17th March

Recent arrivals to these shores got a very rude awakening today in the face of frequent snow showers and a temperature that plummeted from yesterday's dizzy mid-teens to below zero by the end of the afternoon today. Whilst it's become the rule to be pretty dismissive of recent Common Crane records at Portland as being most likely relating to wandering 'plastic' reintroduced birds one that materialized out of the snow showers over the Bill this afternoon would seem more likely to have better credentials for being of continental origin; sadly, it disappeared out to sea without pitching in and before it could be widely viewed. Not surprisingly, the inclement conditions resulted in quite a little arrival of grounded migrants, with 15 Black-headed Gulls, 7 Wheatears, 6 Chiffchaffs, 5 Redwings, 4 Firecrests, 2 Fieldfares and singles of Golden Plover, Woodcock, Black Redstart and Goldcrest at the Bill, where 190 Meadow Pipits, another 14 Golden Plovers, 3 Wood Pigeons and a Merlin also passed through overhead; elsewhere, another Black Redstart was at Reap Lane and 5 Knot dropped in at Ferrybridge.

Thanks to Peter Moore for popping us through a nice little selection of photos from the Bill yesterday - Black Redstart, Wheatear, Stonechat and Purple Sandpiper © Peter Moore petermooreblog 

16th March

Disappointingly little taking advantage today of the warmth and sunshine of one of the nicest days of the year to date. With no more than low single figure totals of common migrants at the Bill it was left to 3 Short-eared Owls, 3 Firecrests and singles of Great Spotted Woodpecker, White Wagtail, Black Redstart and Bullfinch on the land and 100 Common Gulls and 3 Red-throated Divers through on the sea to provide the interest at the Bill. Elsewhere, the Lesser Whitethroat remained at Southwell, a Little Gull passed through off Chesil and 3 Slavonian Grebes were still in Portland Harbour.

15th March

Before getting on with today's news we have several administrative and other announcements to make. First off, we're very pleased to report that we have a new assistant warden in post for the season: Erin Taylor comes to us after successful spells on Skokholm and North Ronaldsay and is already proving to be a great asset - we're sure everyone will extend a warm welcome to Erin as they encounter her through the year.

We also have news of an important administrative change at PBO: after more than 50 years as an unincorporated registered charity, the Charity Commission have approved our application to become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation; the CIO is a relatively new charitable structure that in particular affords trustees greater financial peace of mind than was hitherto the case (in the old structure they were personally responsible for the financial or other liabilities of the charity). The Constitution of the new CIO may be examined here. Whilst this change will have no noticeable effect on the day to day running of PBO it has necessitated a change in some of our banking arrangements, notably that we have a new current bank account; with this in mind we ask that members amend the details of membership standing orders that they have in our favour - this may be done easily via online banking facilities or by contacting us for an appropriate form. Our new account details are: 
Account name Portland Bird Observatory
Account number 19754723
Sort code 09-01-29

Finally, we'd like to remind visitors of the small increase in overnight accommodation fees that took effect on 1st March: the overnight charge for members increased from £15 to £17, with the non-members charge increasing from £20 to £22. 

A nicely varied selection from today's legwork that was undertaken in pleasantly bright and mild conditions - hard to believe there's snow forecast again for the weekend. A flurry of another 4 new Firecrests at the Bill - that joined 2 lingerers still present there - came despite the fact that passerine arrivals were otherwise pretty thinly spread, with 5 Wheatears, 3 Chiffchaffs and singles of Redwing and Goldcrest on the ground and 70 Meadow Pipits through overhead being the best on offer at the Bill. A surprise elsewhere was a (likely Siberian) Lesser Whitethroat visiting a garden feeder at Southwell where a Blackcap was also present; another Firecrest was also present at Weston, whilst winterers still about included 4 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Short-eared Owls at the Bill. The sea got plenty of attention and returned totals of 17 Sandwich Terns, 10 Common Scoter, 8 Mediterranean Gulls, 6 Red-throated Divers, 3 Avocets and singles of Black-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver and Manx Shearwater through off the Bill. Four Sandwich Terns, 2 each of Shelduck, Slavonian Grebe and Black-necked Grebe and singles of Redshank and Kittiwake were at Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour.

Sandwich Tern and Kittiwake at Ferrybridge this morning © Debby Saunders (Sandwich Tern) and Pete Saunders (Kittiwake)

14th March

Not the easiest birding day with a freshening southerly and increasing threat of rain ensuring that what few migrants were about weren't easy to get amongst. A mix of lingering and new birds included 5 Firecrests, 3 Goldcrests and 2 Chiffchaffs at the Bill, a White Wagtail at Reap Lane and 3 Redshanks and singles of Greylag Goose, Kittiwake and Wheatear at Ferrybridge. The sea was a wee bit disappointing in promising-looking conditions, with the first Puffin of the year and the second Arctic Skua of recent days giving hope at the Bill, but little else moving there apart from 6 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers and a small but noticeable up-Channel movement of Razorbills.

Wheatear at Ferrybridge this morning © Debby Saunders:

 ...and the Greylag Goose over Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

13th March

Some variety without much in the way of numbers today. With the conditions far too nice for a fall it was left to the likes of 11 Golden Plovers, 10 Wheatears, 5 Redwings, 4 Firecrests, 3 Goldcrests and 3 Bullfinches to provide the interest on the land at the Bill, where 35 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 12 Red-throated Divers, 4 Mediterranean Gulls and 3 Common Scoter passed through on the sea. Three Canada Geese, 2 Curlews and a Redshank at Ferrybridge and 2 Black-necked Grebes at Ferrybridge amounted to the best of it elsewhere.

12th March

The momentum of passage established yesterday was maintained, at least on the ground where there was a decent little flurry of newcomers amongst which a Spoonbill at Ferrybridge was easily the highlight. The small fall of more routine fare at the Bill included 30 Wheatears, 15 Stonechats, 10 Goldcrests, 8 Chiffchaffs, 5 Song Thrushes, 3 Firecrests and a Brambling; it had quietened down a lot overhead with very few Meadow Pipits moving and just 9 incoming Carrion Crows of note. The sea was worth a look for a while with totals of 47 Red-throated Divers, 33 Common Scoter and the first Manx Shearwater of the spring the best on offer at the Bill. Additional to the Spoonbill, Ferrybridge came up with 150 Dunlin, 2 Canada Geese and singles of Grey Plover and Redshank.

We can't remember a Portland Spoonbill that's been as good a performer as this morning's Ferrybridge bird © Debby Saunders:

Vermin elsewhere but a medium value bird at Portland: this morning's Canada Geese over Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

A few mid-March staples featured at the Obs: a pollen-horned Chiffchaff...

...a cold-coloured presumably non-British Song Thrush...

...and several Goldcrests (there have been springs at Portland after cold winters when no Goldcrests were ringed at all so it's pleasing to see they didn't all succumb in the recent cold snap) © Martin Cade:

11th March

A very welcome, half-decent flurry of migrants to entertain the weekend visitors today with a few new grounded arrivals and the first strong northbound push of Meadow Pipits overhead. In a brisk easterly the West Cliffs were the place to be for the numbers, with a sample 75 minute count at the Bill returning totals of 1230 Meadow Pipits, 13 Pied Wagtails, 11 Linnets, 7 alba wagtails, 2 Chaffinches and singles of Grey Wagtail and Goldcrest, whilst earlier an obvious eastbound movement of Carrion Crows - of uncertain origin and destination - totalled 34; similar numbers and variety of passage over Blacknor included in addition 4 Skylarks. The first 3 Wheatears of the season were always going to steal the show on the ground at the Bill, but 120 Starlings, 2 each of Goldcrest, Firecrest and Chiffchaff, and a single Golden Plover added interest there. Seawatching at the Bill came up with 9 Common Scoter, 6 Red-throated Divers, 4 Mediterranean Gulls, a Curlew and a Sandwich Tern.

We're not sure how many Barn Owls are about around the south of the island at the moment but there continue to be regular performances by one and sometimes two at Southwell and at least one at the Bill; this one was at Southwell this evening © Pete Saunders:

Whilst we await the return of the last of the ever dwindling population of Portland Puffins - this is a bit of a 'fingers crossed' event here since there does seem to be a painful inevitability about the fact that one of these years they're not going to come back - we were surprised to receive a call from Trevor Owens this morning reporting that he'd picked up a Puffin that he'd watched getting washed ashore on the Preston Beach in Weymouth. Despite our experience of such events being that they almost inevitably end in tears since the hapless birds usually have something so profoundly wrong with them that they eventually succumb, we thought we ought to make the effort and collect it to see if anything could be done. Puffin records in this area anywhere away from the Bill or occasionally off Chesil are really unusual so, as unlikely as it seems, it would be nice if this bird does manage to pull through © Martin Cade:

10th March

Although by late afternoon it had turned out beautifully mild and sunny the morning had been blighted by a stiff breeze, drizzly spells and dreary skies that made for difficult fieldwork. That said, there were a few new arrivals amongst which the year's first Brambling at the Obs and singles of Arctic Skua and Great Skua through on the sea at the Bill were of particular note; 2 new Chiffchaffs were also of interest at the Bill. The rest of the offerings were relatively routine: 4 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Reed Buntings, the Grey Heron and a Short-eared Owl at the Bill, 8 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers and a Shelduck through on the sea there, 3 Black-necked Grebes and a Great Northern Diver in Portland Harbour and 270 Dunlin, 2 Shelducks and a Sanderling at Ferrybridge.

9th March

Passage got going again today although a rained off afternoon did rather restrict coverage. Pretty well all the passerine movement was overhead, with a well into three figure total of inbound Meadow Pipits at the Bill further bolstered by a trickle of Pied Wagtails, 3 White Wagtails and a lone Grey Wagtail. Sea passage was limited but did include 33 Black-headed Gulls and 8 Red-throated Divers from the first Chesil watch of the season and 7 Red-throated Divers, 2 Common Scoter and a Great Crested Grebe from the Bill. A bit of variety from Ferrybridge included 253 Dunlin, 2 Sanderling and singles of Mute Swan, Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Grey Plover and Black-tailed Godwit, 18 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Slavonian Grebes, 2 Mallards and a Red-necked Grebe were in Portland Harbour, whilst elsewhere there were singles of Blackcap at Wakeham and Black Redstart at Weston.

One of the Sanderling at Ferrybridge this morning © Debby Saunders:

...and the Slavonian Grebes and Mallards in Portland Harbour © Joe Stockwell:

8th March

Disappointingly uneventful today with a brisk westerly seeing to it that what early migrant interest there had been dwindled right away, whilst a no-show by the Ross's Gull deprived us of the morsel of quality that we'd come to depend on. The 9 Long-tailed Tits stayed for another day at the Obs but, with the exception of a Curlew through at the Bill, there didn't look to be any visible passage going on and no obvious new grounded migrants showed up. Several Short-eared Owls and 4 Purple Sandpipers were still at the Bill and 5 Red-throated Divers and a Common Scoter passed through at the Bill.

7th March

After yesterday's extended show the Ross's Gull made just one early morning visit to Ferrybridge today, with its non-appearance later in the day elsewhere in the Weymouth area leading to thoughts that it might finally have moved on. It was certainly a decent enough day to have headed off, with 23 Red-throated Divers, 16 Common Scoter and trickle of gulls taking advantage off the Bill. Passerine-wise, there had been a fair bit of overnight passage over the Obs where 302 Redwings, 42 Blackbirds and 2 Song Thrushes - along with a flock of Wigeon, 2 Curlews and singles of Golden Plover and Dunlin - had been the rewards from the first nocturnal recording session of the season (thanks to Joe Stockwell) but, despite crystal clear skies, diurnal passage failed to get going at all. On the ground a party of 9 Long-tailed Tits showed up at the Obs, but 2 Redwings and a Mistle Thrush at the Bill and a Chiffchaff at Southwell were the only other worthwhile migrants; 2 Purple Sandpipers and a Short-eared Owl were also still about at the Bill.

Hopefully we're not being unduly pessimistic in pondering on today having been a really nice day for the Ross's Gull to have headed off - after all, it'd be great to think it might hang around and gradually attain summer plumage © Pete Saunders:

It didn't take long for today's Long-tailed Tits to find the fat balls on offer at the Obs; surprisingly, bearing in mind how many were ringed during last autumn's record-breaking glut of them at the Bill - and how many ringed birds have been amongst the flocks encountered throughout the island this winter - all of today's birds were 'new' unringed individuals © Martin Cade:

6th March

The Ross's Gull made extended visits to Ferrybridge and Chesil Cove today and there was a varied selection of back-ups that included by the most incoming migrants to date. As usual in fair conditions this early in the season Meadow Pipits dominated, with more than one a minute heading north overhead at times; single figure totals of Skylarks, Pied/alba wagtails and Linnets were also heading through, a Rook straying out as far as the Bill was the first of the year there, 21 Red-throated Divers and a steady trickle of Common Gulls were on the move off the Bill and 2 Chiffchaffs and a Goldcrest were grounded arrivals in the Southwell area. Cold weather left-overs included 14 Lapwings and 2 Golden Plovers at the Bill and 38 Fieldfares and 15 Redwings at Bumpers Lane, as many as 8 Short-eared Owls were considered to be spread about the Bill area, the Black Redstart was still at Chesil Cove and 20 Black-necked Grebes, 7 Great Northern Divers and a Common Scoter were in Portland Harbour.

5th March

A sharp decline in quality and quantity today with no more than a handful of cold weather lingerers and precious little by way of newcomers - the weather also didn't help with a deluge through the afternoon curtailing proceedings early. Thirteen Lapwings, 5 Golden Plovers and a lone Fieldfare at the Bill and 11 Bar-tailed Godwits, 2 Grey Plovers and a Lapwing at Ferrybridge were about all that remained by way of a legacy of the cold, with 5 Stonechats and a small increase in Meadow Pipits at the Bill the only likely new migrants. Twelve Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill and winterers still on the list included 6 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill and 2 Great Northern Divers and a Pale-bellied Brent Goose at Ferrybridge.

4th March

Nice variety again today with new migrants and relocating cold weather refugees bulking out a list that also included two - and perhaps three - reappearances of the Ross's Gull, that showed well but briefly at Ferrybridge early in the day and very distantly off Chesil Cove at midday; sadly, the potential third sighting of it passing the Bill during the morning couldn't quite be clinched due to distance and dodgy light. The sea also came up with a steady up-Channel passage of Gannets and Kittiwakes, along with 21 Red-throated Divers, 2 Little Gulls and a Sandwich Tern through off the Bill and another Little Gull lingering off Chesil Cove. New arrivals of note on the land included 5 Stonechats and singles of Grey Plover and Corn Bunting at the Bill and a Merlin through over Blacknor, whilst a light scatter of plovers and thrushes and a single Dunlin lingered on at the Bill. Winter fare still about included 3 Short-eared Owls at the Bill, a Black Redstart and a Blackcap at Pennsylvania Castle/Church Ope Cove and 10 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Great Northern Divers and a Red-necked Grebe in Portland Harbour.

The Ross's Gull put on a nice albeit brief show at Ferrybridge this morning © Pete Saunders:

And a short video - of pretty well no merit beyond showing that it was there and was hugely distant - of the Red-necked Grebe in Portland Harbour © Martin Cade:

Finally, from the peak of the cold weather a few days ago a little clip of some winter thrush action at Southwell © Debby Saunders:

3rd March

The thaw duly set in overnight but with it being accompanied by heavy rain that dragged on throughout the morning birding was never easy today; that said, both numbers and variety increased significantly as displaced birds begun to respond and migrant gulls featured. Lesser Black-backed Gulls were clearly on the move although difficult to count, with constant comings and goings of small groups arriving in off the sea - well in excess of 100 looked to have passed though at the Bill alone; a presumed fly-by Bonaparte's Gull off the Bill escaped general attention, but 7 Mediterranean Gulls and a Little Gull also passed through there, along with 4 Red-throated Divers and a Sandwich Tern. New plovers and thrushes popped up throughout the south of the island where Golden Plover and Fieldfare certainly topped three figure totals, with Lapwing and Redwing not far behind; other odds and ends scattered there included 5 Dunlin and singles of Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling and Mistle Thrush. Ferrybridge and Portland Harbour were also busy, with 42 Bar-tailed Godwits, 35 Golden Plovers, 16 Shelducks, 3 Teal, 2 Black-throated Divers, 2 Sanderling and singles of Pintail, Knot, Redshank and Woodlark of particular note.

You'd have thought that Bar-tailed Godwits, being inhabitants of inter-tidal mudflats, wouldn't have too much to worry about from a relatively brief cold snap but this flock at Ferrybridge - part of a larger party of 42 - were one of the more notable arrivals of recent days; another singleton spent the day probing about in a damp field at the Bill © Pete Saunders:

2nd March

Despite more grim conditions - a raging easterly gale and freezing rain that turned the island into a huge skating rink for the first few hours of the day - Portland's fared very poorly out of the current cold snap, with today's tally amounting to little more than a thin scatter of displaced plovers and thrushes everywhere; overall, Fieldfares were most numerous but even they only managed single figure totals at most favoured spots. Fifteen Pintail over Southwell were a good local record and 2 Dunlin remained at the Bill but the day's highlight - a Glaucous Gull in Portland Harbour - wasn't even an arrival associated with the conditions.

Fieldfares and Redwings were busy tucking into what few apples were left in gardens at Southwell © Debby Saunders (upper Fieldfare and Redwing) and Andy Mitchell (lower Fieldfare):

Pintail are sufficiently infrequent as to not even get on the island year list in some years so two flocks in three days is a good return for here © Debby Saunders:

1st March

On what should have been the first day of spring Portland looked a lot more more like a Siberian wasteland than somewhere that might have been appealing to an early Wheatear. The well below zero temperature created some entertainment at the Obs where the water pipes froze, our decorator's paint left in an unheated porch froze solid and even containers of water left in the kitchen froze! On the bird front the rather unusual advance from the south of the worst of the weather saw to it that the island was largely bypassed by the quantities of fleeing waders and thrushes that were so evident along the mainland coast but there was still a decent enough flurry of oddities to get amongst. The Bill area returned totals of 72 Golden Plovers, 38 Dunlin, 33 Fieldfares, 22 Lapwings, 5 Black-headed Gulls, 3 Snipe, 2 Teal and singles of Merlin, Bar-tailed Godwit and Woodcock, whilst elsewhere there were 3 Fieldfares and a Redwing at Southwell, singles of Snipe and Woodcock at Weston and 370 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 200 Dunlin, 8 Shoveler, 5 Teal, 4 Grey Plovers, 3 Bar-tailed Godwits, 3 Redshank, 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, a Golden Plover and a Black-tailed Godwit at Ferrybridge.

A random selection of cold weather refugees from around the island today - Dunlin, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Golden Plovers and Teal © Joe Stockwell:

With Garganey arriving either side of us today we did wonder if some of today's birds might even have been migrants rather than cold weather refugees; Shovelers are a classic early migrant off the Bill where they've quite often been accompanied in the past by Garganey - maybe today's Ferrybridge flock were fresh in over Chesil © Pete Saunders:

Likewise, this new unringed Stonechat cowering for shelter in a crevice in the Bill Quarry had all the feel of a migrant © Martin Cade:

And a few scenery snaps from around and about © Martin Cade:

...finally, whilst we appreciate that in the social hierarchy of Portland having four horses elevates you to well above your neighbour who only has one - and that fact has to advertised for all to see - but is it really necessary to leave them out with no shelter whatsoever in this weather?

28th February

A brutally cold day with the temperature at the Obs never getting above 0˚C all day and a raging easterly blowing through snow showers all morning. With blue skies just a short distance away over the mainland it looked as though most of what cold weather movement there was didn't impinge on Portland, with the day's tally of obvious refugees consisting of just 28 Golden Plovers and 7 Lapwings at the Bill, 7 Pintail through on the sea there and 6 Lapwings, 2 Wigeon and a Golden Plover at Ferrybridge. More routine fare included 2 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill, a Goldcrest at the Obs, the Blackcap at Wakeham, a Firecrest at Easton, 10 Black-necked Grebes in Portland Harbour and 64 Dark-bellied Brent Geese and a Pale-bellied Brent through at Ferrybridge.

Golden Plover and Lapwing at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders...

...and Golden Plover and Pintails at the Bill © Joe Stockwell: