31st August

A bit of a shocker to end the month with seemingly very promising-looking mainly overcast conditions dropping no more than the most meagre sprinkle of new migrants. Wheatear and Willow Warbler got into double figures - in the case of the latter only just - on the ground at the Bill where Yellow Wagtails, Tree Pipits and Grey Wagtails featured in similar numbers overhead, but quality amounted to little more than 3 Pied Flycatchers scattered around the centre and south of the island. A Balearic Shearwater through off the Bill was the only seabird worth a mention.

A single Convolvulus Hawk-moth visited nicotiana flowers at the Obs at dawn and dusk, whilst the overnight immigrant tally from the moth-traps there consisted of 25 Rush Veneer, 18 Rusty-dot Pearl, 7 Diamond-back Moth, 3 Silver Y and a Dark Sword Grass.

30th August

Weather-wise, another scorcher of a day but bird-wise barely more than lukewarm as migrants looked to have carried on without stopping. A Wryneck was a welcome if rather overdue newcomer at Barleycrates Lane but grounded arrivals were otherwise only thinly spread, with 3 Pied Flycatchers about the best on offer at the Bill and 29 Oystercatchers, 7 Redshank, 5 Black-tailed Godwits and singles of Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Knot adding some nice variety to the wader selection at Ferrybridge. Diurnal migrants did make the most of the conditions, with the likes of 820 Swallows through in quick time over Ferrybridge.

Although there was a drop in overall numbers immigrant moth variety increased a little, with 27 Rusty-dot Pearl, 25 Rush Veneer, 4 Silver Y and singles of Diamond-back Moth, Vagrant Piercer, Convolvulus Hawk-moth and Small Mottled Willow caught overnight at the Obs; another Vagrant Piercer was caught at Weston.

Wryneck, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Redshanks and Knot - Barleycrates Lane and Ferrybridge, 30th August 2016 © Mark Eggleton (Wryneck), Debby Saunders (Little Stint, Redshanks and Knot) and Pete Saunders (Curlew Sandpiper)

Also, many thanks to Peter Moore petermorreblog for a selection of photos from his meanderings around the island yesterday that we'd stupidly overlooked during an episode of nocturnal sound overload last evening; Knot, Ringed Plover, Wheatear and Common Blues:

29th August

Something of rarity in the form of a lovely warm, sunny bank holiday today, even if was maybe a little too fair to hold for long many of the migrants that had dropped in at dawn. Another Ortolan Bunting that showed up briefly at the Obs/Crown Estate Field was the only real oddity of the day, but improved migrant numbers at the Bill included 75 Wheatears, 50 Willow Warblers, 30 Sedge Warblers and 20 Yellow Wagtails, along with singles of White Wagtail, Grasshopper Warbler and Pied Flycatcher amongst the lesser totals. Reports from elsewhere included 4 Black-tailed Godwits, 2 Sanderling and a Knot at Ferrybridge.

The quieter conditions saw immigrant moth numbers improve a little, with 38 Rusty-dot Pearl, 35 Rush Veneer, 7 Silver Y, 3 Diamond-back Moth, 3 Dark Sword Grass and a Convolvulus Hawk-moth caught overnight at the Obs.

Black-tailed Godwits and Holly Blue - Ferrybridge and Southwell, 29th August 2016 © Pete Saunders and Tony Hovell

We were very pleased to receive today Nick Hopper's report on his nocturnal recording session last Thursday night (25th/26th August). The headline news was undoubtedly the logging of 4 Ortolan Buntings, but it was a pretty remarkable night all round, including exceptional passages of both Tree Pipit and Robin. It was such a promising-looking night with heavy cloud cover descending and occasional pulses of drizzly rain that Nick spent quite some time in the field logging the passage by ear - including hearing 2 of the Ortolans that were also picked up by the recorder; both these birds were heading north and there was no reason to suppose that all four Ortolan loggings - at 22.55, 23.27, 00.35 and 02.06 - didn't refer to different individuals. The night's total of 1372 Tree Pipit calls or multiples of calls logged (some were double and triple calls given in very quick succession and counted as one) certainly reflected the very strong movement that was obvious to the ear. The total of 236 Robin calls was quite unexpected given the dearth of birds being recorded by day (but does reflect an August passage - of departing British birds? - that used to be picked up by ringing activities at the Bill but seemed to have dwindled in recent years). Other interest during the night included 47 flycatcher calls (both Pied and Spotted represented), 84 unidentified passerine calls, 17 Yellow Wagtail calls/small groups of calls, an early Golden Plover, several groups of Whimbrel and Dunlin, 3 Ringed Plover and singles of Common Sandpiper, Turnstone and Common Snipe.

28th August

A far drearier day than had been anticipated which, in tandem with a brisk south-westerly and occasional drizzly spells, did nothing for the quality of the birding. Numbers on the land were reduced to just ones and twos of a few expected species, with singles of Redstart and Pied Flycatcher about the best on offer at the Bill. Ferrybridge fared better with reports of 4 Little Stints, 3 Sanderling, 2 Curlew Sandpipers, a Knot and a Whimbrel amongst the more regular fare. The sea got plenty of attention but returned nothing more than 9 Common Scoter, 5 Manx Shearwaters, a Balearic Shearwater and a Great Skua through off the Bill.

The strength of the wind spoilt overnight mothing, with the immigrant tally at the Obs consisting of just 25 Rusty-dot Pearl, 15 Rush Veneer, 6 Silver Y and 2 Diamond-back Moth.

27th August

Although there was a fair list of migrants to show - including at least one mobile Ortolan Bunting seen a couple of times at the Bill and an Osprey that flew past there during the evening - there was a feeling that perhaps the day didn't really live up to its potential after a brisk easterly wind had sprung up overnight and dawn was far from clear. Totals from the Bill/Southwell included 100 Wheatears, 50 each of Yellow Wagtail and Willow Warbler, 9 Spotted Flycatchers, 6 each of Tree Pipit and Redstart, 4 Pied Flycatchers and singles of Whinchat, Grasshopper Warbler, Reed Warbler and Firecrest, with a similar array in most other spots that got a visit; 14 Black-tailed Godwits and a Knot were the pick of the waders at Ferrybridge.

Immigrant moth interest remained at the ticking along level with, for example, 87 Rusty-dot Pearl, 26 Rush Veneer, 22 Silver Y, 4 Dark Sword Grass, 2 Diamond-back Moth and singles of Vestal and Scarce Bordered Straw caught overnight at the Obs.

Black-tailed Godwits, Firecrest and Pied Flycatcher - Ferrybridge and Southwell © Pete Saunders (Blackwits) and Debby Saunders (Firecrest and Pied Fly)

26th August

A something of nothing day on the migrant front with many arrivals not lingering for long in the gloriously warm and sunny conditions. An Ortolan Bunting that was watched lifting off from the Bill and heading away to the north and an Osprey that flew south over Ferrybridge were the only oddities, whilst selected migrant totals from there included 100 Wheatears, 70 Yellow Wagtails, 40 Willow Warblers and 25 each of Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat. Four Bar-tailed Godwits and a Knot were the best of the waders at Ferrybridge.

With the exception of the island's fifth records of Jersey Mocha at Reap Lane and Channel Isles Pug at Sweethill - both species that may prove to be in the course of becoming established - the night's immigrant moth action was confined to routine fare, with totals from the Obs of 135 Rusty-dot Pearl, 20 Rush Veneer, 16 Silver Y, 11 Dark Sword Grass, 8 Diamond-back Moth and 3 Vestals.

Adonis Blue and Common Lizard - Cheyne Weare, 26th August 2016 © Ken Dolbear

25th August

Although it remained very muggy and warm the cloud that arrived with overnight rainfall lingered for the best part of the day and dropped another decent selection of migrants. Day totals at the Bill included 150 Yellow Wagtails, 85 Tree Pipits, 75 Wheatears, 40 Willow Warblers, 15 Redstarts, 10 Sedge Warblers, 5 each of Whinchat, Reed Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher, and singles of Great Spotted Woodpecker and Chaffinch, with 2 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Yellow-legged Gulls and an Arctic Skua through on the sea to add a bit more variety. Coverage elsewhere came up with plenty more of the same, together with 2 Redshank and 2 Knot amongst the waders at Ferrybridge.

Overnight mothing was very busy, with 225 Rusty-dot Pearl, 17 Rush Veneer, 14 Diamond-back Moth, 9 Silver Y, 6 Vagrant Piercer, 3 Dark Sword Grass, a Vestal and a Scarce Bordered Straw among the immigrants at the Obs; elsewhere, singles of Pine Hawk-moth and Convolvulus Hawk-moth were of interest at Avalanche Road.

Common Buzzards, Redstart, Sparrowhawk, Whitethroat and Common Blues - Southwell and Portland Bill, 25th August 2016 © Pete Saunders (Buzzards), Debby Saunders (Redstart), Dave Butcher (Sparrowhawk and Whitethroat) and Ken Dolbear (Common Blues)

We do still get stupidly excited by nocturnal migration and last night saw a host of birds dropped to audible height by first cloud cover and then rain that set in after midnight. Since we're still at the level of wanting to actually hear things for ourselves rather than go down the avenue of setting up an automated listening/recording station to log events more systematically, the prompt for paying more attention is usually hearing something interesting out of the office window when we're working late. Last night it was a succession of Greenshank that kicked things off:

...Common Sandpipers featured amongst a good variety of other waders:

...but the night's real interest came once it started raining and passerines appeared in quantity; Tree Pipits were particularly conspicuous but the night's chief prize was an Ortolan Bunting that sneaked by after midnight:

We remember thinking at the time, 'Blimey, if that had been in daylight you'd have thought it sounded a lot like an Ortolan', but without a bird to actually see we weren't confident that there mightn't be other possibilities. Thanks to Nick Hopper for running through the sequence in detail and confirming that each of the calls are indeed spot on for an Ortolan.

24th August

Although the last month has hardly provided much in the way of competition today certainly qualified as the best day of the season to date. Quality came in the form of a Hoopoe that showed up at the Bill and a Honey Buzzard over Verne Common, whilst the hot, muggy conditions that eventually culminated in showery rain and a few rumbles of thunder during the afternoon saw 120 Willow Warblers, 100 Wheatears, 48 Tree Pipits, 26 Yellow Wagtails and 20 Sedge Warblers make up the bulk of the common migrant tally on the ground at the Bill. Less frequent migrants included 5 Reed Warblers, 3 Redstarts and singles of Redshank,Yellow-legged GullGreat Spotted Woodpecker and Pied Flycatcher at the Bill, another Pied Flycatcher at Blacknor and 7 Mute Swans and 2 Knot at Ferrybridge, whilst 2 Balearic Shearwaters and a Sooty Shearwater through on the sea at the Bill were also of note.

Overnight moth-trapping came up with immigrants at the Obs that included 134 Rusty-dot Pearl, 23 Rush Veneer, 6 Silver Y, 4 Vagrant Piercer Cydia amplana, 3 Dark Sword Grass and a Small Mottled Willow; 2 Small Mottled Willow, a Vagrant Piercer and a Vestal were amongst the catch at Sweethill.

Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Sparrowhawk, Spotted Flycatcher and Yellow Wagtail - Ferrybridge and Southwell, 23rd/24th August 2016 © Pete Saunders (Sparrowhawk, Spotted Flycatcher and Sanderling) and Debby Saunders (Ringed Plover and Yellow Wagtail)

23rd August

Yesterday's excitement quickly evaporated as the much-vaunted switch to easterlies saw the migrant tank remain close to empty. The conditions were perhaps much too fair to have expected any sort of fall of new arrivals but that said it was very quiet, with Wheatear, Sedge Warbler and Willow Willow struggling just into double figures at the Bill where 2 Grasshopper Warblers and 2 Spotted Flycatchers provided the only minor interest on the ground. It was a tad busier overhead with singles of Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Grey Wagtail amongst a few Tree Pipits and Yellow Wagtails, and a trickle of hirundines. Three Sanderling, a Knot and a Common Sandpiper were the pick of the waders at Ferrybridge.

22nd August

On a day that had dawned with almost no expectations since the brisk westerly wind had barely abated and there were few grounded migrants in evidence it was quite a surprise when, not long into the morning, a Greenish Warbler showed up at the Obs; sadly it proved a tricky bird to get to grips with and ended up eluding most would-be observers. The day's migrant tally otherwise consisted of just low single figure totals of routine fare everywhere, with a couple of late Swifts over the Bill probably the only things worth a mention. Two Balearic Shearwaters and a Yellow-legged Gull through off the Bill were the best from the sea.

A Delicate was the best of the bunch amongst a modest increase in commoner immigrant moths in the Obs traps.

Greenish Warbler - Portland Bill, 22nd August 2016 © Martin Cade

...this little series of photos were as good as it got from the views perspective since they document the only occasion that the bird was actually seen settled! Initially it was in slightly better voice including giving several short snatches of quiet sub-song as well as the more expected calls. We didn't have the time/inclination to spend ages trailing about after it with a microphone so ended up resorting to last year's Bonelli's Warbler tactic of leaving the mic running in a spot where we'd heard it a couple of times; the resultant two hour recording was largely spoilt by the din of blowing leaves but did include two short bursts of calling: the first of these was only four calls long (and the calls were rather more clipped than most of those we heard) and on the second the bird is much further away; we've edited the two together in this little sequence:

21st August

For most, today's continuing blustery conditions were something of an anticlimax but one fortunate observer struck handsomely with a passing Cory's Shearwater off the Bill, whilst others there had glimpses of one or more Storm Petrels; the majority had to content themselves with c100 Manx Shearwaters, 5 Common Scoter and - in a startling reversal of yesterday's events - no more than a measly 4 Balearic Shearwaters. The land there was very poorly covered but turned up nothing more of note than a single Common Sandpiper. The only other reports came from Ferrybridge where 10 Black-tailed Godwits and a Greenshank pitched up amongst 200 Ringed Plover, 120 Dunlin, 4 Sanderling, 3 Curlew, 3 Little Terns and a Whimbrel.

20th August

A first decent Atlantic blow of the autumn saw the sea covered for pretty well the whole day. Chesil Cove picked up the chief reward in the form of a Long-tailed Skua that lingered for a while early in the morning; 2 Arctic Skuas also passed though later but other totals for the day from there are still awaited. At the Bill the steady westward procession of passing Balearic Shearwaters eventually totalled a whopping 532, although there remained a suspicion from their track (almost exclusively angling sharply out to the south before they reached the Bill tip) that at least some degree of unseen circulation might have been in progress. The day's other totals there were hardly impressive given the conditions, but included 150 Manx Shearwaters, 60 Fulmars, 47 Common Scoter, 30 Kittiwakes, 4 Great Skuas, 2 each of Mediterranean Gull and Black-headed Gull, and singles of Sooty Shearwater, Arctic Skua and Black Tern. Seabirds of note elsewhere included 2 Arctic Terns at Ferrybridge. The land was hardly covered, but 3 Yellow-legged Gulls grounded amongst other gulls at the Bill were of note.

The third Yellow Pearl of recent days was a surprise amongst on otherwise paltry catch of immigrant moths at the Obs.

Kittiwake - Chesil Cove, 20th August 2016 © Pete Saunders

19th August

All change on the weather front with a washed-out morning giving way to a sunny but increasingly windy afternoon as a deep depression approached off the Atlantic. The morning rainfall looked to have precious little effect passerine-wise, with 4 Yellow Wagtails, 4 Whinchats and a Pied Flycatcher the best of the few birds evident around the Bill; waders were better represented, with 186 Ringed Plover, 150 Dunlin and 15 Sanderling at Ferrybridge, where 8 Little Terns also showed up. Seawatching at the Bill after the rain came up with 30 Manx Shearwaters, 19 Balearic Shearwaters and 14 Common Scoter.

Despite what looked to be good catching conditions the Obs moth-traps were quieter than yesterday, with 63 Rusty-dot Pearl, 43 Diamond-back Moth, 17 Rush Veneer, 4 Silver Y, a Gem and a Dark Sword Grass making up the immigrant tally; another Gem made it into the Grove trap.

Yellow Pearls Mecyna flavalis - Portland, August 2016 © Martin Cade

...maybe the first time two Yellow Pearls have been in the same pot in Dorset since Victorian times; we'd got side-tracked from taking this photo earlier in the week - the left hand of these two specimens came from John Lucas' Reap Lane moth-trap on Tuesday (16th), whilst the other was from one of our Obs traps on Wednesday. These are only the third and fourth Portland records of the modern era. 

18th August

As has happened several times already this summer there was an almost biblical parting of the waters as a belt of heavy rain approached Portland overnight and the island escaped with little more a couple of brief showers - whether this had any bearing on there being fewer migrants grounded at dawn than had been anticipated remains to be seen. Both Wheatear and Willow Warbler just topped 30 at the Bill but there was nothing much more of note on the ground there than 2 Whinchats and singles of RedshankCommon Sandpiper, Grasshopper Warbler and Reed Warbler; Ferrybridge was busier, with 135 Ringed Plover, 125 Dunlin, 2 Sanderling and singles of Little Ringed Plover and Whimbrel the pick of the waders. After a customary selection of a few Yellow Wagtails and Tree Pipits, a Grey Heron and a Golden Plover had passed over the Bill in the early morning misty low cloud, the sky cleared and hirundines in particular got moving in some quantity; the best of the visible migrants though was an Osprey that headed south over Weston and the Bill before departing out to sea. The day's only seawatch report was of a single Balearic Shearwater through off the Bill.

The still, muggy and overcast conditions overnight saw a surge in immigrant moth numbers, with 133 Rusty-dot Pearl, 80 Diamond-back Moth, 19 Rush Veneer, 10 Silver Y and a single Dark Sword Grass logged in the Obs traps.

Osprey, Grasshopper Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Painted Lady - Portland Bill, 18th August 2016 © Martin Cade (Osprey) and Ted Pressey (Gropper, SedgeW and Painted Lady)

...also one we forgot yesterday: thanks to Pete Saunders for a record shot of the flock of Knot that passed through at Ferrybridge:

17th August

A rather mixed bag of birds today with plenty of variety around. On the land was 4 of each Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat, Yellow Wagtail and Tree Pipit, 15 Willow Warbler, 21 Wheatear, 2 of each Whinchat and Golden Plover and singles of Grey Wagtail, Spotted Flycatcher, Blackcap and Ringed Plover. Whilst on the sea saw the highest Balearic Shearwater count of the year, this being a rather dismal 10 birds. Also seen were 4 Common Scoter 2 Black-headed Gull and singles of Yellow-legged Gull, Manx Shearwater and Mediterranean Gull. The birds of the day were at Ferrybridge today, being 7 Ruff also around were 2 Grey Heron and 4 of each Wheatear and Little Tern.

16th August

Not before time quality was to the fore today, with the season's first Melodious Warbler putting in an appearance at Culverwell before an Osprey headed south over Ferrybridge and the centre of the island. Although there was no upturn in numbers on the ground - there were, for example, just 20 Willow Warblers, 5 Wheatears and 5 Sedge Warblers at the Bill - variety increased a little and included singles of Grasshopper Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and Spotted Flycatcher at the Bill. In the continuing stiff easterly and under cloudless skies visible passage perked up and included a steady flow of hirundines over the Bill and Ferrybridge. A lone Balearic Shearwater lingered for a while off the Bill and 63 Black-headed Gulls passed through at Ferrybridge.

Immigrant moth numbers and variety dwindled overnight but a Death's Head Hawk-moth caterpillar was a spectacular find during the day at Culverwell.

Death's Head Hawk-moth caterpillar, Peregrine, Redshank and Sandwich Tern - Portland Bill and Ferrybridge, 16th August 2016 © Martin Cade (the caterpillar) and Pete Saunders (the birds)