29th February

A largely uneventful month ended quietly with precious little to excite amongst the handful of newcomers. The majority of arrivals at the Obs - including the likes of 3 Great Tits and a Robin - were only distinguishable in the hand when their lack of a ring singled them out amongst their already marked congeners. Although the lovely calm conditions favoured sticking it out in the field the only other reports were of 13 Black-necked Grebes, 4 Great Northern Divers and 3 Slavonian Grebes in Portland Harbour, 2 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Firecrests and singles of Short-eared Owl, Black Redstart and Rook at the Bill and 8 Common Scoter through on the sea at the Bill.

28th February

Still chilly and not really feeling very migranty but odd morsels of interest did manage to put in appearances. Two Canada Geese over Ferrybridge were a first for the year and a Redshank was the first there for a while, whilst on the passerine front a few more Meadow Pipits trickled in and at least 2 new Stonechats showed up amongst the winterers. Routine fare included a Black Redstart at Chesil Cove, 2 Short-eared Owls, 2 Firecrests and a Chiffchaff at the Bill and 4 Red-throated Divers and 3 Common Scoter through on the sea there.
Finally, Nick Hopper has been in touch with some nocturnal passage news from his stay at the Obs last week, when the recording gear logged 12 Redwings, 7 Song Thrushes and singles of Oystercatcher, Dunlin and Skylark on Wednesday/Thursday night (24th/25th) but no likely migrants on Thursday/Friday night.

Canada Geese, Redshank and Black Redstart - Ferrybridge and Chesil Cove, 28th February 2016 © Pete Saunders (Canada Geese) and Debby Saunders (Redshank and Black Redstart)

27th February

Yesterday's brisk easterly was even more of a feature and quelled enthusiasm for prolonged fieldwork. Two Firecrests were at the Obs, 5 Common Scoter, a Red-throated Diver and a Black-headed Gull passed through off the Bill and a Black Redstart was at the Grove.

26th February

Sharp showers at dawn marked the beginning of an increasingly unpleasant day, with a chilly easterly gathered strength throughout. Up-Channel Gannet passage was conspicuous for the first time this year, with small parties a constant feature off the Bill through the morning; 2 Red-throated Divers also passed by there, with 19 Black-headed Gulls and another 6 Red-throated Divers through off Chesil. At least 50 Meadow Pipits grounded on the Bill Common during the afternoon suggested there was passerine passage afoot that wasn't being picked up overhead. The only other reports were of 2 Short-eared Owls, 2 Firecrests and a Purple Sandpiper at the Bill and a Black Redstart at Blacknor.

The party of at least a dozen Bottle-nosed Dolphins were again off the Bill early in the morning.

25th February

A millpond calm day saw the water come up with most of the action. Seawatches at the Bill produced 13 Black-headed Gulls, 12 Red-throated Divers, 9 Common Scoter and 6 Mediterranean Gulls, with 8 Common Scoter also through off Chesil, 11 Black-necked Grebes and 6 Great Northern Divers in Portland Harbour and 3 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and 2 Great Northern Divers at Ferrybridge. Odds and ends from limited coverage of the land included 3 Black Redstarts and 2 Firecrests at the Bill, 6 Ravens and a Rook over Blacknor, another Black Redstart at Chesil Cove and 2 Chiffchaffs at Portland Castle.

A party of around a dozen Bottle-nosed Dolphins were off the east side of the island during the morning.

Mediterranean Gulls and Pale-bellied Brent Geese - Ferrybridge, 25th February 2016 © Sean Foote (Med Gull video) and Pete Saunders (PbBrents)

24th February

Today's keen easterly breeze didn't deter a few more early movers from putting in appearances, with 64 Black-headed Gulls, 3 Shelduck and 2 Common Scoter through off Chesil, a Mistle Thrush at Blacknor, a Meadow Pipit in off the sea at the Bill, 7 Long-tailed Tits at the Obs and a Red-throated Diver through off the Bill. Long-stayers showing off under the sunny skies included 2 Short-eared Owls and 2 Firecrests at the Bill and 2 Great Northern Divers at Ferrybridge.

Long-tailed Tit - Portland Bill, 24th February 2016 © Martin Cade

Ken Dolbear was also on patrol today and reported that the Widow Iris at Broadcroft BC reserve is already in flower:

...as a sign of how advanced the season is this plant was first in full flower on 12th March in both of the last two years, whilst in the late, cold spring of 2013 it wasn't in flower until late April.

23rd February

A day that was so pleasant that it merited a good bit more than the relatively mediocre selection on offer around the island. That said, there were a few more signs of spring including several Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a Common Buzzard and an alba wagtail heading north, a Redwing at Southwell and a Great Tit that dropped in at Ferrybridge. Sadly, the only other rewards from plenty of fieldwork were a good selection of the regulars: 12 Linnets, 2 Short-eared Owls, 2 Firecrests, a Dartford Warbler and a Chiffchaff at the Bill, another Chiffchaff at Southwell, a Great Spotted Woodpecker at Pennsylvania Castle, the Siberian Chiffchaff at Portland Castle and 3 Sandwich Terns and 2 Great Northern Divers in Portland Harbour.

The first Peacock butterfly of the year was on the wing at the Obs.

The Bill lighthouse - 23rd February 2016 © Martin King

And news of a couple of interesting 'other orders' discoveries. At the weekend Seth Gibson, Danny Cooper and their pan-listing friends happened across the fungus, Collared Earthstar Geastrum triplex, at Pennsylvania Castle:

...Bryan Edwards, via Ken Dolbear, has kindly let us know that this is the first record for the island (evidently the nearest occurrence on Bryan's database is from near Dorchester). Ken Dolbear has also sent us through a photo of a new lichen for the island - Arthonia cinnabarina:

...Ken reports that he first discovered this lichen last year on a tree beside the Bottomcombe Trail and that the specimen is still there today, albeit now somewhat worn (...if only birds were that long-staying/twitchable!)

22nd February

The weather forecast was awry today with the promised rain amounting to no more than showers around dawn and again towards dusk, with most of the daylight hours calm, overcast and eminently birdable. As it was interest was limited, although 4 northbound alba wagtails at the Bill were a minor migration event of interest. The wintering Siberian Chiffchaff put in its first appearance for quite a while at Portland Castle; a Black Redstart was also still there, a Pale-bellied Brent Goose was amongst the brents at Ferrybridge, 2 Chiffchaffs and a Grey Heron were at Penn's Weare and at least singles of Chiffchaff and Firecrest remained at the Obs. The sea came up with no more than 5 Common Scoter and a Black-headed Gull through off the Bill.

21st February

On a largely uninspiring dreary day most of the interest was on the sea, with 19 Brent Geese, 3 Common Scoter, a Red-throated Diver and a Great Skua through off the Bill. Six Black-necked Grebes, 3 Slavonian Grebes and a Great Northern Diver remained in Portland Harbour and 2 Chiffchaffs and a Firecrest were still at the Obs.

20th February

A disappointing selection today with the influx of weekend observers turning up next to nothing by way of quality. The dreary, blustery conditions were a constant downer and the only worthwhile sightings were of 220 Brent Geese at Ferrybridge, 8 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Great Northern Divers and 2 Slavonian Grebes in Portland Harbour, a Black Redstart at Blacknor and a Common Scoter through off the Bill.

19th February

Portland Harbour came up with the pick of the day's sightings, with first a Black Guillemot discovered off Sandsfoot Castle, and later a Velvet Scoter spotted from the same viewpoint during an otherwise unrewarded search for the guillemot; a thin scatter of the usual divers and grebes were also on offer in the harbour. At the Bill a Puffin was reported twice during the morning but, apart from a new Robin trapped at the Obs - most likely a migrant? - the land came up with no more than a few of the regulars that included singles of Short-eared Owl, Black Redstart and Firecrest.

18th February

A reminder that there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm this Saturday, 20th February.

The return of sunny skies saw the appearance of a welcome harbinger of things to come when a lone Skylark arrived in off the sea at the Bill. Winterers on show in the fair weather included the 3 Firecrests and Dartford Warbler at the Bill and at least 1 of the Short-eared Owls at Southwell. Two Red-throated Divers passed by off the Bill.

17th February

All the good work done by the last couple of days of sunshine in drying out the ground was resoundingly undone by today's rain that set in not long after dawn and lasted until well past dusk. The only reports were of a Red-throated Diver through off the Bill and singles of Chiffchaff and Firecrest at the Obs.

16th February

A second successive overnight frost was enough to prompt a small reaction, with a Jack Snipe and a few new thrushes - including 2 Redwings - at the Bill and another Redwing at Chesil Cove; the other new arrivals were likely more related to the advance of the season, with the first Rook to stray out as far as the Bill so far this year and a general increase in Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Winterers still about included 3 Short-eared Owls, 2 Firecrests and a Black Redstart at the Bill and another Black Redstart at Reap Lane; seawatching produced 6 Red-throated Divers off the Bill and 3 Red-throated Divers and 3 Brent Geese off Chesil.

Rook - Portland Bill, 16th February 2016 © Martin Cade

The Neil Arnold Memorial Fund

We're very pleased to announce the establishment of The Neil Arnold Memorial Fund. Visitors to the website will recall the sad news last year of Neil Arnold's death; Neil was a well-known figure in the birding community both locally - including serving on the management committee of PBO for many years - and further afield, and he is particularly remembered as a pioneer teacher and author in the field of environmental education for young people.
Following his death, Neil's partner, Chris Milner, proposed establishing a fund in his memory that would provide financial support for young people wishing to visit Portland Bird Observatory; through kind donations from Chris and others it has now proved possible to formally establish the fund. Although it will be administered at PBO the fund is a UK registered charity in its own right, with its own trustees - including Chris Milner and Jane Arnold, one of Neil's daughters - and a separate bank account. Although the fund will initially support residential visits to PBO, as further funding becomes available it is hoped to extend its remit to encompass visits to any accredited UK bird observatory. We will shortly make available details of the funding arrangements for applicants, but in the meanwhile we welcome any donations in Neil's memory.

15th February

A glorious sunny day, albeit with a keen northerly breeze always a feature, saw plenty of coverage by the many half-term visitors out and about around the island. A Mute Swan that lingered off Chesil was the only unexpected find, but among the regulars the likes of Purple Sandpipers, Short-eared Owls and Firecrests were all on view from time to time at the Bill.

Purple Sandpipers and Peregrine - Portland Bill, 15th February 2016 © Pete Saunders

14th February

The sea came up with the oddest of the day's sightings, with weekend visitors reporting 3 Manx Shearwaters off the Bill. More routine fare making the list included 3 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill, 8 Purple Sandpipers and singles of Short-eared Owl, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Firecrest and Goldcrest still about at the Bill/Southwell, Black Redstarts again at Blacknor and Chesil Cove (2) and a selection of divers and grebes in Portland Harbour. 

Common Buzzard, Blackcap, Black Redstart and Short-eared Owl - Portland Bill, Chesil Cove and Southwell, 14th February 2016 © Tony Hovell (Buzzard, B'cap & Black Red) and Pete Saunders (SEOwl) 

13th February

With a good part of the morning and the end the afternoon rained off birding opportunities were limited today. There were few surprises amongst what was on offer, with singles of Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Firecrest still at the Bill, 3 Red-throated Divers through on the sea there, a Sandwich Tern at Ferrybridge and 20 Great Crested Grebes, 7 Great Northern Divers, 3 Slavonian Grebes and 2 Black-necked Grebes in Portland Harbour.

Great Crested Grebe, Dunlins, Raven and Chiffchaff - Portland Bill, 13th February 2016 © Debby Saunders (GCGrebe and Dunlins), Tony Hovell (Raven) and Martin Cade (Chiffchaff)

And many thanks indeed to Andrew Sloane for taking the trouble to send us a record shot of yesterday's Puffin off the Bill:

12th February

Yesterday's fair weather didn't last and was replaced by pretty miserable conditions today, with frequent drizzle blowing through on a brisk and chilly easterly. The quality of the birding actually improved, with new arrivals that included a Puffin settled off the Bill, a Blackcap at Southwell, a Short-eared Owl at Verne Common and a Little Gull at Ferrybridge. Routine fare included 2 Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap at the Obs, 3 Red-throated Divers through on the sea at the Bill, 2 Chiffchaffs at Portland Castle and 155 Dunlin at Ferrybridge.

We also received encouraging news from Nick Hopper of what seems likely - given the absence of any cold weather - to be the first signs of spring passage: Nick gave his recording equipment another outing the night before last (10th/11th) and logged 3 Redwings and singles of Song Thrush and Blackbird over the Obs.

Blackcap - Southwell, 12th February 2016 © David Rashley

11th February

On one of the most birdable days of the year to date the sunshine brought out plenty of observers and another good selection of long-staying birds. There really weren't any surprises although 3 Slavonian Grebes settled off Chesil were new for that site even if they'd likely only wandered over from Portland Harbour. The harbour itself hosted 16 Black-necked Grebes, 6 Great Northern Divers and a Sandwich Tern, whilst elsewhere there were Black Redstarts at both Chesil Cove and Blacknor, singles of Chiffchaff and Goldcrest at Southwell and 2 Firecrests and singles of Short-eared Owl, Dartford Warbler and Chiffchaff at the Bill; 11 Red-throated Divers also passed by on the sea at the Bill.

10th February

In increasingly pleasant conditions nearly all of the routine wintering fixtures put in appearances, with the best of the bunch at the Bill being 7 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Short-eared Owls, 2 Firecrests and singles of Black Redstart and Blackcap; the sea was very quiet, with 5 Black-headed Gulls - the first there for a while - being the only minor oddities. Elsewhere, both Sandwich Terns remained in Portland Harbour where diver and grebe numbers dropped back from yesterday's levels.

Red-breasted Merganser, Sandwich Tern and Short-eared Owl - Portland Harbour and Southwell, 10th February 2016 © Debby Saunders (RbMerganser) and Pete Saunders (Sandwich Tern and SEOwl)

And as bit of historic interest, whilst looking for something else we happened across a video tape that probably hadn't seen the light of day this century. Way back in the early days of the Obs, the late Angela Hughes filmed the gradual transformation of the dilapidated Old Lower Lighthouse into the sparkling new premises of the then recently established PBO (we're guessing that the majority of the footage here was filmed in 1960); although there's been a considerable loss in quality during the transfer of Angela's cine-film to VHS tape and then our rendering of that into something digital, it's still a great little piece of archive film:


9th February

In cooler and quieter conditions the effects of yesterday's storm were most noticeable at Portland Harbour where there were several peak counts for the winter amongst totals that included 22 Black-necked Grebes, 18 Great Northern Divers, 5 Slavonian Grebes, 2 Sandwich Terns and 1 Red-necked Grebe; although only tenuously within the island recording area, a Common Sandpiper was also along the mainland shore of the harbour. The day's other reports were from the south of the island, where a Chiffchaff was at Reap Lane, 2 Short-eared Owls and singles of Dartford Warbler, Chiffchaff and Firecrest remained at the Bill and 2 Red-throated Divers and 2 Common Scoter passed through off the Bill.

Black-necked Grebes, Slavonian Grebe and Short-eared Owl - Portland Harbour and Southwell, 9th February 2016 © Joe Stockwell (Black-necked Grebes) and Pete Saunders (Slavonian Grebe and Short-eared Owl)

8th February

The wildest weather of the winter did absolutely nothing on the birding front, with no more than routine fare to show from plenty of coverage of the Bill and Chesil Cove. The day's only worthwhile sighting was of a Great Northern Diver in Portland Harbour.

Great Northern Diver - Portland Harbour, 8th January 2016 © Pete Saunders

7th February

The fair weather of the morning proved to be just a brief interlude between storms, and by evening lashing rain and a blasting gale had set back in again. The day's only reports were of 6 Purple Sandpipers and singles of Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Firecrest at the Bill, 3 Red-throated Divers and a Common Scoter through on the sea there and 2 Goldcrests at Southwell.

6th February

A day to forget in a hurry. The promise of rain - which actually held off until midday - was enough to keep most people indoors and the only reports were of 3 Great Skuas through at Chesil Cove and another through off the Bill, and the Blackcap still at the Obs.

5th February

An early morning Marsh Harrier that appeared over the Bill during one of several misty, drizzly spells was a surprise, but otherwise a more-of-the-same list there included 2 Short-eared Owls, 2 Firecrests and singles of Black Redstart and Chiffchaff on the land and singles of Red-throated Diver and Brent Goose through on the sea.

Marsh Harrier - Portland Bill, 5th February 2016 © Martin Cade
...a truly awful record shot of a bird that wasn't actually too far away but was barely resolvable through the mist and drizzle.

4th February

A nice enough day of quieter, overcast conditions, but lacking any notable changes on the birding front. A Great Crested Grebe settled off East Cliffs at the Bill was a newcomer, with a now customary back-up cast of 3 Short-eared Owls, 3 Firecrests and singles of Purple Sandpiper, Barn Owl, Black Redstart and Chiffchaff on the land there and 5 Common Scoter through on the sea. The Portland Harbour list included 10 Black-necked Grebes, 3 Slavonian Grebes, 2 Great Northern Divers and singles of Common Scoter and Sandwich Tern.

Firecrest - Portland Bill, 4th February 2016 © Martin Cade

3rd February

Despite the strength of the wind a fair selection of the winterers showed to keep most of the visitors happy: 5 Short-eared Owls and singles of Barn Owl, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Firecrest remained at the Bill, 5 Red-throated Divers and 2 Common Scoter passed through on the sea there, the Pheasant and Goldcrest were still at Southwell and 4 Black-necked Grebes, 3 Slavonian Grebes, a Great Northern Diver and a Common Scoter were in Portland Harbour.

Short-eared Owl - Southwell, 3rd February 2016 © Pete Saunders

2nd February

From the length of today's list it seemed as though meaningful fieldwork wasn't top of most folk's agenda. A Common Scoter was a new arrival in Portland Harbour, but otherwise the only reports were of a handful of the regulars: Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Firecrest at the Obs and Goldcrest at Southwell.

Goldcrest - Southwell, 2nd February 2016 © Debby Saunders

1st February

As might be expected on a breezy and mainly dreary winter Monday there wasn't much in the way of concerted fieldwork, but those that were about did manage to accrue a reasonable list for the day. The Bill area came up singles of Dartford Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Firecrest, with additional singles of Redwing and Goldcrest at Southwell and Black Redstart at Blacknor. Seawatching at the Bill produced 3 Red-throated Divers and a Common Scoter, whilst singles of Great Northern Diver, Slavonian Grebe and Sandwich Tern were at Portland Harbour/Ferrybridge.

Greenfinch - Portland Bill, 1st February 2016 © Martin Cade
We've remarked quite often just lately on the alarming demise of the Greenfinch at Portland, perhaps illustrated no better than by events at the Obs garden where from being until relatively recently a familiar and numerous breeding bird - as well as a common passage migrant - the species has declined to the extent that no young were raised in 2015 and just two birds were trapped and ringed between last April and today. Although the current decline - which is attributed to the emergence of the respiratory disease trichomonosis - has been worryingly precipitous, we were intrigued upon examining the Obs garden ringing totals to discover that it's not unprecedented here:
The totals in the early years of the Obs - certainly until the early 70s - are probably best discounted from any analysis since the habitat then was considerably less Greenfinch-friendly than it has been since, whilst there was also a good deal less ringing effort in that era than there is now. However, what's abundantly clear from the totals is a peak in numbers through the late 70s, followed by a steep decline through the 80s - a situation mirrored by events in the last decade. Thus far, we haven't discovered any explanation for the decline during the 80s, but the subsequent recovery certainly offers hope for the future. To contrast with the fortunes of the Greenfinch, we included the Goldfinch totals on the graph above - it seems as though they're the ones inheriting the Obs garden in the absence of the stricken Greenfinches!