25th May

An absolutely glorious day with brilliant blue skies and barely a breathe of wind. With the drop in wind, the miniscule trickle of movement continued with the addition of some much missed Chiffchaffs and Willow Warbler accompanying the handful of Spotted Flycatchers. The remnants of yesterday's Reed Warbler passage were scant with just a single singing male left behind.

The lepidopterans were also appreciating the hike in temperature with the first Adonis Blue within the Obs area on the slopes and the first Lulworth and Large Skippers of the year on the wing. 





24th May

  With the wind dropping to less than gale force (but still strong enough to keep us in coats), and the now customary clear blue skies, it was unexpected that a couple of migrants should come our way. The highlight of the day was not new in, but the return of the Corn Bunting singing at Reap Lane for much of the morning. In terms of new birds there appeared to be a very minimal trickle of Reed Warblers arriving with one each in the huts and Culverwell; the Spotted Flycatchers continued to move through in dribs and drabs with another eight recorded across the observation area; as well as the appearance of single figures of male Blackcaps. The sea was disappointingly quiet with the only highlight being two Arctic Skuas.

One of yesterday's Bonxies was a rather scraggly individual expressing some slightly unusually larger patches of white than normal - presumably as a result of moult in its greater coverts © Pete Saunders


Also from yesterday the first Yellow-legged Gull for a while that appeared in the fields below Culverwell amongst the first large gathering of loafing gulls there since before the turn of the year - surely it isn't autumn already! © Martin Cade:

23rd May

An excellent drying day; a continuation of yesterdays howling winds saw an almost complete halt in migration on the land. In fact, not a single bird was trapped in over 8 hours of trying (admittedly we could only get a very small selection of the more sheltered nets open), and just the one Spotted Flycatcher was present within the garden. Once again, however, the sea was more eventful with the first Storm Petrel for the Bill sighted in the late morning as well as two apiece of Great and Arctic Skua. As will presumably be the norm now for the majority of the breeding season, the gull flock continued to draw in a couple of species of interest including four late Common Gulls and a Yellow-legged Gull. Hopefully the slight drop in wind forecast for the morning will generate some more 'birdable' conditions. 

22nd May

With the wind having picked up substantially from the south-west overnight, coupled with a thick bank of cloud and some light drizzle, expectations for the morning were higher than in recent days. Hope was to be short-lived, however, when the first inspection of the garden nets revealed no birds whatsoever. Land-based migrants were thin on the ground with a trickle of Spotted Flycatcher passage - amounting to eight birds - being the highlight of the first half of the day. The afternoon brought a modicum of delight with a 'chipping' Tree Sparrow managing to narrowly avoid the canopy net before heading on its way. The change in wind did bring some much desired variety to the sea with combined island totals of three Puffins, two each of Bonxie and Arctic Skua, and singles of Great Northern Diver and Balearic Shearwater.

Despite seemingly propitious conditions over the last couple of days immigrant moth interest has been almost non-existent but the moth-traps have been getting a lot busier with routine fare including one or two of the local specials. Portland seems to the best site in Dorset for the usually pretty scarce White-line Grey Eudonia lineola which is - at least if you see it as often as we're fortunate to - one of the slightly more distinctive of this often tricky group of pyralids:


Also just out, slightly ahead of time by the look of our records, is Thyme Pug - this one was from John Lucas' moth-trap at Sweethill yesterday morning; in Dorset, Thyme Pug looks from the literature to be pretty well confined to Portland and the tip of the Purbecks © Martin Cade:


As a follow up to the photo we posted a week or so back of an apparent juvenile Swallow migrating along West Cliffs we were really interested to hear from Obs member, Chris Stone, who sent us through some photos of a juvenile Swallow that's been frequenting his area at Sudbrook, near the Second Severn Crossing, for the last week or so; this one has been begging from the adult Swallows in the vicinity (...we don't know if these are just random adult Swallows or whether they're actually its parents). Presumably it's way too early for this to be a British-bred bird so we're guessing it must have come from a very early spring nest in southern Europe © Chris Stone

21st May

Another lovely warm, sunny day provided another nice raptor highlight in the form of a Red-footed Falcon though at Chesil Cove during the evening. Yesterday's Corn Bunting lingered on at Reap Lane but new migrant interest on/overhead on the land consisted of little more than two each of Hobby, Willow Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher, and singles of Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Chiffchaff and Siskin. Signs of life from the sea included 25 Common Scoter, 21 commic terns, 3 Common Gulls and singles of Red-throated Diver, Grey Heron and Whimbrel.

Whitethroat and Wall butterfly at the Bill today © Roy Norris:


20th May

Birding was hard work today on what was another gloriously sunny day - the warmest of the year to date - but there were one or two rewards to be had. A Honey Buzzard through over Easton stole the show, with a Corn Bunting at the Obs and later at Reap Lane trailing a rather distant second. Commoner migrants were as thinly spread as in recent days, with 3 Yellow Wagtails, a Reed Warbler and a Spotted Flycatcher as good as it got around the centre and south of the island where visible passage was strangely subdued, with very few hirundines making the most of what looked to be ideal migration conditions. A single passing Great Skua was the only seabird of note off the Bill.

Today's Honey Buzzard over Easton - a fine specimen of one of the very best scarce migrants © Mark Litjens:



There was a faintly amusing incident early today that could so easily have ended in tears: dawn's so early these days and the supply of migrants has dwindled so much that we're no longer bothering with getting up literally at day-break to open the nets at the Obs; however, the nocmig recorder is still running at this time and on going through the recording later we discovered that there was a Corn Bunting singing really close by for 15 minutes at 5am - by the time we were up half-an-hour later it was long gone! It's a nice record as it's the first this year but we left feeling a great sense of relief that it hadn't been something a lot better like a Cretzschmar's Bunting!



Whilst on the subject of sounds, a few days ago we mentioned the nocmig Dotterel and alluded to a few other decent records during that period in late April/early May; of these, the best were three loggings of Stone Curlew: the first was during the evening of 26th April whilst the other two were on the night of 2nd/3rd May - although more than three hours apart we'd have an inkling from the similarity of the calls that these last two loggings refer to the same individual that perhaps pitched in nearby before resuming migration later in the night. 


19th May

What can we say about today that we haven't said about almost every day this month? The clear skies and soft breeze kept land-based migrant action to a minimum. A small movement of Hirundines up the West Cliffs was brightened for one observer by an Osprey that made a brief appearance before heading back out to sea. The ringing was quiet once more with some small signs of the local breeders success, plus a Spotted Flycatcher and a Willow Warbler. The Gull flock continues to grow and it finally did its job at attracting other sea birds with a very close Balearic Shearwater joining in the fray around a fishing boat, whilst an Arctic Skua caused a mighty furore before continuing its journey east. A slack handful of other notable birds included singles of summer plumage Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper at the Bill, along with a singing male Wheatear.

Attentive visitors to the blog with have noticed that there are now far more years available in the archive of previous blog posts - there are links to these in the side bar to the right of this post. Visitors might recollect that when we switched from our old website to the current Blogger-hosted site access to the archives on the old site was lost; we of course retained offline copies of these but it's taken this long to finally upload them to the blog. For this we have to thank Joe Stockwell and the corona virus outbreak: having been furloughed from work Joe kindly volunteered to spend some time getting the old files into a suitable format and uploading them; at present the text is all in situ in whole year blocks but the photographs need to be individually uploaded which will take a lot more time. Many thanks Joe.

Also maybe of interest, we've finally remembered to upload a lepidoptera report for 2019 - the link to this is also on the right or just click here).

18th May

A wonderfully warm, clear day was prevented from becoming overly hot by a keen sea breeze. We were almost out for a duck at the nets before two Chiffchaffs came to the rescue, although this should tell the reader everything they need to know about the day's birding. An early morning Pomarine Skua gave the impression that more passage could be in store on the sea, but alas this hope was short-lived and a handful of Manx Shearwaters, Common Scoters and a lone Sanderling were all we had to show for our efforts. The land was almost hauntingly quiet with just a Lesser Whitethroat and a handful of Wheatears by way of new arrivals at the Bill, however, the silence was finally broken in the afternoon by a chorus of gulls as an Osprey came soaring up the West Cliffs, before rapidly evading its noisy entourage by heading out to sea.

It's been a remarkably poor spring for Ospreys on Portland with this bird being only the second recorded © Erin Taylor:


A couple of days ago we made passing reference to an odd Chiffchaff trapped at the Obs. Since being on a slightly more systematic lookout in recent years for potential Iberian Chiffchaffs we've got so used to picking out seemingly bright green-and-yellow chiffchaffs, some of which have had slightly out of the ordinary morphology and other pro-Iberian features, that we no longer make much of a fuss about it and rarely get very excited about them - genetic analysis has should that all our possible candidates to date have turned out to be 'Common' Chiffchaffs (...or at least, their mothers have). To be truthful, we really haven't got a clue how you nail a silent, in-hand Iberian Chiffchaff with absolutely certainty - you can have an inkling but that usually turns out to be wrong! Anyway, Saturday's bird was a dinky little female that was clearly not going to sing and certainly didn't call but it immediately struck us as worth further attention. Time will tell what the outcome is... © Martin Cade:


17th May

As the spate of crystal clear skies and winds towards the north was maintained the day list continued its general downward spiral - spring passage of the commoner migrants does seem to have pretty well drawn to a close. The highlights of the day were a pair of Tufted Ducks past at sea, a Cuckoo at Avalanche Hump and a Green Woodpecker over Ferrybridge. Passerine migrants were thin on the ground with just ones and twos of Wheatears, Whinchats, Lesser Whitethroats, Willow Warblers and Spotted Flycatchers; even visible passage of hirundines was barely more than pedestrian. The Chesil seawatch revealed a few little extras for the list including two Arctic Skuas, a single Great Northern Diver, two Puffins and a handful of the usual waders.

There have been decent gatherings of Sanderling at Ferrybridge in recent days, with the peak there likely still to come © Pete Saunders


16th May

An early morning bank of cloud, coupled with a small drop in the wind, saw an upturn in Spotted Flycatcher passage with five trapped at the Obs, another three across the Bill area and several more elsewhere. A promising movement of hirundines and Swifts up the West Cliffs added to the feeling of anticipation throughout the day. Unfortunately no major 'biggie' reared its head, but an unusual-looking Chiffchaff in the nets in the afternoon got us going for a while (more on this bird to come). The rest of the day was made up of smatterings of common migrants including another Hobby through at Blacknor. The sea saw further signs of a summer gull flock beginning to accumulate and drag in the likes of higher numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls than have been evident just lately, but little actually on the move beyond a late flurry of 131 Common Scoter. Wader passage continued and included 22 Sanderling at Ferrybridge.

One of the Swallows on the move along West Cliffs today was this apparent juvenile; conventional wisdom has it that these birds are the progeny of early arrivals in southern Europe and it's hard to think of another explanation even if we are a tad nervous of accepting it as a given - why would these juveniles then head north to Britain? © Joe Stockwell



15th May

A wonderfully calm and clear day perhaps marked the beginning of the end of the relentless cool northeasterlies that have blighted so much of this spring. The change brought little in the way of action on the land where it was only dogged persistence that saw the day-list gain any sort of respectability - and that in the form of variety rather than quality; Wheatear and Willow Warbler edged it for numbers - including a dozen of each at the Bill - with ones and twos of a routine selection of other tardy arrivals scattered everywhere. Visible passage was disappointingly low-key bearing in the mind the conditions, with Swallows reduced to little more than a trickle. A not altogether expected movement of more than 120 Kittiwakes off the Bill - by far the highest count for many weeks - provided the best of the interest offshore; 2 Great Northern Divers and a single Black-throated Diver also passed by there.

We're nearly always running really late with all sorts of background jobs and one that falls behind more than most is going through nocmig recordings - we still have nearly five months of last year's recordings to go through! Anyway, we have been trying to keep up a little better during this spring and there's been a nice run of records from the nights we've got through. This Dotterel passed over the Obs - pretty close by the sound of the wing beats just before it calls - soon after 11pm on 25th April:




Many thanks to Joe Stockwell for being on hand to confirm/identify recordings for us. We'll post some more of the highlights in the next few days. 

14th May

We don't want to be negative in such unusual times, but today barely merits a blog write-up. In over 11 hours and approximately 200m of net: two Reed Warblers, two Willow Warblers, two Goldfinches and a Whitethroat were all we could muster. The highlight of the day came with a female Gadwall past on the sea; otherwise land-based migrants were very sparse with the whole island giving no more extras than two Whinchats, three Spotted Flycatchers and a handful of Wheatears.

Whilst the Ferrybridge wader numbers remained relatively static, a Whinchat was a nice addition to the migrant tally there © Debby Saunders:


13th May

An update for members regarding the use of the Obs car park. Earlier this week we posted that we'd hoped to be in a position to open our car park for day-visitors wishing to bird at the Bill from today; after further consideration the Obs trustees concluded that the legal requirement to close the Observatory (since it's in part an accommodation provider) applied to the whole site including the car park and that the latter should therefore remain closed until such time as the Observatory is permitted to reopen. 

A peculiar day on the passerine front with cloud cover rolling in during the afternoon dropping a little flurry of new arrivals just as the day looked to be fizzling out as something of a non-event. Nothing of particular note was discovered but 20 Willow Warblers and 10 each of Blackcap and Spotted Flycatcher at the Bill bolstered what have been pretty grim migrant totals there so far this month; a handful of new Wheatears, together with singles of Hobby, Common Sandpiper, Tree Pipit and Yellow Wagtail also made the tally there, where 72 Common Scoter represented the best of it on the sea. A few waders at Ferrybridge included 9 Sanderling and a Redshank, whilst nearby a Great Northern Diver passed by at Chesil.

There was plenty of wader and Little Tern action at Ferrybridge today © Pete Saunders:



12th May

Another painfully quiet day was broken up by two raptor highlights; an Osprey in off the sea at Cheyne Weares was only the second for the island this year and a Marsh Harrier was once again over the Top Fields. Other avian delights were hard to come by, although a constant trickle of Manx Shearwaters throughout the morning, amounting to 108, kept eyes on the sea. The land was exceptionally quiet with just low single figure totals of Wheatear, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap on the ground and, to add to the raptor tally, another Hobby overhead. Ferrybridge was equally uneventful with just 12 Sanderling and a single Knot of note.

11th May


A truly dire day with a blasting and none too warm northeasterly seeing to it that there were almost no new migrants and the worst ringing total of the month (an impressive feat considering how poor the ringing has been in May). The saving grace was the appearance of two rather late Little Gulls east past the Bill, otherwise the sea was quiet. Very little was reported across the entire island, although a Hobby heading north at Chesil Cove was of note.  
                                           
The Chesil Little Terns are back to their usual tricks, hopefully they won't suffer in the near future from the relaxing of the COVID travelling rules © Pete Saunders:


An excellent demonstration of why Razorbills require a special, flat-bottomed ring for their unusual stance © Pete Saunders:


10th May

An unexpectedly birdable warm and clear morning allowed for a fair bit of coverage before the wind freshened to gale force and the temperature dipped as a weather front arrived from the north. The only new species for the year-list was a timely Redpoll over Blacknor, with the island's meagre contribution to a substantial passage of Red Kites along the south coast being a single over Southwell. Routine migrants included 2 more passing Hobbys and a Merlin amongst a spread of ones and twos of typical late spring fare, whilst the sea remained largely uneventful bar 4 Arctic Skuas, a Balearic Shearwater and a Great Skua.

Even an arch villain like a Raven looks great amongst the sea of thrift at Ferrybridge (...in case you were wondering we're not wildly keen on Ravens at the moment having just started receiving reports that the egg-thieving individual is back in action at the Guillemot colony!) © Dave Foot:

9th May

You can't win them all; with the distinct lack of migrant birds (including yet another another sub-double figures in the nets), it was down to the moths, butterflies and sunshine to save the day. The avian highlight of the day was a rarity in Portland terms, two pitched Red Kites - visiting raptors tend to be relatively ephemeral on the island so it was a rare treat to have crippling views of two of the four that spent a while touring the island during the morning. The supporting cast was very thin on the ground with singles of Spotted Flycatcher, Hobby and flava Yellow Wagtail. The sea failed to add much to the day list with a handful of the usual fare as well as singles of Arctic Skua and Great Northern Diver.

Lepidoptera-wise, a modest overnight catch of commoner immigrant moths (check out the link here or on the sidebar to the right for our daily numbers) was supported by a conspicuous arrival of Red Admiral butterflies by day: with such a good scatter everywhere that was visited the island-wide total must surely have been well into the low hundreds; a lone Painted Lady was also a first for the year at the Bill with, amongst the resident species, Small Heath also on the wing for the first time.

Not the usual sort of view of a Portland Red Kite © Martin Cade:


Late spring Yellow Wagtails often include a fair proportion of seemingly non-British individuals and one of today's birds looked distinctly blue-grey headed in the field even if those colours aren't particularly conveyed in this one photo snatched before it flew off © Erin Taylor:


Aside from the welcome pick-up in immigrant numbers the moth-traps are finally beginning to attract better numbers of resident species, amongst which the pug total has been increasing by the day. Two of minor note today were Currant Pug and Valerian Pug - both these were from John Lucas' trap at Sweethill: Currant is rather infrequently trapped at the Bill but is a little more regular in garden moth-traps in the middle of the island where it's presumably resident on various cultivated currant bushes. Valerian is a bit of an unexpected Portland special as it's usually associated with Common Valerian growing in damp situations whereas here it's associated with Red Valerian in much drier habitat; the literature suggests it's a June/July moth but we've always found it to emerge far earlier at Portland where it's one of the commonest pugs during May in, for example, our garden trap at the Grove (there isn't a great deal of long-established Red Valerian at the Bill so it's a much more infrequent visitor to the Obs traps) © Martin Cade:


8th May

A mark of how poorly today went was that the highlight came in the form of a Sparrowhawk in the garden (perhaps not as dire as this initially sounds since we needed Sparrowhawk for our lockdown garden list). The Turtle Dove remained feeding happily in a four-Dove flock, whilst a Hobby and low numbers of Hirundines and Swifts moved overhead. The sea was quiet with just singles of Red-throated Diver and Arctic Skua, as well as a handful of Manx Shearwaters and Common Scoters.

7th May

 There's a chance that this may go down as the poorest first week of May on record. A fleeting Red-rumped Swallow - first in Top Fields and later at Weston - provided a nice rarity highlight but the nets remained so quiet throughout the day that we didn't even make double figures after 9 hours of effort.  The lingering Turtle Dove remained a minor crowd-puller at the Bill, with 2 Pomarine Skuas, a passing Great Crested Grebe, an influx of 12 Collared Doves and a Marsh Harrier of further note. Commoner migrants were thin on the ground with singles of Arctic Skua, Bonxie and Hobby the best of the bunch. 

After the wind dropped in the afternoon there was something of a butterfly-fest with the first Adonis Blue, Common Blue, Small Blue and Dingy Skipper for the year © Erin Taylor:


6th May

Much improved variety today: despite the crystal-clear conditions and big moon overnight there a decent selection of grounded migrants, whilst a brisk easterly saw it that visible passage along West Cliffs was very conspicuous for a while. Rarity of the day was undoubtedly a black morph Montagu's Harrier in off the sea over Chesil. More routine visible passage included sample one hour totals of 310 Swallows, 146 House Martins and 108 Sand Martins through at the Bill, with a good selection of other passerines - as well as 2 Hobbys - tagging along wherever this passage was tapped into; a Merlin settled below West Cliffs was no doubt also a pausing active migrant. The grounded selection included much of what might be expected in late spring, with the season's first Turtle Dove and well into double figure totals of Whinchat and Spotted Flycatcher of particular note. The sea continued to disappoint, with 2 Canada Geese and singles of Great Northern Diver, Arctic Skua and Little Tern as good as it got at the Bill.

Any Portland record of a Montagu's Harrier is exciting news these days but a black morph male is pretty well off the scale in grip value - raptor prizes don't come much better in this country © Joe Stockwell:



Today's Merlin was a peculiar looking bird that sadly didn't permit close scrutiny; it was always distant and in a very shady spot that, according to the observers, perhaps made it appear somewhat darker than it really was - whether its plumage was aberrant or indicative of more distant origin than usual couldn't be established © Pete Saunders:


We don't usually need an excuse to post ropey video clips but in this case Turtle Dove's become so infrequent at Portland that the first one of the year certainly merits some attention © Martin Cade:

5th May

The battle of the Weather as the prevailing south-westerly rain storms hit the blasting easterly wind, unfortunate for those of us on the south coast as the competing fronts held the rain over Portland for most of the morning. Before the onset of the heaviest rain, two Avocets were found at Ferrybridge and a quick scan across Chesil Cove revealed two Great Northern Divers, one Red-throated Diver, two Mute Swans and four Grey Plovers. Understandably the morning list was much reduced, but once the rain had cleared a small pulse of common migrants included three apiece of Spotted Flycatcher and Whinchat, two Redstarts and single figures of Phylloscs. Passage up the West Cliffs was much more limited than yesterday, although a rapid movement of 29 Swifts after the rain cleared suggested that there is still more to come on that front. The sea was relatively quiet although the evening produced the first Balearic Shearwater of the year and a single Black-throated Diver.

With it sufficiently damagingly windy that the ground was strewn with still tender leaves wrenched from trees and the usually indestructible trunk of one of the Tree Echiums at the Obs snapped in two it was hard going seeking out migrants at the Bill; however, the relative shelter of the gardens at Sweethill provided a welcome haven for both Spotted Flycatchers and Garden Warblers © Debby Saunders (Spot Fly) and Pete Saunders (Garden Warbler):


4th May

A day that posed more questions than it answered: after a calm, often foggy night it was no surprise to find grounded migrants in short supply at dawn but, bearing in mind the relatively poor weather showing up on the weather charts over the near Continent, it came as quite a shock when the heaviest hirundine passage of the spring developed later in the morning. A sample couple of hours on West Cliffs returned hirundine totals of 666 Swallows, 205 Sand Martins and 171 House Martins, along with 49 Swifts and a trickle of the likes of Yellow Wagtails; elsewhere, a tardy Woodlark over Ferrybridge at the same time added variety to the mix. As falls go, the tally accrued from the ground wouldn't even have registered but in comparison with yesterday's utter dearth it seemed like a big improvement: Wheatears, Chiffchaffs and Spotted Flycatchers were the most conspicuous arrivals whilst a fair bit of hunting eventually produced a quite varied list of back-up ones and twos of other routine fare. Waders were slightly better represented, even if interest at Ferrybridge didn't get beyond 1 to 3 each of Grey Plover, Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel. The less said about the sea the better: despite the wind freshening and backing into the southeast a lone Great Northern Diver was the best of it at the Bill.

Despite the recording kit detecting Whimbrel passage still ongoing nocturnally, offshore movements by day seem largely to have fizzled out now although there are still a few grounded birds kicking about at Ferrybridge © Debby Saunders:

3rd May

We seem to be suffering from the same affliction as the rest of the south coast, with steady easterlies failing to dispel the prevailing cloud that is blocking the north coast of France. The day list reflected this, although an addition to the island year list occurred with the first Storm Petrel at Chesil. Highlights at the Bill were limited to a single Great Northern Diver making a shortcut over the Higher Light and singles of Arctic Skua and Hobby

A cycle past Ferrybridge at this time of year can be highly rewarding, even on a poor day like today ©Joe Stockwell:



2nd May

The belt of weather between us and the continent remained resolutely in place and was likely keeping many migrants grounded in France; however, there was a slight improvement on yesterday with passing Swallows in particular a little more conspicuous. A singing Grasshopper Warbler within earshot of the Obs was a surprise at this stage of the spring, whilst the lingering Bullfinch put in another net-evading performance there. By way of numbers, low double figure totals of Willow Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher led the way, whilst further variety including a lone Canada Goose, a couple more incoming Hobbys, a Pied Flycatcher and ones and twos of a few of the commoner migrants. In a northwesterly breeze the sea remained uneventful: 2 Great Northern Divers and a single Black-throated Diver were the best of it off the Bill.   

Sedge Warbler at Sweethill © Pete Saunders:


Moth interest has been almost non-existent so far this year, with immigrants arriving in very small numbers and residents hardly numerous on the clear, cool nights that have been the rule in recent weeks. A couple of captures of minor interest just recently have been a Galium Carpet and a Vine Moth Eupoecilia ambiguella; the former is a common enough moth at Portland but this one may be the earliest we've ever recorded - it's certainly the earliest we've made an easily accessible note of (the previous earliest date was 6th May 1989) but our record-keeping with first dates is woefully inadequate and there are still many year's worth that haven't made the transition from notebook to database!; we're not quite sure of the status of the Vine Moth: until relatively recently it seemed to be just a scarce and irregular immigrant at Portland, but during the last few years we've begun catching them sufficiently frequently at the Grove that it looks like they've become established in that area © Martin Cade


1st May

The beginning of May should usually herald the start of the rarity season, with the first week of the month historically seeing the likes of Lesser Short-toed Lark, Spectacled Warbler and Subalpine Warblers. This year, however, May started with a dismal display with next to nothing of note on either the land or sea. Virtually an entire days seawatch produced a single Pomarine Skua, one apiece of Arctic Skua and Sandwich Tern, three Bonxies and 15 Manx Shearwaters. The land didn't fare much better with little more of note than a single Redstart, a singing Lesser Whitethroat at the obs and a handful of Wheatears and Whinchats across the Bill.

30th April

A certain feeling of falling at the last hurdle as today became the only day of the month that we failed to catch a Willow Warbler in the garden; in fact a single Chiffchaff was all we could muster in between the sudden and intense showers. This set the tone for the day with the poorest day list for over a month. The clear highlight for the day was a 'spooned' Pomarine Skua after the first big belt of rain had passed; the supporting cast included two summer plumage Great Northern Divers, three Arctic Skuas and two Bonxies. Passerine migrants were thin on the ground with just a handful of Whinchats, Wheatears and Whitethroats to brighten up an otherwise grey and very windy day.

The Purple Sandpipers by the Bill are starting to look really smart ©Pete Saunders:


With the intermittent showers, some of the Bonxies were coming in close enough to photograph ©Pete Saunders:


In the breaks in the weather, you could be fooled into thinking that it was a beautiful spring day, then 10 minutes later the wind would pick up once more and the lashing rain would follow ©Joe Stockwell:




29th April

Yesterday it was the land that required our undivided attention but today interest switched to the sea as a weather front moving up-Channel introduced windier conditions that in turn perked up passage from the pedestrian levels of recent days. Skuas included combined Chesil/Bill totals of 9 Greats, 6 Pomarine and 4 Arctics, whilst Manx Shearwaters - that have hitherto been under strength - staged their strongest movement to date with more than 700 through off the Bill. In increasingly blowy conditions spring staples like waders and terns were all but absent, but back-ups at the two watchpoints included c100 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers, 2 Black-throated Divers and a Great Northern Diver, along with a good Chesil record of 3 Puffins settled together. After yesterday's excesses the land was very much the poor relation: there were low numbers and poor variety everywhere, with visible passage in particular almost entirely lacking.

The writer of today's post is well known for having been a big fan of social distancing before it was ever trendy, but even he was astonished during his first 'proper' seawatch of the spring (…'scopes are so great these days that seawatching from the Obs is too easy and you get out of the habit of the real thing) to not see another soul during a two and a half hour watch at Pulpit Rock this afternoon - this lockdown business so improves the quality of your countryside experience when the general public aren't about to spoil it for you!



It was a decent enough watch with the skuas the stars of the show...



...whilst routine fare included plenty of the usual suspects © Martin Cade:






There was some productive social distancing to be had on Chesil as well © Joe Stockwell