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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Shell Beach & Bay Studland

Shell Bay sits at the southern side of Poole Harbour mouth and has a long sweeping beach that leads south down to Pilots Point. The beach in winter can be busy with dog walkers but Sanderling favour this beach more than any other within Poole Harbour with up to 40 present each winter.

Out on the water Black-necked Grebe, Slavonian Grebe, Great Crested Grebe and occasionally Red-necked Grebe can be seen through the winter as can Great Northern Diver and Eider too. At dawn and dusk birds enter and depart the harbour heading to or from their favoured roosting sites. The sand dunes that run along the back of Shell Bay can hold passage migrants in spring and autumn and sea watching during periods of strong easterly winds can produce Arctic Skua, Great Skua, Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Fulmar, Kittiwake and auks.

Viewing out into Poole Bay from Shell Beach can produce passage sea birds such as Velvet and Common Scoter, all three regular diver species and a good variety of tern species which if lucky could include Little, Black or Roseate Tern. Access is simple with parking in the large National Trust Shell Bay car park just next to the chain ferry tollbooths.

Birding Info

Autumn and Winter are definitely the best times to visit Shell Bay with open water species such as divers, grebes and mergansers present during the winter and autumn passage migrants over head during September, October and November. For ‘vis-mig’ (visible migration) you’ll need to arrive on the sand dunes of South Haven at dawn on a clear autumn morning (late September to early October is best) with a light north to north-east breeze. Learning bird migration calls will allow you to identify migrants as the fly overhead across the harbour mouth.

Facilities

The Studland Ferry Road is popular with cyclists and Shell Beach car park is easily accessed via bike from either the Sandbanks to Studland chain ferry from Poole or by cycling through Studland and along the Studland peninsular. There are public toilets within the car park. There are no hides at Shell Bay.

Parking

The easiest access to Shell Bay is by parking in the pay and display Shell Bay National Trust car park at BH19 3BA where National Trust members park for free. A short board walk leading through the reed bed leads you to a set of sand dunes, which offer a good vantage point for scanning the bay.

Spring

Mediterranean Gull, Little Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Shag, Sanderling, Swallow, Wheatear, Blackcap, Chiffchaff

Summer

Mediterranean Gull, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern and Rock Pipit

Autumn

Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin, Swalllow, House Martin, Pied Wagtail, Song Thrush, Goldfinch, Siskin and Linnet

Winter

Great Northern Diver, Eider, Black-necked Grebe, Slavonian Grebe, Sanderling, Mediterranean Gull Stonechat, Dartford Warbler, Linnet and Reed Bunting

Slepe Heath

Owned and managed by the National Trust, Slepe Heath is an excellent site to visit with easy to follow footpaths off Soldiers Road and great birds on view throughout the year. Being a heathland site, it hosts a sensitive and delicate ecosystem. Slepe Heath can be a busy feeding and stopover site for passage migrants in the autumn with Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher, Wheatear, Whinchat, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Redstart represented during August and September. Resident heathland species such as Dartford Warbler and Stonechat can be found throughout the year and this is a good spot to see and hear Nightjar on balmy summer’s evenings. Through the winter Peregrine, Merlin and Hen Harrier commute across the heath with the occasional Great Grey Shrike overwintering on site. From the high ridge on the northern part of Slepe Heath views out across the Wareham Channel, Swineham and Arne Moors can be had and with a telescope, species such as both Marsh and Hen Harrier, feeding Spoonbill, hunting Osprey plus Great White Egret and Bittern can be seen if watched for long enough.

Owned and managed by the National Trust, Slepe Heath is an excellent site to visit with easy to follow footpaths off Soldiers Road and great birds on view throughout the year. Being a heathland site, it hosts a sensitive and delicate ecosystem.

Slepe Heath can be a busy feeding and stopover site for passage migrants in the autumn with Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher, Wheatear, Whinchat, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Redstart represented during August and September. Resident heathland species such as Dartford Warbler and Stonechat can be found throughout the year and this is a good spot to see and hear Nightjar on balmy summer’s evenings.

Through the winter Peregrine, Merlin and Hen Harrier commute across the heath with the occasional Great Grey Shrike overwintering on site. From the high ridge on the northern part of Slepe Heath views out across the Wareham Channel, Swineham and Arne Moors can be had and with a telescope, species such as both Marsh and Hen Harrier, feeding Spoonbill, hunting Osprey plus Great White Egret and Bittern can be seen if watched for long enough.

Birding Info

Slepe Heath is a productive and beautiful heathland landscape with stunning views of Poole Harbour to the north and Corfe and the Purbeck Ridge to the south. The unbroken skyline views offer good sky watching opportunities for birds of prey and birds moving up and down the Frome Valley. It holds good numbers of regular heathland breeding species and is a magnet for common autumn passage migrants during August and September. In winter Merlin and Peregrine are frequent around the site. Slepe Heath adjoins on to Hartland Moor so a large area can be covered during a morning or days walk.

Facilities

There are no facilities on or around Slepe Heath with RSPB Arne offering the nearest toilets and eating establishments around two miles away. Slepe Heath is also very exposed with very little cover in terms of shelter so take water if it’s hot or waterproofs if wet! The views on the higher parts of the heath are breath taking and the footpaths are well marked and established. Please don’t cycle or walk off the main tracks.

Parking

To access Slepe Heath please park at Sunnyside Farm BH20 5BH, just on your right hand side after driving through the village of Ridge. Walk along the tramway south and walk east across Stoborough Heath National Nature Reserve and across Soldiers Road on to Slepe Heath.

Spring

Hobby, Cuckoo, Woodlark, Tree Pipit, Stonechat, Wheatear and Dartford Warbler

Summer

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

Autumn

Redstart, Whinchat, Wheatear, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher and Pied Flycatcher

Winter

Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Merlin, Peregrine and Stonechat

South Haven Studland

South Haven is the southern landing stage of Poole Harbour mouth and is made up of a small sand dune system, open sandy beach, a condensed reedbed and a small mixed wooded area. It’s also where the Sandbanks chain ferry loads and unloads vast numbers of cars each year, especially in the summer.

Despite all this toing and froing, the area is a great visible-migration watch point in the autumn with large numbers of thrushes, finches, pipits and wagtails passing north over the harbour mouth when a NE wind blows. Big days have seen just over 6,000 Song Thrush and 3,000 Redwing logged in a single morning, but dedication and warm clothing are needed to endure this sort of spectacle. Within the reedbed Water Rail and Reed Warbler breed and in some years roosting Starling form large flocks, known as a murmuration, at dusk during the winter.

South Haven is the best spot to witness birds leaving and entering the harbour as Shag, terns, Great Northern Diver, grebes and sea duck dodge the chain ferry several times per day. The wooded area holds small numbers of migrants during periods of passage including warblers, chats and occasional flycatchers and also provides visible migration species such as Redwing, Goldfinch, Lesser Redpoll and Linnet an area to rest before lifting up to head off high and over the harbour mouth. Access is simple by either parking in the National Trust South Beach car park, or as a foot passenger via the chain ferry from Sandbanks.

Birding Info

Other than Ballard Down, South Haven offers the best chance of experiencing Poole Harbour ‘vis-mig’ (Visible Migration). Through late September, October and early November many thousands of birds including thrush’s, finches, pipits and wagtails move through the harbour following very defined migration corridors, with the Studland peninsular being one of them. During this period cold, bright mornings with a light northerly wind are best but you need to be on top of the sand dunes at dawn, ready for the first birds to move at sunrise.

Facilities

The Studland Ferry Road is popular with cyclists and Shell Beach car park is easily accessed via bike from either the Sandbanks to Studland chain ferry from Poole or by cycling through Studland and along the Studland peninsular. There are public toilets within the car park. There are no hides at South Haven. However, Littlesea which is large, shallow fresh water body nestled within the Studland Peninsular has two hides on the fringes of its shoreline and are access via footpaths from the Shell Beach car park.

Parking

South Haven is best accessed by parking in the Shell Beach National Trust pay and display car park at BH19 3BA. National Trust members park for free. A short board walk leading through the reed bed leads you to a set of sand dunes, which offer a good vantage point watching visible migration over South Haven.

Spring

Great Northern Diver, Summer plumaged Black-necked Grebe, Shag, Sanderling, Mediterranean Gull, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Wheatear

Summer

Very busy with people during the summer. Shag, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Reed Warbler and Dartford Warbler

Autumn

Possible big passages of Meadow Pipit, Tree Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Song Thrush, Redwing, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Goldfinch, Siskin, Linnet, Lesser Redpoll, Brambling, Crossbill and Chaffinch. In early autumn Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Wheatear, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher, Redstart, Whinchat, Garden Warbler, Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat are all possible

Winter

Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider, Great Northern Diver, Black-throated Diver, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Slavonian Grebe, Shag, Mediterranean Gull, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Grey Plover, Linnet, Dartford Warbler.

Stoborough Heath National Nature Reserve

Soldiers Road runs in between Hartland Moor and Stoborough Heath NNR with several places to park. With an open piece of high ground at the southern end of the road consisting of mixed scrub, open pasture and heathland, a stop along Soldiers Road is always worth it at anytime of year.

The high ground gives excellent viewing opportunities out across the Wareham Channel and leads to a stunning network of paths and tracks in and around the Sunnyside and Stoborough Heath area. This area lends itself to providing migration corridors for many passerines such as Redstart, Wheatear, Whinchat, Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher and Tree Pipit with Cuckoo and Hobby regular in the spring and summer. Dartford Warbler, Stonechat, Woodlark and Nightjar are all regular during the summer and it can often be a good area for Ring Ouzel during the latter part of the autumn.

At the northern end of Soldiers Road, a large wet section of heathland can be found on the western side of the road, which leads down to Sunnyside Farm. Here a view out across the heath can produce hunting Barn or Short-eared Owl on cold winter evenings and at dusk Woodcock and Snipe head out to feed, passing overhead in the gloom.

Birding Info

This area does well for common autumn migrants such with a variety warblers, flycatchers and chats passing through during August and September but it can also be productive in the spring with occasional Ring Ouzel, Redstart and Whinchat. Stoborough Heath leads on to Hartland so a good mix of heathland species can be found during spring and summer

Facilities

There are no facilities on or around Soldiers Road or Stoborough Heath with RSPB Arne offering the nearest toilets and eating establishments around two miles away. The area is also very exposed with very little cover in terms of shelter so take water if it’s hot or waterproofs if wet! The footpaths are well marked and established so please don’t cycle or walk off the main tracks. The higher peak located at the southern end of Stoborough Heath provides stunning views north out across the Wareham Channel.

Parking

To access Soldiers Road please park at Sunnyside Farm BH20 5BH, on your right hand side after driving through the village of Ridge. Walk along the tramway south and walk east across on to Stoborough Heath National Nature Reserve.

Spring

Hobby, Cuckoo, Woodlark, Tree Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear, Dartford Warbler, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler

Summer

Hobby, Cuckoo, Nightjar, Woodlark, Stonechat, Dartford Warbler, Willow Warbler

Autumn

Hobby, Cuckoo, Tree Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, Redstart, Whinchat, Wheatear, Ring Ouzel, Whitethroat and Spotted Flycatcher

Winter

Merlin, Snipe, Woodcock, Barn Owl and Short-eared Owl

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