Birds of Poole Harbour and RSPB Dorset Discovery Winter Tour Report January 12th-14th 2015

On January 12th 2015, our Birds of Poole Harbour charity and the Dorset RSPB team embarked upon the first of our new three day Dorset Discovery Tours, a joint venture between both organisations helping to promote local conservation and bird watching. The three day tour saw a group of ten eager and enthusiastic guests being shown some of Dorset’s best birding spots, including exclusive access to parts of RSPB reserves never before opened to the public. Over the three days, 106 species were logged and the weather somehow, SOMEHOW stayed on our side the whole time.

Monday 12th January

At midday our group assembled at the visitors centre at RSPB Arne reserve, with a weather forecast that even the hardiest of fishermen would have cowered at. Yet, by some miracle the minute the tour started the sun came out and there it stayed on and off for the next few hours. Prior to starting, some of the group had fleeting views of Firecrest but this was a much sought after bird for the rest of the trip. We headed straight to RSPB Arne Moors, an area of the Arne Peninsular that is not open to the public. Here we were treated to a flock of 10 Spoonbill, as well as a few big flocks of Lapwing, Greylag Goose and a handful of Black-tailed Godwit. Raven and Marsh Harrier were also dotted around whilst Shelduck, Cormorants, Curlew and numerous gull species moved up and down the Wareham Channel.  Here we moved to Shipstal viewpoint, RSPB Arne for lunch whilst we enjoyed the views right out across Poole Harbour. Although a bit windy, the rain still held off as Red-breasted Merganser, Grey Plover, Avocet, Oystercatcher, Dartford Warbler, Brent Goose, Redshank and more Spoonbill were added to the list. With the weather looking like it was eventually going to catch up with us, we headed for our final destination, Coombe Fields (another private site) and Coombe Heath. From Coombe Fields Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit were noted, whilst the views of Avocet improved dramatically. It was then a short walk to the Coombe Heath viewing screen, where by now the rain was making its self know but we didn’t care because out of nowhere ‘Super Tom’ produced hot tea and flapjacks from his magical mystery rucksack. Whilst supping hot tea and gorging on sweet things a Spoonbill decided to come and feed right in front of us with masses of Avocet making up the supporting cast. With tea guzzled, and flapjacks devoured it was time for home……slightly damp but very, very happy with our first day of the tour.

Tuesday 13th January

Luckily the front passed over night and by the time 8am arrived (pick up time) the sky’s had cleared and we were off to Weymouth and Portland. We parked up in the Chesil Centre car park and immediately crossed the road over to Hamm Beach. Here we scanned Portland Harbour and picked up Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Northern Diver, Black-necked Grebe, Little Grebe, Shag and Brent Goose. Back over to the Chesil Centre we headed for a quick talk from the Dorset Wildlife Trust, but not before stopping and getting great close range comparisons of Mediterranean Gull and Black-headed Gull as well as Common Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull. After the DWT talk we did a short walk up the Chesil bank, only to be blown right back off again, whilst still managing to tick off Gannet and Kittiwake at the same time. We opted for another view of Portland Harbour, this time from Portland Castle where a Black Guillemot did the kind gesture of flying right towards us and landing in amongst some buoys giving good views. We then went to Sandsfoot Castle, which helped us tick off Slavonian Grebe, better views of Black-necked Grebe and many more Mergansers. RSPB Radipole Lake then beckoned us, as did the glorious sunshine, having dodged every single shower that morning. A walk up to the Radipole North Hide provided a short sound sample of Bearded Tit but once in the hide two Marsh Harrier, Snipe, Stonechat, Common Buzzard, Teal, Grey Heron and Little Grebe all came and said hello, and then on the way back to the visitors centre Peter (one of the guests) was lucky enough to spot an Otter which I saw only very briefly before it dipped under the water. We headed back towards Arne in high spirits, and then out of nowhere a male Hen Harrier flew over one of the cars in the centre of Wool! We headed back to RSPB Arne Moors, but a different area this time and were treated to more Marsh Harrier, Raven, Lapwing and then a beautiful ringtail Hen Harrier hunting in a full circle right around us…..just stunning. Still hungry for more we finished at National Trust’s Middlebere and a ghostly Barn Owl was a welcome addition to the list and from the hide 2 Yellow-legged Gull, another ringtail Hen Harrier, 1 Spoonbill, 200+ Avocet, 200+ Lapwing, Teal and Wigeon all bid us farewell before the smell of dinner and the darkness lured us away. One car even had a Woodcock sat on the road in front of them on the way home.

Wednesday 14th January

The final day…already! It had gone so quick, yet we knew there were still more great birds to be seen. Bang on time again, we departed the hotel at 8am and this time headed to the Studland Peninsular, first stop, South Beach. As we pulled up in the car park, it was evident there were many song birds around as Song Thrush, Bullfinch, Chiffchaff, Goldfinch and Chaffinch all welcomed us to their parish. Walking down the path we were welcomed by warm sunshine and calm seas allowing the first bird found to be a lovely Red-necked Grebe, followed then by 2 more Slavonian Grebe, more Black-necked Grebe another Great Northern Diver and 10 Common Scoter. A quick nip down to Knoll Beach for a short Firecrest hunt, but no luck, however we did pick up Goldcrest, another Bullfinch and some more Black-necked Grebe out on the water. Another short drive down to Bramble Bush Bay and Goldeneye was added but no Sanderling or Ringed Plover unfortunately. We then caught the chain ferry over to Sandbanks for the final part of our tour, which was an afternoon on the wonderful Brownsea Island. Our ferry picked us up at 11:30am and for two and a half hours we were treated to mouth watering views of Redshank, Spotted Redshank and Greenshank all in a row, right in front of us also Avocet, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Turnstone, Dunlin, Shoveler, Gadwall, a very pale Buzzard, another hunting Marsh Harrier and to finish off a stunning Peregrine/Black-tailed Godwit chase. Then, when waiting on the quay for our ferry back a kindly Kingfisher did a farewell flyby and 2 Sandwich Tern were logged distantly off Shore Road. 

I have to say, for a first time tour the birds really excelled themselves and we were also treated to a wonderful, wonderful group of guests who kept us on our toes with a whole range of great questions.

We have already started taking bookings for our up and coming SPRING TOUR, and if it’s even half as good our winter tour, I’d book on as soon as you can!



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