Reports, with Bird Lists, of our Meetings, Walks and Outings

Poole Harbour and its Birds
by Neil Gartshore

Date: Thursday 15 March 2018 at 19:30


Ken Cottam presented Steve Williams with a five-year pin badge of a swift, as a thank you from the RSPB for 5 years of volunteering with the group.  Congratulations Steve!

Forty-seven people attended an illustrated and enlightening presentation given by Neil Gartshore on the subject of Poole Harbour, its birds and the surrounding area.

Poole Harbour is one of the largest natural harbours in Europe with four rivers running into it, the largest being the Frome.  The harbour provides several different habitats to accommodate a wide variety of birds, including about 20,000 water birds.  Although heavily developed on its northern shores several different nature conservation groups, particularly the RSPB, National Trust and the Dorset Wildlife Trust, own large tracts of land on the south side.  Much of the forests on the south are being returned to the heathland they were prior to relatively recent afforestation.

Housing developments are the key threat on shore, whilst human activity, including illegal fishing, legal fishing, water sports, aggregate extraction and tourism all disrupt nature off-shore.  Wynch farm oil rigs are a threat but fortunately oil extraction remains at a low level.

One surprising threat to wildfowl is the number of areas with shooting rights for wildfowlers.  The good news is that the shooters appear to be aware of their responsibilities and take care not to “over shoot” and even suspend hunting in times of bad weather.

The harbour has five islands; Brownsea being the largest is a major nature reserve managed by the National Trust and Dorset Wildlife Trust.  It has a large freshwater lagoon and a good number of waders, peregrine falcons red squirrel and many species of duck.

Overall the harbour and its surrounding land, particularly that south of the harbour, have a significant variety of birds including internationally important numbers of avocet, black-tailed godwit and shelduck.  It also has some rarer species including spoonbill, great white egret, the occasional crane, bar-tailed godwit, purple sandpiper, kingfisher, hen and marsh harrier, woodlark, Dartford warbler, nightjar, bearded tit, marsh and willow tit and bittern. There is a project underway to create an osprey breeding colony in the harbour by releasing young birds caught in Scotland.

All six British reptiles can be found in the south section of the harbour surrounds, as a result of managing the vegetation growth with horses and cattle, creation of new heathlands and control of the large numbers of sika deer.

Neil’s message was that if you want to spend time enjoying beautiful scenery, with seascape and landscape, watching a wide variety of birds in various habitats then Poole Harbour is a very good destination!  Neil’s passion for and knowledge of his subject was obvious and this was a most interesting presentation and enjoyable evening.

What’s About was presented by Brian Clews on behalf of Peter Gaines:

Despite strong opposing winds for some time, two migrating garganey had made it to Hants and London respectively, the latter location also hosting a rare little bunting at Walthamstow.  Another popular west London site, Staines Reservoir, had held a horned lark, the American form of our shore lark for several weeks now.

Nearer to home, Cliveden had returning firecrests and Little Marlow gravel pits was helping a mediterranean gull to hide amongst the hundreds of black-headed gulls.  The Widbrook area had seen two oystercatchers return, a species which had shown up at all the usual Berks locations within a week of each other, including Loddon Reserve, Twyford (where the species first bred in Berks in 2010), Hosehill, Theale, Padworth and Dinton Pastures.  Dinton also had two black-necked grebes, a species also to be found at Lower Farm, Newbury.  Nearby to Lower Farm, at Shaw, up to ten hawfinches could still be found (though this pales into insignificance to the 400 still to be seen at Kingley Vale, West Sussex!).

Oystercatchers were also at Moor Green Lakes alongside redshank, ringed plover and common sandpiper, and a wind-blown kittiwake turned up there also.  At Wishmoor, the parrot crossbills were still wandering about, though seemingly in smaller numbers now.  But the rarest bird in the county at this time remains the great grey shrike out on Bury Down.

There had been a notable upturn in local blackcap records in the last week or two.  These may have been local wintering birds coming out of hiding to feed themselves up for their imminent return flight to Northern Europe or birds that have been in more northern counties moving down to escape the ongoing colder spell in those regions.

Finally, a raven is already on a nest it has used previously in the outskirts of Maidenhead so do keep an eye and an ear open for this notable corvid as it can range a fair way from its nest to forage.

--- Original Programme Information ---

Black-tailed Godwit
Black-tailed Godwit

Poole Harbour is the largest natural harbour in the UK and is one of the largest in the world. Its international importance is recognised by the designations afforded it. From the rivers Frome and Piddle to the open sea, the harbour and its adjacent shores has a variety of habitats including reed beds, salt marsh, heathland and grassland providing for a wide range of bird species (many of which reach internationally important numbers). Human activity in the harbour can often be in conflict with this wildlife interest – this talk looks at some of these issues, the wildlife and the beauty of this outstanding area.

Turnstone Brownsea Island from Arne
Turnstone Brownsea Island from Arne


Neil started working in nature conservation in 1983 when he spent three seasons on the Farne Islands. Two years in South Africa/the Sub-Antarctic and contracts for the RSPB on Coquet Island, Mawddach Valley (Wales) and Minsmere were followed by a move to Dorset in 1991 to work on the RSPB’s Arne Reserve. After 17 years at Arne he decided it was time to move on and went freelance to follow other interests. He now runs Calluna Books (buying/selling second hand natural history books), takes people out bird/wildlife watching in Dorset and further afield, and continues to work as a freelance bird surveyor. In 2015 he took over The Birdwatcher’s Yearbook and now edits and publishes this title.


All pictures are © Copyright. Do not reproduce without permission from Neil Gartshore.