When asking people what they like to do most during spring, answers range from watching Springwatch and doing wildlife gardening to listening to the dawn chorus and taking in wildflowers in our local green spaces. Though I do like doing all these things too, one of my favourite things to do during the spring season is to visit two of my favourite nature reserves in search of some of my top bird species.
By getting out to local reserves, we are supporting the work of organisations such as the RSPB, immersing ourselves in the wildlife that call these reserves their home, and improving our own health and wellbeing at the same time. Take a look at my recent adventure and see if you may be inspired to visit one of your local nature reserves as spring rolls into summer!
Saturday 11th May 2019
I was first introduced to Dorset’s RSPB Radipole Lake and Lodmoor 5 years ago by my Granddad whilst on a birdwatching trip, and since I have visited many times and have even completed an internship at the reserves with the RSPB. This means I am well acquainted with Radipole and Lodmoor (2 of the 5 RSPB nature reserves found in Dorset) and they hold a special place in my heart.
For those of you who will not have heard of these nature reserves before, I will just start with a few facts about the two:
- 21.3 miles from my home
- 83-hectares in area
- Designated SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest)
- Managed by the RSPB since 1976
- Habitats: wetland, hedgerow, scrub, reedbeds, saline lagoons
- Star species: kingfisher, marsh harrier, bearded tit, Cetti’s warbler
- 21.5 miles from my home
- 76-hectares in area
- Designated SSSI
- 1.5 miles east of Radipole
- Connected to the sea under a sea wall at the southern end
- Habitats: freshwater reedbed, scrub, saline marsh
- Star species: marsh harrier, bearded tit, Cetti’s warbler, common tern
What makes these two reserves extra special for me though, can be split into two parts. Firstly, they are both situated in less conventional locations than many other nature reserves, being found at the centre of the busy seaside town of Weymouth. Thus, when you step into these reserves and surround yourself with the reeds and wildlife, you would not believe that you are situated within the heart of an urban area. In this way, they are both oases for a range of wildlife and for the naturalists that visit them.
Secondly, they are both year-round homes for one of my favourite species of bird of prey, the majestic marsh harrier. I did not know that they could be found on my doorstep until my first visit to the reserves, so their discovery for me a few years back brought with it lots of excitement. Consequently, it is one of the greatest draws for me when visiting these reserves at any time of the year.
So, on a sunny day in May this spring, I headed to the reserves alongside my birdwatching partner in crime, my mum, to hunt down marsh harriers during their breeding season, whilst taking in other species and a range of habitats.
RSPB Radipole Lake Nature Reserve
Most trips to the reserves start in the public car park outside the RSPB’s Weymouth Discovery Centre and next to the bridge into Radipole Lake Reserve. This setting feels a lot more like an urban area than a home to wildlife.
Once you cross the wooden bridge from the car park into the reserve though, you are suddenly transported into a world of water, reeds, sky and trees. You are also hit by a cacophony of bird sounds ranging from species commonly heard in our gardens to water birds and warbler species, such as the sound of the noisy and distinct Cetti’s warbler. If it was not for the houses that can be seen above the reeds in the distance though, you could probably forget the reserve’s urban setting all together!
When my mum and I crossed the bridge we also found ourselves on a hard surface trail that gives easy access around the reserve. Starting at the discovery centre, we then followed it round the main circular discovery walk, stopping to spot birds in the trees along the sides of the trail, to identify plant species, and to look out across the reeds and open water from the main viewing platforms and spots around the reserve. In this way, we were able to pretty quickly rack up our species list and to get some great views of wildlife.
My highlight of the trip to Radipole though, unsurprisingly included my star species, the marsh harrier. This began earlier on in our walk around the reserve, when my mum and I first caught a tantalising view of a male marsh harrier flying above the reeds, hunting in the distance. This made us then even more motivated to try and get a closer view of marsh harriers on this day, by heading off the main discovery trail and on to the north trail, to visit one of the best spots to watch these birds. Sat at a viewing screen in the sunshine, hot drinks and biscuits in hand, our luck paid off and we had the pleasure of enjoying one of our best ever hours watching marsh harriers at the reserve.
Following a short wait, the hour started with my mum spotting our earlier male marsh harrier hunting above the reeds, though still a good distance away from where we sat. We watched him through binoculars for a little while, before he disappeared from our view.
This sighting from the viewing screen was not our last though. After a longer wait, our viewing experience was suddenly taken up a notch. The same male that we had been watching previously suddenly popped up within 15 metres of the viewing screen, giving us amazing views of him. He then gave us a real show hunting and flying backwards and forwards in front of us before flying higher and higher till he was directly above our heads. This allowed us to really experience this bird in action and gave me the opportunity to at least try and photograph him in his natural habitat. We only made our own departure from the reserve once the male had finally moved off once again.
From our couple of delightful hours on this reserve, we counted 30+ bird species, with our top 6 being:
- Cetti’s warbler
- Swift (first swifts of the year)
- Great-crested grebe
- Marsh harrier
- Little grebe
- Sedge warbler
RSPB Lodmoor Nature Reserve
On this day in spring, following a stop for lunch sat on the seafront in the glorious sunshine, my mum and I chose to park at Weymouth’s public Overcombe car park on the eastern side of Lodmoor nature reserve. From here we planned to walk a clockwise loop around the reserve’s main trail and see what species we could see that call the reserve their home.
In this way we first walked along the main road that borders the southern side of the reserve and splits Lodmoor from the seafront, stopping at breaks in the reeds and hedges to see what birds we could see on the marsh area. On one of these stops, we finally got to take in one of Lodmoor’s star species, breeding common terns. At the reserve, islands in the lagoons/marsh are managed each year to provide areas for the terns to breed safely away from many predator species. In sight of these islands, we got some really fantastic views of the terns hunting over the water.
Though most of the best areas for birdwatching are situated along the side of the main road and near the tern nesting islands, my mum and I of course continued our walk on the main trail around the reserve, taking in as many species as we could. Unfortunately, this year we did not catch any sightings of the marsh harriers that can be found breeding at this site, but the reserve still did not disappoint us. In particular, we spotted 24+ bird species, with our top 6 sightings being:
- Bar-tailed godwit
- Black-tailed godwit
- Common tern
My trip to the reserves may not be everyone’s cup of tea for a day out, but I had a thoroughly enjoyable day in the sunshine, spending time with my mum and being completely distracted from work and day-to-day life. I also got to take in some incredible flora and fauna, as well as a tranquil and vivid environment.
So how was my hunt for the marsh harriers? Though I did not get the pleasure of seeing marsh harriers at both reserves, watching the male at Radipole Lake for a long period of time felt like a real success. They are a striking species that I can easily pick out from others, and with birds of prey being my favourites, it is easy to see why I enjoy watching them so much.
The highlight of my trip obviously was the marsh harriers, but also was being able to spend the day doing something I love with one of my favourite people. We all should take a little time out of our busy lives to do things we enjoy and that uplift us, allowing us to take care of ourselves in the right way. Anything to do with enjoying spring outdoors does this for me and allows me to de-stress.
As I come to the end of this blog post, with the end of my trip, I do hope that I may have inspired you to take a trip to your local nature reserve, even if it is just to take a walk, see something new, have an adventure or appreciate your local plants and animals. Nature reserves are a free and easy form of entertainment for all, so why don’t you escape to one today?