February 2013

28th February

A month that's featured relatively repetitious birding ended with few signs that spring's just around the corner. There was a welcome first flurry of Stonechats - 5 at Wallsend and 4 at Barleycrates Lane - but otherwise events were much as they have been all month: 4 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Black Redstarts were at the Bill, where 11 Red-throated Divers also passed by on the sea, whilst Portland Harbour held totals of 37 Great crested Grebes, 29 Black-necked Grebes, 8 Slavonian Grebes, 2 Velvet Scoters and a lone Common Scoter.

What were no doubt yesterday's Bottle-nosed Dolphins were off the Bill again for a while in the morning.



   Bottle-nosed Dolphins - Portland Bill, 27th February 2013 © Martin Cade

  27th February

Mainly routine fare today: 7 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Black Redstarts, a Grey Heron and a Knot at the Bill, 2 Red-throated Divers passed through on the sea there and an Eider was still in Portland Harbour.

A party of ca15 Bottle-nosed Dolphins were off the Bill during the morning.

26th February

With the wind having freshened conspicuously it felt colder than yesterday and what little movement there was at the Bill certainly didn't involve any passerines: the Purple Sandpiper tally increased to 11, and 5 Wigeon and 2 Pintail headed up-Channel on the sea; another 5 Red-throated Divers also passed through offshore and 2 Black Redstarts were still about on the land.



   Black Redstart - Portland Harbour, 25th February 2013 © David Rashley

    25th February

Although it remained far from warm under dreary skies and in a brisk north-easterly there were encouraging signs of spring in the form of 50 Meadow Pipits and 5 Carrion Crows arriving in off the sea at the Bill through the morning; 2 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Black Redstarts and a Water Rail were still present there and 3 Red-throated Divers passed through on the sea. Elsewhere there was a Chiffchaff at Reap Lane, 21 Black-necked Grebes and 2 Common Scoter in Portland Harbour and a Black Redstart on the harbour shore.



   Song Thrush - Southwell, 24th February 2013 © Pete Saunders

    24th February

With the exception of news of the continuing presence of the Snow Bunting at Ferrybridge the day's reports were all from the Bill, where 5 Red-throated Divers and a Shelduck passed through on the sea and 3 Black Redstarts and 2 Redwings were about on the land.

23rd February

Despite the odd flake of snow falling on occasions the easterly blast of recent days had dropped away to little more than a breeze which made for much more enjoyable birding. That said, there was little sign of interest perking up: 17 Black-necked Grebes, 3 Slavonian Grebes, the 2 Velvet Scoters and the Red-necked Grebe remained in Portland Harbour, 4 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill and 6 Lapwings at Reap Lane, singles of Chiffchaff at Blacknor, Great Spotted Woodpecker at Wakeham and Redwing at the Bill were the best of the bunch on the land.

22nd February

In continuing cold weather the day's only reports were of singles of Lapwing and Golden Plover at the Bill.

21st February

Another very quiet day: the 2 Velvet Scoters and single Red-necked Grebe were still in Portland Harbour and a lone Red-throated Diver passed through of the Bill.

20th February

How often is it that February ends with a spell of cold easterlies setting in just as we want a waft of mild southerlies? - all too often in recent Portland history! Today's blasting easterly kept most people indoors and saw to it that the day's only worthwhile report was of the 2 Velvet Scoters still in Portland Harbour.

19th February

A very low-key day: new arrivals included 3 Ringed Plovers and a Lapwing at the Bill and a Siskin over Weston, whilst a wintering Chiffchaff was still at the Bill.

18th February

Despite the continuing sunshine it was still feeling unpleasantly cold in the brisk south-easterly. With little enthusiasm for prolonged fieldwork the day's only reports came from the Bill, where a Lapwing and a Grey Wagtail were new in, higher than of late counts of 37 Pied Wagtails and 9 Purple Sandpipers were indications of other movement afoot, a Black Redstart was still present and another Red-throated Diver passed through on the sea.

17th February

Sunny and dry again but feeling increasingly chilly as the south-easterly wind freshened through the day. A Siberian Chiffchaff and a Chiffchaff discovered at Ladymead, Easton, were the only reports away from the Bill where there was considerably less coverage than yesterday and only 3 Siskins on the land and 3 Red-throated Divers and 2 Teal through on the sea worth mentioning.

16th February

The fair weather saw a big influx of weekend birders but although there was plenty to see there still wasn't a great deal changing. Seawatching at the Bill came up with 27 Common Scoter, 15 Red-throated Divers and a Teal, whilst odds and ends on the land included singles of Great Spotted Woodpecker, Black Redstart and Chiffchaff, as well as an eared owl - presumed to be this week's Long-eared Owl - seen briefly in flight well after sunset at the Obs. Elsewhere a Blcakcap was in song at Barleycrates Lane, the Snow Bunting was at Ferrybridge and 20 Black-necked Grebes, 8 Slavonian Grebes, 6 Great Northern Divers, 2 Velvet Scoter and a Red-necked Grebe were in Portland Harbour.

15th February

The fine, mild conditions continued and, for the most part, the birding remained much as in recent days. The only obvious new arrival at the Bill was a Merlin but that didn't manage to make landfall as it was picked off and killed by a pair of local Peregrines as it came in off the sea. Of minor local interest was the first Rook of the spring at the Bill, whilst a Black Redstart was still there and another 11 Red-throated Divers passed through on the sea. Elsewhere the Snow Bunting was again at Ferrybridge and the diver/grebe/wildfowl tally at Portland Harbour was almost exactly the same as yesterday.




      Eider and Red-necked Grebe - Portland Harbour, 14th February 2013 © Brett Spencer Brett's Goosey Ganderings

  14th February

Not quite the mildest day of the year to date but certainly the most pleasant in unbroken sunshine and a light breeze. The most unexpected of the day's reports concerned a Sooty Shearwater seen briefly around a fishing boat close inshore off the Bill. Just as noteworthy was the total of 17 Slavonian Grebes in Portland Harbour which represents the highest count there for 15 years; 12 Black-necked Grebes, 4 Common Scoter, 2 Velvet Scoter and singles of Great Northern Diver, Red-necked Grebe and Pochard were also in the harbour and the Snow Bunting was still at Ferrybridge. At the Bill singles of Lapwing and Siskin were new on the land, 3 more Red-throated Divers and a steady west-bound movement of Common Gulls passed through on the sea, whilst after dark a party of several Curlews were heard flying north over the Obs.

A party of 10 or so Bottle-nosed Dolphins lingered off East Cliffs at the Bill for a while late in the afternoon.

13th February

A few hours coverage during the morning before rain and a freshening south-easterly set in towards midday. Four Lapwings were new arrivals at the Bill, where a steady up-Channel passage of Gannets was also evident; 13 Red-throated Divers also passed through on the sea, whilst one of the wintering Black Redstarts was still about on the land. Elsewhere there were 5 Rooks at Barleycrates Lane, a Blackcap at Weston and 24 Black-necked Grebes, 4 Common Scoter, 2 Velvet Scoter, a Red-necked Grebe and a Slavonian Grebe were still in Portland Harbour.



   Long-eared Owl - Portland Bill, 12th February 2013 © Martin Cade

...a rather serendipitous capture within a couple of minutes of opening a few nets in the Obs garden for the first time this year. The garden has been so apparently lifeless that what little netting we've done through the winter has always been in the Crown Estate Field - it could well be that the owl has been roosting unobtrusively in the area for weeks. Our captures of Long-eared Owls are sufficiently infrequent that we wouldn't profess any knowledge of ageing/sexing them; we drew our own conclusions from the literature but confirmation/comments would be welcome.



  12th February

Quiet conditions again, albeit feeling pretty raw under constantly dreary skies. A Long-eared Owl was a surprise capture in the Obs garden mist-nets, but events were otherwise much as in recent days, with 4 Redwings and a Fieldfare at the Bill and 6 more Red-throated Divers through on the sea there.

11th February

The return of quieter conditions saw the arrival of a handful of newcomers at the Bill, including 6 Redwings, a Fieldfare, a Siskin and a likely new Black Redstart, as well as revealing the presumed departure of a lot of wintering Song Thrushes (down to just a low single figure total from the 30 or more present a few days ago). Nine Red-throated Divers and 2 Great Northern Divers also passed through on the sea there, whilst regulars included a Grey Heron at the Bill, the Snow Bunting at Ferrybridge and an Eider in Portland Harbour.

10th February

Another day, another deluge: we might be only six weeks into the year but the rainfall total at the Obs has already reached the 100mm mark (more than 10% of last year's total). Birding opportunities were severely curtailed and the only reports were of a Little Gull lingering in Portland Harbour, a Pale-bellied Brent Goose and the Snow Bunting at Ferrybridge and 2 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill.



   Great Spotted Woodpecker - Southwell, 8th February 2013 © Pete Saunders

...we're not sure how many remain on the island but judging by the number of calls we get from members of the public reporting sightings in private gardens, particularly in the Wakeham/Easton area, there may well be several.

    9th February

Today's relentless drizzle was an inconvenience without ever being completely off-putting. Portland Harbour was again well-covered and the tally of grebes/divers/wildfowl was almost identical to yesterday, with the addition of singles of Black-throated Diver and Eider; the Snow Bunting was inevitably also still on view at Ferrybridge. At the Bill singles of Mistle Thrush and Fieldfare were new, whilst 22 Common Scoter and 5 Red-throated Divers passed through on the sea, but otherwise the usual winterers were still in situ.




      Slavonian Grebes and Velvet Scoter - Portland Harbour, 8th February 2013 © Brett Spencer Brett's Goosey Ganderings

  8th February

Nice quiet conditions again allowed for plenty of fieldwork and even permitted a rare mid-winter outing for the mist-nets at the Bill. Sadly, the rewards were hardly more than have been the norm in recent weeks. A very flat Portland Harbour came up with 24 Black-necked Grebes, 14 Great Crested Grebes, 8 Slavonian Grebes, 2 Velvet Scoters and singles of Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver and Red-necked Grebe. At the Bill a Lapwing arrived in from the south and 16 Common Scoter and 6 Red-throated Divers passed through on the sea but the mist-netting revealed little beyond a few of the Song Thrushes that have been conspicuous in the Crown Estate Field of late; a ringed Reed Bunting seen in the crops there was presumably a wintering bird that's been overlooked just lately.





   Blackcap and Siskins - Southwell and Portland Bill, 7th February 2013 © David Rashley (Blackcap) and Martin Cade (Siskins)

...also thanks to Pete Saunders for another photo from recent days of the Barn Owl that continues to show very well at times at Southwell:


  7th February

A much better day for coverage and a few more suggestions that just a little bit of early movement is getting going: there was an increase to 4 Black Redstart at the Bill, where a pair of Siskins also dropped in for a while at the Obs; thrushes also increased, with 30 Song Thrushes and 10 Redwings at the Bill, although the Fieldfare in a garden at Southwell was evidently lingering on from the cold spell; also at Southwell a Blackcap in another garden was most likely a surfacing wintering bird. Routine fare included 3 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill, singles of Red-throated Diver and Red-breasted Merganser through on the sea there, 3 Common Scoter, 2 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Velvet Scoter, a Black-throated Diver and a Slavonian Grebe still in Portland Harbour, a Chiffchaff on the harbourshore, a Goldeneye at Ferrybridge and the long-staying Snow Bunting still there.

6th February

The day's only news concerned another 9 Red-throated Divers passing through off the Bill.



   Lesser Black-backed Gull - Portland Bill, 5th February 2013 © Martin Cade

  5th February

Despite the really pretty miserable conditions - a blasting and very cold north-westerly, with a couple of heavy showers falling as sleet - there were some signs of gull passage getting going, with a steady movement of Common Gulls, accompanied by a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls, off the Bill during the afternoon. Slightly better coverage than of late otherwise came up with 6 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill, the Snow Bunting still at Ferrybridge, single Black Redstart at Blacknor and Portland Castle, and 12 Black-necked Grebes, 9 Slavonian Grebes, 4 Common Scoter and 2 Velvet Scoter in Portland Harbour.



      Goldeneye - Ferrybridge, 4th February 2013 © Brett Spencer Brett's Goosey Ganderings

  4th February

Really nothing much changing at the moment, with the well-established westerly airflow not looking likely to be very rewarding at this time of year. With the exception of a Goldeneye at Ferrybridge, all the day's reports came from the Bill: 8 Red-throated Divers and 5 Common Scoter through on the sea and 2 Redwings, a Grey Heron, a Purple Sandpiper, a Black Redstart and a Goldcrest scattered about on the land.




    Barn Owl - Southwell, 3rd February 2013 © Pete Saunders

...still being seen quite frequently early and late in the day over the fields on the southern edge of Southwell; there have been further sightings this year, presumably involving different individuals, in the St George's Church/Tradecroft area and at Verne Common.

    3rd February

Hardly bursting with news today: 18 Common Scoter and 6 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill and 3 Fieldfares and a Barn Owl were at Southwell.



   Snow Bunting - Ferrybridge, 2nd February 2013 © Andrew Maynard

...it remains as confiding as ever: yesterday's photos was of it on the roof of the Chesil Beach Centre, whilst today's is of it on the ornamental stone compass feature outside the Centre.

    2nd February

Today's clear, sunny skies saw a few divers get moving off the Bill, where 13 Red-throated Divers passed by during the morning; slightly more unusual there were the 9 Starlings that arrived in off the sea from the south. Otherwise there was little change, with 4 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Black Redstarts at the Bill, the 2 Velvet Scoters still in Portland Harbour and the Snow Bunting still at Ferrybridge.

Also, for anyone in the market for a decent DSLR camera there are two available via our Noticeboard page.




Early Thorn and Snow Bunting - Portland Bill and Ferrybridge, 1st February 2013 © Martin Cade (Early Thorn) and Pete Saunders (Snow Bunting)

...meanwhile, Guillemots continued to come ashore today. Frustratingly, several that we could see this morning were trying to find shelter at the base of the East Cliffs where many of the beaches are inaccessible at high tide; judging by the already pitiful state of some of these birds they likely succumbed before the tide dropped enough to allow them to be caught and taken into care:





We understand from the RSPCA that there were fewer birds ashore than yesterday, although a higher proportion of today's birds were already dead. Judging by the preponderance of Guillemots (only a very small number of Razorbills and a single dead Puffin have so far been discovered) we'd guess that the original contamination of these birds occurred well away from Portland; throughout this winter Razorbills have been overwhelmingly dominant (very often a 10:1 ratio in their favour) amongst the ca25000 auks wintering off the Bill.

    1st February

The day's only noteworthy reports concerned 4 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill, a Siskin at Easton, the Snow Bunting still at Ferrybridge and a dead Puffin found amongst the auks on Chesil Beach.

The first Early Thorn of the year was attracted to the lit front door of the Obs last night.