs found including 11 pairs on one site in the west of the harbour. One of the saddest stories is that of the Curlew. Although abundant in winter, with migrant birds settling here from further afield, their breeding status in Poole Harbour and Dorset is precarious to say the least. Nationally, breeding Curlew populations have declined by 50% over the past 20 years. Like the Lapwing, it’s thought that the intensification of farming practices has significantly contributed to these steep declines. During the recent Poole Harbour survey just a single pair of Curlew were found; however, their breeding attempt sadly failed due to possible fox predation.

It’s hoped that these publications will raise awareness about Poole Harbours significance as an important functioning eco-system for a whole range of bird species during the course of the year, as well as acting as an up to date reference point for local stakeholders and decision makers when assessing impacts of current and future Poole Harbour plans. It’s also important to begin understanding why some species are faring better than others, but with the data now publicly available those stories can now begin to unfold.

The full reports can be read in their entirety by following the below links 

Breeding Waders of Poole Harbour – Spring and Summer 2021

Overwintering Birds of Poole Harbour – An Analysis of Poole Harbour WeBS Data 1975 – 2021

Photo Credits 

Grey Plover – Birds of Poole Harbour

Lapwing – Birds of Poole Harbour

Contact – Birds of Poole Harbour

Tel – 01202 641003

Email –

Eagle-eyed school children experience incredible wildlife spectacle

Posted on: December 2nd, 2021 by Birds of Poole Harbour

A group of children from Longfleet Church of England School in Poole were recently treated to a life changing wildlife spectacle whilst out on a school trip, when their group saw a White-tailed Eagle flying over Brownsea Island, a species that hasn’t been permanent in Southern Britain for nearly three centuries.

The children were taking part in the School Bird Boat Project which is carried out annually by local charity Birds of Poole Harbour and which are funded by Poole-based company LUSH, when the ginormous eagle flew out over the Brownsea Lagoon past the school group. The eagle, known as G461 is a two-year old male and was released onto the Isle of Wight in 2020 as part of a pioneering reintroduction program hosted by the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Forestry England in a bid to try and restore a population of these huge birds of prey.

White-tailed Eagles, which have adopted the nickname ‘flying barn doors’ because of their broad eight-foot wingspan, haven’t been present as a breeding species in England for almost three hundred years despite previously being wide-spread. The cause of their demise was down to human persecution and they sadly never recovered. However, it’s hoped that with new the reintroduction program underway which began in 2019, there’s now every chance these majestic birds will soon become a regular sight over Dorset sky’s over the coming years as the project progresses and the eagles start to breed. Evidence from the project has highlighted the released eagles are feeding on things like wild rabbits, mullet, squid, waterfowl such as wild ducks and geese and quite a lot of  carrion too.

White-tailed Eagle G461 – Brownsea Lagoon – Stuart Pentland

Sea Eagles don’t reach sexual maturity until four or five years old so it’s unknown whether G461 is currently favouring Poole Harbour because of the abundance of food, or whether he’s potentially seeking out a future breeding territory. Regardless, his presence has certainly got people excited about the future with more sightings of his presence logged over the weekend around the Arne area.

Paul Morton from the Birds of Poole Harbour charity explained:

“there’s no words to express how significant that experience was for the children. They may not know it now, but they’ve witnessed history being made and the beginnings of something really special. Only a few years ago, the thought of seeing a White-tailed Eagle over Poole Harbour was just a pipe dream, let alone the chance of experiencing it with a whole boat full of school children. But here we are in 2021 and that pipe dream has now become a reality with everyone from school children, locals and visitors to the area soon able to witness and experience this remarkable recovery”

Male White-tailed Eagle G461 was collected under licence from a wild nest in Scotland in mid-2020 before being flown to Southern England where he was raised and then released on the Isle of Wight later that summer. After his release G461 spent a few months on the Isle of Wight before then going off on his first exploratory flights which saw him visit numerous sites along the south coast and even venturing up to Norfolk before then returning to the south coast in mid-September this year. Since then G461 has been visiting Poole Harbour on a near weekly basis often favouring areas like Middlebere, the Wareham Channel and Brownsea Island.

Longfleet School site manager Robin Heawood added:

“The children and us as staff were so lucky to see the UK’s largest bird of prey on our trip. This is something I’m sure they’ll never forget. Sea eagles have not been seen locally for hundreds of years.  We were extremely fortunate to have witnessed it”

Whilst year 6 pupil Nikolai Poate stated:

“I think it’s amazing that there’s a sea eagle in Poole Harbour and that we saw it. I never knew there was such a big eagle in the UK”

Tim Mackrill from the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation concluded:

“This is just brilliant. We’re so glad to hear a school group got to experience this. Of course the primary focus is to re-establish a breeding population of White-tailed Eagles on the South Coast, but if seeing the eagles also inspires the next generation of conservationists then even better”

Call 01202 641 003