3rd October

Much nicer conditions and much nicer birding today with variety to the fore. Quality-wise, a fly-by Buff-breasted Sandpiper over Culverwell was the pick of the bunch, with 2 new Yellow-browed Warblers (in the Crown Estate Field and at Avalanche Road), a Siberian Lesser Whitethroat at the Bill, 2 Tree Sparrows at the Obs and 2 Corn Buntings and a Lapland Bunting over the Bill all good bonuses. Off-passage Meadow Pipits and Linnets aside (both were well into four figures on the ground), the big numbers at the Bill were overhead with the first couple of hours of the morning coming up with 1300 Meadow Pipits, c500 Linnets, c250 Goldfinches, 170 alba wagtails, 164 Skylarks, 53 Chaffinches, 21 Golden Plovers, 15 Siskins, 13 Reed Buntings, the first Brambling of the season and low totals of a variety of other routine fare. It was patchily busy on the ground, with pockets of Wheatears, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests in good quantity, together with the likes of 10 Firecrests, 3 Pied Flycatchers and the first Black Redstart of the autumn to up the interest. Dark-bellied Brent Goose numbers shot up to 240 at Ferrybridge where the 4 Little Stints were still present, whilst 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese passed through off the Bill.

Portland has had one or two fly-by Buff-breasted Sandpipers in the past but all of those have subsequently been found settled - this is the first that looks to have been solely a visible migrant that didn't stop © Joe Stockwell:

...as it was a morning when quite a few Golden Plovers passed through it's interesting to compare the appearances of these two potential confusion species © Joe Stockwell:

The Siberian Lesser Whitethroat looks likely to have provided a timely lesson in the potential for overcounting - even when only two birds are involved: it was first spotted on the Slopes where a well-timed/jammy photo captured the tail pattern very well © Joe Stockwell:

...when one was trapped and ringed several hundred metres away at the Obs a couple of hours later it was certainly assumed that this was a second individual (genuine multiple occurrences have been quite frequent here in the past)...

...however, now we've had a closer look at the photos it's quite obvious that the fourth from outside tail feather on the right side on both birds is a shorter, presumably still growing replacement for a lost feather - this could just be a freaky coincidence but we wouldn't mind betting that they're one and the same bird! © Martin Cade:

The history of the Tree Sparrow at Portland is quite peculiar and rather reflects the change in status in Dorset as a whole: in the earliest days of the Obs the species was a notable scarcity county-wide, such that 22 at the Bill in 1957 was considered to be unprecedented; there followed a remarkable increase when breeding populations were established in many areas of the county and Portland totals reached the dizzy heights of hundreds a day (the all-time peak was 700 on 12th October 1970); the decline that followed was just as sudden, with only a handful of residual breeding colonies persisting beyond the mid-1980s; although Tree Sparrows are still just about annual visitors to the island, today's bird is only the fourth ringed at the Obs in the last 30 years © Keith Pritchard (flying) and Martin Cade (settled and in-hand):

This morning's Yellow-browed Warbler was the second in succession to be mist-netted in the maize strips in the Crown Estate Field © Martin Cade:

Finally, thanks to Dave Foot for passing us a lovely photo of one of Portland's local speciality micro-moths, Coast Spurge Bell Acroclita subsequana - Dave bred this specimen through from larvae found a few weeks ago on spurge on East Cliffs at the Bill. In Britain, subsequana is restricted to a few coastal sites between south Devon and Sussex; for a long time Portland was its sole Dorset site but it's also now known to occur on Purbeck per Sean Foote © Dave Foot: