Saturday 7th February
What an absolutely fabulous, brilliant day!
It all started with dawn over Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour as seen from the hide overlooking Shipstall Point on Arne RSPB reserve. A group of four ravens were then mobbed by a very vocal peregrine and as the tide was coming in 3 spoonbills flew onto a sandbank close to the saltmarsh edge fronting the hide. Walking around to Shipstall Point itself, the views across to Poole were stunningly beautiful and the number of spoonbills had increased to 9.
Walking up to the viewpoint there, masses of memories from when I used to live in nearby Swanage came to me as I named each island and headland presented in front of me. Brownsea Island, Middlebeare, Brand's Bay would be around that bend, the ferry at Sandbanks; all of these places had given me immense nature moments, treasured moments.
The area where a dartford warbler had buzzed me the evening before gave me very quick views of one again but no chance of a photo. Further along the path sika deer were the opposite, standing with curious looks as I pushed the heavy laden bike between two groups of does and young. As tame as ever, one could spend a lot of time enjoying them.
Birds in the woods here included a good number of redwings and titmice of 4 species, wrens, robins and a couple of green woodpeckers.
As I came closer to the small visitor's centre and car park, I could hear a female peacock barking with a male answering her demands. A greater spotted woodpecker drummed and added to the birding orchestra.
The centre was just about to be opened by two RSPB staff members as I arrived and I was soon holding a hot cup of hot chocolate. Lindsey and Lauren listened to my tales and it was great to meet RSPB people. RSPB people have such an amazing level of enthusiasm and expertise that they are always wonderful to meet and Lauren and Lindsey were no different; fabulous.
Now the Arne complex of RSPB reserves is extremely complex. From what I can make out there are 7 (yes 7!) in the area and I needed a good map to show me where Grange Heath was. I knew all of the others, or so I though, but Grange Heath I wasn't too sure of. Lindsey, bless her, phoned her boyfriend who just happened to be in bed. He, Rob, got out of bed and was at the reserve within twenty minutes and showing me the incredible maps detailing the Isle of Purbeck Futurescape. Now I hadn't heard this term since 2010 and was thrilled to here it used for this wonderful part of Dorset. The futurescape here involves reserves owned by the RSPB, Dorset Wildlife Trust, the National Trust and England Nature; all creating an inter-connected landscape of heathland habitats. Maps to show me the location of the previous named reserve were photographed and Rob, offered me the chance of seeing areas of the reserve that I had never seen before.
First it was to a large clay pit with a famous history. This had been the place where Josiah Wedgewood, the blue and white pottery people, had clay collected for the Queen's Ware collectionback in 1771. Rob told me that it was possibly due to the wealth of the Wedgewood family that The Origin of the Species was written. Charles Darwin married Josiah's grandaughter, Emma and the money he passed on to them funded Charles' research.
We walked out beyond the clay pit to an area where the pit was joined to the sea water of Poole Harbour via a channel dug out by the RSPB. The view over to Brownsea Island and Shipstall Point was tremendous, with the contrast between the built up eastern shore and the natural western shore most pronounced. Like the two tribes in the film Avatar, I prefer the natural.
Next it was along the trails up a hill to a WW2 Anti-Aircraft position Due to Arne's proximity to the cordite works across the bay at Holton Heath; itself now an inaccessible RSPB and national nature reserve these days, a night-time “Starfish” bombing decoy was constructed there in just six weeks in 1944.
Fires were lit on Arne to give the Luftwaffe the impression that this was the cordite works after having been bombed. The bombers would then add their loads to the area only to hit open heathland. The area still has the scars created from those bombs. Now though they are wildlife filled craters, with some having pools for dragonflies, raft spiders and grass snakes.
After exploring the buildings still in reasonably good condition, even with the degree markers and slogans on the walls, with a large air-raid shelter full of water, “great for newts in the summer,” said Rob; it was along the track a little further where the remains of a search light was still in situ.
Next to a large burial chamber with a double moat and dyke still prominent. Standing on top, Rob told me of the relationship between the RSPB and the landowner of a section of heathland below. Here clusters of pine forest had been left, whereas on the RSPB side of the divide bisecting the valley, only individual pine trees had been left standing. The clusters were the preferred habitat for nightjars and the individual trees preferred by woodlarks, so the thinking goes and a study is being carried out to see whether that is so.My amazing tour of a reserve that I had previously thought I knew well was not over just yet. Down to the Middlebeare channel next, first to look at the first hide erected at Arne and then to look over a campsite where school parties can and do camp. Rob had talked excitedly about sleep outs and Christmas tree collecting days and here was the most perfect out of the way campsite with fantastic views of the western harbour.
Here a barn owl came out of a barn on our approach. I couldn't count it on the year list though due to the carbon transport I was delighting in. Rushing around the Arne trails, bouncing along was such fabulous fun! We did collect a number of the juicy pellets though for children to dissect back at the visitor's centre later. One immediately had the jawbone and skull of a vole as I opened it up for three fascinated small children.
The site for a hoped for hide next, if funding could be found (any business people able to make an offer?). An incredibly scenic site with wonderful views and masses of waders and duck. To the right, the west the channel went towards Middlebeare itself with views of Corfe Castle and to the left, the east, one could see the islands of Poole Harbour. If funding could be found, Rob explained, a screen would be planted of small bushes so that one didn't see the view until viewing it from the hide. I could just imagine the gasps of amazement as people did just that in the hoped for near future.
Now all the areas that I had been shown were away from where the public normally goes now, except on special event moments, such as the frequent sleep outs. In the future though it is planned to open these all up so that everyone could enjoy what I was enjoying.
So eventually back to the car park and visitor's centre.
Rob asked if I needed fiecrest for the year list. Indeed I did and within the five minutes he said it would take to find one we'd found two in the hollies near to the toilet block. Now I am not a photographer and so it was proved with three of the worst photos of such fabulous favourite birds. Still they show the features that stand them out from the rarer at Arne car park goldcrests.
More static, amusing and easy to photograph was a male peacock displaying for a female with his full parasol out. The photographs of him that I took were stunningly beautiful and headed my personal facebook page for a few days. One of the firecrest photos did the same on my Biking Birder 2015 facebook page.
Photographs of me with RSPB staff and a visiting birder were taken for their blog/ Twitter etc and then it was off.
A short ride to a shop for sustenance and then to Stoborough heath RSPB reserve. Here a lot of work had been done clearing the area of gorse so that the heathers could re-establish Looking a bit devastated at the moment, I could imagine the area in a couple of years time with silver-studded blue butterflies flitting around as woodlarks over flew the area by day and nightjars by night.
Next to the difficult to find Grange Heath RSPB reserve. On arriving a went through a whole packet of chocolate raisins and had the painful experience of crunching down on a grape seed secreted in one of the raisins. It demolished one of my molars! Pieces of cracked enamel came out leaving a big hole and a sharp piece at the top preventing me from carrying out one of my favourite pastimes, whistling. Now do I ask the company that packaged them for compensation for the dentistry work required or ask for a donation towards one of the charities I am supporting?
Into Grange Heath reserve itself I explored overgrown grasslands and areas of woodland before coming out onto a very muddy birdleway leading back to the road.
With it now getting dark I cycled along to a couple of miles west of Wool where I found a beautiful B and B for the night.
Year list now stands at 133. Next it's off to Lodmoor and Radipole RSPB reserves.
Now please have a look at the photographs of today on my facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/bikingbirder2015
Also if you could please make a small donation to any of the charities that I am supporting then please click on the links to the right. Thanks.
All the very best everyone. Love to you all xx