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17 September 2014
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Estuary activities

Avocet (Image c/o RSPB Images)

Estuaries provide excellent environments for wildlife because of their complex ecosystems.

Why not take a trip to one of Britain's estuaries and watch some fantastic winter wildlife?

Estuary life - an Avocet takes flight across the water. Photo - RSPB Images.

Many of these areas have more comings and goings than Waterloo Station during the winter with birds arriving from colder Arctic climates.

Here are our top tips on activities which you can do in estuary areas during the winter season.

Watching Geese on the Solway Firth

One of nature's great spectacles is the arrival of geese on the Solway Firth in November every year.

But how so you distinguish between the various types of black and white geese species?

The Barnacles, the Canadas and the Brents look a little similar but there are a few subtle differences:

Barnacle GeeseBarnacle Geese - middle sized - bigger than a Brent with a dark head and neck - but smaller than the much larger Canada Goose.

But the biggest give-away is the white face of the Barnacle and its distinctive white forehead.

Canada GooseCanada Geese - a non native species. Large in size. Black head with white cheeks and mid brown body with white underside. Loud, trumpeting call.

Brent Geese - Smaller in size. The adult is characterised by its black head and neck with a small white collar. Grey plumage with white rear end. Most commonly spotted in large, noisy flocks.

Birds of prey in the Swale estuary

Marsh Harrier (Image c/o RSPB Images and Andy Hay)The Swale estuary is one of the best places in Britain to watch birds of prey in the winter months.

Here's a few tell-tale signs to alert you to bird of prey activity in the area:

* Watch the behaviour of the waders and wildfowl - they are constantly on the alert so look out for which bird of prey might be upsetting them.


Although some of the birds of prey look similar from a distance, the Marsh Harrier is easily spotted in wetland and reed bed areas.

The Marsh Harrier is the heaviest of all the harrier family.

Distinctive long wings and long tails.

Female and young birds are characterised by their chocolate plumage.

Males are red-brown with blue-grey heads.

* If you see big flocks of Lapwing in the air with tight flocks in line, there's a fair chance that there may be a Peregrine about.

The Peregrine causes great alarm amongst other birds because its superb eye sight means it can fly out of nowhere at huge speeds to pick a Lapwing from the air.

* The Merlin likes to circle other birds, trying to pick off any on the outside of the ball.

* Look out for Starlings flying upwards in a tight ball - this probably means that a Merlin is about.

* Starlings which fly up and straight back down may have been spooked by a Harrier.

* Watch for any disturbance caused to Ducks and Lapwings as a Marsh Harrier flies along. These birds are not usually too worried because they know that the Harriers are looking for mice and voles on the ground.

Deer watching in Dorset

DeerDorset is an excellent place to watch deer due to the high concentration of these animals, especially on the Studland peninsula.

Visit a hide where you can watch the deer without disturbing them.

The hide at Shipstall Point in the shadow of Poole Harbour is a good place to watch from.

Elsewhere, you may have to stalk these shy creatures to catch a glimpse of them.

Make sure you're downwind of them and keep very quiet - they have a keen sense of smell.

If you're watching out for deer over a protracted period, why not use a long stalking stick for sitting on and resting your binoculars?

Bird watching at Poole Harbour

Poole Harbour is a fantastic place to watch birds in winter with a big range of species.

Look out for the red breasted Meganser which is a fascinating bird to watch - this diving duck belongs to the Sawbill family.

This name is due to their long serrated bill which helps them grasp small slippery fish.

The Merganser can stay submerged for long periods as it drives itself along underwater with its feet.

The male has a green head, whilst the female is a more rusty colour, although theses hues may not be so noticeable in winter.

This species breeds in the UK and is also a winter visitor.

Divers and waders

Avocet (Image c/o RSPB Images)Another unusual bird found here is the Great Northern Diver, a rare species in Dorset which you will only see in the winter.

Its winter colours are rather dull but it's still great to watch it fish with its long, slim, pointed bill which is purpose-built for seizing fish.

This bird is often to be seen diving repeatedly.

It is also silent in winter but in spring its call is a repeated high pitched, eerie laugh.

Another visitor is the Little Egret, a small, white heron-like bird, which loves the rich waters in Poole Harbour.

With its distinctive yellow feet and black legs, watch out for this bird shaking its leg to stir up shrimps and small fish.

Another common sight is the Avocet which swings its head from side to side to filter out the small crustaceans.

The Black Tailed Godwit feeds completely differently to the Avocet - it has a long probing bill which it pokes deep into the mud to dig out worms.



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