7th February

Another lovely day saw the first spring arrivals show up, with 3 Wood Pigeons watched coming in from the south at the Bill. It was otherwise all very routine with 13 Red-throated Divers and a Black-headed Gull through off the Bill and 2 Purple Sandpipers and singles of Snipe, Black Redstart and Cetti's Warbler logged on the land there. Elsewhere, a Black Redstart at the Verne Moat was in a spot where hitherto none had been reported this winter.

6th February

With high pressure well established today's glorious sunshine and waft of a breeze were inviting fieldwork conditions. Some movement was apparent, with 21 Red-throated and a Great Northern Diver through off the Bill and 3 Lapwings, 2 Mute Swans and a Grey Plover through at Portland Harbour; on the land a group of 11 Long-tailed Tits pitching up at the Obs included a few ringed birds so were presumably the group that last visited there a week ago. The Cetti's Warbler and Chiffchaff at the Obs, the Black Redstart at Chesil Cove and the Black-throated Diver in Portland Harbour were among the established winterers reported.

Although hugely numerous further up the Fleet Mute Swans are always infrequent visitors to our recording area © Pete Saunders:

With unfinished business there we took advantage of the quiet conditions to have another nip over for the Richard's Pipit at Chickerell at the end of the afternoon in the hope that it'd be calling as well as on our previous visit when we didn't have any recording gear with us. Although more or less ever-present in its seemingly now favourite field it was always at 'scope views' distance but did make one nice fly-round when it called quite a few times and later called sporadically when settled on a hedge; the initial calls on this recording are of it flying and the last three are of it settled - to our ear the settled calls are perhaps a teeny bit higher-pitched and so maybe a little bit more House Sparrow-like. 

We can't remember anything much about the vaguely Richard's Pipit-like calls that the Portland Blyth's Pipits in 1998 gave (most of the time they gave the much more distinctive chip or chup calls which, incidentally, the fabled 'Portland Pipit' in 1989 also did all the time!) but Stanislas Wroza's handy comparative sonogram with the captions Google Translated - Richard's on the left and the two Blyth's calls on the right - in Identifier les Oiseaux Migrateurs par le Son shows they're reasonably different to the typical Richard's call:

5th January

Altogether nicer birding conditions and one or two different sightings to show for the day's efforts. Fifteen Pintail and a Great Northern Diver through off the Bill were additions to the more customary 14 Red-throated Divers on the move, whilst a rare visit to an off the beaten track part of Easton produced 15 Redwings and a Chiffchaff. Routine fare included the Common Scoter flock still off the Bill, the single Black Redstarts still at the Bill, Blacknor and Chiswell, the Blackcap at the Grove and the 4 Eider still in Portland Harbour.

By virtue of it being such a nice day we went for a longer weekend ramble than usual and visited all manner of obscure spots that don't get looked at from one month to the next let alone one day to the next. Apart from dwelling on what might be discovered in these places at migration times if folk broke new ground instead of just trailing around from one already known scarcity to the next we were struck by how incredibly abundant Robins are these days - they seemed to be literally everywhere we went and, assuming they behave there in the same manner they do in the vicinity of the Obs garden where each one looks to hold a discrete little winter territory, by extrapolation the island population at this time of year must be way into the many hundreds. It'd also be interesting to know where they all come from: none that we looked at seemed at all oddly-plumaged that might indicate really distant origin; the evidence from ringed birds at the Obs garden suggests that not only is the local breeding population resident (...the adults, at least) but that in winter various 'outsiders' appear that stick around for the whole season - in fact we have plenty of evidence of individuals returning winter after winter but have never yet had a recovery of one of these birds from wherever it is that they breed © Martin Cade:

4th February

Dreary skies didn't enthuse today and coverage was pretty limited for a weekend day. There were no surprises on the land where a few of the established winterers did continue to entertain; offshore, another 17 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill and the 2 Slavonian Grebes made another of their seemingly quite infrequent visits to Portland Harbour. After dark, a Snipe calling overhead at the Obs was slightly unexpected.

3rd February

A Woodcock flushed from Penn's Weare wasn't quite a first for the year since the observer reported flushing what was presumably the same individual from the same spot three days ago. Otherwise it was a more of the same selection, with singles of Grey Heron, Black Redstart and Cetti's Warbler at the Bill, a Red-throated Diver through on the sea there, 5 Long-tailed Tits at Sweethill and 4 Eider amongst the waterfowl in Portland Harbour.

Also some Obs admin news: we seem to have a glitch with our email account that we've just discovered hasn't been sending replies for the last few days - apologies if you were expecting a reply to a message you've sent us this week but hopefully it'll come through just as soon as we sort the issue.

2nd February

Still firmly in the late winter doldrums with just a handful of reports from the Bill: 7 Red-throated Divers through offshore where 43 Common Scoter were still settled and c1000 Kittiwakes were amongst the feeding aggregation; onshore, the Cetti's Warbler and Chiffchaff were still at the Obs.

A local-ish bird that we were quite keen to see - well, actually we weren't bothered at all about seeing it, we really only wanted to hear it calling - was this Water Pipit that's been parading about at point-blank range at Bowleaze Cove in Weymouth this week...

Our take was that we really wanted to try and get to grips with what Water Pipits sounded like since we're guessing we must be missing/overlooking the odd ones that must surely turn up - or perhaps more likely fly over - at the Bill at migration times. Back in our junior days at Lodmoor, Water Pipit was a bird that we were totally familiar with - they were common winter visitors that we'd see and hear on a daily basis and we thought we were tuned in to how their calls differed subtly but noticeably from the calls of the Rock Pipits that were also surprisingly frequent visitors to the saltmarsh there. Once we'd moved to Portland we completely lost familiarity with them and, besides, it seems they've now become quite infrequent in Weymouth. We had a similar 'try to get to know Water Pipit again' session ten years ago when several showed up on some flooded fields beside Radipole Park Drive when we were able to get a few lame photos and some much better recordings of them:

As we alluded to earlier, in the past we can remember being confident we could tell Water and Rock calls apart but as that knowledge faded we also became aware that in fact many authorities considered them altogether more tricky - "generally indistinguishable" according to Per Alstrom in Pipits and Wagtails; however, latterly the differences have been elucidated by Thijs Fijen (PDF) Flight call identification of Rock Pipit and Water Pipit (researchgate.net) and the sonograms of our recordings from these encounters do at least bear this out, with Rock being that little bit higher pitched, noticeably rising and peaking towards the end of the call; in comparison, Water is not only lower but also more evenly pitched. Without daily familiarity we seriously doubt whether we'd be confident enough these days to claim a fly-over Water Pipit at the Bill so hopefully an encounter of that sort will be when the recorder's running and we'll have some tangible evidence to scrutinize after the event © Martin Cade:

1st February

Seemingly very little fieldwork around the island today and the only sightings were of the Cetti's Warbler and Chiffchaff at the Obs, single Black Redstarts at Church Ope Cove and Blacknor, and 4 Eider and 3 Common Scoter in Portland Harbour.

31st January

Exceedingly little to report today: 3 more Red-throated Divers through off the Bill, 40 Common Scoter still settled offshore there and 4 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Black Redstarts and singles of Grey HeronGolden PloverCetti's Warbler and Chiffchaff kicking about on the land there.

30th January

Befitting a pleasantly mild and bright day a group of 9 Long-tailed Tits got wanderlust today and strayed out as far as the Obs garden for the first time this year. Otherwise it was all much the same as usual with 2 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill, several Purple Sandpipers, 4 Turnstones, the Black Redstart and the Cetti's Warbler still at the Bill and at least 9 Black-necked Grebes, 4 Eider, 3 Common Scoter and 2 Slavonian Grebes in Portland Harbour.

To stave off some sort of finger atrophy we did open one mist-net in the Obs garden for the first time this year when the Long-tailed Tits appeared there and even fluked a few of them. There was a time when we'd have quite often opened some nets at this time of year and usually caught a steady trickle of new Greenfinches but since their demise - there hasn't been a single one logged at the Bill yet this year - pretty well all the garden inhabitants are already ringed and we certainly don't want to hassle them for no good reason © Martin Cade:

29th January

With a not so nice stiff breeze blowing today's entertainment was rather limited: 9 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill, 10 Purple Sandpipers, 6 Turnstones and singles of Grey Heron, Black Redstart and Cetti's Warbler at the Bill and a Black Redstart at Easton.

28th January

Nice birdable quiet conditions today but nothing important to report: 6 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill, the Cetti's Warbler and Chiffchaff were still in and around the Obs garden, a Blackcap was new in a private garden at the Grove and 14 Black-necked Grebes, 4 Great Northern Divers, the 4 Eider and 3 Common Scoter were in Portland Harbour.
Three of the four Eider wintering in Portland Harbour © Debby Saunders:

27th January

Just a few snippets from around and about today: the continuing Black Redstarts at the Bill, Southwell and Blacknor, a Grey Plover around the oyster-racks at Ferrybridge and the 2 Red-necked Grebes still in Portland Harbour.

Having reached a tricky point in a job we were doing elsewhere at the Bill we decided on a bit of a whim to just dwell on the issue for a while and go over and have a look for Freddy Allway's Richard's Pipit at Pirate's Cove, beside the Fleet just up from Ferrybridge - they've become a really infrequent bird at Portland to the extent that we were struggling to remember the last one we saw here. In the event it took a little while to find but once discovered it showed quite well; frustratingly, because we hadn't really planned on going we didn't have any recording gear in the car so dipped out on what could have been some nice recordings as it called repeatedly whenever it took flight © Martin Cade:

And editing that little bit of video reminded us that we'd never got round to uploading some video of the Reap Lane Cirl Bunting from last weekend - it's presumably still about but we're not aware anyone's actually looked for it this week © Martin Cade:

26th January

A Siberian Chiffchaff coming out of the woodwork at Blacknor was the day's only surprise. The selection at the Bill included 15 Red-throated Divers and 5 Brent Geese through on the sea, the 40 or so Common Scoter still settled offshore and 8 Lapwings, a Golden Plover, one of the Black Redstarts, the Cettti's Warbler and the Chiffchaff on/overhead on the land; another Chiffchaff was also again at Southwell.

25th January

As if it wasn't already drab enough this week today even saw light drizzle set in at times which was more than enough to keep most birders indoors. A few responses to the icy conditions further inland included 12 Golden Plovers, 9 Lapwings and a Fieldfare at the Bill where another single Red-throated Diver passed by on the sea. The only other report was of a Black Redstart at Easton.

24th January

Drearier but quiet conditions for the duration today. A Great White Egret south over Ferrybridge was a first for the year, whilst a count of 1300 Mediterranean Gulls at Ferrybridge was their highest total of the winter; also of note were 6 Lapwings overhead at the Bill, a Chiffchaff at Eight Kings Quarry, a Merlin overhead at Easton and a Redwing overhead at Blacknor. Routine fare included 12 Purple Sandpipers, the Cetti's Warbler and the Chiffchaff at the Bill and 3 Red-throated Divers through on the sea there.

23rd January

Not for want of looking on what was a really nice sunny day today's list was on the meagre side. Three Lapwings and 2 Golden Plovers overhead at Ferrybridge hinted at the frozen ground further inland, but otherwise a routine selection included 18 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill, 4 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Black Redstarts on the land there, 600 Mediterranean Gulls at Ferrybridge and 5 Curlews between there and Portland Harbour.

22nd January

A still and quite overcast day lent itself to close inspection of Portland Harbour, with a Goosander and increases in Black-necked Grebes and Eiders to at least 16 and 5 respectively the chief rewards; the usual scatter of other waterfowl were also still present as was one of the Black Redstarts close to the shoreline. At the Bill the recent increase in Red-throated Divers continued with 21 through, whilst 2 Collared Doves were the first this year to make it right out to the Obs.

21st January

For the most part a more of the same day: the Reap Lane Little Gull looked to have moved on to pastures new but the Cirl Bunting was on show there from time to time, the Purple Sandpipers, Black Redstart and Cetti's Warbler remained at the Bill and the customary selection of divers, grebes, Eiders and other waterfowl were in Portland Harbour. Eight Red-throated Divers passing by off the Bill accounted for the morning's sea movement there, with singles of Golden Plover and Snipe on the land there probably not actually new but at least unseen for a few days.

Chiffchaffs seem to be in quite short supply this winter: this one frequenting the Obs garden and Crown Estate Field is the only one at the Bill and we have records of just five other individuals at four sites so far this month...

...the Obs bird nearly didn't make it beyond today: it flew straight out of the field of view just after this photograph was taken and a split second later a Sparrowhawk came crashing through the leaves, settled for a moment to reflect on missing lunch and then whizzed off to seek out some other hapless victim © Martin Cade:

The male Black Redstart has been garnering all the attention at the Bill in recent days and the female/immature that's been about all winter must be feeling a bit left out © Mike Trew:

20th January

Another lovely still, sunny day to be out enjoying the well-watched regulars but the only new arrival noticed was a Fieldfare over Blacknor; a Dartford Warbler at Barleycrates Lane was presumably the winterer in that area that had been unseen for a few weeks. Movement-wise, a Black-throated Diver and just 4 Red-throated Divers passed by off the Bill. Among the established regulars, the Cirl Bunting and Little Gull at Reap Lane, 10 Purple Sandpipers, the Cetti's Warbler and Black Redstart at the Bill and the 4 Eider in Portland Harbour were all on show at times.

The Black Redstart at the Bill was looking altogether lovelier than it had been on the grey days early in the week - and was seemingly intent on keeping itself well scrubbed-up © Geoff Orton:

19th January

In the nicest conditions of the year to date there were plenty of opportunities for fieldwork, with a Hooded Crow (or hybrid) discovered at Barleycrates Lane the best of the rewards; the Cirl Bunting that had remained hidden in the recent wind and rain duly revealed itself again and the Little Gull continued to put on a good show there. Otherwise it much as before, with 14 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill where auk numbers looked from sample counts to have reached around the 10000 mark, single Black Redstarts were at the Bill and Southwell, a Blackcap was at Easton and 8 each of Great Northern Diver and Black-necked Grebe, 4 Eiders, 2 Common Scoter and singles of Black-throated Diver and Slavonian Grebe were in Portland Harbour.

At least 4 Common Dolphins were off the Bill.

The first Speckled Wood of the year was on the wing at Southwell.

It had always been assumed the Cirl Bunting was about but staying hidden and that proved to be the case, with the steady flow of birders and photographers drawn to Reap Lane by the lingering Little Gull ensuring it was quickly spotted today © Pete Saunders:

The biggest surprise of the day was this Speckled Wood basking in the sun at Reap Lane - we have no previous island records for the months of December, January or February © Martin Cade:

18th January

Barring a short blip during the morning when the island caught the edge of a passing rain band today's mainly sunny skies were a treat and not tempered too much by a chilly breeze. A fair few of yesterday's Red-throated Divers decided they didn't like the look of Lyme Bay, with 20 trailing back east off the Bill through the morning; it was also noticeably busy offshore, with a substantial increase in the size of the feeding flock of Gannets, gulls and auks; ashore, a Little Gull was a surprise find in the saturated fields at Reap Lane. The only other reports came from Portland Harbour: the news services carried a report of the Velvet Scoter still present and 4 - presumably overflying? - Spoonbills, whilst routine fare from other observers included 5 Black-necked Grebes, 3 each of Great Northern Diver and Eider, 2 Common Scoter and singles of Black-throated Diver and Curlew.

We've been rather spoilt for Little Gulls so far this year but today's ultra-confiding bird that spent the afternoon in the unlikely setting of the the muddy fields at Reap Lane was well worth grossing out on; at first we thought it might not be well because it sometimes looked a little unsteady on its feet but subsequently it was flying about perfectly strongly and repeatedly dropped down to pick up and consume worms © Martin Cade (video and settled still) and Debby Saunders (flying stills):

17th January

Suddenly feeling pretty raw today in a fresh northeasterly and with hardly a glimmer of sunshine. The response from the birds included the winter's strongest movement of Red-throated Divers - 66 through off the Bill - a few extra waterfowl including a Velvet Scoter in Portland Harbour and a Dark-bellied Brent Goose though off the Bill, and 4 Golden Plovers and a Redwing at the Bill. Many of the regulars remained on station, including 11 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Black Redstarts at the Bill, another Black Redstart at Blacknor and the Black-throated Diver in Portland Harbour.

One of the two Black Redstarts currently at the Bill is a nice adult male © Martin Cade:

The majority of the day's Red-throated Divers followed the usual pattern for decent mid-winter movements: mob-handed, distant and heading west © Martin Cade:

Following on from yesterday's remarks about our recording area boundary, another bird that's often lurking around the northern periphery is the Kingfisher, with this individual a regular at the moment on the many suitable perches in the vicinity of Small Mouth © Pete Saunders:

16th January

Some especially grim conditions overnight - not only did it bucket with rain but the wind gusted so ferociously sometime in the early hours that a window in the Obs lighthouse tower managed to blow open and shatter! - had cleared through by dawn and, despite it beginning to feel a lot chillier than of late, the daylight hours were altogether more pleasant. The Grey Phalarope (presumably all or most of the sightings refer to the same individual) that's been roaming about between Chesil Cove and West Fleet settled down nicely close to shore on the mainland side of Ferrybridge to provide the day's highlight, with a Lapwing overhead there also of note. The improved conditions saw a better return from Portland Harbour that included 9 Black-necked Grebes, 4 each of Great Northern Diver and Eider, 2 each of Red-necked Grebe and Common Scoter, a single Slavonian Grebe and a noticeable increase in both Great Crested Grebes and Red-breasted Mergansers. At the Bill, 5 Red-throated Divers passed by on the sea and 3 Purple Sandpipers and a Turnstone were about on the land.

The Grey Phalarope put on a good show all day © Martin Cade (video) and Phil Cheeseman (still)

Rather like football referees when it comes to the laws of offside, we have a rather loose interpretation of our recording area boundary: technically, the Portland parish boundary is a midway line through the very western end of the Fleet that crosses the causeway at Small Mouth (where the 'old' Ferry Bridge used to be, so a little way north of the modern bridge) and then, depending on which map you look at, either follows the southern shore of the harbour or takes a notional midway line right across the harbour. We've always taken the view that it seems a bit barmy to bisect water bodies in two when bird move freely between each so for recording purposes we include all of the waters south of the mainland shore - following that interpretation is also about the only way that anyone can get Little Grebe on their island list these days! There was a time when Little Grebes were sufficiently numerous - certainly always way into double figures - during the wintertime at Ferrybridge that some would spill out into the harbour and even stray as far south as the marina; however, in the last few years numbers have plummeted to low single figures at best and we wouldn't be surprised if these two hugging the mainland shore today aren't the only ones about this winter © Martin Cade:

15th January

Improved weekend coverage today provided us with a longer list but no evidence of much changing. Seven Purple Sandpipers and a Black Redstart were at the Bill with 2 Red-throated Divers passing through on the sea there, singles of Black Redstart and Chiffchaff surfaced at Blacknor and Portland Castle respectively and 200 Dunlin, 48 Red-breasted Mergansers, 16 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 5 Shelducks, 3 Great Northern Divers, 3 Eider and a Mute Swan were at Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour.

The five Shelducks that are coming and going - either mob-handed like today or in ones and twos on other days - from Ferrybridge at the moment © Pete Saunders:

And a Snipe overhead at Ferrybridge last Wednesday © Pete Saunders:

There have been all sorts of interesting ocean-going creatures washed ashore - dead or alive - on Chesil during the recent stormy weather; this weekend's oddities included quite a few Portugese Man O'War © Steve Mansfield:

14th January

Little Auk's a bird that's been on the cards throughout this very turbulent winter but, sad to relate, when one did finally show up it wasn't bobbing about in Chesil Cove as might have been hoped but grounded at Ferrybridge where it quickly fell victim to the attention of the local crows. The only other newcomers today were a surprise Goosander overflying Portland Harbour - where there were also 7 Great Northern Divers, 4 Black-necked Grebes and a Black-throated Diver - and a Fieldfare at Portland Castle. Otherwise, just a few of the other regulars on show: single Black Redstarts at Chesil Cove and Easton, the Cetti's Warbler at the Bill and at least 40 Common Scoter still offshore there.

It rarely ends well for storm-driven Little Auks that find themselves ashore and, sadly, the crows had already got to today's bird before it could be rescued © Debby Saunders:

Although we've handled a few dead or moribund Little Auks before you always forget just how super, super small they are - literally just a palmful...

...and a bit more detail:

13th January

An attempt at breaking the record for the number of days that can squeezed onto one sightings sheet at the Obs continued apace, with today's offerings even fewer than yesterday's despite it being a dry, sunny (but still pretty windy) day. Six Dark-bellied Brent Geese and a single Red-throated Diver passed by off the Bill and 3 Eider and a Curlew were at Portland Harbour (...and a cursory attempt for the Cirl Bunting drew a blank).

12th January

Just more of the same on an even windier and even wetter day than most so far this year. The 50 Common Scoter were still off the Bill, the Cetti's Warbler was still in song at the Obs and 3 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Great Northern Divers and an Eider were in Portland Harbour.

11th January

Another day that'll be quickly forgotten: 4 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill, 3 Eider were still in Portland Harbour, a lone Shelduck was at Ferrybridge where a Snipe also passed overhead.

10th January

In sufficiently dreary and windy conditions that very little fieldwork was undertaken the only reports were of the Grey Phalarope still at Chesil Cove, the 50-ish Common Scoter still settled off the Bill and the Cetti's Warbler still in song in and around the Obs.

Given the conditions, a Rusty-dot Pearl was a slightly unexpected catch in the Obs moth-traps.

9th January

Not a great deal of coverage today in blustery, cool northwesterlies and the only reports were of long- or short-term lingerers: the Grey Phalarope at Chesil Cove, the Black-throated Diver and Red-necked Grebe in Portland Harbour, 50 Common Scoter off the Bill and the Cetti's Warbler and 8 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill.

8th January

More wind, more rain - and it doesn't seem like there's any end to it any time soon. There were one or two storm-driven rewards, notably a Grey Phalarope at Chesil Cove and 2 Little Gulls roaming between there and Ferrybridge; additionally, a couple of Kittiwakes were at Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour. At least 150 Kittiwakes, 2500 auks and 65 Common Scoter were off the Bill where another single Red-throated Diver passed by; elsewhere, odds and ends included a Black Redstart at Chiswell, 5 Shelducks at Ferrybridge and 3 Great Northern Divers, 3 Eider and a Black-throated Diver in Portland Harbour.

A serendipitous and seemingly unusual event at Ferrybridge was the brief appearance at point blank range of two Little Gulls amongst a melee of other gulls attracted to bread at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders: