Tuesday, 1 November 2016

23rd October - RSPB Arne, RSPB Lodmoor & Abbotsbury Swannery, Dorset

Our location in Dorset meant that we were very central to reach in good time many of the good sites around us.  Today we had decided to visit the RSPB reserve at Arne.  I had been there a few weeks earlier, but wanted to visit again in the hope that there would be some better action from the Sika Deer. We reasoned that today would be the best day as from Monday the reserve would be readily identified as the home of Autumnwatch and it would become quite busy.  In addition the weather was to be good today so we decided on an early start.  As we drove along the A35 east the sun was just coming up coating the sky a fiery red colour.  Despite all this planning the car park was quite full when we arrived around 8.30.

We set off from the car park in the direction of Shipstal point, the path taking us through the woods where the sunlight was catching the golden brown bracken.

There is a viewpoint here that looks out across the heath towards Corfe castle, but the misty conditions prevented any reasonable view.  Just as we were about to leave I disturbed a Great Spotted Woodpecker in a tree close to us and it flew away but only as far as a tree close by.  But as they always do it settled and moved around to the back of the branch.  We waited and finally it appeared, at first upside down.

Then finally around the right way.  It was a female and she proceeded to hammer away at the bark as we walked away/

We walked on through the woods, a few Grey Squirrels foraging about under the Sweet Chestnut trees, but nothing like the number there had been earlier in the month.  It was also very quiet maybe a couple of singing Robins and the odd alarm call of a Wren, but nothing like the activity I had witnessed previously.

From the board walk we headed through the woods, and again no sign of any deer about.  We decided to go into the hide and joined three other people in there all looking out across the marsh.

Now the hide is not one of the best located hides, and everything is very distant, there is a small shingle bank that was home to around 60 Spoonbill last time I was here, and today I could see only one distant Spoonbill.  I took a quick record picture, safe in the knowledge that Spoonbill are always seen here, and we joked with the others in the hide about it having no friends.

It wasn't until I zoomed in later on the picture that I noticed two dark marks on the wing, once again I really didn't pay much attention, assumed they may be wing tags. 

It wasn't until Tuesday evening that it became much clearer, watching Autumnwatch they introduced a camera on the spit, and the truth about my Spoonbill photograph came out, this was Spoonbill Cam, put there by the Autumnwatch team, the two black marks being the camera.  When I look now it is clearly not a live Spoonbill!

Interestingly the camera never provided the shots of Spoonbills I think they were hoping for.  It is also probably not a coincidence, that the numbers of Spoonbill seen earlier in the month here have dropped significantly, and have built up on Brownsea Island.  Obviously the Spoonbills are not as daft as me!

After leaving the hide we headed towards the higher ground and the viewpoint.  Here there are wonderful views out across the marshland.

 Walking around the paths we finally came across a small group of Sika Deer hinds.  As always they just stood and watched us.

These were the only deer we saw, there was no sign of any stags, but we did here one call as we set out on the walk around Combe Heath.

With sun warming everything up there were several sightings of Common Darter, and also quite a few Red Admiral.  The bracken here providing a good warm spot.

The Bracken itself looking wonderful when back lit by the sunlight.

We stopped to have breakfast in the splendid cafe, and then set out over the heath.  Apart from quite a few Meadow Pipits flying around, and a very brief burst of call and then a tail of a Dartford Warbler there was very little about.  As we arrived back in the car park the overflow area was being used, and we decided that it was time to move on.

Our next stop was to be the RSPB reserve at Lodmoor and area of marsh and reed-beds just behind the sea wall and beach outside Weymouth.  The whole area is part of a wider country park, and while there are few facilities there is a comprehensive set of footpaths that cross the reserve allowing good views of the open water.  I had only ever been here once before many moons ago so was interested to see what could be found.

First up was a Black-tailed Godwit feeding quite close to the path in deepish water.

In a shallower area the water was like a mirror despite the now strengthening easterly wind that was taking the edge off the temperatures.  A lapwing moved with that graceful studious walk.  Its reflection being picked up in the water.

A pair of Dunlin busily probed the mud almost in unison.

Around the edges of the pools Teal could be seen, most of them with the heads tucked under their wings but with a watchful eye still open every so often.

In the sunshine the green speculum takes on a vivid hue.  This can be seen in both females and males.

The detailed markings of the male teal are beautiful, and in the reflection you get double the effect.

The path was now winding through the reeds and they were providing cover from the wind.  We disturbed bot a Red Admiral and a Common Darter, and above us was another reminder of summer as several juvenile Swallows passed overhead.

The path then came out onto a housing estate, and as we tried to see if we were able to get back I noticed something sitting on the top of the roof of one of the houses.  A closer look revealed a superb male Sparrowhawk.

Those large piercing yellow eyes stood out as the bird scanned around the area.

It was as if it realised that by keeping low it would not reveal its profile, it was clearly intent on watching something.

Then we realised what it was focusing on.  In the hedge opposite, and close to us there was a lot of chatter coming from a sizeable flock of House Sparrows, but above the hedge on the telegraph wire was an eequally large group of Starlings.

The problem for the Sparrowhawk though was that we were between it and the possible prey, and as we finally decided to move on we disturbed both the Starlings and the House Sparrows and the game was up.  The Sparrowhawk raised itself, and eventually flew off to try again another day.

A little further on along the road there was a path back into the reserve, and it took us past several patches of open water with plenty of Shoveler, Pochard and Tufted Ducks.

The path then reached the main road, and the sea wall, and we turned into scrub once again, with only limited views of the water.  A large number of Starlings were feeding on the saltmarsh, and more Shoveler could be seen on the banks fast asleep in the sunshine.  The scrub though provided shelter from the wind, and once again there were Red Admiral about, but also a single Speckled Wood.

We came to a viewing place that looked over quite a large expanse of water and reeds.  Just in front of us were six Little Grebes diving close to the reeds.

There was also a large group of Canada Geese, and one had a rather interesting facial marking.  Reminiscent of Two Face from the Batman comics, one side was white, almost barnacle Goose like.

While the other was a definite Canada Goose marking.

As we left the view point the path crossed a sluice, and unknowingly a Kingfisher was there, but it saw us first and all we managed was the flash of electric blue as it sped off around the reeds.

The path then took us back to the car park, and with the clouds gathering, the wind increasing and the sunshine becoming more watery we decided to move on, this time to Abbotsbury.

The Abbotsbury Swannery is the only managed colony of nesting mute swans in the world.  The colony can number over 600 swans with around 150 pairs. Written records of the swannery’s existence go back to 1393 but it probably existed well before that, and is believed to have been set up by Benedictine monks in the eleventh century.  The monastery of St. Peter's was established on the site in the eleventh century when King Cnut gave the land to his steward, Orc, and the monks managed the swans as a ready source of meat for use at their lavish banquets.  The swannery was used by the monks until 1539 when the monastery was dissolved by King Henry VIII. The ruined remains of the monastery are still visible near the Church of St. Nicholas, Abbotsbury.  The site was then purchased by Sir Guy Strangeways, and has remained in the ownership of the Strangeways family through fifteen generations up to the present day.

The Swannery is one of the best places to view the Fleet, but today is a managed tourist attraction, so to get in you need to pay a fee.  After a Dorset cream tea in the cafe we paid our entrance fee, £12 each!  After being told repeatedly that there were no toilets down by the water we decided to take the risk and walk down.

The swans are everywhere both adults and juvenile cygnets.  There is at peak times 600 birds here, and around 150 breeding pairs.  This collection of wildfowl attracts others in, and it was these "others" I was hoping to find.

As we walked around the pools we disturbed our second Kingfisher of the day, and it once again sped away from us.  Down by the water there was a huge mixed raft of Tufted Duck and Pochard, and a little further out several Little Grebes.  What I was looking for was in amongst the Tufted Duck and Pochard, finding it was a little difficult as it was determined not give itself up easily.

But eventually it lifted its head and I was able to get my £24 year tick, a female Scaup.

It came in closer.

We walked around the pens but could not locate the Kingfisher.  A bird of prey came at us quickly and as it stooped above us I could see it was a Peregrine, but was gone from view as quickly as it appeared.

As we walked back up to the car park, Jackdaws and Crows performed aerobatics in the very strong cold easterly wind that was now making being outside quite unpleasant.  With this in mind we decided to call time on the day and head back to the warmth of the cottage.  

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