Dorset Discovery Autumn Tour Trip Report


TRIP REPORT Sept 7th – 9th 2015


By Paul Morton



Dorset is at its most productive for birds during August and September as autumn migration is in full swing, and right across the county thousands of birds of many species are making their way south, passing through this idyllic county…and who can blame them! The Dorset Discovery Autumn Tour, a joint venture between the RSPB Dorset team and the Birds of Poole Harbour charity saw a group of 14 eager wildlife enthusiasts be guided and shown the absolute best Dorset has to offer. Poole Harbour was the main focus for this tour, with rich its varied habitat range and stunning landscapes, not to mention the wealth of wildlife too.

Guides included

Paul Morton - founder of the Birds of Poole Harbour charity

Rob Farrington – Dorset RSPB reserves visitor on reserves manager

Tom Clarke – Dorset coasts project development officer

Luke Phillips – Arne RSPB reserve information officer

Rod Brummit – Long standing Dorset RSPB volunteer


Day 1 – Arne RSPB Reserve

With midday approaching, and the beginning of the tour imminent an excited crowd gathered on the decking in front of the RSPB Arne visitor center. Guests made them selves know to each other and were treated to great views of Nuthatch and Siskin on the feeders out side the center windows and a Sparrowhawk passed high overhead. Rob and I then arrived and welcomed all our guests to the spectacular RSPB Arne nature reserve. By this time is was already about 22 degrees and we could sense our gusts were in need of lunch and refreshments so a short walk from the car park, we made our way to our exclusive lunch spot which just happened to be on one of the best viewpoints on the entire reserve. Waiting for us up on Coombe Heath was ‘super Tom’ with a delicious spread and buffet fit for a king where guests could help themselves to lunch and sit back, relax and take in the view…..and what a view. Whilst sat having lunch we managed to tick off Osprey, 2 Hobby, Peregrine, Green Woodpecker and more Spotted Flycatcher than you can shake a stick at. After lunch we made our way around Coombe Heath, stopping off at one of the reserves famous heathland ponds in search for Raft and Wasp Spider which Rob took no time in finding. There seemed to be plenty of migrants around with many chiffchaff working through the bushes and adjoining themselves to the many Long-tailed tot flocks. The great thing about these tours is the private access we’re granted by the RSPB to parts of their reserves that aren’t normally open to the public. With this in mind we made our way to Coombe Fields, a small area of scrub nestled next to Coombe Heath, which leads down to the shoreline of the Middlebere Channel, offering close views of waders on the mud. As we made our way down, Stonechat, Whitethroat, Blackcap and more Chiffchaff could be seen making their way through the bramble and as we approach the shoreline Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Curlew and Oystercatcher were all feeding, bills deep in mud. Nestled amongst the commoner waders were 4 migratory Curlew Sandpiper and 11 Knot too. Keen to get some reptiles on our list we made our way to another private part of the reserve where the RSPB carry out reptile monitoring of the UKs rarest reptile the Smooth Snake. As we made our way round, more Spotted Flycatcher and Chiffchaff showed off and 2 Greenshank were noted from the Coombe viewpoint. As we arrived at our next destination, Rob went to see what reptiles he could find within his survey area while the rest of the group and me were treated to a wonderful display of migrants all hopping around within just one or two bushes. Redstarts, Whinchat, Spotted Flycatchers, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and even Dartford Warbler at one point all sat proudly aloft the gorse bushes, albeit a bit brief at times showing them selves to the group as if we had paid them to be there. Then, before we knew it Rob had arrived back with Slow Worm in one hand and Smooth Snake in the other…..a real treat for the guests. By now, we had been walking around in almost 25 degree heat (not what we had expected) for a few hours and it was time to say goodbye to Arne. As the sun set on heathland and warmth rebounded off the ground and on to us, we all reflected on what had been a truly wonderful start to our autumn tour and were full on anticipation for what the next few days had in store.

Stonechat - Arne RSPB Reserve


Day 2 – Durlston CP, Arne Moors, Holton Lee, RSPB Lytchett Fields

Never wanting to miss a trick we had our guests up early for a planned ringing demo at the glorious Durlston CP, a migrant hotspot and a chalk cliff headland just a few miles SW of Poole Harbour. I’m part of the Stour Ringing Group, and we’re lucky enough to have Durlston CP as one of our ringing sites, a real privilege indeed. The conditions looked good, a light to moderate NE breeze and clear sky’s….so what would we see? Part of the ringing group had set up early in the private ringing area but kept bringing us bird bags every few minuets as we gathered in the early morning light (7:15am)!, huddled in excitement as to what would be gently extracted out of the bag. Over the next hour we got to see an incredible selection of birds in the hand including Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Reed Warbler, Tree Pipit, Chiffchaff, Spotted Flycatcher, Goldcrest, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Wood Pigeon and the humble Blue Tit. Each species was displayed to the group and shown and explained in detail how to age and sex them plus was talked through their moult process…….sounds so exciting hey! Trust me…it was. Whilst this was going on we had loads of Siskin, Swallow and House Martin with the odd Grey and Yellow Wagtail were passing overhead as they migrated south. A real migrant feast. After the ringing demo we did a short walk around some of the country park fields encountering Lesser Whitethroat, more Blackcap and several more Spotted Flycatcher, before making our way down to Durlston Castle for coffee and croissant. We sat and admired the view which included watching a juvenile Peregrine attack anything that came within 10 feet of it, including two adult Ravens and at sea Gannets and Great Black Backed gulls were passing low over the water and more and more Siskin continued to pass overhead in small groups of 10+. Several Wall Lizards even popped out of the seats we were sitting on to say hello and a few Painted Lady butterfly passed us by.

Not contempt with the mega mornings birding, we were hungry for more so headed towards our lunch destination with a quick stop off on Arne Moors, another privately managed RSPB site. Here we made our way up a short track to a set of wet fields where a few Wheatear were hopping about and 4 more Hobby were out hunting over the cattle. Whilst scanning for raptors, Luke suddenly shouted our ‘GREAT WHITE EGRET’, and low and behold the large white heron was flying right towards us, low over the reedbed. Despite their increasing population in neighboring Somerset, they remain an exceptionally rare bird in Poole Harbour so to see one was a real thrill. We finally made it to our lunch destination of Holton Lee, an environmentally focused disability care facility, set up in stunning grounds in NW Poole Harbour. The site is made up of several important SSSI habitats in which the RSPB now help manage, and they kindly allowed us to use their facilities to set up ‘super Toms’ lunch time buffet special. Although we didn’t have time to explore the whole area we did make our way down to one of the hides and watched Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatch and common ‘feeder species’ come and go. Just around the corner from Holton lee is the newly opened RSPB Lytchett Fields, a site opened in conjunction with the landowner and Birds of Poole harbour to help provide close views of wader species that use the newly converted flooded fields. This autumn has probably been the most productive the site has ever been since its transformation back in 2013, offering the group views (if not a little heat hazy) of Wood and Green Sandpiper, Ruff, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Snipe, Redshank, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit and numerous Teal. This was supposed to be our last stop of the day, but despite being up since 6am our guests wanted MORE! (which may have been slightly influenced by the fact I was driving and they couldn’t go unless I took them home). Anyway, we made our way back to the hotel with one more ‘unplanned’ stop off on the way home to look for a few more reptiles which was successful as we found a fresh baby Adder. Not only that, having dipped on Yellow Wagtail all day (a species very much on our hit list) we happened upon a flock of 30 in the field right next to where we had parked….winner!


Spotted Flycatcher - Durlston CP - Barbara Bissett


Day 3 – Greenland’s Farm, Studland, Brownsea Island, Challow Hill, Corfe.

Well the final day was upon us, and despite the tears and emotion we carried on regardless for our grand finale Brownsea Island. Our plan was to catch the chain ferry across from Studland as foot passengers, but to do this it meant having to pass several other good birding spots too, including Greenland’s Farm, a normally migrant rich area of mixed scrub, open pasture and rough ground. I say normally migrant rich, as the day we visited it was very un-migrant rich, as we only managed 1 male Redstart, however we did have an Osprey fly over twice and had several flocks of Yellow Wagtail moving around the fields in front of us. A short amble down towards the Brands Bay hide added Pintail, Gadwall and Wigeon but with time of the essence we hopped back on to the buses and made our way to the chain ferry. Brownsea Island is owned by the National Trust, but 50% is managed by the Dorset Wildlife Trust, which includes the fabulous Brownsea Lagoon, your one stop shop for waders in Poole Harbour. With two excellent hides to visit this gave us a great opportunity to get close to many species including Spoonbill, Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler, Little Egret and we even found 2 Little Stint at the back of the lagoon, hanging out with Dunlin and Ringed Plover. Red Squirrels were everywhere and even joined us for lunch at the DWT Villa which was nice of them. We could have stayed on Brownsea all day, but we had one last little surprise for our guests that needed us off the island before the days end, and having already missed one ferry we needed to get going quick sharp. On our way back across the ferry we managed to get Mediterranean Gull, Sanderling on Shell Beach and even jam in on a Little Tern hanging out with some Sandwich Terns. We got everyone is the bus one last time and headed for Challow Hill, a valley that runs up behind Corfe Castle, offering stunning views across the castle its self. Here we settled with the sun on our faces and a cream tea in our hands and as as we took in the views, Whinchat, Hobby, Stonechat and Dartford Warbler came and gave a fly by at one point or another.

Cream Tea on Challow Hill, Corfe

 We can’t thank our guests (and the weather) enough for making our third Dorset Discovery Wildlife Tour an absolute corker. In total we encountered (between us) 114 species of bird over the 3 days and a wealth of other wildlife too….we really hope this encourages people to come back to Poole Harbour and Dorset with friends and family in the future, there really is so much to see! 


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