September 2004

September 30th Whilst there was little sign of an upsurge in common migrant numbers, the appearance at Weston of a Rose-coloured Starling - albeit only briefly early in the morning - at least gave some hope that the recent barren spell for rarities might be coming to an end. Grounded migrants were at much the same level as recent days, and once the early drizzle and cloud had cleared there were again good numbers of birds passing overhead; the only scarcer migrants reported were one or more Ring Ouzels in the Church Ope Cove area. At sea there were encouraging signs of some decent down-Channel movement for the first time for several weeks, with 90 Common Scoter, 11 Great and 10 Arctic Skuas (as well as several more distant unidentified skuas) and a constant trickle of Kittiwakes passing the Bill through the day. September 29th Still not a lot to report despite promising-looking overcast skies and light showers around dawn. Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests were again the only migrants that were at all conspicuous on the ground, with a Firecrest at Barleycrates Lane and a Ring Ouzel at Avalanche Road the limit of the scarcer migrant interest. In spite of the heavy cloud cover there were plenty of migrants on the move overhead, with a 75 minute sample count at the Bill in the morning producing 520 Meadow Pipits, 275 Linnets, 250 Swallows, 173 alba wagtails, 40 Goldfinches, 12 Skylarks, 3 Grey Wagtails and 2 Yellow Wagtails leaving to the south. Sea interest was restricted to 46 Common Scoter passing the Bill. September 28th Interest dwindled still further today. Diurnal migrants were still on the move in small numbers, with a one hour count at the Bill in the morning producing totals of 275 Swallows, 240 Meadow Pipits, 215 Linnets, 139 alba wagtails, 48 Goldfinches, 9 Skylarks, 4 Grey Wagtails, 2 Yellow Wagtails and a Chaffinch flying south, but once again virtually the only grounded birds were a sprinkle of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests everywhere; a single Ring Ouzel at Avalanche Road was the only scarcer migrant found. Seawatching at the Bill produced 13 Common Scoter, a Brent Goose and an Arctic Skua. September 27th A much more pleasant day than the weather forecast suggested but, Swallows aside, common migrants were still in short supply. An hour-long sample count of visible passage at the Bill early in the morning provided totals of 200 Linnets, 155 alba wagtails, 130 Meadow Pipits, 62 Goldfinches, 20 Skylarks, 3 Chaffinches, 2 Grey Wagtails and a Golden Plover on the move and as the day went on Swallows got going in quantity, with more than 3000 passing through at the Bill. Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests were present in small numbers everywhere, but most other grounded migrants were reduced to just odd singles here and there. The sea produced 22 Common Scoter, a Great Skua and an Arctic Tern off the Bill, whilst waders at Ferrybridge included 93 Ringed Plover, 51 Dunlin and a Knot. September 26th Quite disappointing today with lower numbers of common migrants than in the last couple of days and nothing much in the way of oddities. Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests again dominated on the land, with the Bill area not really producing anything much scarcer than the first 2 Siskins of the autumn and singles of Purple Sandpiper, Redstart, Reed Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat. Seawatching there produced 45 Common Scoter, 2 Gadwall and single Sooty and Balearic Shearwaters. Elsewhere around the island there was a Merlin at Verne Common, a Knot at Ferrybridge and an Arctic Tern at Chesil Cove. September 25th A much better day than most this month although a good deal quieter than yesterday, with visible passage all but ceasing as cloud increased from the north and rain eventually set in. The Bill area held 60 Chiffchaffs, 50 Goldcrests, 15 Blackcaps and a sprinkle of other common migrants; scarcities there included a Hen Harrier in Top Fields, a Merlin, a Cuckoo and a fly-over Lapland Bunting. Southwell held comparable numbers of Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests, along with a Turtle Dove and a Ring Ouzel, whilst elsewhere there were single Ring Ouzels at East Weare and Cheyne Weare, and 2 Knot, a Merlin, a Curlew Sandpiper and the first 2 Brent Geese of the autumn at Ferrybridge. Sea passage picked up a little with 74 Common Scoter, 5 Golden Plovers, 4 Arctic and 2 Great Skuas, a Manx and a Balearic Shearwater, a Teal, an Eider, a Little Gull and a Puffin passing the Bill. September 24th After the recent prolonged lean spell normal service was well and truly resumed today with a good arrival of grounded common migrants and plenty of passage overhead. At the Bill counts of grounded migrants included 150 Chiffchaffs, 50 Goldcrests and 35 Blackcaps, with oddities there including a Merlin and a Firecrest. There were a lot more birds passing straight through, with a two and a half hour count on the West Cliffs producing totals including 3280 Meadow Pipits, 485 House Martins, 440 Swallows, 280 Linnets, 108 alba wagtails, 48 Skylarks, 6 Snipe and 2 Golden Plovers (all moving north into the brisk northerly wind); as the morning went on Meadow Pipits largely petered out but hirundines increased and continued moving until late in the day. There were plenty of birds scattered elsewhere around the island but the only oddities discovered were a Ring Ouzel at Easton and 4 Knot, a Little Stint and a Mediterranean Gull at Ferrybridge. In an offshore wind the sea was again quiet, with 25 Common Scoter and a lone Great Skua the best of the sightings off the Bill. September 23rd Still precious little to report although a gradual improvement in the weather through the day gave some promise that migrants might soon get moving again. Heavily overcast skies during the morning put a stop to the bulk of visible passage and it was left to the land to provide some interest in the form of a light scatter of grounded migrants. At the Bill new arrivals were distinctly limited, with most of the notable sightings being of birds that have lingered around for several days; the best were 2 Firecrests, a Merlin, a Lesser Whitethroat and a Garden Warbler. Elsewhere there was a distinct late autumn feel to the birding, with the still leafy sheltered spots around Easton and Wakeham beginning to attract small parties of Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests. The sea produced nothing more than a trickle of auks passing the Bill. September 22nd Very little change today with the stiff north-westerlies showing no sign of abating. Visible passage again dominated at the Bill, with another 75 minute sample count on the East Cliffs early in the morning producing totals of 455 Meadow Pipits, 145 Swallows, 152 Linnets, 44 alba wagtails, 28 Goldfinches, 12 Skylarks, 4 Grey Wagtails and 1 Yellow Wagtail. The total of just 2 birds - a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff - trapped and ringed at the Obs all day was an entirely accurate reflection of the lack of grounded migrants on the land (the ringing total for the month at the Obs stands at a woeful 178 so the lack of birds today was nothing new). The only faintly interesting new arrival elsewhere at the Bill was a Lesser Whitethroat (only the second individual recorded there this autumn) in the Obs Quarry. Seawatching at the Bill produced evidence of the customary gradual increase in auk numbers at this time of year, but otherwise the only movement past there was of 1 Manx Shearwater, 1 Common Scoter, 1 Arctic Skua and 1 Great Skua.



  Firecrest - Portland Bill, September 21st 2004 © Martin Cade

  September 21st All the movement today was overhead, with a strong passage of visible migrants throughout the morning; a sample 75 minute count at the Bill soon after dawn produced totals of 555 Meadow Pipits, 423 Swallows, 183 Linnets, 45 alba wagtails, 36 Goldfinches, 16 Skylarks, 5 Grey Wagtails, 2 Sand Martins, 2 Wheatears and a Dunlin. On the ground it remained very quiet, with nothing much more interesting at the Bill than a Garden Warbler and a Firecrest. With the wind having veered to the north-west the already quiet sea completely died a death, with 3 passing Sandwich Terns the only sightings of any note off the Bill. 




  Grey Phalarope - Chesil Cove, September 20th 2004 © Martin Cade

  September 20th Seawatching was once again the order of the day in really quite stormy conditions. Chesil Cove provided the highlight with a Grey Phalarope that lingered for most of the day but there was otherwise precious little on the move either there or at the Bill, with the latter producing just 3 Arctic Terns, 2 Red-throated Divers, 2 Great Skuas, 1 Sandwich Tern and single Manx and Sooty Shearwaters. The first Ring Ouzel of the autumn was reported at Pennsylvania Castle but the only other interest on the land concerned the surprisingly good numbers of hirundines that were passing through at the Bill.



  Purple Sandpiper - Portland Bill, September 16th 2004 © Peter Basterfield

  September 19th Lots more weekend birders scouring the island today but extremely little to show for all the effort. With a stiff breeze blowing and clear skies overhead there were fair numbers of hirundines, Meadow Pipits and Grey Wagtails on the move overhead but grounded migrants were at a premium; the best the Bill area could muster were 3 Reed Warblers, a Merlin, a Purple Sandpiper, a Tree Pipit, a Whinchat, a Goldcrest and a Firecrest. Yesterday's flurry of interest on the sea proved to be very short-lived, with not a single seabird worth recording logged today.



  more birders than birds - Portland Bill, September 18th 2004 © Martin Cade

  September 18th Another seawatching day, with the influx of weekend birders ensuring that the Bill in particular was extremely well covered. Ironically, the pick of the sightings came from the lone observer working Chesil Cove who was rewarded with a Sabine's Gull that flew south early in the morning. Off the Bill the presence for the first time for several weeks of a decent-sized fishing flock of Gannets and gulls certainly served to lure in the few passing seabirds, with totals during the morning there of at least 7 Common Scoter, 6 Manx, 6 Balearic and 4 Sooty Shearwaters, 7 commic, 6 Sandwich and an Arctic Tern, 4 Arctic Skuas and a handful of Kittiwakes and auks. The only reports from the land were of a Blackcap, a Firecrest and a Chaffinch at the Bill and 10 Sandwich Terns, 2 Knot, a Merlin, a Sanderling and a Curlew Sandpiper at Ferrybridge.



  Sooty Shearwater - Portland Bill, September 17th 2004 © Martin Cade

  September 17th Strong onshore winds, frequent heavy showers and constant reduced visibility provided seemingly perfect seawatching conditions today. In the event the dismal numbers of even the commonest species passing the Bill - where day-totals included 12 Common Scoter, 8 Manx and 5 Sooty Shearwaters, 3 Arctic Skuas, 3 Razorbills, 2 Kittiwakes, 2 Guillemots and 1 commic tern - provided ample evidence of the continuing lack of down-Channel movement at the moment. The only report from the land was of a Firecrest still in the Obs garden.



  Meadow Pipit - Portland Bill, September 16th 2004 © Martin Cade

  September 16th Passage doesn't seem to be getting beyond a 'just ticking over' level at the moment, with decent-looking conditions today not really producing much on the move overhead, grounded on the land or passing on the sea. Yet another large raptor - this time an Osprey over Ferrybridge during the morning - provided the only rarity interest, an early pulse of hirundines, wagtails and pipits overhead had largely fizzled out by mid-morning and searches of the Bill area revealed a Merlin and a Firecrest but nothing in the way of commoner migrants grounded in any numbers. Seawatchers at the Bill logged just 29 Common Scoter, 3 Sandwich Terns, a Red-throated Diver and a Sooty Shearwater. September 15th Raptors have been well represented lately and today produced another Honey Buzzard to add to the tally; this individual arrived from the east over Southwell during the morning, from where it quickly left to the north up the West Cliffs. Much fairer weather saw common migrants get moving again in some quantity, with hirundines, wagtails and Meadow Pipits conspicuous overhead throughout the morning. The sprinkle of birds grounded in the Bill area included 70 Wheatears, 30 Chiffchaffs and 25 White Wagtails, but the only scarcer migrant discovered was a single Grasshopper Warbler trapped at the Obs. The first passing Red-throated Diver of the autumn was the only sighting of note on the sea at the Bill. September 14th Another day of strong westerly winds and occasional heavy showers. An Osprey passed overhead at Chesil Cove early in the afternoon, but otherwise birding on the land was hard work and very unrewarding with the Bill area producing just 15 Wheatears, 6 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Turnstones, 2 Chiffchaffs, a Merlin, a Sedge Warbler and a Pied Flycatcher. The sea remained as quiet as in recent days, with 2 Common Scoter, a Manx Shearwater, a Storm Petrel and a Great Skua the only worthwhile sightings at the Bill. September 13th No change in the weather and no change in the pretty dire migrant situation. A couple of Pied Flycatchers and a Firecrest lingered on at the Bill where a trickle of hirundines passing through were just about the only evidence of fresh movement. Seawatching at the Bill came up with nothing more than 10 Common Scoter and a Great Skua, whilst waders at Ferrybridge included a Knot and a Curlew Sandpiper. September 12th Increasingly unsettled conditions have seen passage on the land all but grind to a halt, with a single Grasshopper Warbler the only new arrival trapped and ringed at the Obs. Long-stayers still around included a couple of Pied Flycatchers and a Firecrest in the Bill area, where there were otherwise just ones and twos of a handful of other common migrants. The evidence of recent days would suggest that there are currently precious few seabirds in the English Channel: promising-looking conditions and plenty of watching today saw a grand total of just 2 Common Scoter, 2 Guillemots and single Manx and Balearic Shearwaters logged at the Bill. September 11th Lean times on the island at the moment, with nothing in numbers on land or sea. An Osprey left to the south from the Bill during the morning and a Pied Flycatcher and a Firecrest were the pick of the few grounded migrants there. With the wind gusting up to gale force there was some expectation that interest would increase on the sea, but in the event the only movement was of 6 Great Skuas off the Bill. September 10th The much-anticipated change in the weather duly arrived but the thundery showers that passed through before dawn dropped nothing much more than a minor flurry of new common migrants. A crack-of-dawn Ortolan Bunting at Barleycrates Lane was the only rarity found, whilst common migrant totals from the Bill area included 200 Wheatears, 50 Yellow Wagtails, 20 Willow Warblers, 20 Chiffchaffs, 14 Whinchats, 10 Grey Wagtails, 7 Pied Flycatchers, 6 Blackcaps, 5 Tree Pipits, 5 Spotted Flycatchers, 4 Sedge Warblers and 2 Firecrests. Ferrybridge was again worth attention, producing counts of 370 Dunlin, 9 Little Egrets, a Shoveler and a Curlew Sandpiper, but despite the freshening wind seawatching at the Bill was all but a dead-loss with only 9 Common Scoter, 2 Teal, a Sooty Shearwater, a Mallard and an Arctic Skua reported.




  Red-necked Grebe and Marsh Harrier - Portland Bill, September 9th 2004 © Graham Raine (top) and Martin Cade (bottom two)

  September 9th A Red-necked Grebe that showed up close inshore off Pulpit Rock at the Bill in the evening was an unexpected bird of the day. Earlier, Marsh Harriers again figured, with one over the Bill early in the morning and another two flying south down the island at midday, whilst an Osprey flew over Ferrybridge during the afternoon. Wheatears continued to dominate on the ground, with more than 200 in the Bill area alone. A Merlin, a Firecrest and a Pied Flycatcher were among the handful of other migrants at the Bill, where 3 Shelduck and a Great Skua passed through on the sea.



  Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler - Portland Bill, September 8th 2004 © Martin Cade

  September 8th For the most part another remarkably quiet day with the brisk easterly wind failing to produce anything in the way of scarcer migrants. A significant increase in wader numbers at Ferrybridge included counts of 400 Dunlin, 300 Ringed Plover, 6 Knot and a Curlew Sandpiper (along with the unexpected sight of a Shoveler settled on the shore), but the only birds grounded in any quantity elsewhere were Wheatears - sample counts of which included 172 at the Bill. The very low numbers of other migrants at the Bill included 21 Golden Plovers, 2 Pied Flycatchers, a Hobby, a Redshank, a Grasshopper Warbler and a Firecrest. Seawatching at the Bill came up with 4 Great and an Arctic Skua but little else of interest.



  Marsh Harrier - Portland Bill, September 7th 2004 © Martin Cade

  September 7th Marsh Harrier seems to be bird of the moment at the Bill, where 3 more passed through during the course of the morning. It otherwise remained surprisingly quiet everywhere with nothing other than hirundines moving overhead in any quantity and only Wheatears grounded in anything more than single figure totals; oddities around the Bill area included a couple of Grey Herons and a Hobby passing overhead. Ferrybridge provided a Merlin, a Grey Plover, a Knot and a Mediterranean Gull, whilst 4 Great Skuas and a Pintail were the pick of sea passage off the Bill.



  Marsh Harrier - Portland Bill, September 6th 2004 © Martin Cade

  September 6th The weather might still be scorching but the birding is struggling to be anything more than tepid. A fly-over Marsh Harrier at the Bill early in the afternoon was bird of the day but otherwise there was again nothing better on offer amongst the light sprinkle of common migrants there than 2 Snipe, a Whimbrel and a Turtle Dove. Five Great Skuas, a Balearic Shearwater and a Mediterranean Gull passed through on the sea at the Bill. Yesterday's report of falling wader numbers at Ferrybridge proved to be unduly pessimistic as there were counts there today of 167 Dunlin, 157 Ringed Plovers, a Knot and the first Curlew Sandpiper of the autumn. September 5th Summer has well and truly returned with the recent spell of sunny days and increasingly high temperatures continuing. With an easterly breeze having sprung up overnight there were high hopes of a few rarities putting in an appearance but in the event the only sighting of note was of an Osprey flying south over Weston during the evening. Hirundines and Yellow Wagtails were on the move overhead in good numbers early in the morning but grounded migrants were few and far between, with the best being 3 Snipe, 2 Turtle Doves and a Whimbrel at the Bill, a Hobby over Southwell and another Turtle Dove at Reap Lane. Seawatching at the Bill produced 26 Mallard, 12 Common Scoter and 3 Balearic Shearwaters. Wader numbers seem to be dropping off at Ferrybridge where 3 Knot and a Bar-tailed Godwit were the only variety amongst small numbers of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers.



  White Wagtail - Portland Bill, September 3rd 2004 © Martin Cade

  September 4th A rather mobile Ortolan Bunting that appeared several times between the Coastguard Cottages and Culverwell during the morning had seemed likely to be bird of day today until the evening produced a sighting of a real island rarity in the form of a Goshawk that flew west over Top Fields at the Bill. Common migrants were still in short supply everywhere, with hirundines and flava and alba wagtails the only birds that were at all numerous; scarcer species included a Merlin, a Turtle Dove and a Pied Flycatcher at the Bill. The sea was just as quiet, with 16 Common Scoter and a Great Skua the only birds of note off the Bill.



  Red-backed Shrike - Avalanche Road, September 3rd 2004 © Martin Cade

  September 3rd Still no great numbers of common migrants but scarcer species continue to arrive. The Tawny Pipit at Southwell had moved on but nearby a Red-backed Shrike was a new arrival at Avalanche Road; elsewhere an Ortolan Bunting was seen near the Windmill Stables at Easton, a Marsh Harrier flew south over Reap Lane and a Short-eared Owl at Southwell and a Firecrest at Weston were both first records for the autumn. Most of the expected commoner migrants could be found with some perseverance, although the only worthwhile counts were of 50 Wheatears, 40 Yellow Wagtails, 15 White Wagtails, 15 Whinchats and 10 Tree Pipits at the Bill. The sea provided nothing more noteworthy than 2 Great Skuas passing the Bill.



  Tawny Pipit - Southwell, September 2nd 2004 © Martin Cade

  September 2nd More very fine weather and a few more good birds today, with the Tawny Pipit remaining at Southwell, an Ortolan Bunting passing over Top Fields at the Bill and a Hen Harrier flying north from the Bill to Portland Harbour. Commoner migrants - with the conspicuous exception of hirundines - were again only thinly spread, with 3 Pied Flycatchers, a Little Egret, a Knot, a Redshank and a Golden Plover about the best the Bill area could offer. A single Great Skua was the only bird of note on the sea at the Bill.



  Tawny Pipit and Honey Buzzard - Southwell and Portland Bill, September 1st 2004 © Martin Cade

  September 1st With the light breeze having swung into the south-east overnight there was certainly the promise of scarcer migrants in the air today.  Fortunately it didn't take long for the promise to be realized with a Tawny Pipit being found early in the morning in fields beside the Eight Kings Quarry at Southwell; the bird remained there on and off throughout the day, whilst mid-afternoon saw a Honey Buzzard arrive from the north over Fortuneswell and eventually leave to the south-east high over the Obs. Commoner migrants were surprisingly thin on the ground, but did include plenty of hirundines, a Merlin and a Greenshank overhead and more than 80 Yellow Wagtails and 5 Pied Flycatchers in the Bill area. The sea produced 31 Common Scoter, 2 Great Skuas and an Arctic Skua passing the Bill.