Dorset Discovery Autumn Tour - Sept 3rd - 5th 2018

Day 1 – Monday 

In keeping with the scorching weather that we have enjoyed all summer the autumn tour kicked off with stunning blue skies and beautiful sunshine. Our autumn adventure began at the stunning RSPB Arne nature reserve were we kicked off our search for early autumn migrants that are passing through the rare lowland heathland habitat on the reserve.  The unique benefit of the discovery tour is that it we are able to access parts of the nature reserve that are usually off limits to members of the public, and we took full advantage of this by heading up to the spectacular viewpoint on Arne hill for a very civilised buffet lunch.  We were rewarded almost immediately with excellent views of a spotted flycatcher as we climbed to our picnic spot. As well as being one of the best views in Poole harbour, Arne hill is also the site of some more novel conservation projects and as we munched our sandwiches we learnt about the use of mangalitsa pigs to regenerate the heathland habitat across the RSPB Arne reserve. Whilst enjoying the spectacle of hundreds of hirundines swirling overhead we finished our tea and cake. The group then set off around the western side of the peninsular in search of the elusive Dartford Warbler. We enjoyed meadow pipits, stonechats, willow warbler, chiffchaff and, thanks to the nimble actions of our lead guide Paul, a juvenile sand lizard. We strained for the distinctive scratchy call of that elusive warbler, however as of yet no sign!

Crossing the Arne road and heading to the eastern side of the reserve we started to rack up some autumn migrants starting off with a very late swift and then whinchat and crippling views of a stunning male common redstart! However, still no Dartford… as our first day drew to a close it looked like we had been foiled by RSPB Arne’s star bird, however at the last minute our search was rewarded with a close if not a little fleeting view of that punky little bird that had eluded us all day. Satisfied we headed back for a well-earned dinner at Kingston country courtyard.   


Day 2 – Tuesday

Poole harbour is awash with Autumn migrants at the start of September so what better way to spend a sunny Tuesday than travelling to some of Poole Harbours hotspots for migration. Starting early we headed out to a private bird ringing site on Ballard Down monitored by Birds of Poole Harbour. A breezy start to the day we were rewarded on our arrival with a young chiffchaff in the hand. Expert BTO ringer Ollie carefully went through with the group the processes of ringing and identification of these energetic warblers. We were also very lucky to come across the group monitoring moths around the harbour and between net rounds examined in detail some of the finer specimens in the trap.

We finished off the morning session with a flurry of house martins, and the particularly pleasurable surprise of one very fine juvenile sparrowhawk in the hand!

Heading east towards studland peninsular we stopped off at a prime migration site Greenlands Farm. Here where we added to our list with good views of yellow wagtail, wheatear and a stunning fly by from an osprey being harassed by a group of hirundines. We had a full packed day planned so after a quick detour to the little gem of a hide at Brands bay where we easily picked up dunlin, greenshank, curlew, black tailed godwit, we then set off for an obligatory visit to Brownsea Island.

After a brief ferry ride which allowed us to catch up with sandwich tern and shag, we arrived on Brownsea Island and were immediately greeted with a good view of a group of avocet and a curlew sandpiper in the lagoon just outside to the welcome centre. We were also very fortunate to be joined for a while by local conservationist and author Mark Constantine and illustrator of the birders bible Collin’s Bird Guide, Killian Mullarney and enjoyed a discussion on the interesting pattern of migration this autumn. Heading into the island we enjoyed another tasty picnic lunch where we were joined by some of the more domesticated birdlife on the island! A short trip through the woods to catch up with the islands famous red squirrels, we then headed off to the area of Brownsea Island managed by the Dorset Wildlife Trust. Looking across Brownsea Lagoon we were treated to the range of winter wading birds that had just started arriving in the harbour. Black tailed godwits, dunlin and oystercatchers filled the lagoon interspersed with greenshank, redshank, avocet, common sandpiper and small group of spoonbill (one of which provided us with some entertaining acrobatics). A jam packed day, but we were not finished yet, as the day came to a close the group voted to take a quick trip up to Hartland moor in search of some more heathland reptiles. They were rewarded with a brief view of a large female adder before she slid off into the heathland and satisfied we headed back for another excellent evening meal.

Day 3 – Wednesday

We started our final day of the tour catching the tides at the hidden gem of RSPB sites in Dorset, RSPB Lytchett Fields. Heading out onto sight were treated with a nice spread of wading birds and a chance to get to grips with some ID including four knot that had dropped into the site. We started off the morning with some brief views of marsh harrier hunting over the reedbed, however the absolute highlight was certainly a very obliging osprey which, after catching a fish in Lytchett Bay, sat directly opposite our viewpoint and stayed for the duration of our visit.

Leaving the osprey to its breakfast we headed off to another site in the harbour, Holton Lee. Run by the charity Livability, this site is fully accessible and focusses on the benefits of nature for health and wellbeing. Home to a spinal recovery unit and the ‘Flourish’ garden project Holton Lee is also home to some really special wildlife. Starting off with an hour in the ‘feeder hide’ which gave us a chance to enjoy a nice variety of garden birds in a tranquil setting, we then were treated to excellent views of little owl as we had our morning elevenses. After a much need cup of coffee it was down through the reserve to a hide that looks out on a newly created scrape on the edge of Lytchett bay. Although short on waders it did give us wonderful views of a kingfisher perched at the edge of the newly created bit of habitat.   

We finished off our visit with a fish and chip lunch, and then it was back to RSPB Arne for the final afternoon. Past the Arne farm we headed to the end of the peninsular driving through the pristine heathland towards an old clay pit which has be re-established as a saline lagoon. Here we were treated with oystercatchers, cormorant, little egret and little grebe all of which was topped off by another osprey! It was then back to the farm where we got up close and personal with the mengalitsa pigs which have been doing such fantastic conservation work that we had learnt about on the first day.

As the last day drew to a close the group did a whistle stop tour of the heathland sites that link the rest of the Purbeck heathlands with the RSPB Arne. Firstly stopping off on Soldiers road we stumbled across what for me was definitely the tour highlight, a family of woodlark! Feeding just along the edges of the path these gave a fantastic showing. This pit stop also gave the group a chance to catch up with some much clearer views of Dartford warbler, which had been so elusive on our first day. We then travelled back to Hartland moor for a final search for heathland reptiles, Paul bravely showed us this beautiful female adder and we also came across a late marsh gentian and oblong leaved sundew. A fantastic way to finish off a packed tour.   

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