It was one of my days off today and as the weather had improved dramatically from the weekend I took the opportunity to travel the 20 miles from Wareham to Weymouth to explore the two RSPB reserves there. My first stop was Lodmoor which is an area of shallow pools, reed beds and salt marsh on the edge of town. Unbelievably I had never been before so I wasn't sure what to expect but it is was a good sign when I caught sight of at least 6 wheatears hopping around the car park as I arrived! As I walked into the reserve I was greeted by a cacophony of bird song. I was surrounded by reed and sedge warblers singing in the reed beds and I stood and watched my first whitethroat of the year sitting on the top of a hedge. There where loads of shelducks, tufted ducks and gadwall in the pools and summer plumage bar tailed godwits feeding on the marshy grassland. I was lucky enough to see my first ever whimbrels and the highlight for me was a cattle egret which was in front of one of the main viewing areas. In recent years more and more cattle egrets are being seen in this country and it is possible that they may start to colonise in a similar way that little egrets did in the 1990's. Cattle egrets are smaller and more squat looking than little egrets and I could clearly see the yellow beak, paler legs and shorter neck on the one that I was looking at. It was a warm morning and there were plenty of insects around so there were lots of swallows skimming over the pools. I also spotted a couple of orange tip butterflies as I headed back to the car park.
Cattle egret by Jeroen Stel (rspb-images.com - Note the smallr yellow beak and the shorter neck. Keep your eyes peeled at Arne for any of these small white herons turning up amongst our little egrets.
After leaving Lodmoor I headed to Radipole Lake to see what was about. The centre is closed at the moment and is due to open in the next couple of weeks but the reserve itself is open as normal. As I was along the paths my ears were assaulted by the sonic explosion that is the song of the cetti's warbler. My recognition of bird song isn't quite as good as it should be but even I can spot a cettis a mile off. The song tends to come in bursts and is far louder thanany other warbler you are likely to hear. Cetti's warblers are another relative new comer to these shores as they were only first recorded in the early 60's. Radipole is famous for being the first place in Dorset for marsh harriers to breed after an absence of 40 years! Today I watched an impressive male hunting over the reeds.
I was only in Weymouth for a couple of hours but it was one of those special days when everything seemed to be there all at once. So if you have never visited the Weymouth wetlands then give them a go, you never know what is going to be about and the most amazing thing about these reserves are they are both surrounded by busy roads and houses! To find out more about these reserves go to http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/l/lodmoor/index.aspx and http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/r/radipolelake/index.aspx
The day started with an early morning at Arne when we broadcasted the reserves dawn chorus live on the internet. We picked up chiffchaffs, willow warblers, black caps, chaffinches, and greenfinches amongst others. It was great to wake up to and thanks to Paul for coming along to provide commentary.
We had a little bit of excitement when a marsh tit appeared on the feeders for the first time in over a year! These were regular visitors at one time but disappeared after the very cold winter of last year. There call is a loud ‘pit-chu’ which according to Rob sounds a bit like a ‘wild west’ gun fight!
Marsh tit - Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
There are some interesting waders about at the moment with quite a few whimbrels passing through and a number of smart summer plumage grey plovers on the Middlebere channel. There are at least 3 spoonbills about and as it is a bit late for them to still be here they are probably immature non-breeding birds so there is a chance that they may stay in the harbour over the summer.
After a chilly grey start it soon warmed up and turned in to a really sunny day and with ith the warm weather we got a lot of reports of sand lizards on Coombe heath. This is the time of year when the smart green males display and fight for territories and females and can be quite easy to see.
This brilliant male sand lizard was seen on Coombe heath today by pudweena (Mr)
Talking of reptiles remember Our reptile weekend on 19 and 20 May - We are running bookable guided walks on both mornings (spaces still available for Sunday) and then will be giving hourly show and tells after 12pm to show you some of the amazing lizards and snales that call Arne there home! http://www.rspb.org.uk/events/details.aspx?id=tcm:9-308779
Back at the visitor centre the kestrel cam has been compulsive viewing with a fourth chick hatching yesterday and lot of food being brought in by the male today. It was amazing the range prey being caught including a bank vole, a slow worm, a common shrew and finally a common lizard which was still alive when it arrived! At least the chick won’t get bored with a lack of variety!
The feeders at the back of the visitor centre are still alive with birds including siskins, nuthatches, goldfinches and greenfinches but if you cast your eyes to the ground you are likely to spot the bank voles and wood mice that live under the building and dart back and forth picking up discarded seeds that have fallen in their paths!
One of the visitor centre bank voles taken by wormsmum - This species is a favourite of our kestrel family!
So, as many of you now know, we now have 2 (or possibly 3 from news from the forum!) kestrel chicks in the nest!
I have to say, it was fantastic yesterday one minute saying to people as they were passing through the Visitor Centre that there are 5 eggs... then looking up... and seeing there were now only three and two little chicks!! Just amazing. At one point yesterday the male brought back a bank vole, gave it to the female who then proceeded to tear bits off and feeding the chicks just as a school group came past - smiles all around to say the least!
We were a little concerned originally about the kestrels as they laid eggs a month earlier this year in comparison to last, probably due to the unusually warm weather we had during March. When we originally turned on the nest camera a few weeks back we were a little shocked to see a full clutch already! Last year when the chicks had hatched they relied on the large supply of reptiles that Arne has to offer as a main food source, and due to the dull weather there has been little reptile activity recently. However a warmer day today brought out the slow worms and the male brought back at least two today to keep the chicks going! So all is well so far in the kestrel nest, and fingers crossed for the nicer weather!
Having the nest camera really highlights the difference between the male and female kestrel, with the females being slightly larger (especially after the male has been keeping her well fed whilst she's been on the eggs!) and the male has a very distinct blue /grey head whilst the females is brown and flecked. Before the eggs had hatched the male spent most of the time hunting and would bring back food for the female, and they would swap over briefly and he would (slightly awkwardly!) sit on the eggs whilst the female had her fill before resuming her duties. Now of course the focus is on the chicks! As you may be aware we have a live feed to the kestrel cam on the main Arne website - so you can watch the chicks grow from the comfort of your home!
In other news... The buzzard nest has turned out to be quite a interesting tale! Unfortunately the buzzards have decided not to lay in the nest despite the potential signs about a month ago. However we have a new resident in the nest! A female mallard duck (!) has decided to live life dangerously and has taken a liking to the nest. She has been sitting on the nest a lot recently, so potentially she may have laid eggs there! So next time you visit Arne come see how the mallard is getting on!
Well it's that time of year again and Spring Watch is back on the tele and it is a great chance to find out about the nature on your doorstep. But who needs Spring Watch when you can come along to Arne and see it all for real!?
At the visitor centre we have our own selection of live nest cams. The stars of the show at the moment are the kestrel chicks which have grown up really fast and it won't be long before they will be thinking of leaving the safety of their box. Even the smallest of the four is doing reall well and again this year looks pretty hopeful for all of them which is very exciting. Come on down to Arne in the next few days for your last chance to see them on the big screen or go and watch them live on the Web! http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/a/arne/webcam.aspx
Haven't they grown! Posted by mims. The chicks take time out from their exhausting TV schedule!
We have got a camera on a buzzards nest as well and we were a bit disappointed that they decided to go and nest somewhere else but we were very surprised when a squatter in the shape of a female mallard duck turned up. She has been incubating her eggs for a few weeks now and today when I took a look at the nest imagine my delight when I saw several very tiny ducklings peaking out from beneath their mother! I am trying to record the moment when they decide to take the plunge and leave the nest but this may be easier said than done. Although the nest is fairly high I think the ducklings will be OK as this isn't that unusual. Being very light they will be able to parachute their way down. to safety. I am not sure how many ducklings there are but the highest count was 8! I will bring you further news of what happens.
On our final camera we have a family of blue tits which are also doing really well again there are 8 chicks and it hasn't take them very long to change from blind, bald hatchlings to being almost ready to fledge!
Not on camera but another unusual nest is a Wren that decided to take up residence in an old swallows nest in one of our workshops. The parents decided to use the swallows nest as a foundation and then built it up in unusual wren fashion with lots of moss. The eggs have hatched and the babies are doing well!
Out on the reserve woodpeckers are very active at the moment and there are lots of nests about. Also look out for old woodpecker holes with starlings darting in and out to feed their young. There were plenty of Dartford warblers seen on today's Wednesday walk which was great. There was even a family of five seen hopping about the gorse! There are still 3 spoonbills about and they can often be seen feeding along the Middlebere channel. Nightjars are becoming more active on the warmer nights and there are still places on our Wednesday Nightjar Walks which begin on the June 6. Book now to avoid dissapointment! http://www.rspb.org.uk/events/details.aspx?id=tcm:9-308871
And remember it is not just about the birds! There are more and more dragonflies emerging from the ponds, lots of butterflies are taking to the wing and look out a long the sunny parts for some of Arnes amazing reptiles!
Dartford Warbler on Coombe Heath taken by forum member Somerset Chris
It has been a pretty interesting couple of days at Arne, not only have we got new kestrel chicks which are doing well at the moment we have also got a live blue tit cam with at least 5 eggs in the nest and you can see this on the large screen in the centre!
Out on the reserve there seems to be a lot happening and things are getting going again after the period of heavy rain we had! We have had long lists of sightings in the last two days with highlights including the hobby that has been around for a week or so and the short eared owl that is still putting in the occasional appearance. There are two spoonbills about and they been seen feeding along the Middlebere channel on a number of occasions. Migrant wise cuckoos have been seen and heard on the reserve, there are still plenty of wheatears on the heath and whitethroats are also being spotted. The first early swifts are here and I did see a couple flying over the heath last weekend.
Today was a good one for common lizards which are taking advantage of the warmer drier weather and judging by kestrel cam there are plenty of slow worms about too (one of their favourite foods at the moment)! I have led a few walks recently and I have been struck by the amount of Minotaur beetles about. These large black beetles are fairly scarce heathland specialists which feed on the dung of rabbits and deer. They dig burrows in the sandy soil and drag the dung into a nest cavity where they will lay their eggs. When the larvae hatch they are sustained by the dung that has been provided for them! Minotaur beetles are so named because of the protruding horn like structures on their thorax which is reminiscent of the mythical creature from Greek legend! The 'horns' are used by the males to defend their burrows! So if you haven't seen these impressive beetles keep your eyes on the heathland paths as you walk around Arne!
Minotaur beetle by pochard
Also on the invertebrate front one of the first dragonflies of the year was seen today. This photo was taken by nikon4Pete and although the wings are at an angle I am pretty sure that it is an immature female 4 spot chaser (but I am happy to be proved wrong). This is a little bit early as they usually first start to emerge from ponds at the beginning of June!
Finally remember to tune in on Sunday to our live 'Dawn Chorus' webcast for a unique opportunity to hear the early morning bird song at Arne. For more informationsee my earlier blog 'Wake up to Dawn at Arne!' and go to http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/a/arne/dawnchorus.aspx on the day to listen in!