It’s December, the leaves are finally falling off the trees, it’s getting a bit colder and here at Arne it’s time for ‘Pull a Pine for Christmas’.
The concept is simple. Heathland is internationally rarer than rainforest. It is heavily managed and if left alone would incredibly quickly revert to pine forest and we would lose this amazing home for creatures like smooth snake, Dartford warbler, woodlark, silver studded blue butterfly, ladybird spider, nightjar...the list could go on and on. In fact Heathland is home to more species of wildlife than any other habitat in the UK. This means that each winter RSPB staff and volunteers have to spend a huge amount of time removing small invasive pines from our Heathland but it is not a task that we can do alone. So, on the first Saturday of every December the reserve holds our ‘Pull a Pine for Christmas’ event. Inviting the public to come to the reserve, help us pull up or chop down pines and in return visitors can walk away with a FREE sustainable Christmas tree as a thank you. It saves the visitor money on a tree and the RSPB thousands of pounds in management and most importantly it ensure that the Heathland remains in tip top condition for all the wildlife that depend on it.
There is local hot food for sale on the day from the Dorset Charcuterie, a chance to make natural Christmas wreaths from materials found on the reserve and enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the Purbecks and Poole harbour. The event runs from 10am – 3pm and visitors can turn up anytime between. All tools are provided, as are some fires to keep us all warm!
There are two ways you can walk away with your tree on the day. If you can find one you like, visitors are welcome to choose and cut down a tree direct from the heath, but most visitors usually take one of the hundreds of pre cut trees that we have collected during two days at Wareham Forest courtesy of the Forestry Commission.
(RSPB residential volunteer Joe, clearing a heathland bank of invasive pines and collecting lots of xmas trees at the same time - he is sooo multi-talented)
So why the strange title to the blog?
Well, by collecting these ‘pre cut’ trees from the forest our staff and volunteers have been creating a fantastic home for Heathland species like sand lizard and green tiger beetles removing these trees and opening up a great Heathland bank to the sunlight.
These trees will be saving our Arne visitors money on their Christmas tree and are a great sustainable, green alternative.
And lastly, by coming and helping at Arne, wildlife once again is the winner when we are left with pristine Heathland after the event.
3 birds, 1 stone.
So blimey! December is here already but it has only been in the last couple of weeks that there has been a slight wintery feel in the air. In fact it has still been warm enough for dragonflies and butterflies. Yesterday we had a red admiral land on the hut and last week end we were still seeing common darter dragonflies and clouded yellow butterflies. The sika deer rut which usually happens in October was delayed because of the warm weather and the stags can still be heard calling even now. The stags start rutting in response to hormonal changes that are triggered by colder weather and this only really started in the middle of November. After a late spring everything seems to be having a longer season.
There are thousands of birds in the harbour now with several hundred avocets being seen regularly on the Middlebere channel. There are also plenty of black tailed godwits, dunlin, wigeon, and teal all around the Arne peninsula. We are still seeing up to 25 spoonbills in front of the Shipstal hide and hen and marsh harriers are being reported daily. Yesterday we even had a report of a glossy ibis flying over the Coombe heath hide. I have never seen one in the harbour before but this is a species that is being seen more frequently in this country. In fact they have stopped over at Radipole Lake in Weymouth for the last couple of winters.
Male hen harrier taken by Mark Wright earlier in November
In the harbour its self there have been reports of great northern and black throated divers, scaup and a few eider ducks which aren't often seen here.
Christmas is fast approaching and it’s the time of year when we hold our annual pull a pine event. It is a fun activity for all the family but also helps with the management of our internationally important lowland heath. The idea is to come along and help us pull up unwanted pine saplings from the heath to help stop it reverting to pine woodland and in return you get your own Christmas tree to take away for FREE! There will be hot local food and drink for sale to keep you going and you can make natural decorations from sustainable wild materials. No booking is required, just turn up between 10 am and 3 pm on Saturday7th of December and join in the fun! Over the last 2 years we have managed to clear pine saplings from over 50 hectares of heathland which is an amazing result! http://www.rspb.org.uk/events/details.aspx?id=tcm:9-325653
Visitors helping out at last years event
Our 4th annual forage festival was a great success despite rain for the first time. The turnout was still excellent and the weather didn’t seem to dampen spirits as I saw many beaming faces after a go at archery, the high ropes or learning about local craft and taking advantage of a great shopping opportunity. Many thanks to all who braved the weather, we’ll try and order some sunshine for next year!
The sika deer rut is still going. It took a little while to really kick-off this year, probably due to the milder weather. Stags are still locking antlers and we are still hearing their bizarre ‘creaking door’ calls. It is unlikely to go on much longer so get down here soon if you don’t want to miss it.
Autumn, as always, has seen the arrival of thousands of wildfowl to Poole Harbour. Spoonbills are still grabbing the headlines with numbers between 20 and 32 regularly seen in Arne Bay. Wigeon and teal and around in good numbers once more as well as 30 pintails last Wednesday. Over 500 oystercatchers and 300+ curlews have been counted in the last week and added to the regular sightings of black tailed godwits, redshanks, greenshanks, a couple of ruff spotted.
The colder weather has seen the arrival of firecrests again around the car park. In fact, a firecrest was the highlight of the ringing demonstration at the forage festival. These tiny relatives of the goldcrest are on the increase in the UK and it’s great to see them return. The latest interesting visitor to our wildlife pond is a female grey wagtail. She has been seen most days over the past 2 weeks and whilst we don’t know why she wags, it’s great to watch. The first autumn coal tit visited the feeders the other day, here one day and gone the next. Winter thrushes have arrived too. It’s always great to see flocks of redwing and fieldfare and for me makes the pending winter more bearable. It’s a great year for berries so they will be feeding up well until the bounty is exhausted.
A peregrine seems to be having much success in Arne Bay of late. Visitors have been waxing lyrical about its repeated hunting attempts. The highlight for me though is the arrival of hen harriers to the reserve. These stunning birds are becoming rarer in England and there aren’t many better sights than watching a male hen harrier flying low in search of prey.
Since the start of November we have had reports of red admirals, small tortoiseshells, painted ladies and clouded yellows seen on the reserve. I’ve been banging on about what a great year it has been for butterflies; well clearly they don’t want it to end. It’s still plenty mild enough for them and we are still seeing dragonflies, including southern hawker and common darter, and raft spiders can still be seen on the edges of the ponds on warmer days.
Another late flyer is the red sword-grass moth. This was found by a local RSPB group sitting on one of our gates. I've never seen this one before, and very much like the impressive buff-tip moth, the red sword-grass does a great job of imitating a piece of wood!
Thank you John Rowley for the excellent photos.
Our popular Pull a Pine event is fast approaching. Saturday 7th December is the date for your diary. Come and help us with heathland management and we will reward you with a Christmas tree! See our website for further details: http://www.rspb.org.uk/events/details.aspx?id=tcm:9-325653