26th January

Just as forecast, today was indeed a shocker and only the most conscientious ventured out into the continuous drizzle and freshening wind. A Redwing was at the Obs, a Black Redstart at Portland Castle and 160 Dunlin and 2 Bar-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge.

Despite the miserable conditions the Black Redstart was showing nicely at Portland Castle © Pete Saunders:


25th January

Another lovely bright, sunny day saw a fair bit of fieldwork as folk got out before the arrival of grottier conditions forecast for the rest of the week. Two Redwings were new in at the Bill where 10 Red-throated Divers passed by on the sea, the 2 Eider were settled offshore and 12 Purple Sandpipers, a Merlin and a Chiffchaff were found on the land; the first Greenfinch of the year was also of minor interest at the Obs. Three Blackcaps remained at Southwell, singles of Black Redstart and Chiffchaff were at Weston and the Rosy Starling remained in situ at Easton. Three Bar-tailed Godwits and a Knot were back at Ferrybridge, where 60 Dunlin, 2 Curlews and a Great Northern Diver were also about.

Diver numbers seemed to dropped right away in Portland Harbour but this Great Northern Diver is still hanging about at Ferrybridge or a little further up the Fleet © Pete Saunders:

24th January

Snow, what snow? As is usually the case Portland missed out on any of the white stuff and was for the most part bathed in pleasant sunshine once the early rain had passed. The now customary list of odds and ends from the day included the Eider still offshore and a single Red-throated Diver through off the Bill, the 3 Redpolls and a Black Redstart still at the Bill, 2 Blackcaps and a Chiffchaff - together with 70 Goldfinches - at Southwell, the Rosy Starling still at Easton and singles of Great Spotted Woodpecker and Redwing also there.

23rd January

Another lovely day to be out and about but still very quiet on the bird front: the Purple Sandpipers at the Bill reached a season's peak of 12, 5 Red-throated Divers passed by on the sea and the 3 Redpolls and Chiffchaff were also still at the Bill; elsewhere, a Black Redstart was on the Verne Common Estate.

22nd January

Under a clear sky it was a lovely day to get out birding even if, as is more often than not the case at this time of year, it was largely uneventful. Sadly, the one event that was more than worthwhile - a fly-over Great White Egret at Blacknor - required being in just the right spot at the right moment for; otherwise it was a day for tapping into a few of the regulars: 5 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Redpolls, a Merlin and a Chiffchaff at the Bill, 6 Long-tailed Tits and 3 Blackcaps at Southwell, the 3 Rooks at Barleycrates Lane, the Rosy Starling at Easton and a Black Redstart at Blacknor.

It's a hard life being a Purple Sandpiper © Pete Saunders:

21st January

A day of considerable weather contrasts with the howling gale and some brightness of dawn giving way to an altogether drearier but much quieter afternoon as rain lingering not far out in the Channel never quite made it ashore. The only small changes in the otherwise routine mid-winter selection saw 2 Brent Geese pass by off the Bill, the Greenfinch flock at Reforne increase to 14 and a couple of Redwings appear at Easton; the 3 overwintering Rooks at Barleycrates Lane were also logged for the first time in a while. The Rosy Starling was still at Easton, the 3 Redpolls and single Chiffchaff were still at the Bill, the 2 Eider were still offshore at the Bill and 7 Black-necked Grebes, a Black-throated Diver and a Slavonian Grebe were still in Portland Harbour.

20th January

Although Portland was a fair way away from suffering a direct hit from Storm Christoph it was still a sufficiently unpleasant day that the only reports were of a Merlin at the Bill and a Pale-bellied Brent Goose at Ferrybridge.

19th January

A leaden sky, frequent drizzle and not far off gale force wind were more than enough to keep most sensible folk indoors and the only reports were from the Bill: a Golden Plover overhead, 10 Common Scoter and 2 Eider settled offshore and a lone Red-throated Diver passing by on the sea.

18th January

Just a rather thin selection of a few of the regulars today: 5 Purple Sandpipers and a Merlin at the Bill, a single Red-throated Diver through on the sea there and 4 Blackcaps at Southwell.

One of the Bill Purple Sandpipers © Pete Saunders:

17th January

A day of more sameness: 2 Red-throated Divers and 2 Eider off the Bill, the Merlin at the Bill, the Rosy Starling at Easton, the Black Redstart at Osprey Quay, 4 Black-necked Grebes, a Great Northern Diver and a Red-necked Grebe in Portland Harbour and 800 Mediterranean Gulls and 3 Bar-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge.

Beautiful it certainly isn't but it's interesting to see the progress of moult in the Rosy Starling © Mark Litjens:

16th January

Just as the ground had more or less dried up underfoot so it was back to square one after heavy rain set in during the early hours and dragged on until well after dawn. A Wigeon was new at Ferrybridge, a Golden Plover passed over at the Bill and the first Great Skua for a few days joined the fishing flock off the Bill. Otherwise, it was as you were, with amongst others the Rosy Starling still at Easton, 3 Blackcaps still at Southwell and 2 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill.

This morning's Wigeon at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

15th January

A largely uneventful day with a Lapwing at the Bill the only new arrival of interest. Nine Red-throated Divers passed by off the Bill, 10 Common Scoter were still settled offshore and 3 Redpolls, a Black Redstart and a Chiffchaff were still about on the land. Elsewhere, 3 Blackcaps were still at Southwell, a Black Redstart was at Barleycrates Lane, the Rosy Starling was again at Easton and 340 Mediterranean Gulls were at Ferrybridge.

A lone Bottle-nosed Dolphin was off the Bill during the morning.

Stonechat at the Bill this morning © Pete Saunders:


We're guessing that a vagrant Cape Gannet would probably be most likely to occur in this part of the world during our summer which would be their non-breeding season (at least that applies to an adult since, realistically, it would have to be an adult to be able to identify it). Regardless of that, we've always vaguely kept an eye out for one and yesterday saw what was perhaps the most look-alike individual we've ever noticed: sadly, it was passing by further out than the tide race off the Bill so was a good two miles distant and therefore too far away to allow for really critical examination; however, it did look to be a really crispy-marked bird with neat black secondaries and a black tail - we couldn't discern any signs of  immature feathers on either the upper or under-wing coverts that both looked to be pristinely white. Since we didn't get any feel whatever for it looking a tad smaller or maybe flying a bit differently we'd guess it was just a look-alike sub-adult Northern Gannet with fewer than usual retained immature feathers in the coverts but it would have been nice if it had been just that bit closer © Martin Cade:



14th January

Weather-wise, a kinder day that we'd thought was supposed to be in the offing but very slow on the bird front: 3 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill where 14 Common Scoter were still settled offshore and 198 Dark-bellied (25 of which headed away east) and a Pale-bellied Brent were at Ferrybridge.

13th January

Ferrybridge was busy today, with the highlight the first appearance there since November of the Black Brant; a winter peak to date of 190 Dunlin and a good site total of 40 Cormorants were also of note, with a Pale-bellied Brent Goose also of interest amongst a good selection of other regulars. Twelve Red-throated Divers through off the Bill were the best of the bunch there, with the lingering 11 Common Scoter and 2 Eider still present offshore and the 3 Redpolls still about on the land. Elsewhere, 3 Blackcaps were still at Southwell and, bearing in mind their current status, a count of 5 Greenfinches at Reforne was noteworthy (...any records of Greenfinch are worth reporting at the moment - we haven't seen one at the Obs since November!).

Although there have been reports of various extra individuals further up the Fleet, the Black Brant that wanders down to Ferrybridge always seems to be the same individual; today, also as always, it was paired up with a Dark-bellied Brent © Pete Saunders:



Ferrybridge was nice and busy today © Pete Saunders:

12th January

A very different flavour to the weather now: damp, dreary and very mild. For a while there was enough visibility to see that there was a fair-sized feeding aggregation off the Bill and this attracted in a Great Skua for the first time for a few days; 9 Common Scoter and 2 Eider were still settled offshore, 4 Red-throated Divers passed by and singles of Merlin, Purple Sandpiper and Black Redstart were about on the land. The only other reports were of the Rosy Starling still at Easton and a good winter total of 10 Curlew amongst the wildfowl and waders at Ferrybridge.

11th January

A freshening and backing of the breeze into the west heralded the arrival of much milder conditions. Bird interest diminished considerably with the only reports  being of 3 Redpolls, a Merlin and a Purple Sandpiper at the Bill, the Rosy Starling still at Easton and a Merlin over the north of the island.

10th January

A handful more cold weather arrivals to show from today's efforts, notably 13 Golden Plovers and a Fieldfare that dropped in at the Bill; 2 Long-tailed Tits at Southwell were the first from the south of the island for a while, whilst a new Blackcap was visiting a garden at the Grove. Among the more routine fare, the Merlin was getting about - or might there be more than one? - with an early sighting from Blacknor before it returned to the Bill; 8 Common Scoter and 2 Eider were off the Bill, 3 Redpolls, a Purple Sandpiper and a Black Redstart were at the Bill and 4 Blackcaps and a Chiffchaff were at Southwell. Elsewhere, a Goldcrest was the first for a while at Pennsylvania Castle (...has anyone seen a Firecrest anywhere on Portland this winter? - if not, has there ever been  winter without one?) and 3 Bar-tailed Godwits reappeared at Ferrybridge where there was also a Great Northern Diver.

The Merlin at the Bill © Martin Cade... 


...and the Bar-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

9th January

Another very small cold weather arrival today with singles of Lapwing, Golden Plover and Redwing new in at the Bill and several reports of extra Song Thrushes having dropped in. Blackcaps continued to consolidate in favourable private gardens, with 4 on the Verne Common Estate and 3 at Southwell; a Black Redstart was also still at the former and a Chiffchaff still at the latter. Other reports included the 2 Eider still off the Bill, 9 Purple Sandpipers still on the shore there, 2 Black Redstarts and a Merlin still at Barleycrates Lane, the Rosy Starling still at Easton and totals of 143 Dunlin and 36 Ringed Plovers at Ferrybridge.

Blackcap and Song Thrush at Southwell © Debby Saunders:



This Black-headed Gull settled on Pete Saunders' arm at Ferrybridge (it had just come in for bread) is a winter regular in the area that was first ringed at Radipole in January 2011 © Debby Saunders:

8th January

With it being a quiet period and most people not venturing far reports are getting fewer by the day. Today's only news was of 8 Common Scoter and 5 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill, a Chiffchaff still at the Bill, 3 Black Redstarts at Barleycrates Lane, the Rosy Starling at Easton and 6 Black-necked Grebes in Portland harbour.

7th January

After a clear night during which the wind dropped to nothing dawn saw the sharpest frost of the winter to date; however, once a little early murkiness had dissipated it was a gloriously sunny and pleasant day - in fact, too nice not to get on with outdoor jobs rather than waste too much time birding. What little fieldwork there was uncovered an increase to 4 Blackcaps in a garden at Sweethill, a Black Redstart still at the Bill with another 2 still at Barleycrates Lane, the Rosy Starling still at Easton and 7 Black-necked Grebes and 2 Black-throated Divers still in Portland Harbour.

6th January

With the latest lockdown kicking in coverage was more limited today. The Rosy Starling was still at Easton, 3 Black Redstarts and a Merlin were at Barleycrates Lane, 5 Purple Sandpipers and another Black Redstart were at the Bill and 5 Pale-bellied Brent Geese passed by off the Bill.

This Black Redstart spent the best part of the day in and around the Obs car park © Martin Cade:

5th January

Bar a couple of Redwings that dropped in at Southwell today's selection consisted just of a few of the known winterers: the Rosy Starling at Easton, a Black Redstart and a Chiffchaff at the Bill, 2 more Chiffchaffs, 2 Blackcaps and a Grey Heron at Southwell, another Black Redstart at Osprey Quay, a Knot at Ferrybridge and the Red-necked Grebe in Portland Harbour.

Redwing and Grey Heron at Southwell © Pete Saunders...



...Black Redstart at the Bill © Geoff Orton...


...and Knot at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

4th January

A Red Kite that crossed the island during the afternoon before heading away towards the mainland was a surprise mid-winter oddity today; 4 Knot at Ferrybridge were also an addition to the year-list, albeit a rather less unexpected one, whilst 9 Redwings watched flying in off the sea at the Bill were new arrivals. The remainder of the day's tally consisted of a few of the regulars: the Rosy Starling at Easton, a Black Redstart at Blacknor, a Blackcap at the Grove, 7 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill, 8 Common Scoter 2 Eider and a Great Skua lingering off the Bill and a single Red-throated Diver passing by offshore.

As they usually do, the Red Kite provoked consternation amongst the local inhabitants as it meandered across the middle of the island. In days of yore, well before the introduction projects kicked in and when Red Kite was hardly more than a vagrant at Portland, there was the occasional mid-winter record here although it wasn't established whether these reports related to strays from Wales or the Continent © Martin Cade:

3rd January

Quiet again today, with a raw northeasterly compounding the misery for anyone tempted to stay out too long in the vain hope of reward. The Rosy Starling remained at Easton, single Blackcaps were in gardens at the Grove and on the Verne Common Estate - with a Black Redstart also visiting the latter - 13 Common Scoter and 10 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill and the 3 Redpolls were still at the Bill.

The 3 (Lesser) Redpolls are the first that have ever attempted to overwinter at the Bill - two of them are the individuals that turned up with the Arctic Redpoll back in mid-November; they look to be sustaining themselves mainly on the tiny seeds of whatever the goosefoot species is that springs up prolifically in our maize patches at the Bill (we used to think it's Fat Hen and have now forgotten what we've been told is in fact its correct identity) © Martin Cade:


It'd be interesting to know just how many Blackcaps winter on the island - the vast majority of those that we're aware of each winter are in private gardens and there are surely going to be plenty more that we never get to hear about; this one is visiting a garden on the Verne Common Estate © Trevor Felstead:

2nd January

Still cold but nowhere near as frosty as the last couple of days so it back to mid-winter mediocrity on the birding front. The one positive was the appearance for the year list of the Rosy Starling that was Blacknor first thing in the morning before returning to its well-provisioned garden at Easton. The only other reports were singles of Blackcap and Chiffchaff at Southwell, 6 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Redpolls and a Merlin at the Bill and 6 Red-throated Divers through on the sea at the Bill.

Sparrowhawk at Southwell today © Pete Saunders:

1st January

A very raw dawn saw a below zero reading on the thermometer at the Obs - did we actually have any below zero dawns last year? - and it was soon apparent that a few birds had responded to what was no doubt an even sharper overnight freeze on the mainland: 9 Golden Plovers and singles of Snipe and Redwing were at the Bill, where 4 Gadwall and a Red-breasted Merganser passed by on the sea; further new wild wildfowl included 2 each of Wigeon and Pintail, and a lone Teal off Chesil, whilst a Great White Egret passed by distantly off Church Ope Cove. Later scrutiny of last night's nocmig recording (from mid-evening until dawn) revealed loggings of 30 Redwing calls, a group of Lapwings and singles of Snipe and Skylark overhead at the Obs - how many of these birds were on the move due to the cold or because of disturbance by fireworks is maybe open to question! Besides these newcomers there were quite decent pickings to be had amongst the longer-stayers/winter regulars: 8 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill where the 2 Eider and single Great Skua were again lingering; 10 Purple Sandpipers, the 3 Redpolls, the Merlin and one of the Black Redstarts were logged on the land there. Singles of Blackcap and Chiffchaff were still at Southwell, Portland Harbour's tally included 11 Black-necked Grebes, 4 Great Northern Divers and singles of Black-throated Diver, Red-necked Grebe and Common Scoter, with a Black Redstart still about at Portland Castle.

No guesses what time this Redwing passed over at the Obs:

Kingfishers have been reported pretty regularly just lately around the shore of Portland Harbour  - there probably aren't any more than usual but they do seem to be a little bit more visible than they often are © Debby Saunders:


Sadly, the refugee Golden Plovers chose to pitch up on the most disturbed piece of grassland on the island and didn't last long once dogs started careering around the Bill Common © Martin Cade:


31st December

A very crisp dawn today but thereafter it was perfect winter birding conditions all the way. Rook is hardly a big deal bird on the mainland but 3 today at Barleycrates Lane were an unusual mid-winter sight for the island; 2 Redwings at Weston and a Fieldfare at the Bill (along with a Snipe heard calling overhead there after dark) were pretty well expected arrivals given the current low temperatures. Run of the mill fare included a Bonxie still lingering off the Bill, 2 Red-throated Divers also through there and 3 Redpolls, 2 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Black Redstarts on the land. The 2 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaffs at Southwell were joined by the first Goldcrest there for a while, with another Blackcap - along with a Black Redstart - at Weston. The Rosy Starling was again at Easton, Black-necked Grebes increased a little to 12 at Portland Harbour, where the 2 Black-throated Divers and single Red-necked Grebe were still about.

There's always plenty of bug action on and around Tree Mallows to help keep the Southwell Chiffchaffs sustained © Pete Saunders:



So, the curtain falls on what's surely been the most peculiar year in PBO's history.

Sadly, the fact that 2020 will live long in the memory had rather less to do with the quality of the natural history on offer than the uniquely disruptive circumstances associated with the ongoing global pandemic. In terms of the effects of this event on recording, we escaped lightly: thanks in no small measure to the efforts of a hard core of local residents the daily census was maintained throughout; whilst, during the spring at least, the two staff members had the rare pleasure of undertaking the entirety of the ringing programme themselves – every cloud has a silver lining! The losers were our guests: with the Observatory entirely closed for the bulk of the spring migration period and only partially open for the rest of the year, many of our stalwart regulars had to forgo their annual visits – we really felt for them and can only hope that some semblance of normality returns as 2021 unfolds.

Bird-wise, an autumn Arctic Redpoll – a wholly unexpected first for the island – was the year’s highlight, whilst a wonderful summer influx of Balearic Shearwaters brought with them the year’s big crowd-puller in the form of a putative Yelkouan Shearwater. A varied roll call of lesser rarities included a stunning dark-morph Montagu’s Harrier, 2 Red-footed Falcons, a Woodchat Shrike and a Blyth’s Reed Warbler in spring, half a dozen Rosy Starlings and another Blyth’s Reed Warbler during the summer and 4 Great Shearwaters, 2 Melodious Warblers and singles of Glossy Ibis, Kentish Plover, White-rumped Sandpiper, Olive-backed Pipit, Western Bonelli’s Warbler and Radde’s Warbler amongst others through the autumn.




It was not a year of excesses on the common migrant front. The crystal-clear skies prevailing for the bulk of the spring saw to it that falls of summer visitors – usually such bread and butter events for us at this season – were almost non-existent, whilst the vagaries of the weather seemed again to conspire against us through the autumn when we missed out on, for example, the large arrivals of thrushes, Goldcrests and the like that were a feature elsewhere. All this said, few if any of these commoner migrants were seriously under-represented and some of the irruptive woodland finches, in particular Siskin, Redpoll and Crossbill, were logged in near record totals.

Nocmig sampling continued apace although frequently fell victim to the peculiar circumstances of the year:  analysis of the recordings takes quite a time and with staff engaged in covering activities often undertaken by our volunteers there often simply weren’t enough hours in the day to fit everything in and a considerable backlog of recordings from both migration periods has accrued; nonetheless, loggings of 3 Stone Curlews, a Dotterel and a Quail from the spring and night in the autumn with a tally of 750 Tree Pipit calls were yet more examples of how fruitful this technique is proving.

The year’s ringing activities progressed steadily if largely unspectacularly, with only a seriously poor May – and that solely a result of weather conditions that never looked likely to be propitious – dragging the overall totals of some migrants down to a level a little below average. Arctic Redpoll and Great Grey Shrike were both ringed for the first time, whilst amongst the recoveries notified during the year news of a Portland-ringed Firecrest controlled in Poland – seemingly the first such movement resulting from UK ringing – was the stand-out highlight.


Lepidoptera provided some nice excitements, with the first British record of Rusty-shouldered Pug a fine reward from Debby Saunders' moth-trap; a Silver Barred was a new moth for Dorset, whilst another strong showing of Large Tortoiseshell butterflies included confirmation of breeding on the island – the first such record in Britain for many decades.



A big thanks to everyone who's helped us out through the year, be that in the form of legwork around the island, phone calls for scarcities, photos for the blog and all the other multitude of ways that go toward providing us with such fantastic support.

Finally, thanks also to our members for their continuing support: in this most challenging of years there’s nothing like being safe in the knowledge that we have such a strong support base - despite many of you being unable to visit us this year we really appreciate that you've stuck with us and we hope to see many of you in 2021.

30th December

In the light of today's announcement that Dorset has been upped a level and will be placed in Covid Restriction Tier 3 our accommodation will be closed from tomorrow until further notice. Our car park will remain open for local members wishing to walk at the Bill and toilet facilities will continue to be provided in the Annexe. Tier 3 regulations expressly forbid meeting indoors in all circumstances likely to apply to visitors to the Obs so please don't come indoors other than to use the toilet in the Annexe.

The chilly theme was maintained today, with millpond calm conditions a particular benefit for anyone taking a look at the harbour that returned totals that included 6 Black-necked Grebes, 4 Brent Geese (heading east overhead), 3 Great Northern Divers, 2 Black-throated Divers and singles of Red-throated Diver (also east overhead), Red-necked Grebe, Slavonian Grebe and Common Scoter; nearby, 3 Pale-bellied Brents were at Ferrybridge. Singles of Red-throated Diver and Brent Goose passed by off the Bill, the 3 Redpolls and a lone Black Redstart were still about on the land there, another Black Redstart was again at Blacknor, a Grey Heron passed over at Southwell and the bountiful rewards on offer in one garden at Sweethill tempted in 2 each of Blackcap and Chiffchaff.

29th December

 A chilly but otherwise pretty decent day allowed for a fair bit of coverage. The good numbers of routine seabirds - including c20000 auks, c600 Kittiwakes and c300 Gannets - off the Bill continued and again had a Great Skua in attendance; the 2 Eider and 10 Common Scoter also remained there, with 5 Red-throated Divers and 3 Teal passing by. Also of interest at the Bill was an increase/return of Purple Sandpipers, with 9 on the shore along with 5 Turnstones. Elsewhere, the wintering Chiffchaff was again at Southwell, 15 Razorbills, 4 Gannets and the Red-necked Grebe were in Portland Harbour and 94 Brent Geese, 60 Dunlin and a Great Northern Diver were at Ferrybridge.

The Ferrybridge Great Northern Diver...


...and the Southwell Chiffchaff © Pete Saunders:

28th December

Just a few odds and ends from the Bill today: 3 Red-throated Divers through offshore where the 12 Common Scoter, 2 Eider and 2 Great Skuas were knocking about all day; on the land, a Chiffchaff at the Obs was the first seen there for several weeks.

27th December

At the Bill, the aftermath of Storm Bella was no more eventful than the run up to it, with an utterly routine return of 4 Red-throated Divers, 12 Common Scoter and 2 Eider from the sea. A Purple Sandpiper was on the shore at the Bill (there seems only to be this lone bird present at the moment - with most attempts to find that drawing a blank!) and a Merlin was in Top Fields. Elsewhere, 2 Blackcaps were at Southwell, the Red-necked Grebe was still in Portland Harbour and a Curlew flew west over the harbour.

One of the two Blackcaps that look to be wintering at Southwell © Nick Stantiford: