14th August


After an enforced hiatus during the last few months we'll again be hosting an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10 am and 4pm this Sunday, 16th August

The murky skies introduced in the wake of yesterday's heavy rain did the trick and grounded migrants in some numbers today. Pied Flycatcher was the feature species, with the logged total of 30 at the Bill being considered likely an underestimate as, based on evidence from the mist-nets, newcomers were dropping in all day (the total of 18 ringed at the Obs was higher than a lot of recent annual totals there). Willow Warbler numbered around 100 at the Bill, where further lesser totals included 30 Wheatears, 8 Spotted Flycatchers and 4 Redstarts, along with 200 Swifts overhead. Waders figured well even if a Little Ringed Plover at Ferrybridge was the only slightly out of the ordinary constituent. Rarity-wise, a mobile Rosy Starling at first Reap Lane and later Weston topped off the day nicely.

We're probably supposed to be dispassionate about this sort of the thing but sometimes it's great to just indulge in some good bits of birds in the hand; a Redstart's tail...


...a Pied Flycatcher's tertials...


...and it is always quite educational - spot the differences here between an adult Spotted Flycatcher (top) and a youngster (bottom) © Martin Cade:



As well as being nice rarities, some of the moths in recent nights have been super-smart; Beautiful Marbled, Pale Shoulder and Bedstraw Hawkmoth © Martin Cade:



13th August

Today's only change was in the wrong direction, with apparently promising-looking conditions dropping the fewest new arrivals of the week; something else that dropped was a substantial quantity of rain out of a cloudburst late in the afternoon and this did at least prompt a late flurry of wader activity. Passerines were noticeably thin on the ground, with singles of Whinchat, Reed Warbler and Garden Warbler the pick of the bunch at the Bill. It was a tad busier overhead, with 40 Swifts, 19 Tree Pipits, 5 Ringed Plovers, 4 Yellow Wagtails and a Golden Plover over the Bill. Waders were on the up all day, with well into three figure totals of Dunlin and Ringed Plover at Ferrybridge by the evening; a Little Ringed Plover also dropped in at this time, whilst soon after dark a good little passage of waders developed over the Bill. The only other report was of a total of 7 Balearic Shearwaters through off the Bill.

12th August

Passage is struggling to get beyond the routine at the moment with daily small flurries of departing summer migrants but not a hint of birds of more distant origin. Today's samey tally at the Bill included 40 Willow Warblers, 9 Tree Pipits, 3 Yellow Wagtails, a Garden Warbler and a Pied Flycatcher, with another couple of Pied Flycatchers in the middle of the island. At Ferrybridge, a Marsh Harrier passed over and later departed to the south from the Bill, whilst wader totals increased a little and included 133 Ringed Plover, 82 Dunlin, 5 Sanderling and 3 Common Sandpipers.

This morning's Marsh Harrier over Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:


After a slow start, Wheatears have been getting a little more numerous in recent days © Geoff Orton:


We're struggling to cope with the bug numbers during the current hot spell: the moth-traps have been rammed and take an age to work through, whilst by day there seems to be just so much about that we're getting the feel that we're missing things amongst the numbers - surely there'll be the odd Southern Migrant Hawker or Long-tailed Blue tucked away somewhere? Splashes of colour are everywhere - Jersey Tiger © Roy Norris...


...Brimstone and Painted Lady © Geoff Orton:


11th August

Portland Bill: Willow Warbler 40, Wheatear 30, Pied Flycatcher 6, Sedge Warbler 5, Tree Pipit 4, Golden Plover 1, Whimbrel 1, Redshank 1, Dunlin 1, Common Sandpiper 1, Green Sandpiper 1, Black Redstart 1.

Southwell: Pied Flycatcher 2.

Blacknor: Little Ringed Plover 1, Pied Flycatcher 1.

Ferrybridge: Ringed Plover 119, Dunlin 61, Sanderling 6, Common Sandpiper 5, Shelduck 3, Golden Plover 1.

10th August

Hot news of rather more significant migration events on the East Coast dampened our enjoyment of another small arrival of common migrants even if it did provide some anticipation of a trickle down to look forward to. From being notable absentees Pied Flycatchers were elevated in one fell swoop to being one of the day's most conspicuous arrivals with 6 at the Bill and at least another 3 around the centre of the island; Willow Warbler and Wheatear maintained top spot for numbers, reaching 40 apiece at the Bill, with 2 Spotted Flycatchers the best of the rest on the ground there. Overhead, an Osprey headed north over Southwell, Tree Pipits totalled 7 at the Bill, with the likes of 2 Kestrels, a Black-tailed Godwit and a Siskin providing additional vis-mig interest there. A Greenshank was the pick of the waders at Ferrybridge.

9th August

It can't be very often that we've reported it so hot as to spoil the enjoyment of being out birding much beyond the first couple of hours of the morning - and to do so for the second day on the trot really takes some beating. Dawn saw the strength of the breeze an issue again but sheltered spots were still busy with Willow Warblers - perhaps getting up towards 50 at the Bill - with the first 2 Redstarts of the autumn also a noteworthy arrival; 25 Wheatears was also a fair total at the Bill. Overhead movement included 3 Tree Pipits, 2 Grey Herons, 2 Curlews and singles of Dunlin, Redshank, Greenshank, Yellow Wagtail and Siskin at the Bill, whilst a very light trickle of Manx Shearwaters accounted for the bulk of the numbers on the sea there. Waders totals - including 78 Ringed Plovers - increased a little at Ferrybridge.

Common Tern through at Ferrybridge this morning © Pete Saunders:


8th August

A bit of a frustrating day with a pretty raging wind making it hard to get amongst what looked to be a decent little flurry of new grounded migrants at dawn, whilst the intensity of the heat once the wind died down meant that activity fizzled out quite quickly (...in fact it became so hot by midday - more than 30°C which is truly exceptional for the Bill - that we thought it circumspect to shut the mist-nets in even the shadiest parts of the Obs garden). Willow Warblers made up the bulk of the numbers, with 40 or more at the Bill where a light scatter of Wheatears, a handful of Sedge Warblers and a Garden Warbler were also logged. Hirundines, Swifts, Black-headed Gulls and a couple of Grey Herons were on the move overhead - with both Sand Martin and Swallow getting into three figure totals at the Bill alone. Ferrybridge stole the show rarity-wise, with a Rosy Starling dropping in with the Starlings for a short while before it relocated to fields near the Bridging Camp later in the day; 43 Ringed Plover, 31 Dunlin, a Sanderling and a Knot were the best of the waders there.

We'd thought our good summer for Rosy Starlings was over but then up popped this fine specimen on the roof of the Chesil Beach Centre © Angela Thomas:



Little Terns, Sandwich Terns and a Knot were also amongst the Ferrybridge ensemble today...




...whilst Priti Patel would be horrified to discover that both Polish and Serbian seagulls had snuck through and pitched up on our shores © Pete Saunders:



Moth-wise, it would have been difficult to match the excitement of the last couple of nights even if, for sheer quantity of catch alone, it was by far the best night of the year to date. Dispersal was very evident, as much in the form of enormous numbers of beetles and hoverflies as it was for moths, with this Chevron perhaps the most infrequently caught species making it onto the night's list -  it's a simple pleasure at a place as inhospitable for many 'inland' moths as Portland is that we get almost as excited to trap something like this as we do to catch all manner of rare immigrants that we're lucky enough to see rather often! © Martin Cade:

7th August

When the predicted south easterlies failed to materialize (instead a straight northerly at dawn, that moved to the east through the morning), we gave up on our hopes of a mega in the Crown Field. With the temperature rapidly climbing, it was unsurprising that there was very little evidence of any movement (in fact of the four Willow Warblers trapped in the garden, two were recent re-traps and a third has been moulting here since the 14th July). Two new Skylarks, one shabby adult and a pristine juvenile, brought the summer trapping total to 14, but the nets were otherwise unperturbed by their avian quarry. The sea added little to the days excitement with a virtually impenetrable heat haze developing by around 9o'clock; highlights included two Balearic Shearwaters and a lone Bonxie. Elsewhere, Ferrybridge saw just one addition to the usual small wader flocks of a Wheatear and a lonesome Shelduck.

The day's highlight was without doubt Debby Saunders' overnight catch at Sweethill of Britain's first Eupithecia breviculata - more to follow on this before long © Martin Cade/Debby Saunders:


Wednesday night's Pale Shoulder from Weston, the fifth for the island © Duncan Walbridge:


Despite the Shelduck seeming to be alone, its encouraging to see one get to this size. It seems everyone has stories of watching the poor black and white balls of fluff being picked off by every predator under the sun, but very few recollections of families of larger juveniles © Pete Saunders:


6th August

With thick, at times impenetrable, fog rolling in through the night it was an unexpectedly miserable morning with the mist failing to clear until gone midday. Scattered showers throughout the morning prevented much trapping in the garden, although when the rain finally did clear a re-trap Garden Warbler from three days ago proved our assumption correct; that the fog put an end to much migration through the night. Other land-based migrants included a trickle of Willow Warblers and Whitethroats and a small increase in the arrival of Wheatears with five across the recording area. The sea was equally dismal with a smattering of Shearwaters (two Balearics) and the first juvenile Kittiwake of the year the only real birds of note. Ferrybridge saw a sliver of action with a single Bar-tailed Godwit, two Wheatears and four of the remaining fledgling Little Terns on the shoreline.

A sprinkling of quality amongst the usual Dunlins, Ringed Plovers, Sanderlings and Turnstones © Pete Saunders (Bar-tailed Godwit) and © Debby Saunders (Little Terns):


5th August

What can we say about today? A gusting south-westerly should have seen some more activity on the sea, but a disappointing first hour set the precedent for a poor day all round. Sea totals, despite fairly favorable conditions, reached just 14 Manx Shearwaters, two each of Balearic Shearwater and Arctic Skua, and singles of Yellow-legged Gull and Sandwich Tern. The land was deadly quiet with few signs of new arrivals. The previous days Melodious Warbler remained in the garden whilst the Willow Warbler and Wheatear tallies were woefully low. Ferrybridge saw a similar lack of change with two Shelducks the only new additions to the usual wader selection.


4th August

After yesterday's fall and a building cloud cover through the morning there was some hope for similar numbers if nothing exciting. The numbers, however, never materialized but a second Melodious Warbler appeared in the Obs nets to provide some rarity interest. Other migrants were thin on the ground but the first juvenile Cuckoo for the autumn was accompanied by single figures of Willow Warbler and Whitethroats. The sea was - if that's possible - quieter than the land with just two Balearic Shearwaters and a lone Yellow-legged Gull of note throughout the morning. The highlight past Ferrybridge was a movement of Cormorants with a maximum flock size of 38.

Another day, another Melodious Warbler © Martin Cade:

3rd August

Under a big moon and with a tail breeze to assist it was no surprise that quantities of migrants were on the move and, with plenty of inexperienced youngsters in the mix, also no surprise to find a decent little spread of grounded arrivals at dawn. Sedge Warbler and Willow Warbler topped the tally with a good 30 apiece at the Bill, where singles of Little Ringed Plover, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grey Wagtail, Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and Spotted Flycatcher provided some variety; on the downside, the likes of Wheatear and Pied Flycatcher remained oddly under-represented - indeed the latter has still to make its first appearance this season. A trickle of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and hirundines were on the move overhead, where a likely Honey Buzzard was a surprise sight over Easton. The only other reports concerned a handful of Manx Shearwaters and Common Scoter through off the Bill and 2 Redshanks and a Sanderling amongst the few waders at Ferrybridge.

2nd August

Sometimes we think the birding Gods read this blog and purposefully prove us wrong. After stating that birding was as unpredictable as weather, a blind call from one of the locals today proved splendidly prescient: "I think you should go and look in the nets, there'll be 12.7g of Melodious Warbler hanging in there", and so there was - give or take 0.1g! Common migrant-wise, it was pretty uneventful, with a thin spread of Willow Warblers just about lending a veneer of respectability to proceedings  Elsewhere, sea highlights included 4 Balearic Shearwaters, 11 Manx Shearwaters, 2 Yellow-legged Gulls and a single Arctic Skua. The sea also provided some mammalian interest with 15+ Common Dolphins distantly offshore, as well as the regular lone male Bottle-nosed Dolphin.

With the all-time island tally standing at something like 227 we can hardly gripe that just lately we've been a little hard done by on the Melodious Warbler front but there's no getting way from the fact that with just one August record during the last four years things haven't been quite what they used to be © Martin Cade:


In a year without any predator mishaps the Ferrybridge Little Terns will have often departed by early August but this year there are still young from some replacement clutches keeping adults busy...


...Little Egret and Redshank were also on the shoreline at the colony today © John Dadds (photos taken under NE license):



At this time of year when they're at their busiest for temporary residents we tend to give the beach hut fields at the Bill a miss coverage-wise, so it was nice to receive a photo of the Long-eared Owl that evidently pitched up there briefly this morning - it had a mob of gulls in hot pursuit and had presumably been inadvertently disturbed from its daytime roost in the vicinity © Ann Campbell:

1st August

 A really rather quiet day where the lepidopteran highlights far outweighed the avian highlights. Two Pomarine Skuas east past the Bill in the early morning were the best of the bunch on the sea; the rest being made up of six apiece of Manx Shearwater and Common Scoter as well as singles of Balearic Shearwater and Black-headed Gull. The land was exceptionally quiet with single figures of Willow Warblers, Whitethroats and Yellow Wagtails making up the migrant tallies. An unexpected highlight of recent days in the nets is the capture of 11 Greenfinches - a really positive sign for a species that has been declining rapidly on the island.

On a night of exciting immigrant moth action Portland wasn't blessed with a killer rare but single Oak Processionary Moths trapped at the Obs and at Blacknor were only the second and third records for the island © Martin Cade:

31st July

In what can only be described as an absolute nose-dive in form compared to recent days, today saw an almost total dearth of migratory activity. Despite the promising looking easterly start, even Willow Warblers remained in single figures as the ringing totals failed to reach double figures. On a brighter note, a Great Crested Grebe past the Bill was the first for the autumn, whilst other highlights included three Manxies, two Balearic Shearwaters and singles of Dunlin and Redshank. There were also a couple of fly-overs with only the second Siskin since the spring, and two Yellow Wagtails. Continuing on the slightly wintery theme (Red-breasted Merganser yesterday and Great Crested Grebe today), the first Teal for the autumn was at Ferrybridge, accompanied by singles of Whimbrel, Curlew, and Sanderling.

30th July

With a hint of east entering the wind over night, it was with great hope that we opened all of the nets, following on from yesterdays success. However, in our experience, birds are about as predictable as the weather (you can have a go, but you can't always spot the hurricane) and the trickle of migrants yesterday was slowed to just single figures today. Amongst the migrants present were 10 Willow Warbler, two Grasshopper Warblers and singles of Reed and Sedge Warbler as well as two apiece of Yellow Wagtail and Tree Pipit. The sea was almost entirely devoid of migrants with singles only of Manx Shearwater, Yellow-legged Gull, Dunlin and Ringed Plover. Ferrybridge showed a little extra variety with the first returning Red-breasted Merganser, three Sanderlings, two Curlews, four Turnstones and the usual mix of small waders.

With their frequent skulking followed by explosive bursts into the sky, juvenile Skylarks are often underappreciated, but we think their spangled camouflage is pretty impressive ©Erin Taylor:


29th July

All things considered, today was pretty impressive. Portland isn't necessarily known for its grand numbers in July but a steady passage today, including a selection of warblers, was an excellent bonus. The majority of the netted birds came out of the Crown Fields, the highlights being a pair of Grasshopper Warblers, six Sedge Warblers, 11 Willow Warblers and (a personal highlight) three Skylarks. Away from the nets a constant passage of low numbers of Sand Martins and singles of Garden Warbler and Blackcap added to the migrant tally, whilst the Long-eared Owl continued to irritate the garden dwelling Blackbirds. The sea was reasonably quiet, and was rapidly obscured by a thick heat haze as the morning progressed. The only birds of note included 36 Manx Shearwaters, two Yellow-legged Gulls and a variety of single waders with one each of Curlew, Turnstone, Ringed Plover and Dunlin. Ferrybridge also saw a trickle of Sand Martins with 20 through during the mornings watch, as well as four Sanderlings and 20+ each of Dunlin and Ringed Plover.

28th July

As the year continues its pledge to be the windiest on record, the clear skies and dazzling sun brought a welcome warmth to what would otherwise have been a cool and biting breeze. The sea was disappointingly quiet but a sprinkling of new migrants added a splash of excitement to the days proceedings. The nets provided singles of Garden and Sedge Warbler as well as the now regular smattering of Willow Warblers. Away from the nets the Long-eared Owl was sighted once again coming out of its roost sight, as well as a pair of returning Wheatears. Highlights on the sea were limited to a single Balearic Shearwater, four Manx Shearwaters and just six Common Scoters.

27th July

Unseasonable, gale force winds and intermittent showers kept birding to a minimum on the land. Expectations for the sea were high but delivered very little in the way of year ticks.  A passage of 70+ Manx Shearwaters were not accompanied by any of their rarer relatives, and an additional three Yellow-legged Gulls and singles of Bonxie, PuffinWhimbrel and Dunlin were the only real highlights from the selection. The land was difficult going with much of the mornig dominated by driving rain showers, a pair of hardy Willow Warblers in the garden and a lone Wheatear at Walls End were about the best we could muster in the gaps in the rain. 

Belated news from yesterday of a Cattle Egret in amongst the scarce herd of cattle (there are only two herds on Portland to our knowledge). Build it and they will come... ©Dave Rashley:


26th July

A clear day left much to be desired in both the nets and on the sea. A continuation of the trickle of Willow Warblers saw another 20 around the Obs area, accompanied by a pair of Sedge Warblers and two Yellow Wagtails. The sea provided little of note with just 29 Manx Shearwaters, 13 Balearic Shearwaters and singles of Bonxie and Whimbrel. On the non-migratory front, it was excellent to see a flock of 15 Greenfinches feeding in the Crown Fields, a good breeding year is excellent news for this declining species.

25th July

 A wet and wild day saw very little in the way of land-based migrants, and much of the focus was on the sea. Highlights on from both a morning and evening sea watch included the first Sooty Shearwater for the year, four Balearic Shearwaters and 67 Manx Shearwaters. In terms of commoner species, there was a strong passage of Gannets with 368 within a few hours in the early morning, at one point being harassed by a Bonxie. On the land, a small selection of WheatearsWillow Warblers and Blackcaps were the best we could muster on the passerine front, as well as a lone Yellow-legged Gull below Culverwell.  Ferrybridge was unremarkable compared to recent form, with the usual selection of waders, including 21 Sanderlings and a single Whimbrel.

On a wet, miserable day, Ferrybridge still managed to provide a selection of waders to watch ©Pete Saunders: 



24th July

Perhaps it was the expectation of the Melodious Warbler that didn't ever show up, but somehow today turned out to be something of an anticlimax despite there being an obvious arrival of new migrants under the good cloud cover that rolled in ahead of a promised change in the weather. The fall was hardly spectacular but 30 Willow Warblers and 6 Sedge Warblers at the Bill were decent enough totals for so early in the season, even if waders didn't respond as anticipated with no more than 42 Dunlin and 16 Sanderling at Ferrybridge and a lone Whimbrel at the Bill. Sea interest has dwindled right away in the last fortnight, with 2 Balearic Shearwaters and a single Arctic Skua the best of a thin selection off the Bill.

23rd July

Whilst enjoying what looked to be a promising early morning flurry of migrants word was received that a large owl had been seen fleetingly near the Obs Quarry and it wasn't long before the bird blundered into the Obs garden and into a mist-net where its identity as 'the' Long-eared Owl could be confirmed. Migrant-wise, 25 Willow Warblers, 5 Wheatears, 5 Sedge Warblers and a Garden Warbler were grounded at the Bill, with 61 Dunlin, 15 Ringed Plover and 13 Sanderling (along with 290 Mediterranean Gulls) making up the slightly meagre wader selection at Ferrybridge. Mediterranean Gulls also made up the bulk of the numbers off the Bill, where 16 Common Scoter, 10 Manx Shearwaters, 4 Yellow-legged Gulls, 2 Balearic Shearwaters and a Whimbrel also passed by.

Since we've had a Long-eared Owl remain at the Bill for literally months in the past without any suspicion of its presence it was no surprise when, out of the blue, last week's bird appeared in a mist-net at the Obs this morning - after its initial dabble at being diurnal it's presumably reverted to type and become more or less strictly nocturnal.


Hardly surprisingly, we don't handle Long-eared Owls nearly often enough to know anything about telling the sexes apart although we were aware it's possible. According to the literature some of the features to check are the underwing coverts - white in male, more golden-buff in female...


...the outer web of the largest alula feather - three or fewer bars in male, four bars in female...


...and the colour of the inner webs of the secondaries - white in male, buff in female. These features all seem to indicate the bird is a male - perhaps there are folk out there with more experience of the species who could confirm that for us? © Martin Cade:


Immigrant moth interest remains almost non-existent but there are always some nice local specials to look out for. The advent of pheromone lures has seen the clearwings lose a lot of their mystique but it's still exciting to occasionally bump into Six-belted Clearwing - by far the most frequent of the species present on the island - 'in the field'; this mating pair at Tout Quarry surprised the photographer by flying in and landing right in front of him © Colin Burningham:


Late July specials in the moth-traps just lately have included the Wormwood - the first one of the year was trapped at the Obs last night...


...and a few Small Grey Eudonia mercurella of the distinctive local form portlandica - this one was trapped a few days ago by Paul Parsons at St Andrews Church © Martin Cade:

22nd July

A mixed bag today with plenty of names on the list, but little to write home about. Passerine migrants were reasonably varied but with few individuals of each. A total of seven Wheatears were present throughout the obs area as well as 25 Willow Warblers and singles of Grasshopper Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler. The sea had a similar vibe with the same sort of variety as previous days but with lower numbers of all. Of note was a Puffin (especially notable given the departure of 'our' cliff-nesting auks so pretty certain to be a non-local bird)), otherwise 31 Manx Shearwaters, two Balearic Shearwaters, five Yellow-legged Gulls and a single Whimbrel made up the majority of the sea sightings. Ferrybridge maintained its recent form but with Greenshank the only new addition.

Ferrybridge continued to provide a nice selection of photo opportunities; Common Tern © Pete Saunders...


...Turnstone and Kestrel © Will Bown:



Whilst a pretty photo is all well and good, there's so often a little back story to the bird itself that's easy to pass over if you look no further than the photo. In this case we were intrigued by still further evidence of Ferrybridge being such a mini melting pot of gulls from all over the place: this Black-headed Gull was originally ringed in Norway (the full details haven't been received yet)...


...whilst less than a month ago this Mediterranean Gull was ringed as a pullus in Vendée, France - thanks to Debby Saunders for the information © Debby Saunders: