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