ORTOLAN

Bird Watching (UK) - - Event -

aren’t the only wader pros­per­ing at Arne in win­ter, as vis­i­tor ex­pe­ri­ence man­ager Rob Far­ring­ton ex­plained to me. He said: “The har­bour is one of the largest in the world, and its bizarre ‘dou­ble tides’ en­able birds to feed for dou­ble the time. One of the UK’S largest win­ter­ing flocks of Avo­cet spend the win­ter here; one of my first mem­o­ries of Arne (when I was about 10) was get­ting very ex­cited when I saw my very first Avo­cet. There were about 12; now we get well over 1,200! “Avo­cet aren’t the only win­ter vis­i­tor – the colder weather brings Pin­tail, Wi­geon and Teal. Then there’s Black-tailed God­wit, Curlew, Dun­lin and Red­shank.” Arne’s Avo­cets tick­led Chris Pack­ham’s fancy, too, as 200 swept in across Poole Har­bour’s sil­very mud. “They’re po­ten­tially one of the best birds in the world, the Avo­cet, the Au­drey Hep­burn of birds,” he said. (There’s a sub­tle nod there to “Badger­gate” when a Badger swam to a wader scrape at Mins­mere, and gulped down Au­drey the Avo­cet’s chicks dur­ing Spring­watch 2014 – prob­a­bly the most dra­matic thing I ever filmed). Con­sid­er­ing the wader spec­ta­cle at large, Chris waxes lyri­cal: “No painter, sculp­ture or artist could have made it. Just all of these birds com­ing to­gether from all over Europe at this one place at this one time. Of all the places I could have spent a morn­ing in the UK – top of the Shard… in the di­nosaur gal­leries of the Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum, in the Tate… all fab­u­lous, but noth­ing com­pares to this. This was the best place to be in Bri­tain.” It isn’t just waders that wet peo­ple’s win­ter whis­tles. When asked what re­ally floats his boat, Rob Far­ring­ton says, for him, it is more about the hunters than the hunted: “Of course, where there is food there are the hunters: Mer­lin, Pere­grine, Marsh Har­rier and Hen Har­rier all pile in, to take ad­van­tage of the high num­bers of waders. The sight of thou­sands of birds evad­ing a fal­con is one of my favourite sights in the nat­u­ral world.” If you do visit Arne in the colder months, and birds of prey are your cup of tea, then plan your visit around one of the RSPB’S guided trips to Arne Moor, nor­mally off lim­its to the public. Ex­pect two of Arne’s most showy mi­grants – Short-eared Owl and Hen Har­ri­ers. And as dusk set­tles, it’s well worth keep­ing your ears open. There’s a phe­nom­ena go­ing on in the skies Pre­sen­ters Chris Pack­ham, Michaela Strachan and Martin Hughes-games Martin’s best Mickey Mouse im­pres­sion Red­wings and Field­fares can be heard mi­grat­ing at night Record­ing equip­ment has re­vealed a much larger than an­tic­i­pated mi­gra­tion of Ortolan Buntings through Dorset above Arne that I like to call ‘in­vis mig’. A sharp ‘seep, seep’ be­trays the pas­sage of Red­wings. In fact, we can map mi­grants from the sig­na­ture songs they ‘seep’ at the stars and, for me, the most fas­ci­nat­ing mo­ment of Au­tum­n­watch was when Martin Hughes-games caught up with Paul Mor­ton and Mag­nus Robb of Sound Ap­proach, who do ex­actly that. ‘Vis mig’ (vis­i­ble mi­gra­tion) builds a pic­ture of which birds are mi­grat­ing, but re­quires op­tics: prob­lem­atic given that mi­grants use the stars and still air of night to make their epic jour­neys. Start point­ing sen­si­tive record­ing gear at the sky, though, and it of­fers up its se­crets: not only did their sono­grams doc­u­ment Waxwings dur­ing Au­tum­n­watch, sud­denly Dorset’s av­er­age six mi­gra­tory Ortolan Buntings are up to 31, thanks to noc­tur­nal lis­ten­ing in Au­gust and Septem­ber. Even if you don’t have swanky sound kit, cup­ping your hands to your ears will bring you re­wards, by in­creas­ing your ca­pa­bil­ity to hear. Or, if you want to take a leaf out of Martin’s book – strap a pair of choco­late boxes to your head. You may look like Mickey Mouse, but nev­er­the­less it’ll open up an in­cred­i­ble invisible world. And that’s what Winterwatch 2017 will do, too. When some peo­ple think of au­tumn and win­ter, they think of dark sea­sons bereft of life, but as the BBC once again set their cam­eras to bring you Arne’s sights, sounds and se­crets, there is one thing you can be sure of. Ex­cite­ment.

SHOW TIME ALL EARS WIN­TER THRUSHES

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