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Birds of Poole Harbour Dorset Discovery Spring Tour 2016 April 25th – 27th

Spring, a time for change and regeneration, growing days and the arrival of birds…lots and lots of birds. Our Dorset Discovery Spring Tour, always planned for the end of the end of April in hope of cashing in on the maximum number of birds entering (and some leaving) the county. So far, this spring had been a bit on and off, with cold winds often whipping in from the north and migrants a little later than expected, however without doubt birds were on the move and it was our job to find and enthuse with our great bunch of guests.

Our itinerary was full, locations planned out and our excitement high and with exclusive access to some of the RSPBs most incredible reserves we were definitely in for a good time.

Standing on top of Challow Hill, Corfe

Day 1

As is standard with our tours, a midday arrival at Arne RSPB reserve got things underway and as is standard Siskin, Nuthatch and all the usual feeder species were the first ticked off our list, along with a cold and hungry female Blackcap that took advantage of the free grub. Starting at midday meant there were low rumblings coming from each guests (and my) tummies, so a beeline was made for our private lunch area, a lovely couple of fields called Coombe Fields which looks out across the Middlebere Channel. However, on route to this tranquil location we hooked up with our first migrants as both Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were singing above our heads and a lovely female Wheatear was feeding amongst the scrub. Our private picnic area gave stunning views out across Poole Harbour and despite the nippy northerly wind we managed to get nice views of 2 Little Tern as the fed their way up the Middlebere Channel with 50+ Black-tailed Godwit, oblivious below them. Waders had certainly been on the move that morning too as summer-plumaged Dunlin and Ringed Plover were feeding in the Spartina Grass. One of the highlights for this first day was (hopefully) getting to encounter some of Arne’s six native reptile species, but had the cold weather put a stop to that? Certainly not! The first located in one of the reptile survey areas was the humble Slow Worm, a really common species at Arne but beautiful none the less. Then, after a bit of searching (tin 149 out of 150) we finally managed to show the group one of Arne’s iconic species, the Smooth Snake, Britain’s rarest reptile. The heathlands at Arne (and across the whole of Dorset) are special, and managed in a particular way to help support the huge variety of animal and plant species that depend upon it, and it was whilst discussing this with our guests that one of our target species, the Woodlark, was found feeding exactly where it should have been. Giving great scope views at close range and feeding with 4 more Wheatear this was the days main highlight for some. After we had finished looking at Reptiles we got to view the mouth of the Middlebere Channel from another perspective adding summer-plumaged Grey Plover, Whimbrel and more Dunlin. What day wouldn’t be complete with an Arne Dartford Warbler, which happened to pop out on a gorse bush for us at the end of the day. Add all that to singing Firecrest (heard only), Derek the tame Arne Fox and a Common Seal that popped up to say hello we were well and truly treated to a special day.

 Nightingale - Challow Hill

Day 2

With the chilly wind building from the north we decided to swap our second and third days by going to Challow Hill, Corfe first and it was certainly the right choice. The shelter Challow Hill provides in a northerly wind meant it was almost tropical like in the lea of the hill, whereas on top the wind chill felt like minus 10! The warmth was just an added bonus, but the real highlight was the singing Nightingale that performed for us just several meters away, giving great views for several minutes. Also present at this location were plenty of Yellowhammer, Common Whitethroat, Stonechat, Chiffchaff and several Dartford Warbler and Buzzard. We could have stayed there all day, but our next location was beckoning…..roll on Durlston CP. Our purpose for this location choice was to get seabirds and exquisite views which we managed to do, but not only that, we also experienced what was certainly one of my most bizarre natural history experiences. By this time the cold northerly wind had really picked up, so despite getting great views of Lesser Whitethroat we headed down to the cliff footpath where again shelter made it almost sweltering in the sun, when all of a sudden the yell of ‘DOLPHINS’ from one of our guests thumped into my ears. Low and behold a pod of 8-10 Bottlenose Dolphins passed right below us at Durlston head, first moving slowly west, and then 10 minutes later coming back again and heading east. What made this whole situation so great (and bizarre) was that during this time it started snowing whilst a Lesser Whitethroat and Cuckoo called behind us! An experience we won’t forget in a while. As hoped for Guillemots, Razorbills, Gannet and Fulmar all showed off for us, as did the local Peregrines when we left. Even the Wall Lizards came out to say hello while we were eating lunch. After lunch we made our way back to Poole Harbour to try out several impromptu stop off points which included Hartland Moor where a Cuckoo came and landed on a fence post for us and more Wheatear were feeding in the fields, and then at the Middlebere Hide more Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit were feeding on the mud with a pair of very obliging Stonechat feeding just outside the hide. With the day running away from us we were almost ready to call it a day, but we had one last place to visit, an exclusive trip out to Arne Moors, a privately managed RSPB reserve, near but not at Arne its self. Here we added Little Ringed Plover, Swift, Cetti’s Warbler, Reed Warbler and Sparrowhawk to the list.

Razorbill and Guillemot - Portland

Day 3

Our third and final day saw an early rise and weary eyes as we made our way to Portland Bill for spring migrants and passage birds. The weather was kind and scenery beautiful but the northerly wind we’d experienced for the last 3 days had made tracking down migrants a little tough. However, whilst stood on the patio of the Portland Bill Bird Observatory being shown Willow Warbler and Linnet in the hand thanks to a ringing demo from the Obs team, one of the local birders shouted ‘Raptor coming in’, with his scope fixed on a point way out to sea. We all managed to get on to this speck that originated way out over the waves and we tracked it for what seemed like for ever until it was obvious the bird was heading straight for. After a few more tense seconds it became obvious that the bird eye-balling us down our bino’s was a Hobby which promptly came and landed in a tree in the Obs garden not several meters away from us……just incredible. Portland bill saw as add more flocks of Whimbrel passing the bill, Kittiwake, Gannet, Fulmar, Razorbill, a single Red-throated Diver several more Wheatear and a few migrant Whitethroat, Blackcap and Willow Warbler. After Portland bill we made our way to Ferrybridge where 3 Little Tern were heading out to sea, Dunlin and Ringed Plover were feeding right in front of us, a Yellow Wagtail settled briefly and 10+ newly arrived Wheatear fed and chased each other in the flowering Sea Pink. Our final destination was RSPB Radipole Lake where a big slap up Fish and chips was waiting for us upon arrival before we headed out to the newly created (and unopened) area of the reserve, spotting Bearded Tit, Reed Warbler and loads of Cetti’s Warbler along the way. The newly created scrape that will be opened later in the year had 5 Common Sandpiper, 1 Greenshank and several Shoveler Duck on it whilst overhead Sand Martin and Swift buzzed about and a Lesser Whitethroat starting singing from the scrub. With full bellies and weary legs the tour had come to an end, but what a tour it was! The weather in spring is never a certainty, but what was certain is that we made the most of what we had thrown at us, and the trip would never have been as good if it wasn’t for the great company we were in. Never in three days would I have expected to experience every type of weather you could possibly imagine so a huge thanks to all our guests for coming on to our 2016 spring tour, we hope you enjoyed it and we look forward to seeing you out in the filed some time in the near future.

We finished on 107 species of bird and you can read the full list HERE

Where Did We Go?

Woodlark - Arne RSPB Reserve

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