30th April

A really busy day to end what's proved to be a pretty decent migrant-filled month at Portland. A Bee-eater that appeared out of the blue over Southwell and a little later over the Obs before leaving to the south-east was the icing on the cake of a what had up 'til then been a day to enjoy lots of routine passage under lovely sunny skies. Through the morning the strength of the northerly headwind had been just enough to drop a steady succession of new arrivals at the Bill, where notable estimates (the numbers entered on the day-sheet at the Obs looked to be woefully short in places) had included 150 Willow Warblers, 100 each of Wheatear and Blackcap, 50 Redstarts and 40 Whinchats; the back-ups there were many and varied, with 8 Yellow Wagtails and 2 each of Short-eared Owl and Pied Flycatcher of note amongst a spread of most of what would be expected in late April. Oddly, traditional visible passage of hirundines in particular wasn't anywhere near as strong as might have been expected, whilst not at all surprisingly in a northerly the sea was very quiet, with 2 each of Red-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver the best off the Bill. Most areas that got coverage came up with a similar spread to the Bill, even if numbers were generally a tad lower.

The first Wall Brown butterflies of the year were on the wing at Bottomcombe.

Redstart, Sedge Warbler, Whinchat, Whitethroat, Kestrel and Bee-eater - Southwell, Ferrybridge and Portland Bill, 30th April 2016 © John Wall (Redstart), Pete Saunders (Sedge Warbler and Whinchat), Debby Saunders (Whitethroat), Simon Craft (Kestrel) and Martin Cade (Bee-eater)

And, courtesy of Ken Dolbear, a couple of the day's butterflies - Wall Brown and Small Blue:

29th April

A day that fell into a neither one thing nor t'other category, with hints of interest all round but, ultimately, perhaps not the rewards that had sometimes looked to be on the cards. With a substantial block of cloud and rain on the other side of the Channel it was verging on the fanciful to have expected much at all in the way of passerine passage, but in the event there was fair little spread of arrivals everywhere: with Willow Warbler getting to around 100, and Wheatear and Blackcap 50 each, the Bill area had enough birds to check through, even if the quality amongst them didn't get beyond the level of one (or 2?) Cuckoos and a Pied Flycatcher; waders were also on the up, with 60 Dunlin, 50 Ringed Plover and 6 Sanderling at Ferrybridge. Visible passage was far stronger than anticipated but, sadly, wasn't really tapped into in any systematic way; Swallows and House Martins dominated, with another single Hobby among the more interesting extras at the Bill. After yesterday's evening rush there were high hopes for the sea but these were largely thwarted by the wind veering into the north-west: the year's first Balearic Shearwater through off Chesil and at least 20 Manx Shearwaters lingering in Portland Harbour were notable highlights, whilst routine passage off the Bill included more than 1000 Manx Shearwaters, 120 commic terns, 5 Red-throated Divers, 2 Great Skuas and singles of Great Northern Diver, Arctic Skua and Pomarine Skua; the 4 Great Northern Divers and single Black-throated Diver also continued their moult sojourn in Portland Harbour.

Black-throated Diver and Manx Shearwaters - Portland Harbour, 29th April 2016 © Joe Stockwell

28th April

After a night that was cold enough for there to be frost on the ringing hut roof at dawn - hardly a frequent late April event - there was a return to form migrant-wise, with plenty about both on the ground and overhead; later, a constantly freshening south-westerly saw sea action perk up, with an especially strong showing by Manx Shearwaters. Although there was a decent post-dawn flight of new arrivals hurrying through at the Bill, it seemed from other coverage that most island areas had their fair share birds: Willow Warblers dominated, with more than 300 at the Bill alone, whilst Blackcaps chipped in with getting on for 100 there as well; amongst the variety that included most of what might be expected at this time of year, a Short-eared Owl at the Bill, 2 Pied Flycatchers and a Cuckoo at Avalanche/Suckthumb and a Wood Warbler at Verne Common were of particular note. Visible passage included single Hobbys through at the Bill and Blacknor. Manx Shearwaters featured in excellent numbers off the Bill where a sample count of 2800 in what looked to be the peak hour suggested an evening movement of getting on for 5000; 11 Great Skuas, 8 Common Gulls, 4 Red-throated Divers and an Arctic Skua also passed through there, whilst 4 Great Northern Divers and a Black-throated Diver lingered on in Portland Harbour and 20 Great Skuas passed through off Chesil Cove.

Kestrel - Portland Bill, 28th April 2016 © Martin King

And thanks to Richard Phillips for this view of the Obs through the trees at Culverwell:

27th April

On a cool but not nearly so unpleasant day as yesterday there was slightly more about on the ground and, even though hirundines in particular were poorly represented, more on the move overhead. At the Bill both Blackcap and Willow Warbler got up to or beyond 50 but there was little else in quantity; 4 Redstarts, 3 Common Sandpipers, 2 each of WhinchatReed Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat and singles of Snipe, Black RedstartGrasshopper Warbler and Firecrest were the pick of the less common migrants there, with the likes of a Cuckoo at Southwell and singles of Grey Plover and Common Sandpiper at Ferrybridge of note elsewhere. Overhead, a sample one hour count on West Cliffs came up with 80 Goldfinches, 6 Yellow Wagtails and 2 Swifts but many other expected species barely featured; elsewhere, a Little Ringed Plover headed north over Blacknor and singles of Hobby and Short-eared Owl arrived in-off at the Bill. The sea was still quiet, with no more than 30 commic terns, 17 Whimbrel, 2 Red-throated Divers and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill; singles of Black-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver remained in Portland Harbour.

Common Sandpipers and Wheatear - Portland Bill and Ferrybridge, 27th April 2016 © Richard Phillips (Common Sands settled at the Bill), Pete Saunders (Common Sand flying at Ferrybridge) and Debby Saunders (Wheatear)

...and thanks to Martin King for his quick-fire shots of our all too regularly visiting Sparrowhawk stealing away another hapless migrant:

26th April

The unrelenting cold finally got to the birds today, with the flow of new arrivals reduced to little more than a trickle and those that did make it surely questioning their wisdom in the face of sheet showers and an icy wind. Whimbrel, Blackcap and Willow Warbler did manage 30+ totals at the Bill, where 5 Redstarts, 4 Common Sandpipers, 2 Tree Pipits and singles of Redshank, Grasshopper Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Wood Warbler and Firecrest - along with a likely Siberian Chiffchaff - provided interest amongst what little else was about. With the wind remaining resoundingly offshore the only real sea interest concerned 3 Great Skuas and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill and 5 Great Skuas through off Chesil. Six Whimbrel and 2 Sanderling were the best of the waders at Ferrybridge.

putative Siberian Chiffchaff (with wing-tip detail) - Portland Bill, 26th April 2016 © Martin Cade

...although this bird seems to look perfectly OK we've had more than enough experience with apparent Siberian Chiffchaffs that have subsequently uttered wholly unconventional calls to be rather over-cautious when it comes to sight ID.

And thanks to Pete Saunders for a couple of photos from Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour this afternoon - Sandwich Tern and Whimbrel:

25th April

Migrant-wise, today was another day not to be sniffed at although it has to be said that birding was never very easy under grey skies and in a stiff, cold north-westerly. At the Bill the emphasis shifted back to the usual Portland spring staple - Willow Warbler - of which there were at least 250; otherwise, variety scored over numbers, with a passing Osprey the only real oddity but the likes of 5 Common Sandpipers, 2 Grasshopper Warblers and singles of Firecrest, Pied Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher and a late Brambling of note amongst a typical late April migrant array. The offshore wind hadn't looked at all promising for the sea but persistence eventually produced respectable totals of 700 Manx Shearwaters, 13 Great Skuas, 2 Great Northern Divers and 2 Arctic Skuas passing the Bill; a Black-throated Diver also remained in Portland Harbour.

Osprey - Portland Bill, 25th April 2016 © John Martin

...also from today, thanks to Brendan Sheils for a few photos of Willow Warbler variation:

John Martin (the Blackcap) and Simon Craft (the Wheatear) kindly passed us a couple more migrant photos from the weekend:

And we'll end with a rather cute photo courtesy of Martin King of what's become our Public Enemy No.1: this last winter bunny numbers reached plague proportions and our bird-friendly crops in the Crown Estate Field have been completely devastated (...the stalks sticking out of mud that are all that remain of our swathes of kale look like the sort of thing we could rent out to model soldier war-gamers for a recreation of the Battle of Passchendaele):

...sweet you might well look right now little bunnies but we wouldn't mind betting that an outbreak of myxomatosis can't be far round the corner and you won't be looking so cute then.

24th April

Whilst there's always a danger in talking too soon about such things it does seem that this spring's going a long way toward redeeming the shocker that we endured last year, with the island being favoured with a decent run of migrant arrivals just lately. Despite the presence of a nearly full moon, today saw this pattern continue: Blackcap was the feature species of the day, with more than 200 through at the Bill alone; Wheatear and Willow Warbler both got into the 50-100 range there, whilst most of the other expected migrants at least made the day list even if their numbers were on the low side; an Iceland Gull over Southwell was the pick of the oddities, whilst 2 Grasshopper Warblers and singles of Hobby, Short-eared Owl, Cuckoo, Black Redstart, Pied Flycatcher and Firecrest scattered around the south of the island were the more interesting uncommon migrants. Sea passage didn't really get going in the brisk offshore breeze, but 3 Arctic Skuas and a single Great Skua through off the Bill were worth a mention.

Iceland Gull and Bar-tailed Godwit - Southwell and Ferrybridge, 24th April 2016 © Pete Saunders (Iceland Gull) and Mike Hetherington (Barwit)

...and we can always rely on Martin King to be on the lookout for landscape opportunities, with this evening's sunset being just up his street:

Digressing into the bugs, there's a very nice recent discovery to report from Ken Dolbear: this Honeysuckle Sawfly Zaraea lonicerae that Ken photographed in the Obs garden on 11th April is evidently a first record for Dorset (thanks to Bryan Edwards for ID and status information); interestingly, shortly afterwards Ken found another specimen in his own garden at Easton:

Last, and by no means least, we've been remiss in not mentioning sooner Nick Hopper's most recent night recording session. There have been more quiet nights than not just lately, but 18th/19th April did come up with a project first in the form of two parties of Purple Sandpipers; sadly, both were rather distant so even the loudest part of one of the recordings still only qualifies as the sound equivalent of a photo 'record shot'!:

Singles of Common Scoter and Coot were further notables during the night, but a flock of Dunlin and a single Common Sandpiper were the only other callers.

23rd April

An overnight about-turn by yesterday's cloud and damp that was just clearing to the south as dawn broke didn't look to be an encouraging scenario migrant-wise, but in the event there was a fair spread of variety even if numbers were nothing to shout about. Being a late April weekend the Bill area got saturation coverage which returned totals on the ground that included 75 Blackcaps, 40 Wheatears and 25 Willow Warblers by way of numbers and 4 Redstarts, 2 Lesser Whitethroats, 2 Pied Flycatchers and singles of Short-eared Owl, Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat, Black Redstart, Ring Ouzel, Grasshopper Warbler, Reed Warbler (the first of the year), Firecrest and Corn Bunting by way of better quality. Passage overhead was very subdued, although a Marsh Harrier that passed by out to sea was of interest. The sea highlight was the first 14 Black Terns of the spring through off the Bill amongst a total of 127 commic terns; morning passage there included little more than 14 Whimbrel, although the day's numbers did get a late boost from an evening movement of 450 Manx Shearwaters.

The first Small Blue butterflies of the year were on the wing at Bottomcombe railway cutting.

A party of at least 10 Bottle-nosed Dolphins spent most of the day off East Cliffs at the Bill.

Yellow Wagtail and Small Blue - Reap Lane and Bottomcombe, 23rd April 2016 © Pete Saunders (Yellow Wagtail) and Ken Dolbear (Small Blues)

...also thanks to Simon Craft for passing us a much better photo last week's Fortuneswell Wood Warbler than the low res version we posted a couple of evenings ago:

22nd April

Most people's idea of a thoroughly enjoyable day probably wouldn't involve damp and drizzle from dawn 'til late afternoon, having wet feet all day or needing two coats to stave off the effects of both a cold and the cold, but those minor hardships were more than compensated for by the quality of today's birding. Although variety wasn't really that great, an ongoing arrival of Willow Warblers that had presumably left the Continent in decent conditions before being downed by what greeted them on the South Coast provided spectacle enough; in the absence of full coverage the only hint at numbers came from the Bill where there was a minimum of 300 but likely far more, whilst cursory looks elsewhere suggested the fall was island-wide. Back-up fare included small numbers of many of the expected common migrants along 3 Lesser Whitethroats, a Grasshopper Warbler and what's now a rather late flurry of Goldcrests at the Bill and the first Spotted Flycatcher of the year at Southwell; lingering singles of Short-eared Owl and Firecrest also remained at the Bill. Seawatching was never likely to be too productive but did come with 73 Whimbrel and 44 commic terns off Chesil and a Great Skua off the Bill.

Spotted Flycatcher - Southwell, 22nd April 2016 © Pete Saunders

21st April

A reminder that there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm this Saturday, 23rd April.

A still breezy if not quite so chilly day came up with a hatful of migration interest on all fronts: after a slowish start there was a very unexpected surge in grounded numbers - particularly of Willow Warblers - a couple of hours into the morning; visible passage was strong throughout, whilst Chesil was favoured for wader passage and the Bill came up with a strong movement of Manx Shearwaters. Willow Warblers dominated on the land, with at least 400 through at the Bill, but variety was perhaps not quite so good as might have been expected at this stage of the spring; Whinchat was the only one of the uncommon migrants to reach a double figure total at the Bill, whilst oddities included just a Wood Warbler at Fortuneswell and a Yellowhammer at the Bill. Visible passage was only seriously counted at Chesil, where Swallows were arriving at 200 per hour during the morning, but amongst the unquantified movement elsewhere singles of Hobby and Ring Ouzel through at Blacknor were of note. Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwit both came in with totals in excess of 200 at Chesil, where singles of Arctic Skua and Great Skua were the pick of the makeweights; off the Bill the Manx Shearwater tally cleared 700, with 80 Whimbrel, 5 Arctic Skuas, 3 Great Skuas, 2 Gadwall, a Mute Swan and the first Pomarine Skua of the spring the best of the rest.

Wood Warbler, Bar-tailed Godwits and Whimbrel - Fortuneswell and Chesil, 21st April 2016 © Simon Craft (Wood Warbler) and Joe Stockwell joe-stockwell.blogspot (the waders)

20th April

The pleasures of fieldwork undertaken in the calm and warmth of yesterday were in marked contrast to the discomfort heaped on today's workers of bush and shore by a blasting, cold easterly that had sprung up overnight. Rewards-wise, the day was something of a poor man's version of yesterday: there was a decent sprinkle of grounded migrants and visible passage was at times impressively strong but numbers and variety fell far short of yesterday's excesses. Among the routine migrants around the centre and south of the island 3 Ring Ouzels, 2 Cuckoos, 2 Pied Flycatchers, a Black Redstart and a Firecrest provided the best of the quality, whilst a good spring total of 11 Siskins through along West Cliffs were the pick of overhead passage. There were high expectations for the sea but in the event passage was very subdued: 37 Whimbrel, 20 Bar-tailed Godwits, 2 Great Northern Divers and singles of Red-throated Diver, Red-breasted Merganser and Arctic Skua passed through off the Bill, whilst Chesil didn't manage much more than 30 Black-headed Gulls, 24 Whimbrel and a lone Red-throated Diver; another 30 Bar-tailed Godwits, along with small numbers of other expected waterfowl and waders, pitched in at Ferrybridge.

A single Harbour Porpoise passed by off Chesil.

Shelduck, Whimbrels, House Martin and Cuckoo - Ferrybridge and Portland Bill, 20th April 2016 © Pete Saunders (Shelduck) and Joe Stockwell joe-stockwell.blogspot (Whimbrel, House Martin and Cuckoo)

The highlight of our little evening seawatch off Chesil - there weren't any birds! - was this passing Harbour Porpoise:

...whilst mulling over whether we'd ever actually featured an image of a porpoise on the blog/website before this (they're surprisingly infrequent/overlooked in these waters) we stumbled across the 3 Mallards that have been roaming around Portland Harbour/Ferrybridge in recent weeks, which set us wondering whether even they'd featured before this - surely not two photo firsts for the blog in one evening?

19th April

In what seemed on the face of it to be slightly unlikely conditions - cloudless, almost calm and with a big moon in the sky - the island was graced with easily the largest fall of the spring to date, with common migrants reported in plenty from everywhere that got coverage. The Bill area was positively alive with Willow Warblers, with the log total of 500 probably a huge underestimate; well into three figure totals were also reached by Wheatear and Chiffchaff, whilst amongst the also-rans 15 Redstarts, 3 Grasshopper Warblers, 3 Pied Flycatchers, 2 Common Sandpipers, 2 Short-eared Owls, 2 Ring Ouzels, 2 Sedge Warblers, a Hobby, a Bar-tailed Godwit and a Siskin were of particular note. The Bill was by no means the only favoured location, with notable reports from elsewhere that included 120 Blackcaps, 15 Redstarts and 12 Sedge Warblers around the centre of the island, a Cuckoo at Verne Common and a scatter of at least 12 more Pied Flycatchers. Visible passage was just as impressive, with the constant stream of hirundines topping 1000 per hour for several hours either side of midday (Sand Martins were unexpectedly well represented and made up more than a third of the total at the Bill). It didn't prove to be a day of rarities although an Iceland Gull that lingered for a while at the Bill before heading away to the north was a useful addition to the year list. The only poor relation was the sea: although 3 Great Northern Divers and a Black-throated Diver lingered on in Portland Harbour and the Ferrybridge Little Terns increased into double figures, offshore passage was almost non-existent.

Iceland Gull - Portland Bill, 19th April 2016 © Martin Cade

This one oddity aside, today was really a day to gross out on Portland spring migration at its best; many thanks to the photographers who've sent us a few images from the day:

The Bar-tailed Godwit in Top Fields(!) from Roger Hewitt:

...two of the Pied Flycatchers at the RN Cemetery from John Wall:

...and one of the Ferrybridge Little Terns from Pete Saunders: