Dorset Discovery Autumn Tour Trip Report - Sept 4th -6th 2017

Autumn is a time for transition and change. When summer departs and we welcome chilly, dew heavy mornings and cloudy sky’s over cool coasts. Its also time for migration, migration, migration…..the time of year that gets a birders pulse racing harder and faster than ever. We had a migration fueled trip planned for our guests so what did we see?

Day 1

Early September is a magical time and there’s no better place to explore than Arne at this exciting time of year. Our group all met at the visitors welcome hut in the Arne car park at midday where we quickly explored the car cark and the checked the feeders to get our list off the ground. All the normal species were recorded with Nuthatch, a few Siskin and a Great Spotted Woodpecker to boot things off. We headed for our picnic area which looked out across the beautiful Middlebere Channel and Isle of Purbeck. Views like this don’t come much better and with block of wood sized chunks of Caramel Cake to fuel our guests up we couldn’t have got a better start. Middlebere is an intriguing place to watch birds with many different species taking advantage of the quiet and tranquil setting. Our view out across Middlebere rewarded us with 2 Osprey sat in one of the dead trees, one of which was a bird from the recent Poole Harbour translocation project and the other a migrant passing through the area. Our Poole Harbour Spoonbill flock had already began building quite nicely too with 18 roosting up at the end of the channel as Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank and Curlew fed along the waterline on the rising tide. We walked north along the track heading to a private area called Coombe Fields, but before we reached our destination another Osprey kindly came and flew right past us as it head towards the same dead trees. Approaching Coombe Fields we walked through the small section of woodland where a Long-tailed Tit flock containing several Goldcrest were feeding before we then made our way down to a private and secluded shoreline looking out across the mouth of the Middlebere Channel. En route we stopped to check a selection of reptile survey tins which produced our first scaly serpent of the trip…and fine young and very fresh looking Grass Snake. At the end of Coombe Fields the tide was perfect for a number of waders to be feeding just out in front of including several Knot, good numbers of Dunlin, Redshank and Oystercatcher, a number of returning Teal and another Osprey sat on a post distantly across the water. Keen to see more reptiles and heathland birds we ventured to another private area of Arne called Grip Heath but not without stopping off at the Coombe Pond to add large and very delicate looking Raft Spiders to our list. Grip Heath is stunning area of Arne, kept private to enable a whole selection of flora and fauna to flourish without disturbance but with species access granted for our tour we extended our snake hunt and tried to track down Arne’s famous Dartford Warblers. As it transpired we didn’t have to wait long as a small flock (yes flock) of 1st year Dartford Warbler flew along the track ahead of us, maybe 5 or 6 in total with one having the common decency to do what Dartfords do best and that’s to sit on top of a small gorse bush for long enough so that everyone has really decent scope views…thank you very much! Whilst the guests were getting their fill of Dartford Warblers Rob went off to check one of the RSPB’s reptile survey areas in the hope of finding the UK’s rarest reptile. The heathlands of Dorset home a large percentage of the UKs Smooth Snake population and Arne has a significant number of those too. Within minuets Rob was walking back to the group with snake in hand (eh hum) and  was able to talk through the fine detail of Smooth Snake identification…top work! Several Slow Worm were also found, giving our group a good opportunity to see the subtle differences between the legless lizard and its close relative. With the day coming to an end we made our way back to the car park, unbeknown to us that the day had one more surprise in store for us. As we approached the car park the familiar calls of Firecrest came from the holly just above our heads and within two minuets three of these stunning little gems were feeding just 2m in front of us with a Goldcrest to provide a dazzling comparison.

Osprey - Coombe Heath, Arne


Day 2

For the first day we were blessed with good weather but overnight low cloud and fine drizzle has set in but that in no way would deter our group from wanting to get out and find great birds. Over the last few years, Lytchett Fields has built quite a reputation for its self for giving great views of great birds. We arrived in high spirits and as we approached the two viewpoints it was clear there were plenty of birds around. The access pools were filled with Dunlin, Ringed Plover and a few Greenshank as Yellow Wagtail flew in and landed close by. As we arrived at the viewpoints Curlew Sandpiper fed not 20m away with Dunlin and the rest of the fields were busy with Redshank, Green Sandpiper more Ringed Plover, Lapwing and Black-tailed Godwit. With the weather setting in we decided to head for shelter so made our way to Brownsea Island and their two large, comfortable hides. The trip from Sandbanks to Brownsea was thankfully dry and it wasn’t until we got into the hides that the heavens opened again. Avocet had begun returning for the winter already, Knot, Turnstone, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Common Sandpiper and Kingfisher all showed brilliantly for us. Then, when in the Mac Hide a dramatic Peregrine chase flushed all the waders but luckily the newly arrived Garganey stayed for us to be able to show the group in amongst all the Teal. Shoveler, Gadwall and even a couple of Wigeon added to the total. Add to that all the Sandwich and Common Terns ‘bombing around’, we could have stayed on Brownsea all day as birds at this time of year are constantly dropping in and out, however Middlebere was beckoning so off we headed. Things looked brighter on the horizon (quite literally) as the rain continued so some time in the Middlebere Hide was another welcome treat with 2 Curlew Sandpiper, Knot, Spotted Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit and Dunlin all logged. We were in desperate need of a sweet retreat so headed to Arne for a wholesome Cream Tea in the warmth of their café where then thankfully the sun appeared and the clouds departed. We finished gorging on our scones and with this welcome warmth and break in the weather migrants suddenly began to appear and within minuets Redstart and Spotted Flycatchers began feeding from barbed-wire fence lines when at the same time another Smooth Snake was found too. We’d had a busy full day and seen some excellent wildlife spectacles despite the rain so it seemed fitting to finish the day on a bright, sun-kissed and vibrant vibe and we all headed for dinner.

Whinchat - Ballard 


Day 3

We finished the second day on a bright note and thankfully it stayed in place for the following morning where our group were up early for their own private ringing demonstration at a new ringing site that Birds of Poole Harbour had set up just 3-weeks previously. With the previous days wind and rain it meant a rush of migrants were on the move and during the mornings demonstration a whole range of species in the hand were shown to the group including Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Lesser and Common Whitethroat, Blackcap, Grasshopper Warbler, Meadow Pipit, Reed Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher. While we watched the ringing demonstration a Whinchat was also flitting around the ringing site as Swallows, House and Sand Martin bowled overhead giving a true sense of movement and migration. Driving into and out of the ringing site provided Wheatear along the tracks before we then headed to Durlston Country Park for coastal sea views. By now the wind had picked up making birding a bit tricky but several more ‘in the field’ Grasshopper Warbler were seen darting into numerous hedgerows along with more Blackcap, Whitethroat and Willow Warbler in the scrub around Durlston. The country park its self is huge and we could have spent the rest of the day scouring and searching the never ending lines of hawthorn and blackthorn, but lunch was beckoning and we wanted to show our guests some of the projects we’d invested in with money raised from our Dorset Discovery Tours so it was off to Holton Lee, a private estate run by national charity Livability whom have opened up access to local residents as well as their own patients and guests. In the spring of 2017 we invested in the moving of an already existing hide which was historically built in the wrong place in regards to viewing birds. So, we created a new wetland habitat and re-positioned the hide and added some screening, providing a new facility for all to enjoy. This was made possible with money raised through our Dorset Discovery Tours so it was great for us to be able to show our guests first hand how by attending our tours they’re contributing directly to local conservation. From the hide Kingfishers, Teal and Reed Bunting were on view and as we walked back across the heathland to grab lunch another Dartford Warbler sat up on the gorse for us as Siskin and Nuthatch called from the surrounding woodland. Time was slipping away from us and sadly the tour was almost coming to end so there was one last site we wanted to show our guests and that was the large private northern section of Arne where the new clay pit has been created. One of the ‘perks’ of the tour is to gain access to private areas of the reserve with the wardens who manage those particular sites, and seeing the newly crated Clay Pit at Arne was a huge privilege for our guests. We spent some time exploring this private area and taking in the views across the harbour which aren’t possible from anywhere else, providing a great finale to what was a wonderful three day tour. As always, it’s the guests that make the tours so special as well as the birds so we’d like to thank all those that attended for making this such a great Autumn tour 2017.

Grasshopper Warbler - Ballard Down 


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