August 2009




   Melodious Warbler - Portland Bill, 31st August 2009 © Martin Cade

...a much-wanted capture for Alan Bull (on the right in the photo, with Rebecca Nason and Phil Harris) who has been a regular visitor to the Obs for the last 15 years or so but, until today, had a bit of a reputation for coinciding with Melodious-free spells.


31st August

The third Melodious Warbler of the autumn was a welcome early morning capture in the Obs garden mist-nets but, as often happens, the rarity travelled alone as there was scarcely a hint of an upsurge in common migrant numbers (in fact only two other birds were trapped and ringed all day at the Obs!). The odds and ends that did make it on to the day-sheet included 20 Yellow Wagtails, 10 Wheatears, 2 Reed Warblers, 2 Willow Warblers, a Short-eared Owl and a Sedge Warbler on the land at the Bill, 102 Common Scoter, 6 Arctic Skuas, 3 Great Skuas, 2 Manx Shearwaters, a Balearic Shearwater and a Teal passing through on the sea there and 77 Ringed Plover, 32 Turnstone, 22 Dunlin and a Sanderling at Ferrybridge, 

Three Rush Veneer and 2 Silver Y were the only immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning.



   Striped Hawk-moth - Portland Bill, 30th August 2009 © Martin Cade


30th August

Evening update.

Another really quite grim day of dreary skies, occasional drizzly rain and a freshening south-westerly wind. Constant seawatching at the Bill provided totals of 23 Common Scoter, 10 Sandwich Terns, 5 Arctic Skuas, 4 Manx Shearwaters, 4 Great Skuas, 2 Balearic Shearwaters, a 'Blue' Fulmar, a Sooty Shearwater and a Guillemot, along with 2 Little Egrets arriving from the south. The land there came up with the first Blackcap of the autumn, but otherwise just 3 Tree Pipits, a Snipe, a Grasshopper Warbler and a Lesser Whitethroat to provide interest amongst the miserably low numbers of 'commoner' migrants. The only other reports were of 96 Ringed Plover, 42 Dunlin, 24 Turnstone, 4 Sanderling and 2 Mediterranean Gulls at Ferrybridge.

The Obs garden moth-traps provided some minor excitement in the form of a Striped Hawk-moth; other immigrants in the overnight catch included 12 Silver Y, 10 Rush Veneer and a Dark Sword Grass.



   Forest Shieldbug Pentatoma rufipes from yesterday - Wakeham, 28th August 2009 © Ken Dolbear interesting discovery by Ken Dolbear. This species (which is also known as Red-legged Shieldbug) is evidently found throughout mainland Britain but according to the most recent review of Dorset bugs (Hunnisett 2007) there are no previous records for Portland.


29th August

In much nicer conditions there was a welcome small flurry of migrants at the Bill, where totals included 80 Wheatears, 35 Yellow Wagtails, 10 Willow Warblers, 5 Grey Wagtails, 4 Ringed Plover, 4 Tree Pipits, 3 Redshank, 3 Sedge Warblers, 2 Reed Warblers and singles of Merlin, Whimbrel, Dunlin, Turnstone, Grasshopper Warbler, Garden Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat. A little bit of post-gale sea movement included 12 Balearic Shearwaters, 7 Manx Shearwaters, 5 Sandwich Terns and a Sooty Shearwater passing through off the Bill.




A colour-ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull from yesterday - Portland Bill, 27th August 2009 © Martin Cade

...this bird was on the Bill car park yesterday morning and Peter Stewart of the Severn Estuary Gull Group has kindly supplied the following details: the bird was first ringed as an adult at Stoke Orchard landfill site, Gloucestershire, on 21st August 2004; it has since been sighted there and at another nearby landfill site in Gloucestershire during the summers of 2005, 2006 and 2008 (presumably it breeds in the vicinity?), whilst there was a winter sighting at Corrubedo National Park, central north-west Spain, on 15th November 2005 and one, presumably of the bird on autumn passage, in Loire-Atlantique, France, on 8th September 2008. Interestingly, another colour-ringed bird (7TH) from the same catch was seen yesterday at Esmelle beach on the north-west coast of Spain.


28th August

A day best forgotten: the sunshine was pleasant but the blasting west/north-west wind curtailed birding on the land and did the seawatchers no favours. The only reports were of 20 Wheatears, 2 Yellow Wagtails, a Merlin, a Redstart and a Whinchat at the Bill, 6 Manx Shearwaters and 2 Common Scoter passing through on the sea there and 126 Ringed Plover, 94 Dunlin, a Sanderling and a Knot at Ferrybridge.

Two Rush Veneer were the only immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning.



Wheatear - Portland Bill, 27th August 2009 © Martin Cade


27th August

The Obs ringing total is usually a fair reflection on the quality of the day and taken on that alone today was the second best day of the autumn to date ( reality, 37 birds ringed in the day is a lousy total for this time of year but more than adequately reflects the generally lean start to autumn that we've experienced). At the Bill, Wheatear and Willow Warbler both reached around the 40 mark, and 15 Yellow Wagtails, 3 Grasshopper Warblers, 2 Grey Wagtails, 2 Tree Pipits, 2 Lesser Whitethroats, a Whimbrel, a Yellow-legged Gull, a Redstart and a Bullfinch figured amongst the less common species logged, but many of the usual late August suspects remained absent (for example, no Garden Warblers or flycatchers figured on the day-sheet). Seawatching at the Bill produced 2 each of Balearic Shearwater and Great Skua, whilst waders at Ferrybridge included 140 Ringed Plover, 75 Dunlin, a Sanderling and a Knot.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 39 Rush Veneer and singles of Rusty-dot Pearl, Latticed Heath, Hummingbird Hawk-moth, Silver Y and Red Admiral butterfly.



Lesser Black-backed Gulls: an intermedius, a graellsii and something in-between - Portland Bill, 26th August 2009 © Martin Cade

...and some distant shearwater silhouettes from this morning:




...not a sequence of the same individual but two of a Sooty (top two) and one of a Balearic (bottom). Of course, snapshots like this can't convey the distinctive jizz of the two species but they do provide an insight into how it is that quite a few Portland Sooty records refer to poorly-seen Balearics. Photos © Martin Cade

  26th August

The remnants of Hurricane Bill didn't produce that much in the way of either strong wind or heavy rain but did do just enough to push a few seabirds in towards the Bill, where 14 Manx Shearwaters, 11 Balearic Shearwaters, 3 Sooty Shearwaters and singles of Common Scoter, Great Skua and Arctic Skua passed by through the morning. Coverage of the land was fairly limited but did come up with 16 Wheatears, 4 Swifts, 3 Whimbrel, 2 Sand Martins and a Common Sandpiper at the Bill, a Yellow-legged Gull at Osprey Quay, 4 Knot, 2 Sanderling, a Whimbrel, a Mediterranean Gull and a Yellow-legged Gull at Ferrybridge and good numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls grounded everywhere (among the 90 or so counted around the island during the evening, nearly half of the adults/sub-adults were of the form intermedius).

The only immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning were 26 Rush Veneer and a Rusty-dot Pearl




Knot and Mediterranean Gull - Ferrybridge, 25th August 2009 © Paul Baker

  25th August

Not much change today, with 30 Wheatears, 20 Yellow Wagtails, 10 Willow Warblers, 2 Sedge Warblers, a Merlin, a Greenshank, a Whimbrel, a Purple Sandpiper and a Rook at the Bill, 14 Manx Shearwaters, 2 Arctic Skuas and a Balearic Shearwater through on the sea there and 175 Ringed Plover, 78 Dunlin, 4 Mediterranean Gulls, 2 Sanderling, a Knot and a Grey Wagtail at Ferrybridge.

In pretty windy conditions overnight the only immigrants attracted to the Obs garden moth-traps were 29 Rush Veneer, 5 Latticed Heath, 2 Diamond-back Moth, an Evergestis extimalis and a Silver Y



Old Lady - Weston, 24th August 2009 © Martin Cade

...another moth from Duncan Walbridge's moth-trap at Weston. The Old Lady isn't strongly attracted to light-traps but it does seem to turn up from time to time wherever traps have been operated so we presume it's a resident species - as opposed to a wanderer - on the island.

Changing the subject completely, we've been quite surprised during our meanderings around the island trying to learn a bit more about seagulls at how many really pale juvenile Lesser Black-backs we've come across in the last couple of weeks. The majority of juvenile Lesser Black-backs lately have looked something like this one: 


...but several have looked much more like this (the top photo was taken a couple of days ago and the lower one of the same individual - this time with a juvenile Herring Gull - was taken the week before last when it first arrived):



...this individual already has next generation scapulars appearing (we weren't expecting Lesser Black-backs to have begun moulting quite as promptly as this):

 ...and some individuals have looked remarkably like juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls in plumage if not usually in structure. Fortunately, as the photo below of a Lesser Black-back and a Yellow-legged Gull together shows, most of the latter are now much further advanced with their post-juvenile moult and the retained juvenile feathers on the wing are already getting really worn and faded:

Whilst we were checking back through some of the gull photos taken in recent days we realised that we'd misidentified one of the first of these pale Lesser Black-backs - a really large presumed male - as a Yellow-legged Gull (even mentioning it as such on the site!) so maybe it pays to flush any questionable bird and check the wing and tail patterns although even they can be surprisingly similar at a glance (the two birds below - Lesser Black-back above and Yellow-legged Gull below - are the two individuals in the photo above):



photos © Martin Cade

  24th August

With numbers still sadly lacking - there were, for instance, only just about double figure totals of Wheatear and Willow Warbler at the Bill - it was left to the handful of scarcer migrants to provide some interest: 10 Yellow Wagtails, 5 Tree Pipits, 5 Sedge Warblers, 2 Yellow-legged Gulls, a Ringed Plover, a Whimbrel, a Turnstone, a Grey Wagtail and a Pied Flycatcher were at the Bill and 2 Knot were at Ferrybridge. Three Mediterranean Gulls and a lone Great Skua passed through on the sea at the Bill. 

The Obs garden moth-traps came up with a notable influx of 10 Latticed Heath, but the only other immigrants logged were 205 Rush Veneer, 5 Rusty-dot Pearl, 4 Diamond-back Moth, 4 Dark Sword Grass, 3 Silver Y and an Evergestis extimalis






colour-ringed Great Black-backed Gulls - Portland Bill, August 2009 © Martin Cade

...we've heard back on a couple of colour-ringed Great Black-backs in recent days, both of which had originally been ringed in Normandy, France. 62D which was in the Bill car park on 21st August was ringed on 26th May 2008 at La Poterie-Cap-d'Antifer, whilst A60 which was in the car park on 11th August was ringed on 30th June 2007 at I'll aux oiseaux, Chausey. We now have quite a few records from recent years of Great Black-backed Gulls - and for that matter Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls - from breeding sites in northern France and the Channel Isles visiting Portland in late summer/early autumn. We also forgot to mention the ringing details of the Sand Martin controlled at the Bill earlier this month (3rd August). Mark Grantham at the BTO kindly let us know that this bird was ringed as a juvenile at a breeding colony at Colmere, Shropshire, on 13th July 2008.

  23rd August

Not much change today with routine migrants still in pretty pitiful numbers for the time of year. Most of the news came from the Bill where, along with the customary gatherings of a few hundred hirundines and some conspicuous southbound passage of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, there were 40 Wheatears, 20 Willow Warblers, 12 Yellow Wagtails, 10 Whitethroats, 6 Sedge Warblers, 3 Tree Pipits, 2 Whimbrel, a Ringed Plover, a Dunlin, a Yellow-legged Gull, a Reed Warbler and a Lesser Whitethroat. Elsewhere there were 2 Yellow-legged Gulls at Ferrybridge, whilst the only report from the sea was of a Great Skua passing the Bill.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 81 Rush Veneer, 2 Pearly Underwing, 2 Dark Sword Grass and singles of Latticed Heath, Convolvulus Hawk-moth, Hoary Footman, Buff Footman, Dark Spectacle, Silver Y and Painted Lady butterfly.





Beech-green Carpet, Hoary Footman and Latticed Heath - Weston and Portland Bill, 22nd August 2009 © Martin Cade

...the Beech-green Carpet was from Duncan Walbridge's new trap-site in his garden at Weston. This is another species - just as we mentioned in relation to Portland Ribbon Wave a couple of days ago - that is relatively common and widespread around the centre and north of the island but is all but unknown at the Bill (remarkably, in umpteen years of recording the species has never been caught in the Obs garden moth-traps).

  22nd August

Hardly any change in the migrant situation at the Bill, where small numbers of hirundines gathered through the day, Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear and Willow Warbler just about reached double figure totals on the ground and 2 Tree Pipits, a Ringed Plover, a Redstart and a Pied Flycatcher were the only slightly more interesting migrants logged. Two Manx and a single Balearic Shearwater passed through on the sea at the Bill.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 208 Rush Veneer, 2 Latticed Heath, 2 Silver Y and singles of Diamond-back Moth, Hoary Footman, Dark Sword Grass, Dark Spectacle and Painted Lady butterfly.

Finally, we forgot to mention that at Helen Brotherton's funeral this week we learnt that the Memorial Service to celebrate Helen's life will be held at Milton Abbey on Friday 23rd October at 3pm.






   Common Shrew and Grasshopper Warbler - Portland Bill, 21st August 2009 © Martin Cade

...when we clear the Obs garden moth-traps each morning we store the contents of the traps in plastic tubs for release at dusk. On a couple of occasions in recent days we've gone to release the moths and discovered an awful lot of wings but scarcely a single live moth left in one particular tub, and today the culprit was found to be a pesky Common Shrew that had found a way into the tub and was clearly losing no time in devouring the contents. Today's Grasshopper Warbler was noteworthy since it was an adult. We have featured an autumn adult before (15th August 2008) but today's individual had renewed far less of its plumage - in fact the only obviously new feathers were the top two tertials on each wing that were still growing - and was looking particularly threadbare. Adult Grasshopper Warbler have a complete prebreeding moult in the winter quarters but prior to this perform a partial postbreeding moult in the breeding area. The extent of this postbreeding moult is quite variable so although today's bird was easily identifiable as an adult, that isn't always the case - particularly on field views - if you're dealing with an individual that has renewed more of its plumage.

  21st August

Still rubbish for numbers today with none of the expected common migrants, bar hirundines, reaching double figure totals at the Bill; the only faint interest there was provided by 7 Yellow Wagtails, 4 Sedge Warblers, a Grasshopper Warbler and a Pied Flycatcher. Seawatching there produced 9 Balearic Shearwaters, 7 Common Scoter and a Manx Shearwater.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 46 Rush Veneer, 2 Diamond-back Moth, 2 Scarce Bordered Straw and singles of Convolvulus Hawk-moth, Pearly Underwing and Silver Y.






   Balearic Shearwaters - off Portland Bill, 25th July 2009 © James Phillips

...these fantastic images were taken last month on a Marinelife survey trip visiting the Shambles Bank east of the Bill, where around 20 Balearics were present. The immature in the top two photos (presumably it's a fresh-plumaged juvenile?) must be right at the palest end of plumage variation in Balearic and looks as though it might pose serious difficulties for a land-based observer with regard to eliminating Yelkouan Shearwater or the enigmatic 'Menorcan' Shearwater (hopefully the distinctive jizz of a Balearic would be apparent in longer range views and would be helpful in eliminating the former). The individual in the bottom two photographs is a moulting adult.

  20th August

Shockingly poor for migrants today (we'd thought that a weather front pushing through in the late hours of an otherwise clear night during the new moon period might come up with the goods). A single Grey Wagtail and a handful of Whitethroats and Willow Warblers were just about the only migrants reported from the Bill, where 2 Balearic Shearwaters also passed by on the sea.

In the Obs garden moth-traps Rush Veneer increased to 100 but the only other immigrants caught were 7 Diamond-back Moth, 5 Rusty-dot Pearl and 4 Silver Y; amongst the resident species caught a lone Portland Ribbon Wave was noteworthy (despite being a relatively common moth less than a mile up the road this species is caught very infrequently - in fact probably less than annually - in the Obs garden traps).



   Small Marbled - Portland Bill, 19th August 2009 © Martin Cade

  19th August

In really pleasant warm and sunny conditions hirundines were plentiful overhead but grounded migrants were again only very thinly spread. At the Bill 5 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Tree Pipits, 2 Sedge Warblers, a Yellow-legged Gull and a Grey Wagtail provided just about the only interest amongst the light scatter of Wheatears, Whitethroats and Willow Warblers; elsewhere there was a Redstart at Broadcroft Qaurry and 107 Ringed Plover, 40 Dunlin and 2 Mediterranean Gulls at Ferrybridge.

Considering the lack of other new immigrants a Small Marbled was a bit of a surprise in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning; the immigrant tally there otherwise consisted of 54 Rush Veneer, 8 Silver Y, 3 Dark Sword Grass, and 2 Rusty-dot Pearl.



   Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit - Ferrybridge, 18th August 2009 © Pete Saunders

  18th August

Migrants certainly aren't surging through en masse at the moment (or at least, they certainly aren't dropping in in any quantity). Today's meagre tally from the Bill saw just Whitethroat and Willow Warbler reach low double figure totals; amongst the odds and ends in lower numbers the only minor interest was provided by 7 Yellow Wagtails, 7 Sedge Warblers, 5 Tree Pipits, a Dunlin, a Snipe, a Whimbrel, a Whinchat and a Grasshopper Warbler. Seawatching there produced just singles of Manx Shearwater and Great Skua. Two Black-tailed Godwits were new arrivals at Ferrybridge, where there were also 80 Ringed Plovers, 37 Dunlin, 31 Oystercatchers and 2 Mediterranean Gulls.

There still wasn't much to report from the Obs garden moth-traps, with 21 Rush Veneer, 13 Dark Sword Grass, 8 Silver Y, 3 Diamond-back Moth, 2 Rusty-dot Pearl and a Black Arches the only immigrants/wanderers recorded.



female (left) and male (right) Scaly Crickets - Chesil Beach, 17th August 2009 © Alan Lewis

...Alan placed a series of pitfall traps on Chesil Beach overnight and was rewarded with the capture of more than 100 Scaly Crickets; females outnumbered males by a ratio of about 10:1 and, as other recorders have observed, the majority of specimens were caught on the seaward side of the beach.

It was about time we had a quick look at Willow Warbler in one our little ageing and sexing features - not least because it's our staple 'in-hand' migrant at the moment. This species is one of the very few passerines in which adults perform complete moults in both winter and summer (and adults are thus - the occasional exception apart - in completely fresh plumage at this time of year). Usually the two age classes can be distinguished by the colour of the underparts: strongly washed yellow in birds of the year (the left hand bird below) or white with only indistinct yellow streaks in adults (on the right below): 


However, we do seem to encounter a fair proportion of birds that could be classed as intermediates (at least by the writer of these notes who is notoriously cautious/conservative) and we're never quite sure how birds of northern origin fit into the equation, so it's always worth checking for other differences. The back end of the bird usually provides a few clues:


The tail and flight feathers of the adult (upper bird) are glossier and darker than those of the bird of the year (lower bird); the adult also has more conspicuous white tips to the flight feathers and broader, more rounded and less worn tips to the tail feathers (photos © Martin Cade)

  17th August

The first Crossbill of the year was the pick of the new arrivals at the Bill where there were also 30 Willow Warblers, 15 Wheatears, 6 Tree Pipits, 5 Yellow Wagtails, 4 Yellow-legged Gulls, 3 Sedge Warblers, a Dunlin, a Grasshopper Warbler and a Pied Flycatcher on the land and 5 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Great Skuas and a Whimbrel through on the sea. The only other reports came from Ferrybridge where there were 137 Dunlin, 104 Ringed Plovers, 3 Mediterranean Gulls and 2 Sanderling.

The immigrant/wanderer tally in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning included 18 Dark Sword Grass, 8 Rush Veneer, 5 Silver Y, 3 Diamond-back Moth, an Endothenia quadrimaculana, a Catoptria falsella, a Rusty-dot Pearl and a Maiden's Blush.

Late news for 5th August: click here to check out the story and a photograph of the first record of Short-tailed Blue butterfly for Portland (thanks to Piers Vigus for alerting us to this excellent record).



Turnstone - Ferrybridge, 16th August 2009 © Paul Baker

...and another photo from the last few days: Yellow-legged Gull at Ferrybridge on 14th August © Nick Hopper. The Yellow-legged Gulls are now making good progress with moult into first-winter plumage: this bird of the year already has quite a few second generation scapulars.


  16th August

Still not busy but certainly a lot better than yesterday on the migrant front. The Bill area got most of the coverage and returned totals of 40 Willow Warblers, 10 Wheatears, 2 each of Ringed Plover, Whimbrel, Tree Pipit and Grasshopper Warbler, and singles of Merlin, Hobby, Yellow-legged Gull, Yellow Wagtail, Redstart, Sedge Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and Reed Bunting, whilst at Ferrybridge there were 123 Dunlin, 82 Ringed Plover, 22 Turnstones and 3 Mediterranean Gulls. Odds and ends through on the sea at the Bill included 2 Balearic Shearwaters and 2 Great Skuas.

The only immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps were 19 Rush Veneer, 8 Dark Sword Grass, 5 Silver Y and 4 Diamond-back Moth.



   one of yesterday's Little Ringed Plovers - Ferrybridge, 14th August 2009 © Pete and Debby Saunders

  15th August

Pretty dire all round today, with not much in the way of birds or moths. Migrant birds of note at the Bill were limited to 20 Wheatears, 10 Willow Warblers, 6 Sedge Warblers, 3 intermedius Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a Ringed Plover, a Cuckoo and a Reed Warbler, with Ferrybridge coming up with 80 Ringed Plover, 20 Dunlin, 12 Wheatears and 4 Sanderling. The few reports from seawatching at the Bill included 11 Common Scoter, 2 Sandwich Terns, a Manx Shearwater and a commic tern.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps were even fewer in number than in recent nights: 2 Dark Sword Grass, 13 Diamond-back Moths, 12 Silver Y, 5 Rush Veneer, 3 Rusty-dot Pear and a Painted Lady butterfly.

Late news for yesterday: 4 Little Ringed Plovers were at Ferrybridge and a Flame Carpet was a noteworthy capture in a garden moth-trap at Southwell.




   Sedge Warbler bearing a French ring - Portland Bill, 13th August 2009 © Martin Cade

...we've taken/received too many photographs and not had enough time to deal with them in recent days. Foreign-ringed 'controls' are always good value and yesterday's Sedge Warbler was no exception. Of course, it was always likely to be an adult bird at this time of year so - even without its ring - it stood out amongst the overwhelmingly greater number of birds of the year that we catch in autumn. We've dwelt on ageing Sedge Warblers before so we won't bore you with that again save for posting a photo of a first-autumn bird from this morning for comparison:


...this individual had a particularly well-marked fault bar on its tail (check back to 24th September 2007 for a fuller discussion on this subject):


  14th August

Another small arrival of common migrants today, with the Bill area returning totals of 50 Willow Warblers, 35 Wheatears, 17 Swifts, 10 Sedge Warblers, 3 Garden Warblers, 2 Ringed Plovers, 2 Snipe, 2 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Tree Pipits and singles of Redshank, Green Sandpiper, Curlew, Yellow-legged Gull, Grey Wagtail, Whinchat, Grasshopper Warbler, Reed Warbler and Pied Flycatcher; another Yellow-legged Gull was at Ferrybridge, along with 7 Sanderling and 2 Mediterranean Gulls.

It was the quietest night for a while in the Obs garden moth-traps, with the immigrant tally consisting of just 19 Dark Sword Grass, 17 Diamond-back Moths, 15 Silver Y, 14 Rush Veneer, 5 Rusty-dot Pearl, a Gold Spot and a Painted Lady butterfly.




   juvenile Wall Lizards from last weekend - Duncecroft Quarry, 8th August 2009 © Emma Cockburn

...we've quite often featured adult Wall Lizards on the site but these juveniles are certainly pretty nifty looking creatures...and why bother to lug an SLR and macro lens around all day when you can take perfectly decent record shots - as these were - with the camera on a BlackBerry phone!

  13th August

Despite the weather being gloriously fine for most of the day the hours of darkness had actually been completely overcast and it looked like very few migrants had been on the move. The Bill area came up with a light sprinkle that included 11 Wheatears, 10 Willow Warblers, 4 Ringed Plovers, 4 Sedge Warblers, 2 Reed Warblers, a Dunlin, a Redshank and a Garden Warbler on the land and 12 Oystercatchers, 7 Common Scoter and a Manx Shearwater through on the sea. Ferrybridge fared a little better with totals that included 92 Ringed Plover, 35 Dunlin, 8 Sanderling, 4 Mediterranean Gulls and a Little Ringed Plover.

The Obs garden moth-traps were busy but there was a marked fall in immigrant numbers: 31 Diamond-back Moths, 19 Dark Sword Grass, 34 Silver Y, 9 Rush Veneer, 3 Rusty-dot Pearl, a Bordered Straw, a Gold Spot and a Painted Lady butterfly.

12th August

Quieter again today with all the news coming from the Bill area, where there were 20 Wheatears, 20 Willow Warblers, 2 Yellow-legged Gulls and singles of Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher on the land and a Mediterranean Gull through on the sea.

In common with the birds, there was a fall in numbers of immigrants/wanderers in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 87 Diamond-back Moths, 26 Dark Sword Grass, 17 Silver Y, 4 Rush Veneer, 2 Rusty-dot Pearl, 2 Painted Lady butterflies and singles of Oak Hook-tip, Convolvulus Hawk-moth, Four-spotted Footman, Small White butterfly and Common Darter dragonfly.


The arrangements for Helen Brotherton's funeral have just been published and are as follows: the funeral service will be held at Church of the Transfiguration, Chaddesley Glen, Canford Cliffs, Poole on Wednesday 19th August at 2pm. No flowers please. Donations to Portland Bird Observatory (Helen's first project in Dorset) can be made at or sent to 32/34 Parkstone Road, Poole. A memorial service will be held at a date to be announced in the press.



  A sight not seen at Portland for many years - Portland Bill, 9th August 2009 © Martin Cade must be getting on for 30 years since a combine harvester was used in anger on Portland but Richard Newton, who undertakes all our conservation management work for us, has recently acquired a combine and gave it an outing for the first time last weekend. As Obs members and other visitors to the island will be aware, the Obs has been planting a variety of crops for conservation purposes on the land we own or rent at the Bill. In the past the cereal crops have been left standing and have proved attractive to a variety of birds throughout the autumn and winter; the idea behind harvesting some of these crops is to create stubbles (some of the harvested grain will be planted next year and the rest will be scattered on the stubble or used for other feeding projects) that with any luck will be utilised by the likes of pipits, finches and buntings. This is probably an appropriate moment to thank Richard for all his hard work with this project; although the Obs has been able to provide the land and much of the necessary machinery, Richard has chipped in with a variety of machinery and implements of his own as well as spending a huge amount of time getting the work done. Some of the latter is 'boys and their big toys' fun but, as the photo of him below that we sneaked a few months ago shows - where he's looking more akin to a Bruegel-esque peasant hunched against a gale whilst weeding one of his crops - there's plenty of back-breaking graft involved as well. 


Finally, we'd like to remind birders to please refrain from entering the crops and stubble patches; with a bit of patience they can all be covered quite adequately from adjacent footpaths, many of which we've mown specifically to improve access and viewing.

  11th August

Quite a nice little arrival of new migrants today - nothing of great quality but certainly more to be seen than in recent days and more than might have been expected given the completely clear conditions. The Bill area received most of the coverage and returned totals of 70 Willow Warblers, 20 Wheatears, 6 Yellow-legged Gulls, 3 Tree Pipits, 2 Lesser Whitethroats, 2 Spotted Flycatchers, a Ringed Plover, a Snipe, a Redstart and a Sedge Warbler.

There were still plenty of immigrant moths on the wing at the Bill, with the Obs garden traps returning totals of 338 Diamond-back Moths, 143 Silver Y, 24 Dark Sword Grass, 16 Rush Veneer, 6 Rusty-dot Pearl, 2 Small China-mark, 2 Red Admiral butterflies, a Bordered Straw and a Gold Spot.






  Scorched Carpet, juvenile and adult Yellow-legged Gulls and Shags - Portland Bill, 10th August 2009 © Martin Cade

...we haven't had enough time yet today to check how many previous Portland records of Scorched Carpet there are but it certainly isn't very many. In contrast to the Poole area where large gatherings of adult Yellow-legged Gulls are a feature at this time of year, most of our summer/early autumn records are of juveniles so today's adult was quite noteworthy; the day's count of 10 juveniles and an adult represents a new record total for the island. The flock of 54 Shags was the highest count of that species at the Bill for quite a while; unfortunately we were a bit caught out by their sudden appearance and the flock had got so strung out by the time they whizzed past below the Obs that we could only get 40 in the frame of our record shot!

  10th August

A hatch of flying ants that started emerging yesterday evening attracted large gulls from far and wide today, with up to 40 Lesser Black-backed Gulls and 11 Yellow-legged Gulls counted at the Bill during the morning amongst many hundreds of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls; later in the day single Yellow-legged Gulls - probably birds from the Bill that had dispersed by that time - were at Southwell, Chesil Beach, Osprey Quay and Ferrybridge. It was another quiet day on the common migrant front, with little more than 10 Willow Warblers, 5 Wheatears, 2 Whimbrel and a Reed Warbler at the Bill. Seawatching there produced 2 Sandwich Terns, a Great Skua and an unusually high count of 54 Shags together.

In the Obs garden moth-traps the most conspicuous feature was an influx of 559 Diamond-back Moths; other immigrants included 37 Silver Y, 28 Rush Veneer, 8 Dark Sword Grass, 4 Painted Lady butterflies, 2 Small Mottled Willow, a Rusty-dot Pearl and a Red Admiral butterfly, whilst oddities for the island included a Scorched Carpet.






  Toadflax Brocade, Pediasia contaminella and Acleris emargana - Portland Bill, 9th August 2009 © Martin Cade

...the specimens of contaminella and emargana were both left-overs from the last few days that we hadn't found enough time to photograph until today - both are less than annual visitors to the island.

  9th August

Just the thinnest of sprinkles of common migrants today, with the only morsels of quality being 2 Whimbrel, a Curlew, a Yellow-legged Gull and a Pied Flycatcher at the Bill and another Yellow-legged Gull at Southwell; singles of Balearic Shearwater and Great Skua also passed through on the sea at the Bill.

A Toadflax Brocade (the third record for the island) was a nice highlight in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning; the rest of the immigrant tally there consisted of 84 Silver Y, 21 Rush Veneer, 10 Diamond-back Moth, 7 Dark Sword Grass and 3 Rusty-dot Pearl.

8th August

A glorious day but not too great on the bird front. The migrant list from the Bill area included a ringtail harrier that was seen too briefly/distantly to clinch, along with 25 Willow Warblers, 20 Wheatears, 5 Garden Warblers, 4 Sedge Warblers and singles of Grey Heron, Hobby, Whimbrel, Snipe and Spotted Flycatcher; elsewhere there were 4 Mediterranean Gulls, 2 Common Sandpipers, a Common Gull and a Yellow-legged Gull at Ferrybridge.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 71 Silver Y, 28 Rush Veneer, 13 Dark Sword Grass, 6 Straw Dot, 3 Diamond-back Moth and singles of Pediasia contaminella, Evergestis extimalis and Convolvulus Hawk-moth.




  Melodious Warbler - Portland Bill, 7th August 2009 © Martin Cade

  7th August

The return of fair weather saw the arrival of the second Melodious Warbler of the autumn which was trapped and ringed at the Obs during the morning. Commoner migrants in the Bill area included 40 Willow Warblers, 15 Wheatears, 5 Sedge Warblers, 2 Pied Flycatchers, a Whimbrel and a Tree Pipit, along with a steady southbound passage of some hundreds of Swallows and smaller numbers of Sand Martins. Seawatching at the Bill produced little more than a lone Mediterranean Gull, a Kittiwake was in Portland Harbour and 2 Sanderling were the best of the waders at Ferrybridge.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 97 Silver Y, 28 Rush Veneer, 25 Dark Sword Grass, 7 Straw Dot, 2 each of Diamond-back Moth and Rusty-dot Pearl and singles of Maiden's Blush and Bordered Straw.



Miss Helen Brotherton CBE 1914-2009

We received the sad news today that Helen Brotherton passed away this morning. Helen was the owner of the Old Lower Lighthouse - the premises of Portland Bird Observatory - and served as Chairman of the trustees of PBO until shortly before her death. The doyen of Dorset wildlife conservation, she served terms as the Honorary Secretary of the Dorset Field Ornithology Group, as the Honorary Secretary, Chairman and President of the Dorset Naturalists Trust/Dorset Wildlife Trust and as a council member and Vice President of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, whilst at a national level she served terms as a council member of the National Trust, the RSNC and the RSPB; it was in recognition of her services to conservation that Helen was awarded a CBE in 1986. Without Helen's immense energy and unstinting generosity Portland Bird Observatory would not exist today and we will be forever indebted to her.




     yesterday's Black-tailed Godwits - Portland Bill, 5th August 2009 © Martin Cade's well established that Dorset's wintering population of Black-tailed Godwits belong to the form islandica that breeds almost exclusively in Iceland and winters in Britain and western Europe, but for some while we've been wondering if occasional 'Continental' Black-tailed Godwits (the form limosa that breeds widely in Europe and winters around the Mediterranean and in Africa) turn up in the county at passage times (...are there actually any confirmed records at all for Dorset?). With that in mind we had a good look at the group of godwits that dropped in on the Bill Common for a few minutes yesterday morning. Richard Millington kindly confirmed that these were 'Icelandic' Black-tailed Godwits and offered to write a couple of captions for us to expand on the ageing and sexing of the birds and highlight the distinguishing features of the two forms at this time of year:

Breeding-plumaged adult 'Icelandic' Black-tailed Godwits. The female is larger and more rangy, with longer legs and a longer bill than the male. Not only is the male smaller, but the rich chestnut-orange of the foreparts is cleaner, with bold black bars limited to the flank; on the female, this colour is invaded by a multitude of thin dark bars up the sides of the breast. The female has intricate patterning on the scapulars, but she has rather more summer-patterned feathers in the wing coverts than the male, because she had more time to lay down these feathers before arresting her spring moult. The male is more boldly patterned orange and black above, but he arrested his moult earlier, upon arriving at the nesting grounds first (and so has only acquired a couple of summer-patterned tertials and inner median coverts). The rest of the wing (all the plain coverts, the secondaries and primaries) is worn 'winter' feathering, acquired in last autumn's complete moult. Having migrated, both birds will soon begin their complete post-breeding moult into their all-grey winter plumage. Adult 'Continental' Black-tailed Godwits (the majority of which migrated to West Africa last month) will already have virtually completed their post-breeding moult and look effectively all-grey by August. 

Juvenile 'Icelandic' Black-tailed Godwits. probably two males and a female (the paler, rangier bird on the right). All three are in very fresh juvenile plumage (note the white primary tips), with extensive coppery-ginger tones on the head, neck, chest and upper flanks (where there is some dark spotting). All of the upperparts are boldly-patterned, the black-centred feathers being broadly fringed with chestnut. The larger scapulars, tertials and inner greater coverts show a complicated 'herringbone' pattern (most obvious here on the female). Even on birds with a less busy pattern (like the left bird), the patterns are bold and the colours rich. The 'wing panel' may be quite plain or boldly spotted, but the coverts tend to be broadly fringed with rich buff and show a black subterminal 'arrowhead'. On average, juvenile 'Continental' Black-tailed Godwit looks large, longer-billed and longer-legged, largely lacking rufous tones in the plumage, being instead a dull buffy-grey with simple, less contrasting, feather patterns above.

text © Richard Millington; photos © Martin Cade

  6th August

After a dry start the day went downhill rapidly as a succession of increasingly heavy and thundery showers arrived in off the Channel. The Melodious Warbler remained at the Bill, where new arrivals included 20 Willow Warblers, 15 Wheatears, 5 Whimbrel, 3 Sedge Warblers, a Golden Plover, a Green Sandpiper and a Pied Flycatcher. The only seawatch reports were of 3 Common Scoter and a Balearic Shearwater passing through off the Bill.

There was an encouraging increase in immigrant numbers in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 137 Silver Y, 15 Diamond-back Moth, 11 Rush Veneer, 11 Dark Sword Grass, 8 Straw Dot, 4 Rusty-dot Pearl, 2 Small Mottled Willow and singles of Evergestis extimalis, Maiden's Blush, Convolvulus Hawk-moth and Scarce Bordered Straw.




  Melodious Warbler and Little Ringed Plover - Portland Bill, 5th August 2009 © Martin Cade

...several observers remarked on the apparent conspicuousness of the wing-panel and tertial fringes on the Melodious Warbler and the photo below, taken this morning, confirms that (photo © Simon Woolley):


Of course, there are plenty of other reasons why the bird was pretty obviously a Melodious but for anyone interested in the minutiae of the in-hand identification here's the spread wing:


...this shows emarginations on the 3rd, 4th and 5th primaries (Icterine has emarginations only on the 3rd and 4th). The wing length was 64 mm (Melodious range 62-71; Icterine range 73-82). Other features of note include the short 2nd primary (2nd=6th/7th on Melodious and =4th/5th on Icterine) and the long 1st primary (usually closer to the length of the primary coverts on Icterine). And finally, we've often mentioned leg colour as being a dodgy feature; autumn Melodious Warblers at Portland almost always have blue legs and today's bird was no exception (in-hand photos © Martin Cade):


  5th August

Low on quantity but high on local quality today with the early morning cloud and rain dropping a nice little flurry of waders - including 7 Black-tailed Godwits, 5 Common Sandpipers, 3 Whimbrel, 2 Ringed Plovers, a Little Ringed Plover and a Snipe - at the Bill; the Melodious Warbler also showed up again and was finally trapped and ringed at the Obs. More routine migrants included 200 Sand Martins, 15 Willow Warblers, 3 Wheatears, and 2 Sedge Warblers at the Bill, whilst seawatching there produced 10 Common Scoter, 5 Manx Shearwaters, 5 Balearic Shearwaters, a Little Egret and a Great Skua.

Overnight moth-trapping at the Obs produced a lot of soggy egg-trays along with an immigrant/wanderer list that included 9 Rusty-dot Pearl, 8 Rush Veneer, 6 Silver Y, 3 Straw Dot, 2 each of Evergestis extimalis, Hummingbird Hawk-moth and Dark Sword Grass and singles of Acleris emargana, Latticed Heath, Gold Spot and Small Tortoiseshell butterfly.

4th August

No reports of the Melodious Warbler today although with few observers looking in the dreary, breezy and often wet conditions that wasn't altogether surprising. The few new arrivals that showed up on the land included 8 Wheatears, 5 Willow Warblers, 2 Whimbrel, a Yellow-legged Gull and a Whinchat at the Bill. Conditions didn't look to be too bad for the sea, but watches at the Bill produced just 47 Manx Shearwaters, 8 Balearic Shearwaters, 7 Common Scoter and 3 Guillemots.

The southerly airflow and quite muggy conditions overnight looked to be promising for some moth immigration but the Obs garden traps produced nothing more than 10 Silver Y and singles of Rush Veneer, Dark Sword Grass and Bordered Straw.




  juvenile (above) and adult (below) Sand Martins - Portland Bill, 3rd August 2009 © Martin Cade

... with the wind freshened through the day quite a few passing hirundines lingered along the sheltered side of the Obs garden and we had a bit of fun for a while during the afternoon as a steady procession of them blundered into one of our mist-nets. One of the Sand Martins trapped was a 'control' (ringed away from Portland) - V827194 - so if the ringer of this individual happens to visit the site do let us know where you ringed it:


Another rather peculiar capture was this Swallow:


  theory, Swallows shouldn't start moulting until they reach their winter quarters (when adults and juveniles both have complete moults so ought to be indistinguishable when they return to northern latitudes the next spring) so this individual with two generations of feathers in early August was very unexpected. At first glance we thought that it was in some sort of suspended/arrested moult as the new feathers all looked to be fully grown but on having a closer look we realised that primary 6 and the outermost feather on the left side of the tail were only about ¼ length and obviously still growing; another possibility could be re-growth after accidental feather loss - due to a predator attack or the like - but that didn't seem very likely as the 'moult' pattern was pretty well the same on both wings. Perhaps the bird was a first-summer that for some reason didn't complete its post-juvenile moult but the remarkably fresh condition of the older brown feathers seemed to be at odds with that possibility as well.

  3rd August

The Melodious Warbler remained at the Bill although it never seemed to be particularly showy today. That aside it was much quieter than yesterday at the Bill where there were just single figure totals of grounded Sedge and Willow Warblers, a few Swifts and hirundines passing through/lingering and singles of Dunlin, Whimbrel and Yellow-legged Gull. Seawatching at the Bill produced 27 Common Scoter, 6 Manx Shearwaters and a single Balearic Shearwater.

Overnight moth-trapping at the Obs produced in the way of immigrants just 19 Silver Y, 11 Rush Veneer, 2 Diamond-back Moth and a Dark Sword Grass.





      Melodious Warbler, Little Owl and Rosy Footman - Portland Bill, 2nd August 2009 © Martin Cade

...also of interest - probably mainly just to seagull-buffs - we received a quick response today from the Channel Isles (thanks to Jamie Hooper and Paul Veron) with the ringing details of a colour-ringed Herring Gull that was in the Bill car park yesterday morning:



...evidently the bird was ringed on 5th July 2009 at Ty Coed, Vale Marais, Guernsey (photos © Martin Cade)

  2nd August

After what's been a very slow start to autumn today saw the first small flurry of common migrants along with a couple of minor goodies. The quality was provided by a Melodious Warbler that showed from time to time mainly along the east side of the Obs garden and a Honey Buzzard that flew south along the West Cliffs at midday. In terms of numbers there were maybe 25 each of Sand Martin, Sedge Warbler and Willow Warbler at the Bill, along with 3 Whimbrel, 2 Redshanks, a Dunlin, a Yellow-legged Gull, a Tree Pipit, a Wheatear and a Grasshopper Warbler, whilst elsewhere there were 9 Dunlin, 2 Whimbrel, 2 Mediterranean Gulls and a Sanderling at Ferrybridge. The sea didn't receive too much attention, but 6 Manx Shearwaters, 4 Common Scoter, 3 Balearic Shearwaters and a Great Skua were logged at the Bill.

In less than inspiring overnight weather conditions the Obs garden moth-traps produced by way of immigrants/wanderers just 27 Silver Y, 7 Dark Sword Grass, 2 Rush Veneer, a Diamond-back Moth and a Rosy Footman.






   Yellow-legged Gull, Chalk Carpet and Phycita roborella - Portland Bill, 1st August 2009 © Martin Cade

...the Yellow-legged Gull was a much slighter proportioned individual than most we've seen in the last month. Chalk Carpet is a bit of a local speciality that is an infrequent visitor to the moth-traps but can be found in quantity by day in places like the abandoned quarries around the island; roborella is an oak feeder that is a scarce but just about annual visitor to Portland.

  1st August

A Roseate Tern that flew south at Ferrybridge was the pick of the day's sightings. Sixty Ringed Plovers, 20 Dunlin, 4 Sanderling, 2 Whimbrel, 2 Mediterranean Gulls and a Redshank were also there, whilst odds and ends at the Bill included 6 Willow Warblers and singles of Whimbrel, Snipe, Yellow-legged Gull and Sedge Warbler on the land and 6 Manx Shearwaters and 5 Common Scoter through on the sea.

Overnight mothing was spoilt a little by a strengthening breeze but there were still fair numbers of routine immigrants on the wing, with the Obs garden traps producing totals of  55 Silver Y, 8 Dark Sword Grass, 5 Rush Veneer, 4 Diamond-back Moth, 4 Rusty-dot Pearl and a Small Mottled Willow; infrequently recorded wanderers caught at the Obs included 2 Bactra furfurana and a Phycita roborella, whilst elsewhere on the island a single Tachystola acroxantha was caught at Southwell.