The summer holidays are upon us and the weather has been a little bit mixed so far but there has been plenty of opportunity to spot some of the wonderful wildlife on the reserve. As we have said in previous blogs many species of birds have started their post breeding movements around the country. In the last few weeks I have noticed a lot more little egrets around the harbour as they gather in larger to feed. Now they have finished breeding little egrets will now begin to roost in large numbers. Last year when I was volunteering at Leighton Moss in Lancashire we regularly had roosts of up to 120 egrets in a couple of dead trees and I am wondering how many will be roosting in places like Brownsea Island here? We have been seeing large flocks of up to 50 mistle thrushes in the meadows near the farm and it is still great to see the young kestrels there too.
Whilst I was on Coombe heath yesterday I watched a large flock of black tailed godwits take to the sky at Middlebere channel, this is always a good indication that a raptor is around and it didn’t take long before I spotted a peregrine falcon soaring above the trees close to the shore. I watched it for about ten minutes as it circled higher and higher before it eventually disappeared in the clouds. Peregrines will become a more familiar sight on the reserve as they move in to hunt the large numbers of waders that are beginning to return to the harbour.
Another exciting visitor to the reserve today was a kingfisher that was seen fishing by a number of visitors at the ponds near Shipstal Point. Although kingfishers generally nest on rivers and lakes they will often move closer to coastal areas once they have finished breeding.
After me saying all of that, you may think that the breeding season is completely over, but we have still got three nest cams in the visitor centre to come and watch! The barn owls are still there and I am beginning to wonder if the remaining two will ever leave. I think that all the time mum and dad are dropping voles through the entrance they are quite happy to stay put! The first chick left over two weeks ago and these two have been in the nest box for getting close to 80 days! This does sound like a really long time compared to the kestrels that left after 35 days but these are still not quite independent yet and are really in a similar stage to the owls. By the time the owl chicks do leave the nest they will probably leave the immediate area pretty quickly.
On the second camera we have a family of four swallow chicks which are in one of our workshops. These will fledge in the next few days and then they will need to prepare for their long migration to Africa. On the third screen is a female stock dove sitting on two eggs. This is the usual number for this species and I am expecting them to hatch in the next 10 days. This does seem late for a bird as big as a stock dove to be sitting on eggs but this could be a second brood. Although the stock dove may not seem as exciting as the kestrels or barn owls it will be great fun watching how this often overlooked species raises its young.
We have also got a fourth camera that is located in a bat box at the moment, but as yet no bats. This is a bit of an experiment but I am sure that we will be greeted one morning with an inhabited box.
Why not come down to the reserve and check out these cameras for yourself - it’s like Spring Watch is carrying right on into the summer!I
In my last blog I rather tounge in cheek mentioned that the heath was being lit u by glow worms at night - this may have been a slight exageration but they are a great insect to see and Dom has been in search of a photo opportunity. This fantastic photo shows the female glow worm which doesn't really look like a beetle at all. The female uses this amazing chemi-luminescence to attract males.
Glow worm by Dom Greves
There are a couple of events happening at Arne in the next couple of weeks. Come along on Monday 1 August at 10am or 1pm for Arne in World War II and discover the part this area played in the defence of the coastline with a walk to the anti aircraft gunning placement on the reserve. On Saturday the 6 August come and help build a bug hotel and discovers ways of encouraging insects and other creepy crawlies into your own gardens.
Where does the time go? It only seems a couple of weeks ago that I started here and was really looking forward to seeing and hearing my first nightjars! Now I have been lucky enough to spend a lot of evenings at Arne and witness some great views of this special bird. Wednesday evening was the last of our weekly Nightjar walks which we started back in May. Every walk was big success and over 250 visitors were treated to amazing displays as territorial male swooped over the heath and sat on favourite perches to produce that amazing chirring sound! Other bonuses of these walks included spectacular views of hobbys hunting for dragonflies over Coombe heath, barn owls hunting over the meadows near the farm and glow worms lighting up the heath as we walked back to the car park! If you missed out this year then be sure to check out the dates for next summers in the new year!
As Rob mentioned in his last blog we opened the ‘birds, bees and butterflies’ trail last weekend and it is a great place to see all sorts of insects. The trail has been specially planted with plants such as dwarf sunflower, sweet clover, red campion, phacelia and lucerne which are ideal for attracting a large number of different insects. In the winter the seed head of the plants will provide an important source of food for finches. When the sun is out it is a great pace to watch butterflies and we have already recorded a number of species including small tortoiseshell, peacock, red admiral, comma, meadow brown, small copper, speckled wood, brimstone, small white and large white.
Butterflies are good environmental indicators and the Butterfly Conservation is running ‘the big butterfly count’ from 16th – 31st July in order to find out how common species are faring. To find out more about the survey and download a recording sheet go to www.bigbutterflycount.org. We will have some sheets available at the visitor centre if anyone would like to spend 15 minutes recording the butterflies they see on the reserve.
Gatekeeper butterflies are a common sight at Arne at the momment - photo by Nikon4pete.
The barn owl chicks are getting bigger and nearly all of their fluffy down has disappeared. The largest of the three fledged last weekend and I don’t think the other two will be in the nest box for too much longer! Check them out on the live webcam whilst there is still time www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/a/arne/webcam.aspx.
There continues to be good news for our kestrel family, we were really excited when all four chicks fledged a few weeks ago and they are still really visible in the fields near the farm. They can often be seen sitting on fence posts and it is interesting watching them as they go on rather awkward hunting expeditions.
Thanks to forum member M-squared for this up close and personal shot of one of the Kestrel chicks!
Finally if you are interested in spiders then come along to the reserve on Sunday afternoon and join Tony on one of his famous spider walks. He will explore the reserve in the hope of finding as many species as possible including the stunning raft spider!
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but autumn is almost here. I know, I know, its only July, but some birds are making the decision to gather in big groups and either leave Arne, or arrive here. Already groups of beautiful lemon yellow Willow Warblers are gathering in small groups feeding up on insects, whilst Swifts are already very thin on the ground. Lots of waders are returning with a few Avocet already back on Brownsea Island, whilst the Middlebere Channal is host to Greenshank, lots of Black Tailed Godwit, the odd Dunlin and Whimbrel and soon even Curlew Sandpipers. The Wildflower meadow is proving to be a real hit with not just the visitors and insects, but already great gatherings of Linnets and Goldfinches. We have also decided to invest in two new Nijer feeders to put outside the visitors centre window, as our influx of Siskins continues. The Spoonbill has been seen on and off around the harbour, as have both male and female Marsh Harrier. A pair of Stock Dove have bravely started to nest in the old Kestrel box, lets hope the kestrels don't get home sick!
August and September are my favourite months at Arne, so why not get down here and witness some of Dorsets most magical wildlife spectacles.