31st January

A quiet end to the month, with 3 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Firecrests and singles of Black Redstart and Chiffchaff at the Bill, 3 Red-throated Divers and 2 Common Scoter through on the sea there and 4 Goldcrests in the Foundry Close/Fire Station area.

Pheasant and Short-eared Owl - Southwell, 30th January 2016 © Pete Saunders

30th January

It seems as though we're getting into the late winter doldrums, with visitors thinning out and the birding stuck in a samey groove. A good many of the regulars featured on today's list, with singles of Short-eared Owl, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Firecrest at the Bill, 3 Common Scoter and 2 Red-throated Divers through on the sea there, a Black Redstart at Weston and 6 Black-necked Grebes, 3 Slavonian Grebes and 2 Great Northern Divers in Portland Harbour.

Black Redstart - Weston, 30th January 2016 © Duncan Walbridge
And further to our mention a couple of days ago of Great Black-backed Gull movements from northern France, today we received notification from Gilles Le Guillou of a further sighting of a bird we'd logged at the Bill on 15th November last year:

...Gilles has collated a nice series of sightings of this bird as it's criss-crossed the Channel during the last six years:


29th January

With the events of mid-week still fresh in the mind, the seawatchers no doubt hoped for more to materialise from another bout of wind and rain than the lone Great Skua that showed up off Bill. The day's only other reports were of 2 Black Redstarts and singles of Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Firecrest still at the Bill and singles of Great Northern Diver and Slavonian Grebe in Portland Harbour.

Diamond-back Moth - Portland Bill, 28th January 2016 © Martin Cade

28th January

In marked contrast to yesterday it was a pleasure to be outdoors today, with a freshening breeze only slightly spoiling the otherwise decent conditions. The birding was much as on many of the fair days just lately, with 3 each of Short-eared Owl, Chiffchaff and Firecrest, and singles of Black Redstart and Blackcap scattered around the Bill/Southwell area, 7 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill and 300 Mediterranean Gulls, 3 Great Northern Divers, a Pale-bellied Brent Goose and a Sandwich Tern at Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour.

No immigrants made it into the Obs garden moth-traps overnight, but during the evening a Diamond-back Moth was attracted to a lighted window at the Obs.

Kingfisher and Sandwich Tern - Portland Harbour, 28th January 2016 © Pete Saunders

...and also thanks to Pete Saunders for a photo of this colour-ringed Great Black-backed Gull that was at Ferrybridge the day before yesterday; Fabrice Gallien has kindly let us know that it was ringed as a nestling on 23rd June last year across the Channel at Chausey, Normandy - an area whence a fair number of our 'non-local' Great Black-backs seem to originate:

And continuing our current mission of making more of our data accessible online, we've cobbled together a spreadsheet of our daily ringing totals that'll be easy to keep up-to-date in tandem with the daily blog updates - fairly obviously there's precious little going on at the moment, but just wait until the spring...

27th January

Today was a romp-home winner in the Grimness Stakes, with the rain that set in yesterday afternoon lasting through the night and right on into a second afternoon. The only reports from the diehards venturing out were of 3 Purple Sandpipers and singles of Black Redstart, Blackcap and Chiffchaff at the Bill, 3 Black-necked Grebes and 2 Great Northern Divers in Portland Harbour and 150 Dunlin and 90 Brent Geese at Ferrybridge.

Shag - Portland Harbour, 27th January 2016 © Joe Stockwell
Finally, another upload of a report that has yet to see the light of day in print form; Joe Stockwell has kindly compiled for us a ringing report for 2013-14 that can be viewed via this link:

26th January

Considering today's storm only blew in during the late hours of the night it carried with it a tidy little arrival of unseasonable seabirds, with a Grey Phalarope through at Ferrybridge, a Sooty Shearwater through at Chesil Cove and a Pomarine Skua through off the Bill; rather more in keeping with the season, it also brought with it a Glaucous Gull that first passed Chesil Cove and later dropped in at Barleycrates Lane. The day's only other reports were of 3 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers and a Great Northern Diver through off the Bill and 2 Firecrests and a Chiffchaff still at the Obs.

A minor arrival of immigrant moths saw overnight captures of a Rush Veneer at the Obs and a Dark Sword Grass at Sweethill.

Glaucous Gull - Barleycrates Lane, 26th January 2016 © Pete Saunders

25th January

Just the regulars again today: 2 Firecrests and singles of Purple Sandpiper, Black Redstart, Blackcap and Chiffchaff at the Bill, 2 Red-throated Divers through on the sea there and 2 Great Northern Divers at Ferrybridge.

24th January

Very mild, quiet conditions with nothing much changing. Five Short-eared Owls, 2 Black Redstarts and singles of Barn Owl, Redwing, Blackcap and Chiffchaff were at the Bill and 2 Firecrests were at the Grove.

Short-eared Owls - Southwell, 24th January 2016  © Pete Saunders (top and middle) and Debby Saunders (bottom)

23rd January

Disappointingly low-key today with nothing much more to report than the long-stayers, which included 2 each of Short-eared Owl, Black Redstart, Chiffchaff and Firecrest and the single Blackcap at the Bill, singles of Chiffchaff and Goldcrest at Southwell, another Black Redstart at Blacknor, another Firecrest at the Grove and the Sandwich Tern in Portland Harbour; finch numbers continued to creep up in places and included 15 Greenfinches at the Obs and 75 Goldfinches at Blacknor today.

22nd January

The sunny skies and much milder air that followed a completely rained-off morning came a little too late for much to be found on the land beyond 2 of the Black Redstarts at Chesil Cove and 2 Firecrests, a Black Redstart and a Blackcap at the Bill. Earlier, a Little Gull lingered in Chesil Cove and a Sandwich Tern was in Portland Harbour.

Kingfisher - Portland Harbour, 22nd January 2016 © Pete Saunders
And continuing our endeavour to provide more timely summaries of PBO's ongoing activities, click on the link below for a report on lepidoptera and other bugs in 2015:

Lepidoptera and other invertebrates in 2015

21st January

We're looking to appoint an assistant warden for the 2016 season; full details:

....and an application form:

Not such enticing birding conditions today, with a freshening southerly wind spoiling most attempts at coverage of the land. The sea, however, had plenty of action, with auks more numerous than they've been at any time so far this winter, with sample counts indicated totals of 10-12000 per hour were passing the Bill for long periods during the morning; other routine seabirds were plentiful - including both Gannets and Kittiwakes passing Chesil at more than 100 per hour - whilst minor oddities tagging along including 11 Red-throated Divers and 7 Common Scoter off the Bill and 8 Red-throated Divers off Chesil. The only reports from the land were of the 2 Firecrests and single Blackcap still at the Obs and a Black Redstart still at Portland Castle.

Common Gull and Red-breasted Merganser - Ferrybridge, 21st January 2016 © Pete Saunders
As we mentioned yesterday, Nick Hopper popped down the night before last for his first sound recording session of the year. The recent chilly spell has got a few birds moving and Nick detected a decent enough selection overnight: 5 Golden Plovers (all singles), 4 loggings of Teal (which seemed to involve three small groups and a single bird, with one of the groups containing both males and females), a small group of Wigeon, 2 Lapwings, 2 Snipe and 2 Redwings; additionally, there was a fair bit of Short-eared Owl activity and, rather frustratingly, a likely Jack Snipe which was just too distant to clinch:



20th January

Crisp and clear today - very nice conditions for laying waste to another swathe of overgrown Obs garden and, despite the always keen south-easterly breeze, not too bad for fieldwork either. The mini chilly-snap again prompted some dispersal from the mainland, with single Jack Snipe at both the Bill and Reap/Barleycrates Lane nice highlights; 11 Wigeon and a Pintail also arrived from the west off West Cliffs and a Fieldfare was new at Portland Castle (Nick Hopper also gave nocturnal sound recording a try and mentioned that he'd logged both Teal and Golden Plover over the Obs early last evening - a full list from Nick to follow once he's gone through the recordings). It was otherwise much as in recent days, with 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Firecrests, a Purple Sandpiper, a Short-eared Owl and a Blackcap at the Bill, 14 Red-throated Divers and 11 Common Scoter through off the Bill, 8 Long-tailed Tits, a Black Redstart and a Chiffchaff at Portland Castle, 33 Ringed Plover and 30 Dunlin at Ferrybridge and at least 5 Great Northern Divers at Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour.

Fieldfare - Portland Castle, 20th January 2016 © Pete Saunders

19th January

Yesterday's gloomy skies were replaced by unbroken sunshine and there was a veritable rash of coverage, with enough birders/photographers wandering the Bill area and calling in at the Obs to have done a spring day proud. Long-stayers made up the bulk of the quality and included 3 Short-eared Owls, 2 Firecrests, a Red-legged Partridge, a Black Redstart, a Dartford Warbler and a Blackcap at the Bill and 3 Black Redstarts at Chesil Cove. An increase in passerine numbers - presumably as a result of the recent dip in temperatures - was widely apparent, with 4 Redwings amongst a particularly noticeable increase in chats and thrushes around the middle of the island. The sea accounted for the rest of the interest, with 9 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill, 7 Wigeon through at Portland Harbour, singles of Black-throated Diver and Slavonian Grebe amongst the regulars settled in the harbour and a Great Northern Diver at Ferrybridge.

Red-breasted Merganser and Slavonian Grebe - Portland Harbour, 19th January 2016  © Joe Stockwell

18th January

An at times mightily unpleasant day: rain for several hours either side of dawn, a raw south-easterly and constant dreary skies. In the circumstances it was a surprise that there were any sightings of note, let alone the good mid-winter highlight that came in the form of a seemingly poorly Puffin settled close inshore at the Bill; more routine reports from the sea there included 7 Common Scoter and 4 Red-throated Divers through. On the land the first Linnets of the year - a flock of 11 - were at the Bill and the 2 Firecrests and single Blackcap remained at the Obs.

Puffin - Portland Bill, 18th January 2016 © Martin Cade

...healthy Puffins are pretty well unknown off Portland in mid-winter, with most of what few records there are of the species at this time of year relating to patently ailing individuals or tideline corpses on Chesil.

And some more photos from recent days: Peter Moore petermooreblog kindly sent through two from yesterday of the Chesil Cove Black Redstarts:

...whilst Emma Cockburn passed us one of a Bloxworth Snout that just lately has been inside her house at Fortuneswell:

17th January

The second half of the weekend was considerably less pleasant than the first, with a freshening south-easterly and a spell of drizzly rain either side of midday. A Marsh Harrier over Weston at the end of the afternoon was unexpected, whilst also overhead another wandering Siskin headed south over Hamm Beach. The burgeoning Greenfinch flock at the Obs got up to the dizzy heights of 9 (many of them are ringed so are presumably local birds - since they patently haven't all died, where have they been for the last few months?) but the only other reports from the land were over a variety of mainly established winterers: 3 Short-eared Owls, 2 Purple Sandpipers, a Blackcap and a Dartford Warbler at the Bill, 8 Long-tailed Tits at Southwell, a Firecrest at the Grove and a scatter of single Chiffchaffs at six sites. Four Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill and 11 Black-necked Grebes were in Portland Harbour.

16th January

Blue skies and millpond calm - just for once a day of perfect mid-winter birding conditions. Despite much of the coverage on the land being directed toward watching/photographing the Short-eared Owls and other established winterers, there were a few additions on the list by the end of the day: 9 Long-tailed Tits at Southwell were pretty noteworthy for recent times (reports from the south of the island have got very infrequent in the last year or so), a Snipe in Top Fields was a first for the year and a Firecrest at the Grove was a first for that area so far this winter. Regulars putting in appearances included 6 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Firecrests, the Dartford Warbler and the Blackcap at the Bill. The sea came up with 13 Red-throated Divers and a Great Northern Diver through off the Bill and at least 6 Black-necked Grebes and 4 Great Northern Divers in Portland Harbour.

15th January

A dip in the temperature close to freezing saw an obvious increase in birds visiting feeders but also prompted the merest of hints of an arrival from further afield, with single Redwings at the Bill and Wakeham, a Fieldfare at Southwell and 4 Teal through off the Bill. The day itself was again pleasantly bright and sunny enough to see a good selection of winterers make the list, with 6 Greenfinches (the highest count of settled birds for many months!), 2 Chiffchaffs, 2 Firecrests and singles of Short-eared Owl, Black Redstart and Blackcap at the Bill, another Black Redstart at Reap Lane, another Firecrest at Pennsylvania Castle, 30 Chaffinches at Wakeham and 5 Black-necked Grebes and 3 Great Northern Divers in Portland Harbour.

We're very conscious that printed output from the Obs has been woefully lacking in recent years - or example, our last published annual report was for 2012 - so to make amends whilst annual reports and other publications remain in the pipeline we're going to be uploading some fuller summaries of our ongoing activities than are usually available here on the blog; to begin with click on the link below for a provisional ringing report for last year:

14th January

A good day for getting on with overdue management of the Obs garden but always a wee bit too windy for those in the field to get much reward from their legwork. A single Redwing was the first for a few days at the Bill where now customary fare included 4 Short-eared Owls, 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Firecrests and a Chiffchaff; another Black Redstart visited a private garden at Weston - a 'new' site for what's proved to be a good winter for this species. Two Red-throated Divers, a Great Northern Diver and a Brent Goose passed by off the Bill and several Great Northern Divers remained in Portland Harbour.

13th January

Intermittently, at least until late in the day when some hefty showers rolled through, a very pleasant day with the breeze light enough for a selection of wintering passerines to surface. Amongst these a Dartford Warbler showing up for the first time in a month at the Bill was the most notable; both Firecrests at the Obs were also making the most of the sun, whilst a duo of Black Redstarts at both the Bill and Chesil Cove, and several Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests and Greenfinches - the latter a noteworthy scarcity these days - dotted about Southwell/the Bill were all on view. Other winter regulars making the list included 5 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill and 2 Short-eared Owls at Southwell, whilst divers included a Red-throated passing over Portland Harbour and at least 2 Great Northerns settled there.

Short-eared Owl and Dartford Warbler - Southwell and Portland Bill, 13th January 2016 © Pete Saunders (Short-eared Owl) and Martin Cade (Dartford Warbler)

12th January

A blasting and now pretty cold north-westerly restricted fieldwork/enthusiasm and the day's only reports were of 2 Merlins at Southwell, a Purple Sandpiper and a Chiffchaff at the Bill and a Black-throated Diver through on the sea at the Bill.

11th January

Distinctly chillier but - as a very welcome change - dry from dawn 'til dusk today. Another lone passing Siskin, this one over Verne Common, was new today, whilst the Black-necked Grebe tally in Portland Harbour increased to 13; 6 Great Northern Divers and a Slavonian Grebe were also in the harbour and 5 Red-throated Divers and 3 Common Scoter passed through off the Bill. Lingerers/winterers elsewhere included 5 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Black Redstarts, 2 Short-eared Owls and a Blackcap at the Bill and 2 Black Redstarts at Chesil Cove.


Short-eared Owls, Blackcap and Rock Pipit - Southwell and Portland Bill, 11th January 2016 © Martin King (SEOwl upper), Pete  Saunders (SEOwl lower) and Joe Stockwell (Blackcap and Rock Pipit)

10th January

Despite thunder and lightning being added to the weather mix today there were also plenty of sunny spells that permitted a fair bit of coverage. The mid-week Blackcap resurfacing at the Obs was the only slightly unexpected find, with routine fare consisting of 5 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill, at least 2 Short-eared Owls at Southwell, 4 Common Scoter, 3 Red-throated Divers, a Great Northern Diver and a Great Skua through on the sea at the Bill and a Little Gull in Portland Harbour.

9th January

Disappointing few reports on offer for a weekend day: singles of Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver and Great Skua passed through off the Bill, a Little Gull lingered in Chesil Cove and Black Redstarts were again at Chesil Cove (2) and Blacknor.

Short-eared Owl and Great Northern Diver - Southwell and Ferrybridge, 8th January 2016 © Debby Saunders (SEOwl) and Peter Saunders (GNDiver)

8th January

A fair few of the customary seabirds haven't been featuring in anything like their customary numbers so far this winter, with a timely example being today's 20 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill which represents a pretty paltry winter peak to date; 2 Common Scoter and a single Little Gull were the only other seabirds of note there. Calmer conditions permitted a better look at Portland Harbour, where 6 Black-necked Grebes, 4 Great Northern Divers and singles of Black-throated Diver and Slavonian Grebe were also less than impressive totals in comparison with some in recent winters. Regulars on the land included 2 Short-eared Owls, a Chiffchaff and a Firecrest at the Bill/Southwell and single Black Redstarts at Reap Lane and Blacknor.

Short-eared Owl - Southwell, 8th January 2016 © Nick Stantiford

7th January

What a difference a day makes: yesterday's positively balmy conditions were replaced by a blasting north-westerly that precluded any really worthwhile fieldwork. The 2 Firecrests remained at the Obs, 5 Red-throated Divers and 2 Common Scoter passed through off the Bill and a single Little Gull was off Chesil Cove.

6th January

With the mothing events of the pre- and post-Christmas period beginning to fade from memory it was a considerable surprise when a moth attracted to a lighted window at the Obs turned out to be a Black-spotted Chestnut - not only another new species for Portland but an addition to the Dorset list as well; the moth-traps themselves, both at the Obs and the Grove, produced no other signs of immigration.

Bird-wise, a second successive pleasantly quiet and sunny day came up with a trio of minor surprises: a likely Bearded Tit over Ferrybridge was most unexpected although actually not without precedent at this time of year, whilst a Siskin over Blacknor and a Blackcap at the Obs were also both newcomers. The rest of the day's tally was more routine, with a Little Gull off Chesil, 2 Black Redstarts and the Siberian Chiffchaff at Portland Castle, a Firecrest at East Weare, 10 Common Scoter and 8 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill and 4 Chiffchaffs, 3 Purple Sandpipers, 2 each of Short-eared Owl, Black Redstart and Firecrest, and a lone Grey Heron scattered about their usual haunts at the Bill/Southwell.

Black-spotted Chestnut, Blackcap and Grey Heron - Portland Bill and Southwell, 6th January 2016 © Martin Cade (Black-spotted Chestnut and Blackcap) and Pete Saunders (Grey Heron)

Black-spotted Chestnut had been at the back of our mind as a likely future addition to the island moth list - but certainly not anytime soon: with its recent colonisation of Britain getting going via the short hop from France to Kent - quite apart from there having been no other records from the South Coast immigrant hotspots - until last night an imminent Portland record would have seemed a pretty fanciful notion. It makes a change not to be gripped off by a colonist showing up for the first time in Dorset at Durlston!

5th January

Give or take the odd passing shower during the morning today's sunshine and light breeze was a welcome novelty, quite apart from prompting a rash of coverage. Given that finches had still been on the move on every day of fair weather in early December it maybe wasn't too much of a surprise to see a few get going again today; the numbers might have dwindled but 27 Goldfinches and 6 Chaffinches through over the Bill and a Redpoll over Verne Common were good to see in January. The only other movement related to sea passage, with 16 Red-throated Divers, 6 Common Scoter, 3 Great Skuas and a Black-throated Diver through off the Bill and a Shelduck through at Portland Harbour. The miscellany of winterers exhibiting themselves rather better than has been the case for a lot of this winter included 7 Purple Sandpipers, 4 Short-eared Owls, 2 Firecrests, a Black Redstart and a Chiffchaff at the Bill, further Black Redstarts at Reap Lane and Chesil Cove (2), the Siberian Chiffchaff and 2 Chiffchaffs at Portland Castle and 9 Great Northern Divers and 5 Black-necked Grebes in Portland Harbour.

Short-eared Owls, Black Redstart, Kestrel and Purple Sandpipers - Portland Bill and Chesil Cove, 5th January 2016 © Mark Eggleton (Short-eared Owls and Black Red) and Matt Phipps (Kestrel and Purple Sands)

4th January

All too frequent heavy showers didn't prevent a fair bit of coverage of the island but there were few surprises to show for the effort. On the sea, another 4 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill and a Little Gull lingered off Chesil, whilst a few wrecked Kittiwakes were about at Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour. Routine fare on the land included 6 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Short-eared Owls, a Chiffchaff and a Goldcrest at the Bill.

Kittiwake - Ferrybridge, 4th January 2016 Debby Saunders

3rd January

The first half of the day was rained off but a fairer afternoon saw a more of the same selection logged around the island: 6 Red-throated Divers and 2 Great Skuas passed through off the Bill, 4 Short-eared Owls and 2 Chiffchaffs were scattered between the Obs and Southwell, a storm-driven Shag dropped in at Southwell, 9 Great Northern Divers and a Black-necked Grebe were in Portland Harbour and 90 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, a Pale-bellied Brent, 37 Dunlin and the Redshank were at Ferrybridge.

2nd January

The huge sea running at the Bill was testament to just how grim the weather's been in recent days but the conditions have certainly perked up sea interest. The tally of storm-driven Great Northern Divers in Portland Harbour has been creeping up and got into double figures for the first time, with 13 counted during the morning; at least 1 Little Gull remained off Chesil Cove, where a Red-throated Diver was also settled, whilst watches at the Bill returned totals of 8 Black-headed Gulls, 7 Red-throated Divers and 5 each of Common Scoter, Great Skua and Little Gull. Coverage of the land came up with a selection of the winterers including 6 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Black Redstarts, a Short-eared Owl and a Chiffchaff at the Bill, additional Black Redstarts at Blacknor and Chesil Cove (2), at least 6 Goldcrests at Easton and a Redshank at Ferrybridge.

Goldcrest - Easton, 2nd January 2016 © Martin Cade