I’m currently visiting family in Bristol and couldn’t resist planning some visits to some of my favourite wildlife hotspots while I’m here. Weymouth’s nature reserves are some of the UK’s best urban reserves, so I headed down earlier in the week on the train from Bristol.
RSPB Radipole Lake
The train journey is a lovely meander through Wiltshire and Dorset, with views of the River Avon and Dorchester’s Maiden Castle on the way. Once at Weymouth, it is a five minute walk to RSPB Radipole Lake, a truly urban reserve. This wetland supports a huge number of species including marsh harriers, sand martins, bearded tits and water voles. Sadly, the visitor centre was closed so I headed out on the path into the reserve. Straight away I heard sedge, reed and Cetti’s warblers. I saw my first swifts of the year hawking overhead; this is always a really special moment. They are such enigmatic and mind-blowing birds, living almost their whole lives on the wing. It is hard to fathom such an extraordinary lifestyle.
The first viewing platform can be a good spot for bearded tits so I stopped there for a while. I did get a brief glimpse of two birds heading into the reedbeds with nesting material but nothing more, sadly. I had already lost count of the sedge and reed warblers singing at full volume though!
Further round the reserve is another viewing space looking over a more open area. From here I got distant views of a beautiful male marsh harrier high over the reeds. There were also a couple of pochards, a duck I very rarely get to see and one that is in decline. A pair of coots were nesting on a small rocky island and swapped incubating duties as I watched.
A short way on, you can either choose to loop back to the reserve entrance or head down to the furthest away section of Radipole. There is a sand martin bank there and as they are a rarity in Shetland, I had to see that. It didn’t disappoint with the martins very busy flying in and out of their holes.
The hawthorn was in flower across the reserve, along with cuckoo flowers and the first vetches. As an added bonus the sun had brought out lots of butterflies including brimstones, orange tips and holly blues.
Back at the entrance, a pair of great crested grebes looked very smart in the sunshine. Unfortunately, I was a bit late in the spring for the amazing courtship dances they perform.
Weymouth’s second reserve, Lodmoor, is about a mile east along the seafront. The reserve gets some of the same species as Radipole but tends to be better for waders because there is more saltmarsh. The RSPB have also put in tern nesting platforms which means the first thing I heard as I got near was the noise of lots of squabbling common terns. Black-headed gulls were nesting in amongst them, and they aren’t exactly known for being quiet and retiring, so it is a very noisy place!
A path takes you around the perimeter of the reserve and you can get good views of the various pools, scrapes and water channels. Not far beyond the tern colony were a few waders, although the water levels were very low and not much was about. A smart whimbrel duo and summer plumage bar-tailed godwit were the highlights. There were quite a few Mediterranean gulls about too; none in breeding plumage, so I imagine they were all non-breeders.
Further round the reserve a beautiful great white egret was fishing. It is incredible to think that ten years ago, these were incredibly rare birds in the UK. Now, they are rapidly following in the footsteps of their little egret cousins in colonising more and more wetlands across the country. There were even a couple in Shetland earlier in the year. This meant I actually saw a great white before I saw a little egret this year!
The full circuit of the reserve is a lovely walk. As at Radipole, I was serenaded by plenty of reed and sedge warblers along the way. I also heard my first whitethroats of the year. One cause for worry, however, was that I saw hardly any swallows and house martins all day. Anecdotally, numbers do seem to be down this year and arrivals were later. With the sun out and lots of insects on the wing, I expected to see plenty of hirundines over the reedbeds at both reserves. Apart from the sand martins at Radipole, though, I just saw ones and twos which is a real cause for concern.
My day over, I headed back to the station for the train home. I would have loved to stay overnight and head to the migrant hotspot of Portland but that will have to wait for another visit.
Weymouth is an amazing place to visit if you love wildlife. With two fantastic reserves within easy reach of public transport links, it is a great day out. Nearby, Chesil Beach with its little terns and the Isle of Portland with its bird observatory add to the appeal. There is something to see whatever time of year you visit.