30th November

The news that Portland evidently recorded the day's highest wind speed in south-west England would have come as no surprise to anyone who'd attempted an excursion into the field today; perhaps more of a surprise was the almost total absence of storm-driven seabirds, with 4 Kittiwakes and 2 new Great Northern Divers in Portland Harbour the only untoward sightings. Another 44 Goldfinches battling south over the Bill provided the day's only evidence of passage, whilst regulars included 2 Black Redstarts at Chesil Cove, a Common Scoter in Portland Harbour and 10 Pale-bellied Brent Geese at Ferrybridge.

Great Northern Diver and Skylark - Portland Harbour and Ferrybridge, 30th November 2015 © Pete Saunders

And to round off, an update on the Pheasant situation - a topic likely to be of no interest whatsoever to anyone from off-island! Although we remain puzzled as to where they originate from/who releases them, Pheasants have become a fixture once again; at least 2 broods were raised this summer at the Bill where a crèche of up to 18 were wandering about at times during the autumn. Just lately numbers there have dropped back into single figures but we're receiving more reports from elsewhere around the island; this male was in Nick Stantiford's garden at Sweethill yesterday:

...whilst this female was in Andrew Wells' garden at Killicks Hill today:

With further recent reports of singles in the Governor's Community Garden near the Borstal and of up to three birds on the undercliff below the Grove it seems as though Pheasant is going to be featuring in the log for quite some time to come.

29th November

With a pretty fierce gale blowing all day there were high hope for the sea but the rewards were about as scant as they could be: a lone Great Skua lingered for a while off the Bill and a storm-driven Guillemot showed at Ferrybridge. The only other reports were of the lingering singles of Firecrest at the Obs and Black Redstart at Chesil Cove.

28th November

Not a very inspiring day, with a blasting westerly and occasional very heavy showers limiting meaningful fieldwork. It was clear enough for a couple of hours after dawn for Goldfinches to get moving again, with 250 south at the Bill, but the only other reports from there were of a few of the regulars: 4 Purple Sandpipers, a Short-eared Owl and a Firecrest on the land and a Red-throated Diver through on the sea. Elsewhere, 8 Ravens flew south over Ferrybridge and 10 Black-necked Grebes and a Common Scoter were in Portland Harbour.

Three more Rusty-dot Pearl made it into the Obs moth-traps overnight in conditions that didn't look at all likely for anything to be on the wing.

27th November

Not such easy birding on a windy and frequently wet day and not much evidence of things having changed, with the Siberian Chiffchaff and several Chiffchaffs still at Portland Castle, 8 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and the Sandwich Tern at Ferrybridge and Black Redstarts at the Bill (2), Reap Lane and Blacknor. A Red-throated Diver was new in Portland Harbour, with 3 also flying over Ferrybridge and another through off the Bill, but passerine arrivals was limited to 35 Goldfinches, 7 Redwings and a Fieldfare through at the Bill and 2 Song Thrushes through over Ferrybridge.

Red-throated Divers - Ferrybridge, 27th November 2015 © Pete Saunders

26th November

Lovely quiet conditions - which were eventually spoilt by the onset of occasional dizzly outbreaks during the afternoon - ensured there was plenty of coverage today. The Siberian Chiffchaff remaining at Portland Castle scored highest for rarity value, but a Sandwich Tern at Ferrybridge was a nice winter sighting and a good array of late migrants and long-stayers put in appearances. Migrant-wise, it was again overflying thrushes and finches that provided most the interest, even if numbers were nothing to get excited about; the 3 Short-eared Owls at the Bill were also all in unexpected spots and gave the impression of perhaps being newcomers. Likely winterers of note included Firecrests at the Obs, Wakeham and Portland Castle, Black Redstarts at the Bill, Blacknor (2) and Portland Castle, a Great Spotted Woodpecker at Wakeham and 8 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 7 Black-necked Grebes and singles of Great Northern Diver, Slavonian Grebe and Common Scoter at Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour. The only seawatch reports of note were of 3 Red-throated Divers, a Wigeon and Great Skua through off the Bill.

Sandwich Tern, Pale-bellied Brent Geese and Siberian Chiffchaff - Ferrybridge and Portland Castle, 26th November 2015 © Pete Saunders (Sandwich Tern and Pale-bellied Brents) and Duncan Walbridge (Siberian Chiffchaff)

The Siberian Chiffchaff was a good performer even if it took an age of waiting before it called for us:

As usual, the bird took on notably different guises depending on its situation and the light - an effect accentuated by the vagaries of camera set-up; here's another of Duncan's photos of it in the open:

...and one of ours when it was in full shade:

...and, with a different camera again, some of our video of it:

25th November

A low-key day of clearer skies and a brisk north-westerly. Late passage was limited to a few dozen Chaffinches and Goldfinches and singles of Siskin and Reed Bunting through over the Bill, where a Firecrest was still about at the Obs and 2 Red-throated Divers and 2 Great Skuas passed though on the sea. Portland Harbour has been slow to get going so far this winter, with no more than 7 Black-necked Grebes and singles of Slavonian Grebe and Common Scoter found there today. In contrast, Ferrybridge remained busy, with 1400 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 14 Pale-bellied Brents, 36 Oystercatchers, a Redshank and a Short-eared Owl amongst the day's totals.

A Rusty-dot Pearl was the night's only immigrant moth at the Obs.

24th November

The birds seemed to have as little enthusiasm for today's increasingly dreary and blustery conditions as the birders, and there few reports of particular note. At the Bill, 5 Redwings and a single Chiffchaff looked to be the only new arrivals on the ground, and visible passage to confined to a few small parties of Goldfinches and 11 Meadow Pipits; 8 Common Scoter and 3 Great Skuas also passed through on the sea there. The only other reports came from Ferrybridge, where 15 Pale-bellied Brents were amongst 1200 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, and singles of Grey Plover and Redshank dropped in.

On a milder night a lone Silver Y was the only immigrant making it into the Obs moth-traps.

Redshank - Ferrybridge, 24th November 2015 © Pete Saunders

23rd November

If the first frost of the season wasn't reminder enough of just how far into winter we've got then the deafening silence overhead in what had looked to be promisingly still and clear vis mig conditions provided ample indication that we're beginning to scrape the bottom of the autumn migrant barrel. That said, it's certainly not too late for some quality which came today in the form of 2 Siberian Chiffchaffs at Portland Castle; long-stayers of interest included 2 Black Redstarts, a Short-eared Owl and a Firecrest at the Bill, but, a few thrushes and a Chiffchaff aside, it did seem as though grounded newcomers were at a premium there. Visible passage didn't get going at all, and at the Bill was limited to 100 incoming Starlings and single figure totals of routine thrushes and finches. The sea was still worth a look, with 10 Red-throated Divers, 4 Great Skuas, 3 Mallard and singles of Red-breasted Merganser and Arctic Skua through off the Bill, whilst a lone Common Scoter was settled in Portland Harbour.

22nd November

A reminder that the next In Focus field event at the Obs takes place between 10am and 4pm this Tuesday, 24th November 2015.

A perfect late autumn birding day with plenty of variety making the most of crisp, clear and still conditions. As might have been expected not a great deal was grounded, with 50 new Blackbirds the most noteworthy arrivals at the Bill; ringing evidence also indicated that a few of the Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests that were present in small numbers in all the areas of cover that were visited were also new in. Lingerers on the ground included 3 Short-eared Owls and 2 Firecrests at the Bill and 2 Black Redstarts at Blacknor. Overhead, Wood Pigeons fizzled out as quickly as they'd started, with 3800 over the middle of the island and just 300 at the Bill, whilst Starlings included 500 over Blacknor, but it was really variety that was the feature, with most of the thrushes, finches and other typical late migrants represented; a sample one hour count from the middle of the island that came up with the likes of 62 Redwings, 50 Chaffinches, 33 Linnets, 11 Goldfinches, 8 Fieldfares, 5 Meadow Pipits, 4 Bramblings and ones and twos of other expected fare was typical of the situation everywhere. Sea passage perked up just a little, with 45 Common Scoter, 14 Red-throated Divers, 10 Brent Geese, a Teal and a Curlew through off the Bill; 7 Black-necked Grebes were also still in Portland Harbour.

21st November

If yesterday's visible passage was straightforward to get amongst with nearly everything moving along a relatively narrow corridor then today's taking place under clear skies and in a blasting, cold northerly was all over the place and very difficult to count. Wood Pigeon was the day's stand out species, as much because the majority of the 5000 or so logged were moving at low level; a few larger flocks did leave high to the south but smaller flocks beating in off the sea or heading through further up-island were a feature all day (the last flock was actually spotted coming in off the sea at the Bill just as the sun was setting). Chaffinch and Goldfinch both totalled around 200, with Lesser Black-backed Gull and Meadow Pipit both still on the move in lower numbers; amongst the single figure totals a Yellow-legged Gull through over Blacknor and singles of Merlin and Golden Plover over the Bill were of note. Yesterday's single Barnacle Goose showed up briefly again at the Bill where a single Short-eared Owl was also still about, whilst at least 4 Black Redstarts were also still scattered around wintering spots. The offshore wind restricted sea sightings to 9 Common Scoter, 4 Brent Geese and 2 Red-breasted Mergansers through off the Bill.

20th November

Rain lingering along the coast at dawn coupled with a sharp drop in the temperature as the wind swung into the north worked wonders for the quality of the birding, with a day of cracking visible passage over the Bill. Goldfinches and Chaffinches arriving from the north and heading away to the south-west made up the quantity, with 1700 of the former and 870 of the latter through by early afternoon and a few more uncounted flocks of each still on the move until nearly dusk; Wood Pigeons had perhaps been put off by the early rain since a few flocks intent on leaving - totalling 750 birds - passed over either side of midday. If the finches provided the spectacle it was some Barnacle Geese that were the quality: a flock of 27 arrived from the north and disappeared from sight still heading away to the south during the afternoon, whilst a singleton dropped in briefly late in the day amongst the gulls settled below Culverwell. Variety amongst the overhead passage included more than 200 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 110 Linnets, 50 very late Meadow Pipits, 27 Redwings, 10 Song Thrushes, 7 Skylarks, 7 Bramblings and a Mistle Thrush. Although a fair few flocks of Chaffinches pitched briefly into the tree tops there was precious little else on the ground, with a lone Blackcap the only obvious new arrival at the Obs; a scatter of Black Redstarts, Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs in the usual spots were all likely winterers, as was the Firecrest at Pennsylvania Castle. The sea wasn't completely outdone, with a Long-tailed Duck at Chesil Cove and 11 Common Scoter, 5 Brent Geese, 2 Red-breasted Mergansers and singles of Great Northern Diver and Great Skua through off the Bill.

The handful of immigrant moths still on the wing included 2 each of Rusty-dot Pearl and Silver Y caught overnight at the Obs.

Barnacle Geese and Goldcrest - Portland Bill and Pennsylvania Castle, 20th November 2015 © Martin Cade

...we also had the novelty experience of hearing a flock of wild geese over the Bill; in fact it is was all the more a novelty for the fact that we could hear them before we could see them - being hardly attuned to such things we didn't have a clue which species they were going to be until they came into view!:

19th November

A frustrating day with the wind dropping out completely for the first time since the beginning of the month but relentless drizzle spoiling most attempts at fieldwork - even more annoying was that there were patently new arrivals about leading to a distinct feeling that things were being missed. Newcomers at the Bill included a scatter of Blackbirds and Redwings, 2 Blackcaps and singles of Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and Reed Bunting on the ground (where several other Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests were ringed lingerers and the group of wintering Purple Sandpipers increased to 6) and 100 Goldfinches and a Siskin through overhead; 5 Black Redstarts at Blacknor were the best of the bunch elsewhere. Poor visibility hampered seawatching but a lone Little Gull was logged at the Bill.

18th November

In this era of their being so plentiful it wasn't too much of a shock - even if the overnight conditions had seemed pretty unsuitable for new arrivals - when a Yellow-browed Warbler was heard calling vigorously at the Obs soon after dawn; with the wind soon gusting well up to gale force the bird didn't afford any more than a couple of brief views during the rest of the morning. With no other newcomers in evidence on the ground it was left to another 1600 Wood Pigeons and 360 Goldfinches through at the Bill to provide the day's evidence of ongoing autumn passage; lingerers also still about included singles of Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl and Firecrest at the Bill and a Black Redstart at Blacknor. The sea got plenty more scrutiny, with 4 Arctic Skuas and singles of Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver, Grey Plover and Great Skua eventually logged at the Bill.

17th November

A birdable couple of hours to start the day before more wind and rain rolled in produced one surprise when a Hen Harrier showed up at the Bill; Goldfinches were also still on the move, with another 220 south at the Bill, but the day's only Wood Pigeons all headed back north without reaching the Bill tip: 2000 headed back towards the mainland over Weston and later another 50 about-turned over Top Fields. Additional interest before the weather closed in included singles of Redwing and Firecrest at the Bill, a Merlin at Weston and 9 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and a Redshank at Ferrybridge. Storm-driven seabirds amounted to no more than 4 Great Skuas off the Bill during the afternoon.

A Red Admiral was a surprise overnight capture in the Obs moth-traps.

Hen Harrier - Portland Bill, 17th November 2015 © Martin Cade

As a sad reflection of the quality of the rest of the birding we've spent far too long in recent days nipping back and forth to check the gatherings of gulls in the horse fields below Culverwell. Caspian Gull has been the principal target and just as today's heaviest rain set in we clapped eyes on what looked to be a candidate which, unfortunately, quickly upped and left during a mini flush to leave us pondering some pretty inadequate photos:

Having a rudimentary knowledge of Caspian Gulls we knew this was by no means a classic, but equally, once we'd got some literature out, we were struggling to work out why it couldn't be one. Richard Bonser kindly had a look at the photos for us and, whilst highlighted the possibly anomalous features that we'd been concerned about - the apparent darkness of the underwing, the presence of some mottling on the greater coverts and the maybe not quite right scapulars - suggested it had so much else going for it that it likely originated in a Caspian Gull colony where perhaps there are some other genes in the mix. With so many large gulls about at the moment there must be a fair bet it'll pop up again when we might be able to see some finer detail on it. 

16th November

A seemingly unlikely day for such an event provided a top notch migration spectacle as Wood Pigeons again streamed off the mainland and attempted to leave across the Channel. The conditions were inclement enough for a time that some flocks dithered before heading away west or back north but it appeared as though most did eventually get away to the south; the fullest coverage came from the Bill where a minimum of 25000 passed through. Tardy finches were also on the move, with 750 Goldfinches, 300 Chaffinches and 2 Bramblings south over the Bill, whilst singles of Redwing and Fieldfare dropped in there and another 3 Redwings were at Reap Lane. Lingerers still about included singles of Short-eared Owl and Firecrest at the Bill and single Black Redstarts at Reap Lane and Blacknor. Ferrybridge came up 380 Mediterranean Gulls, 12 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and singles of Wigeon, Kittiwake and Yellow-legged Gull, whilst singles of Sooty Shearwater and Brent Goose passed through off the Bill.

Two Rusty-dot Pearl were among the very few moths caught overnight at the Obs.

Wood Pigeons, Kittiwake, Yellow-legged Gull and Wigeon - Portland Bill and Ferrybridge, 16th November 2015 © Martin Cade (Wood Pigeons), Debby Saunders (Kittiwake) and Pete Saunders (Yellow-legged Gull and Wigeon)

15th November

The continuing unsettled weather saw to it that there were just the odd snippets of interest today, notably an increase in the Ferrybridge Pale-bellied Brent Geese to 21, 2 Golden Plovers through at Ferrybridge and a total of 275 Goldfinches heading south during the morning at the Bill.

Pale-bellied Brent Geese - Ferrybridge, 15th November 2015 © Debby Saunders

14th November

The interest of the last couple of days completely evaporated in the face of an onslaught of really grim wet and windy conditions. The only reports were of 4 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill, singles of Common Scoter and Great Skua through on the sea there and 2 Black Redstarts at Blacknor.

13th November

In a blasting westerly and frequent heavy showers - conditions that would usually be deemed pretty hopeless for active migration - Wood Pigeons again had the urge and passed through in quantity: the final total of ca13000 logged at the Bill was divided roughly 60:40 in favour of leaving to the south rather than chickening out and heading back north or away west into Lyme Bay; the total also likely included most of the ca9000 that had earlier been watched heading south towards the island across Portland Harbour. The tally of less hardy travellers moving in tandem - largely Goldfinches - was unquantified but looked to be fairly insignificant, although did also include a lone Merlin heading out to sea from the Bill. Given the conditions it was no surprise that a Grey Phalarope was driven into Chesil Cove, where singles of Great Northern Diver, Long-tailed Duck and Great Skua also put in appearances; 13 Brent Geese also passed through off the Bill. There was very little coverage of the land but singles of Firecrest at the Bill and Black Redstart at Blacknor, along with the family party of Pale-bellied Brent Geese amongst the brents at Ferrybridge, were of note.

Wood Pigeons, Barn Owl and Pale-bellied Brent Geese - Portland Bill and Ferrybridge, 13th November 2015 © Martin Cade (pigeons and Barn Owl) and Pete Saunders (Pale-bellied Brents)
This week there's only really been one weather window affording Nick Hopper an opportunity to get down for some more nocturnal recording, but the slightly quieter conditions of Wednesday night/Thursday morning - 11th/12th - certainly saw plenty of action. Nick wasn't able to start the session until 21.02, but between then and dawn an exceptional 3847 Redwing calls were logged, with 503 Song Thrush calls, 56 Fieldfare, 37 Blackbird and 1 Robin making up the tally of other routine migrants. Oddity interest consisted of a very late Tree Pipit, two groups of Golden Plovers, 5 Meadow Pipits, singles of Common Sandpiper, Snipe and Black-headed Gull, and Short-eared Owl on two occasions.

12th November

After a few false starts with the seemingly now annual Wood Pigeon-fest today's somewhat more benign conditions found favour on that front and provided quite a migration spectacle for the first couple of hours of the day: 5000 passed over Ferrybridge in quick time, with emigration taking place not only along a corridor out to the south over the Bill - where a minimum of 7000 departed - but also out to sea over the Grove cliffs where there was no count of the many large departing flocks that presumably weren't visible from the Bill. Visible passage of smaller migrants included 627 Goldfinches, 461 Chaffinches, 260 Starlings, 71 Meadow Pipits, 42 Linnets, 36 Bramblings, 15 alba wagtails and a Reed Buntings south along East Cliffs at the Bill during a sample 75 minute count. It was considerably quieter for grounded migrants, with new arrivals at the Bill consisting of little more than a few Goldcrests, a Blackcap and a Firecrest; at least 4 Black Redstarts and 2 Firecrests lingered on at wintering spots. Ferrybridge again hosted excellent numbers of birds including 2900 Brent Geese, 610 Mediterranean Gulls, 60 Ringed Plover, 26 Turnstones, 15 Dunlin, 5 Pale-bellied Brents, 2 Wigeon, 2 Knot and a Mute Swan.

Immigrant moths included 5 Silver Y, 2 Rush Veneer, 2 Pearly Underwing and a Scarce Bordered Straw at the Obs and another Scarce Bordered Straw at the Grove.

Brent Geese and Wood Pigeons - Ferrybridge and Portland Bill, 12th November 2015 © Pete Saunders (brents) and Martin Cade (pigeons)
...an impromptu experiment comparing counts of one of the pigeon flocks made in the field with the actual number visible in a photograph of the same flock suggested a degree of undercounting/underestimating in field conditions - when opportunities arise we'll be hoping to take this investigation a bit further... 

11th November

Despite the continuing heavy cloud cover late passage picked up conspicuously, with finches in particular heading south in some numbers. An hour long sample count at the Bill came up with 450 Goldfinches, 160 Linnets, 38 Chaffinches, 15 Wood Pigeons, 6 alba wagtails and 2 Bramblings, with passage either side of this period boosting several of the individual totals three- or four-fold overall. It wasn't so busy on the ground, although a few new Goldcrests were ringed at the Obs and single figure totals of Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests were found in all the other areas of cover that were visited; a Mistle Thrush at Wakeham was the pick of the newcomers, with the assortment of Black Redstarts, Firecrests and a Dartford Warbler at other sites thought most likely to refer to lingerers/winterers. Ferrybridge held 2000 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 8 Pale-bellied Brents, 350 Mediterranean Gulls and a Slavonian Grebe, whilst at the Bill a lone Great Skua was the only worthwhile sighting on the sea.

Four Rusty-dot Pearl and 3 Silver Y were the only immigrant moths caught overnight at the Obs.

10th November

There was little enthusiasm for prolonged fieldwork under constantly dreary skies and in a very stiff westerly. At the Obs there didn't look to be any evidence of new arrivals, with the handful of Chiffchaffs and 'crests, that included at least 1 Firecrest, all lingering ringed birds; elsewhere, Black Redstarts at the Bill (2) and Blacknor (3) were also presumed lingerers, whilst 7 Pale-bellied Brent Geese were again amongst the brents at Ferrybridge. Some more inconsequential seawatching came up with 6 Common Scoter through off the Bill.

With the temperature remaining unusually high there were still immigrant moths about, even if conditions were hardly favourable for catching them; the overnight tally at the Obs consisted of 6 Rusty-dot Pearl, 3 Silver Y and a Gem.

Short-eared Owl - Portland Bill, 10th November 2015 © Martin Cade

...another day, another dead body - today's victim being a Short-eared Owl found moribund beside the Bill Road at dawn:

Although it's of somewhat esoteric interest we thought we ought to try and learn something about ageing and sexing Short-eared Owls as there's better literature available these days than when we last handled one; Moult, ageing and sexing of Finnish Owls looks to be the definitive resource, although there's also lots of helpful stuff online in the Short-eared Owl section of Javier Blasco-Zumeta's always useful website. Ageing seems to be pretty straightforward, with the strong 'V' pattern on the tip of the central tail feathers confirming that this is a bird of the year; evidently adults have more heavily marked central tail feathers that lack this clearly defined 'V':

The tail also offered an immediate clue to sexing: males evidently have the barring on the outer tail feather confined to the inner web; however, although our bird has barring on the outer web, it has fewer bars than the 3-5 which would be usual for a female. If the tail pattern wasn't wholly conclusive then the patterning on the inner web of the outer secondaries looked to be spot on for a female (well defined barring on a female vs almost unmarked in a male):

The richly buff abdomen and thighs was another female feature (paler on a male), even if the strength of streaking in this area (narrow c1mm on a male; broader 2-3mm on a female) didn't entirely favour either sex. Further female features were the dark facial disc (paler on a male) and the presence of barring on the underwing along the whole length of the secondaries (more fragmented on a male):

Finally, it was interesting to get a close look at the quite extraordinary ear structure:

9th November

South-westerlies freshening right up towards gale force were the order of the day and looked to have put the block on most passage, with very little evidence of new arrivals on the ground: a single Goldcrest was the only newcomer ringed at the Obs, whilst oddities were limited to a Coal Tit picked up freshly dead at the Bill, a lingering Firecrest there and a scatter of 5 Black Redstarts. For a while it was a little busier overhead, with a 50 minute sample count at the Bill coming up with 380 Goldfinches, 120 Linnets and a Merlin, whilst several flocks of Wood Pigeons - totalling 230 - arrived from the north but looked to bottle out of actually leaving out to sea. Despite the promising-looking conditions the barren waters of the adjacent Channel were again all but empty of passing seabirds, with 1 Common Scoter the sum total of interest off the Bill.

Immigrant moth numbers dropped right away, with 2 each of Rusty-dot Pearl, Dark Sword Grass and Pearly Underwing, and a single Silver Y the only overnight captures in the Obs traps.

Coal Tit - Portland Bill, 9th November 2015 © Martin Cade

...Continental Coal Tit seems to be a vogue form just at the moment with all manner of online guff written about the easy ones. As a cautionary tale, our recently deceased Coal Tit from this morning was far from straightforward and showed features associated with both Contintental ater and British britannicus. It was a bird of the year and, on the basis of a wing length of only 57mm, pretty certain to be a female; the wide bib, long and wide nape patch and other features (...it even looked to have a little crest) were rather in favour of ater - the form that's overwhelmingly the most likely at Portland - but the flanks look to be too rufousy and however you looked at it the mantle could never be construed as even faintly steely-grey.

8th November

In what would usually be considered pretty inappropriate conditions - grey skies and a brisk southerly (although it did stay dry which was very welcome) - most of today's action was overhead, with an at times quite spectacular southbound passage of finches a feature everywhere. Sadly there were no systematic counts but estimates of numbers over the Obs including 1500 Goldfinches, 700 Linnets, 400 Chaffinches, 40 Siskins and 25 Bramblings suggested there might have been some impressive totals logged with better coverage; 2 Crossbills over Verne Common and singles of Merlin, Woodlark and Bullfinch over the Bill were among the oddities tagging along. Moving thrushes weren't really a feature around the south of the island so the 200 Redwings and 50 Fieldfares at dawn at Verne Common were perhaps heading off from roost after arriving overnight. Elsewhere, numbers on the ground weren't a feature at dawn, but as the day went on Goldcrests in particular trickled in, including 30 through at the Bill and 60 or more scattered around Southwell; a new Firecrest joined a lingerer at the Bill and at least 4 more cropped around the middle and north of the island, a Coal Tit (not seen for long enough to ascertain whether it was a Continental Coal Tit) was at Southwell, Black Redstarts included 3 at the Bill, 2 at Southwell and 1 at Blacknor, whilst 2 Wheatears also showed up at the Bill. The Ferrybridge Brent Goose flock increased to 2380 (presumably a new record count - our records have the previous peak as 2300 in both November last year and November 2008) and again included a Pale-bellied Brent and the Black Brant, whilst the Portland Harbour Black-necked Grebes increased to 6. As has been the case for the best part of this autumn the sea remained the poor relation, with just 1 Arctic Skua through off the Bill.

Although numbers of the commonest immigrant moths increased a little overnight variety took a tumble, with totals from the Obs traps of just 20 Rusty-dot Pearl, 12 Rush Veneer, 6 Silver Y, 2 Dark Sword Grass and 2 Delicate.

Black Brant - Ferrybridge, 8th November 2015 © Pete Saunders

7th November

It goes without saying that the conditions were again pretty challenging in the best part of a gale and with plenty more at times heavy rain. Seawatching was the only options through most of the morning when 7 Great Skuas and 2 Teal passed through Chesil Cove, a Little Gull made a brief appearance at Ferrybridge and 4 Great Skuas passed the Bill; 500 Brent Geese and a Black-tailed Godwit were also at Ferrybridge. The clearance that eventually showed up during the afternoon included the novelty of blue skies and sunshine that heralded the appearance of a few grounded migrants, amongst which 15 Redwings, 4 Fieldfares and 3 Blackcaps at the Obs, a Firecrest at Pennsylvania Castle and 2 Black Redstarts at Blacknor were of note.

Overnight mothing was particularly soggy but did come up with another flurry of immigrants that included 17 Rusty-dot Pearl, 5 Silver Y, 2 each of Diamond-back Moth and Rush Veneer, and singles of Double-striped Tabby, Olive-tree Pearl, Dark Sword Grass, Delicate and Scarce Bordered Straw at the Obs, and a White-speck amongst lower numbers of a similar array at the Grove.

Little Gull - Ferrybridge, 7th November 2015 © Pete Saunders

Nick Hopper was only able to get down for one night of nocturnal recording this week but he did pick a decent night on 3rd/4th when 964 Redwing calls and 241 Song Thrush calls made up the bulk of the loggings, with 18 Blackbirds, 5 Goldcrests, 3 Skylarks, 3 Snipe, 2 Fieldfares, a Dunlin and a Short-eared Owl providing some variety. The big surprise came when the recorder was left running into the morning and logged a fly-by Twite an hour or so after dawn:

...we doubt whether most folk who live away from this part of the world realise just what a Dorset crippler Twite is: as far as we know the only occasion in the modern era when there have been gettable Twite in the county was when there were 3 at Lodmoor for a few days in October/November 1984, so unless you jam into one yourself/string one up flying over it's a really difficult bird to get as a county tick; we're pretty sure the one trapped at PBO in 1988 wasn't photographed, so unless the Poole boys can confirm our very hazy recollection that we once saw a photo of the bird trapped at Lytchett Bay in 1983 we wonder if Nick's recording isn't the first truly tangible evidence for Twite even having occurred in the county - how ironic that nobody actually clapped eyes on it!

6th November

Another absolute dead loss of a day with constant wind and rain or drizzle spoiling any opportunities for meaningful fieldwork. The only worthwhile reports were of Black Redstarts at the Bill (2) and Blacknor.

Although it remained extremely mild overnight conditions were very unhelpful for moth-trapping and the only immigrants making it into the Obs traps were 5 each of Rusty-dot Pearl and Silver Y, and singles of Rush Veneer, Gem and Delicate; a slightly out of season Double-striped Tabby Orthopygia glaucinalis was also likely to have been an immigrant.

5th November

A day to forget, with a dreary, windy and birdless morning giving way to a very wet, unbirdable afternoon. Despite quantities of Redwings being audible in the swirling drizzle overnight, at dawn it was soon evident that precious little at all had dropped in and much of what had been around in recent days had cleared out. Black Redstarts included 3 at both the Bill and Blacknor and a single at Reap Lane, but among the commoner migrants no more than single figure totals of Redwing, Blackcap and Goldcrest made the log at the Bill.

Immigrant moth numbers held up quite well, with 25 Rush Veneer, 15 Silver Y, 7 Rusty-dot Pearl, 2 each of Dark Sword Grass and Scarce Bordered Straw, and singles of Diamond-back Moth, Olive-tree Pearl, Gem, Spruce Carpet, Hummingbird Hawk-moth and Pearly Underwing at the Obs.

4th November

The day's fieldwork was rather too frequently interrupted by rain as still very mild but much more unsettled conditions seem to getting established. On the bird front Goldcrests keep on coming: another 60 or more made up the best part of the day's new arrivals at the Bill, with plenty more in all the up-island areas that were covered. Passage at the Bill was otherwise much as might have been expected, with 220 Wood Pigeons overhead, Redwing and Blackbird both getting up towards the 50 mark and a fair spread of other routine late migrants in single figure totals. Three Firecrests, 2 Black Redstarts and singles of Yellow-legged Gull, Short-eared Owl, Dartford Warbler, Continental Coal Tit and Corn Bunting were the pick of the oddities there, with at least 2 more Black Redstarts at both Reap Lane and Blacknor.

Immigrant moths featured quite well at the Obs, where 26 Silver Y, 17 Rusty-dot Pearl, 11 Rush Veneer, 3 Gem, 2 Olive-tree Pearl and singles of Vestal, Gem, Streak, Dark Sword Grass, Cosmopolitan and Red Sword Grass were caught overnight.

leucistic Goldfinch and Yellow-legged Gull - Portland Bill, 4th November 2015 © Martin Cade

...why are sub-adult Yellow-legged Gulls so rare at Portland? Whilst juveniles and adults are relatively frequent in their appropriate seasons it's really unusual to see any of the in-between plumages like today's second-winter; do the juveniles largely disappear back down south and not return until they're grown-up?

Whilst we assume that many of the Goldcrests passing through in autumn will have come from or via Scandinavia it's exciting to just occasionally get some tangible proof of that - this Swedish-ringed bird trapped at Culverwell this morning is only the second such recovery at Portland:

...in fact just recently Culverwell has been rather kind to us on the ringing recovery front, since on our last visit last week we came across this Jersey-ringed Goldfinch:

Finally, a couple of last night's moths; after long being considered a pretty top-notch rarity here, Red Sword Grass has lately become a tolerably frequent late autumn visitor:

...in contrast, the Streak remains a high quality moth here - we haven't checked yet but seem to remember that this is only the fourth island record:

3rd November

Heavily overcast skies all day but the promised rain amounted to no more than a brief spell of drizzle during the afternoon. New arrivals continued to trickle through and although there was a lack of quality most of the expected early November migrants put in an appearance. The Bill area got most of the coverage, with totals of 50 Blackbirds, 30 Goldcrests, 20 Redwings, 11 Fieldfares and 10 each of Blackcap and Chiffchaff making up the bulk of the numbers on the ground, and 220 Wood Pigeons and 120 Chaffinches through overhead; 6 Bramblings, 4 Short-eared Owls, 3 Black Redstarts, 2 Firecrests and singles of Merlin, Woodcock and Corn Bunting were the best of the less regulars there, with another 3 Black Redstarts still at Blacknor.

Immigrant moth numbers picked up overnight, with 19 Silver Y, 8 Rusty-dot Pearl, 6 Rush Veneer, 2 each of Delicate and Scarce Bordered Straw, and singles of Gem, Dark Sword Grass and Pearly Underwing at the Obs.

Corn Bunting - Portland Bill, 3rd November 2015 © Martin Cade

2nd November

With migrants audible in good quantity again overnight - when a Moorhen was the oddest of the birds heard over the Obs - it was disappointing to find the Obs garden considerably quieter at dawn than has been the case in recent days; thick fog was a blight everywhere - and remained so up-island at least for the best part of the morning - and looked to have restricted the number of birds dropping in (...perhaps they just kept moving above it?). At the Bill/Southwell Goldcrest numbers dropped to well below 50, and with the exception of a few thrushes including 25 Redwings and 7 Fieldfares most routine migrants were thin on the ground; oddities there included 4 Firecrests and singles of Yellow-legged Gull, Short-eared Owl, Black Redstart and Dartford Warbler, as well as a late Yellow Wagtail. In a brisk easterly 2 Brent Geese and a Shoveler through off the Bill represented a pretty poor return for the seawatchers.

Although immigrant moth numbers were rather low there was some interest in the form of singles of Cosmopolitan and Scarce Bordered Straw at the Obs, Delicate and Scarce Bordered Straw at Sweethill, and Hummingbird Hawk-moth and Vestal at the Grove.

Yellow-legged Gull, Chiffchaff and Cosmopolitan - Portland Bill, 2nd November 2015 © Martin Cade

...the Yellow-legged Gull was slightly odd in a couple of respects but we're not well up enough on the intricacies of gull hybrids and the like to know whether either of those issues are significant.

The Chiffchaff, with its anaemic plumage and strong wing-bar, looked especially arresting when we first clapped eyes on it lurking in some dingy bramble bushes; although its calls were at times quite odd for an 'ordinary' Chiffchaff they didn't bear any resemblance to typical Siberian Chiffchaff calls so we wouldn't like to guess where this specimen hailed from. Unfortunately we didn't have any proper recording equipment with us so we got nothing better on the calls than this brief phone recording:

And to end with another call, here's an 'out of the office window' recording of the migrating Moorhen that flew over the Obs yesterday evening: