11th April

An entirely unpredictable day saw sun, rain, snow and cloud descend in turns upon the island - always with the accompaniment of a chilly breeze. There was a noticeable increase in Blackcap numbers with over 50 across the island, whilst a Redstart appeared at Portland Castle and the three Ring Ouzels and lone Merlin continued their respective long stays. Overhead remained relatively quiet with just two Yellow Wagtails and a Siskin being bested by an afternoon Osprey. The sea was quiet and calm with just a Great Skua, four Manx Shearwaters and a handful of Common Scoter of note. 

The Portland Castle Redstart and the Bill Merlin © Pete Saunders:



10th April

Going to bed last night our heads were filled with the prospects of gentle northerlies and potential drizzle at dawn, and we were anticipating maybe the biggest fall of the year - of course what we hadn't counted on was the enormous bank of rain blocking the entirety of northern France. So it was a slightly disheartened search around the Bill for those few migrants who had made the Channel crossing before the weather system hit. As a result, new passerine migrants were thin on the ground with a smattering of the usual trinity of Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, plus a couple of Redstarts; the three long-staying Ring Ouzels also remained on station at Barleycrates Lane. Another Osprey, this one over Easton during the afternoon, provided the only interest overhead. The sea watching started well with 80 Common Scoter, nine Sandwich Terns, four Red-throated Divers and three Whimbrel before the Channel seemingly became impassible to them as well; another Whimbrel was the pick of a few waders at Ferrybridge. 

9th April

A similar start to yesterday with areas of the garden erupting into Willow Warbler song and furtive Blackcaps scrambling between Blackthorn bushes. The Bill area also saw the lingering singing Black Redstart and two high-flying Tree Pipits among others. However, it was Barleycrates Lane that provided the quality with the first Grasshopper Warbler and Garden Warbler of the year, the remaining three Ring Ouzels plus a supporting cast of Yellow Wagtail, Redstart and Common Whitethroat. Elsewhere, a total of 11 Buzzards over Easton represented a year peak and surely involved a good few non-local individuals. With the wind dropping down to a gentle, if chilling, breeze it was inevitable that the sea would be quieter with the beginnings of Pale-bellied Brent Goose movement - 16 through off the Bill - the best of the bunch along with: 140 Common Scoter, 22 Red-throated Divers, two Manx Shearwaters and a lone Puffin of note. The evening sea-watch provided an extra bit of excitement with an Osprey coming in low off the sea before reaching the cliffs and heading up high towards the mainland.

A stunning male Redstart at Southwell © Nick Stantiford

 The resident Southwell Long-tailed Tits have been feeding furiously in the gardens - surely there must be a breeding attempt close-by which would constitute our most southerly record © Nick Stantiford:


The Osprey was a very late in the day arrival that was watched powering in from the south inches off the sea before attracting the attention of the local gulls that forced it higher off West Cliffs © Martin Cade:

8th April

A return to form today with slightly milder conditions coming up some numbers on both land and sea. Variety was far off what can or even ought be on the cards by this stage of the spring but after a barren spell an arrival  that included 100 Willow Warbler at the Bill was very welcome; Swallows were also arriving in half decent numbers, whilst odds and ends of scarcer fare dotted about the island included 2 Ring Ouzels, 2 Pied Flycatchers and singles of Merlin, Yellow Wagtail, Black Redstart and Reed Bunting. The sea also fell short variety-wise but some steady passage routine passage included c800 Gannets, 229 Common Scoter, 20 Red-throated Divers, 27 Sandwich Terns and an Arctic Skua

The Pied Flycatcher at Portland Castle was an interesting individual: Debby's nice settled portrait shows a pretty standard-looking first-summer male...


...but Pete's flight photos reveal the true extent of the white across the primary bases that clearly extends out to primary 4, with even a ghosting of white on primary 3  (...it's rather clearer on the higher resolution photos we have in front of us than on these downsized versions). There doesn't look to be anything else untoward about the bird's plumage to suggest it's anything other than 'just' a Pied Flycatcher with an exceptional extent of white in this area © Debby and Pete Saunders.



7th April

In the absence of any upturn in common migrant numbers the 3 Ring Ouzels at Barleycrates Lane, the Black Redstart at Culverwell and the Merlin at the Bill again provided the best of the day's entertainment. Low single figure totals of Swallow, Wheatear, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler provided a less than compelling migration spectacle at the Bill , where 11 more Red-throated Divers passed by on the sea.

Two Blossom Underwings from the Obs garden moth-traps provided some unexpected evidence of moth dispersal.

The fact that the Barleycrtes Ring Ouzels have lingered for six days provides evidence enough that migration has pretty well ground to a halt for the time being © Pete Saunders:


Sandwich Terns haven't been moving in great quantity but low numbers of them are now a constant fixture at Ferrybridge and Portland Harbour © Pete Saunders:


With frost on the ground at dawn, moth dispersal was far from our thoughts so these two Blossom Underwings - the first recorded here for seven years - were a welcome catch at the Obs © Martin Cade:

6th April

Might we have expected a bit more out of today's chilly blast from the north? Maybe, since we've witnessed many a blistering fall from conditions akin to this in the past but perhaps it's just a tad too early in the season and there still isn't the momentum to migration to have brought enough birds into our vicinity. Whatever the whys and wherefores, today certainly didn't come up with the goods and both grounded arrivals and visible migrants were in really short supply: the 3 long-staying Ring Ouzels remained at Barleycrates Lane, the equally long-staying Black Redstart lingered on at Culverwell and the Merlin that's been around so many months that we can barely remember as far back as when it first arrived was still at the Bill, but there was precious little worth a mention amongst the single figure totals of newcomers. The stiff offshore blow was no doubt propitious for anyone fortunate enough to be peering out from a northern French headland but was an ill wind for our seawatchers, with just 2 Red-throated Divers logged off the Bill.

The Black Redstart at Culverwell © Geoff Orton:


...this cairii morph male seems to be holding a territory around one of the paddocks and was worth a visit just to hear it singing - a rare event at Portland © Martin Cade:

5th April

The migration tap's been barely more than dripping for a fortnight or more and today's chilly northwesterlies - that it had been hoped might drop improved numbers on the coast - failed to deliver much of an improvement. There were more new arrivals about but the numbers were far from a big deal for Portland in early April, with Willow Warbler just topping 50 at the Bill where they outnumbered Chiffchaffs for the first time this spring. Blackcap and Chiffchaff both chipped in lower totals, whilst the 25 Wheatears marked a small improvement in their fortunes; the 3 lingering Ring Ouzel at Barelycrates Lane provided by far the best of the quality. Swallows continued to trickle through overhead, whilst Red-throated Divers continued to dominate offshore with 34 more through off the Bill.

The Ring Ouzels have enabled a fair few visitors to salvage something from their first visit to the island this year © Pete Saunders:


The possibly ailing Brent Goose is still lingering on at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:


These Turnstones over Ferrybridge had all the look of passing migrants even if there's precious little other evidence of waders getting moving © Pete Saunders:

4th April

Precious little by way of new arrivals to report today, with the season's first Whitethroat the best of the day's discoveries at the Bill where Swallows did get going in some numbers through the middle of day but grounded migrants were again relatively few and far between; elsewhere, 2 Ring Ouzels, a Yellow Wagtail and a Redstart continued to entertain at Barleycrates Lane. Red-throated Divers again provided the bulk of the interest on the sea, with 19 more through off the Bill where 41 Common Scoter, 7 Sandwich Terns and a Great Skua also passed by.

3rd April

Quite a shocker today with heavy cloud cover extending across the Channel seemingly stopping migration dead, with precious few new arrivals on the ground and, even once the cloud cleared during the afternoon, visible passage reduced to the tiniest trickle. Three Ring Ouzels remained at Barleycrates Lane and a Merlin was again at the Bill but newcomers consisted of no more than low single figures totals of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. The sky of all but bereft of visible migrants, with a total of fewer than 10 hirundines logged all day! The fresh breeze was still too far round in an offshore direction to perk up sea passage, with 11 Red-throated Divers and 3 Sandwich Terns the best that could be managed at the Bill.

An image that perfectly conjures up a time and a place: a migrant Willow Warbler amongst blackthorn blossom on an April morning at Portland © Mark Eggleton


Also from yesterday, an image that shouldn't be conjuring up any thoughts of Portland: this is the escaped Mulga Parrot - ordinarily a native of Australia - that's been doing the rounds of the Weston area for a few days © Mark Eggleton:


2nd April

A chill wind didn't do much for numbers but some quality more than salvaged the day, with a Red-rumped Swallow lingering for a while over Barleycrates Lane/Weston Street the stand-out highlight. The same area was favoured for scarce migrants, hosting at least 3 Ring Ouzels, 2 Black Redstarts and 2 Redstarts; elsewhere, a Firecrest at the Bill, a Pied Flycatcher at Southwell and a Fieldfare at Verne Common provided further interest. Common migrants - mainly Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers - were filtering through in fair numbers on the ground but, despite the clear sky and brisk northeasterly, visible passage was a disappointing non-event. A steady passage of small flocks of Common Scoter fell just short of a three figure total off the Bill, where 14 Eider, 4 Red-throated Divers, a Great Northern Diver and a Mallard were the best of the rest.

Speckled Wood and Large White were on the wing for the first time this year.

Some nice finder's photos of Portland's earliest ever Red-rumped Swallow © Chris Griffin:



One of the Barleycrates Ring Ouzels © Andy Luckhurst:


One of three flocks of Eider that passed the Bill during the morning © Keith Pritchard:

1st April

A stiffer northeasterly breeze had become a feature overnight and remained so throughout the day, funneling most passage along the West Cliffs where Meadow Pipits were passing at 200 an hour at times along with a steady passage of alba wagtails, hirundines and finches; the spring's first Yellow Wagtail, 2 Snipe and a Siskin were all added bonuses overhead. It was much quieter on the ground where a Pied Flycatcher and Reed Bunting - both also firsts for the year - and a Firecrest were the pick amongst a thin spread of Wheatears, Blackcaps and phylloscs. Gannets again made up the bulk of the numbers offshore where the Glaucous Gull lingered off the Bill all day and a much reduced passage of migrants included 5 Red-throated Divers, 3 Mediterranean Gulls and 2 Sandwich Terns.

The first Pied Flycatcher of the year - always a pleasure to see and a little earlier than average: the first dates in the last decade have ranged between 31st March and 16th April © Martin Cade:


The Glaucous Gull passed back and forth off the Bill several times during the day © Pete Saunders:


Now that there's a little more fieldwork taking place we've begun to receive a few comments on apparent numbers of resident breeders. Two that thus far look to be a tad depleted are Kestrel and Skylark and it's difficult to see beyond apportioning significant blame on the ever increasing horsey-culture at the Bill - just lately a large chunk of the valley below Wallsend (home of several pairs of Skylarks as well as being a favoured feeding spot for Kestrels and the wintering Short-eared Owls) has been fenced for use as yet another horse paddock © Pete Saunders (Kestrel and Roy Norris (Skylark):



On the plus side, it's good to see Little Owls back in residence in the Obs Quarry, after presumably getting ousted from the QinetiQ compound (where they've bred for the last couple of years) by building maintenance taking place over there © Ian Gill (top) and Roy Norris (bottom):


31st March

For the most part a rather uneventful day salvaged only by a Glaucous Gull lingering offshore between Chesil and the Bill, and a Velvet Scoter through off the Bill. Grounded migrants were few and far between, whilst overhead passage was a little more conspicuous but entirely routine in its composition. The gull and scoter aside, the sea came up with 4 Arctic Skuas (3 off Chesil and a single off the Bill), a Yellow-legged Gull and a steady up-Channel movement of more than 300 Gannets

A mobile phone record shot of the Glaucous Gull bobbing around beside a fishing boat on the Shambles Bank this afternoon © Nick Stantiford:


Sea Eagles, Red Kites, Great Bustards, White Storks, Beavers...the litany of releases into the countryside gets longer by the year. Portland's alien chuck-out of choice has long been the gamebird, with any number of partridges and exotic pheasants liberated in tandem with successive releases of Common Pheasants - quite by whom and why has always been a mystery to us and, Common Pheasant aside, has been singularly unsuccessful if the point has been to establish feral populations of these curiosities. In fact, the evidence would suggest that for the individual birds release looks tantamount to a death sentence since few get seen for more than a day or two. Today's California Quail at Avalanche Road - a new species for the island alien list - looked great and sounded really interesting if nothing else but we don't rate its chances when Freddy Fox comes sniffing around tonight. © Mark Eggleton (stills) & Martin Cade (video)





30th March

Weather-wise, today lived up to expectations, even if those expectations for a clear blue sky and unbroken sunshine weren't what was required for a fall of migrants. The numbers were all overhead and, to a lesser extent, on the sea whilst the land was relatively barren, with no more than the lightest scatter of seasonable grounded migrants. Dawn had barely broken before visible passage got into full spring with a steady flow of Meadow Pipits and Linnets in particular arriving over the Bill: sample counts showed that each totalled well into four figures even if better accuracy wasn't possible on a day when the movement was occurring over a really broad front; the list of lower totals encompassed all that might have been expected - including the season's first Tree Pipit over Easton and Siskin over Chesil - although hirundines were conspicuously fewer than had been the case yesterday. The sea was well watched, with Chesil and the Bill returning similar-ish totals of up towards 200 Common Scoter, 50 Sandwich Terns and a dozen Red-throated Divers apiece; as usual, the variety at the two watchpoints was not at all similar: Chesil chipped in with 14 Teal, 9 Shoveler, 4 Shelducks and a Gadwall, whilst the Bill's contribution included 5 Little Gulls, 2 Gadwall, 2 Arctic Skuas, 2 commic terns, a Pintail and a Whimbrel

Two Red Admirals - the island's first since an isolated single in early February - were on the wing at the Bill.

Maybe a bit under-rated? - spring male White Wagtails are such crisp, smart looking birds © Martin Cade:




29th March

 A really nice early spring day with clement conditions and a hatful of movement afoot; in some ways it was also an odd day, with rich rewards numbers-wise in certain favoured spots whilst other areas were relatively quiet. Wheatear and Chiffchaff were very well represented, with some hundreds of both scattered about the island and clearly very actively on the move; Willow Warbler and Blackcap were both also numerous, with several Black Redstarts, 2 Redstarts and a Ring Ouzel amongst the quality unearthed on the ground. It was equally busy overhead, with a 35 minute sample count from West Cliffs during the afternoon of 87 Sand Martins, 51 Swallows and 44 Meadow Pipits being entirely representative of a strong passage that developed as the day went on; singles of Little Ringed Plover and Whimbrel over Chesil provided some quality overhead. Movement was a wee bit fitful on the sea but included 12 Red-throated Divers and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill and 2 Garganey and a Little Gull lingering off Chesil.

Chiffchaffs are still very much to the fore in the phyllosc stakes: the morning ringing session at the Obs saw them ahead of Willow Warbler by a 5:1 ratio © Nick Stantiford:

On a day when we were rather dispirited but hardly surprised to observe from our Twitter feed that an awful lot of folk's idea of having an interest in natural history involves hundreds of miles of criss-crossing southwest Britain between a Mockingbird, an American Herring Gull and a Walrus - all of which had been perfectly well documented by umpteen people before them - we were massively impressed (...and wholly gripped off since it involved an area that, more than half a lifetime ago, we used to watch on an almost daily basis) when we received word that Dave Chown had found a Desert Wheatear in an obscure backwater of Lodmoor. Apart from the fact that we nipped over to see it, you might wonder what connection this has with Portland but it wasn't lost on us that getting on for 30 years ago Dave's mindset was probably much the same as it was today when he headed over to Portland on a hunch that the weather conditions looked interesting and proceeded to stumble across Dorset's first Desert Wheatear at the Bill - a hit-rate of finding 50% of the county's Desert Wheatears, how good is that?! © Martin Cade:

28th March

With the wind whipping up to gale-force overnight, the morning was once again dedicated to the sea. The first two Arctic Skuas of the year were the highlight off the Bill with two Bonxies, 20 Red-throated Divers, 13 Manx Shearwaters and a Yellow-legged Gull as the supporting cast. Despite early signs on the land indicating a slow day for passage migrants (just four Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap were recorded in the Obs garden), things perked up later on with a Little Bunting in a private garden on the island, the first Ring Ouzel of the year passing through a private garden at Southwell, 15 Chiffchaffs and two Black Redstarts also aggregating in that area and encouraging signs further up the island including 18 Wheatears and four Sand Martins passing through Fancy's Farm.

The first Arctic Skua of the spring was a stunning dark-phase individual, surfing the wind past the Bill © Pete Saunders...


...whilst the season's first Ring Ouzel was an equally stunning male that pitched up briefly in a private garden at Southwell that also hosted one of two Black Redstarts in the area © Nick Stantiford:



The coup de grĂ¢s garden-wise, was dealt by another island resident who did really well to not only spot but also obtain record-photos of a very furtive Little Bunting that visited their garden today:


27th March

In a surprisingly buffeting westerly passerine migration remained at a very low ebb and even the sea couldn't salvage much in the way of respectability for the day. As a telling example of just how quiet it's become on the land not a single new bird was mist-netted at the Obs in several hours of trying during the morning, with the wider island only a little more rewarding: the 4 Black Redstarts and 3 Firecrests scattered about the south of the island were all long term lingerers, whilst new arrivals included low single figure totals of Wheatear, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler on the ground and a couple of single Swallows through overhead. Nine Red-throated Divers and a lone Sandwich Tern through off the Bill were as good as it got on the sea.

The lack of migrants at least allows close attention to be given to those that are about, amongst which they don't get much better looking than the fine male Wheatears © Geoff Orton:

26th March

As the wind picked up overnight, our attentions switched from hopes for land-based migrants to the sea. The onshore wind produced a constant stream of Kittiwakes totalling more than 600 (a welcome sight given their recent scarcity on our breeding cliffs). As the morning wore on, the first glimmers of Manx Shearwater migration emerged with 12 birds shearing the increasingly towering waves. A lone Bonxie, four Eiders, 12 Common Scoter and 12 Red-throated Divers managed to sneak through before the large rain-fueled weather front came through in the mid-morning. Once the rain had passed, feeding flocks of gulls and terns appeared off both the Bill and Chesil featuring a selection of Mediterranean, Common and a single Little Gull with three Sandwich Terns off the Bill and 15 Little Gulls off Chesil. The land was under watched so two Wheatears and a single Black Redstart were all that we could muster. 

The sea was definitely the focus today, especially for those brave enough to weather the conditions at the Bill tip... © Debby Saunders (Eiders, Kittiwakes, Common Scoter and Wheatear) © Pete Saunders (Bonxie):





25th March

The beginnings of a break down in the weather saw several bands of showers pass through and, aside from a small arrival of Wheatears on the land and another pulse of Red-throated Divers on the sea, migrants were in short supply. Wheatears totalled 20 at the Bill - the first double figure arrival of the season there - but other passerines were few and far between, with 5 Black Redstarts and 2 Firecrests at the Bill all lingerers rather than new arrivals. A total of 39 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill represented a good return from the sea but, as on the land, there was little else of note on the move: steady passages of Gannets, Kittiwakes and Common Gulls kept interest going but 4 Eider were the only other noteworthy migrants.

24th March

Thoughts that yesterday's upturn in sea passage would prove to be the precursor to a stronger pulse of movement today proved to be well wide of the mark, with no more than a dribble of routine early season offerings off both the Bill and Chesil; 20 Red-throated Divers passing the former was a worthwhile total, but the back-ups consisted of little more than 2 Sandwich Terns and singles of Manx Shearwater and Great Skua, with a Yellow-legged Gull amongst lower totals of a similar selection off Chesil. The land fared no better, with the dreary skies of dawn dropping little more than a handful of phylloscs and 3 Wheatears at the Bill/Southwell; 4 Black Redstarts, 2 Firecrests and a Merlin were also lingering there, with another 3 Black Redstarts on offer at Reap Lane.

Two of the four Black Redstarts at Southwell © Pete Saunders:


The arriving Chiffchaffs are finding provisioning themselves a lot easier now that Alexanders are coming into flower and attracting plenty of bugs © Pete Saunders:

23rd March

A welcome little taster of what'll hopefully come our way by way of sea passage in the next few weeks provided today's principal interest. Passage was never heavy but with a freshening onshore breeze looked to be taking place whenever the sea was checked throughout the day, with totals at the Bill that included 102 Common Scoter, 34 Common Gulls, 32 Red-throated Divers, 11 Little Gulls, 8 Teal, 6 Wigeon, 3 Mediterranean Gulls, 2 Shoveler, 2 Canada Geese and singles of Manx Shearwater, Sandwich Tern and Puffin. Beyond a surprise 4 new Firecrests at Culverwell (there was also another lingerer at the Obs) passerines were only very thinly spread: 5 Black Redstarts were also at the Bill, where Chiffchaffs only just scraped into double figures, Wheatears numbered a still measly 6 and a single Swallow passed through overhead. A Merlin at Reap Lane was the only report of note from the land.

A few new Black Redstarts have been popping up in recent days: there were five at the Bill today of which only one was a winterer - this was one of three on the East Cliffs up towards Southwell © Pete Saunders:
 

This escaped falcon wearing jesses and a bell was first seen along West Cliffs yesterday afternoon and was knocking around at the Bill for a while this morning; it seems to most resemble a Lanner but has some anomalous features so we're guessing it's a hybrid of some sort © Martin Cade: