Bird Watching in Dorset

Whether you are a complete beginner or a keen birder, there are some fantastic bird watching locations and guided tours to join.

Because Dorset is blessed with both countryside and coast, you will get the chance to see a huge variety of coastal and migratory species as well as specialities like Dartford Warblers.

Being located on the south coast, Dorset is one of the first places where birds travelling up from the south arrive at. Portland Bill and Durlston Country Park are brilliant locations for seeing species on their migration routes during spring and autumn.

Best birdwatching sites for beginners

If you are a novice, you will probably want to choose a location with a visitor centre, bird hides and some help to identify species.

The Castle at Durlston Country Park is a great place to start your visit to this national nature reserve. The Rangers on duty will be able to point you in the right direction to view coastal birds on the nearby cliffs or those which are travelling through on their migration. They keep a daily diary of what species has been spotted so you’ll get an idea of what you are likely to see.

At the RSPB nature reserves at Arne and Radipole Lake you will find binocular hire, visitor centres with café and helpful rangers to point out the best spots to watch birds and other wildlife. Arne is a heathland reserve on the edge of Poole Harbour and Radipole Lake is a wetland reserve.

Guided tours and boat trips

Birds of Poole Harbour run regular events to help you get to know all about Poole Harbour and its important bird life. They run boat cruises, ringing demonstrations, field trips, specialised courses, guided walks and talks. They also have live webcams and daily updates so you know where are the best places to go and what species are in the area.

City Cruises have teamed up with the rangers at Durlston Country Park to offer bird watching boat trips from Poole Quay or Swanage Pier. Join them for an evening cruise along the Jurassic Coast to Dancing Ledge and back. Along with commentary from the rangers, you’ll get to see various coastal and sea birds and if you’re lucky, the nesting puffins.

Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Fleet Observer boat will take you on an hour long tour of the Fleet Lagoon. You will see Chesil Beach and the little tern colony as well as hearing about local history and the wildlife of the Fleet Lagoon. It’s a great way for nature enthusiasts, photographers and visitors to explore the area.

Coast and migration

The Isle of Portland is normally the first land which migrating birds heading north arrive at. So its location makes it a great place to see unusual species on their migratory journeys, as well as passing seabirds. The surrounding cliffs are home to breeding seabirds, including common guillemots, razorbills and a small population of puffins. Be sure to visit the Portland Bird Observatory near Portland Bill - their website lists daily sightings of resident as well as visiting bird species.

Poole Harbour and the Fleet lagoon are internationally important breeding sites for winter visiting birds such as avocets and spoonbills. At Chesil Beach next to the Fleet, there is rare colony of little terns which breed on the beach in the spring. There are some great locations to watch them from such as Brownsea Island, the Chesil Beach Centre and Upton Country Park.

Another great bird watching site is Christchurch Harbour. There is a huge range of habitats here and along with the 120-foot-high Hengistbury Head means it is a stopping off point for migrating species. For the latest sightings, visit the Christchurch Harbour Ornithological Group website.

Osprey re-introduction

At Poole Harbour you might be lucky enough to see an Osprey thanks to a project to re-establish this spectacular bird of prey to its former breeding grounds on the south coast.

In this 5-year project, up until 2021, 60 Osprey chicks are being translocated from Scotland and releasing them in the Poole Harbour area. The aim is to restore a breeding population 180 years after they went extinct in England.

You can find out more about the project on the Birds of Poole Harbour website.

Get up close and personal

Abbotsbury Swannery is home to the only managed colony of free-flying mute swans in the world that visitors can walk among. During the nesting and hatching period (end May-end June), it is possible to stand next to hatching eggs and see the very cute sygnets getting used to family life.

RSPB wildlife reserves

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) have 5 reserves in Dorset located at Arne, Lodmoor, Radipole Lake, Lytchett Fields and Garston Wood.

Arne and Radipole Lake have visitor centres, cafés and picnic areas. You can follow their nature trails and even hire binoculars if you don’t have your own.

At Lodmoor and there are car parks, viewing points and nature trails to follow.

Garston Wood and Lytchett Fields are more popular for being off the beaten track. They don’t have visitor centres or specific nature trails to follow, but this means there are less visitors and more chance of being at one with nature.