With early morning mists and a rich palette of fiery colours to admire, late autumn is a wonderful time to experience the wild beauty of RSPB Arne. You might even spot Sika deer or some of our grazing pigs rooting for acorns on the woodland floor.

With the changing of the season, our local bird populations are also boosted by migrating winter arrivals. Some of these feathered visitors use our wetlands as ‘filling stations’ to rest, recharge, and refuel on their long journeys. Others spend the winter with us, feasting on the invertebrate rich mudflats and saltmarshes, finding refuge from the colder winters of their summer breeding grounds. So, during the winter months, we ask people not to land on the RSPB Arne peninsular other than at designated and clearly marked zones, as disturbance can cause our winter visitors to fly away too soon, which can have serious consequences for a tired and hungry traveller needing respite.

Start your visit to RSPB Arne at the Welcome Area, in the corner of the main car park. Our friendly Welcome Team can tell you what’s about at the time you are visiting and more importantly, where you can see it. You can also hire binoculars to enjoy close-up views of the resident wildlife.

Great British Life: A flock of avocets, Brownsea Island is home to one of the largest flocks of avocets in England. ( Photo: Andy Hay/rspb-images.com) A flock of avocets, Brownsea Island is home to one of the largest flocks of avocets in England. ( Photo: Andy Hay/rspb-images.com)

One of my favourite sights at RSPB Arne at this time of year are the avocets. A beautiful bird with striking black and white plumage and long blue legs, it has been the RSPB’s official logo since 1970. This elegant wading bird is also a symbol of hope for nature. It was virtually extinct 100 years ago in England, due to the draining of their wetland homes for agriculture. However, avocets returned to the coastal marshes of East Anglia after some areas were flooded during the Second World War as a defence tactic, which accidentally created the perfect breeding habitat for them once more. Since then, conservationists have worked hard to re-establish the coastal wetland habitat avocets need to thrive.

Here in Dorset, Poole Harbour has the single largest overwintering flock of avocets in the UK. From just 25 birds counted over 30 years ago, it’s recent record-breaking count was 2,000 plus birds. With vast mudflats and salt marshes rich with aquatic insects, larvae and small crustaceans, Poole Harbour provides rich feeding grounds for these and other waders. Avocets can be seen sweeping their upturned black bill from side to side in the shallow waters of the intertidal zone seeking tasty morsels. And, this year, we celebrated the first successfully breeding avocets on the Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve at Brownsea Island.

Another bird to look out for is the black-tailed godwits which have travelled from Iceland to overwinter here. In winter, these birds have a brown and greyish/white plumage, quite different from the bright orangey-brown of their chests and bellies during the summer breeding season. Black-tailed godwits can be seen feeding in the shallow waters or on the mudflats, probing with their long, straight, mainly pink beaks to find their prey.

Great British Life: Black-tailed godwit foraging on a mudflat. (Photo: Ben Andrew/rspb-images.com)Black-tailed godwit foraging on a mudflat. (Photo: Ben Andrew/rspb-images.com)

Black-tailed godwits had become extinct in the UK in the 1800s before returning in the mid-20th century with a peak of breeding pairs in the 1970s. These large waders are on the Red List of birds of highest conservation concern, and the RSPB are working with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust to increase its breeding success across the UK.

Over at RSPB Lodmoor, part of the RSPB Weymouth Wetlands Reserves, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which consists of fresh water reedbeds, scrub and saline marsh, separated from Weymouth beach by the B3155 at Overcombe. Enjoy close-up views of the over-wintering waders here and, on occasion, some rarer visitor such as ruff, curlew sandpiper, whimbrel, little ringed plover, and glossy ibis.

One of my winter favourites at RSPB Lodmoor is the lapwing, known by some as the peewit due to its shrill calls. Although from a distance the lapwing’s plumage appears to be mainly black and white, its back is the most stunning array of iridescent green, violet, and blue colours, particularly beautiful when the light catches it on a sunny winter’s day.

Great British Life: Lapwing at RSPB Lodmoor. (Photo: Neil Price)Lapwing at RSPB Lodmoor. (Photo: Neil Price)

Lapwings prefer to breed on farmland, so it comes as no surprise to discover that due to changing farming practices over the latter half of the last century its UK population has declined by over 55%. It is now on the Red List of birds, but working with wildlife friendly farmers and landowners, we can help turn this around.

Another bird to look out for at RSPB Lodmoor is the golden plover. Last year, we had a visiting flock of over 500. Seeing these together with the lapwings really was a breath-taking spectacle. I can’t wait to see what species are in residence during late autumn and winter at our RSPB Dorset reserves.

Find more details at rspb.org.uk

Great British Life: Pull a Pine event at RSPB Arne Nature Reserve last year. (Photo:Terry Bagley/rspb-images.com)Pull a Pine event at RSPB Arne Nature Reserve last year. (Photo:Terry Bagley/rspb-images.com)

Pull-a-Pine for Christmas

Invasive pine trees in forestry plantations dominate areas of RSPB Arne. If left unchecked they out-compete our important, native heathland plants. Pulling up these invasive saplings allows us to maintain a mosaic of landscapes which provides the perfect habitat for Dorset’s heathland wildlife such as the silver studded blue butterfly, sand lizards and Dartford warbler. Which is why, every year, we invite the public to come and Pull-a-Pine for their Christmas tree. Held over the weekend of December 2-3, dig out your festive hats, scarves, jumpers and wellies and join us for a winter celebration in nature with live music, Christmas crafting, refreshments in the Arne Café with hot food, mulled cider, stalls and the opportunity to pull your own Christmas tree and do your bit for nature. The event runs 10am –3pm (last entry 2pm). Book here: bit.ly/PullaPine23