A different kind of Christmas: December trip to RSPB Arne

For most people Christmas outings may involve activities such as shopping, ice-skating, visiting Santa or taking in Christmas light displays. This year to get into the festive spirit though, I decided to do something a little bit different. Why? Well this month is a great time to get outside in the cold (and the wet!) and take in some of the winter residents and migrants that can currently be found in the UK. What better way to escape at this time of year than to get out in nature!

My choice of destination was simple: RSPB Arne nature reserve in Dorset. This reserve covers more than 565 hectares, has many designations such as being a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is home to a mosaic of habitat types ranging from heath to ancient oak woodland. As a result RSPB Arne is famous to British naturalists for its rich biodiversity and spectacles of nature, which include the colourful ladybird spider (as featured on Autumnwatch in 2016) and all 6 UK species of native reptile. Situated approximately 25 miles away from my home, this gem for the wildlife enthusiast is becoming a firm favourite of mine.

Well what was the real aim of my visit this Christmas? Though birds of prey such as marsh and hen harriers are always at the top of my ‘must-see’ list, I have to admit that December is THE time to see waders at Arne. In fact, neighbouring Poole Harbour hosts one of the largest flocks of wintering avocet in the UK, which is a real spectacle to see.

So, with the weather on my side for one day in mid-December, I made the journey over to the the isle of Purbeck for a day of no pressure bird watching and walks with spectacular views. Having visited Arne a handful of times before, I started my day by setting out on Arne’s seasonal raptor walk in the slim hope that I might catch sight of a wintering harrier or falcon. Though it did result in a kestrel being added to the day’s species list, it was my only raptor sighting of the day in the end.

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The seasonal raptor walk was not fruitless though, as sitting in the reed bed hide at the end of the walk I was treated to my very first sighting of a highly charismatic bird. Despite having seen flashes of this bird in the past, I had never seen it up close and perched before. So it took me by surprise when I caught sight of the shape of this small bird with its distinctive short tail, large head, and long bill only a couple of metres in front of me in the hide. To my excitement it was a kingfisher and following this sighting I had the pleasure of watching it hunt in the pools of the reed bed for quite awhile longer!

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Following seeing my kingfisher, the rest of the day was spent walking the Coombe Heath trail and yellow Shipstal trail to catch sightings of waders around Middlebere Lake and Arne bay.

To highlight some of the species I ended up seeing on my walks, here’s a little ’12 waders and waterfowl of Christmas’:

  1. Mallard
  2. Little egret
  3. Common shelduck
  4. Eurasian oystercatcher
  5. Brent geese
  6. Common redshank
  7. Lapwing
  8. Eurasian wigeon
  9. Pied avocet
  10. Common greenshank
  11. Eurasian curlew
  12. Eurasian spoonbill

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At the end of my day exploring Arne in the dry and escaping a busy life, I have to admit that it was just what I needed during the festive period. Filled with wintering wildlife and tranquil landscapes, ‘traditional Christmas’ only permeated my outing through visits to the reserve’s cafe and shop, which were both fully embracing the festive season.

Though my day at Arne may not characterise most people’s festive period, it fitted with the meaning of my own Christmas, made up of things that I cherish such as family, nature and focussing on my own mental wellbeing. Taking an opportunity to concentrate on and celebrate such things is what defines Christmas to me, amongst modern traditions. So all I can say now is remember what means most to you at this time of year and have a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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