You just never know what is going to turn up at Arne and yesterday was no exception. We got a phone call from Rob who was at the Wareham office to say that he had been staring out of the window (probably should have been working Rob!) and that a common crane had just flown past and was heading this way! It was then spotted by a few people up on Coombe heath. The common crane is a fairly rare visitor to Britain and is certainly very unusual in Dorset. It became extinct in Britain in the 17 Century due to hunting and the drainage of wetlands for agriculture. In the 1980's a small population re-established it’s self in the Norfolk Broads but hasn't really expanded. The RSPB is currently part of an exciting new project to establish a breeding population of cranes on the Somerset Levels. Eggs were first taken under licence from nests in Germany in 2010 and the chicks were hand reared and released in the autumn of that year. It is hoped that cranes will be breeding in Somerset by 2015. To find out more about the 'Great Crane Project' and lots of other exciting projects that the RSPB is involved in click this link - http://www.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/projects/details/212376-the-great-crane-project.
Copyright nick Upton - RSPB Images
Unfortunately this picture isn't the Arne crane but I'm sure it looked very similar and this is something to look out for on your next visit! And who knows this could be a more common sight in our skies in the near furture!
Well, back to the reserve and there have been some fantastic flocks of avocets at Middlebere with a very precise 1009 counted earlier in the week. 3pm seems to be a good time on the right tide to watch the roosting flock come in and Paul and I watched at least 300 flying up the channel on Tuesday evening. It is an amazing spectacle to see and in the right light the contrasting black and white plumage is stunning! We have our very own starling roost which can be seen from Coombe heath and although it is only contains about 1000 birds at the moment it is still impressive to see. Male Hen Harriers are now being seen on most days although I have yet to see one, so that will probably be my mission on my day off tomorrow!
The firecrests are still around the car park and the last couple of weeks have been good for seeing Dartford Warblers on Coombe heath. This is probably because they are becoming more active looking for food in the gorse during the shorter days.
A Couple of weeks ago Paul told us about the short eared owl that flew in front of him on his way home but after that we didn't have anymore sightings on the reserve until this evening when a visitor reported seeing one on Coombe heath. This is another bird I definately want to see so I will have to go and see if it is still about. Short eared owls tend to hunt during the day so can be easier to see compared to other owls. Like hen harriers they breed on upland heaths and moors but tend to move to lower ground in the winter. They favour wetland areas with reed beds and in certain areas can roost in large groups of a dozen or more birds.
The harbour its self is great for huge numbers of ducks and brent geese with even larger number of teal and wigeon and shelduck appearing along with large groups of red breasted merganser. The view point at Shipstal is a good place to take a telescope and look out for grebes and divers. Apart from great crested grebes there are the more unusual black necked and Slavonian grebes about as well. On Tuesday Paul spotted a great northern diver on the water towards Brownsea so it is always worth checking what is out there because as I said at the start you just never know what is going to turn up next!
If all that has whetted your appetite and you want to see it for yourselves then why not book to come on our ‘winter birds at Arne’ walk on Saturday 17th December. This 3 hour walk will give you the opportunity to see the wonderful winter wildlife of Arne with one of our expert guides and there will be a chance to warm up with a hot drink and soup at the end! For booking information and prices visit http://www.rspb.org.uk/events/details.aspx?id=tcm:9-290115
It has been a bit of a soggy week but that still hasn't put the wildlife off. In fact the waders and ducks don't seem to mind at all and as Paul was saying earlier in the week there are load of birds about. I have taken a couple of early morning walks up to Shipstal point to see what is about and have been treated to little egrets, curlews, oystercatchers and large groups of brent geese just off of the shore line. On Wednesday there was over 50 red breasted merganser seen from the Shipstal hide and large numbers of teal and wigeon can be seen from Coombe heath. This evening 100+ Avocets were reported from the Coombe heath hide.
This picture of brent geese was taken by Brian and Val North
We have had the first bramblings of the year come down to the feeding station at the back of the visitor centre. We have been scattering a lot of seed on the ground below the feeders in the hope that this migrant from northern Europe. This species is often referred to as the 'northern' chaffinch and the females can look very similar to the female chaffinch, the male however has a smart black head and white rump. Come along and see if you can spot one feeding amongst the chaffinches! Marsh tits have also been seen in and around the car park for the first time in a while.
Of course we are always talking about what a brilliant reserve Arne is but what is often forgotten is the significant role it played in the defence of the Dorset coastline during the Second World War. Join us on the reserve on Saturday the 12 November for a special remembrance walk to the WWII gun battery located on Arne hill, which is one of the best preserved in the country. The walk is free of charge and starts at 1pm. http://www.rspb.org.uk/events/details.aspx?id=tcm:9-294206
Arne has some brilliant views over Poole harbour and some spectacular spots to watch all of the over wintering birds but did you the local Poole RSPB group run a series of exciting harbour boat trips in conjunction with Brownsea Island Ferries? The first is Poole harbour trip on Saturday 27 November. This a great opportunity to get up close and personal with red breasted mergansers, grebes, divers and hundred of shelducks, black tailed godwits and avocet. In December, January and February there will be more cruises which will also take you to the Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve on Brownsea Island. On the December trip there will be commentary from Arnes very own Paul Morton This is a good opportunity to see this special wildlife haven during the closed season. For full information including date and prices visit the RSPB 'A date with nature' pages http://www.rspb.org.uk/datewithnature/146962-birdboats-around-poole-harbour.
Slightly further a field are a series of 'Winter Wildlife Cruises' around Christchurch Harbour which are running until February. The first trip in October was unbelievable as a red breasted goose and three glossy ibis were the highlights! The next trip is on Sunday 13 November. For more details follow the link http://www.rspb.org.uk/datewithnature/290049-christchurch-winter-wildlife-cruise
Just a quick blog to mention our Wednesday walk today which was FANTASTIC. Over twenty people joined Rod and I on our free Wednesday walk today and what a day it was. Highlights from both groups were Marsh Harrier, Merlin, amazing views of Firecrest, 1st Brambling outside the Visitors Centre, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, Avocet, Black Tailed Godwit, 100+ Brent Geese, a Fox, lots of migrating finches/wagtails and pipits. As well as all the usual splender like Stonechat, Goldcrest, Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Oystercatcher, Red Breasted Mergansers, Curlew, Redshank, Kestrel, Buzzard, Great Crested Grebe, Jay, Treecreeper and Nuthatch, plus a whole lot more.
In a strange but satisfying coincidence I was also talking to my group about the chances of seeing Short Eared Owl this time of year. Well, would you believe it that on my way home tonight I almost hit one in my car as I was driving up the Arne road. It was about 17:15 and still a tiny bit light, when all of a sudden a stunning Owl came flapping towards my full beams, it quickly banked away and flew just ahead of me for about 10m allowing my headlights to illuminate this truly magnificent bird of prey. They have a tendency of roosting out in the open during the day, so check any posts or logs on open heathland/moorland during the winter.
As the days go by it is getting more and more exciting on the reserve and we are starting to get some bumper sightings lists. I don't normally like to put up long lists on the blog but this will give you all an idea of what you are missing, so come along and see for yourselves. This is what was seen on Wednesday, with most being spotted on the regular 10am 'Wellies and Waders' walk http://www.rspb.org.uk/events/details.aspx?id=tcm:9-289699.
Goldcrest, treecreeper, great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, raven, male hen harrier, marsh harrier, kestrel, avocet (40+), brent geese (400+), black tailed godwits, great crested grebe, green woodpecker, goldeneye, teal, wigeon, shoveler red breasted merganser, shelduck, curlew, dunlin, redshank, lapwing (40+), buzzard, oystercatcher, little egret, grey heron, meadow pipit, Dartford warbler (x2), mistle thrush, fieldfare, pied wagtail, yellow legged gull, great black backed gull and a 400+ mixed flock of goldfinch, greenfinch, linnet and chaffinch in the finch crop field.
It is good see more ducks joining the hundreds of teal and wigeon already here, especially one of my favourite duck the goldeneye which over winters in large numbers on the harbour.
The male hen harrier was spotted by Graham, one our roving volunteers at the Middlebere channel. There will be more of these spectacular birds of prey arriving over the next few weeks as they move down from upland moors to warmer coastal areas. The male is unmistakable with its grey back and wings, black wing tips and its prominent white rump.
This picture of a male hen harrier was taken by Dom on the middlebere channel last year.
Marsh harriers are putting on good displays as they hunt across the saltmarsh. We think there are several about and they appear to be females and juveniles. The marsh harrier is migatory with birds heading to north and west Africa after breeding. In recent years more and more inparticularly females are over wintering in this country. I am not sure why this is but it is certainly good news for us.
We are still getting sightings of firecrests in the car park and we got great views on Sunday when one of our visitor centre volunteers used the power of positive thinking and shouted out 'firecrest'. With in seconds two appeared in a bush a few feet away! 'Now That's Magic!'
This picture was taken a few days ago by Dave Larcombe. (Notice what I was saying in a previous blog about the black eye stripe compared to the white eye patch that goldcrests have.)
I hate to say it but Christmas will soon be with us and if you haven't already put our 'pull a pine' event in your diaries then here is your chance. Come down to the reserve on Saturday 3rd December and help us with our conservation work to remove small pines that threaten the heathland. The whole family can join in and there will be hot food and Christmas gifts for sale and then you take home your own Christmas tree as a thank you. http://www.rspb.org.uk/events/details.aspx?id=tcm:9-240420
If you have a bit more time to spare then why not help on one of our Sunday work parties on the heath? Have a go at scrub-bashing and pine pulling amongst other things and help the wildlife of the heath! The next date is this Sunday 13th November. For more details and dates check out http://www.rspb.org.uk/events/details.aspx?id=tcm:9-291488
A week or so ago I was telling you that we had bramblings coming down to the feeding area at the back of the visitor centre for the first time this year. Well today we had a lovely male about for most of the day. Because it is was in its winter plumage it was not always easy to spot amongst the chaffinches but at certain angles we could see it's black wing markings, blackish head and orangey body. It was my first really good views of a brambling and as we always say the car park is one of the best places to come to see something a little bit different!
This photo was taken today and was kindly sent to us by Diane Stobart. This was actually taken through the viewing glass at the back of the centre and has come out really well. I wanted to put a picture in one of my previous blogs but couldn't find any taken at Arne so this one is hot off the press! You can see all the main features of a winter plumage male brambling including its rather chunky yellow beak.
Other highlights of the weekend included over 200 avocets at middlebere today and several sightings of marsh harriers and hen harriers.