June 2008

June 30th

A quiet end to an eventful month, with all of what little news there was coming from the Bill: small numbers of Manx Shearwaters, 2 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Common Scoter and 2 Arctic Skuas through on the sea and a few Swifts and a lone Sand Martin overhead on the land.




 Small Tortoiseshell and House Martin - Portland Bill, 29th June 2008 © Martin Cade

...the sighting of a Small Tortoiseshell at the Obs was moderately noteworthy these days as this species seems to be right in the doldrums at the moment, with numbers having been at an extremely low ebb for several years. The serendipitous capture of a House Martin was also notable since nowadays we rarely handle this species. Back in the 1980s large numbers were ringed at PBO during a concerted campaign of autumn tape-luring and for a while the species made it into the top 10 of all-time ringing totals. These days it stands at number 11 behind, in descending order, Willow Warbler, Linnet, Chiffchaff, Greenfinch, Swallow, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Goldcrest, House Sparrow and Blackbird.

  June 29th

On another day of brisk westerlies most of the news was again of seawatching at the Bill, where 120 Manx Shearwaters, 9 Common Scoter, 8 Balearic Shearwaters, 3 Arctic Skuas, 2 Sandwich Terns, a Great Skua and a Mediterranean Gull passed by. Another late Reed Warbler was in song at the Bill, whilst returning waders at Ferrybridge included 3 Black-tailed Godwits and a Sanderling.

A solitary Diamond-back Moth was the only immigrant in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning. As we're very nearly half way through the year we also thought we'd tot up the totals of common immigrants recorded to date in the Obs traps; these turned out to be 44 Rusty-dot Pearl, 40 Diamond-back Moth, 15 Silver Y, 4 Dark Sword Grass, 1 Rush Veneer and 1 Pearly Underwing. We've had lower half-year totals of one or other of these species before but in trawling back through the records we haven't yet come across a year when all the totals were so uniformly low. Let's hope the slightly encouraging weather forecast for the next few days sees things perk up a little!

June 28th

Just seawatching to report on today: 160 Manx Shearwaters, 22 Balearic Shearwaters, 4 Common Scoter, a Storm Petrel and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill and an Arctic Skua through at Chesil Cove.

June 27th

Nothing untoward to report so far today: 200 Manx and 12 Balearic Shearwaters, along with 4 Common Scoter, passed through off the Bill and a Reed Warbler was at the Bill; searches through the morning for the Eastern Subalpine Warbler drew a blank.




 Eastern Subalpine Warbler - Duncecroft Quarry, 26th June 2008 © Martin Cade

...when first located this bird was in song but by the time we arrived it had fallen silent, save for occasional bursts of impressively loud calling; click here to listen to a recording of the bird calling as it first pops up very close and then moves slowly away through the bushes.

  June 26th

There was yet another fine highlight today when an Eastern Subalpine Warbler was discovered at Duncecroft Quarry, Southwell, during the afternoon. That aside there was little change, with a Reed Warbler and a Blackcap at the Bill and 40 Manx Shearwaters, 6 Common Scoter and 3 Balearic Shearwaters passing through off the Bill.

June 25th

Considerably windier than the last couple of days but, for the most part, still bright and sunny. The singing Blackcap remained at the Obs and a Redshank was at the Bill but the rest of the reports were of seawatching there that produced 100 Manx and 2 Balearic Shearwaters, 10 Common Scoter, an Arctic Skua and a Sandwich Tern.



Marbled White - Portland Bill, 24th June 2008 © Ken Dolbear

  June 24th

Little change today: a Blackcap and another Chiffchaff at the Bill, 12 Manx and 8 Balearic Shearwaters offshore at the Bill and a Great Skua seen from the Weymouth to Guernsey ferry a few miles south of the Bill.




 Blackcap and Chiffchaff - Portland Bill, 23rd June 2008 © Martin Cade

...it's that time of year when you're not sure which way some of the new arrivals are heading. Today's Blackcap (like nearly all of our recent Reed Warblers) spent a good deal of the morning in song and was perhaps a late 'spring' arrival but the Chiffchaff was a right miserable-looking, heavily-worn specimen that on close examination in the hand turned out to be a female with a decent brood patch and was surely a failed breeder. The aurally-challenged writer of these notes often struggles with the songs of Blackcap and Garden Warbler - particularly the half-hearted offerings delivered by many passing migrants at places such as Portland - so it was nice to hear some pretty decent song from today's Blackcap in lovely calm conditions; click here to listen to a little recording we've cobbled together of three song phrases from today's Blackcap closely followed by three bursts from a Garden Warbler recorded on a much windier day back in last May.

  June 23rd

Another fairly routine list today: 30 Manx and a Balearic Shearwater passing the Bill, 2 Reed Warblers and singles of Golden Plover, Blackcap and Chiffchaff on the land there and just 2 Dunlin and a Sanderling by way of passage waders at Ferrybridge.

June 22nd

A bright and breezy day once a few early showers had passed through. All the news was from the sea, with 3 Arctic Skuas, a Storm Petrel and a Balearic Shearwater though at Chesil Cove and 36 Manx Shearwaters, 16 Balearic Shearwaters, 3 Common Scoter and, most unexpectedly, a very unseasonable Iceland Gull through off the Bill.





 Peregrine - Portland Bill and Southwell, 21st June 2008 © Martin Cade

...this youngster was brought to us by a member of the public who had discovered it looking very bedraggled but otherwise none the worse for wear on the roadside at Southwell - presumably its first attempt at flight was in the rain yesterday evening or this morning and it failed to make it back to the nest site after getting too waterlogged. After drying it out we returned it to Southwell and it flew off strongly to a ledge on the breeding cliff where one of the parents had joined it within a few minutes.

  June 21st

A Reed Warbler was a new arrival on the land at the Bill but all the other reports were of seawatching which produced 300 Manx Shearwaters, 13 Common Scoter, 7 Balearic Shearwaters, a Mallard and a Curlew at the Bill and 14 Balearic Shearwaters passing Cheyne Weare

June 20th

Relatively slim pickings today although 6 Balearic Shearwaters off the Bill, a Firecrest at Suckthumb Quarry and a Black Redstart (a juvenile so presumably reared not too far away) at Blacknor provided some quality. The only other reports were of 50 Manx Shearwaters and 2 Common Scoter passing through off the Bill and 2 Grey Herons flying north at the Bill.

June 19th

We did eventually get a little rain overnight but by dawn it was again clear and sunny albeit still quite breezy. A probable Common Rosefinch was seen very  briefly in Top Fields in the morning but couldn't be found during further searches and the only other reports from the land were of singles of Reed Warbler and Chiffchaff at the Bill. A few birds on the move off the Bill included 40 Manx Shearwaters, 11 Balearic Shearwaters, 14 Common Scoter, 8 commic terns, a Curlew and a Great Skua.




 Broad-bodied Chaser and Emperor Dragonfly - Portland Bill, 17th June 2008 © Ken Dolbear

  June 18th

Quite a change in the weather today with a brisk south-westerly and threatening skies but, at least up to the time of writing these notes, nothing other than a single passing light shower by way of rainfall. The only reports were of seawatching at the Bill that produced 100 Manx and 4 Balearic Shearwaters, along with singles of Common Scoter, Arctic Skua and Black-headed Gull.

In case anyone was wondering, we have been running the Obs garden moth-traps every night but the results just haven't been worth mentioning, with immigrant interest all but non-existent.

June 17th

Fairly routine fare today: 11 commic terns, 10 Manx Shearwaters, 6 Balearic Shearwaters and 2 Sandwich Terns passed through off the Bill, 5 Grey Herons, 2 Bullfinches, a Curlew and a Chiffchaff were on the ground/overhead at the Bill, a Spotted Flycatcher was at Reap Lane and single Blackcaps were in song at Suckthumb Quarry and Avalanche Road.

Late news for yesterday: additional common migrants away from the Bill area included a Whinchat at Barelycrates Lane, 2 Reed Warblers and a Spotted Flycatcher at Avalanche Road and a Reed Warbler at Southwell School; also Marbled White butterflies were on the wing for the first time this year at the Bill.




 Red-breasted Flycatcher - Portland Bill, 16th June 2008 © Martin Cade

...it isn't often that you struggle to identify a Red-breasted Fly but the peculiar vocalisations of today's individual had us momentarily flummoxed until we actually clapped eyes on the bird. It was first found as we followed up an unfamiliar melancholy 'lost chick'-like call emanating from the sycamore canopy; before long we saw the bird and heard it calling in typical rattling fashion but it took a while before we realised that the call we had first heard was also being given by the flycatcher. We spent a lot of time with the bird through the day and on many occasions it gave really prolonged bursts of calling in this fashion;  click here to listen to a recording of a nice sequence of calling that begins with the characteristic dry rattle before switching into 'lost-chick' mode.

  June 16th

This year's cracking spring goes on and on, with a Red-breasted Flycatcher that spent the day in the Obs garden being the latest addition to a real quality line up of rarities and scarce migrants. Commoner migrants also continued to trickle through, with a list from the Bill area that comprised 50 Swifts, 6 Reed Warblers, 3 Willow Warblers, 2 Bullfinches, a Curlew, a Turtle Dove, a Yellow Wagtail, a Grey Wagtail, a Wheatear and a Chiffchaff.

June 15th

More of the same today. The recent run of unseasonable Firecrests continued with one at Barelycrates Lane, there were 41 Dunlin and 2 Sanderling at Ferrybridge and the Bill area produced 3 Black-headed Gulls, 2 Wheatears, a Reed Warbler, a Blackcap and a Spotted Flycatcher on the land and 50 Manx Shearwaters, 17 Common Scoter, 5 commic terns and a Balearic Shearwater passed by on the sea.








        Silver-studded Blue, Ringlet and a baby gallery: Blue Tit, House Sparrow and Wren - Broadcroft Quarry, Wakeham and Portland Bill, June 2008 © Ken Dolbear (the butterflies) and Martin Cade (the babies)

  June 14th

Still a few good birds to be seen although nothing of quite the quality logged during the last few days. The best of the bunch were an over-flying Crossbill at Tout Quarry and another Firecrest in Top Fields, whilst the tally of commoner migrants included twos of Hobby, Reed Warbler, Chiffchaff, Spotted Flycatcher and Bullfinch and singles of Curlew, Redshank and Wheatear at the Bill, along with another lone Wheatear at Barleycrates Lane.

Silver-studded Blue (at Broadcroft Quarry BC reserve today) and Ringlet (at Wakeham yesterday) are both now on the wing.




 Common Rosefinch and Zebra Finch - Portland Bill, 13th June 2008 © Martin Cade

  June 13th

Another good day at Portland. A female Black-headed/Red-headed Bunting that was seen a couple of times soon after dawn in the Barleycrates Lane/Reap Lane area got the morning off to a fine start and soon afterwards a singing Common Rosefinch appeared in the Obs crop fields (click here to listen to a recording of the bird singing); the bunting couldn't be relocated but the rosefinch popped up on and off until mid-morning as it roamed far and wide around the Bill area. The scatter of commoner migrants included 150 Swifts, 2 Spotted Flycatchers, a Grey Heron, a Chiffchaff, a Willow Warbler and a Firecrest at the Bill and a Grasshopper Warbler at Suckthumb Quarry; also of minor interest, an escaped Zebra Finch appeared in the Obs garden during the afternoon (click here for a recording of the bird calling)....unfortunately not every waxy-billed finch bleating like a toy trumpet turns out to be a Trumpeter Finch! Seawatching at the Bill produced 25 Manx Shearwaters, 5 Common Scoter, 4 Greylag Geese, 3 Balearic Shearwaters and 2 Curlews.



        Pied Flycatcher - Portland Bill, 12th June 2008 © Martin Cade

...you'd hope for more from a mid-June Ficedula than 'just' another Pied Fly; it wouldn't surprise us if over the years there haven't been more Red-breasted Flycatchers than Pieds at Portland in June.

  June 12th

Another shortish list of late migrants from the Bill today: 2 Chiffchaffs, 2 Spotted Flycatchers and singles of Wheatear, Reed Warbler, Willow Warbler and Pied Flycatcher.



        Reed Warbler - Portland Bill, 11th June 2008 © Martin Cade

...Reed Warbler has a remarkably protracted spring passage at Portland: new arrivals occur anytime from mid-April to early July, although the peak is usually in early/mid-June when the species song (click here for a recording of one of today's birds) is a characteristic feature at favoured spots such as the Obs garden and Culverwell. We only have a relatively small sample of spring Reed Warblers ringing controls (recoveries of birds ringed elsewhere) but interestingly all but one of the June controls relate to first-summer birds, whereas all of our April/May controls involve birds that are at least two years old; since Reed Warblers are exceptionally long-lived perhaps some don't breed in their second calendar year but just make exploratory mid-summer forays northwards to scout for breeding sites that they'll use for the first time during their third calendar year?

  June 11th

A Redwing - the first recorded in June at Portland - was a very unexpected new arrival at the Bill, where there were also 4 Spotted Flycatchers, 3 Reed Warblers, a Blackcap, a Willow Warbler and a Firecrest on the land and 11 Manx Shearwaters, 3 commic terns and a Common Scoter passed through on the sea. The only reports from elsewhere were of additional Spotted Flycatchers at Avalanche Road (2) and Reap Lane.

A single Green Oak Tortrix was the only immigrant/wanderer caught overnight in the Obs garden moth-traps.





    Bee Orchid, Poplar Kitten and Donacaula forficella - Portland Bill, 10th June 2008 © Ken Dolbear (the orchid) and Martin Cade (the moths)

  June 10th

Another day, another good bird....and a few good moths. The bird highlight was a Quail that gave a few bursts of song early in the morning from the fields beside the Coastguard Cottages (we did get a short recording of the song but we haven't yet got round to editing out the background voices of birders chewing over Holland's trouncing of Italy in Euro 2008 yesterday evening!). The trickle of late migrants continued with 2 Reed Warblers, a Curlew, a Sand Martin, a Wheatear and a Blackcap at the Bill, another Blackcap at Avalanche Road and another Reed Warbler at Reap Lane.

On the moth front it was easily the busiest night of the year so far in the Obs garden traps and although a single Rusty-dot Pearl was the only recognised immigrant caught there were a couple of quality wanderers from the mainland: singles of Donacaula forficella and Poplar Kitten both constituted second records for Portland.




    Hawfinch - Portland Bill, 9th June 2008 © Martin Cade

...it had been such a long time since we'd last handled a Hawfinch that we'd forgotten how to sex them. Today's bird immediately struck us as being rather drab (and of course the sexing feature that we'd forgotten is the colour of the secondary panel: grey on a female and glossy blue-black on a male) but it wasn't until we trawled through the archives to find a photograph of a male trapped on 12th April 2002 that we realised just how dowdy it really was. It would seem from the literature that the faded, brown alula further indicates that the bird was a second-year, so the photographs below probably illustrate the two extremes: a fine adult male and a grotty immature female.



     June 9th

After a damp, birdless start Flaming June has turned distinctly scorching from the weather point of view and has come up trumps with a really good run of rarities and scarce migrants. Today's oddity was a Hawfinch that dropped into the Obs garden early in the morning and was duly trapped and ringed. With the brisk northerly headwind having dropped away commoner migrants were not as plentiful as they were yesterday, but still included 2 Blackcaps, 2 Willow Warblers, 2 Spotted Flycatchers, a Garden Warbler and a Firecrest at the Bill and another Spotted Flycatcher at Reap Lane.







    Long-eared Owl, Firecrest and Porter's Rustic - Portland Bill, 8th June 2008 © Martin Cade

  June 8th

A nice little arrival of late migrants at the Bill included by way of quality a Long-eared Owl that was discovered at Culverwell and later seen briefly on a couple of occasions in Top Fields; an unseasonable Firecrest was also trapped and ringed at the Obs. A steady passage of Swifts - totalling more than 200 - made up most of the numbers at the Bill, whilst further variety there was provided by 10 Spotted Flycatchers, 3 Little Egrets, 2 Reed Warblers and singles of Hobby, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler.

Immigrant interest in the Obs garden moth-traps has continued to hover at just above the non-existent level all week (and last night was National Moth Night which is an event that seems to be an annual jinx on quality mothing at Portland) so it was a surprise that the only immigrant recorded overnight should be another Porter's Rustic (...we do wonder if this species might now be breeding here).



    Turtle Dove - Portland Bill, 7th June 2008 © Martin Cade

  June 7th

This morning's smattering of tardy migrants at the Bill has included 30 Swallows, 25 Swifts, 4 Reed Warblers, 3 Willow Warblers, 2 Spotted Flycatchers and a Turtle Dove. Elsewhere the Hooded Merganser remains in the storm drain on Chesil Beach.





     Hooded Merganser - Chesil Beach, 6th June 2008 © Martin Cade

...looking much better - or worse, depending on your viewpoint - in daylight...and it can fly! The bird can presumably be aged/sexed as a first-winter male by virtue of the black bill, yellow iris, scattered newly-moulted orange feathers in the flanks and the presence of some notched tail feathers.

  June 6th

The Hooded Merganser remained in residence in the storm drain on Chesil Beach beside the Beach Road. The only other reports were of a Black Redstart at Barleycrates Lane, 4 Reed Warblers and a Willow Warbler at the Bill and 4 commic terns and 3 Manx Shearwaters passing through on the sea at the Bill.


The next In Focus field event at the Obs takes place between 10am to 4pm tomorrow, Saturday 7th June.





   Hooded Merganser - Chesil Beach, 5th June 2008 © Martin Cade

...a couple of heavily adjusted, flash-lit photographs taken in near-darkness at 21:45

  June 5th

The most bizarre sighting of the day concerned a Hooded Merganser discovered at dusk in the storm drain on Chesil Beach beside the Beach Road; the bird appeared to be unringed and fully-winged (although in near-darkness it was difficult to be absolutely certain of these facts!) but was extremely approachable. Earlier in the day there had been no repeat of yesterday's rarity excitement and most of the day's news related to seawatching at the Bill that produced 66 Manx Shearwaters, 3 Balearic Shearwaters, a Storm Petrel, a Pomarine Skua and an Arctic Skua. The only other reports were of a Wheatear at the Bill, a dozen Swallows and 2 House Martins arriving in off the sea there and a tail-end view of a large raptor, thought likely to be a Marsh Harrier, heading north over Southwell during the afternoon.

Late news for yesterday: a good evening movement of Manx Shearwaters through Chesil Cove included a sample count of 371 in an hour.




   Rose-coloured Starling - Portland Bill, 4th June 2008 © Martin Cade

  June 4th

It's that time of year when there are virtually no new common migrants arriving (today, for example, saw another blank return from the Obs garden mist-nets in 9 hours of trying!) but there's every chance of a quality rarity dropping in. Given the recent news from other parts of Britain and Europe it wasn't particularly surprising that the day's rarity offering was an early morning Rose-coloured Starling that spent a few minutes in the Obs/Coastguard Cottages area before rapidly heading off northwards. The only other new arrival was a lone Willow Warbler at the Bill, whilst seawatching there produced just 12 passing commic terns.



family party of Pheasants - Portland Bill, 3rd June 2008 © Martin Cade

...the first indisputable breeding record for Portland. The species may have bred once before - in 2005 - but that record related to the sighting of two much larger, independent young and it has since been suggested that they may have been released on the island.

  June 3rd

Another miserable damp morning kept most birders indoors and the only reports were from the Bill where there were 2 Curlews, a Hobby and a Dunlin on the land and 20 Manx Shearwaters, 5 commic terns, 4 Common Scoter and a Sandwich Tern passed by on the sea.





     Two colour forms of Wall Lizard and a Common Lizard - Portland, 1st June 2008 © Emma Cockburn

  June 2nd

Dire today with, for example, not a single bird trapped and ringed at the Obs from first thing in the morning until a passing thundery shower put us out of our misery early in the afternoon. What few reports there were included singles of Reed Warbler, Blackcap and Spotted Flycatcher at the Bill, a few Swifts still on the move overhead and 44 Common Scoter passing through on the sea at the Bill.

June 1st

A slow start to the new month with none of yesterday's quality. Three Balearic Shearwaters that passed through off the Bill were hopefully a sign of things to come as the summer goes on. Otherwise the day's list was low on both numbers and variety: 25 Manx Shearwaters, 21 commic terns and 2 Black-headed Gulls also passed through off the Bill, 2 Mallards and singles of Hobby, Wheatear, Reed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and Chiffchaff were logged on the land at the Bill, 2 Hobbys and a Reed Warbler were at Barleycrates Lane and 4 Sanderling were at Ferrybridge.