Dorset is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The ceremonial (Vice) county comprises the non-metropolitan county, which is governed by Dorset County Council, and the unitary authority areas of Poole and Bournemouth. Covering an area of 1,024 square miles, Dorset borders Devon to the west, Somerset to the north-west, Wiltshire to the north-east, and Hampshire to the east.
Dorset has a varied landscape featuring broad elevated chalk downs, steep limestone ridges and low-lying clay valleys. Over half the county is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Three-quarters of its coastline is part of the Jurassic Coast Natural World Heritage Site due to its geological and palaeontologic significance. It features notable landforms such as Lulworth Cove, the Isle of Portland, Chesil Beach and Durdle Door.
Dorset is very much a coastal county. To most birders Portland, and its observatory at ‘The Bill’, is famed for finding rarities at almost any time of year, including many species that turn up annually, and is the best sea-watching spot in the county. Hotspots along the coast, from east to west, include Christchurch Harbour - Poole Harbour (including Brownsea Island) - the RSPB’s Weymouth Reserves (Radipole Lake/Lodmoor are amongst the best urban birding sites in the UK) - and the Fleet stretching from Portland Harbour/Ferrybidge to Abbotsbury.
Inland sites shouldn’t be neglected. Corn Buntings (resident) and Golden Plover (winter) can be found at Maiden Castle (Dorchester); Redstarts at Lambert’s Castle (Marchwood); Goosanders on the River Stour at Crawford Bridge (Spetisbury); Dippers at Maiden Newton; Nightingales at Lydlinch and Deadmoor Commons; and wintering Short-eared Owls on Wyke Down between Cranborne-Sixpenny Handley.
With many internationally important heathland sites, Dartford Warblers, Woodlarks and Nightjars thrive in Dorset and wintering Great Grey Shrikes are regular… the best sites include Arne, Avon Heath Country Park and Morden Bog (part of Wareham Forest). The reed beds at Radipole/Lodmoor have breeding Marsh Harriers, wintering Bittern and resident Bearded Tits. Although not a well wooded county, its plantations and deciduous woodlands add a variety of other species.
Little Egrets are well established since first breeding in 1996; Marsh Harriers re-colonised in 2009 and are breeding in Poole Harbour as well as Weymouth; Great White and Cattle Egrets are now becoming more regular and Spoonbills have recently reached up to 77 birds …all possible future colonisers.
In comparison to Poole Harbour this is a much smaller site and easily covered in a day. Has a good variety of habitats, is well watched and regularly turns up rarities. A number of areas can be visited: north side – Fisherman’s Bank, Mudeford Quay and Stanpit Marsh (small visitor centre here); south side Hengistbury Head and Wick. Good during migration time and during the winter, area very busy in the summer (but quieter bird-wise). During the right conditions can be good for sea-watching. Dartford Warblers are found on Hengistbury, small numbers of Purple Sandpiper winter on Mudeford spit.
Often missed by birders speeding down to Arne this delightful old heath, with some heathland reclamation projects being carried out on it, is a great place for the typical species of lowland heath; Dartford warblers, nightjars, and hobby making any summer evening magical.
This is an internationally important harbour with many sites available to visit individually or combined over a few days. Sites include Arne, Brownsea Island (open end Mar-end Oct), Holes Bay, Lytchett Bay, Middlebere, Studland and Swineham (Wareham). The site is important for its wintering waders and wildfowl including good numbers of Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit and Shelduck. Quieter during the summer but Common and Sandwich Terns breed on Brownsea Island and Marsh Harrier, Bearded Tit, Mediterranean Gull and Little Egret also breed around the harbour. Winter bird boat trips are a ‘must do’ experience.
The Isle of Portland is a magnet for common, uncommon and rare birds during migration times and can turn up excellent birds at any time of the year. Birding activity on the island focuses around the Portland Bird Observatory… always worth checking out their website/twitter feed or calling in for the latest info. Birds can turn up anywhere on the island and good coverage by local and visiting birders means that many of them will be found. Sea-watching from the Bill is the best in Dorset. Enjoy the local Little Owls, regularly seen in the Obs Quarry.
Purbeck Heritage Coast
From Durlston Country Park/NNR (south of Swanage) in the east to St Aldhelm’s Head/Chapman’s Pool in the west, follow the South West Coast Path to see the area at its best. Migrants in the spring and autumn can turn up along the coast, particularly in the valleys heading inland from the coast including Durlston, Winspit and Seacombe. In good autumn weather birds can be seen flying through (‘Vis Mig’) and may include scarcer species such as Hawfinch, Tree Sparrow and Lapland Bunting. A few seabirds breed along the coast (Razorbill, Guillemot, Shag and Fulmar), mainly at Durlston, and a handful of Puffins and Kittiwakes still hang on respectively at Dancing Ledge and Blacker’s Hole (near Langton Matravers).
RSPB Radipole Lake & Lodmoor Reserves
Two of the best urban birding sites in the country – both worth visiting at any time of the year. The RSPB’s visitor centre at Radipole Lake is a good starting point to see what birds are in the area. The large reed-beds with open water here are a great place to see Bearded Tit, Cetti’s Warbler, Marsh Harrier and Bittern (winter). The site has always turned up rarities, check out the gulls for any unusual species. Lodmoor is the ‘wilder’ of the two sites – again good areas of reed-beds and open water but with more marsh and mud. Good selection of waders and ducks, Bearded Tit, Cetti’s Warbler, Marsh Harrier and Bittern (winter), regular rarities - especially amongst the waders. Common Terns breed here.
The Fleet: Ferrybridge to Abbotsbury
There are a number of sites accessible individually or it is possible to walk from one end to the other (about 10 miles). Ferrybridge has a Dorset Wildlife Trust visitor centre and is a good starting point. In winter, The Fleet’s Brent Goose flock is often here (look for Pale-bellied and Brant individuals amongst the dark-bellied majority), Mediterranean Gulls can be seen in their hundreds and it is a good place to see a few waders. Divers, Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers can be seen here, or more likely in the adjacent Portland Harbour. Heading north: the Bridging Camp, East Fleet, Herbury, Langton Herring and finally Abbotsbury can be visited independently. The good numbers of duck usually include occasional Scaup, Long-tailed Duck and Smew (usually at the Abbotsbury end). Quieter in the summer, the main attraction is the Little Tern colony at Ferrybridge. The occasional rarities that turn up, can be anywhere along The Fleet.
A large forestry plantation on the edge of Wareham with plenty of open heathland and areas of clear fell. Within the forest, Morden Bog is a NNR and is probably the best area holding Dartford Warbler, Nightjar and Woodlark. Exploring the forest may also find Hobby, Peregrine, Cuckoo, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Tree Pipit, Redstart and Crossbill – some species more localised than others. The spring to the autumn provides the best birding but still worth visiting in the winter when Great Grey Shrike is often in the area.
Number of Species
Number of bird species: 420
County Bird - Hoopoe Upupa epops
Best Birdwatching Sites Dorset
By Neil Gartshore - Buckingham Press 2011 - 248 pages, 65 sites.
ISBN: 9780956987600Buy this book from NHBS.com
Bird Song from a Dorset Wood and Heathland Garden CD
John Hammick - Mandarin Productions 2004
ISBN: 151160Buy this book from NHBS.com
Coastal Birds and Marine Mammals of Mid Dorset
Richard White and Andrew Webb 48 pages, b/w photos, line illus, tabs, figs. Joint Nature Conservation Committee Distributed by NHBS 1995
ISBN: 1873701969Buy this book from NHBS.com
Coastal Birds of East Dorset
S.J. Aspinall, M.L. Tasker Paperback - 48 pages (1990) Joint Nature Conservation Committee
ISBN: 0861396847Buy this book from NHBS.com
Rare Birds in Dorset
Edited by Stephen Morrison 192 pages, 55 distribution maps, 157 graphs. 1998
ISBN: 0953007804Buy this book from NHBS.com
The Birds of Dorset
by George Green Published by Christopher Helm 2004 ?40
See Fatbirder Review
ISBN: 0713669349Buy this book from NHBS.com
Where to Watch birds in Dorset, Hampshire & the Isle of Wight
By Dr G. Green and M. Cade (Helm) 2010 4th Edition
See Fatbirder Review
ISBN: 9780713688139Buy this book from NHBS.com
Forums & Mailing Lists
Guides & Tour Operators
Locally based international tour operator - Birdfinders, Westbank, Cheselbourne, Dorset, DT2 7NW, United Kingdom Telephone: +44 (0)1258 839066 Fax: +44 (0)1258 837449 Mobile: 07050 602473
Local birders willing to show visiting birders around their area…
Dorset Birding and Wildlife Experience
Our Tailor-made Birding and Wildlife Tours are designed by us, for you, so that your time out in the field is as productive as possible. When you book a tour we work around your interests to produce a suitable itinerary that will provide a Dorset birding and wildlife experience not to forget.
Poole Harbour Birdboats
Apart from being an idyllic, tranquil and scenic oasis during the winter, Poole Harbour is also a haven for important over wintering wildlife and boasts internationally significant numbers of wading birds and waterfowl. The harbour not only hosts one of the largest wintering flocks of Avocet in the country but can also provide views of up 20 Spoonbill lazily flying over the Brownsea Lagoon, Common Seals popping up next to the boat to say hello or even a spectacular display from a Peregrine Falcon!
CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.
2010 [06 June] - David & Amanda Mason
…As we had not seen Dartford Warbler in this country since 1994 and had never previously seen Cirl Bunting in the UK, we decided to spend a few days in Dorset and Devon with two specific birding targets in mind…
2011 [05 May] - Tony Jones - Brownsea Island
I know Red Squirrels can't fly, so I suppose that officially they aren't birds, but seeing one in England would be a 'tick' for both Penny & me, so during our holiday in Dorset we planned a visit to Brownsea Island, nestling snugly in Poole Harbour. I thought there must also be a fair chance of some birds, as I remember Bill Oddie including it in one of his birding programmes…
Places to Stay
A Great Escape Guest House
A Great Escape offers a high level of accommodation with ensuite bathrooms, flat screen televisions with FreeView, fridges, safes, hairdryers, and refreshment making facilities. We also include a full English breakfast using locally sourced produce…
…empowering and resourcing people, particularly carers and those with disabilities, through creativity, environmental awareness, personal and spiritual growth.
Knoll House, The (Studland)
To the north and west are nature trails and bird-watching reserves. Projecting out into the Channel, as we do, is a guarantee of better weather than on the mainland. We have our own micro-climate in Studland. The grounds extend to about 100 acres and include eight acres of Spring gardens at Studland Bay House which contain some rare and interesting species.
Sea Barn Farm Camping Park - Weymouth
The Park is part of a family farm bordering the fleet nature reserve…
Top Parts B&B
Top Parts is set on high ground at the head of the Bride Valley just two miles from the village of Abbotsbury and the World Heritage Coast at Chesil Bank…
Birds of Poole Harbour
Welcome to ‘Birds of Poole Harbour’, a charity completely dedicated to educating people on the stunning variety of bird life in one of the country’s most picturesque locations, helping you make the most of this truly breathtaking natural harbour. From local schools, passionate residents and intrigued tourists 'Birds of Poole Harbour' offers a unique learning opportunity to a large audience. We see our role as the link to raising the profile of bird conservation and preservation in the harbour for everyone to enjoy.
Bournemouth Natural Science Society
Ornithology - This Section promotes the Objects of the Society through lectures and field meetings, and the availability for study of Museum specimens and Ornithological books and magazines….
Christchurch Harbour Ornithological Group
CHOG watches and records the birds of Christchurch Harbour, which is situated on the south coast of England and includes the well known birdwatching areas of Hengistbury Head and Stanpit Marsh. Despite covering an area of only 9 square kilometers, over 300 species of bird have occurred in the harbour.
Dorset Bird Club
Contact: Membership Secretary Diana Dyer, The Cedars, 3 Osmay Road, Swanage, Dorset: firstname.lastname@example.org By phone on 01929 421402 or email Chairman - Neil Gartshore email@example.com - The Dorset Bird Club is a membership based club financed, and run, by its membership. Please look around the site - if you are not a member, and are interested in Dorset's birds, then why not consider joining….
Dorset Environmental Records Centre
Dorset Environmental Records Centre was established in 1976 as an independent organisation to collate information on all of Dorset's wildlife. It provides an opportunity for local naturalists and conservation organisations to work together….
Dorset Wildlife Trust
The Trust's main activity is to acquire and manage nature reserves for the benefit of the wildlife of Dorset. We have 40 established reserves, ranging from a tiny island in the river Stour to our most recent acquisition, Upton Heath…
This reserve is open to disabled users and has specially designed facilities - as far as we know it is the only such facility in the UK
RSPB New Forest Local Group
We are an active local RSPB group covering the whole of the New Forest and neighbouring areas in Hampshire & Dorset. We have an extensive programme of walks throughout the year, plus monthly meetings ( 2nd Wednesday each month) in Lyndhurst Village Hall. Members and non-members welcome…
RSPB South Dorset Local Group
This is the website of the South Dorset Local Group. RSPB local groups are a great way to meet friendly, like-minded people in your area while learning more about birds and wildlife.
Portland Bird Observatory and Field Centre
Portland Bird Observatory and Field Centre, situated at the Old Lower Light, Portland Bill, in the county of Dorset on the south coast of England, was established in 1961 to provide a focal point and accommodation for naturalists, particularly birdwatchers, visiting Portland. The origins of the Observatory date from the pioneering work by Dr Ken Rooke and friends who began studying bird migration at the Bill in 1951.
Warden: Martin Cade, Old Lower Light, Portland, Dorset DT5 2JT 01305 820533 firstname.lastname@example.org
Dorset County Museum
The focus of this collection is plants and animals from within the boundaries of Dorset, including insects, birds, molluscs, marine invertebrates and plants, and much more. Included are a collection of 5,000 native herbs, as well as bird specimens collected by local resident Alfred Wallace, a contemporary of Charles Darwin, on his travels around the world…
This nature reserve of international importance supports a wealth of wildlife. Sedge and reed warblers, heron, great crested grebe and diving and dabbling ducks frequent this wetland habitat. Because of the proximity to the sea Abbotsbury also has little and common terns, shelduck, cormorant, and ringed plover. There is also the chance to see more unusual species.
Forestry Commission Wareham Forest
Wareham Forest is an area in Dorset, England, consisting of open heathland, including Decoy Heath and Gore Heath, and plantations of conifers such as Morden Heath and Bloxworth Heath. The site is overseen by the Forestry Commission for conservation and recreation. Situated next to the A35 road between Dorchester and Poole; the forest provides a home for sika deer, the Dartford warbler and a population of sand lizards.
NNR Durlston Country Park
Durlston Country Park and National Nature Reserve, situated 1 mile from Swanage in Dorset, is a fabulous 280 acre countryside paradise, consisting of sea-cliffs, coastal limestone downland, haymeadows, hedgerows and woodland. With stunning views, walking trails, the historic Great Globe, superb geology and fascinating wildlife there is always something different to see…
NT Brownsea Island
The lagoon was reclaimed from the harbour in the 1850s to create farmland, but neglect of the sea wall and wind pumps led to its becoming a non-tidal wetland, which attracts a variety of birds whose legs and beaks fit them for feeding in brackish water and on mudflats. It is a habitat of national importance, providing a vital refuge for waders, especially when the tide is high and the mud flats around Poole harbour are covered.
Arne is the place to see heathland wildlife including Dartford warblers and nightjars. All six species of reptiles found in the UK live here: adders, grass snakes, smooth snakes, sand lizards, common lizards and slow worms. There are also 22 species of dragonflies…
RSPB Garston Wood
This ancient coppiced wood is especially worth visiting in spring, when there is a breathtaking carpet of bluebells, wood anemones and primroses. You can see many woodland birds, including turtle doves…
This reserve has a grazing marsh with ditches, shallow pools, reedbed and bushes. You can see bearded tits and Cetti's warblers all year and there is one of the largest breeding colonies of common terns in the south-west…
Joe Cockram - Joe's Birding Blog
Dorset Blogger’s tales of twitching, photo-jaunts overseas and Dorset birding…
Nick & Jackie - TwO Owls Birding
Nick started birdwatching as a child in Dorset and has since travelled widely but his roots are in Dorset and particularly Poole Harbour. Jackie began birdwatching in her mid-twenties and ran a YOC group in Middlesex. After moving to Dorset in 1986 and meeting Nick, together they started up a YOC group in Poole until 1997.
Peter Moore - Peter Moore's Wildlife Blog
Welcome to Peter Moore's wildlife blog, created largely to compensate for a failing short-term memory by providing a record of my experiences watching and photographing wildlife. I have been fortunate enough to see over 450 species of bird and 61 species of butterfly in Great Britain, photographing most of these (badly) over the course of the last 15 years.
Steve Smith - Birding Poole Harbour and Beyond
I've been a keen British birder since the age of 13. These days I generally bird locally around Poole Harbour, the Purbeck coastline & Dorset sites.
Birding the Nothe
Join me in my birding on The Nothe, a small town park in Weymouth, Dorset, Southern England. In itself, the park is unremarkable, with the usual collection of lawns, shrubberies and car park. But its location, on a peninsula of land jutting out into sheltered Weymouth Bay, makes it a great place for birding, with a remarkable variety of species noted here and in the surrounding waters. I’ve been counting birds here since 1981, and there are other records going back to the fifties. At present in this site you can.
Dominic Couzens - Bird Words
Hello, my name is Dominic Couzens and I am a writer, with nearly 30 book titles to my name. I have also been a regular birdwatching field trip leader since 1988 and organise and lead birding trips in the UK. I love meeting people and sharing with them the things that excite me about nature, especially my main area of expertise, which is bird behaviour. I believe passionately in communicating greater understanding about the natural world and am fortunate that the opportunities offered to me through my Books, Magazine Articles and occasional Television work enables me to share an understanding of birds and other wildlife.
UNESCO awarded Natural World Heritage Status to the coast of Dorset & East Devon in December 2001 in recognition of its unique pedigree which spans 185 million years. Please use this website to explore what the 95-mile coast and its countryside offer you as a visitor…
Nature Diversity from Dorset, the New Forest and UK Landscape
Locations are Dorset, The New Forest, Hampshire and around the United Kingdom. The nature albums have images of UK wildlife including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, plants, fungi and lichens.
Information on a number of Dprset reserves including Arne.
The Rambling Birder
Homnepage of a Dorset birder - Ken Tucker, with photos, trip reports etc…
Where to watch birds in Dorset
Dorset is one of the UK’s top birdwatching counties. Ron Toft takes a look at which birds you can see and where.
Photographers & Artists
Photographer - Bob Ford
There are some very nice landscapes and a portfolio of birds.
Photographer - David Boag - Natural Focus
The first acceptable photograph David took was of a Kingfisher in the early-70`s and this led him into a seven year photographic study of the species. David Boag has a very professional website and he certainly takes some stunning photographs.
Photographer - Guy Edwardes
Some really first class images from this Dorset-based photographer…
Photographer - Mike Mockler
Mike Mockler is an award-winning wildlife photographer with many published photographs to his name. His photographs have been used in countless books and magazines around the world, including the front covers. He is a past winner of the “Dusk to Dawn” category in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, the world’s largest and most prestigious photography competition. He has also won several highly commended awards in that competition…
Photographer - Steve Carey Bird Photography
I've Been Birdwatching Since 2005, My local patch for Birdwatching is Lodmoor Nature Reserve RSPB and Radipole Lake Nature Reserve RSPB in Dorset. I also Birdwatch the Cambridgeshire,Norfolk and Sufolk Area as my Brother lives up that way. I also have day trips out to other Birding Sites…