Birds of Poole Harbour and RSPB Dorset Discovery Winter Tour 2016 Jan 11th - 13th

Unbelievably, we’re already into our second year of our Dorset Discovery wildlife tours in partnership with the Dorset RSPB team. Our first winter, spring and autumn tours back in 2015 were hugely successful and the range of species seen, staggering! Not to mention great views, wonderful location visits and exclusive access to areas of RSPB reserves not normally open to the public.

The end of 2015 saw strong winds, heavy rain and plenty of flooding around the country, so with our Dorset Discovery Winter Tour planned for Jan 11th-13th 2016, finger nails were bitten down to root in the hope we didn’t get washed away with the rest of the country. Our worries in the end were null and void as we were treated to bright sunshine, light winds (well, for the first and last day at least) and a group of people so wonderful to be with that even if the weather had been poor we would have kept each other entertained.

Day 1

As with all our Dorset Discovery tours we started the trip at the glorious RSPB Arne nature reserve with the sun beaming down on us it felt a bit too much like our spring tour for my liking, but Siskin, Nuthatches, Treecreepers and Great Spotted Woodpecker all came down to the feeders to kick start what would become quite an impressive list over the three days. We headed out over to Coombe Heath in the hope of ticking off raptors and waders. The first low tide was sitting just right at the top of the Middlebere Channel allowing us good views of several hundred Avocet, Teal, Wigeon and a huge Brent Goose flock. Further along the track 2-3 Dartford Warbler kindly showed and posed for us on top of the heather for a few minutes before we made our way down to a private area of the reserve known as Coombe Fields where ‘super Tom’ had created a lunch spread so handsome and fulfilling that our cold fingers and toes were instantly warmed with homemade leek and potato soup over an open camp fire. The view out across Wytch Lake was superb as Avocet, Redshank, Dunlin and more Brent Geese passed as by as we sat, took in the view and gorged on soup, sandwiches, fruit and the odd chocolate bar. After lunch we made our way back to the car park for a well-earned rest and toilet break before making our way out again to the newly opened Raptor Hide. This new hide is actually a refurbishment of a long standing hide that was built over 50 years ago, and although not the biggest hide in the world it give good views out across a newly cleared reedbed and salt marcsh, normally really productive for birds of prey. Unfortunately they were playing hard ball and although a Marsh Harrier passed by in the twilight, the sounds of Water Rail squealing and Little Egrets flying into roost certainly made the 30 minute vigil well worth while.

Black Redstart - Chesil Cove


Day 2

We finished the first day with zero wind and a crystal clear sky, but over night the wind had built and was due to carry on building over the course of the day. So, with this in mind and a desire to see owls we changed our day plan at the last minute to try and accommodate this interest. We had planned to visit Portland and Chesil first thing, but instead made our way to the beautiful and vast Arne Moors, another area not normally opened to the public. Although cold, watching the sunrise over the Arne Peninsular was a sight to behold and as things warmed up the birds became active and we had great views of several Marsh Harrier as they stirred from their roosting site, including a close fly by of an adult male. Stonechats, Meadow Pipits and Kestrels were seen around us and weirdly a single Crossbill passed overhead calling once as it made its way over to the Conifer plantation. With the sunrise still looking mouth wateringly beautiful we couldn’t bare to get in the car and travel for an hour over to Portland so made a quick dash back to Arne to try and tick off the UK largest Spoonbill flock. As we got to the appropriate area a large white gathering of birds could be seen out on the saltmarsh, illuminated by the early suns rays, with the scope poised and set a flock of 30+ Spoonbill could be seen dozing in the company of more Avocet, Pintail, Wigeon, Teal, Redshank and Brent Geese. A short walk up the steps at Shipstal Point presented another breath taking view out across Poole Harbour, looking out towards Brownsea Island with Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Crested Grebe and Great Northern Diver all happily feeding off Shipstal Beach just below us. And if that wasn’t enough, as we made our way back to the car another Dartford Warbler popped out of the Gorse to say hello before dashing off again. Now we were ready for the trip, and off we went towards Portland Harbour and Chesil. We headed straight for the Chesil Centre, a warm and sheltered retreat, which was most welcome as the wind had picked up somewhat, but from the viewing window 30+ Mediterranean Gulls showed brilliantly, giving good comparison views of the similar looking Black-headed Gulls. Also seen from the Chesil Centre were several Common Gull, Lesser and Great Black-backed Gull, a couple of Skylark and more Brent Geese and Red-breasted Merganser. After warming up we made our way up to Chesil Cove where we were welcomed by two gorgeous Black Redstarts, including an adult male which perched right next to the vehicle for us. When we got out to view the Chesil Beach in all its glory a few Rock Pipit were feeding around us too with the Black Redstarts. However, it was quite blustery here so we opted for somewhere with a bit more shelter….Portland Castle here we come! Upon arrival it was clear there were a few birds in the marina at Osprey Quay, but what we weren’t expecting was point blank views of Great Northern Diver stuffing its face with crab after crab and more Mergansers, along with 2 Little Grebe, several Shag and a few Oystercatcher. Although only a short stop off, this was a great little spot. We were definately hungry by now so RSPB Radipole Lake was our next location for hot Fish and Chips….just what we all needed. RSPB Radipole Lakes (aka Weymouth Wetlands) has a super visitors center and café which we all bundled in to and built up our energy reserves. Out of the viewing window another Marsh Harrier, Tufted Ducks, Little Grebe and of course the famous ‘Hoody’ the Hooded Merganser were all visible and Luke even managed to fit in a short ringing demo with one of the local Black-headed Gulls from the car park! We had planned to take a tour around Radipole for Bearded Tit and Bittern, but due to recent flooding, building winds and sporadic rain, this made it impossible to visit the areas we wanted to go, so, with a ‘Plan B’ always in mind we made our way back to Poole Harbour and the beautiful Middlebere Channel, but not before stopping off quickly to find our first Fieldfare and Redwing flocks of the trip. At Middlebere, there is another hide which gives great views out across the channel and we had a few hundred Black-tailed Godwit and Avocet, Dunlin, Redshank, an adult Yellow-legged Gull, Little Egrets, Wigeon, Teal, 500+ Brent Geese and Curlew. With darkness falling we wanted to try one last time for owls, so we dashed back out to Arne Moors in the hope of Short-eared or Barn Owl. We didn’t strike it lucky with these species but we did with a stunning ringtail Hen Harrier, a couple more Marsh Harrier and Woodcock flying out over the woodland to feed at dusk. What a day…and the what was more incredible, was that the best was yet to come!


Great Northern Diver - Poole Harbour

Day 3

Our day of strong winds and sporadic rain had disappeared over night, and we welcomed back glorious sunshine and zero wind…..perfect, just what we needed for our trip to Brownsea, plus the little surprise we had in store. We departed our accommodation partner bang on time and made our way to Studland peninsular with a quick stop off at Middle Beach where several Black-necked Grebe and 4 Common Scoter came in close giving nice views. With not a minute to spare as our Chain Ferry was departing soon, we got to the harbour mouth and were transported across the 300m wide harbour entrance as a Sandwich Tern went out to feed, and we docked the other side and waited for our ferry to the famous Brownsea Island. Brownsea is closed during the winter apart from to organised groups so we had the whole of the Brownsea Lagoon to enjoy all to our selves…pure bliss. The Dorset Wildlife Trust warden Chris Thain kindly met us and talked us through and showed us all the species out on the lagoon which included good numbers of Avocet, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit, Knot, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, 1 Spoonbill, 1 Kingfisher and most spectacular of all…. a Merlin chase right in-front us! The hen Merlin then proceeded to sit on a Tern house for several minutes as we took it in turns to look at her through the scope. The lagoon always looks spectacular on a high tide, but in the low winter, morning sun it looked like heaven. We just sat and watched for a couple of hours as birds came and went right in front of us and not once did we or could we get bored. We eventually dragged our selves away to go and have lunch at the Villa on Brownsea as Red Squirrels ran about right next to us and Rob even managed to find 2 Firecrest round the corner as we chomped on our sandwiches which everyone grabbed on to tightly as a mad dash was made to the viewing spot. Our itinerary stated that for the afternoon we would explore the Studland Peninsular, a wild and tranquil area with wet woodland, sand dune systems and the Littlesea Lagoon, a treat on any day. However, we had a sneaky plan up our sleeves and had managed to organise (at the last minute) a private tour of Poole Harbour for our guests on one of the Brownsea Island Ferries. This was a real ‘icing on the cake’ moment, not only because it was a total surprise to the guests, but also because within 2 minuets of being picked up by our private charter we had a Black Guillemot and 2 Great Northern Diver just feet off the boat! We crusied around some of the most secretive and beautiful areas of Poole Harbour ticking off Eider, more Black-necked Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser, Goldeneye, Great Northern Diver and Great Crested Grebes. Magic. Tiered but still buzzing from our birding extravaganza we made our way back to the hotel to finish the tour, but obviously not without doing some more birding en route. We scoped the Black-necked Grebe roost off Middle Beach as 7 birds fed close to the shore and the Common Scoter also seemed settled for the day now. Then, we saved the best until last. What holiday isn’t complete without a visit to a sewage works! Sounds crazy, I know but in the vanishing light we got great views of another Firecrest, loads of Goldcrest, Pied Wagtail and Grey Wagtail as they fed out on the filter beds and a lonely Chiffchaff was hiding in the scrub. I was a bit hesitant to finish up here, but it actually went down surprisingly well.


Black Guillemot - Poole Harbour



Red Squirrel - Brownsea Island


This was a truly excellent trip and as usual it’s the guests that make it special, so thank you to all that attended and we hope you enjoyed your selves as much as we did!

In total we encountered 108 species, which you can view by clicking HERE



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