Hi I'm Stewart one of the RSPB Dorset Wardens,
I'm responsible for the practical management of our 9 fantastic Dorset reserves. As you can imagine we have our hands full.
On Sunday 2nd November we're holding one of our first practical volunteering days at RSPB Arne; our 'Heathland Bash'.
The event runs from 10am - 3pm, all tools and training will be provided (as well as some hot drinks and biscuits). The events are a fantastic way to help wildlife and also meet others with the same interests and throughout the year we will be carrying out a variety of different tasks around the reserve.
Our Heathland Bash events are the 1st Sunday of every month until March, but what will we be up to this November?
We've got two tasks this month:
1) We're very happy that we have finally secured some generous funding through the Coastal Communities Fund to acquire and renovate the old Toy Museum by the Arne car park. Before the main work begins however there is a important task to do. There is a substantial growth of the UK conservationists worst nightmare: Rhododendron! This needs to be removed in the right way to stop it spreading and is notoriously hard to get rid of for good, although it's a very satisfying job when you get it right.
We'll have a nice warming fire (not that we seem to need it this Autumn) and the task will include lots of sawing and chopping.
2) Once we've tackled the Rhododendron we'll be headed just round the corner to our Invertebrate bank
The picture above shows it the last time we cleared it and it is now overgrowing on the edges and so we'll need to bash some scrub and scrape some rotten humus off the surface making it perfect for burrowing bees and wasps.
Some nice sightings recently around the reserve; plenty of firecrest around the car park (so we may be lucky enough to have some for company on Sunday), a Great White Egret is putting in appearances from Coombe heath and hen harrier numbers are growing in the harbour.
Hope to see plenty of you at Arne on Sunday! We'll meet at the visitor hut in the carpark.
Spoonbills have become a regular feature at Arne in the colder months but this year has been exceptional. A British record flock of 49 is currently in the harbour! Being very social birds they are spending much of the time as a large flock but also split into smaller flocks. We had at least 5 birds spend the summer in the harbour this year; how long before they breed in Dorset? They can often be seen roosting at shipstal or feeding in Middlebere Lake when the tide is going out. What is the collective noun for spoonbills?
Spoonbills by Keith Rogers
We had great excitement last Sunday – a ring ouzel at the farm! It’s rare to get these stunning thrushes on the reserve but we do get the odd one drop in on migration. The farm is obviously where the rarer species hang out; there were 3 firecrests there on Monday too. Brent geese have arrived; there have been up to 40 near Shipstal so far, we're looking forward to seeing large flocks of these attractive geese in the coming weeks.
It is noticeably colder on clear mornings now but there are still red admirals and clouded yellows on the wing. Raft spiders and dragonflies can still be seen around the ponds – common darters, southern hawkers and migrant hawkers are clinging on.
The sika deer rut is underway with the eerie ‘creaking door’ calls of the stags heard mostly at dawn. The milder weather has meant another late start to rutting this year but with colder weather this week we expect activity to increase. Big Wood is where the greatest activity is so far. Keep a safe distance from the testosterone fuelled stags though!
Firecrest by Paul Morton from last year's Forage Festival
This Saturday is our 5th annual Forage Festival from 11am-4pm - Celebrate Autumns arrival with a fun packed day for all the family! There will be an assortment of traditional craft stalls, local traders and food producers offering products to buy. There will be a bird ringing demonstration from 11-2. Try your hands at bush craft with the Ancient Technology Centre, archery, forage walks and wildlife themed crafts to make and take home, plus much more.
Autumn is always an interesting time at Arne. It’s the time when we say goodbye to our summer visiting birds and welcome back our over-wintering birds from the north. This Autumn has been excellent for osprey sightings. This tends to be the last week in the year that they are seen; the latest sighting was at Middlebere on Monday. Spoonbill numbers have increased dramatically in the last few days with a flock of 39 in the harbour! These have been moving around from the lagoon on Brownsea Island, to Arne Bay and some have been seen at Middlebere. Avocets are also increasing in number with a flock of around 300 seen at Middlebere on Tuesday.
There have been great numbers of chiffchaffs, blackcaps, goldcrests, house martins and swallows in the last week. On the Discover Arne walk yesterday we witnessed an usual mixed flock at the farm. It’s not unusual to see mixed tit and finch flocks at this time, but it’s the first time I have seen a mixed flock of meadow pipits and goldfinches. It’s been great to see a bigger number of wheatears and whinchats on Coombe Heath than last year. Numbers of wigeon and teal are steadily increasing and hopefully we will see the first brent geese and hen harriers soon!
There have been large numbers of jays seen in the last two weeks. Our resident birds have been joined by birds from the continent. It’s been a poor year for acorns in contrast to last year. This may have a significant impact on jays, which collect acorns in their crops and cache them under leaf litter and in tree crevices in store for winter food. A single jay can hide up to 5,000 acorns and will remember where most of them are. Obviously, the ones they forget have a chance to develop. It will be interesting to determine the impact on jays when acorn numbers are vastly reduced. There appears to be a much larger number of wasp galls this year, which is not to thought to be the reason for a poor acorn year. Last year was a bumper ‘crop’; after a big yield, oaks tend to produce less the following year.
Jay by Nigel Blake (RSPB Images)
Our estate team has completed work on a dam in Arne Bay this week. The aim is to keep some water back at low tide so invertebrates are present over a wider area of the salt marsh. We are hoping that this will create a larger feeding ground for wading birds at low tide, which would also give closer views of feeding waders. Kingfisher perches have also been installed near the hide in the hope that they will pose for better views!
It’s been another good year for clouded yellow butterflies, which have been seen regularly around the farm in recent weeks. There are good numbers of red admirals and speckled woods at present due to the ‘Indian summer’. Southern hawker and common darter dragonflies are still on the wing with raft spiders still showing in good number on the edges of the ponds.
The sika deer have been slow to get going as far as rutting goes again this year due to the mild weather. The mature stags are looking impressive however, with antlers now fully grown and much more muscular physique due to the increase in testosterone levels. We expect them to really get going in the next couple of weeks as more autumnal weather is on the way.
Sika Stag by Simon K
This Sunday is our Wild Food Walk, which proved hugely popular last year. We still have spaces; if you’re looking to learn about where best to find wild food, booking details can be found here
Sunday is also the first of our seasonal Heathland Bash events. If you want to help out with some practical conservation work, we’d love to have you! Click here for more information.