30th September

Quite a frustrating day with a lot of birds about but, with a couple of notable exceptions, very little to show from wide coverage of the island. The chief highlight was a Caspian Gull settled for a short while amongst the gull flock in the fields below Culverwell, but 2 Ospreys south over the island and a Bearded Tit over Culverwell were nice bonuses. The numbers were all overhead, with a strong passage of well in four figures of both Meadow Pipit and Linnet, with plenty of alba wagtails and other seasonable fare - including a Hobby over Southwell - tagging along; it was relatively quieter on the ground even if the substantial off-passage gatherings of Meadow Pipits and Linnets suggested otherwise: Wheatears, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were scattered everywhere in small-ish numbers, but the likes of 5 Firecrests around the Obs and single Pied Flycatchers at Portland Castle, Southwell and the Obs were about as good as it got in the quality stakes. Despite the freshening breeze ahead of the late afternoon arrival of quantities of rain the only reports from the sea were of singles of Balearic Shearwater and Arctic Skua through off the Bill.

Nine Delicates and a single White-speck were the best immigrants from the overnight moth catch at the Obs.

Nothing like the semi-regular it is in eastern England, Caspian Gull is still a really high value bird in Dorset with only ever one really get-able individual in the county; the previous three at Portland - like today's bird - have made only brief visits © Brett Spencer:

This Osprey was tracked flying down the West Cliffs from Blacknor to the Bill; it was joined by a second individual over the Bill and both left out to sea © Roger Hewitt:

The miscellaneous selection of other migrants/lingerers included a Hobby over Sheat Quarry © Brett Spencer:

...the long-staying Grey Heron - today frequenting a duck coop at Southwell! © Brett Spencer:

...this Grey Wagtail on a garden pond at Southwell © Nick Stantiford:

...and a Pied Flycatcher at Southwell © Debby Saunders:

And of entirely esoteric interest whilst on the subject of Pied Flycatchers, this adult has been hanging around at the Obs for a few days. In our experience, adults are extraordinarily rare in autumn (...presumably they're just really canny migrants that don't make the mistake of having to pitch down in such godforsakenly unsuitable habitat as we provide for them at the Obs) so this one was well worth a closer look. 

The easiest way of spotting them, both in the hand and in the field, is by the shape of the pale rim to the tertials - noticeably stepped at the feather shaft in a youngster but rather regular/even in an adult; there are other more subtle differences in, for example, the pattern of the greater coverts but these aren't so easy to spot in the field.

What we hadn't appreciated was that it's quite usual for several inner secondaries to be left unmoulted in the otherwise complete post-breeding moult - these were easily seen on the spread wing of today's bird and weren't that difficult to spot on the closed wing (and thus ought to be visible in the field). From our reading of the literature we're guessing that this bird is a male: apart from the obviously blackish tail and upper tail coverts, there are a couple of blackish centred outer median coverts and there's a sharp boundary between black and white on the penultimate tail feather - the latter two features both quoted as back-up pro-male indicators.

Tail shape is a feature worth checking when ageing birds in the hand and the broad, rounded feathers of this bird were very much characteristic of an adult photos © Martin Cade:

29th September

After a damp start the day remained uninspiringly dreary and breezy for the duration, with far too little fieldwork to allow for a feel as to whether there was anything of quality lurking out of ready view. A Wryneck was a surprise newcomer at the Obs after a long series of uneventful net-rounds had suggested there were few new arrivals on the ground; perhaps as many of 5 Firecrests were there although most looked to be lingerers, whilst further additions of interest from the land included single Pied Flycatchers at the Bill and Southwell, and 4 Little Stints and a Black-tailed Godwit at Ferrybridge. It was far busier overhead, with an at times very strong passage of mainly Meadow Pipits and Linnets heading south along East Cliffs. Despite the freshening breeze the only reports from the sea were of 2 Arctic Skuas and a Great Skua off the Bill.

Immigrant moth variety increased although overall numbers continued to drop, with 2 Scarce Bordered Straw, 3 Delicate and a Hummingbird Hawkmoth the best of the overnight captures at the Obs.

It's always a treat to get a chance to have a really close look at the amazingly intricate detail of a Wryneck's plumage © Martin Cade: 

The typically brief presence of a Black-tailed Godwit at Ferrybridge permitted a nice opportunity of direct comparison with one of the lingering Bar-tailed Godwits there © Pete Saunders (flying Black-tailed Godwit) and Debby Saunders (two species together): 

28th September

There's been a lot going on this week and today carried on in a similar vein with overnight rain and wind dropping a nice little selection of scarce and less frequent migrants; it was relatively quiet on the ground for commoner fare but the clearing skies of dawn did prompt a strong pulse of passage overhead. A Little Bunting that dropped into a net in the Crown Estate Field soon after dawn was the day's chief prize, with a worthy selection of back-ups that included single Yellow-browed Warblers at Thumb Lane and Blacknor, a fly-by Hoopoe in a private garden at Southwell, a Wryneck at Sheat Quarry, Southwell, a Marsh Harrier over Southwell, a Treecreeper at Weston and a Lapland Bunting over at the Obs. Firecrests were well represented, with perhaps as many as 20 scattered about the island (including 10 in the vicinity of the Obs) and although there were few really worthwhile totals amongst the grounded commoner migrants most of the expected species got at least some sort of look in. It was busier overhead, with 800 Meadow Pipits and 300 alba wagtails dominating the tally over the Bill where a variety of other typical mid-autumn movers chipped in with decent totals.

It was too windy overnight to have expected much reward from the moth-traps: the Delicate total at the Obs dropped to just 9 but unexpected interest came in the form of a Convolvulus Hawkmoth at the Grove and a total of 5 Hummingbird Hawkmoths from traps at the Obs and the Grove.

Although we've been lucky enough to stumble across Little Buntings either in the field or hanging up in mist-nets quite often over the years they're one of those rather exquisite little things that you never tire of...

...the gloss was taken off today's discovery though when we straight away noticed that the bird didn't have a tail - a scenario like this is the sort of thing that you dread in a very public spot like a bird obs when you know that there's a demanding audience to please just around the corner and that they'll squarely blame you for any mishap of this sort. Since we knew that we weren't responsible we even took the trouble to scour about under the net looking for the missing feathers on the assumption that this hapless rarity had had a run-in with a predator; when this drew a blank we had a closer look at the bird again and were amazed to discover that in fact it did have a tail but that this consisted of tiny 'in-pin' feathers that were completely hidden by the upper and under tail coverts - clearly it had lost its tail a good fortnight or more ago and the new feathers were just now re-growing. It's testament to how determined some migrants are to stick to their schedule that they don't let an event like this that must severely compromise their capabilities get in their way; this temporary rudderless existence maybe also explains how the bird pitched up well off course at Portland! © Martin Cade: 

It's not often that a Portland rarity is discovered this early in the morning so there wasn't quite the gathering of admirers that a Little Bunting - even a tail-less one - would otherwise have merited © Martin King:

After a bit of a duff autumn last year it was nice to see Firecrests back where they belong as one of the features of Portland at this time of year © Pete Saunders (upper photo) and Joe Stockwell (lower photo):

Some species occasionally cause ID difficulties through their anonymous appearance and creepy habits - Garden Warbler is one that quite often causes problems for learner birders (helpfully, this one at Southwell today was posing right out in the open) © Pete Saunders... 

...but now and again it's a context issue that can cause problems; this Sedge Warbler lurking high up in the canopy of the sycamores at Thumb Lane this morning was so out of context that it could easily have led to thoughts of other rarer possibilities if it hadn't shown just enough of its upperparts to allow it to be clinched (...it helps to have a camera to hand as well) © Duncan Walbridge:

27th September

A rapid change in the weather today with the quiet, misty conditions of dawn giving way to wind and rain by mid-afternoon. Migrant numbers on the ground took a conspicuous dip, with far fewer Chiffchaffs in particular than in recent days, but there were still plenty of birds on the move overhead. An 'eastern' Lesser Whitethroat showed up in the Pulpit Bushes but a brief Yellow-browed Warbler in the nearby beach hut fields at the Bill didn't linger; Dartford Warbler and Bullfinch were both first records for the autumn at the Bill where other less frequent migrants included singles of Hobby and Merlin, and a small arrival of 5 new Firecrests. Elsewhere, a Yellow-browed Warbler was at Pennsylvania Castle and 4 Little Stints and a Short-eared Owl were at Ferrybridge.

The lingering party of Bottle-nosed Dolphins remained off the Bill all day.

Immigrant moth numbers remained at a similar level to the last couple of nights, with the tally at the Obs consisting of 30 Rusty-dot Pearl, 27 Delicate, 3 Rush Veneer and singles of Pearly Underwing and Red Admiral butterfly.

Unfortunately the Lesser Whitethroat didn't permit closer scrutiny than is shown in these photos but on this evidence it certainly looks to be of eastern origin © Martin King:

The Bottle-nosed Dolphins continued to put on crowd-pleasing displays © Mike Trew (upper photo) and Martin King (lower photo):

One of the Ferrybridge Little Stints and the Short-eared Owl that flew over there © Pete Saunders:

And back to the last couple of days for some extra photos; the Greenish Warbler and Yellow-browed Warbler at the Obs on Monday © Simon Colenutt thedeskboundbirder:

...and a Goldcrest and Yellow Wagtail at Southwell yesterday © Pete Saunders:

26th September

The prevailing mild, quiet conditions are certainly coming up with the goods on the common migrant front, with today offering up Chiffchaffs aplenty and some strong overhead passage of hirundines, Meadow Pipits and Linnets; oddities weren't really a feature although a Greenish Warbler was reported from a private garden at Southwell and  single Yellow-browed Warblers were at Southwell and Thumb Lane. The Chiffchaff tally got up towards 250 at the Bill, where Blackcap and Goldcrest both reached 50; variety-wise, the likes of 4 Mistle Thrushes and the first Redwing of the season (the same or another was at Southwell) were of note amongst the scatter of other seasonable fare. Elsewhere, a Treecreeper was a notable arrival at Portland Castle and 2 Little Stints remained at Ferrybridge. There were a lot of birds on the move overhead throughout the day, including a particularly notable count of 4000 Meadow Pipits south over Wakeham during the afternoon.

Moth numbers remained quite high although immigrant variety was not as good as yesterday; 25 Delicates topped the list at the Obs where a Gem was the only other scarcity putting in an appearance.

The little bowl of sycamores at the end of Thumb Lane (often referred to as the Craft Centre by local birders) has become one of the most reliable spots on the island for Yellow-browed Warblers in recent autumns - you wonder how many more must be lurking in the infrequently visited and far less easy to cover swathes of trees at, for example, Wakeham/Pennsylvania Castle, Foundry Close and Portland Port © Duncan Walbridge:  

The two Little Stints have been showing nicely at Ferrybridge for the last couple of days © Martin Cade:

25th September

A day that didn't disappoint, with damp, murky conditions overnight dropping a decent selection of new arrivals throughout the island. The Greenish Warbler remained at Obs and drew a steady trickle of admirers who were also able to get amongst some of at least 4 Yellow-browed Warblers (1 at the Obs/Crown Estate Field, at least 1 at the Eight Kings Quarry and 2 at Thumb Lane); a Common Rosefinch at Inmosthay Quarry was trickier and couldn't be found again after its initial discovery, whilst a Great White Egret over Thumb Lane - easily the Portland rarity highlight of the day! - was similarly unobliging. On the ground, Chiffchaffs were very conspicuous everywhere, including a good 200 at the Bill alone, whilst most of the other expected commoner migrants were about in small numbers. Overhead passage was at times very strong, with the first substantial movement of Linnets an addition to the hirundines and Meadow Pipits that have dominated for some time. Less regular migrants included 3 Pied Flycatchers at the Bill, a Merlin and a Firecrest at the Bill and 2 Little Stints at Ferrybridge, whilst a late Swift was of note over the Bill.

In perfect overnight trapping conditions there was a conspicuous increase in immigrant moths, with 47 Delicates, 37 Rusty-dot Pearl and singles of Rush Veneer, Olive-tree Pearl, Gem, Pearly Underwing, Dark Sword Grass, Deep-brown Dart, Scarce Bordered Straw and Gold Spot making up the totals at the Obs; surprisingly, the notable arrival of Delicates was not reflected elsewhere, with just singles logged in garden traps at Reap Lane and the Grove.

Although we think of Greenish Warbler as an almost expected annual oddity these days - there have been four at the Obs in just the last two years - there hasn't actually been a truly twitchable bird in Dorset since way back in the 1980s so there was plenty of interest in one that remained for more than one day © Martin King (the bird upper photo and the viewers) and Martin Cade (the bird lower photo): 

The first in-hand Yellow-browed Warbler of the autumn attracted an appreciative audience © Martin Cade (the bird) and Martin King (the viewers): 

As a bonus for visitors the Bottle-nosed Dolphins remained off the Bill for a fourth day and were at times showing really nicely © Martin King:

The moth trays were awash with Delicates this morning; 47 is the highest count at the Obs for several years although it's still well short of the all-time record that we think is 88 on 26th September 2006 © Martin Cade:  

24th September

A waft of a southeasterly at this time of year always offers promise and although there was only a small upsurge in numbers on the ground the quality was hugely improved, with the star arrival a Greenish Warbler that spent most of the day in the Obs garden. The autumn's first Yellow-browed Warbler - at Thumb Lane - probably wasn't at all unexpected, whilst the back-ups spread widely around the island included 9 Firecrests, 6 Pied Flycatchers, 3 Short-eared Owls and Hobby. Chiffchaffs were well spread in moderate numbers, whilst worthwhile totals of other commoner migrants included 24 Stonechats at the Bill. Visible passage, amongst which hirundines featured particularly conspicuously, was at times very strong but remained almost entirely unquantified. Seawatch reports from the Bill included 3 Brent Geese, 2 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Great Skuas and a Tufted Duck.

The lingering party of 15 or more Bottle-nosed Dolphins remained off the Bill for most of the day.

Two Radford's Flame Shoulders were the pick of the overnight moth catch at the Obs, where 5 more Delicates were the best of the rest.

A benefit of the season, in as much the trees are in places already getting very bare, was that the Greenish Warbler was unusually showy; June occurrences have become more or less the rule in recent times and in that month this species seems to delight in vanishing from view into the densest leaf-cover © Brett Spencer (upper) and Martin Cade (lower):

Rather unexpectedly for this time of year when the majority of vagrants are youngsters, the bird was a pretty raggedy adult. In most respects it conformed to the literature descriptions of adults undertaking a partial post-breeding moult involving body feathers and some tertials and tail feathers but being readily identifiable by, for example, the unmoulted and hence well-worn greater coverts and flight feathers (it clearly had some new body and tail feathers as well as three new tertials on one wing and two on the other); however, we were surprised to see that it had also moulted several inner greater coverts and in this respect rather invited being mis-aged as a bird of the year © Martin Cade: 

There was a time when a day-tally of 6 Pied Flycatchers would have been thought of as pretty small fry in autumn but such has been their recent decline that several times we noticed folk look away from watching the Greenish Warbler to see their first Pied Fly of the season © Brett Spencer:

On the mothing front it looks as though we might be in for a repeat of last autumn's multiple occurrences of Radford's Flame Shoulders: last night's two at the Obs were three days earlier than the two there that marked the start of last autumn's unprecedented series of records © Martin Cade: