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Large numbers now seen in Poole Harbour in winter but scarce elsewhere in Dorset.


Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

Avocet: welcome back

Post date: Saturday, 15 November, 2014 - 00:00

We first started visiting Arne about 30 years ago when we still lived near Winchester. It has always been a favourite place and holds many happy memories of special things we have seen there over the years. We even used to have our Christmas picnic lunch there (returning home for Christmas Dinner!) in the Coombe Heath Hide. 

Initially an avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) at Arne (or anywhere else for that matter) was just a dream. Then they started arriving, more and more each year and now there are hundreds, if not a thousand or more. I look forward to their return each year and I love to see the way they will often team up and work an area of mud together.

From near extinction in the UK to now a common winter visitor to Poole Harbour (and the River Exe, Pagham Harbour and other places) the avocet is a real success story and one that the RSPB can be rightly proud of as they have a had a major hand in the revival of this birds fortunes; indeed they use it as their logo. The lagoon on Brownsea Island is probably an even better place to see them but as the island is closed during the winter you have to get on one of the special Dorset Wildlife Trust excersions to see them.

They are such special birds and are bound to create debate in our family as to whether they are the most beautiful of birds or whether that honour belongs to the barn owl. The avocet is, to me at least, nature in perfection!


Avocet in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Post date: Monday, 7 January, 2019 - 17:20

I have a soft spot for the avocet! I try not to have favourites in nature believing that all creatures and plants are beautiful in their own way as part of the rich diversity of life our world currently offers us but, that said, the avocet has to be one of my 'top ten birds'. When I started birding back in the 1970s the avocet was uncommon in the south of England, indeed rare, and I still recall seeing my first avocet in 1981 in Pagham harbour in Sussex. Thankfully they are now almost common place in Dorset coastal areas in winter with large numbers, well over 500, to be seen gathered together in feeding flocks on exposed mudflats at low tide.

Whilst they are seen on the Fleet and in Christchurch harbour the main wintering population is to be be found in Poole harbour; reports from other sites would tend to be birds on the move as they do not appear to generate reports other than just one off casual records every now and again.

As with many waders we may think that they can only be seen in Dorset in winter and yet the weekly chart shows records for the avocet from virtually every week of the year and that is because a couple of pairs have nested on Brownsea Island in recent years and have hatched young but unfortunately due to predation the young have not fully fledged and reached adulthood. Hopefully some way of protecting the chicks will be found and a regular breeding colony in Poole harbour can be established. If that does not happen it will not be for the lack of trying I am sure so I wish those involved in trying to bring this about every success in their endeavours but it will not be easy.

The bulk of the incoming winter population seem to arrive from about week 36 at the end of September and numbers start to reach their peak by November. In spring the bulk of the birds have gone by the end of March or early April. 

To add avocet to your life list just go to the RSPB Arne reserve and walk out onto Coombe Heath to the hide or the viewing screen and at low tide you will see hundreds of these elegant, beautiful birds. Wait for them to be disturbed and see them take off almost together as one in a wonderful mass of black and white. If you can get a winter boat to Brownsea Island then you can see them close up right outside the hides, this is also true if you go early or very late in the season when the boats are running daily.


The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Sites List Distribution Map Some Charts Some Photographs Original Tweets Relatives Guidance Notes
Common Name Avocet
Scientific Name Recurvirostra avosetta
Status Locally frequent
Interest Level
Species Family Other Waders
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
Preferred Environment
  • Mudflats
Look for A black and white bird with a unique up turned bill
Additional Identification Notes
  • Once very scarce but now a  thousand or so over winter in Poole Harbour
  • A small number are attempting to breed on Brownsea Island but so far without success due to nest predation 
  • Unmistakable being the only wader with an upcurved bill and blue legs  
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