Christmas is a great time for bird watching in Dorset

Black and white bird with long grey legs and an upturned black beak - an avocet

Avocet, this elegant monochrome wader is seen around Poole Harbour at this time of year - Credit: MikeLane45/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Winter is the most wonderful time of the year for bird watching, says Paul Morton from Birds of Poole Harbour. Here's his run down of rare feathered visitors you may spot at this Dorset location 

Due to lockdown restrictions, last Christmas was a somewhat scaled back affair. However, one heartening aspect to come out of the pandemic was the fact that many thousands of people took to nature for their distraction. A way to take a break from the ‘real world’ and  immerse themselves in a possibly unfamiliar wilder landscape where the learning opportunities come thick and fast.  

The signs are that this Christmas will be a more social one, but those opportunities to enjoy a regular nature-fix continue and people can take advantage of their new, or on-going, love for learning about birds whilst out on their Christmas walks.  

December is a great month to see a whole range of species. Birds pile into gardens to take advantage of feeding stations, whilst out in Poole Harbour around 27,000 wintering water birds arrive from areas much further north.  

This autumn has been particularly good for brambling, a relative of our more familiar chaffinch, which have started being logged on people’s garden feeders across Dorset, so keep an eye out for this northern visitor. For those with winter berries in and around their gardens, look out for berry-loving redwing and fieldfare which have also arrived from Scandinavia in good numbers.  

Brid of prey on the wing with brown dappled feathers and a yellow beak and eye- hen harrier

Female hen harrier, a bird of prey spotted around the fringes of Poole Harbour - Credit: (c) Peterschwarz24 | Dreamstime.com

Spotting a bird of prey when out on a winter walk always quickens the pulse, and December provides the best opportunity to see a whole suite of raptors, including some rare ones. Merlin, a relatively diminutive bird of prey, frequent Poole Harbour’s fringes hunting on the wing for meadow and rock pipits. Their close relatives the kestrel and peregrine falcon are also attracted to the harbour shore; kestrel focus on small mammals for their protein intake and peregrine cast a hungry eye on the abundance of small waders such as dunlin and redshank.  

Both marsh and hen harrier are back in the area, with 10 marsh harriers logged so far this winter, and up to three different hen harriers including a stunning adult grey male. Also - I can’t believe I can say this now – look out for the majestic white-tailed eagle, which have returned to the area after being absent for many centuries. 

Black duck with white ring on throat and red eye and beak on the water

Male Red-breasted merganser, one of the many diving ducks you can see around the harbour - Credit: SteveByland/Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Out around the harbour a whole range of interesting species can be found including two handsome diving ducks – the exotic looking red-breasted merganser and the rather dapper goldeneye. Waders to look for include avocets – an elegant monochrome wader with a distinctive up curved beak - and sanderling, a small energetic bird that dashes around the shoreline.  

Grey, brown and white bird running along a sandy shoreline - sanderling

Sanderling, a small energetic wading bird that can be seen on the shoreline - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A walk along the inner Studland Peninsular provides a great opportunity to see up to 25 different species, often up close, which helps with some of those tricky ID challenges. In total, up to 125 different species of bird can logged in the harbour during the course of a winter day, and depending on the year, sometimes even more.  

Read about the rare bird species that have returned to Dorset 

So, what are you waiting for? Wrap up warm, grab your binoculars then challenge yourself to see how many new species you can spot on your walk. Whether it’s a sighting of your first ever spoonbill or the magical spectacle of a hen harrier quartering over a muddy reedbed in search of lunch, there’s really no better Christmas present anyone could ask for than a Christmas birding bonanza.  

Find out more, including booking local birdwatching cruises at birdsofpooleharbour.co.uk