As the days get shorter and the temperature drops, many species begin working hard to prepare for the long winter ahead. This increased activity means there’s plenty of opportunities to catch a glimpse of animals in the wild, making autumn one of the best times of year to go wildlife watching in Dorset.
During your stay at Ulwell Holiday Park, it is possible to see a range of animals at nature reserves around the county. October and November are the ideal time to observe squirrels, deer, owls, bats and birds from a far. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of unique behaviours, including feeding, foraging and building dens.
Nature spotting in Dorset
Every year birdwatchers flock to Studland Bay to witness one of nature’s biggest phenomena. Just minutes from Ulwell Holiday Park, you can watch the skies come alive with starling murmuration. This incredible performance really is quite special with thousands of birds taking flight in formation. The flock perform incredible acrobats, twisting, turning and swooping in perfect synchronisation.
Up to 15,000 birds are thought to be part of the roost at Studland, though the national population has declined considerably in recent years. The noise is deafening and sight is simply breathtakingly, so we highly recommend packing a camera to snap some impressive photographs.
Starling murmuration typically takes place at dusk against a backdrop of the setting sun. It serves a number of functions, including increasing body temperature, communication, deciding social position and warding off predators.
Best place to watch: The exact location at Studland varies from year to year, so some trial and error is needed. The lake behind the dunes at Knoll beach is a popular spot, as is Shell Bay overlooking Poole Harbour.
Best time of day: Arrive just before dusk for the best chance. The show typically starts as the sun sets, which is usually around 4pm at this time of year
Best time of year: Late November to February is the best time of year to observe starling murmuration. Roosts begin in late September and grow in size as birds arrive from Northern Europe. It’s difficult to predict how late into the season the performance will continue.
Top tips: Wildlife experts suggest keeping dogs on short leads so that the birds are not disturbed.
Nearby Brownsea Island is home to approximately 200 red squirrels, making it a must visit destination for nature lovers staying at our holiday park. Red squirrels have unfortunately been pushed to the brink of extinction in other parts of the UK, but the secluded island location is the perfect safe haven for this species to thrive.
Autumn is one of the best times to see squirrels, as they forage for nuts to cache for winter. As you explore the woodland areas, keep your eyes peeled for these elusive russet-coloured creatures as they scurry in the undergrowth and leap in the trees above.
Guests wanting to learn more can participate in one of Brownsea Island’s squirrel walks, which are returning for 2021. You’ll venture into the forest with a knowledgeable guide who will show you the best hiding places and teach you more about this wonderful species. This is fantastic activity for younger members of the family and a great way to encourage an interest in the great outdoors.
Best place to watch: Grey squirrels can be spotted in rural locations across Dorset – you may even spot them around our holiday park. To see the rarer read squirrel you’ll need to catch the ferry across to the National Trust’s Brownsea Island, where there’s a thriving population in the nature reserve.
Best time of day: It is possible to spot squirrels all day. If you’re heading over to Brownsea we recommend getting one of the earliest ferries, so that you can make the most of the day!
Best time of year: Red squirrels can be seen throughout much of the year at Brownsea Island, though the best time to visit is September and October. During the autumn months the squirrels will spend more time on low level branches or the forest floor.
Top tips: Squirrels love sweet chestnut trees so spend extra time looking at these. They can be easily spooked so make sure you keep nice and quiet while you search. If you visit outside of autumn you will need to look up in the canopies where they spend most of their time. Keep an ear out for them climbing up trees or cracking open nuts.
Seals are being spotted in increasing numbers along the Jurassic Coast. During a leisurely autumn walk, it is sometimes possible to see these majestic creatures basking on cliff faces or bobbing in the shallows. Unlike some areas of the UK, we do not have a resident colony or large population. Instead, lone seals have been spotted near Swanage, Studland, Poole Harbour, Christchurch and Portland Bill.
According to picture records obtained by Dorset Wildlife Trusts seal monitoring project, there are some regular visitors that return time and time again. Seals typically give birth in autumn to fluffy white pups, who remain on land until they’ve gained enough weight to head out to sea.
If you encounter a seal during your holiday in Dorset, extreme caution must be exercised. It’s important not to disturb them or cause distress by getting too close. Crowding a seal can cause mothers to abandon their pups or make seals re-enter the water before their energy is fully restored. Always stay more than 30 meters away and never get in between a seal and their pup on a seal and the sea. Keep dogs on a lead.
Best place to watch: You are most likely to encounter a seal close to rocky outcrops. Watch from the clifftop without encroaching on the seal’s space.
Best time of day: You are more likely to spot a seal at quieter times a day when there are fewer people around.
Best time of year: Seals are spotted along our stretch of coastline year-round.
Top tips: Use a camera with a long-range zoom so that you can take photos from a far. Stay really quiet and keep children and dogs away.
Autumn is the best time of year to visit Arne Nature Reserve to be in with a chance of spotting rutting sika dear. Rutting season starts in September and peaks in early November, so you’re in for a treat if you’re visiting us at this quieter time of year.
During this impressive display, stags assert their dominance over rivals to impress potential mates. They’ll engage in a variety of behaviours as they challenge other males, including locking antlers, charging and sounding a distinctive roar. These fierce battles can be quite aggressive and it’s advisable to stay some distance away. There’s not always any fencing or wire netting to separate you from these large mammals.
Best place to watch: There are many habitats at Arne Nature Reserve, including heathland, forest and fields. The majority of rutting behaviour takes place in the farm fields, when stags come into the open for the best chance of being seen. Usually, wary deer are so preoccupied with courting rituals that they’re less concerned with onlookers.
Best time of day: Rutting usually takes place at dawn or dusk.
Best time of year: The end of October and start of November is the best time of visit, although rutting does occur a couple of weeks either side of this time frame.
Top tips: Stay quiet and keep a good distance away from rutting deer.
Autumn is one of the most exciting times in the birding calendar and a fantastic season for avid bird watchers looking to holiday in Dorset. As the temperature drops, migration begins and we see species begin the flight path south in search of warmer climes.
A trip to Durlston Country Park is one of the best places to observe birds in their natural habitat. From the coastal path it is possible to see a variety of sea birds as well as land dwelling species in the woodlands behind. Finches and thrushes can be seen passing in their thousands as well and birds of prey such as honey buzzards, osprey, hen harrier, merlin and short-eared owls have been reported too.
If you’re looking for something a bit different, you could book onto one of Birds of Poole Harbour’s boat trips. Low tide harbour cruises are available throughout November, providing a unique opportunity to observe a range of species up close.
Best place to watch: There are plenty of places to go bird watching in Dorset. We recommend heading to Durlston Country Park, Poole Harbour, Arne Nature Reserve, the Fleet Lagoon or Portland Bill for the best chances of spotting migrating autumn species.
Best time of day: Of course, birds can be spotted at any time, but like many species, dawn and dusk are the best time of day. After all, the early bird catches the worm!
Best time of year: Dorset is one of the best bird watching destinations in the UK, with species changing with the season. Autumn is one of the best times of years to see migrating birds, but other species can be seen year-round.
Top tips: Don’t forget to pack binoculars and a bird ID book to help you identify the species you see.
Ulwell Holiday Park is a popular autumn touring and caravan holiday home site in Swanage. It’s the perfect place for a quiet autumn getaway, close to picturesque countryside and coast. We have a range of dog friendly accommodation on offer and fantastic facilities including an on-site bar and restaurant and indoor swimming pool. Make the most of our low season tariff and book an off-peak getaway this year!
Header image credit: Iain A Wanless, Flickr