31st March

It seems that migrant momentum really has got going, with a nice fair weather drop of arrivals at the Bill through the morning and a decent bit of onward movement elsewhere as the day went on; if anything, visible passage was a let down although it did include an exceptionally early Swift through at the Bill (not quite the earliest ever, but still only the second March record). Clear skies and a chilly northerly breeze often do the trick in spring, and today was no exception with 150 Chiffchaffs, 100 Wheatears, 20 Blackcaps, 10 Willow Warblers and 10 Goldcrests through at the Bill in quick time once the sun got up. Lesser numbers included 7 Firecrests, 5 Black Redstarts, 3 White Wagtails, 3 Siskins, 2 Short-eared Owls, a Grey Heron and a Brambling; whilst 2 more Black Redstarts, another Short-eared Owl and another Firecrest cropped up elsewhere and a single Sanderling dropped in at Ferrybridge (where a Great Northern Diver was still present). Visible passage was something of nothing, with hirundines and Meadow Pipits never getting beyond a disappointing trickle.

A Brimstone in a private garden at Southwell was the first record this year of what's an infrequently recorded butterfly at Portland.

Sandwich Tern and Wheatear - Smallmouth, 31st March 2016 © Joe Stockwell

And amongst the catch of migrants at the Obs it was good to get a 'control' Chiffchaff:

30th March

Such as been the snail's pace of this spring's early passage that today's pretty modest little arrival seemed like a bit of a season's opener - at least in terms of getting amongst some birds on the ground. In pleasant conditions coverage extended to some fairly off the beaten track areas where finds largely reflected numbers from the day's census at the Bill that had come up with 100 Chiffchaffs, 15 Wheatears, 8 Firecrests, 2 each of Short-eared Owl, White Wagtail, Blackcap and Willow Warbler, and singles of Redwing and Long-tailed Tit; elsewhere, the first 2 Sanderlings of the year were at Ferrybridge. Visible passage was patchy but included a peak of 300 Meadow Pipits per hour north along West Cliffs and 3 House Martins - another first for the year - over the Bill. Seawatching was scarcely worth the effort, with singles of Red-throated Diver off the Bill and Great Skua off Chesil the best of a bad job.

Sanderling and Little Egrets - Ferrybridge, 30th March 2016  © Martin Cade

29th March

The turbulent conditions might be easing but a nasty squall during the morning and a vicious little weather front accompanied by thunder and lightning during the afternoon were more than enough to send those that were venturing out scurrying for cover. That migrants were beginning to get back on the move was evidenced by the light but steady arrival of Meadow Pipits, alba wagtails and Swallows in off the sea throughout the day, but grounded arrivals weren't exactly conspicuous, with not much more than 20 Wheatears, 15 Chiffchaffs, 3 Firecrests and singles of Dunlin, Short-eared OwlBlackcap, Goldcrest and Reed Bunting to show from the Bill; a passing Merlin at Blacknor was the best from elsewhere. The sea was never particularly rewarding, with little more than 53 Manx Shearwaters, 4 Common Scoter, 2 Sandwich Terns and a Great Skua through off the Bill; 2 Great Northern Divers remained at Ferrybridge.

28th March

Although the wild winds associated with the overnight passage of Storm Katie had died down to an extent by dawn there was still a huge sea running and it remained more than windy enough to preclude meaningful coverage of the land until later in the day. What rewards there were from the sea were hard won, with 66 Manx Shearwaters, 7 Sandwich Terns, 2 Great Skuas and an Arctic Skua making up the bulk of the tally at the Bill. Although there were birds about on the land they certainly weren't plentiful, with a Black Redstart at Blacknor and 2 each of Blackcap and Willow Warbler, a White Wagtail and a Firecrest at the Bill the best of the migrants; 3 Purple Sandpipers and a Short-eared Owl also remained at the Bill.

27th March

Although there was considerably more bright sunshine than squally showers it remained windy enough that coverage of the sea seemed a much better bet than flogging the land. Chesil Cove got the best of the numbers, with 165 Manx Shearwaters, 6 Sandwich Terns and a Little Gull through or lingering, but amongst the lower numbers off the Bill there was a bit more variety that included 3 Red-throated Divers and a Great Crested Grebe. The 2 Firecrests at the Obs included a new arrival but there were precious few other reports from the land.

26th March

The return of wild weather for the first time in a while wasn't altogether welcome but in the event didn't get in the way of a surprisingly decent list being garnered from the Bill area. As expected, the sea got plenty of attention and came up with the spring's first Arctic Skua, along with 21 Common Scoter, 3 Red-throated Divers, 3 Manx Shearwaters and 2 Sandwich Terns. The land was perhaps the surprise package, with only relatively cursory coverage returning a Willow Warbler - another spring first - together with 5 Firecrests, 3 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Blackcaps, singles of Merlin, Woodcock and Fieldfare and a light scatter of Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests.

Kestrel - Portland Bill, 25th March 2016 © Mike Trew

25th March

Some great weather to start the Easter weekend but not the quality of birding that the influx of visitors were hoping for, with common migrants few and far between both on the ground and overhead. In the absence of anything in any quantity - only Swallow and Wheatear just about managed double figure totals at the Bill - it was left to a miscellany of less frequent migrants to provide the interest, with singles of Lapwing, Golden Plover, Redshank, Long-tailed Tit and Siskin at the Bill, a Woodcock at Suckthumb and the first Little Ringed Plover of the spring over the West Cliffs; at least 3 Purple Sandpipers and 2 each of Short-eared Owl and Firecrest also lingered on at the Bill. With an offshore breeze throughout the morning the only snippets of note on the sea were 5 Brent Geese, 2 Manx Shearwaters and 2 Sandwich Terns through off the Bill.

Barn Owl - Southwell, 25th March 2016 © Roger Hewitt

24th March

A reminder that there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm this Saturday, 26th March.

Cloud, a freshening westerly and eventually steady rain duly arrived but perhaps didn't drop the quantity of migrants that might have been expected. The Bill area was graced with a thin scatter that included 25 Chiffchaffs, 15 each of Wheatear and Goldcrest, 2 new Firecrests and a Short-eared Owl, but other than a handful of overflying Swallows, Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails there was little else to report from the land. Sea passage perked up a little, including 18 Brent Geese, 7 Red-throated Divers and the first 54 Manx Shearwaters of the spring off the Bill and 86 Black-headed Gulls off Chesil. Winterers still getting on the list from Portland Harbour included 19 Great Crested Grebes and singles of Great Northern Diver, Common Scoter and Common Sandpiper.

A Turnip Moth provided a hint of immigrant interest in the Obs garden moth-traps.

Nick Hopper's continuing sampling of nocturnal passage saw him get a night in with us earlier this week. An initial pulse of passage on Monday night saw 104 Redwing calls logged between 20.15 and 21.20 but thereafter there were only a further 25 calls all night; 6 Song Thrushes, 5 Blackbirds and a single Grey Heron made up the rest of the routine movement but quality came in the form of a Moorhen, a Common Scoter and a Reed Bunting - the latter only the second 'night-time hours' record for the ongoing project:

23rd March

Numbers slipped back on all fronts today, with signs also of the beginnings of the forecast change in the weather which saw what breeze there was gradually backing from east to west. The clear conditions weren't conducive to any sort of arrival on the ground, where only Wheatear got into double figures amongst the scatter of arrivals at the Bill; 3 Short-eared Owls, 2 Water Rails, 2 Firecrests and singles of Redshank and Mistle Thrush did provide interest there, whilst another Short-eared Owl also appeared at Blacknor. Given the conditions, visible passage was disappointingly limited although did include a few hirundines everywhere and a Siskin over Blacknor. On the water a Scaup was a quality arrival in Portland Harbour, with 9 Red-throated Divers and a Sandwich Tern the best of a fairly bad job from seawatching at the Bill.

Wheatear - Portland Bill, 23rd March 2016 © Martin Cade

22nd March

Something of a catching up day on the migrant front, with a nice pulse of tardy arrivals making the most of benign conditions. Although the most choice of the newcomers - the first Ring Ouzel of the spring - showed up in a garden at Southwell and there was a scatter of commoner fare everywhere, it was the Bill area that picked up the best of the numbers, with totals there that included 60 Wheatears, 40 Goldcrests, 30 Chiffchaffs, 9 Redwings, 4 Firecrests, 3 Fieldfares, 2 Blackcaps, a Short-eared Owl (together with another Asio owl that arrived in off the sea at the Bill tip but was confidently identified as a Long-eared Owl from one viewpoint but as a Short-eared Owl from another) and a Bullfinch on the ground and 500 Meadow Pipits, 100 alba wagtails and singles of Swallow and Sand Martin overhead; visible passage elsewhere included 290 Wood Pigeons north at the Heights. Light passage continued on the sea, with 106 Black-headed Gulls, 9 Knot, 6 Shelducks, 5 Red-throated Divers and 2 Pintails the best off Chesil and 36 Common Scoter, 4 Red-throated Divers, 4 Brent Geese, 2 Wigeon and a Black-throated Diver through off the Bill.

The first Comma butterfly of the year was on the wing at the Bill.

A Spindle Smudge Ypsolopha mucronella caught overnight at the Obs appears to be a new moth for the island.

Goldcrest and Spindle Smudge - Portland Bill, 22nd March 2016 © Martin Cade

We felt sure we'd recorded mucronella before this but we can't seem to find either a published record or a specimen in the voucher collection (...and the DMG website - quite apart from suggesting that the species is uncommon and thinly distributed in the county as a whole - doesn't show any records from Portland or Weymouth) so it's looking like our memory was more defective than usual.

21st March

With the chilly breeze and dreary skies of the weekend replaced by pleasant sunshine there was a lot more incentive to get out, even if the rewards were still scant. The sea returned the best of the quality, with 24 Common Scoter, 12 Black-headed Gulls, 8 Garganey, 2 Red-throated Divers, 2 Shoveler, a Greylag Goose and a Sandwich Tern through of Chesil and 6 of the Garganey, together with 57 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers and a Curlew, through off the Bill. Grounded migrants/lingering winterers included 25 Wheatears, 8 Chiffchaffs, 5 Redwings, 4 Goldcrests, 3 Short-eared Owls, 3 Black Redstarts, 2 Water Rails and 2 Firecrests at the Bill and a Siskin at Avalanche, but visible passage was surprisingly slow, with little more than a light trickle of Meadow Pipits and 4 Chaffinches over the Bill.

The first Small White butterflies of the year were on the wing at Barleycrates Lane and Reap Lane.

Little Owls, Black Redstart and Wheatear - Portland Bill, 22nd March 2016 © Mike Trew

20th March

Black-headed Gull passage aside, the sea's been on a run of pretty poor form lately - for example, we're still struggling for a March skua - so the spring's first three figure Common Scoter movement (110 in total) off the Bill was welcome; 2 Red-throated Divers and a lone Wigeon also passed through there, whilst a selection of customary winter divers, grebes and a Common Scoter lingered on at Portland Harbour/Ferrybridge. On the land, what passage there is continues to involve largely typical early fare, with sub-Saharan winterers hardly featuring; the day's totals from the Bill area included 25 Redwings, 8 Wheatears, 6 Chiffchaffs, 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Goldcrests, 2 Firecrests, a Golden Plover and a Woodcock, whilst Starling numbers which have been building in recent days peaked at 300 (are these off-passage birds?). The only report from elsewhere was of an extra Firecrest joining the lingering winterer at the Grove.

19th March

Cold, dreary conditions certainly didn't enthuse but were enough to drop a small arrival of migrants in the Bill area in particular, where 20 each of Wheatear and Song Thrush, 15 each of Redwing and Chiffchaff, 6 Fieldfares, 3 Black Redstarts, 2 Goldcrests and a Firecrest made up the tally on the ground and the spring's first Swallow passed through amongst the light trickle of Meadow Pipits overhead. The only report from elsewhere was of 4 Woodlarks over Blacknor. The fresh breeze was still too offshore for the seawatchers, with 11 Common Scoter, 9 Brent Geese and 2 Red-throated Divers making up the meagre list from the Bill.

18th March

Although a sharp frost at dawn indicated how clear it had remained overnight, before too long a heavy cloud cover rolled in that dropped plenty of birds - although getting amongst them was none too pleasant in a raw north-easterly. In-bound Meadow Pipits again made up the bulk of the numbers, with more than 4000 through over the Bill and passage further up the island peaking at more than 2000 per hour along West Cliffs; variety overhead still wasn't great, with 11 Stock Doves, a Lapwing and a Woodlark the best at the Bill. Grounded migrants were a little more conspicuous than of late, with 10 Chiffchaffs, 8 Wheatears, 3 Black Redstarts, 2 Redwings, 2 Goldcrests, a Short-eared Owl and a Firecrest of note at the Bill, whilst the sea came up with 117 Common Scoter and 3 Red-throated Divers off the Bill and 33 Black-headed Gulls, 14 Common Scoter, 2 Curlew and a Red-throated Diver through off Chesil.

Wheatear - Portland Bill, 18th March 2016 © Nick Hopper

Calm, clear conditions overnight enticed Nick Hopper down for a recording session and he was rewarded with a nice highlight when a Little Grebe flew over the Obs:

...although Little Grebes are regular winter visitors at both Ferrybridge and Portland Marina, they're a huge rarity at the Bill where the only previous records are of singles settled off the Bill tip on 1st November 1974 and off East Cliffs on 14th October 1984. Overnight passage was otherwise pretty subdued, with the other callers consisting of 17 Redwings, 3 Song Thrushes and a Lapwing; Oystercatcher and Short-eared Owl calls most likely related to local birds, whilst Dunnocks gave random bursts of song throughout the night (...is this documented behaviour? - Nick's now recorded it quite often both last year and now again this year).

17th March

A frankly pitiful list today on a date that in the past has been graced with a fall of 1000 Wheatears (in 2001) - today there weren't any at all! Bar a few more incoming pipits and wagtails the day's only new arrivals at the Bill were singles of Short-eared Owl and Chiffchaff; 2 Long-tailed Tits and a Firecrest were still there, whilst a lone Red-throated Diver passed through on the sea.

Short-eared Owl and Wall Lizard - Portland Bill and St Andrews Church, 17th March 2016 © Simon Craft (SEOwl) and Ken Dolbear (Wall Lizard)

16th March

Far less on the move today, with visible passage in particular reduced to little more than a trickle of incoming Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails. It certainly wasn't leaping on the ground either, with the prevailing chilly easterly pegging back migrant arrivals: singles of Black-tailed Godwit and Scandinavian Rock Pipit were new for the year at Ferrybridge, whilst the first migrant Blackcap showed up at the Bill; further newcomers at the Bill included 5 Redwings, a Wheatear and a Firecrest, with an additional Firecrest, at least 2 Long-tailed Tits, a Water Rail, a Short-eared Owl and a Black Redstart all still lingering on there. Two Tufted Ducks through off the Bill were another first for the year, with 12 Common Scoter and 5 Red-throated Divers off the Bill and 40 Black-headed Gulls, a Red-throated Diver and 2 settled Slavonian Grebes off Chesil providing further sea interest.

15th March

With almost no change in the weather until late afternoon when the fresh easterly dropped away prior to cloud rolling in, it was a surprise when quantities of incoming migrants were apparent from soon after dawn; equally surprising was the broad front over which the passage was taking place (in a fresh easterly most passage usually takes place along a narrow front up West Cliffs) which made quantifying things pretty awkward, but a good 1500 Meadow Pipits and 100 alba wagtails had headed over the Bill before numbers eased down once the wind dropped. Singles of Short-eared Owl, White Wagtail, Redwing and Fieldfare also passed over at the Bill, whilst a Red Kite over Ferrybridge bucked the directional trend by heading south (although seemingly not making it as far as the island proper). It was altogether quieter on the ground where, for example, Wheatear, Chiffchaff and Goldcrest didn't get beyond totals of 3 each at the Bill; the lingering Long-tailed Tits there were joined by a third individual, whilst 2 Short-eared Owls and 2 Firecrests were also still about. Variety from the sea included 2 Shelduck and singles of Red-throated Diver and Red-breasted Merganser off the Bill, 2 Grey Plover and a Red-throated Diver off Chesil and 4 Shoveler at Ferrybridge and later off Chesil.

Redwing - Portland Bill, 15th March 2016 © Martin Cade

...we'd hazard a guess that this very swarthy-looking bird that pitched in briefly in the Crown Estate Field was a coburni Icelandic Redwing; it stuck out like a sore thumb, being far more heavily marked than the usual iliacus Scandinavian birds that make up the overwhelming majority of passage/winter Redwings at Portland. In 26 years of catching Redwings at the Obs we've never handled a completely convincing candidate for coburni (we have got a few photographs of maybes which we'll try and dig out and review in the light of today's experience) and aren't aware of any substantiated field records during that period. In the earlier days of the Obs references to this form crop up more frequently, particularly in the ringing log, where 'coburni' - without further details - is pencilled in the margin quite often; although the usually longer wing of coburni is seemingly by no means a certain discriminant in the distinguishing process, in a scan through 40 years of ringing data before we compiled these notes we could only spot three birds with a wing length greater than 125mm - of these a bird on 12th November 1983 with a wing of 127mm (as well as a weight of 72gms which puts it right at the top end of Portland weights) which was identified as a coburni by Mick Rogers does sound to be a very plausible candidate.

14th March

As so often seems to happen at this time of year a brisk, clear and chilly easterly airflow is beginning to get worryingly well established, and if today's meagre list of sightings are anything to go by the quality of the birding's going to take a dip. Visible passage was still ongoing - although consisted of little more than a trickle of pipits and wagtails - but grounded arrivals were very few and far between, with a White Wagtail at Barleycrates and a Firecrest at Suckthumb the only minor highlights. Yesterday's 2 Long-tailed Tits remained at the Obs, where the male was in song and they were looking at lot like settling down (...thus far, Long-tailed Tit has never bred south of Southwell), and 3 Purple Sandpipers and singles of Short-eared Owl and Black Redstart were also still about at the Bill. Six early Bar-tailed Godwits through off Chesil constituted the only sea interest.

13th March

Although it remained too clear to have expected much in the way of numbers there was nonetheless a fair bit of variety today, including two first records for the year: the first Wheatear that pitched up at Bill certainly wasn't unexpected, whilst 4 Shoveler through on the sea there weren't really a surprise given the easterly breeze; 2 Long-tailed Tits and 2 Siskins at the Bill, a Snipe at Reap Lane and a Mistle Thrush at Barleycrates Lane were the best of the rest. Commoner fare included a thin scatter of Redwings, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests everywhere, whilst the regulars included 2 Black Redstarts and a Firecrest at the Bill, a/the Red-legged Partridge at Suckthumb, a Black Redstart at Portland Port and 330 Mediterranean Gulls at Ferrybridge. The Shovelers aside, the sea was quiet, with 70 Black-headed Gulls, a Red-throated Diver and a Shelduck the best off Chesil.

12th March

Clearer, chillier conditions overnight weren't conducive to dropping a great deal in the way of newcomers, and weekend visitors were reduced to scratching around for scraps rather than wading though a carpet of migrants. The mix of old and new at the Bill included 7 Redwings, 3 Black Redstarts, 3 Chiffchaffs, 2 Short-eared Owls, 2 Firecrests and singles of Golden Plover, Grey Wagtail, Dartford Warbler and Goldcrest, with an unquantified dribble of mainly Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails on the move overhead. Sea passage included 54 Black-headed Gulls off Chesil and 2 Red-throated Divers off both Chesil and the Bill; a Slavonian Grebe settled off Chesil was different to yesterday's individual there, whilst singles of Black-throated Diver and Common Scoter were still in Portland Harbour.

Peregrine - Portland Bill, 12th March 2016 © Roger Hewitt

As might be expected at this time of year, it's been pretty quiet on the ringing front; however, today did see the first 'control' of the year: a Goldfinch which a quick check revealed had first been ringed in Weymouth - by Ian Dodd in his garden at Littlesea - on 15th October last year:

...fortunately, our ageing of this individual concurred with Ian's: it was a first-year last October and was a second-year today (such things aren't necessarily a given, since ageing isn't always the exact science that some folk would like you to believe - we have plenty of cases amongst the recoveries and controls on our books of birds that have apparently exhibited a peculiar Benjamin Button-esque trait of ageing in reverse!):