Well believe it or not yesterday was officially the first day of Spring! I remember that this time last year I was down at the visitor centre in my shorts and t-shirt and a drought had been announced. Well a year on and I think it has been one of the wettest ones I can remember, but I remain optimistic and I am hoping this spring and Summer will be considerably better. There have been reports of a few migrants returning but as yet we haven't had too much coming through Arne. We are waiting in anticipation for returning wheatears and some of the warblers and it shouldn't be long before the ospreys start appearing. My housemate heard and saw a cuckoo in the Lulworth area last week which seems really early!
Dartford Warblers are singing away on Coombe heath at the moment and this time of the year is definitely one of the best time to see them as the males display for territories.
A smart male Dartford warbler taken by Mark Wright earlier this week.
It will be all change down on the harbour in the next couple of weeks when a lot of the waders and other waterbirds will start to think about venturing back to there breeding areas. There are still a fair few brent geese, avocets and ducks like red breasted mergansers about so there is still opportunity to come and see them before they leave. There haven't been too many black tailed godwits about for the last couple of months but they have made a reappearance recently. We always have a fairly large over summering flock of non breeding birds and some of the ones here at the moment have started to change colour in to their orange summer plumage!
Another picture by Mark. You can see the orange summer plumage starting to appear on this black tailed godwit!
It is still a little bit early for reptiles to appear in big numbers but as we have been saying for a couple of weeks common lizards have been spotted on warmer days. The picture below was taken at the weekend work party earlier in the month by Becca one of our residential volunteers. Perhaps this lizard was after her sandwiches!
The wood ants are starting to come alive and some of the big ants nests are a seething mass of activity and on the guided walk yesterday I was able to do my 'hand in an ants nest' trick for the first time this year!
As April approaches we will be changing our Wednesday walks from 'Wellies and Waders' walks to 'Discover Arne' Walks which focus more on the wildlife and conservation of the heathland. We try and show off some of the amazing nature we have to offer and there is a chance to see some of the more hidden wildlife such as raft spiders, smooth snakes, green tiger beetles and palmate newts. I love these walks because it give me the opportunity to wax lyrical about the amazing heathland reserve we have and to be honest I am still learning and I never get bored of it! http://www.rspb.org.uk/events/details.aspx?id=tcm:9-342593 So if you fancy discovering more of the hidden world of Arne come along to one of these walks trough out the spring!
Hello everyone! I’m the new Information Assistant taking over from the lovely Jen who has headed back up north to spend her summer working at Loch Garten. I’ve been volunteering at Radipole Lake in Weymouth over the winter so may be a familiar face to some of you. Can't wait to spend my summer on such an amazing reserve!
Whilst the feeder cam has been out of action, we’ve had our buzzard nest on view, both in the hut and on the website (still disguised as the feeder cam!) There’s been quite a flurry of activity on the nest over the last week or so, with a pair of buzzards bringing in fresh twigs and pine needles and even a woodpigeon getting in on the action! The pine needles act as a disinfectant in the nest, keeping down the number of parasites. I’ve been trying to get a shot of both birds sitting on the nest – haven’t managed it yet but here is one of them:
It was around this time last year that a pair of buzzards were showing quite a bit of interest in using the nest. Unfortunately they did then switch their attention to another tree, but this left the nest free for a pair of mallards to breed! Fingers crossed the buzzards will stay put this year..
The weather at Arne has been very up and down over the past couple of weeks, we've had a bit of everything: warm sunshine, rain, hail, wind and even snow! The sunshine on Saturday brought out our first raft spider of the year, and as Michael mentioned in his last blog, common lizards have been out and about in sheltered spots. It certainly feels like spring is on the way!
I have just returned from a walking holiday in southern Spain and I seem to have brought the decent weather back with me. I saw a few lizards out there but I wasn't expecting any reports back at Arne just yet but on Sunday the first common lizard of the year was spotted. It is a little bit early but the recent warm weather had obviously brought it out of hibernation and it won't be that long before we start seeing smooth snakes and sand lizards again. It is perhaps a little bit early to announce Spring but there have even been a few butterflies out and about including red admirals and a brimstone.
Its time to start looking for common lizards on warmer days. Photo by pochard
We have started to hear woodlarks singing in the last couple of weeks and there have been as many as 5 pairs at Arne in recent years. They are one of the earliest birds to nest on the heath and so are already singing for territories. Look out for the songflight of the male in which he flies high up in a large circle before plummeting to the ground. Woodlarks favour bare patches of ground on which to feed. Dartford warblers are still fairly easy to see and it according to some sightings a few pairs have been seen.
There are still plenty of waders and ducks about and the spoonbills are still a regular sight in front of shipstal hide. On the feeders we have been seeing siskins for the first time in a while and today there was a male and female down on the niger seed. We do tend to see more of them in the spring when family groups appear on the feeders.
Female siskin this weekend by Pudweena
The nice weather has arrived in time for the half term and Arne is a great place to bring the kids for a walk and we have got a treasure hunt sheet that the whole family can take out and join in with. This Saturday we have our ' Nutty about Nestboxes' event, so why not come along and make your own nestbox. We provide all of the materials and tools and any help you need to put the box together. It is a great way for all the family to 'step up for nature' and create a home for wildlife for your own gardens. Who knows what will use it in the spring? Come to the reserve between 10am and 2pm. Cost per box is £4 for RSPB members and £5 for non members. http://www.rspb.org.uk/events/details.aspx?id=tcm:9-325661
David Tipling (rspb-images.com)
Last week I took a walk up to the farm to collect some wood for the visitor hut’s wood burner and couldn’t believe my eyes when I seen a buzzard having a fight with a heron. As if that wasn’t entertainment enough, a passing kestrel decided to join in too! Anyone want to take guesses on who won the scrap? This is what I love about nature, these unexpected moments that catch you off guard and stop you in your tracks. I was treated to another nature spectacle last week on the Somerset Levels when I went to the RSPB’s Ham Wall reserve to see the mesmerising starling murmurations. Several million starlings performed an avian ballet above our heads before bedding down for the night in the huge expanse of reeds the reserve offers. A pair of buzzards were there to stir them up a bit and it was like watching a tornado of birds whirling around the sky and the sound of their synchronised wings was breathtaking. The name murmuration comes from the murmuring sound of their collective wings but it sounded more like a roar than a murmur due to the sheer volume of birds. Most of these starlings are migrants from Scandinavia that are here for the winter months and come together in these huge numbers at night to snuggle up and keep each other warm through the cold nights. So if you want to see this impressive roosting behaviour then now is the time because it’ll all be over by the end of next month.
Spring really is just around the corner and signs are turning up all over the reserve. Snowdrops are out by the church and daffodils are popping up along the road verges. I’ve been hearing the drumming of the great spotted woodpeckers for the past two weeks now. The great tits are obviously feeling flirty too because the call of ‘teacher-teacher-teacher’ is regularly heard from the trees at the moment, especially around the feeders that are a constant thrum of feeding tits. Speaking of the feeders, there has been a siskin feeding on the nyger seed since Monday, another sign the seasons are changing at Arne.
Photo by Mark Wright
I had a friend visiting from Scotland this week and growing up in the central belt of Scotland she has never seen a green woodpecker. So I took her for a walk around Arne, assuring her that we would see not one but several due to the abundance of them the reserve has to offer. I see or at least hear one yaffling over heard on a daily basis so I was confident in my promise to her. It turned into a bit of a comedy sketch as Abby watched several of the reserve’s rarer species but was eluded by the green woodpecker over and over again. I set up the scope on a spoonbill spooning itself (this is my made up term for the comical effort of a spoonbill preening itself with it’s spooned bill) and as she enjoyed this rare treat I watched a green woodpecker hurtle itself across the Middlebere channel. Next we had a firecrest on the road leading up to the church. As Abby tried to pin her binoculars on the flitty firecrest that was teasing her as it jumped in and out of the holly bush, we heard the distinct yaffle call and although I caught sight of the woodpecker disappearing into the distance, Abby was too caught up in the playful antics of the firecrest. Abby was also treated to her first sight of marsh harrier, grey plover, avocet and brent geese and so it just goes to show you, sometimes you go looking for one thing in particular and don’t see it but come home having seen so many other wonderful things that you can never really feel disappointed when you go for a nature walk. Especially at Arne!
I’ll finish by mentioning the scaup that has been spotted from Shipstal point. A duck that turns up on our coastal bays and estuaries in the winter, it is a rare sighting and a first for the harbour this winter I believe. Similar to a tufted duck but without the tuft and much greyer on the back than a tufted. Also, you’re not likely to see a tufted duck sat in the harbour like you are a scaup.
Winter is always an interesting time of year and the recent cold spell has brought about a lot of unusual bird movements across Dorset. As soon as the snow hit there was a a huge increase in the number of redwings and fieldfares around the reserve and on a walk on Monday I came across a flock of at least 150 redwings in the trees towards Shipstal point. Normally very much countryside birds both of the winter thrushes will move in to gardens in very cold weather to feed on berries from ornamental bushes. We have had a few phone calls from people who have spotted a strange bird in their gardens and want to know what it is and they have all turned out to be one or other of these species.
One of the huge numbers of redwings that have been seen on the reserve in the last couple of weeks taken by MarkWright
There have been flocks of other bird such as goldcrests reported, these small bird are usually seen fliiting amongst the tops of pine trees in ones or twos so it is exciting to see them in larger groups.
I am more used to posting pictures of firecrests and the poor goldcrest doesn't ussually get a look in. This is another picture taken by MarkWright recently.
More unusual birds have been reported in the county with larger numbers of waxwings coming in to the Poole area (although despite my best efforts I have failed to catch up with them) and probably the strangest bird of all is a hoope that has been seen in and around Hamworthy over the last week (again something I have managed to miss). Hoopoes are vagrants to this country that are normally seen in the spring and autumn and is extremely rare to have any over wintering.
Another extremely unusual report came from a phone call that Rob picked up on Wednesday. The caller reported a strange looking house martin that they had found injured in their garden in Swanage. Unfortunately the bird died overnight but intrigued Rob went along to see what it was and he was surprised to discover that it was infact a storm petrel. This is a small sea bird associated with the open ocean that breeds in holes such as rabbit burrows on the more remote parts of the British coasline. This time of year they should have all migrated to the seas off of South Africa so again this is another example of a bird be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This one was probably blow off course and arrived exhausted in the Swanage back garden. All of the sightings just goes to show that you never know what is going to turn up!
Storm petrels are only slighlty larger than a house sparrow and although delicate looking they are able to with stand life on the the ocean waves.
There is still lots to see out in the harbour and I got to see it from a different perspective when I went on a bird boat on Thursday. We saw at least 4 great northern divers out on the water and although these are spotted from Shipstall point they are often a long way out and difficult to spot. The highlight of the trip was a female long tailed duck which has been around for the last couple of weeks and has been reported at Arne on most days but it was great to see it up close. I also got to see Arne from the boat and as we sailed closer we could see two spoonbills feeding on Shipstal beach. Because it is quieter during the week this time of year the beach can be a good place to watch waders and apart from the spoonbills there were good numbers of oystercatchers, brent geese, avocet and even a couple of grey plovers.
A coulpe of weeks ago I told you about a new website www.birdsofpooleharbour.co.uk and this Saturday in conjunction with the RSPB Paul Morton will be leading a special launch walk for the website at Arne. With the chance of catching up on some of the harbours most iconic species like the Dartford Warbler, avocets, hen harriers and spoonbills this is a great introduction to birds of Poole Harbour. The walk starts at 9am and there are still a few places are available so for more information and booking details visit www.birdsofpooleharbour.co.uk/birds-poole-harbour-launch-walk
On the 9 and 10 of February for one weekend only we are opening up the World War II gun emplacement which is located on a private part of the reserve. This is one of the best preserve Heavy Anti Aircraft Batteries in the country and served an important role in protecting Poole Harbour and the nearby cordite factory at Holton Heath from attack. So come along to the reserve between 10am and 3pm on either day for a special opportunity to see this historic site and discover more about Arnes important role in the defense of the surrounding area! http://www.rspb.org.uk/events/details.aspx?id=tcm:9-325657