Naturelog: 23rd September

It was pouring with rain as I left London, on a RSPB group outing, for the 120-mile journey to Dorset and the RSPB reserve at Arne. Arne is situated on a peninsula which stands out into Poole Harbour, the largest natural harbour in the UK. It has a wondrous array of different habitats ranging from woodland to wetlands and heathland.

Saltmarsh (top), heathland (bottom left), farmland (bottom centre) and woodland (bottom right)

It continued to rain heavily as we passed through the new forest and it was not until we reached Bournemouth that there was a break in the rain, much to the relief of all – birdwatching in heavy rain is not much fun! Arriving at Arne, there was still rain in the air and so I opted for the northern part of the reserve, which contains the woodland and a hide overlooking one of the channels of the harbour. The woodland was quiet although there was a marked passage of Barn Swallows migrating south. At the hide overlooking the saltmarsh, there were 30 Spoonbills. This once rare bird from the Mediterranean area is now established in Dorset and Norfolk, another sign of our changing climate and birdlife.

There were also Oystercatchers, Eurasian Curlew, Common Redshank and Little Egrets feeding on the marsh.

Eurasian Curlew and Little Egret

Towards lunchtime I made my way back to the visitor’s centre and after lunch ventured south onto the heathland. By now the weather had changed completely and the rain had been replaced by bright sunshine. Heathland is not the most productive of bird habitats but it does provide a home to some special birds and one of these was my target for the afternoon. The Dartford Warbler is limited to heathland habitat. As one of our few resident warbler species, it has been severely hit in past years by hard winters and loss of habitat. Thankfully it does seem to be recovering and in some places like Arne flourishing – 70 pairs bred on the reserve this year. Even in this abundance, they remain a skulking bird and so finding one was not a guaranteed thing.

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Dartford Warbler (adult male). Photo by Dave Curtis (

As I made my way across the heath, I came across Helen, another of our party who had caught a brief glimpse of a bird in gorse and so we waited. Eventually, we were joined by one of the volunteer wardens and as the three of us waited we saw a small bird pop into a tree. But what was it, it was grey, darker above than below – certainly not the colours of a Dartford warbler. But then it came into clear view and it certainly looked like a Dartford, with its long tail cocked at an angle. It was one of this year’s young – I had never seen a juvenile before. Then there were other birds with it and eventually, 4 flew across to a nearby tree. at least one had the rich colours of a male and so we concluded we had a family group. We watched as they moved from bush to tree and back to gorse.

There was time left for a quick check over the Middlebere channel, but apart from a Shelduck and a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits, there was little to be seen. Then it was time to make my way back to the Visitor centre for a drink before we embarked on the journey back to London.

An excellent day, especially considering the weather on the way down, with Spoonbill and Dartford Warblers, the highlight of the day.

Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)
Mallard [sp] (Anas platyrhynchos)
Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca)
Common Pheasant [sp] (Phasianus colchicus)
Eurasian Spoonbill [sp] (Platalea leucorodia)
Little Egret [sp] (Egretta garzetta)
Great Cormorant [sp] (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Eurasian Oystercatcher [sp] (Haematopus ostralegus)
Eurasian Curlew [sp] (Numenius arquata)
Black-tailed Godwit [sp] (Limosa limosa)
Dunlin [sp] (Calidris alpina)
Common Redshank [sp] (Tringa totanus)
Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)
European Herring Gull [sp] (Larus argentatus)
Lesser Black-backed Gull [sp] (Larus fuscus)
Common Wood Pigeon [sp] (Columba palumbus)
Eurasian Collared Dove [sp] (Streptopelia decaocto)
Great Spotted Woodpecker [sp] (Dendrocopos major)
European Green Woodpecker [sp] (Picus viridis)
Common Kestrel [sp] (Falco tinnunculus)
Eurasian Jay [sp] (Garrulus glandarius)
Western Jackdaw [sp] (Coloeus monedula)
Carrion Crow [sp] (Corvus corone)
Coal Tit [sp] (Periparus ater)
Eurasian Blue Tit [sp] (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Great Tit [sp] (Parus major)
Sand Martin [sp] (Riparia riparia)
Barn Swallow [sp] (Hirundo rustica)
Common House Martin [sp] (Delichon urbicum)
Long-tailed Tit [sp] (Aegithalos caudatus)
Dartford Warbler [sp] (Sylvia undata)
Eurasian Nuthatch [sp] (Sitta europaea)
Common Starling [sp] (Sturnus vulgaris)
Common Blackbird [sp] (Turdus merula)
European Robin [sp] (Erithacus rubecula)
European Stonechat [sp] (Saxicola rubicola)
House Sparrow [sp] (Passer domesticus)
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)
Common Chaffinch [sp] (Fringilla coelebs)
European Goldfinch [sp] (Carduelis carduelis)
Common Reed Bunting [sp] (Emberiza schoeniclus)


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