18th March

As the winds continued to ameliorate, passage continued its gradual upward trend. Six Wheatears were within the obs area accompanied by four Chiffchaffs and four Rooks. Overhead the pipits and wagtails began picking up with a day count of 167 Meadow Pipits, 17 alba Wagtails and a single White Wagtail. The increased movement was also noted in Blacknor with 30 Meadow Pipits and a pair of alba Wagtails. The sea produced little of note with the exception of a good Common Gull passage tallying 49 birds. Other than this totals were: a single Red-throated Diver, one Common Scoter, and four Black-headed Gulls.

17th March

A glimmer of hope that the windy days are behind us with a very small influx of Wheatears and a fraction more excitement on the Sea. Although the day count of Wheatears reached just six birds, this included the first two females of the year. Other passerine movements included a Swallow past the Bill, 30 Meadow Pipits between the East Cliffs and the Top Fields and single figures of alba Wagtails. On the sea totals amassed to: one Bonxie, two Red-throated Divers, four Common Scoter and a single Mediterranean Gull.

16th March

The winds appeared to climax today with strong gusts and showers throughout. The sea was of some interest with 2 Bonxies, 7 Manx Shearwaters, a Mediterranean Gull and a Red-throated Diver. Meadow Pipits were seen arriving against the weather with 20+ grounded in the East Cliff Fields to keep the single male Wheatear company. Other small birds found shelter with 6 Song Thrushes in the Top Fields, 4 Chiffchaffs along the East Cliffs and a further 3 Chiffchaffs from other localities.

15th March

The Westerly winds continued to blow. There were few birds of interest at the Bill with a Wheatear still hunkered down in the East Cliff Fields and a Chiffchaff sheltering in the Obs garden. Elsewhere on the island proved slightly more productive with 13 Chiffchaffs still at Church Ope Cove and a single Corn Bunting at Fancy's Farm.

Totals from around Fleet and the Harbour comprised 3 Black-necked Grebes, 6 Great-crested Grebes, 10 Brent Geese and 24 Red-breasted Mergansers.

14th March

If it weren't for the surprise discovery of a Large Tortoiseshell hibernating in a garage at Fortuneswell today would have been largely forgettable. Just 1 Wheatear - along with a couple of Chiffchaffs and a Black Redstart - graced the Bill area, further singles of Wheatear and Black Redstart were at Church Ope Cove and a Swallow bombed through at Fortuneswell. A glimmer of action at sea included 14 Manx Shearwaters, 9 Brent Geese and a Red-throated Diver through off the Bill.

Despite the continuing blasting northwesterly singles of Dark Sword Grass and Turnip provided a sniff of immigrant interest in the Obs moth-traps.

The capture of a couple of immigrant moths overnight reminded us that we'd never got round to mentioning the Red Sword Grass trapped last weekend at the Obs. Despite now turning up pretty well annually we guess this species is still just a stray to the island © Martin Cade:

13th March

With a blasting and none too warm westerly an ever-present accompaniment to proceedings it was no surprise that today's migrant medley consisted of nothing more than 3 Wheatears at the Bill, 2 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill, a Swallow through at Reap Lane and a scatter of Chiffchaffs everywhere. Long-stayers still making the list included the Grey Heron at the Bill and single Black Redstarts at the Bill and Church Ope Cove.

12th March

The day started miserably with rain and a keen Westerly but cleared to sun and showers by the afternoon. There was a subtle trickle of arrivals seen throughout the day with 3 male Wheatears, 3 White and 6 Pied Wagtails frequenting the East Cliff Fields, 5 Chiffchaffs and 4 Song Thrushes around the Observatory area. Meadow Pipits were noted as more conspicuous with a greater presence than in recent days. A further 13 Chiffchaffs were located sheltering from the wind at Church Ope Cove and 3 Purple Sandpipers at the East Cliffs comprised other small birds seen today.

11th March

After the rainstorms of the night before it was a relief to wake to a crisp, clear morning that melted away into a reasonably calm and warm afternoon. The relatively calmed wind accompanied by blue skies meant we saw a little more movement today with a pair of Wheatears and a Song Thrush along the East Cliffs, three Chiffchaffs in the garden and a slow trickle of Meadow Pipits in off the Sea. The morning seawatch produced little more than three Common Scoters.

Elsewhere on the island, three Chiffchaffs were recorded at Church Ope Cove, a Swallow passed through at Ferrybridge and the Large Tortoiseshell put in another brief display in Tout quarry.

Both of the East Cliff Wheatears were stunning males, and also exceptional escapologists © Erin Taylor:

10th March

Today was record-breaking, although not in the bird sense. The wind on Portland managed to gust at a mega 70mph. These were not ideal conditions for birding as the daily log showed with the land totals of three Chiffchaffs, a lone Blackcap and nine Lesser-black Backed Gulls the best we could muster. The sea didn't fare much better with the only highlight our second Manx Shearwater of the year.

Some deeply upsetting news today from our counterparts in the North, our thoughts are with Fair Isle Bird Observatory and we hope everything will be pulled together after the fire. 

Greenfinches have become a rare breeding bird on Portland in recent years so the appearance of singing birds across the Obs area and into Southwell are a hopeful sign ©Andy Mitchell


9th March

Today's blustery westerlies didn't make for easy birding but there was no indication of spring passage getting any sort of momentum. At the Bill, Chiffchaff just scraped to a double figure total for the first time but an extra Black Redstart - 3 instead of the customary 2 - was the only other arrival on the land; 30 Brent Geese and 2 Mediterranean Gulls provided the only signs of passage on the sea there. At least 2 Short-eared Owls were also still about at the Bill.

8th March

Spring sprung into action today with not one, but two Wheatears gracing our shores, one on the East Cliffs and one on the West. Black Redstarts also put in a small show with three individuals in new areas. Although we counted the same number of Chiffchaffs as yesterday, they were far more concentrated with six in the immediate area around the Obs and a pair at Reap Lane. Pipits and Wagtails had also begun to move with a very slow trickle of Meadow Pipits following the rain showers, a single Grey Wagtail and 11 alba Wagtails. Five Rooks put in a show over the Crown Estate Fields. The sea was beginning to show some promise with three Common Scoter accompanied by the first Velvet Scoter of the year.

Elsewhere on the island, Penn Castle continued to provide with singles of Black Redstart and Firecrest, a couple of Goldcrests and three Chiffchaffs.

Despite the large amount of suitable habitat, its always a nice surprise when one of the Little Owls is feeling cooperative © Erin Taylor 


Migration action's hardly got into first gear just yet and we're very much still at the clutching at straws level of getting excited with things like high flying Grey Wagtails arriving in/off. What happens to all the Grey Wags that we watch leaving out to sea during the autumn? We have a tiny bit of ringing evidence to suggest that some actually about turn and end up wintering in southern England but you'd imagine that most must surely make it to France. Of the several hundred that we count departing each autumn we're lucky if many more than half-a-dozen are logged returning the next spring - have the others all just succumbed during the winter or do they return by another route? This sort of question could probably be asked about a whole host of migrants but maybe because they're so audibly obvious it seems to be Grey Wagtail that we always end up pondering on... © Martin Cade:

7th March

An unexpectedly pleasant day despite the roaring winds. Today saw the first trickles of Spring since the warm spell at the end of February. The usual selection of Purple Sandpipers, Turnstones and a lone Black Redstart were still at the Bill but with the addition of a small influx of Chiffchaffs across the whole recording area amounting to eight individuals. The warm weather also brought out the first vestiges of Meadow Pipit movement overhead as well as a worn looking Painted Lady. Elsewhere, 5 more Chiffchaffs and a Black Redstart were at Church Ope Cove/Pennsylvania Castle and the Harbour was maintaining its standard winter fare accompanied by a pair of Black-necked Grebes.

A couple of the species enjoying the change in weather...© Erin Taylor



6th March

Today saw some typically variable early spring weather ranging from clear blue skies (albeit short-lived) to hammering showers and almost everything in between. Perhaps we were a little optimistic to think that the strong Southerlies overnight may have brought something of interest into the channel as our sea watch failed to produce anything of note except a pair of Black-headed Gulls. A pair of Chiffchaffs (one almost certainly fresh in) were around the Obs and East Cliffs, a pair of loitering Song Thrushes were still frequenting the Crown Estate Field and a pair of Black Redstarts were evading our attempts at photography around the Huts.

5th March

Not much in the way of new migrants but a singing male Chiffchaff at the Obs, a pair of Song Thrushes along the East Cliffs and a small increase to the number of the local Robins. The sea provided us with 3 Common Scoter West and a pair of Black-headed Gulls. The Bill Purple Sandpiper flock have been replaced over night with 4 Turnstones on the sea-blasted ledges.

4th March

Blustering wind interspersed with squally showers meant there wasn't so much as a sniff of yesterday's Cirl Bunting. However, a Chiffchaff in the Crown Estate was a new arrival accompanied by five Stonechats and six Song Thrushes. The Bill's Purple Sandpiper flock were one short with just five birds present and a Blackcap surfaced at Church Ope Cove. Ferrybridge provided the usual fare plus a pair of Bar-tailed Godwits.

3rd March

Although the island didn't feel the full force of Storm Freya it was still a pretty miserably soggy and windy day. The sea had looked to offer the best chance of providing some interest but in the event it was the land that stole the show in the form of a Cirl Bunting discovered in peculiar circumstances at Southwell. The season's first Manx Shearwater passed through off the Bill along with 9 Common Scoter and a Red-throated Diver, whilst what little shelter there was on the land came up with a Chiffchaff at the Obs and 2 Goldcrests, a Chiffchaff and a Firecrest at Church Ope Cove/Pennsylvania Castle.

Despite our proximity to their UK heartland in east Devon (on a clear day many of their breeding sites are visible from the West Cliffs!), Cirl Bunting is these days a high value rarity at Portland and certainly not the sort of thing that you'd have been expecting when asked by a member of the public for help with a 'finch-like bird' that had become trapped in the roof space of a garage at Southwell. At first the identity of the mystery bird fluttering in the gloom amongst the rafters of the garage wasn't immediately apparent but once we were atop a step ladder wafting a hand net at it it became clear what it was - not quite an Allen's Gallinule moment but surprisingly galvanising nonetheless © Martin Cade:




2nd March

On an increasingly windy and dreary day there was no sign of arrivals on the land but 5 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers and an Eider passed through off the Bill; 6 Purple Sandpipers were still about on the shore there.

Three Harbour Porpoise passed through off the Bill.

A Painted Lady was on the wing at the Obs and overnight the first Dark Sword Grass of the year was trapped at the Grove.

Portland - and for that matter most points east of here - has fared really poorly for immigrant moths just lately, with last night's Dark Sword Grass the first immigrant attracted to the traps since a Small Mottled Willow a fortnight ago © Martin Cade:


The island's always poor for resident moths at this time of year; the only very minor interest from last night's traps concerned what looks to be our earliest ever Fleabane Fanner Digitivalva pulicariae - they're a reasonably common resident here and overwinter as adults so this one's presumably been tempted out of hibernation early by the recent warm spell © Martin Cade:


With misty drizzle setting in late in the evening we thought last night looked to have some potential for nocturnal passage but in the event not a single thrush was logged over the Obs between midnight and dawn. A couple of parties of Oystercatchers were standard early season fare but the oddest thing picked up by the recorder was a flock of Dunlin through at 3.30am - Dunlin are pretty numerous night migrants here during appropriate seasons but we don't recollect (...although we do need to check this) the daily log showing up historic evidence of passage in early March:


1st March

Despite nice calm birding conditions allowing for plenty of fieldwork it was a low-key start to the month, with 2 Chiffchaffs the only new arrivals at the Bill; 3 Red-throated Divers passed through on the sea there, a Black Redstart was still about at the Bill Quarry and further Chiffchaffs elsewhere on the island included 3 at the Merchant's Incline and 1 at Southwell.

We've had Chiffchaffs in residence all winter but on examination in the hand both of today's individuals were found to be carrying pollen around their foreheads - a good indication of them having spent the winter much further south © Martin Cade:

28th February

The warmth and blue skies of recent days drew to a close as a band of rain passing through after dawn introduced fresher, breezy conditions. In contrast to the seemingly silent skies of recent nights (nocturnal recording had drawn a complete blank for two successive nights) the late hours of the night had seen a handful of thrushes on the move overhead; the daylight hours, too, came up with a trickle of grounded or visible migrants: a Wheatear was new in at the Bill, a few Chiffchaffs popped up in new locations and occasional single alba wagtails and Meadow Pipits arrived in/off through the morning. The only other reports were of 3 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers and a Black-headed Gull through off the Bill, 5 Purple Sandpipers still on the shore at the Bill and 5 Black-necked Grebes and a Slavonian Grebe still in Portland Harbour.

A very watery sunrise greeted what these days is usually considered to be the last day of winter - we wouldn't bank on it being over just yet even if all the recent migrant activity might suggest it ended days ago © Martin Cade:

27th February

On what sounds as though it'll be the last day of the current unseasonably mild spell one of the Large Tortoiseshells continued to perform on occasions at Tout Quarry where a brief fly-by dragonfly was pretty certain to be a Vagrant Emperor even if a firm identification wasn't possible; Hummingbird Hawkmoth, Brimstone and Small White - all three firsts for the year - were also on the wing there.

Bird interest was pretty minimal, with 5 Meadow Pipits, 2 Skylarks, a Sand Martin and a Siskin through at the Bill where 6 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Short-eared Owls were still about.

26th February

With the freaky, summer-like conditions continuing it was perhaps appropriate that butterflies stole the show today, with 2 Large Tortoiseshells showing at times at Tout Quarry; several Red Admirals and a Painted Lady were amongst the other butterflies logged today.

On the bird front, the first 3 Sand Martins of the year - along with another Swallow - passed through on West Cliffs where a handful of incoming Meadow Pipits and 2 Song Thrushes were also on the move and the first Wheatear dropped in at Ferrybridge; a Curlew through off the Bill was another more or less on cue migrant. The only other report was of the Black Redstart still at the Bill.

After a considerable amount of legwork the lingering Large Tortoiseshell was eventually tracked down at Tout Quarry © Martin Cade...


...and following examination of photographs taken at various times through the afternoon it was later realised that there were in fact two individuals present - the second insect having, along with a variety of 'plumage' differences, a chunk missing from one of its hindwings © Andy Luckhurst:


And a bit of video of the less shabby of the two ©Martin Cade:


Having never heard a Penduline Tit singing we also took ourselves off to Lodmoor for a while to see if the Weymouth winterer would oblige, as it apparently has been in recent days. In the couple of months since we last saw it it's got into a much jazzier plumage that was nice to see © Martin Cade...



Its bouts of singing were relatively infrequent although quite prolonged when it did get going; they were also always given from the trees and hedges rather than from the reedbed where it was feeding. Sadly, it tended to stay just within the outer branches of the trees whilst singing so it wasn't particularly easy to video - also, whenever it did emerge on the outside of the trees there'd be a crescendo of machinegun-esque camera shutter activity that trashed many of our recordings - just one of the perils of going anywhere near a mob of photographers these days! The song itself was a really quite peculiar jumble of varied notes that was surprisingly subtle/overlookable - it was noticeable that it wasn't registering as a song with many of the birders present who weren't using it to latch onto the bird when it was out of view; these two recordings were about as good as we could get:



25th February

Another absolutely glorious day albeit with the warm sunshine ever so slightly tempered by a noticeable easterly breeze. Migrant interest came in the form of a very early first Ring Ouzel of the season at Penn's Weare, another Swallow through at the Bill, a single Meadow Pipit in/off and a small increase in Stonechats (4 new ones) at the Bill and a Snipe at Shepherd's Dinner; 5 Canada Geese over the Bill were most likely relatively local birds with typical spring wanderlust. Winterers still about included 4 Purple Sandpipers, 4 Short-eared Owls and a Black Redstart at the Bill and another Black Redstart and a Firecrest at Church Ope Cove.

A Large Tortoiseshell (evidently first seen yesterday) was still at Tout Quarry, 4 Painted Ladys and a Red Admiral were at Church Ope Cove and another single Painted Lady was at the Bill.

One of the Painted Ladys at Church Ope Cove © James Phillips:


There probably aren't many places left where folk would be even mildly interested in fly-by Canada Geese but they are still quite infrequent visitors to the Bill - this morning's party were so close over the Obs that we could only get singles in the frame © Martin Cade:

24th February

Despite perfect conditions for some legwork there looked to be few rewards on offer today: 14 Black-headed Gulls, 3 Common Scoter, 2 Mediterranean Gulls and a Red-throated Diver through off the Bill, 4 Rooks, 2 Collared Doves and a Chiffchaff on the land there, further single Chiffchaffs at both Church Ope Cove and Killick's Hill, one of the Black Redstarts also still at Church Ope Cove and a Merlin over Chesil Cove.

23rd February

With yesterday's murk and chill behind us there was another little flourish of early spring passage, with singles of Swallow and House Martin through at Ferrybridge and a few extra Blackbirds in at the Bill. Black Redstarts were still about at Church Ope Cove (2) and the Bill, 2 Short-eared Owls were again at the Bill where 8 Common Scoter passed by on the sea and, after dark, a Tawny Owl was calling at the Grove.

22nd February

As if to prove the old adage resoundingly true, yesterday's Swallow certainly didn't make a summer. In fact today's grim mix of an overcast sky, murky reduced visibility and a biting easterly wind wasn't even remotely spring-like, with the only new arrivals being a Lapwing at the Bill, a Black Redstart at Weston and a passage of 130 Black-headed Gulls through off Chesil. Other list-fillers from those brave enough to be out searching included single Red-throated Divers through off the Bill and Chesil, a Short-eared Owl at the Bill, 2 Black Redstarts and 2 Chiffchaffs at Church Ope Cove/Pennsylvania Castle and 72 Dark-bellied and a Pale-bellied Brent Goose at Portland Harbour.

21st February

http://www.at-infocus.co.uk/

A reminder that there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm this Saturday, 23rd February.


Barring a bit of mid-morning cloud today was by far the nicest day of the year to date and it almost didn't seem a surprise when a Swallow appeared over the Obs during the afternoon. Passage was otherwise limited to 6 Red-throated Divers (up-Channel passage now looks to be taking over from the hitherto random movements),  a trickle of Common Gulls and 2 Black-headed Gulls through off the Bill, whilst regulars included 3 Short-eared Owls, 3 Greenfinches, 2 Black Redstarts and a Water Rail at the Bill and 2 Black Redstarts and 2 Goldcrests at Church Ope Cove/Pennsylvania Castle.

Hot on the heels of the island's first Swallow of the year a couple of days ago and looking to be full of the joys of spring under a cloudless sky: today's Swallow over the Obs © Martin Cade

20th February

A more of the same selection to report today: 4 Turnstones and 2 Short-eared Owls at the Bill, 7 Red-throated Divers and 7 Common Scoter through on the sea there, 4 Goldcrests and 2 Black Redstarts at Church Ope Cove/Pennsylvania Castle and 15 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Slavonian Grebes and a Red-necked Grebe in Portland Harbour.

19th February

A pleasantly bright and mild day but largely uneventful on the bird front, with a trickle of Mediterranean Gulls off the Bill the only sign of passage. Routine winter fare also off the Bill included 3 more Red-throated Divers; 7 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Short-eared Owls were still about on the land there, Black Redstarts were again at Church Ope Cove (2) and Chesil Cove, and 5 Black-necked Grebes and a Great Northern Diver were in Portland Harbour.

One of the Black Redstarts at Church Ope Cove © Paul Tutton:

18th February

For the most part, today's visitors didn't get much of a feel for us being in the middle of a promising-looking spell of unseasonable warmth, what with drizzly showers and a couple of pulses of heavier rain being the order of the morning; however, a bright end to day came up trumps with the island's earliest ever Swallow putting in an appearance at the Grove. Passage earlier had been restricted to a handful of Black-headed, Common and Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the move off the Bill, where 6 Red-throated Divers and 3 Common Scoter also passed by. Long-stayers still about included 6 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Short-eared Owls, a Black Redstart and a Chiffchaff at the Bill and 2 more Black Redstarts and a Chiffchaff at Church Ope Cove; 2 Greenfinches were also of note at Ferrybridge.

On an immigrant-free night in the Obs moth-traps singles of Hebrew Character, Common Quaker and Oak Beauty - all first records for the year - provided some minor interest.

Although a mid-February Swallow certainly isn't to be sniffed at, it's a shame that just at moment there isn't the blanket coverage of parts of the island that we're used to later in the spring since there must be a decent chance of there being a freaky vagrant to be found somewhere © Sarah Hodgson:


17th February

Portland Bill: Common Scoter 7, Mediterranean Gull 4, Red-throated Diver 3, Great Skua 1, Black Redstart 1.
Pennsylvania Castle/Church Ope Cove: Goldcrest 2, Black Redstart 1, Chiffchaff 1.

16th February

Portland Bill: Short-eared Owl 3, Chiffchaff 1.
Grove: Black Redstart 1.
East Weare: Red-throated Diver 1, Common Scoter 1.
Portland Marina: Chiffchaff 1.
Hamm Beach: Black-necked Grebe: 2.

Immigrant moths: Small Mottled Willow 1 at the Obs.