It has been an exciting few days on the reserve with lots to see and do. At the weekend we held another very successful ‘Pull a Pine’ event which for the second year in a row saw over 1000 visitors come along and help us clear unwanted pine seedlings from the heathland as part of our essential habitat management programme. Again we cleared a large area of heath and participant got to take away a Christmas tree as a thank you.
Bird wise things have really been hotting up and at the end of last week we had several sightings of a great grey shrike up on Coombe heath. We have at least one bird pass through in most years and a couple of years ago we had one stay all winter. Shrikes will migrate from northern Europe and a small number over winter along the very southern and eastern edges of the country. The bird that was seen on Coombe hasn’t been reported for a couple of days but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t around. There has been one at Morden bog in the Wareham forest for the last few weeks.
This is a picture of the great grey shrike that was resident at Arne the winter before last taken by Dom Greves ( I hadn't seen this picture before).
Hen harrier sightings are becoming more numerous and over the weekend we had several reports of a ringtail (female) across the whole reserve. This morning a visitor watched 4 marsh harrier hunting over the Middlebere channel. It sounded like there were 2 females and 2 juveniles.
The finch field is still producing a few interesting birds and one of my favourites is the redpoll. This is a fairly understated streaky brown bird but the most striking thing about it is the red cap. Since I started working with the RSPB a couple of year ago I have met a lot of confusion about redpolls. I have heard them referred to as lesser, common and mealy redpolls and some of the guide books including the Collins bird guide don’t always make it clear. So after some investigation I found out that until a few years ago the redpoll was classed as one species with a couple of different subspecies but now this has been split so that we have a lesser redpoll (Carduelis cabaret) which is fairly common in this country and the common redpoll (Carduelis flammea) which is fairly scarce (see I said it was confusing). There is no evidence of interbreeding between the two species but they are very similar and difficult to tell apart.
Lesser? redpoll on the winter finch trail by ChrisRoughley
Just to give a bit of a flavour of what is about at the moment I have decide to write out todays bird list which is pretty impressive – Avocet (700), brent geese (65), spoonbill (16), wigeon, teal, lapwing (100), redshank, Dartford warbler, buzzard, peregrine falcon, little egret, grey heron, great spotted woodpecker, shelduck, nuthatch, coal tits, long tailed tits, goldcrest, firecrest, raven (8), dunlin, chiffchaff (yes there is a small over wintering population), redshank, curlew, marsh harrier (4), kingfisher, green woodpecker, red breasted merganser, tree creeper, cormorant, jay, redwing, fieldfare, song thrush, black tailed godwit, stonechat, dunnock, pied wagtail, pintail, meadow pipits AND finally a red admiral butterfly.
This is a pretty good list of what Arne has to offer at this time of year but this by no means everything that we see. If you want to see some of this amazing winter wildlife then come along to the reserve in the next few weeks to be sure not to miss out!
One of the several hundred avocets that can be seen at the moment taken by Woody (I like the reflection)
So Christmas is a month away and we always like to celebrate in style at Arne and again the year we are holding the now world famous 'Pull a Pine for Christmas'
This event has mushroomed in recent years from rather humble beginnings to the massive success of last year. To keep the heathland in good condition we need to remove lots of pine seedlings that pop up all over the place. If we didn't do this we would begin to lose part of this very special habitat. The idea is for visitors to come along and help pull up some of these trees and in return we give them a free local sustainable Christmas tree as a thank you.
Last year we had well over 1000 visitors come along to join in and who helped us clear over 25 hectares of heath. This was an amazing achievement and made a real difference to the heathland.
All you need to do is come along to the reserve on Saturday 1st December between 10am and 3pm and join in with the fun. Tools and training will be provided on the day and you can do as little or as much as you like.
All this hard work will certainly build up an appetite so we have linked up with the Dorset Charcuterie Company who will be on site selling local hot food and drinks. You can also take a well earned breather from pine pulling to learn how to make natural Christmas decorations at the craft stall.
This is a great event for all of the family and a brilliant way to get into the christmas spirit and of course you get to take away your own special tree for your efforts!
We are well in to November now and the majority of the wetland birds have arrived for the winter. There are large numbers of avocets in the harbour and at least 300 can be seen on the Middlebere channel when the tide is right. The spoonbills are regulars in front of the Shipstal hide and up to 20 can often be aseen roosting on the sand spit up there. The frustrating thing about spoonbills is they will stand for hours with their heads tucked under their wings and you don't get a chance to get a good view of the iconic 'spoon bill'. The first time I ever saw a spoonbill was on this same sand spit when I was on holiday in Dorset over 12 years ago and all I could see was a white blob which didn't move for about a hour I was convinced it was a spoonbill but I couldn't definately identify it even with little egrets walking past it! I remember walking up to the Shipstal view point and turning back towards the salt marsh typically it had moved and I could just about make out what it was! Now 12 years on it is amazing that I am here watching 20 of them!
Spoonbill numbers have increased in numbers in the UK in recent years and there is now even a small breeding colony of at least 8 birds on the north Norfolk coast. I wonder if will see any breeding pairs in the harbour in the next few years. I am watching with interest.
Hundreds of brent geese, wigeon and teal are here now along with smaller numbers of other ducks such as pintail and red breasted merganser. We had a report of a female long-tailed duck in the harbour off of Shipstal at the weekend. One turned up this time last year but it was a long way out. There are lots of great crested grebes out in the harbour and they are often joined by the scarcer red-necked, black-necked and slavonian grebes.
Hundreds of brent geese have arrived from their artic breeding grounds - Photo by Yogi bear
A lot of the smaller winter birds have been arriving in good numbers as well and even though the sunflower crop failed in the winter finch field this year there of plenty of other seed bearing plants to attract large numbers of goldfinches, chaffinches and siskins. We have also been getting reports of the first bramblings and redpolls of the winter.Their are plenty of redwings about but I haven't had too many reports of fieldfares at the moment but it sounds like there are a lot in the north of the country at the moment. There have also been early reports of large numbers of waxwings coming in and there are suggestions that it could be another big waxwing winter like we had a couple of years ago. Perhaps they know something we don't and its going to be another cold one. The berry crop this year isn't great so these fruit eating birds may move south quicker in search of food.
Dartford warblers are pretty active at the moment and Rod counted no less than 12 on a guided walk he led on Saturday which was pretty amazing!
Firecrests are being seen in the car park most days and again the best place to see them is up the path towards the toilets. Firecrests now appear to be resident at Arne and the numbers along the south coast have been gradually increasing in the last few years.
I can never resist putting a picture of a firecrest in the blog - photo by OlivierM
As a side note I was trying to record the date the last swallow was spotted at Arne as there were a lot of sighting through out October and infact these continued in to November with two recorded on the 3rd. These are pretty late records but the south coast will always be the last place to see swallows and house martins before they leave completely. Now all we have to do is wait for them to come back!
It is turning cold but the sun has been shining on Arne for most of November. This has brought out lots of visitors and with them lots of interesting bird sightings.
The 27th October was a particularly exciting day for seeing things when two cranes flew over the reserve and several people were lucky enough to catch sight of these birds – and who could miss them with a 6.5ft wingspan and its long neck extended in flight. As a bird that was extinct as a breeding bird in the UK until a very small population re-established in the Nofolk Broads in the 1980s you can imagine how thrilling it is to see two of these fantastic birds flying across Dorset. The RSPB are helping to reintorduce the common crane to the Somerset Levels. Hopefully by the end of the project there will be 100 cranes out there and for the first time in 400 years Somerset will have breeding cranes!
Photo by Nick Upton - rspb images
Later that day we also had a red kite fly over Coombe and off across Middlebere, which is an unusual sighting for us too.
A few siskins have been seen flocking over Coombe, as well as a single crossbill. Signs of winter are turning up all over the reserve as avocet numbers build up, the odd brambling has been feeding in the finch field, a small murmuration of starlings flock over Middlebere in the evening and the leaves fall from the trees, creating a stunning golden carpet of crisp leaves that is childishly satisfying to kick your feet through. The colours are mesmerising and the glow from the autumn sun brings a magical atmosphere to the reserve. Hints of summer are however still holding on with red admirals and speckled woods enjoying the last of the sunshine. Even a couple of smooth snakes surprised some visitors when they braved the cool autumn weather and showed themselves off on the paths up on Coombe.
Photo by Dom Greves
Even from the visitor’s hut we’re seeing some nice things. There was a squeal of delight in the hut yesterday morning when we turned on the TV screen to discover the newly installed owl box was being used for the first time by a roosting barn owl. Speaking of the wildlife cameras, you'll all be pleased to hear that our feeder camera is finally back up and running so you can do your own bird spotting of your own from home. Thanks for all your patience in waiting for this to be fixed.
I also had an exciting bird spot of my own, an Arne favourite and a first for me, the dartford warbler. Having been here for over a month now and having not yet seen one I was beginning to think that they were a myth. So on my day off I decided to put some time in and armed with my binoculars I set off onto Coombe on a dartford warbler mission. Meadow pipits and stonechats were plentiful and I had a superb view of a sparrowhawk chasing the former. I stopped in the hide on my way round and was informed by a lady that I should have been there 5 minutes ago – the phrase every bird watcher hates to hear. Two dartfords had just flitted about in front of the hide! However, from the hide I was treated to 200 avocets and about 11 spoonbills, who can complain about that? The sun was starting to go down and everything was going quiet except for the eerie call of the sika deer, and I was about to give up when I spotted some interesting caterpillar nests in the gorse. I stuck my head in the bush to have a closer inspection when a dartford hopped out in front of me, probably just as shocked to see me as I was it. We eyeballed each other curiously for a few minutes, giving me the chance to admire its stunning yellow/orange legs and that handsome red ring around its eye. So they do exist! So if you haven’t seen one then come down here and put in the hours, it is worth it – even if you don’t see one there are so many other exciting things you’ll come across on your search, not to mention the gorgeous colours autumn is throwing up all over Arne.
Photo by dipperboy
It's getting quite soggy all over the UK at the moment so what better time to pull on your wellies and head down to some water logged meadows and bogs?!
This saturday it is the 2nd Heathland Bash of the year. Last month nearly 30 people turned up to clear the WWII gun emplacements on the reserve and clear it they did!
Photo by Ben Buxton
And of course you can't stop me looking for wildlife, regardless of what I'm doing and a fox and a pair of crossbill were my favourite spots of the day!
This saturday we're off to another part of the reserve, again in an area which is usually not open to the public, to the Arne moors. So if you fancy getting outdoors and getting your hands dirty it would be great to see you there. The event runs 10am- 3pm, although you'll need to be there at the start you can stay as long as you like.