Poole Harbour is made up of many different habitats, which in turn provides a stunning variety of bird life throughout the entire year.

This is an interactive guide to help you learn when and where the best places are to watch birds. Poole Harbour is made up of many different habitats, which in turn provides a stunning variety of bird life throughout the entire year.

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Hartland Moor National Nature Reserve

Managed by Natural England, Hartland Moor NNR is a large and important stretch of heathland that sits to the south of RSPB Arne and north of Corfe Castle. Referred to by Enid Blyton as Mystery Moor its large and open setting offers great views as well as great birds.

The centre of the site is wet and boggy providing attractive hunting grounds for Hobby that feed on dragonflies as they emerge in the warm Dorset sunshine. Classic heathland species such as Dartford Warbler, Stonechat and Meadow Pipit can all be found relatively easily and the area lends itself to holding good numbers of common migrants such as Wheatear, Redstart, Yellow Wagtail, Whitethroat and Whinchat during the autumn with Woodlark gathering here from September onwards.

In summer Cuckoo and Nightjar are frequent and during the winter birds of prey such as Peregrine, Merlin and occasionally Short-eared Owl can be found. There is a good number of footpaths criss-crossing Hartland Moor but responsible walking, dog walking and cycling is key to keeping this special and sensitive habitat in pristine condition.

Birding Info

The Hartland area can be excellent for passage migrants especially in autumn. The most productive months for migration are August and September where species such as Redstart, Whinchat, Willow Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Wheatear and Spotted Flycatcher can all be found around the heathland fringes. Hartland also has a healthy population of Dartford Warbler and Nightjar which can be found relatively easily during summer evenings. There are also numerous ‘perching posts’ out in the wetter less accessible parts of the Moor which attract Merlin and Peregrine in winter which use them as plucking posts.

Facilities

Cycling to and around Hartland is by far the best way to see the area with a selection of paths criss-crossing the moor. Please stick to cycle paths and refrain from cycling across the heathland as this this is hugely damaging to both the habitat and heathland breeding species. There are no public toilets or facilities on or around Hartland with the nearest being RSPB Arne around 2 miles away.

Parking

Parking around Hartland Moor is fairly limited with most users of the area parking in the Middlebere Farm access layby located at BH20 5BN. There is strictly no driving or parking down the Middlebere Farm access track and please refrain from parking on road-side verges around Hartland Moor.

Spring

Hobby, Cuckoo, Stonechat, Wheatear, Dartford Warbler and Raven

Summer

Hobby, Cuckoo, Nightjar, Meadow Pipit, Stonechat and Dartford Warbler

Autumn

Woodlark, Yellow Wagtail, Redstart, Whinchat, Wheatear, Spotted Flycatcher, Whitethroat and Dartford Warbler

Winter

Hen Harrier, Merlin, Woodcock, Short-eared Owl, Fieldfare, Redwing, Dartford Warbler, Siskin and Bullfinch

Hatch Pond

Hatch Pond, a Local Nature Reserve managed by the Borough of Poole, is the best site around the harbour to see Snipe which can normally be difficult to see well. Bittern used to be a regular winter visitor here but have not been seen for the past couple of years, it is hoped with the booming population in Somerset that birds will return here once more.

Late evening and early morning are the best times to visit the area. A recently improved viewing area overlooking an area of reedbed named Elborn’s Cut is the best place to observe roosting and feeding Snipe and if you’re lucky a Water Rail may scuttle into view.

This is also where Bittern used to be seen so it is well worth spending some time here. This area can be found towards the northern end of the open water amongst the pines running along the east side of the pond. During the winter a large Magpie roost of over 100 birds occurs in the trees on the far side of the pond. Pochard regularly appear here during the winter in small numbers and rarities such as Purple Heron, Lesser Scaup and Black-throated Diver have occurred in the not too distant past.

Bearded Tit has been recorded in the reedbed during autumn passage with Reed Warbler breeding here too. Park along Stinsford Lane on the side where the industrial units are and then cross back over the road and either enter the site at its northern boundary through the gate or to the south by the traffic lights where most of the ducks congregate.

Birding Info

Autumn and Winter are the best times to visit Hatch Pond. Although only a small site it’s attracted some great birds in the past including Purple Heron, Iceland Gull, Marsh Warbler, Black-throated Diver and Lesser Scaup.

Facilities

Hatch Pond is a small nature reserve but is a welcome oasis nestled within a busy part of Poole. Several eating establishments and large supermarkets are situated close by. There are several viewing spots around the southern and eastern edges of the pond.

Parking

There is limited parking along Stinsford Road situated at BH17 0SW.

Spring

Great Crested Grebe, Kingfisher, Reed Warbler and Chiffchaff

Summer

Gadwall, Great Crested Grebe and Reed Warbler

Autumn

Common Snipe, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Kingfisher and Reed Bunting

Winter

Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Water Rail, Snipe and Kingfisher

Holes Bay Nature Park North East

Holes Bay NE forms part of the Holes Bay nature park and is owned and managed by the The Dorset Wildlife Trust, Borough of Poole and Poole Harbour Commissioners. It is a large shallow tidal bay that sits at the most northern part of Poole Harbour and is a hugely productive site, especially during the winter.

The temperature within this part of Holes Bay is often a few degrees warmer than other areas of the harbour, owing to the two water channels that flow in to it at the northern section. This sector of Holes Bay has a cycle path on the eastern side allowing for incredibly close views of many species. During the winter this area plays host to several hundred (often thousands) of Teal and Wigeon as well as smaller numbers of Avocet, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank and Oystercatcher.

Star species include Spotted Redshank, which often feed in the mouth of the outflow channel alongside confiding Spoonbill and Little Egret and in past years species such as Smew and Goosander have also been found feeding within the mouth of the channel. Low or rising tides are the best time to visit Holes Bay NE, as the rising tide forces feeding birds to within feet of the cycle path. Kingfishers are also frequent in winter as are Peregrine, Buzzard and, less so, Kestrel.

During the spring and autumn passage migrants drop into Holes Bay NE including Whimbrel, Turnstone, Knot and Common Sandpiper with passerines also featuring such as Wheatear, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Whitethroat and Garden Warbler in the surrounding scrub. In August and September Osprey occasionally visit this site due to the bountiful supplies of fish. Parking at Upton Country Park and walking/Cycling to Holes Bay NE will provide you with a good range of habitats to explore and a great list of birds to find.

Birding Info

This section of Holes Bay is without doubt most productive in winter and best watched on a low (or even better) on a rising tide. Make sure you check the channel under the bridge at the southern end for species such as Smew or Goosander and the outflow that runs into the bay from behind PC World is often good for feeding Spoonbill and Spotted Redshank. A scope is advantageous.

Facilities

Holes Bay North East forms part of the Holes Bay Nature Park, which is part of the Dorset Wildlife Trusts Great Heath Living Landscape initiative. The area is managed by Poole Harbour Commissioners and the Borough of Poole. There are several eating establishments on the east side of the dual carriage way within a 2-3 minuet walk of Holes Bay NE. There is an excellent (mostly flat) cycle path that boarders the entire Holes Bay Nature Park. There are currently no hides or viewing screens but with such an open view they’re not really needed.

Parking

To view the north-east section of Holes Bay it’s best to park at Upton Country Park pay and display car park, BH17 7BJ then follow the cycle path signposted to Poole. Or you can park at the Asda pay and display car park at the southern end of Holes Bay, BH15 1JQ and walk or cycle along the cycle path north to Holes Bay NE.

Spring

Wigeon, Teal, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Whimbrel, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Redshank, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Swallow, House Martin, Wheatear, Blackcap and Chiffchaff

Summer

Shelduck, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Yellow-legged Gull

Autumn

Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal, Osprey, Peregrine, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Knot, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Redshank, Turnstone, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Wheatear, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and Firecrest

Winter

Shelduck, Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Pintail, Common Scoter, Goldeneye, Smew, Red-breasted Merganser, Goosander, Little Egret, Spoonbill, Peregrine, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Snipe, Curlew, Spotted Redshank, Redshank, Mediterranean Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Kingfisher

Holes Bay Nature Park South East

Holes Bay SE forms part of the Holes Bay Nature Park and is owned and managed by the The Dorset Wildlife Trust, Borough of Poole and Poole Harbour Commissioners. It consists of a large shallow tidal bay that sits at the most northern part of Poole Harbour.

However, its close proximity to a busy dual carriageway, numerous retail parks and business estates doesn’t seem to put off the many hundreds (sometimes thousands) of birds that use the area throughout the year. The SE corner of the bay has a cycle path that runs right the way along the eastern edge of the shoreline, which makes viewing birds on a high or low tide fairly straightforward, although using binoculars and/or a telescope will certainly be beneficial. Holes Bay SE is at its most productive in the winter when large numbers of waders and wildfowl shelter and feed here.

At the northern end of Holes Bay SE, where the railway line crosses the bay, the deep channel leading into Holes Bay NE often hosts good numbers of Great Crested Grebe, several Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye during the winter and in recent years a returning redhead Smew has been present. Wigeon and Teal are numerous through the winter with occasional visits from species such as Gadwall, Pintail, Pochard and Goosander. On a low tide Curlew, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin and Avocet all feed in Holes Bay SE and during periods of migration are joined by Common Sandpiper and Whimbrel that are easiest to see during April, May and August with infrequent visits from Knot, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover and Turnstone.

Birding Info

This section of Holes Bay is without doubt most productive in winter and best watched on a low (or even better) on a rising tide. Make sure you check the channel under the bridge at the northern end for species such as Smew or Goosander and the large open area at the southern end also holds good numbers of waders on a low tide. A scope is advantageous.

Facilities

Holes Bay South East forms part of the Holes Bay Nature Park, which is part of the Dorset Wildlife Trusts Great Heath Living Landscape initiative. The area is managed by Poole Harbour Commissioners and the Borough of Poole. Asda is only a short walk from the south east corner of Holes Bay and has public toilets and café. There are no bird hides or screens but with such an open vista they’re really not needed. There is an excellent (mostly flat) cycle path that boarders the entire Holes Bay Nature Park.

Parking

To view the south-east section of Holes Bay it’s best to park at Upton Country Park pay and display car park, BH17 7BJ then follow the cycle path signposted to Poole. Or you can park at the Asda pay and display car park at the southern end of Holes Bay, BH15 1JQ and walk or cycle along the cycle path north to Holes Bay SE.

Spring

Wigeon, Teal, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Whimbrel, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Redshank, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Wheatear, Swallow, House Martin, Blackcap and Chiffchaff

Summer

Shelduck, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Sandwich Tern and Common Tern

Autumn

Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal, Osprey, Peregrine, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Knot, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Redshank, Turnstone, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Meadow Pipit, Wheatear, Whitethroat and Chiffchaff

Winter

Shelduck, Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Pintail, Common Scoter, Goldeneye, Smew, Red-breasted Merganser, Goosander, Peregrine, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Dunlin, Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank, Mediterranean Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Kingfisher

Holmebridge

Holmebridge is a convenient place to stop and check en route to and from other birding locations. This site is on the extreme west of our boundary and encompasses a large river valley that many birds use as a navigational highway.

In winter the floodplains act as a feeding zone for many Mute Swan, which in turn attract the occasional Whooper or Bewick’s Swan, especially when the valley is flooded. White-fronted Goose and Pink-footed Goose are also occasional visitors to this site and Goosander feed in the river. The best time to watch Holmebridge is at dawn and dusk when birds are commuting between their feeding and roost sites.

When the river valley floods it attracts large numbers of Lapwing and wildfowl which in turn attracts birds of prey such as Merlin, Marsh Harrier and Hen Harrier that can often get lured away from the temptations of Poole Harbour. In the summer Hobby breed close by and visit the valley to feed on dragonflies.

Birding Info

Holmebridge is very much a ‘stop off’ site, a place to check and scan (mostly in the winter) whilst en route to somewhere else. Looking west tends to be best with Pink-footed and White-fronted Goose, Whooper and Bewick’s Swan worth looking out for. If the frome Valley is flooded which it quite often is in winter then the area can become very productive for wildfowl and some waders, especially Black-tailed Godwit.

Facilities

There are no facilities at Holmebridge.

Parking

There is a small amount of parking for several cars at the bridge located at BH20 6AF.

Spring

Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grey Wagtail, Chiffchaff, Nuthatch

Summer

Kestrel, Hobby, Kingfisher, Swift, Skylark, Stonechat, Cetti's Warbler, Chiffchaff

Autumn

Hobby, Green Sandpiper, Kingfisher, Swallow and House Martin gatherings, Stonechat, Whinchat

Winter

Scarcer Swans, Pink-footed Goose, Egyptian Goose, Goosander, Merlin, Lapwing, Grey Wagtail, Siskin

Holton Heath National Nature Reserve

Holton Heath National Nature Reserve really is a hidden gem. Just a short walk from Holton Heath train station, this small but important section of heathland and mixed woodland provides an excellent stop off site en route to Purbeck or the southern part of the harbour.

Access is easy with parking right next to the site and the surrounding habitat is rich in biodiversity. Dartford Warbler, Woodlark, Tree Pipit, Nightjar, Stonechat and Meadow Pipit are all present at certain times of the year.

Like many other areas in the harbour the insect rich gorse and heather provides plenty of food for passage migrants such as Spotted Flycatcher, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler during the autumn. The surrounding woodland and the main track that leads to Sandford has Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and occasionally Lesser Spotted Woodpecker along with Firecrest in the autumn.

Birding Info

There are a good selection of breeding heathland species and the site sees good numbers of autumn passage migrants such as Spotted flycatcher, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap. The site is surround by a nice selection of mixed woodland so Siskin, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Woodpeckers are all frequent. Best times to visit is May to September.

Facilities

There are no facilities at Holton Heath NNR. Heathland footpaths are well established but please stick to the paths at all times.

Parking

There is on road parking on Station Road, BH16 6HX. Holton Heath Train station is also only 250m away from the eastern entrance of the reserve and only a short distance from Poole train station.

Spring

Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Stonechat, Blackcap, Dartford Warbler, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler

Summer

Nightjar, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Stonechat and Dartford Warbler

Autumn

Woodlark, Stonechat, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Dartford Warbler, Firecrest and Spotted Flycatcher

Winter

Stonechat, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Dartford Warbler and Firecrest

Holton Lee

Livability Holton Lee is a wellbeing discovery centre set in 350 acres of rich and diverse habitat in the north of Poole Harbour. It is part of the Livability family of services and is an organisation Birds of Poole Harbour have been working closely with for several years.

Holton Lee is made up of saltmarsh, heathland, coniferous and deciduous woodland whilst offering incredible views out across the Wareham Channel. The site has two well-positioned hides, one overlooking a busy feeding station where Marsh Tit and Great Spotted Woodpecker can be observed at close quarters. The other hide looks out across a newly created set of tidal scrapes where species such as Little Ringed Plover, Greenshank, Redshank and Green Sandpiper all appear on migration.

In the autumn and through the winter this hide also provides incredible views of Kingfisher allowing for great photographic opportunities. The heathland has resident Dartford Warbler, Nightjar (summer) and Stonechat with spring and autumn passage migrants such as Whitethroat, Whinchat and Wheatear.

The views out across the Wareham Channel can often produce sightings of Osprey from the spring until late autumn as well as waders and wildfowl making their way up and down the channel.

Birding Info

There are two bird hides on site. The ‘Holton Pools’ hide and scrapes were set up and installed by the Birds of Poole Harbour charity in 2017 in partnership with Livability Holton Lee. This looks out across a set of tidal pools and reedbed and is an excellent place to watch Kingfisher in autumn and winter. The ‘Feeder Hide’ is situated on the eastern side of the reserve and is a busy feeding station right the way through the year.

Facilities

The infrastructure and facilities at Holton are in place to enable Livability to fulfil their core objectives as a charity by being a wellbeing discovery centre for its guests. Therefor the buildings aren’t accessible to general visitors although there is a toilet block situated close to the car park that visitors may use. Footpaths are well maintained and managed and lead you through an excellent range of habitats.

Parking

There is a car park at the end of the long lane that leads up to the set of main Holton Lee buildings at BH16 6JN. Despite Holton Lee being a private estate the Livability charity has been kind enough to grant visitor access and welcome visitors to explore the site. Please consider becoming a ‘Friend of Holton Lee’ by supporting the charity financially if you begin visiting regularly. Visit the main reception building next to the car park for more information on becoming a Friend of Holton Lee.

Spring

Osprey, Little Ringed Plover, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Woodlark, Redstart, Stonechat, Mistle Thrush, Blackcap, Dartford Warbler, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler

Summer

Hobby, Mediterranean Gull, Nightjar, Woodlark, Tree Pipit, Stonechat and Dartford Warbler

Autumn

Osprey, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Kingfisher, Redstart, Whinchat, Stonechat, Wheatear, Whitethroat and Dartford Warbler

Winter

Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Merlin, Kingfisher, Stonechat, Dartford Warbler, Marsh Tit, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll and Crossbill

Call 01202 641 003