17th March

Numbers-wise, the busiest day of the season so far with the arrival of slightly clearer, warmer air seeing visible passage in particular get going quite impressively. As would be expected in mid-March Meadow Pipits dominated proceedings, with a sample count of 1400 north along West Cliffs in an hour during the morning suggesting that the passage as a whole comfortably exceeded 5000 birds; alba wagtails and Linnets were also on the move although their totals didn't get beyond the dozens, whilst scarcer visible migrants included a Lapwing over the Bill and a Siskin over Ferrybridge; also of interest overhead, a Hooded Crow - presumably the Grove bird - left out to sea from the Bill before returning some while later and a Merlin was about over the Bill. On the ground Wheatears and Chiffchaffs far outnumbered everything else, with totals of 100 and 30 respectively at the Bill and decent counts of both at quite a few up-island sites. Better quality came in the form of 4 Firecrests (1 new) and a lingering Bullfinch at the Bill, 6 Black Redstart (at least 3 new) dotted about there and elsewhere and 2 White Wagtails at Ferrybridge.

Stonechat and Small Tortoiseshell - north Portland, 17th March 2015 © Nick Hopper

...carrying on from what we wrote about stonechats the other day, we're not sure we've actually seen a male Stonechat in recent days that doesn't show some/many features of 'rubicola' which seems rather peculiar since it's hard to believe most of them aren't routine migrants passing through en route to breeding places in western Britain.
Finally, some very belated news of a second for Britain at Portland. Phil Sterling has kindly been going through our boxes of moth specimens from the last couple of years and has identified this pyralid (caught and photographed at the Obs on 7th August last year, with the specimen set and retained) as Ancylosis cinnamomella:
...we probably should have done better with this record since the first and only other record for Britain - on 12th August 2003 - was also taken at the Obs! We can remember being perplexed by last year's specimen and deciding it was perhaps a dark form of Gymnancyla canella (canella is an occasional vagrant to the Bill but the previous records have all been of paler forms) but odd enough to be worth retaining. Although collecting specimens isn't everyone's cup of tea it does afford the luxury of being able to revisit tricky IDs when things aren't quite so busy - or in this case just passing them to an acknowledged expert to sort them out for you. For interest, here's the 2003 cinnamomella (photos © Martin Cade):