16th October

As has so often been the case so far this autumn just as passage had looked to be gathering some momentum so things fizzled out. That's not to say there was nothing happening since 6 Ring Ouzels and 2 Yellow-browed Warblers represented a nice return from the Penn's Weare area, but plenty of coverage elsewhere garnered no other significant rewards. Numbers took a dip throughout the island, with the commoner thrushes almost absent and even the likes of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests only thinly spread; 2 Little Stints at Ferrybridge, singles of Merlin and Dartford Warbler at the Bill, another Merlin at Penn's Weare and a Firecrest at Old Hill were the only other reports of note.

Always one of their favourite haunts on Portland, Penn's Weare returned a nice little haul of Ring Ouzels today © Joe Stockwell:


15th October

A clear night with a large, shining moon meant few additions to yesterday's list made it to our shores, however at least one of the Red-breasted Flycatchers remained at Avalanche Road with a second brief sighting at Barleycrates bringing their tally back up to two. A Great White Egret at Ferrybridge was the one quality arrival (...despite their increase elsewhere they're still a high value Portland rarity!), but Dartford Warbler and Ring Ouzel also made it onto the day totals, as did 2 fly-by Tree Sparrows and late-ish singles of Whitethroat and Spotted Flycatcher. Finches put in another big display with Chaffinches the most prominent passage bird (although the Linnet flock in the Crown Fields has swollen to over 250); the capture of two Greenfinches was also notable these days.

14th October

Finally! A break in the horrendous gale-force westerlies and rain led to the first successful October day. One might even go as far to say it was a small autumnal fall. The constant drizzle was, for the first time in a while, a help rather than a hindrance and although there was no big rare, birding was exciting throughout the day. Highlights from a much improved selection included two Red-breasted Flycatchers at Avalanche Hump, the first Yellow-browed Warbler trapped at the obs and another at Avalanche Roiad, an eastern Lesser Whitethroat trapped at Culverwell with a second Lesser Whitethroat sp seen briefly at the Obs Quarry, a Wryneck in the bramble hedge in the Crown Fields and a Dartford Warbler up by the Higher Light; the Black Brant was also again at Ferrybridge. Across the island the tallies of other migrants included 30+ Redwings, an impressive three-figure passage of Chaffinches and Goldfinches, a smattering of Bramblings and Siskin as well as the usual (but no less impressive) presence of plenty of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs.

Quite how Portland hadn't logged a Yellow-legged Warbler so far this autumn had been a much discussed topic in recent days - now there's been one it's a fair bet there'll be plenty more...


...the Lesser Whitethroat was pretty clearly from somewhere points eastward...


...whilst Red-breasted Flycatcher and Dartford Warbler were nice list-fillers © Martin Cade:


13th October

As the drizzle slowly abated throughout the morning the birds began to move and the north end of the island provided a Treecreeper, the first Brambling of the autumn, 40+ Redwings, 5 Firecrests and a selection of other common migrants. Heading south a little a Whinchat at Weston Street and a Spotted Flycatcher at Thumb Lane were the highlights from the middle of the island. At the Bill, seawatching provided the most entertainment with singles of Sooty Shearwater and Curlew as well as four Arctic Skuas and five Bonxies. Once the weather had settled into a more bearable state, a report of a 'stint' at Ferrybridge prompted a quick visit that in fact yielded three Little Stints on top of the usual selection of Dunlin, Ringed Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Mediterranean Gulls and Sandwich Terns.

12th October

Whilst the rest of the country revelled in rare vagrants from the west and scarcities from the east, we were left swimming our way around a seemingly drowning island with only intermittent flocks of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs to maintain our levels of enthusiasm. Two pairs of jeans, two waterproof coats and a soaked pair of walking boots later and our migrant tally consisted of a scatter of 4 Firecrests, a Woodlark and a Merlin. Thankfully Ferrybridge provided some much needed variety and the lingering Black Brant, two Bar-tailed Godwits, a Black-tailed Godwit and nine Red-breasted Mergansers improved the day list exponentially.

11th October

The one positive we can take from today is that the weather was not quite as bad as was predicted, it only rained for most of the day not all. When the rain wasn't hampering our efforts the wind certainly did and therefore the tally of new land-based migrants amounted to one Redwing. The sea was fractionally more interesting with the constant presence of 650+ Gannets being joined by five Bonxies and a Manx Shearwater.

10th October

Still not a sniff of things getting beyond the entirely mundane - one day the wind will drop but that day wasn't today! Under a clearer sky visible passage was conspicuous with a steady trickle of flocks of Meadow Pipits and Linnets struggling through overhead, with a Woodlark over Pennsylvania Castle and 2 Merlins over the Bill the pick of the tag-alongs. Grounded migrants were pitifully few and far between with 2 Firecrests at Wakeham/Pennsylvania Castle easily the best. The brent flock has been building steadily on The Fleet and the winter's first Black Brant showed up amongst them at Ferrybridge this morning.

9th October

More of the same trying conditions but slightly more of interest on the bird front. A Wryneck trapped at the Obs was presumably the same individual that had been at the Coastguards for a couple of days but an early morning Richard's Pipit at the QinetiQ compound at the Bill was a surprise newcomer given the blasting westerlies. Visible passage of Swallows, Meadow Pipits, alba wagtails and Linnets was again a feature, with the latter again getting up towards the 500 per hour mark at the Bill, whilst there were also again the odd single Merlins about; singles of Ring Ouzel at Kingbarrow Quarry and Firecrest at Pennsylvania Castle were as good as it got for less frequent migrants on the ground. Sea passage has been disappointingly slow this week, with 2 each of Great and Arctic Skuas, and singles of Sooty and Balearic Shearwaters the best that could be mustered at the Bill.

With tricky access to the haunts of the Wryneck of the last couple of days we couldn't be sure that it had moved but it seems pretty likely that today's bird trapped a few hundred metres away at the Obs was the same individual © Martin Cade:

8th October

There might be a mouth-watering selection of American vagrants making it to Ireland but the constant westerly battering is doing us no good at all. Two passing Woodlarks were a minor highlight amongst a decent diurnal movement over the Bill that also included more than 530 Linnets in 80 minutes and a single Merlin. Grounded nocturnal arrivals though were really poorly represented, with the Wryneck still present at the Coastguard Cottages and a Firecrest at Avalanche Road but precious little by way of routine newcomers. Despite the strength of the wind the only worthwhile reports from the sea were of 2 Balearic Shearwaters and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill.

We had an interesting visit today from local resident Brian Keel who brought us photos and video of a praying mantis he'd found last week in a summerhouse in his garden near Easton. We're not sure whether any of the mantids are able to survive at liberty in the UK in the manner of, for example, stick insects in the West Country but it'll be worth keeping an eye out for them © Brian Keel:


7th October

As we watched the rain clouds continuously forming just to our west it seemed as if we were never going to get out in the field. A brief respite in the late morning allowed an excursion across the island, however, this was relatively fruitless and a Little Egret on the east cliffs, a Redwing flushed from the garden and a Reed Bunting in the crown fields were the limited highlights. As the light began to dim a final push before the last rain shower of the day provided an as-of-yet unidentified bunting and a Wryneck in the hut fields. Who knows what tomorrow will bring...

Very much a record shot as the light was fading, the Wryneck in the huts put on a very brief display and never showing its right leg... © Erin Taylor:


6th October

Once more unto the west the wind went and our frustratingly quiet days continued. A Merlin harassing the moderate pipit passage was joined by a Short-eared Owl being harassed by the rather colossal gull flock. Pied Wagtails put in an impressive show with 125 across the bill area and Meadow Pipits were conspicuous once again, but other migrants were thin on the ground.

Although it's still relatively early in the season for them, migrant Short-eared Owls have been in pretty short supply so far this autumn; this one came in at the Bill this morning but it was made to work really hard: it was first spotted off East Cliffs but was constantly beaten back offshore by the local gulls - it took over an hour of repeated attempts to make landfall before it reached its goal © Ken King:


5th October

A quick breather before the westerlies begin once more saw a relatively calm day at Portland as a gentle northerly, swinging to south easterly dominated the day. The land saw another decent passage of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps with the former making up a third of the day's ringing totals. A rather tardy Swift caused a ripple of excitement in the early evening but otherwise two Spotted Flycatchers, four Firecrests, five Reed Buntings and the first Great Spotted Woodpecker of the autumn were the highlights of the day. The sea was a hive of activity early on with 65 Balearic Shearwaters through in quick succession, accompanied by a Red-throated Diver, two Sandwich Terns and a lingering flock of 50 Mediterranean Gulls.

Chiffchaffs were in quantity literally everywhere - the clumps of still leafy trees were favoured but even sub-optimal spots held a few © JR Norris:


We've had no time to go through our own nocturnal recording attempts just lately so it's good that Nick Hopper is still able to make the occasional foray over to the Bill on what look like being the more promising nights. Nick's last session was on the night of 2nd/3rd October when the stand-out highlight was a Bittern; also logged were:

Ring Ouzel

Redwing 2

Song Thrush 52

Goldcrest

Tree Pipit 3

Spotted Flycatcher 2

alba Wagtail

Meadow Pipit 4

Redshank

Knot

Dunlin 2

Ringed Plover

Sandwich Tern flock

Black-headed Gull



4th October

As the wind swung back round into a seemingly unending westerly, the tallies of migrants took a nose-dive once again. Highlights on the passerine front were largely limited to those found in the nets including two Spotted Flycatchers and a Reed Warbler, the only exception was a Redwing sighted at Ferrybridge. The sea was deathly quiet with singles of both Balearic Shearwater and Arctic Skua the only birds recorded through the day. On a more positive note, the first triple figure count of Brent Geese at Ferrybridge for the autumn was noteworthy.

3rd October

A change in wind direction saw a reduction in the numbers of birds present, although quantity was replaced by some limited quality with a couple of firsts for the season. The main highlight on the passerine front was the first two Redwings of the autumn flushed from Culverwell in the early morning, otherwise a Grasshopper Warbler in Coombefield Quarry, four Spotted Flycatchers across the southern end of the island and a Firecrest at the obs were about all we could muster. On the non-passerine front the sea provided much of the action but a Golden Plover on the East-cliffs was the first for the autumn. An entire day of sea-watching provided 18 Arctic Skuas, 62 Common Scoters and a lone Sandwich Tern.

Smart birds at all times of the year, the grey wagtail total reached just four for the day... ©Nick Stantiford:


2nd October

Usually it'll be a rarity that makes a day at this time of year but sometimes - like today - there's just so much about that the absence a rare almost goes unnoticed. The first really quiet weather conditions for ages coupled with the first really chilly dawn of the autumn saw a conspicuous push of migrants everywhere. Meadow Pipits, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Linnets made up the bulk of the numbers with totals of well into the hundreds of each through the island as a whole; even scare-ish migrants were few and far between though, with 4 Firecrests, a Merlin and a Grasshopper Warbler the best on offer at the Bill. House Martins won out overhead, with a strong northbound movement along West Cliffs where Swallows and Meadow Pipits were also moving in quantity.

1st October

Yesterday's excesses quickly faded from memory as a blustery westerly pushed through a series of early squally showers that reduced visible passage to a minor trickle of Swallows and Meadow Pipits amongst which at least 2 Merlins tagged along; an Osprey also snuck through overhead at Ferrybridge. It was barely busier on the ground where 3 Firecrests were the best on offer at the Bill. What was poor for passerines was a better for seabirds, with 41 Balearic Shearwaters, 12 Arctic Skuas, 6 Sandwich Terns, 4 Sooty Shearwaters, 4 Great Skuas, 2 Manx Shearwaters and a Grey Plover through off the Bill.

A Grass Webworm Herpetogramma licarsisalis - the first Portland record - first trapped but not secured at the Obs overnight Sunday/Monday was re-caught soon after dusk last night.

The Grass Webworm saga was a memorably stressful little event that could easily have ended in tears. When we got around to doing the Obs moth-traps yesterday morning we'd just been inspired by a Twitter message reporting that a Grass Webworm had been trapped overnight on Scilly. We had what turned out to be an entirely erroneous mental image of the species as being something as big as a Mother of Pearl so when we saw this spread-winged shape amongst all the slightly smaller Rusty-dot Pearls on the underside of the Perspex lid of one of the traps we weren't sure what it was but didn't immediately think of Grass Webworm:


What followed was a comedy of errors when the moth twice dropped into the bowels of the trap only to suddenly whizz straight out when we risked removing the cone; after briefly settling in full view it then shot off again and disappeared deep into an ivy clump next to the trap. We still weren't certain what it was that we'd seen and were further confused on checking the UK Moths website to find a photo of an individual with a resting posture more like that of a Rusty-dot Pearl. As the day went on it became clear from images of, for example, another one trapped overnight in Dorset that we really had seen a Grass Webworm but that, without a specimen, it certainly wasn't claimable. Fortunately, all's well that ends well and soon after dusk last night what was most likely the same individual was re-caught in the same trap:


Our specimen was alarmingly skittish but we did eventually get a photo of it close to a Rusty-dot Pearl to give an idea of their relative sizes © Martin Cade:

30th September

Finally, a break in the seemingly relentless wind saw our first day of exceptional passage for over a week. Meadow Pipits were the stars of the show with a day tally for the Bill area amassing over 12,000 with sample counts of 4,000 an hour (this is likely an underestimate as the front across which the birds were moving encompassed the entire southern end of the island). Despite the obvious and spectacular passage there was no big rare amongst it and highlights were limited to the first Reed Buntings of the autumn, a Grasshopper Warbler on the slopes, three Firecrests in the Obs, a Pied Flycatcher in Suckthumb Quarry and a Turtle Dove over Watery Lane. Sea passage was limited to nine Arctic Skuas, two Balearic Shearwaters and five Sandwich Terns.

The first signs of moving Reed Buntings for the autumn came in one fell swoop of six individuals where none have been recorded since the spring ©Erin Taylor:


Swallows put on another huge display with a flock of over 600 around the Bill and the surrounding buildings © Erin Taylor:


29th September

Chesil Cove stole the show today with a decent little sea watch getting going for a few hours either side of midday: a Grey Phalarope and a Long-tailed Skua provided the quality, with 335 Kittiwakes, 16 Arctic Skuas and 2 each of Storm Petrel and Arctic Tern padding out the list; the Bill couldn't manage much more than 3 Arctic Skuas and singles of Balearic Shearwater, Brent Goose and Great Skua. The land was again blown-out and barely birdable with a single Firecrest about as good as it got at the Bill.

28th September

Despite no let up in the relentless blasting westerlies there were some surprises served up today, not the least of which was an out-of-the-blue reappearance of the Great Reed Warbler at the Obs; a few fortunate seawatchers also struck with a passing Great Shearwater off the Bill. The tally of more mundane fare was much as it's been for most of the week, with 22 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Great Skuas and singles of Great Crested Grebe and Sooty Shearwater through off the Bill, a steady passage of Meadow Pipits and Swallows through overhead, a Firecrest at the Obs amongst an otherwise thin spread of grounded migrants everywhere and 5 Sanderling and 5 Bar-tailed Godwits the best of the waders at Ferrybridge.

As surprises go the reappearance of the Great Reed Warbler after a full 10 days of it not even being suspected to be still present takes some beating. In truth the weather has been pretty dreadful for all but the first day of that period and, if today's sightings are anything to go by, it's a very furtive bird: it was first spotted mid-morning and there followed a series of brief views over a half-hour or so before it completely vanished again © Martin Cade:


27th September

Wind, wind and more wind. The sea was our saving grace with another good movement of 47 Balearic Shearwaters, 34 Kittiwakes, a Bonxie, two Arctic Skuas, four Sandwich Terns and two tardy commic Terns. Across the Bill area passerines were thin on the ground and 19 Wheatears, a Spotted Flycatcher and two Firecrests were about the best we could muster.

News reached us today of a really exciting moth discovery earlier this week. Bob Johnson was holidaying in the area and on Tuesday morning (24th) was having a look at Culverwell where water mint is still in flower and attracting a few butterflies; a flying moth caught his eye and was photographed after it settled nearby. It was unfamiliar to Bob but with no field guides to hand it remained unidentified until he returned home to Sussex and discovered it was a Geometrician - only the third British record of this immigrant from southern Europe and Africa! © Bob Johnson:


Finally, a reminder that there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm tomorrow, Saturday 28th September. 

26th September

Persistent gale-force winds and sporadic but drenching showers dominated the day, however it was not a day wasted and persistence paid off for one hard-working birder as a Richard's Pipit was heard amongst the many thousands of Meadow Pipits passing through the Bill. Aside from the huge pipit movement, the south of the island was livelier than of late with two new Firecrests trapped at the Obs, eight Grey Wagtails over, a Spotted Flycatcher along the east cliffs and a Redstart at Reap Lane. The sea continued yesterdays form with 142 Balearic Shearwaters throughout the day, two Arctic Skuas, a Bonxie and a small passage of Kittiwakes accompanied by an impressive flock of feeding Gannets.

25th September

Another day of howling, yet incredibly warm, westerlies saw more movement than the previous wet days (although this isn't saying an awful lot). Numbers were provided by a stream of hirundines and Meadow Pipits throughout the mid-morning. Variety was once again limited to singles of Firecrest, Whinchat and Yellow Wagtail whilst Spotted Flycatchers made it to two. The sea was busier with Balearic Shearwaters putting on the biggest display and 53 birds were recorded throughout the day. Other seabirds of note included the first juvenile Gannet of the year and a small movement of Kittiwakes.

The day's ringing totals were less than impressive! Kudos has to go to Pete Morgan for keeping the nets going all day for very little reward...© Erin Taylor: 


24th September

With the remnants of Humberto ravaging the south-west and the jet stream pointed in a similar direction, most of today's efforts were put into hunting down some sort of American wood warbler. Our hopes were to be dashed however, and the best we could muster were a Grasshopper Warbler at the Hump, a Firecrest at the obs and a Garden Warbler in the hut fields. Elsewhere on the island a couple of Redstarts were located as well as a Great Egret at Ferrybridge. The sea was quieter than expected but a Sooty Shearwater, 12 Balearics and six Bonxies were a good reward for our efforts. 

Results from one of Nick Hopper's 'noc mig' sessions on the night of the 19th/20th produced both the first nocturnal Ortolan Bunting and Song Thrush of the autumn, as well as singles of Grey Heron, Pied Flycatcher and Robin

23rd September

A window of opportunity this morning allowed for a number of intrepid birders to cover the recording area before the wild wind and rain arrived just after midday. The brief period of coverage revealed little in the way of migratory birds with Wheatears and Whinchats making up the bulk of the day's totals, topped up with a lone Sedge Warbler and single figures of: Yellow Wagtails, Tree Pipits and Chaffinches. A Red-throated Diver heading east was the first of the autumn from the Bill and was accompanied by two Arctic Skuas, two Balearic Shearwaters and a Black-headed Gull.

22nd September

A clear night interspersed with drizzly showers and the ever-longed for south-east wind meant expectations were high for the morning, however the persistent early morning rain meant that little was found until mid-morning. Early signs were positive with multiple Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs in the immediate vicinity closely followed by a Wryneck in the top fields, although it rapidly became clear that the bill was not the place to be and the rest of the island had more to share. Wakeham produced far more common migrants including Garden Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and three Goldcrests and over 50 Blackcaps were recorded at the north end. Although the 'big one' never appeared the sea was livelier than of late with one apiece of Great and Arctic Skuas, two Balearic Shearwaters and a handful of Common Scoter.

21st September

Scarcely any improvement today with the east wind continuing to rip across the island and hinder all attempts at meaningful birding on the land. The odd few sheltered spots harboured a handful of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, with a Firecrest at the Obs a lone morsel of quality. A Great Skua through off the Bill was the only seawatch report worth a mention.

20th September

A brutally strong easterly saw to it that the land was pretty well unbirdable anywhere away from the thickest of cover - and even these spots looked to have precious migrants seeking shelter. Overhead it was a different story with a spectacularly heavy passage of Swallows for a couple of hours after dawn - with the movement occurring over a quite broad front it was tricky to quantify but some sample counts hinted at a total of more than 5000 through at the Bill. The sea came up with 4 Sanderling and a Balearic Shearwater through off the Bill.

19th September

Back down to earth today with precious little of note despite the freshening breeze remaining firmly established. It was probably far too clear to have expected much in the way of grounded arrivals and the south of the island couldn't muster more than a thinnish sprinkle of routine fare amongst with 2 Grasshopper Warblers were about as good as it got. For a couple of hours after dawn it was again busy overhead with a Snipe and a Short-eared Owl of note amongst the steady if unspectacular flow of Meadow Pipits and hirundines. Two Balearic Shearwaters passed by on the sea at the Bill.

Today's clear, blue sky was again full of passing Meadow Pipits © Martin Cade:


18th September

Having been lulled into something of a false sense of security by the general lack of scarcities this year today's events proved to a rude and very welcome awakening. A Honey Buzzard that slipped away out to sea from the Bill soon after dawn got things off to a good start and it wasn't long before a heron flushed from beside a hedgerow at Barleycrates Lane was pinned down and confirmed as a Purple Heron; sadly, it quickly left and was seen just once more nearly an hour later in flight off Chesil Cove. It was then left to the Obs garden mist-nets to reveal the day's chief prize when in typically wholly unexpected circumstances late on a hot and otherwise birdless afternoon a Great Reed Warbler showed up; it was released into the Obs Quarry where it proved to be very furtive but did show on a couple of occasions before dusk. In very fair weather visible passage made up the bulk of the day's numbers, with a strong passage of Meadow Pipits and hirundines through after dawn and odds and ends such as singles of Merlin and Hobby tagging along; grounded migrants were fewer than yesterday but did include 2 Firecrests at Wakeham and a Dartford Warbler at Coombefield.

The Great Reed Warbler was just the second recorded at Portland - the first was 60 years ago on 15th May 1959 © Martin Cade:





The island's second Purple Heron was an altogether trickier bird: it was found settled in fields at Barleycrates Lane but soon left away over the West Cliffs; some while later it was watched heading first north and then south off Chesil Cove where this long-range record photo was snatched © Paul Gale:


Whilst clearly not an adult, the observers got an impression of greyness about the upperparts and suspected the bird might be a sub-adult. The circumstances of today's record immediately brought to mind the island's first record that concerned a juvenile at the Bill on 16th August 2006...


...that individual also settled in the fields and it too proved to be very skittish and quickly disappeared © Martin Cade:


17th September

A day with bags of movement but, sadly, nothing in the way of a scarcity that had looked to be on the cards after the fresh breeze had slid into the northeast. Although dawn was party overcast the sky soon cleared and Meadow Pipits and hirundines streamed through - there were certainly way into four figures total of each at the Bill where fair-sized grounded flocks of pipits also developed; further visible migrants of interest included the first noticeable numbers of Linnets along with singles of Hobby and Swift. The selection of the ground was varied rather than actually amounting to a good fall: all the usual mid-September migrants were represented, with Wheatear the most conspicuous everywhere and totalling 100 at the Bill alone; the lingering Firecrest and a very early Black Redstart were the best on offer at the Bill.

16th September

The persistent westerlies led to a pretty lacklustre day as the two stars of the past week appear to have moved on and other migrants were thin on the ground. Highlights were limited to a Redstart in the top fields, a pair of Goldcrests at the obs and a much reduced movement of pipits and wagtails. Hirundines continued to move but not in such great numbers as the past few days. Fingers crossed that the promised movement to north-easterly winds marks a change in our fortune.