21st March


A reminder that there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm this Saturday, 24th March.

A lovely sunny and - at least in comparison with earlier in the week - mild day, although probably too nice to have expected much of an arrival of migrants. Numbers certainly weren't a feature at the Bill where a good deal of legwork failed to muster even a single Chiffchaff, with 10 Wheatears, 4 each of Redwing, Firecrest and Reed Bunting, 2 Black Redstarts and singles of Teal, Golden Plover, Ringed Plover, Snipe, Fieldfare, Goldcrest, Redpoll and Bullfinch about the best on offer; elsewhere another 2 Black Redstarts were at Blacknor. Red-throated Divers totalled 27 off the Bill, with 8 Black-necked Grebes, 3 Common Scoter and a Slavonian Grebe in Portland Harbour the only other reports from the water.

After many months of absence there are again Little Owls residing in the Obs Quarry. The disappearance of the pair present there last year has been widely attributed to the constant harassment they received from the 'non-birder' photography community; the owls can be watched/photographed perfectly satisfactorily - without causing them any disturbance - from the rim of the quarry so please don't try to get closer to them by, for example, walking down onto the floor of the quarry under their breeding crevice © Phyl England:

20th March

A gradual return to normality today saw just the odd little patch of sheltered snow remain once the temperature edged back up towards double figures. Whilst there were a few migrants about it was cold weather fare that made up the bulk of the day's numbers, with at least 220 Golden Plovers still at the Bill and a light scatter of Fieldfares and Redwings everywhere; the lone Teal was also still at the Bill. Migrant-wise, nothing was in any quantity but 11 Wheatears, 3 each of Chiffchaff and  Goldcrest, and 2 Black Redstarts were at the Bill, with further single Black Redstarts at both Reap Lane and Barleycrates Lane; 5 new Long-tailed Tits were also at the Bill, where 3 Firecrests and a Short-eared Owl lingered on and 6 Red-throated Divers passed by on the sea.

The Golden Plovers weren't doing too badly yesterday but they were doing even better today © Joe Stockwell:

Also doing well was this Southwell Barn Owl that was watched catching three voles in 25 minutes this evening - which would suggest that a Barn Owl that we picked up freshly dead at the Bill last week hadn't been struggling for food but perhaps came off worse in a scrap with a Short-eared Owl or a Buzzard © Nick Stantiford: 

19th March

This winter's had a pretty brutal sting in the tail, with another substantial overnight snowfall making it very hard going for both the cold weather refugees and what newly arrived migrants were about; the only redeeming feature was that, like yesterday, the snow was largely gone by late afternoon. Golden Plovers and Meadow Pipits again made up the bulk of the numbers, with 600 or so of the former and in excess of 1000 of the latter spread about the island as a whole. Amongst the thinnish spread of back-ups the most noteworthy were 3 Firecrests, 2 Short-eared Owls  and singles of Teal, Dunlin, Redshank, Jack Snipe, Black Redstart, Blackcap and Bullfinch at the Bill.

Dawn brought with it the unusual sight of the Obs garden looking like a winter wonderland and the wider Bill area blanketed in a decent enough dollop of the white stuff © Martin Cade...

...by early afternoon though the snow was rapidly disappearing © Martin King:

Despite looking as though they were finding plenty of food the Golden Plovers were getting increasing confiding today...

...Jack Snipe was a fairly expected cold weather arrival...

...whilst sights like this Dunlin probing around on the middle of the Bill Common were also to be expected.

It was hard not to feel sorry for the Firecrests that were reduced to scratching around on the ground where at least they did seem to be getting some reward © Martin Cade:

18th March

We can't say we weren't warned - and from the frequency with which flocks of Golden Plovers could be heard moving overhead during the hours of darkness it should have been obvious that something was afoot - but there was still genuine surprise at the substantial accumulation of snow evident around the island at dawn; in fact it kept snowing throughout the morning, although with the temperature creeping up a little by the afternoon the landscape was looking nowhere near as uniformly white by then as it had done earlier. As had been the case during the cold snap earlier in the month, the constituent parts of today's cold weather arrival/passage were hugely different to those observed just a few miles away on the mainland, with Golden Plovers overwhelmingly more numerous than anything else: at least 600 made landfall at the Bill, another 450 were at Ferrybridge and - once the sea was visible, which wasn't until midday when the snow abated - another 120 or so moved east off the Bill. Thrush movements were largely confined to Ferrybridge and then only involved 600 Redwings and 200 Fieldfares (20000 and 16000 respectively were counted moving west today on the West Dorset coast). Grounded Meadow Pipits featured in quantity everywhere but variety at the Bill otherwise didn't extend to much more than 4 Chiffchaffs, 3 each of Teal, Snipe and Firecrest, 2 Wheatears and singles of Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Knot. Odds and ends amongst the similar variety elsewhere included the 'Eastern' Lesser Whitethroat still at Southwell, 2 Blackcaps at Wakeham and singles of Woodcock and Black Redstart at Weston.

From the mainland Portland was only just about visible through the snow flurries © Joe Stockwell:

There was a fairly crisp and even spread at the Bill © Martin King:

Golden Plovers were certainly the feature birds of the day © Martin King...

...with the flock at the Bill including this oddly-plumaged leucistic individual © Martin Cade:

Knots joined the Golden Plovers at both Ferrybridge and the Bill © Joe Stockwell (upper photo at Ferrybridge) and Martin Cade (lower photo at the Bill):

It's pretty hard work being a passerine migrant at the best of times and they could certainly have done without today's events © Geoff Orton (Goldcrest at Easton) and Martin Cade (Wheatear at the Bill):

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: