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
The weather over the weekend was really nice again and we seem to be having an extended autumn. As I said the other day the part of the harbour that can be seen from Shipstal point is a great place to watch ducks, divers and grebes. Large numbers of great crested grebes have congregated in the harbour and well over 20 were counted off the point during a bird count at the weekend. The most exciting birds on the water up there at the moment are the velvet scoters which have been around for over a week now and a long tailed duck which was first spotted on Friday. Long tailed ducks winter along the east coast and are a fairly unusual sight in Dorset. The one in the harbour at the moment is a female and can be a bit difficult to spot as it tends to be a long way out and dives a lot! Although not as stunning as the male and missing the long tail the female is still a pretty little duck!
Female long-tailed duck
Another unusual record for the harbour its self was a goosander on Saturday. These ducks prefer freshwater whilst the closely related red breasted merganser prefers coastal waters in the winter and there are large rafts of these on the water at the moment. Look out for large numbers of teal, wigeon and pintail in front of the Shipstal hide along with at least 200 curlews which feed amongst the grass on the salt marsh.
I have included pictures of some of the ducks that you are likely to see around the reserve at the moment. See if you can spot them all when you are at the reserve! Unfortunately these pictures weren't taken on the reserve, we seem to be lacking duck pictures in our archive so if any one fancies taking any for the forum then please do!
Red breasted Mergansers by John Anderson
Pintails - Ben Hall RSPB Images
Male Goldeneye - Ben Hall RSPB Images
Male Teal - Andy Hay RSPB Images
Male wigeon - John Bridges RSPB Images
Elsewhere on the reserve the short eared owl was seen on Coombe Heath on Saturday morning during one of our November winter safaris and the male hen harriers are still showing well. An amazing 5 marsh harriers were seen hunting along the Middlebere channel all at the same time!
The weather is still warm enough for the odd butterfly to be about an I have seen a red admiral both today and yesterday. These Butterflies hibernate over winter so will occasionally be active on warmer days. A very late common darter dragonfly was seen yesterday.
The reserve was pretty much void of visitors today, but it seemed that everyone that did come back to report their sightings had something more amazing than the person before them. The main focus today was out in the harbour, and today saw two firsts for this winter in the shape of a Black Necked Grebe seen out from the double decker hide in the far channel and the best of the day, three Velvet Scoter that lingered off Shipstal beach for most of the day, which were then joined by two Common Scoter. These fantastic Velvet Scoter are really quite scarce in Poole Harbour, as southern Britain is as far south as they venture from their high Arctic breeding grounds. Look out for an all black duck with pure white wing bars as it fly's...stunning.
Out on the water there is a whole host of different birds to admire ranging from the delicate sleek Great Crested Grebes to the mad punk rocking Red Breasted Mergansers. I also saw my first Goldeneye today (11 in fact), bobbing along whilst two late or over-wintering Sandwich Terns continuously dived off Shipstal. If you sometimes find the birds are that bit too far away, then why not visit one of our hides on a Sunday when we have one of our friendly 'Guides in a hide', who will have telescopes set up for you to use at get a much better look at the birds.
It turned out to be a real raptor day today with all possible species of winter bird of prey spotted. There are now two male Hen Harrier harassing the Middlebere Channel and I also saw one almost fly straight into the double decker hide! Marsh Harrier seem to be everywhere at the moment and Peregrine Falcon numbers have risen to three. A Merlin was spotted dashing across the Arne approach road whilst Buzzard, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk all got reported.
That's not all....14 Spoonbill were in the Middlebere Channel all day along with 400-500 Avocet, also 10 Grey Plover, masses of Dunlin and Redshank, Black Tailed Godwit, Teal and Wigeon. Four Dartford Warbler were seen up on Coombe Heath along with good numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare passing overhead. At least two Firecrest were back in the car park, and if that's not all, I was treated to a Woodcock flying above my office just before dark.
If that's whetted your appetite, then it's just going to get better from now on, but If it hasn't then I don't know what will !!