Today I left the claustrophobic trappings of Christmas behind and ventured out to Arne, near Wareham; one of my favourite RSPB reserves. I had heard that there was a temporary raptor hide on Coombe Heath and as I have always loved watching the winter Harriers, Peregrines and Merlins, I fill up my flask and set out across the heathland. Coombe Heath has a wide open feel about it; lots of space and light to walk away winter melancholy. In fact winter is the best time to visit Arne. Today the sky is a mosaic of white-black rain clouds and crystal clear blues. I follow the new trail and find the hide looking out towards Middlebere.
Hides have a good feel about them, tucked in out of the wind, with windows all around you; there is a wonderful air of expectation; anything could turn up at any time. It only takes a raptor to swoop and the thousands of birds on the watery fingers of Middlebere take to the air and the calm turns into theatre and drama.
It wasn’t long before a female Marsh Harrier made her presence known by lifting a flock of Lapwing and Widgeon. I love to see huge flocks of birds dipping and flitting their white flanks against the shadow of the blue Purbeck Hills… and there she is this elegant harrier deftly quartering over the reeds in front of the hides looking for frogs or small mammals. Sometimes she keeps moving, sometimes she hovers only metres about the reeds, then down to rest and then up again.
Brought back from the brink of extinction due to shooting and pesticides, the Marsh Harrier is a familiar winter visitor to these southern reed beds. It doesn’t matter how often you see them; they are always spectacular with their fine feathery fingers and majestic flight. Lost in this moment, I feel truly happy and privileged – the right time and the right place…
I leave the hide to explore Arne and to walk through the flowering gorse; there is still lots to see before dusk. Not least another hide, this time near Shipstal point where the regular flock of Spoonbill are pleasingly alert and a Merlin sits preening itself after a feast. The Curlews call their plaintive cries as the sun dips slowly towards its sleep… time to set off home; a good day, a clear mind and a calm spirit.
(Photograph of marsh harrier: Tony Howes)