Trip reports

RSPB Arne Field Trip

RSPB Arne Field Trip
Dartford warbler by Jeff Lack

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Great northern divers are not often upstaged but the one at Arne, on a rare dry day in this soggy, miserable winter, most certainly was.

The diver was close to the shore, and doing all that this impressive bird could do to impress anyone watching. It floated low in the water like a half submerged submarine, dagger bill held aloft. It kept slipping smoothly below the rippling water to feed before rising again, snowy white and black. After a while it climbed half out of the water to flap its wings then, having preened vigorously, settled for a gentle cruise around the bay, blown by the wind in the company of great crested grebes and a pair of wild haired red-breasted mergansers. Seen from above at the Shipstal viewpoint it was nailed-on favourite for bird of the day.

Not to be. Just a few metres away from the watchers, sitting proudly on the top of a gorse bush bright with yellow flowers, a Dartford warbler showed himself. Bold ruddy chestnut below and grey brown above with tail cocked proudly high, crest flicking and red eye glinting, he delighted the group. Hopping from bush to bush this usually nervous bird stayed in the open for several minutes until disappearing into the undergrowth. Bird of the day indeed.

Early on in the car park the feeders were busy with tits and finches, including siskins, all familiar but looking spectacular in the bright sunlight. Nuthatches called but were not seen until lunchtime in the same place. Walking down to the Shipstal Hide the fields were full of meadow pipits and several stonechats and in the low trees a group of three bullfinches made a great show, the males bright and shiny, the female soft and silky. At the hide a group of a dozen spoonbills roosted, glowing white but unmoving. Countless wigeon filled the banks and channels and plenty of curlew foraged along the mud. There were shelduck and teal and a very smart white-spotted cormorant but with the water levels so high waders were very sparse indeed.

Heading back to the centre several reed buntings scurried around in the moss and leaf litter below some trees, surprisingly joined by a family of long-tailed tits finding food, not in a tree, but down on the ground. Blue tits savaged the bark of a conifer, ripping out large pieces before picking away at whatever it was that they had revealed.

The weather stayed warm for the afternoon walk over the heath to Middlebere. Though the views over the harbour and out to a distant hazy Corfe Castle were pleasing it has to be said that the birds disappointed. With the ebbing tide revealing large patches of inviting mud in the channel, a good selection of waders could be confidently expected but it was not to be. There were curlews and a few redshank and that was it. There was a flying spoonbill and more wigeon and shelduck but of the many avocets and godwits in the harbour there was no sign. Rumour had it that they were in the lagoon on Brownsea Island. Raptors also were noted only by their absence.

Nonetheless, Arne is always a favourite place to be and in the unexpectedly gentle weather it was a fine thing to be there to enjoy it.

Reported by Mike Crow

Bird List: Great northern diver, great crested grebe, little grebe, black-necked grebe, cormorant, little egret, spoonbill, Canada goose, brent goose, shelduck, wigeon, mallard, pintail, teal, goldeneye, red-breasted merganser, buzzard, oystercatcher, curlew, redshank, Mediterranean gull, black-headed gull, herring gull, great black-backed gull, woodpigeon, green woodpecker (h), great spotted woodpecker, meadow pipit, wren, dunnock, robin, stonechat, song thrush, blackbird, Dartford warbler, blue tit, great tit, coal tit, long-tailed tit, nuthatch, starling, jackdaw, crow, house sparrow, chaffinch, siskin, goldfinch, bullfinch, reed bunting