Busy summer of birds expected at Poole Harbour

Watch Sandwich Terns at Brownsea Island

Watch Sandwich Terns at Brownsea Island - Credit: Archant

From admiring agile hobbies hunting dragonflies to spotting Sandwich terns on Brownsea, it’s a busy summer for Paul Morton of Birds of Poole Harbour

Who doesn’t love summer? Lazy days spent lounging on a deck chair in the garden, sipping on a Pimm’s. And as those clear blue summer skies melt into a flaming sunset, and the scent of barbecue drifts through the air – you think to yourself, what could be more relaxing than summer?

Well, what if your survival this summer depended on you being the most nimble, agile and acrobatic you could possibly be? Pursuing, day after day in the searing heat, some of the fastest creatures around? For one particular bird this is a reality. The hobby does it with such style and pizzazz that you’ll be leaping out of that deckchair and snatching up your binoculars to go and watch these incredible birds of prey performing in Dorset’s summer skies.

A close relative of our native kestrel and peregrine falcon, the hobby is a summer migrant from Africa arriving in Dorset during late April and early May. Traditionally a bird of open heathland, they can now be found breeding in open countryside and on farmland, basically anywhere within close proximity to large bodies of fresh water. These masters of the sky spend the hot summer days hunting down their favourite prey: dragonflies, swallows, sand and house martins. When the hobby first arrives on our shore high flying insects are their favoured prey, you can see them twisting and turning in the air as the hunted try their best to out maneuver the hunter… nearly always unsuccessfully.

The hobby time their breeding season to coincide with when the second or third broods of swallow chicks leave the nest. This gives the adult hobby a succulent and protein rich food source to chase down and then feed to their young chicks. If you’ve never seen a sickle-winged hobby dashing across a blanket of purple bell heather then there’s no better time than in July. Best spots to see this are Morden Bog in Wareham Forest and over RSPB Arne.

And that’s not the only bird working hard this summer. Poole Harbour is famous for its Sandwich and common tern colony. They are equally active feeding their eternally hungry chicks. Foraging fishing trips can take some adult terns up to 10km away to find sand eels, before returning to noisy and often quite pungent gravel islands on the Brownsea Lagoon. A trip to Brownsea in July is a must; the Sandwich tern manoeuvre and orientate their flight line towards their chicks just metres in front of the well positioned hides, allowing you to see the vibrant yellow tips on the end of their bills.

So, whilst you’re relaxing in the sunshine, save a thought for our hard working feathered friends who’s summer holidays don’t start until November, and that’s after completing a long and dangerous migration back south to Africa.

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