Dorset is one of the UK’s top birdwatching counties. All manner of bird species have been recorded in Dorset down the decades, including such notable national rarities as the much sought-after wallcreeper, which frequented the Winspit and Seacombe areas from November 1969 to April 1970, and the red-flanked bluetail, which visited Winspit in October and November of 1993.
For eight of its eighteen miles, Chesil Beach encloses the Fleet, a shallow estuarine lagoon. The Fleet attracts thousands of wintering and migratory waterfowl as well as flocks of wintering gulls sometimes including more unusual species, like the Mediterranean gull, whose numbers have ‘increased phenomenally’ in recent years in the Ferrybridge and East Fleet area. Little egrets are a familiar sight throughout the year. The Fleet’s wader speciality is the Kentish plover. Chesil Beach is home to Dorset’s only little tern colony, although breeding success ‘has been very poor’ of late.
The Isle of Portland is a limestone massif, which juts five miles or so into the English Channel. Habitats include cliffs, old quarries, farmland, dense scrub, rough pasture, clumps of sycamore trees and residential gardens. One of the UK’s best-known birdwatching areas, Portland is renowned for its migratory birds and passing seabirds. Hoopoes in spring and melodious warblers and ortolan buntings in autumn ‘are more likely to be seen here than anywhere else in mainland Britain. Portland’s rarity list ‘is truly impressive’ and includes Britain’s first calandra lark (1961), desert warbler (1970), savannah sparrow (1982) and lesser short-toed lark (1992). The main attraction for avid seabird watchers is passing pomarine skuas usually between late April and mid-May.
Although these are separate wetland reserves, Radipole and Lodmoor are very close to one another and there is a considerable interchange of birds between them. Radipole’s bird line-up includes reedbed species, such as bearded tit, Reed and Cetti’s warblers. Lodmoor is now ‘the favoured site’ for the small population of scaup, which previously frequented Radipole, and also has a ‘good track record’ for attracting wild grey geese mainly white-fronted.
St Aldhelm’s Head, with its spectacular cliffs, is the most southerly part of Purbeck. Winspit is a sheltered valley and Dancing Ledge a former limestone quarry. St Aldhelm’s and Winspit are good places from which to observe passing coastal and seabirds. Winspit often turns up interesting land birds during the spring and autumn migration periods. Over the years, these species have included whinchat, black redstart, firecrest, pied flycatcher, ring ouzel and the previously mentioned wallcreeper and red-flanked bluetail ‘mega-rarities’. Anything can turn up and often does! Dancing Ledge’s main claim to fame is that it is ‘the most reliable site’ in Dorset for puffins.
High, scrub-cloaked cliffs, several woods and copses, open downland, small fields and a deep, scrub-filled gully are Durlston’s main features. The park is ‘one of the most important sites in the region for studying bird migration.’ Many scarce and uncommon birds have been recorded at Durlston, ‘while numbers of some of the more common land bird migrants often match or exceed those recorded at Portland Bill.’ The park is one of the best coastal sites in the region for migratory wood warblers. Other scarce migrants, such as turtle doves and pied flycatchers, are regularly seen. Autumn is a good time for migratory birds of prey, such as merlins, hobbies and short-eared owls.
The biggest island in Poole Harbour, Brownsea harbours a range of habitats, the most important being a large, brackish, non-tidal lagoon a refuge for feeding and nesting waterfowl, waders and gulls. The lagoon supports a large colony of breeding terns and is the best place in Dorset to see roseate terns. The lagoon is the most important wintering site in Britain for avocets.
Poole Harbour’s Arne Reserve boasts a blend of estuarine, heathland, forestry and woodland habitats. The local speciality is Dartford warbler. Arne, along with neighbouring Middlebere and Wych Lakes, is one of the top sites in Poole Harbour for wintering spoonbills and avocets. Arne and Middlebere Lake are the top two places in Poole Harbour in autumn for ospreys.
Christchurch Harbour is probably the best all-round birdwatching site in the county, thanks to its smorgasbord of habitats muddy creeks, mudflats and marshland to 120-foot-high Hengistbury Head (a noted migration hotspot). In spring, from late March to mid-May, there can be ‘impressive falls’ of migratory northern wheatears and various warblers. Rarities have included Hoopoe, Wryneck, Golden Oriole, Short-toed Lark and Richard’s and Tawny pipits.
Text courtesy Dorset Life
Dartford Warbler, copyright Ron Marshall
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The South Coast of England - 26th - 30th September 2016, author Christopher Hall (added October 4, 2016)
(Lytchett Bay, Arne, Chesil Beach, Pagham Harbour, Titchfield Haven)
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