CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Dorset Magazine today CLICK HERE

The arrival of spring migrants to Poole Harbour

PUBLISHED: 10:57 28 March 2017 | UPDATED: 10:57 28 March 2017

Northern wheatear in Poole Harbour - an early spring arrival (Photo by Paul Morton)

Northern wheatear in Poole Harbour - an early spring arrival (Photo by Paul Morton)


The race is on, which feathered spring migrant will arrive in Dorset first? Paul Morton of Birds of Poole Harbour is scanning the skies for ospreys too

March heralds the arrival of our first spring migrants on the south coast and the race is on for the males of a whole host of species; they need to find and claim the best territories and prepare for their ‘better halves’ to arrive. For many this mega marathon begins in late January and early February as they head up through Africa, across the Mediterranean before making a bee-line for northern Europe. Their arrival here can vary greatly depending on weather conditions and wind directions in southern Europe. But with breeding and feeding on their minds, pure determination and lust sees this incredible journey for several species often completed by mid March.

Normally it’s a two-horse race between the pristine northern wheatear and the super zippy sand martin as to which will arrive first in Poole Harbour. With their pastel blue-grey caps and backs and black bandit masks male northern wheatears are a welcome sight on any early spring day. They can turn up anywhere from the beach and car parks at Baiter, along the cycle paths at Holes Bay and even up on Ballard Down.

The sand martin almost always heads straight for large bodies of fresh water such as the main Poole Park boating lake, Swineham Gravel Pits or Hatch Pond. Their hope is that it is warm enough for small insects to be active near the surface of the water so they can feed. Sand martins, a close relation to our swallow, arrive throughout March and can congregate in large numbers if the feeding is good, before they then move off to their breeding grounds.

Most spring passage waders begin to pass through Poole Harbour in April, however the little ringed plover puts the rest to shame by touching down on the pools and scrapes of Lytchett Fields and Swineham Floods by mid March. The obvious yellow ring around its eye and long pointed structure makes this delicate bird easy to identify, and quite often four or five will choose to feed in the same area, a site rarely seen at other times of the year.

Another March migrant that is bound to set pulses racing is the magnificent osprey which, you maybe surprised to discover, is an annual visitor to Poole Harbour. They pass through Dorset on their way to breeding grounds in Scotland. Middlebere and Arne are good places to watch the skies for this fish-eating bird of prey. If you’re very lucky you may see one grab a fish and feed before continuing its journey north. We’ve even seen ospreys casually passing over Poole town centre, so it’s well worth keeping an eye skywards on mild March days.

Many of our resident birds are changing in behavior and even colours this month. The drumming of both lesser and great spotted woodpeckers ricochet around newly emerged hazel catkins, and common garden birds begin to impress with their vocal repertoires. Meanwhile, in the reed beds the reed bunting transform from boring brown to brilliant black and white as a process known as feather abrasion reveals their dazzling summer finery.

Make sure you get out into the Dorset coast and countryside to witness this early rush of spring magic.

Find out more including a list of bird themed events and tours at


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Dorset visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Dorset staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Dorset account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

This easy walk takes us into Hardy territory as well offering some glorious views towards Weymouth and Portland

Read more
Thursday, November 29, 2018

Here are some Dorset walks, easy and challenging, to get you out and about over the festive period

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

If you’re willing to brave the cold this Christmas Day, check out Dorset’s festive swim calendar for the best organised dips taking place in 2018

Read more
Thursday, November 15, 2018

Confusion reigns on the county’s eastern border

Read more
Thursday, November 15, 2018

From festive light switch-ons and Santa’s Grottos, to German Christmas markets and late-night shopping, we’ve covered what’s on in Dorset this season

Read more
Monday, November 12, 2018

From your first step, you will see superb views from hilltops and farmland footpaths on this walk

Read more
Sunday, November 11, 2018

Martin Clunes and his family have called West Dorset home for over two decades. Here he shares some of their favourite local places

Read more
Monday, November 5, 2018

To mark the centenary of the end of World War One we visit some of the memorials erected across Dorset to remember the fallen in the ‘war to end all wars’

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

This lovely walk takes us from watercress beds to a church famous for its life-size carvings of apostles

Read more
Thursday, October 25, 2018

Autumn is a great time to brush up on your gardening knowledge with the help of some experts, as well as see some well known gardens in a different light

Read more
Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The guide to Dorset’s best firework displays and bonfire events happening in 2018

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Prepare to experience the paranormal this Hallowe’en as Visit Dorset reveals some of the county’s most haunted pubs, stately homes, historic buildings and tanks

Read more
Monday, October 15, 2018

Dorset villages are some of the most beautiful in England – think winding lanes, thatched cottages and a cosy pub or welcoming tea room. We suggest ten of the prettiest villages to visit in the county

Read more
Friday, September 14, 2018

Follow in the footsteps of the Romans on this lovely walk that takes in rare habitat, ancient woodland and glorious views

Read more
A+ South & South West

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search