Birds of Poole Harbour and RSPB Dorset Discovery Spring Tour - April 27th - 29th 2015

After the success of our first Dorset Discovery tour back in January this year, both organisations were really looking forward to the next one, focusing everything Dorset has to offer during the spring. It was great to see new-found friends re-booking having already attended the winter tour, and equally as nice to see a host of new faces too wanting to join the adventure. Our itinerary was planned with the aim of seeing as many bird species as possible whilst also focusing on some of the other amazing wildlife Dorset has to offer and of course to ‘show off’ the RSPB’s great range of nature reserves in the county.


Day 1

A midday meet was arranged with the group at RSPB Arne, where we would then go out and explore the wildlife rich heathlands. The focus of the day was heathland birds and reptiles, and thankfully neither got stage fright. We were welcomed in the car park by Siskins, Nuthatches and selection of tit species busily feeding at the feeding station whilst Buzzard and a Sparrowhawk circled overhead in the warm noon sun. One of the key aspects of these tours is that we like to take our guests to see the ‘off limits’ parts of the reserves and give people a true insight into the management and work that goes into protecting our local wildlife. We were barely a few minutes into the tour when group member Shona pointed out a bright green lizard on the path, a stunning male Sand Lizard, which was absolutely pristine in its vivid breeding colours. A few meters further down the path Stonechats, Green Tiger Beetles and the song of a distant singing Woodlark greeted us as we made our way down to the surprise harbour-side lunch area.

However, it was never going to be as easy as just walking right down to lunch, as Dartford Warblers and more reptiles in the shape of a Slow Worm did their best to distract us. By this time, the Woodlark song was louder and clearer but could we see it….could we heck!, until we looked directly above us and found the bird singing about 100ft above our heads. Eventually we made it to the lunch area, and as we settled down to tuck into the huge platter of bread, cheeses, hams, pates, fruit, crisps and chocolate treats, but the weather had other plans and the cloud cover came and the Midge’s set in! Luckily we were distracted with Whimbrel, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and Shelduck feeding out in the Middlebere right in front us. We then went and headed to another part of the Arne reserve, but not before checking a few survey tins and finding a beautiful Smooth Snake (under license of course), which was a first for almost the entire group. The afternoon session saw us focus on the western side of the Arne peninsular where another Woodlark, this time singing from the ground was found on a tree stump making viewing slightly easier. From a viewpoint we were able to look down across the Wareham Channel to get distant views of Poole Harbours breeding Marsh Harriers as they quartered the reedbeds and a few larger flocks of Black-tailed Godwit were wheeling around as the tide begun to rise. The great thing about these trips is that we don’t just focus on the wildlife, but also go into detail about the reserves history too, so after ticking off Common Lizard and a few more Slow Worm to our reptile count we made our way up the historic Word War II gun battery site where RSPB volunteer Rod Brummit gave a great insight into Arne’s World War II history.


Day 2

The phrase “the early bird catches the worm” was put to the test on our second day in the hope of catching up with migrants in and around the Weymouth and Portland area. A 6am departure from our accommodation partner saw us arrive at Portland Bill bang on 7am, however a stiff NW wind made things slightly uncomfortable and migrants a tad scarce. Never fear, the Portland Obs team and head warden Martin Cade came to the rescue with a small but much appreciated range of “in the hand migrants” for the group to see. Again, this was a new experience for many of the group and being able to see Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff in the hand right next to each other was a real eye-opener. We ventured on a short walk around the bill where we chanced upon several Wheatear, Rock Pipit, Skylarks, several Swallow coming in off the sea and right off the bill, 2 Bottle-nosed Dolphins. At sea we were able to watch the small but busy sea-bird colony as Fulmar, Guillemot and Razorbill all bombed about off the cliffs as Gannet and numerous gull species passed. We headed back to the Portland Obs for a quick brunch before making our way to the Fleet at Chesil.

Luckily upon arrival the tide was low meaning we were in for a chance of waders and lucky we were. 20+ Dunlin, 2 Sanderling, Oystercatcher, 1 Knot and 1 Curlew Sandpiper were all feeding on the low tide mark and several Ringed Plover were running about on the sand. To add to the mix 8 Little Tern flitted around the marker buoys and the beach with their much larger relative, the Sandwich Tern often pitching up next to them, demonstrating the sheer size difference. A quick stop off at Radipole for lunch (and time to tick off a few duck species too) then off we went to Lodmoor. We took the trail right the way around the reserve and managed to add Willow Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, summer plumaged Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit, Swift, Swallow, House and Sand Martin. Seeming as most of us had been up since 5am, we were going to call it a day, but the determination to see more and learn more drove the group on so we ended the day with a relaxing and serene afternoon at the National Trust Middlebere hide as Marsh Harrier glided past and Whimbrel, Redshank and a Black-tailed Godwit put on a good show.


Day 3

We wanted to end the tour with a bang, and what better way than to get serenaded by one of the countries best songsters, the Nightingale. We headed for a site next to Corfe Castle, which holds two territories of this now scarce breeder, as well as good numbers of other summer/resident birds. The Nightingales kept us on our toes for a while but eventually broke out into song and gave the whole group great views, and we even set up a Telinga parabolic listening dish to really get to grips with the complexities of the sounds made by these incredible birds. As we listened, Common Whitethroat were displaying all around us and Yellowhammer sat in small gorse bushes just meters from the path. As we reached the top of the hill, the rain set in, so despite incredible views out across Poole Harbour we descended back down the hill and retreated back to the cars. Our final location was going to be Morden Bog, but with recent weather events and a slightly late spring the Cuckoos and Hobbies we were hoping to see hadn’t arrived back yet, so we made a last minute decision to visit Durlston CP instead. This was a great alternative and added some unexpected additions to the list including a few passing Manx Shearwater out at sea, along with 1 Great Northern Diver, a small flock of Common Scoter and more Gannet. The seabird colony was busy, busy, busy with more Guillemot and Razorbill feeding on the water right below us as a Peregrine made a nuisance of its self as it passed next to the colony several times. Migrant wise, we saw another Lesser Whitethroat and more Swallow coming in off the sea, but it was the breath-taking views that signed off the tour in style.


Mute Swan

Marsh Harrier

Lesser Black-backed Gull



Canada Goose

Common Buzzard

Great Black-backed Gull





Little Tern





Sandwich Tern











Song Thrush

Carrion Crow



Feral Pigeon

Mistle Thrush




Wood Pigeon



Tufted Duck

Ringed Plover

Collard Dove


House Sparrow

Common Scoter





Hooded Merganser



Lesser Whitethroat


Great Northern Diver


Green Woodpecker

Dartford Warbler




Great Spotted Woodpecker

Reed Warbler


Little Grebe

Curlew Sandpiper


Cetti’s Warbler


Great Crested Grebe



Willow Warbler

Reed Bunting


Black-tailed Godwit


Sand Martin



Manx Shearwater


House Martin









Black-headed Gull


Great Tit



Med Gull

Rock Pipit

Coal Tit


Little Egret

Common Gull

Meadow Pipit

Blue Tit


Grey Heron

Herring Gull

Pied Wagtail

Long-tailed Tit


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