It’s about time we gave you a little update on our recent sightings from Arne. The range of species being seen is strongly suggesting that winter is here. Ducks, Grebes and Divers are become a frequent sight from Shipstal Point. Goldeneye are becoming more numerous, as are Great Crested Grebe and Red-breasted Mergansers. The odd Great Northern Diver has been seen plus recently a much rarer Red-throated Diver (26/11). The odd Black-necked Grebe has been seen from the same spot and a Slavonian Grebe (26/11) was a nice surprise last week as well. A real highlight on the 26th and 27th November was a female or ‘redhead’ Smew. It could still be lurking out there somewhere so keep your eyes peeled!
Raptors are featuring heavily on the daily list of visitors’ highlights. Up to two Hen Harriers are being seen out in Middlebeare and several Marsh Harrier almost constantly around. A Short-eared Owl was also seen very late in the afternoon on the 30th Nov. It’s highly likely that is still around but a dusk visit to Coombe Heath would give you your best chance of an encounter.
Spoonbill numbers are hovering around the 30 mark. Still generally out in front of the Shipstal Hide.
The feeders around the visitor hut are now incredibly busy. Nuthatches and Great Spotted Woodpeckers both really regular. Siskin and Goldfinch have joined the regular finch species and a Brambling dropped in very briefly this morning (1/12). The crop field has been producing up to half a dozen Reed Bunting over the last week or so. Finally the car park Firecrests are still about. Not as many as back in the autumn but still popping up occasionally.
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Red-breasted Merganser pair - John Anderson.
As the winter is approaching we’re currently battling against some rather soggy and blustery conditions, it’s sad to see visitor numbers drop so fast from the hundreds on a beautiful sunny weekend day to 7 on a damp and dreary Thursday. To fill our time a little better a brainstorming session was had and the outcome is we’re going to produce a weekly species focus blog, this is in addition to our regular sightings blog so don’t panic, there will still be lots of nice pictures of the latest goodies!
The last week has seen the start one of our favorite migration spectacles of the autumn, to most it’s quite a surprise as it is from the humble Woodpigeon! We have quite a few conversations regarding Woodpigeons in the last week, most beginning with “I saw this huge flock of birds flying south this morning” So what better species to start our focus series on.
The UK breeding population of Woodpigeon is close to 5.5 Million and you can pretty much find them anywhere and everywhere, from parks to gardens, roadsides to woodland if there is suitable habitat they will try and use it. What then happens in late October to mid November can be quite spectacular, the current record for migrating Woodpigeon here at Arne is 161,000 and no, they wouldn't have been counted one by one, with numbers like that they may have been counted in blocks ranging between 100 to 1000. This however is only half of what can be counted annually at different watch points, we've sadly not been on their route this year, not recording a single flock however over in Weymouth and Portland the numbers have been really good, well over 100,000 have been recorded in the last week or so, some making their journey’s in quite horrendous conditions as can be seen in the video from Portland below.
© Martin Cade - Portland Bird Observatory
So why do they do it? Sadly we don’t really know a watertight reason why, there are however a couple of theories, some say they are heading south to warmer climes like southern France and Spain, with recoveries of dead or injured ringed birds backing this up but then a second theory is that they run out of food in one area (100,000 birds can devastate their food crop in a few days) and then have to move further south to find some more to eat! Sadly some of the Pigeon do meet an ugly end, natural predators and Humans play their part in this but the very large majority to go unscathed with some birds living way on into their teens.
part of a 1500 strong flock of Woodpigeon heading south over Portland Harbour
© Joe Stockwell
I was given 2 hours and set a challenge, find me as many species as you can in that time frame. Now Arne is a big reserve and it holds a lot of bird species, though I’m sure most will be aware, when you try and see lots of them in a short space of time they seemingly vanish. Prime targets for my client were Dartford Warbler, Woodlark and Spoonbill; although I made no guarantees I was happy to reckon on clearing up!
The first 30 minutes...
The Information Hut feeding station gave us 15 species without too much effort, including Brambling and Treecreeper, around the car park we added Firecrest, Goldcrest, Redwing and Fieldfare with little trouble and a Raven was noted flying over too. Leading out onto West track, an area kept under lock and key, we saw our first Green Woodpecker and a flock of Long-tailed Tits flew through containing more Goldcrests and a Chiffchaff.
Completing the first hour...
Dartford Warblers are a myth to some people I’m sure, time after time dejected faces return having not seen our special little Warbler. My client was not disappointed today seeing 3 birds in no time at all, Stonechats were with them too, a brief scan over the Wareham channel added Mute Swan, Little Egret, Brent Goose and Mute Swan.
A final hours hunting...
Species additions suddenly became hard to come by, we ploughed through though and made it up onto the Coombe viewpoint, from here it got good really quickly! Avocets by the hundred, all of the common ducks including some really smart Pintail, Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank, Grey Plover and Spotted Redshank paraded around on the mud looking for some meaty treats, before I could even think we were adding on more birds including the Lingering Great White Egret, a Female Marsh Harrier and another target of Spoonbill was seen flying towards Brownsea Island, sadly the time was running out so we started to head back and totted up the species list and we finished up just shy of 80! Not bad for a 2 hour Hire a guide session and my client could not have been happier with 4 new birds to their list and lots of opportunities for close viewing and photographs.
Why not do it yourself? Hire me out and I’ll take you to see lots of birds, I love to do it and I’d love to help you see more!
This is the deal... For £50 you get a guide who’s well equipped with a vast knowledge of Arne and it’s wildlife, for a two hour tour of Arne. We can have groups of up to 6 people and it’s pretty much up to you how your visit will pan out. If you’d love to see a Dartford Warbler, that will be our focus. If you’d like to experience the sight of thousands of wading birds wheeling around the sky? You’ve guessed it, that’s what we’ll do. Of course, birds being birds, we can’t guarantee anything but we love a challenge at Arne!
Arne is over 550 hectares of prime wildlife habitat waiting to be explored. To arrange a guide for yourself, a relative or friend or a small group, give us a ring on 01929 553360 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Joe Stockwell - Arne Information Assistant