Be Prepared – A Blog about a Visit to Brownsea Island.
Brownsea Island is a small island about a mile long but its isolated location in Poole Harbour has given it its own ecological niche. Although it has been farmed in the past the main habitat is mixed forest, mainly pine but with some large, old oak and other deciduous trees. It is famous for the Red Squirrel still found among these trees. Under the trees there are very few wild flowers – just an extensive cover of ferns with some impressive moss and lichen.
There are small areas of grassland and heath – mostly heather. To the North there are wetland areas including lakes, swampy areas and reed beds. There are narrow sandy beaches all around its edge.
The island was the venue for the first recognized Scout camp in 1907 and it maintains links with the memory of the founder of Scouting, Robert Baden-Powell.
I visited the island on a day trip with the Cheltenham Bird Club and we arrived in style at Sandbanks for the ferry.
You can use the following map to following my progress but first we need to take the ferry across.
We arrived with plenty of time and it was no surprise that almost our first point of interest was a statue of Baden-Powell.
The island is a National Trust property and we need our membership cards to enter. But some areas are private and the wetlands to the North belong to the Dorset Wildlife Trust. There are excellent boardwalks over the swampy ground and several hides for birdwatching.
I visited all the hides and will come to the birds later in this blog. Here is the view from the Macdonald Hide.
Dorset Wildlife Trust had labelled the hides and really wanted us to view them in numerical order.
I think I went wrong at the next bit. There is an arboretum North of The Villa not shown on the map. I climbed up a path through a lot of ferns and ended up following arrow markers backwards
I did get to the Lake Hide and then another boardwalk over swamps took me to the equally unimpressive Reed Hide.
Here is one of several red squirrel feeding stations. I saw no squirrels, just a few Great Tits and Chaffinch.
The path on the way out of the Reserve had some impressive displays of lichen.
I headed west along Middle Street passing many signs of trees that had fallen or been felled.
There are fire hydrants everywhere, even within forests.
I kept on and found the beach at the West end of the island.
I found my way to the path north of the Heath area but the intermittent rain dampened my attempts at photography. My camera had recovered when I met this interesting sculpture.
I was in need of refreshment and headed back to the cafe by the quay. With two service points, only one of which had a functioning coffee machine I had to wait a very short time for my promissory numbered wooden spoon to transform itself.
Sadly it was a colourful salad instead of chips but the cappuccino cake was excellent.
I was soon on my way out again to complete my exploration of the island along its southern edge. I was diverted here, just beyond the Visitor Centre where someone had just seen a Red Squirrel. I waited but without success.
Beyond the warning sign I did find a way down to a small section of beach.
Back at the top were more magnificent trees.
There were more viewpoints and more views and I came down on to the beach by the South Shore Lodge.
I didn’t feel very safe on the beach. The sand was soft and what looked like stone was soft clay.
I found somewhere to climb up near the Scout Camp area.
Most of the day was miserable and wet. This could have been the five minutes when the sun came out.
I returned to the quay area, had another coffee, checked out the letter box and headed home on the ferry.
Birds and Insects
I have missed out some details of the wildlife. I could have shown you a few flowers near to the quay but I have decided that they are not typical of the island. Away from the quay I saw a few rhododendron, lots of heather not in flower and some broom or gorse.
Two birds stood out for me. Sandwich Tern is a bird I rarely see but they breed here and were very close. But for their protection they were enclosed by wire netting that plays havoc with auto-focus!
There was one that perched on a pole above the wires.
The other one that impressed me was the Peacock. [Strictly it’s an Indian Peafowl and the males and females are peacocks and peahens. Purists don’t count them as they may not fall into their definition of wild birds – but I do.]
Here are a pair of sleeping Mute Swan, male and female Mallard by the Lilly Pond, two gulls and a godwit.
My last bird pictures are an Oystercatcher that hopped closer and closer to us as we waited at Sandbanks for our ferry. I have seen many one-legged birds who survive quite well.
I did see some other birds and I heard both Raven and Cuckoo. Apparently everyone else in our group saw a Nightjar.
I look everywhere for insects. They are found wherever there are flowers in the sun. With virtually no flowers and little sunlight I was not very successful.
This male ant ran under my feet while waiting for our outbound ferry.
I found a lovely nest of Wood Ants, Formica rufa, in the woods on the island but I have no good pictures.
I thought the next one was a bee but it’s a hoverfly, Merodon equestris.
I have to end by mentioning the squirrels again. The red variety survives here because the grey ones (an invasive species from America) have not spread across from the mainland.
I came across two or three groups of people who had just seen one but they all seemed to avoid me.