12th March

A perfect Portland early spring day, with the first small fall of the season in quiet conditions that were just right for enjoyable birding. Chiffchaffs, Wheatears and Stonechats made up the bulk of the drop of migrants: the good spread of the former everywhere included at least 100 at the Bill/Southwell, whilst the latter two numbered at least 25 each at the Bill alone. Being so early in the season variety was nothing special, but list-fillers included 5 Firecrests, 3 Golden Plovers, 2 Black Redstarts and singles of Sand Martin, White Wagtail, Redwing, Fieldfare and Goldcrest at the Bill, 2 more Firecrests at Southwell, 2 more Sand Martins through Barleycrates Lane, 11 presumably non-local Ravens over Blacknor and 4 Redwings at Verne Common; semi-residents included the wintering Blackcap at the Obs and the Hooded Crow at the Grove. Reduced visibility hampered seawatching, but 4 Red-throated Divers were spotted passing Chesil.

The immigrant tally in the Obs moth-traps again consisted of just a single Dark Sword Grass.

Firecrest and Widow Iris - Portland Bill and Broadcroft BC reserve, 12th March 2015 © Martin Cade (Firecrest) and Ken Dolbear (Widow Iris)

...the Widow Iris is just getting into full flower on exactly the same date as last year; in contrast, in the cold, late spring of 2013 it wasn't in flower until the last days of April.

With so many Stonechats about we couldn't resist making an effort to spring-trap some of them and lucked in on a pretty decent tally of 7 in all. Females are a right struggle to age with any confidence but most males are do-able - a task that's even easier when you happen to jam in on three at once:

The well-worn, less densely-coloured plumage and various moult contrasts in the first-summer birds are relatively easy to spot here in the hand but are usually visible as well in a good field view. The adult male could almost pass muster as a Continental 'rubicola' bird but, as regular readers with remember, we've never been very enamoured with the pigeonholing of stonechats for the simple reason that the more you look at them the more you appreciate there's an almost seamless gradation in plumage from extreme 'rubicola' to extreme British 'hibernans' - where does one stop and the other begin?