Thursday 20 June 2024

Down, up, around and back - Part 1

The Safari met up with IH who drove us down to Southampton for a watery safari aboard the good ship Borealis as part of the Ocean Wildlife Encounters team of wildlife guides helping the guests enjoy and identify the marine life seen from the ship during the week's cruise. Our route would be a circumnavigation of Great Britain (the geographic island) and visits to the Outer Hebrides and Shetland (not part of the geographic Great Britain).

Before we boarded the ship we had a day to fill down on the south coast, where better to spend it than the RSPB's fabulous Arne reserve full of crazy invertebrates, all the UK's species of reptiles and some great birds we don't see up north and a site neither of us have visited before. We got our reserve map and some directions of what to look for where from the very helpful staff at the reception area and set off full of eager anticipation of what the day might hold. what unusual (for us) wildlife would we find? Blackbirds and Blackcaps sang as we ventured down the path, nothing unusual so far then. A small bird on the path in front of us caught our attention, it seemed to be pecking at something - a Coal Tit, again not unusual. BUT what it was doing was deffo unusual and something we'd not heard of before, the thing it was pecking at wasn't a substantial caterpillar but a pile of Fox droppings. No, it wasn't eating it but teasing out hair presumably to line its nearby nest. We've not seen that before and nor had we even heard of such behaviour before. That's the wonder of nature there's always something new to discover and even 'commonplace' species can surprise you.
By now any hint of sunshine was disappearing and a cool wind started to blow probably ruling out any chance of finding any reptiles although we did keep our eyes peeled along the sides of the paths for Adders and Common Lizards in the Bracken. Sadly we had no joy. 

We wandered up to the viewpoint to get our bearings and have a scan of the habitats we were about to traverse. Among the Heather on the heathland we came across a couple of day flying moths which we didn't recognise. They turned out to be a species we don't see around Base Camp nor our regular safari haunts, Common Heath.

Lunch was taken in the hide overlooking Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island, no we couldn't see their famous Red Squirrels from there. We did however see a different unusual (for us) mammal, a couple of Sika Deer were sheltering under the woodland fringe very distantly across the saltmarsh to our left. Another top spot by IH. There wasn't much birdlife on offer in the creeks below us but a couple of keen youngsters told us they'd seen a tern further out, they though it might have been a Sandwich Tern, but did they know there's been a Forster's Tern from America in the area for quite some time? Another birder told us they'd seen one of the re-introduced White Tailed Eagles earlier in the morning. We had to make do with a pair of Ravens on the beach.
The weather deteriorated as we continued our stroll around the reserve, getting colder and duller all the time. Hearing a Cuckoo brightened our spirits but everything else was keeping well hidden. And then the rain started and by heck did it come down! We made it to the cafe just in time to avoid a severe soaking. The next hour and more was enjoyed looking out of the windows while drinking hot brews washed down with ice cream. It wasn't all bad though, a Cuckoo flew right over our cafe window and we had five species of finches visiting the feeders, there may have been six but when we stood outside the check for Lesser Redpolls, possibly seen from inside, none showed up. Eventually the rain stopped and we headed to the extensive heathlands were we heard a Woodlark flying overhead and a little later one singing. We caught up with the keen youngsters who tried their best to get us onto a Dartford Warbler that they'd found not long earlier. It wasn't to be but eagle eyed IH did return the favour by getting them onto a pair of Woodlarks on the other side of the path. We were too early in the day, and possibly the tear, for any Nightjars to be on the wing but the area in front of us did look bob on for them. There wasn't much else about apart from a couple of Stonechats and after the rain a lot of Biting Midges! So back to Southampton it was before the rain started again. 

Somewhat annoyingly we joined the ship the following lunchtime (always a good time to board a cruise ship) in lovely sunshine - why couldn't it have been like that yesterday?? We met up with the other half of our OWE team, MK and SB.