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Dorset Discovery Summer Tour – June 20th - 22nd 2016

When we think of summer we think of long, lazy summer days, birds singing and over-weight Bumble Bees bouncing from flower head to flower head, a gentle breeze whipping through large oak leaves and an ice cold Pimms chilling the palm of your hands. However, if you’re on our Summer Dorset Discovery then ‘lazy’ doesn’t come in to it and a sheer desire to find and see as much of Dorset’s incredible wildlife certainly takes over. Summer is actually a time of life and bio-diversity with not only the birds showcasing this variety.

Our itinerary was planned to try and engage with some of Dorset’s most well known breeding species and to track down some of the ‘harder to find’ critters that live out on the heaths, headlands and hedgerows.

Woodlark - Morden bog

Day 1

Like so often with our tours, weather threatened to ruin the first day, and as wind and rain persisted throughout the morning, our midday start at Arne RSPB reserve was looking grim….very grim indeed. But what we’ve learnt to understand is that the sun always shines on the righteous and sure is sure enough….as 12pm the rain stopped, clouds parted and our tour was underway in near perfect conditions. We had set up our lunch buffet in our ‘emergency’ location due to the weather, so fueled up first before setting out on to Arne’s famous heathlands. Whilst eating lunch Siskin, Bullfinch, Swallows and a singing Firecrest all made themselves known, welcoming our guests and the trip was well underway. Heathland is such a unique habitat and there’s no better time to explore it than in summer when birds, reptiles, dragonflies and butterflies are all active, busying themselves amongst the heather and gorse. Part of the summer tour allows us to visit a private yet stunning part of Arne where the reptile- monitoring program has been established for nearly 20 years. Whilst our group were being treated to wonderful scope views of Dartford Warbler, Stonechat, Linnet and Swifts passing overhead, Rob checked our first set on tins and BOOM! Grass Snake and Slow Worms were found. Our walk led us down towards the edge of Poole Harbour with a view across this stunning body of water. Although winter is the best time for wading birds, there were still 20+ Black-tailed Godwit, several Oystercatcher and Curlew on the Spartina fringes as well as a handful of Sandwich and Common Tern feeding. Our walk led us down towards Shipstal Point where we were hoping to see Water Vole, but they seemed to have other plans. However, great views of several dragonfly and damselfly species made up for that including, Golden Ringed Dragonfly, Emperor Dragonfly, Broad-bodied, Four-spotted Chaser and the rare Small Red Damselfly. The ponds at Shipstal Point also played host to plenty of Southern Marsh Orchid, Oblong Leafed and Greater Sundew. As we made our way back up to the farm, several newly fledged first brood Swallow chicks sat for us on the barbwire fences as mum and dad continued to feed them. At the Farm, we were given access to the private area behind where more tins were checked, which produced a few more Slow Worms but not the hoped for Adders. By this time the sun was really beating down and the heat of the day had caught up with us so we decided to call it a day, but not before a Firecrest was found in the trees near the car park.

Our first evening had planned to be a ‘chill out’ evening, as to give ourselves plenty of rest ready for the following day. However, with near perfect conditions to go ‘Nightjaring’ the temptation was too great, so after dinner we headed out to another private area of the Arne reserve. With over 20 years experience of watching Nightjars we would hope that we could show our guests some sights most had never seen before. What played out in front of us over a 30-minute period, from 21:45 – 22:15 not even we (the tour leaders) could believe. With the strawberry moon hanging in the background and a windless sunset clinging on 5-6 male Nightjar put on the most incredible show right in front of us and over our heads. There were gasps a plenty as if a Disney Land firework display had been ignited and the end to a perfect day had been set in stone. Thank-you Nightjars…you can all take a bow!

Nightjars by Strawberry Moon - Arne RSPB Reserve

 

Day 2

The following morning, with our Nightjar hangovers still very raw (in a good way) we had a 45-minute journey over to Chesil Beach, so after breakfast was finished and coffee ingested we were off. Chesil Beach has a small but very important colony of Little Terns and 4 years ago the RSPB stepped in to help this struggling population. The reason for this demise was down to the chilling of eggs, due to the large pebble structure of the beach, and air coming up through the stones and chilling the eggs from the underneath. However, with a cunning warming technique the RSPB had found away to stop this from happening and a 24-hour wardening operation now guards over the colony for the entire breeding season. Our group got to meet lead warden Ali Quinny as she talked about the protection of the birds, their behaviors and their survival whilst we had Little Terns passing just feet away from us at times. Also nesting in the same area were several Ringed Plover and a Turnstone popped up too, whilst at sea behind us Gannets, Common Terns and plenty of gulls were passing over the water. Again, the weather couldn’t have been kinder and as we headed back to the tour bus to leave Chesil, Rock Pipit and Skylark were added to our list. Next stop…RSPB Radipole Lake!

Watching the Little Tern Colony - Chesil Beach

Radipole is a wonderful urban reserve, and although we were planning just to have our Fish and Chip lunch there we couldn’t resist a walk up to the north hide. Reed Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler, Swifts, Sand Martins were all around us as well as several Bee Orchids, including a really rare ‘Brown Bee Orchid’ an exquisite sub-species. When we arrived at the North Hide all seemed quiet for a moment until Sedge Warbler started singing from the top of a thicket and out of nowhere the female of the breeding pair of Marsh Harrier came and flew right towards us, giving great views before she drifted off to our right. We couldn’t stay much longer at Radipole as we had another little surprise for our guests in store which meant heading back towards Poole Harbour. Although heathland is pretty numerous around the harbour, there are certainly different patches that are more productive for some species than others, and there’s no better place around the Poole Harbour area for Hobby than Morden Bog! Ok, the name of the site doesn’t sound that attractive but it’s actually a beautiful setting of mature lowland heath, recently clear felled pine and mixed woodland. The setting also came complete with a surprise spread of super rich chocolate cake and Preseco all laid out on a table upon our arrival (secretly put out by Rob several minutes before we got there). Now the cake and Preseco was nice, but I think what trumped that was the 2 singing Tree Pipit right next to us, the 6 sickle-winged Hobby bombing about above our heads and the 2 Woodlark that conveniently came down and fed on the path just yards in front of us. If Carlsburg did heathland walks then it would certainly have looked something like this!

Believe it or not, this heathland show wasn’t the end of it…no, no, no. After filling up on chocy cake and alcoholic beverages (the guests not us) what other better way to spend a late afternoon than looking for more reptiles in a spectacular and serene setting. Hartland Moor is a large, vast area of open heathland, with Corfe Castle standing guard over it to the south. Here our group managed to tick off Adder and more Grass Snakes as another hobby whizzed passed us and Mistle Thrushes watched our every move from the overhead power lines. By now it was certainly rest time, so we headed back to the hotel for dinner and a power nap before our ‘official’ Nightjar night. A dark, dank mist descended upon the harbour by early evening so the light was failing quicker than we had anticipated, so off we went to try and get a few extra species before our second Nightjar session. The Middlebere Hide offers great views of the Middlebere channel, and as we settled down an adult Yellow-legged Gull came down to try and pick off a Shelduck duckling off the surface of the water, before then getting beaten up by one of the parent Shelduck. Also present were a few Black-tailed Godwit and Redshank but the darkness was really setting in so we made our way back to Arne. Hoping for a similar display as the night before would have been asking a lot due to the polar opposite set of weather conditions, we were now struggling to see 100 yards in front of us and the gloom was endangering our expectations. However, what we hadn’t told our guests is that there were also a couple of people out that evening ringing and monitoring Nightjar near by so we made our way to ‘the spot’ just (as luck would have it) the researchers caught 2 male Nightjar. Our group were treated to in the hand views of these amazing birds and were talked through the sexing and aging criteria, as well as the birds biology before they were then released back to the heathland to carry on their night time duties. For most (we have heard) this was the highlight of the trip, a real once in a lifetime experience and we are thrilled to be able to share that moment with our guests.

Male Nightjar in the Hand - Arne 

 

Day 3

Now, we don’t often like to blow our own trumpets but we certainly felt our first ever summer tour was going well. With just seven hours left to cram in as much as possible, we thought a bit of sea air would do our guests good, so we headed for the seaside……briefly! Studland Beach to be precise, but this was only to catch the chain ferry to enable us to catch our passenger ferry over to the famous Brownsea Island. Brownsea during the summer hosts two very important Tern colonies, which are situated on the lagoon and are managed by the Dorset Wildlife Trust. Both Sandwich Tern and Common Terns nest in good numbers right in front of the hides, often flying just feet from the hide and this year in particular, Mediterranean Gulls were also nesting in good numbers too, to the determent of the Common Tern chicks which had seen a 100% loss at the time of our visit. Luckily, most had a second brood and at the time of writing (July 12th) the second broods are doing very well. Of course what trip to Brownsea isn’t complete without Red Squirrels and as we ate our lunch a Red Squirrel was eating his a few feet from us on the DWT Villa feeders. Brownsea is a magical place at any time of year, but to have such an intimate insight into the lives of the terns and their chicks seemed that extra bit special. The tour was drawing to a close but we still had a few hours to fill so we headed for our final destination…Durlston CP, a magnificent coastal headland on the outskirts of Swanage and part of the Word Heritage, Jurassic Coast. As well as the birds our reason for this stop off was for sheer beauty as steep, chalk cliffs stand tall in a rolling, roaring sea as Guillemots and Razorbills sat bobbing on the water and Fulmar cut the air with their stiff, pointed wings just below us. Our final eating session (of which there were many) was a beautifully prepped cream tea, which we consumed whilst kicking back and watching the world (and sea birds) go by with an unbroken seascape as our dining room window. A perfect end to a perfect tour.

Wall Lizard - Durlston CP

We finished on 95 species of bird, which are featured in the table below. 

Mute Swan

Turnstone

Tree Pipit

Coal Tit

Canada Goose

Black-tailed Godwit

Meadow pipit

Long-tailed Tit

Greylag Goose

Curlew

Rock Pipit

Bearded Tit

Shelduck

Great Black-backed Gull

Pied Wagtail

Nuthatch

Mallard

Teal

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Dunnock

Magpie

Gadwall

Mediterranean Gull

Black-headed Gull

Robin

Jay

Tufted duck

Herring gull

Stonechat

Jackdaw

Pheasant

Yellow-legged Gull

Song Thrush

Carrion Crow

Little Grebe

Fulmar

Mistel Thrush

Raven

Great Crested Grebe

Little Tern

Blackbird

Rook

Gannet

Sandwich Tern

Blackcap

Starling

Cormorant

Common Tern

Common Whitethroat

House Sparrow

Shag

Razorbill

Dartford Warbler

Chaffinch

Little Egret

Guillemot

Sedge Warbler

Linnet

Grey Heron

Feral Pigeon

Reed Warbler

Goldfinch

Sparrowhawk

Wood Pigeon

Cetti’s Warbler

Greenfinch

Buzzard

Collared Dove

Willow Warbler

Siskin

Peregrine

Nightjar

Chiffchaff

Bullfinch

Kestrel

Swift

Goldcrest

Reed Bunting

Hobby

Green Woodpecker

Firecrest

 

Marsh Harrier

Great-spotted Woodpecker

Wren 

Treecreeper

 

Moorhen

Skylark

Great Tit

Total 95 Species

Coot

Woodlark

Blue Tit

 

Oystercatcher

Swallow

 

 

Ringed Plover

House Martin

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