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.