Harbour Update – posted 15/10/23

There are lots of things people find glorious. The light of a sunrise, the light of a sunset, vivid flower displays…God!? But what about the glory of finch migration?! When the end of the autumn migration period starts creeping into sight, many birders begin prepping themselves for cold early morning starts, and tuning their eyes and ears for an exciting and final passage of birds along our Dorset coastlines before winter takes grip. This final passage of birds is referred to as the vis-mig (visible migration) season and having looked at the forecast for the coming weeks we could be in for a treat. Northerly winds often provide the passage of birds we’re seeking, but north easterlies are undoubtedly the best. The main bulk of birds tend to be finch species. Goldfinch, Siskin, Linnet, Greenfinch, Crossbill, Lesser Redpoll and Brambling are all in the mix and they’re all being identified by sound. Often tagging along are good numbers of Skylark, Grey and alba Wagtails and Meadow Pipits, and as October progresses we can also be treated to some decent thrush movements with several thousand each of Redwing and Song Thrush and lesser numbers of Fieldfare, Blackbird and occasional Ring Ouzel. Then, there’s the scarcities and rarities with birds like Snow and Lapland Bunting, Hawfinch, Twite, Little Bunting and Richards Pipit on all our radars. All in all is an exciting, although often tricky birding discipline to learn, but when you do finally strike lucky and witness and experience this magical birding phenomenon, then you too could become engrossed in the glory of finch migration.

These birds are often traveling through narrow, invisible migration corridors, and there are definitely hotspots to try. Durlston CP is one of the best places in the county (and country) along with Hengistbury Head. Here in the harbour our vis-mig hot spots are at South Haven, Studland and on the top of Ballard Down. Thats not to say there aren’t more, and in fact, we’ve recently learnt thats there’s likely another decent vis-mig channel off Swineham Point, between the mouths of the two rivers.

With a north wind kicking in last night, some of our team were out this morning to see what was on the move. At South Haven, Studland there were 124 Siskin, 2 Brambling, 11 Lesser Redpoll, 42 Linnet, 4 Redwing, 13 Chaffinch, 6 Goldfinch and 17 Meadow Pipit. Following the same flight line north across the harbour mouth was 1 Merlin, 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker and 1 Common Snipe. Through the harbour entrance were 27 freshly arrived dark-bellied Brent Geese, 1 Red-throated Diver, 2 Great White Egret and 4 Little Egret and on Shell Beach were 7 Sanderling, 2 Dunlin and 16 Turnstone. Meanwhile, up on Ballard, also heading north were 63 Lesser Redpoll, 15 Crossbill, 177 Siskin, 2 Brambling, 2 Reed Bunting, 2 Ring Ouzel and a nice bonus Short-eared Owl. No doubt we’ll be out more over the coming days and weeks to see if the passage builds during the month.

Elsewhere around the harbour today saw 1 Osprey, 1 Merlin, 8 Spotted Redshank and a Great White Egret in Middlebere with the Forster’s Tern moving between Shipstal and Middlebere all day. There were c50 Spoonbill on Brownsea and an amazing 13 Marsh Harrier left the west harbour roost with a Merlin. The White-tailed Eagle pair were in the Wareham Channel, a Wheatear was at RSPB Arne. It was also the Poole Harbour WeBS today and it was great to see the first Avocet ‘packs’ feeding together in their usual favoured feeding areas off Shipstal and in the mouth of Middlebere and Wytch Lake. There were already decent numbers of Wigeon and Teal across all sectors and there was a good count of 34 Knot off Round Island. At Lytchett Bay/Fields there were 7 Green Sandpiper, 1 Merlin and 2 Spotted Redshank. Finally there was a good candidate for an eastern/Siberian Lesser Whitethroat seen on Rempstone before WeBS but it soon disappeared unfortunately.

Avocet flock – Wytch Lake 



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