February 2009

28th February

A few more early migrants showed up but the bird of the day was a Black Guillemot that was seen off the Bill towards midday (searches for it later around the auk colony drew a blank). Stonechats numbered around 25 at the Bill, where there were also 8 Linnets, 3 Turnstones, 2 Fieldfares, 2 Reed Buntings, a Common Buzzard, a Purple Sandpiper, a Black Redstart and a Goldcrest. A lone Great Northern Diver was in Portland Harbour, whilst seawatching produced 102 Black-headed Gulls passing Chesil and 3 Red-throated Divers passing the Bill.



   Stonechat and the Old Higher Lighthouse - Portland Bill, 27th February 2009 © Martin Cade 

  27th February

Not before time there was a decent little arrival of Stonechats today, with at least 23 at the Bill and another 7 at Reap Lane; a Chiffchaff was also new in at the Bill. Otherwise things remained relatively samey: 2 Reed Buntings and a Dartford Warbler were still at the Bill, 6 Common Scoter, 5 Red-throated Divers and a Mediterranean Gull passed through off the Bill, 2 Yellowhammers were back at a breeding site at New Ground and 15 Mediterranean Gulls were at Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour.

With the low-tide mudflats in Portland Harbour not as carpeted in gulls as we'd hoped, we resorted to taking a look at another Siberian Chiffchaff this afternoon - this time the bird reported from Sandsfoot Castle/Castle Cove in recent days (Dorset seems to be harbouring so many putative tristis that the poor old Siberian Common Bird Census workers are going to be struggling to find any in the taiga this summer); click here to have a look at a few photographs of this bird.

26th February

A bit more of a breeze today that seemed to get a few birds moving on the sea. The only reports were from the Bill where 70 Brent Geese, 4 Eider, 4 Common Scoter, 3 Red-throated Divers and a Black-headed Gull passed by on the sea and 3 Fieldfares showed up on the land.

We had to go to Poole today so we dropped in at the fabled PC World drain beside Holes Bay where the variety of Chiffchaffs present include several apparent Siberian Chiffchaffs; click here to have a look at a few photographs and listen to a sound recording from this brief off-island foray.

25th February

The quiet, dreary and mild anticyclonic conditions remained firmly established. Five Purple Sandpipers, 4 Turnstones and singles of Fieldfare and Siskin were at the Bill, further (or the same?) singles of Fieldfare and Siskin showed up Southwell, 5 Great Northern and 2 Black-throated Divers were in Portland Harbour and 43 Common Scoter, 9 Red-throated Divers, 3 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 2 Black-headed Gulls and a Mediterranean Gull passed through off the Bill.

The first Hebrew Characters of the year were caught overnight in the Obs garden moth-traps.

24th February

Still rather quiet: 3 Purple Sandpipers, a Dartford Warbler, a Chiffchaff and a Reed Bunting were at the Bill, where a few more Pied Wagtails passed overhead and 14 Red-throated Divers and 4 Common Scoter passed by on the sea; elsewhere there were 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese at Ferrybridge.

23rd February

If anything the weather was even quieter than in recent days, to the extent that there was hardly a breath of wind by the afternoon - unfortunately the birding was just as quiet. All the reports were from the Bill where a handful of Pied Wagtails arrived in off the sea, 2 Redwings, a Purple Sandpiper and a Chiffchaff were logged on the land, a Great Northern Diver was still settled offshore and 7 Common Scoter, a Red-throated Diver and a Mediterranean Gull passed through on the sea.



   Short-eared Owl - Portland Bill, 22nd February 2009 © Martin Cade 

  22nd February

More of the same today: 24 Red-throated Divers, 6 Common Scoter, a Great Crested Grebe and a Mediterranean Gull through on the sea at the Bill and 6 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Short-eared Owls, a Redwing and a Chiffchaff on the land there.

21st February

Another nice day but rather slow on the bird front. The best of the reports were of 4 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Reed Buntings and a Fieldfare at the Bill, 17 Common Scoter, 10 Brent Geese and 4 Red-throated Divers through on the sea at the Bill and 8 Black-necked Grebes, a Great Northern Diver and a Goosander in Portland Harbour.




   Marsh Harrier - Portland Bill and Southwell, 20th February 2009 © Martin Cade (top) and Pete Saunders (bottom)

...whilst the pretty well uniform dark plumage and lack of any obvious moult contrasts would strongly indicate that this is a juvenile, that fact is confirmed beyond doubt by the glimpse of the upperwing that reveals rusty tips to the greater coverts and primary coverts, as well as pale tips to the flight feathers.

  20th February

Once the dense fog of dawn had cleared the day was the warmest and most pleasant of the year to date. Signs of spring were largely restricted to raptor activity: a Marsh Harrier arrived in of the sea at the Bill and headed off north over Southwell and rather more unexpectedly a Common Buzzard left high to the south from the Bill; more routine given the conditions were the 3 Common Buzzards that spent a long time soaring around over the centre of island. The rest of the day's list consisted of 8 Black-necked Grebes and a Great Northern Diver in Portland Harbour, a Black Redstart at Ferrybridge and 2 Dartford Warblers, 2 Reed Buntings and a Chiffchaff at the Bill.

19th February

Although the day started almost as miserably as yesterday ended it did clear up quite a bit and there was a little more early spring movement, notably involving 65 Meadow Pipits and 8 Linnets heading north at the Bill and a few new Pied Wagtails dropping in. The best of the rest were 4 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill, a Great Northern Diver passing through off the Bill, 5 Black-necked Grebes and singles of Great Northern Diver and Slavonian Grebe in Portland Harbour and 2 Common Buzzards and a Short-eared Owl at Southwell.

18th February

A real damp, dreary, miserable sort of day. A count of 80 Meadow Pipits along the West Cliffs at the Bill represented a considerable increase on the small numbers present there in recent weeks and seemed likely to refer to grounded early migrants, but the only other new arrivals were Redwings at Southwell (2) and the Bill. The only report from the sea - which was invisible for much of the day - was of a lone Red-throated Diver passing the Bill.

17th February

Plenty of bird activity - lots of song, nest-building etc - in the continuing quiet, mild conditions, but the only entries on the day list at the Bill concerned 10 Common Scoter and 3 Red-throated Divers passing through on the sea and a Great Northern Diver still settled offshore.



   Mottled Grey - Portland Bill, 16th February 2009 © Martin Cade

...also, during an idle mid-afternoon seawatch from the Obs, we were interrupted by an excited member of public who begged a look through the 'scope at the rather menacing-looking vessel in the photograph below. He told us that this is the Royal Navy's new stealth ship: HMS Daring (we checked on the web - he was right); he also informed us at great length as to how the vessel is nearly invisible to radar although he did seem mildly put out when we made the observation that when viewed with the good old-fashioned naked eye it looked remarkably un-stealthy as it rounded the Bill.


  16th February

The recent spell of quiet weather continued and the only reports were of 5 Purple Sandpipers, 4 Ravens and a Linnet at the Bill and 8 Common Scoter, 7 Red-throated Divers, a Great Northern Diver and a Canada Goose passing through on the sea there.

We've given the Obs garden moth-traps a try over the last couple of nights but got little reward for our trouble, with only a measly 4 species recorded: Scobipalpa costella, Agonopteix alstromeriana, Acleris hastiana and Mottled Grey.





   Bottle-nosed Dolphins - Portland Bill, 15th February 2009 © Martin Cade

  15th February

A Wood Pigeon arriving in off the sea at the Bill was a faintly interesting sign of things to come but otherwise the day's bird list was still fairly routine: 6 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Turnstones, 2 Common Buzzards, 2 Reed Buntings, a Water Rail, a Redwing and a Dartford Warbler at the Bill, 14 Red-throated Divers and 14 Common Scoter passing through off the Bill, a Great Northern Diver still settled off the Bill and 3 Black-necked Grebes in Portland Harbour.

At party of at least 8 Bottle-nosed Dolphins were off the Bill for a while during the morning.



   Fulmar - East Weare, 14th February 2009 © Ken Dolbear

  14th February

Disappointingly uneventful so far today. The only reports were from the Bill: 4 Ravens, 2 Reed Buntings and a Water Rail on the land, 13 Mediterranean Gulls lingering offshore and 5 Red-throated Divers passing by on the sea.




Shag and Meadow Pipit from yesterday - off Cheyne Weare and Reap Lane, 12th February 2009 © Ken Dolbear (Cormorant) and Paul Baker (Meadow Pipit)

...the Shag was completely entangled in the ropes and/or netting from a crab-pot line or drift-net but unfortunately was too far offshore to be rescued. 

  13th February

More of the same today, with all the news from the Bill: 6 Stonechats (a small increase?), 3 Lapwings, 3 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Turnstones, a Short-eared Owl, a Dartford Warbler and a Chiffchaff on the land, 8 Red-throated Divers passing through on the sea and 6 Mediterranean Gulls and 2 Great Northern Divers lingering offshore.



dawn Robin - Portland Bill, 12th February 2009 © Martin Cade

...and click here to listen to him singing.

  12th February

Another fair day saw plenty of coverage and a reasonably long and varied list of sightings. The Bill area produced 3 Reed Buntings, 2 Short-eared Owls, a Water Rail, a Lapwing and a Dartford Warbler on the land and 4 Red-throated Divers, 3 Common Scoter, 3 Mediterranean Gulls and a Red-breasted Merganser on the sea. Elsewhere there were 6 Redwings at Reap Lane, a Red-throated Diver and a Slavonian Grebe off Chesil Cove and 22 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 3 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Black-throated Divers, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Great Northern Diver, a Red-necked Grebe, a Slavonian Grebe and a Black Redstart at Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour.



yesterday evening's Barn Owl - Southwell, 10th February 2009 © Martin Cade

...and gular angles revisited today. During a brief seagulling session at Portland Harbour this afternoon we noticed these two Cormorants (the first we've been close to this month) whose lurid yellow facial skin immediately attracted attention ...


...sure enough both turned out to be sinensis Continental Cormorants:



...and just to provide a nice comparison, nearby there was a much closer carbo Atlantic Cormorant hauled out on the rocks:


  11th February

Even better weather than yesterday but still nothing much more than expected winter fare on the birding front. Singles of Common Buzzard, Snipe, Barn Owl, Short-eared Owl, Black Redstart and Dartford Warbler were at the Bill, 3 Red-throated Divers passed through and 3 Mediterranean Gulls and a Great Northern Diver lingered off the Bill and 70 Mediterranean Gulls, a Great Northern Diver and a Red-necked Grebe were in Portland Harbour.

Late news for yesterday: a Barn Owl was again on the wing at Southwell at dusk.




Goldcrest and Pied Wagtail - Pennsylvania Castle and Church Ope Cove, 10th February 2009 © Martin Cade

  10th February

Despite a huge improvement in the weather the day's sightings list was rather short: 2 Short-eared Owls at the Bill, 2 Goldcrests at Pennsylvania Castle, singles of Goldcrest and Firecrest at Church Ope Cove and 3 Common Scoter and 2 Red-throated Divers through on the sea at the Bill.

We've been messing around with a few additions to the website in recent weeks, one of which is an archive of the various recordings of songs and calls that we've featured; there'll be a permanent link to the sound archive at the bottom of this latest news page.





Scandinavian Herring Gull - Portland Bill, 9th February 2009 © Martin Cade

...we thought our last set of photos (on 11th January) of an argentatus were lousy but these - taken in even more trying conditions and at much greater range - are poorer still, although they do just about show the salient features of this really large individual.

  9th February

This year seems to had more than its fair share of miserable days and today proved to be right up there with the best of them. Constant heavy rain and a stiff south-easterly wind restricted birding to occasional seawatching from the Obs, which produced just 9 Red-throated Divers and 5 Common Scoter, and the few checks from the car of gulls flocks in the sodden fields at the Bill, the last of which produced a Scandinavian Herring Gull at dusk. Also of minor local interest, the male Little Owl at the Obs Quarry has suddenly started singing quite frequently during the evenings - we're not quite sure why as he's had a mate all winter (in past winters when he hasn't been paired he's sung night after night for weeks on end, but this winter he's been pretty well silent) but click here to listen to a couple of short recordings that we made over the weekend.





Chiffchaff and Dartford Warbler - Portland Bill, 8th February 2009 © Martin Cade

  8th February

There were still a few left-over cold weather wanderers around, including a new Chiffchaff at the Bill, but otherwise the only change was a small increase in Common Scoter numbers off the Bill. Most of the news was from the Bill, where 40 Linnets, 9 Redwings, 6 Lapwings, 2 Yellowhammers and singles of Short-eared Owl, Dartford Warbler and Chiffchaff were on the land and 49 Common Scoter, 16 Red-throated Divers and a Great Northern Diver passed through on the sea. The only other reports were of 10 Redwings at Reap Lane and 17 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and a Bar-tailed Godwit at Ferrybridge.






distant Purbeck snowfields, Redwings at dawn, Golden Plovers and Yellowhammer - Portland Bill, 7th February 2009 © Martin Cade

  7th February

Having heard Golden Plovers and Lapwings passing overhead during the hours of darkness we were mildly optimistic for a bit of cold weather movement but in the event the Bill's tally consisted largely of grounded new arrivals, many of which headed away to the north pretty promptly; 85 Redwings, 42 Meadow Pipits and 40 Linnets provided the best of the numbers, whilst 14 Lapwings, 12 Song Thrushes, 9 Golden Plover, 5 Fieldfares, 4 Yellowhammers and 3 Snipe made up some variety. Two Short-eared Owls, a Dartford Warbler and a Reed Bunting were also still at the Bill, where 15 Common Scoter, 12 Red-throated Divers, 2 Mediterranean Gulls and a Great Northern Diver passed through on the sea.

6th February

A miserable day of constant rain, sleet or snow blown in on a raw north-easterly. Two Barn Owls were at Southwell at dawn and 4 Lapwings, 4 Redwings, 2 Snipe and a Reed Bunting were the best of the few sightings at the Bill.

Late news for yesterday: 2 Barn Owls were at Southwell at dusk.




yesterday's Kingfisher and the Obs Quarry Little Owls - Ferrybridge and Portland Bill, 4th and 5th February 2009 © Pete Saunders (Kingfisher) and Martin Cade (Little Owls)

...we don't usually bother to mention the Obs Quarry Little Owls as they're an ever-present feature...and they must be two of the most year-ticked Little Owls in Britain.

  5th February

The first day for ages when there wasn't a single report of any consequence from the seawatchers. The Southwell Barn Owl was again on the wing at dawn and reports from the Bill included 5 Lapwings and singles of Short-eared Owl, Redwing, Fieldfare, Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting. Five Slavonian Grebes, 2 Black-necked Grebes and a Great Northern Diver were in Portland Harbour.

Late news for yesterday: a Kingfisher was again at Ferrybridge.



Moorhen - Portland Bill, 4th February 2009 © Martin Cade

...bearing in mind events at this time of year a few years ago we got momentarily excited when someone arrived at the Obs carrying a box containing this bird that had been found on a fishing boat at Weymouth. Unfortunately the story of the find wasn't a ripping yarn concerning an exhausted vagrant landing on a boat far out to sea but the rather more prosaic tale of a hapless individual that had got a foot entwined in fishing line whilst the boat was moored in Weymouth Harbour. We were able to free the bird and let it scuttle off to take its chances around one of the Obs garden ponds.

  4th February

Quite an unpleasant day with a really fresh easterly wind making it feel very cold. The sea was surprisingly quiet, with nothing more than 8 Red-throated Divers, 3 Common Scoter and 2 Shelduck passing through off the Bill. The list from the land at the Bill included 20 Skylarks, 7 Purple Sandpipers, 6 Pheasants, 5 Lapwings, 2 Short-eared Owls, 2 Fieldfares, a Snipe and a Dartford Warbler.



Short-eared Owl - Portland Bill, 3rd February 2009 © Martin Cade

  3rd February

Just a few snippets from the Bill so far today: 7 Redwings, 2 Short-eared Owls, a Common Buzzard and a Fieldfare on the land and 15 Red-throated Divers, 5 Common Scoter and 2 Mediterranean Gulls through on the sea 





Barn Owl at dawn (top photo) and again at dusk (lower two photos) - Southwell, 2nd February 2009 © Pete Saunders (dawn) and Martin Cade (dusk)

...Portland Barn Owls seem to be amazingly averse to emerging in anything other than total darkness so this bird's appearance in the half-light of dawn and dusk was particularly welcome.

  2nd February

There might be raging blizzards everywhere else but, a half-hour of light snowfall during the morning aside, Portland had a relatively pleasant, mainly sunny day. Odds and ends of cold weather movement included 7 Golden Plover and 5 Lapwings at the Bill and another Lapwing over Ferrybridge; otherwise it was all pretty routine: 5 Turnstones, 2 Reed Buntings and singles of Short-eared Owl, Black Redstart and Dartford Warbler at the Bill, a Barn Owl at Southwell, 67 Mediterranean Gulls, 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and a Little Gull at Ferrybridge, a Red-throated Diver through off Chesil and 7 Red-throated Divers and 5 Black-headed Gulls through off the Bill.

Late news for yesterday: a Blackcap was in a private garden at Grove Road.






Little Gull, Black Brant and Kingfisher - Portland Bill and Ferrybridge, 31st January and 1st February 2009 © Pete Saunders (close Black Brant and Kingfisher) and Martin Cade (distant Black Brant and Little Gull)

...somewhat bizarrely today's Little Gull was photographed as it flew right over the Obs garden; later on another individual was spotted hawking for insects over a field that had just been sprayed with pig manure.

  1st February

Yesterday's blasting easterly had shifted a little more towards the north and it felt particularly bitterly cold all day. An Iceland Gull that lingered for a few minutes early in the morning at the Bill was the pick of the day's sightings; 10 Red-throated Divers, 5 Common Scoter, 5 Little Gulls, 3 Mediterranean Gulls, 2 Shelduck, a Red-necked Grebe and a Brent Goose also passed by on the sea there, whilst 9 Mediterranean Gulls, 5 Wigeon, 4 Dunlin, 2 Shelduck, 2 Shoveler, 2 Pintail, 2 Little Gulls, a Great Crested Grebe, a Slavonian Grebe, a Knot and a Kingfisher passed by off Chesil. Over 100 Mediterranean Gulls, along with 15 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, the 2 Black Brants and 2 Little Gulls were at Ferrybridge and 27 Lapwing, 10 Purple Sandpipers, a Turnstone, a Fieldfare and a Black Redstart were at the Bill.

We popped in at Lodmoor a couple of times over the weekend to have a look at the putative Siberian Chiffchaffs that have been wintering there; click here to have a look at a few photographs from this off-island foray.