Christchurch Harbour is a natural harbour formed by the confluence of the Rivers Avon and Stour. The harbour is bordered to the north by the town of Christchurch and the south by Hengistbury Head. Stanpit Marsh provides an effective buffer zone between the harbour and the encroaching urbanisation.
Habitat within the harbour is tidal mud around Stanpit Marsh and a mixture of heathland and sheltered woodland on Hengistbury Head. The south-east tip of the headland also offers seawatching opportunities as birds enter the western Solent.
Birding around the harbour can be difficult, but rewarding. While birds are certainly attracted they tend not to stay too long due to a mixture of obvious onward flyways and human disturbance. In spite of this, several rarities are recorded each year and most UK birdwatchers will have visited the harbour on at least one occasion. The map below shows some of the best sites around Christchurch Harbour.
For a full Gazetteer of all locations mentioned on this site, click here
For Hengistbury Head park in the pay and display car park at SZ162911.
For Stanpit park in the free car park at SZ172925.
1. Wick Fields: An area of scrub which is worth checking for migrant passerines. Woodchat Shrike and Bobolink have been seen here.
2. Wick Ditch: A good area for passerine migrants. The ditch is actually a tarmac path bordered by hedges and trees. Warblers, redstarts and flycatchers work their way along the hedge after leaving the main part of the headland. Rarities in this area have included Dusky Warbler.
3. The Wood: Probably the best spot on the head for lingering warblers and flycatchers. The woods are very sheltered and even in the strongest of winds can be attractive for passerines. There are two paths - the lower, busier main tarmac path, or the slightly higher gravel path along The Batters. Pallas' and Yellow-browed warblers are recorded annually. Previous rarities include Northern Parula and Red-eyed Vireo.
4. The Beach Huts: The locals' favourite seawatching spot - the Beach Huts provide shelter from wind and rain. The best conditions are south-easterly winds in spring and south-westerlies in the autumn. Winter gales can also be productive. The three commoner skuas are seen each year and some years there are good numbers of Storm Petrel present during June. In recent years, Sooty Shearwater, Little Auk, Long-tailed Skua and Leach's Petrel have all been recorded.
5. Stanpit Bight: This is the best area in the harbour to watch waders, however, timing is essential. At high tides the birds either leave the harbour or roost in the long grass, while at low tides they can be extremely distant. The optimum viewing period is between 1 and 3 hours before high water. Both spring and autumn passages bring birds, with Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint annual. Past rarities include Baird's Sandpiper, American Golden Plover, Wilson's Phalarope and Pallid Swift.
6. Parky Meade Rail: Previously, perhaps one of the most reliable sites in the UK for Spotted Crake. Low water in August and September is the time to look, with multiple birds having been present some years. Water Rail are also easy to see around this time. Little Crake and Blue-winged Teal have also been recorded here. Just north is Priory Marsh, which has annnual spring sightings of Garganey and Little Ringed Plover, with Wood Sandpiper a possibility in late summer.
7. North Scrubs: Stanpit is by no means as good as the head for passerines, however, the North Scrubs do attract flycatchers and sylvia warblers.
8. Fisherman's Bank: Doesn't hold the same number of waders as Stanpit Bight, but has an attraction for the rare ones, with Terek and Marsh Sandpipers having been found here. Has also held Green-winged Teal.
9. Mudeford Quay: If the weather is too bad to walk to the Beach Huts, you can seawatch from the shelter of the car. Despite the disadvantaged position, skuas, Storm Petrel and Leach's Petrel have been seen from here.
Tide times in the harbour are listed as a sequence of low, high, high. Although there is a slight ebb between the two highs, it cannot be guaranteed to expose any mud. The best wader viewing is between 1 and 3 hours before the first high water