19th April

It seems churlish to find fault with what's been reported to be the warmest April day for 70 years but the glorious conditions did migrant-seekers few favours, with most of what might have pitched up on island most likely passing high overhead without stopping during the hours of darkness; whether this was the case will never be known although the peculiar dearth of visible passage in seemingly perfect conditions during the daylight hours perhaps hinted at there being a bit of a migration blockage elsewhere. The only oddity of the day was the lingering Hoopoe that was mobile in a wide area to the north of the Grove. A minor flurry of routine migrants at dawn included 30 each of Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff at the Bill, where yesterday's 2 ater Coal Tits remained overnight but very quickly moved on and 2 Firecrests and a Bullfinch were the best of the new arrivals; interest elsewhere came in the form of a Grasshopper Warbler at Barleycrates Lane, 2 Canada Geese and a Great Spotted Woodpecker at the Grove and a Brambling at Blacknor. Sea passage was never conspicuous but included 5 Red-throated Divers and 4 Arctic Skuas through off the Bill.

Orange-tip and Green-veined White butterflies were both on the wing for the first time this year.

A seemingly endless procession of dog-walkers tempted out by the warmth of the evening saw to it that the Grove Hoopoe was extremely skittish and mobile - affording only a couple of brief settled views © Martin Cade:

18th April

Although the ongoing upturn in the weather was certainly inspiring, there was nothing particularly inspiring about the quality of the day's birding - at least not until a pair of Continental Coal Tits dropped in unexpectedly at the Obs during the afternoon. The Hoopoe lingered for another day at the Bill and a second individual popped up at the Grove but otherwise quality on the migrant front was limited to the year's first Cuckoo over Ferrybridge; there was a small improvement in overall numbers at the Bill where 3 Lesser Whitethroats, 2 Black Redstarts and singles of Yellow Wagtail and Firecrest were of interest, with a Ring Ouzel at Barleycrates Lane the best elsewhere. Much had been expected of the sea in a light southeasterly but in the event numbers there were hardly impressive with 58 Whimbrel, 56 commic terns, 31 Common Scoter, 12 Sandwich Terns, 4 Red-throated Divers, 3 Great Skuas and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill, 3 Great Skuas, 3 Arctic Terns, a Red-throated Diver and an Arctic Skua off Chesil and a lone Mute Swan logged at various times off Blacknor, the Bill and Chesil.

Speckled Wood at Culverwell and Clouded Yellow at Church Ope Cove were both first records for the year.

The vast majority of Portland Coal Tit records relate to individuals of the Continental form ater that's a tolerably frequent autumn stray - usually in small influxes every few years; spring records of this form are far rarer, with today's pair the first since March 2007 © Martin Cade:

Vagrant Coal Tits at Portland are often quite vocal and these birds - presumably since they were a pair - were giving all sorts of calls as they moved around together; before their capture the male did sing very briefly but due to our crass ineptness we failed to recognise it/record it and when a Great Tit flew out of the same trees dismissed the mystery song as something freakish from that bird's repertoire!

It was a glorious day of unbroken warm sunshine from dawn 'til dusk - rather too nice to have expected any sort of arrival of migrants but very welcome in the context of this year's cool, late spring © Emily Cade:

17th April

Although the Hoopoe remained at the Bill the land was otherwise a very distant second best to the sea today: the big swell running at the Bill hinted at the presence of a deep depression and its associated brisk southerly winds to the west of Britain and seabirds were certainly feeling the effects, with a steady passage past both Chesil and the Bill. Bill totals included 365 Common Scoter, 103 commic terns, 37 Whimbrel, 27 Great Skuas, 26 Sandwich Terns, 17 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 14 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 8 Arctic Skuas, 4 Red-throated Divers and singles of Shelduck, Gadwall, Velvet Scoter and Eider, as well as good but unquantified numbers of Manx Shearwaters (movement was again taking place in both directions but certainly involved a well into four figures total); higher totals of some species off Chesil included 41 Whimbrel and 31 Great Skuas. The land got plenty of coverage but, the Hoopoe aside, came up with nothing better than lingering singles of Short-eared Owl and Firecrest amongst the woefully low numbers of commoner migrants at the Bill.

A selection from today's seawatching at the Bill: Gadwall and Common Scoters © Ted Pressey (top photo) and Keith Pritchard (lower photo)...

...Arctic Terns, Dark-bellied Brent Geese and Eider © Keith Pritchard...

...and Arctic Skua, Whimbrel and Manx Shearwater © Martin Cade:

16th April

A day of oddities and sea passage rather than quantities on the land. In an onshore breeze and fair conditions until late in the afternoon when it clouded up the Hoopoe lingered on at the Bill, a Hawfinch passed over there, the Green Woodpecker stopped in at several spots whilst undertaking yet another lap of the island and an unseasonable Sooty Shearwater lingered for a while off the Bill. The very thin scatter of routine migrants at the Bill included the season's first Garden Warbler and singles of Golden Plover, Ring Ouzel, Black Redstart and Firecrest. Seawatch tallies were dominated by an unquantified total - well into the hundreds - of Manx Shearwaters milling or heading in either direction off the Bill; later a more concerted eastbound movement developed that included 150 through off Chesil. Gulls were also on the move, with 163 Kittiwakes and 76 Common Gulls through off the Bill during the morning and a movement - to roost? - of mainly Herring Gulls off Chesil during the evening that included an Iceland Gull; other sea totals from the day included 11 Eider, 8 Whimbrel, 8 Great Skuas, 6 Red-throated Divers and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill and 10 Eider settled off Chesil.

The official record has it that Sooty Shearwater has been recorded in every month of the year off the Bill although we wouldn't mind betting that a straw poll of informed observers in the modern era would have revealed more than a little scepticism about the veracity of the single records for the months of March, April and May, all of which date from the 1960s and 70s and none of which have photo-documentation. Well, April can now be knocked off the list of dodgy months © Ted Pressey (top photo) and Joe Stockwell (lower photo):

Moving gulls were a feature offshore throughout the day, with a good passage of Kittiwakes and Common Gulls off the Bill © Joe Stockwell...

...and an Iceland Gull through off Chesil © Martin Cade:

One of the Great Skuas passing the Bill © Joe Stockwell:

Once again, the Green Woodpecker was the island rarity of the day on the land © Martin Cade:

15th April

A day when the relative lack of numbers on the ground was more than compensated for by a couple of oddities and a steady sea passage. One of yesterday's Hoopoe was still about in the Obs/hut fields area and a Hawfinch was a nice new arrival at the Obs; numbers were well short of yesterdays, with 50 each of Blackcap and Chiffchaff making up the bulk of the total at the Bill, where 5 Redstarts and singles of Tree Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, Ring Ouzel, Firecrest, Pied Flycatcher, Redpoll and Bullfinch were all of note; elsewhere, the 'Eastern' Lesser Whitethroat remained at Southwell, another Ring Ouzel was at Barleycrates Lane and a Wood Warbler was at Blacknor. The sea got plenty of attention until mid-afternoon (we presume from reports from elsewhere that plenty of Manx Shearwaters were missed after this), with the Bill returning totals of 600 Manx Shearwaters, 346 Common Scoter, 23 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 20 each of Sandwich Tern and commic Tern, 10 Red-throated Divers, 8 Arctic Skuas, 6 Great Skuas, 3 Whimbrel, 2 Teal and a Bar-tailed Godwit; Chesil chipped in the more of the same, together with additions that included 7 Little Gulls and 3 Little Terns.

The Hoopoe looked good in the field but it really was one of those birds that looked even more amazing in the hand where it was possible to fully appreciate its spectacular plumage © Geoff Orton:

It was a good performer in the field where it spent much of the day on the lawns amongst the beach huts © Peter Moore petermooreblog (still) and Martin Cade (video):

Hawfinches can be remarkably furtive: today's bird was seen briefly twice in the Obs garden soon after dawn but was assumed to have then slipped away unnoticed - 10 hours later it turned up completely out of the blue in a mist-net! © Martin Cade:

14th April

South Portland fared pretty well today out of conditions that are more often a write-off than a bonanza: reduced visibility had been a feature all day yesterday but overnight the mistiness thickened into full-blown fog that blanketed most of the island for the duration. A Hoopoe on West Cliffs at the Bill set the ball rolling soon after dawn and it wasn't long before a second individual popped up at Southwell; the latter escaped further attention but the Bill bird - although always rather mobile to the extent that it was considered that there might be two individuals involved - remained for the day. Scarcities were otherwise not a feature but a good spread of grounded common migrants at the Bill - many of which seemed to be dropping out of the fog as the morning wore on - included around 100 each of Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff, 60 Wheatears, 15 Redstarts, 4 Tree Pipits, 3 each of White Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail and Siskin, 2 each of Whimbrel, Ring Ouzel, Goldcrest, Firecrest and Pied Flycatcher and singles of Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Whinchat and Lesser Whitethroat; finches were on the move overhead at the Bill, with a short sample count coming up with 250 Linnets, 80 Goldfinches and a Redpoll. Elsewhere, the 'Eastern' Lesser Whitethroat remained in a private garden at Southwell. Seawatching was always hampered by the poor visibility, but 7 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill and 52 Common Scoter, 4 Velvet Scoter, 2 Arctic Skuas and a Shoveler passed Chesil.

The Bill Hoopoe on a closer than usual fly past near the Higher Light © James Phillips:

It's not unusual to encounter Pied and White Wagtails with wacky head patterns and this White was one such that got a second glance at the Bill © James Phillips:

It's ages since we did a little photo feature on ageing Redstarts but the simultaneous capture this morning of an adult male and a first-summer male (...or second year as we've captioned it here) prompted us to have another go at it:

The differences don't really need explaining but it's worth noting that in our experience confusion can sometimes arise in two ways: novice ringers are often fooled by the presence of brown tips to the greater coverts of adults - that are often a good deal more striking than on our adult here - into mis-ageing them as first-summers (it's the colour of the edges of these feathers that's the thing to look at), whilst on field views the flight feathers of adults are often browner than expected (they'd have been be glossier and darker when freshly moulted in autumn but that's before they've had to spend a winter in the African sun) and thus not that unlike those on a first-summer © Martin Cade: 

13th April

A day with maybe more about than met the eye but there again nothing that even approached being described as a good Portland mid-April fall. It was always dreary and misty enough that migrant activity was subdued at best, with the clearest idea of numbers coming from captures in the Obs garden mist-nets that suggested Blackcap and Willow Warbler reached about 50 each in the Bill area; Chiffchaff got to half that number, with 6 Redwings, 3 each of Tree Pipit and Yellow Wagtail, 2 Short-eared Owls, 2 Ring Ouzels, the first 2 Lesser Whitethroats of the year and singles of Whimbrel, Wheatear, Black Redstart, Brambling and Bullfinch making up the rest of the tally there and additional singles of Ring Ouzel and Black Redstart at Barleycrates Lane and Black Redstart at Blacknor of note elsewhere. A frequently invisible sea returned totals of 46 Manx Shearwaters and 1 Red-throated Diver through off the Bill.

In the immigrant moth line singles of Rusty-dot Pearl at the Obs and Diamond-back Moth at the Grove were both first records for the year.

Joe Stockwell had his recording gear deployed at the Obs overnight and has passed us a short report on the night's happenings: Despite what was clearly a nice still night for migration, things still weren't in the mood and only a small selection of birds were logged. Obvious highlights included 9 passes by Moorhen(s) over an hour between 11pm and midnight - whether or not this was actually 9 different Moorhens remains a mystery although at one point one flew so close to the microphone that its wing beats were audible. Fog set in around 1:30am which prompted a little burst of thrush passage - including 7 Redwing and 3 Song Thrush - as well as 2 Water Rail, Sandwich Tern, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Chiffchaff and Black-headed Gull.

A freshly arrived Tree Pipit that dropped out of the murk at the Bill this morning © Joe Stockwell:

Joe's early round of the Bill also turned up this Black Redstart that he duly trapped:

Conventionally, these grey 'cairii' birds are unsexable and not necessarily even straightforward to age, although the heavily worn, brown tertials and primaries of this individual did at least allow it to be assigned as a second year rather than an adult. On close inspection it turned out that this bird had moulted a good deal more of its wings than would have been expected (generally only some of the coverts are moulted in the post-juvenile moult) and we took it that since the selection of new inner secondaries didn't have the broad white edges of a male then we were safe to assign it as being a female.

Since these 'cairii'-type individuals could be of either sex and both age classes they're usually overwhelmingly the most frequently encountered Black Redstart at this time of year; adult males are less frequent, whilst 'paradoxus' second year males are the scarcest of all - this one was Southwell in April 2006 all Black Redstart photos © Martin Cade:

12th April

A quieter day than yesterday with only a light scatter of new arrivals dropped from a largely clear sky. An Osprey that snuck over at Barleycrates Lane late in the morning and the lingering Ring Ouzel at the Bill were about as good as it got on the ground, where common migrant totals at the Bill included 50 Willow Warblers, 40 Chiffchaffs and 20 Blackcaps, with 6 Yellow Wagtails, 3 White Wagtails, 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Firecrests, a Mistle Thrush, the first Sedge Warbler of the season and the Green Woodpecker the pick of the less frequent arrivals; the 'Eastern' Lesser Whitethroat at Southwell, a Grasshopper Warbler at Blacknor and a White Wagtail at Ferrybridge were the best on offer elsewhere.

The Ring Ouzel was today's crowd-puller (...we were astonished to discover that, as another rather dispiriting example of what modern birding's come to, it was even being twitched by birders from neighbouring counties) © Richard Phillips:

...but from our point of view the bird of the day was the Green Woodpecker that put on its best show so far as it paused in the Hut Fields during yet another lap of the island in what must be an increasingly frustrating quest for a mate © Geoff Orton:

...and finally, it'll be of no interest to anyone from the mainland but just for the Portland archives it was nice to capture one burst of advertising song from the woodpecker:

11th April

After the gloom - literal and metaphorical - of the last few days today was a revelation of sunshine, warmth and migrants. The clearance overhead saw plenty of birds get moving, with grounded totals at the Bill of 150 Chiffchaffs, 100 Blackcaps, 75 each of Wheatear and Willow Warbler, 50 Fieldfares, 30 Redwings, 10 Redstarts, 4 Black Redstarts, 2 each of White Wagtail, Grasshopper Warbler, Whitethroat, Brambling and Redpoll and singles of Ring Ouzel, Mistle Thrush and Firecrest, whilst visible passage included 6 Yellow Wagtails amongst the lightish movement of Meadow Pipits, hirundines and finches; reports from elsewhere included the 'Eastern' Lesser Whitethroat still at Southwell, a Pied Flycatcher at Weston and the Green Woodpecker at Portland Port. On an otherwise good day the sea was the poor relation, with 45 Manx Shearwaters, 41 Common Scoter and a Little Egret through off the Bill and 3 Curlews and singles of Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit and Arctic Tern the best of equally poor numbers off Chesil.

Having handled and seen any number of perplexing 'Heinz 57' redpolls over the years we've always been sceptical of the merit of splitting them into a variety of species/forms. Yesterday's bird turned up in a net today permitting a closer look at it: plumage-wise, there wasn't really much to add to what had been visible in the field...

...and on the face of it you wouldn't have thought it could have been anything other than what would conventionally be called a Lesser; however, it had looked to be noticeably long-winged in the field and, sure enough, the primary projection measured up to be outside the published range for Lesser © Martin Cade

10th April

A very gradual improvement in the weather didn't come nearly soon enough to perk up passage on land or sea today and, with the exception of a peculiar although not entirely unprecedented arrival of winter thrushes, it remained pretty quiet for mid-April. The thrushes included 57 Fieldfares and 50 Redwings at the Bill and 11 Fieldfares at Reap Lane, whilst other migrant totals at the Bill included 25 Blackcaps, 20 each of Wheatear and Chiffchaff, 10 Willow Warblers, 2 Short-eared Owls and singles of Black Redstart, Ring Ouzel, Firecrest and Redpoll; visible passage there was never heavy but included a trickle of hirundines, Meadow Pipits and Linnets. Elsewhere, the 'Eastern' Lesser Whitethroat lingered on at Southwell. Reduced visibility curtailed seawatching through the morning and the only worthwhile report from the afternoon was of 3 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill.

This quite colourful Redpoll was a rather unusual visitor to the Obs garden feeders around which it lingered for the best part of the day © Martin Cade: 

9th April

In most respects a day to forget in a hurry with rain, drizzle or fog throughout, although even in these dismal conditions there were tantalising hints that there was a surprising amount of diurnal passage afoot. Grounded migrants were really hard to get amongst but odds and ends of note at the Bill included 5 Redwings, 3 each of Firecrest and Brambling, and 2 each of Little Egret, Black Redstart and Bullfinch; the 'Eastern' Lesser Whitethroat was also still at Southwell. The stalwarts venturing out tapped into frequent indications of migrants on the move overhead, with a sample 45 minute watch on the West Cliffs at the Bill coming up with 260 Meadow Pipits, 95 Linnets, 4 Swallows and 2 House Martins; singles of Whimbrel and Siskin were amongst the overflyers of interest at other times.

We were very pleased to have Nick Hopper back in residence over this last weekend to try his luck with some nocturnal recording. Sadly, both nights were disappointingly quiet - at least in terms of volume of passage - but both did come up with a few minor highlights: Friday/Saturday night (6th/7th April) produced singles of Grey Plover, Dunlin, Moorhen and Redwing, whilst Saturday/Sunday night (7th/8th April) chipped in with a small flock of Common Scoter, the first Common Sandpiper of the spring, 2 Dunlin, 2 Redwings and a nocturnal recording tick in the form of a Linnet at 02:45. We're often intrigued at how some of the finding from these nocturnal surveys are at variance with conventional wisdom when it comes to the temporal distribution of passage, for example, we usually think of spring Grey Plovers as being on the move in late April/early May when, for instance, they drop in at Ferrybridge or pass through during seawatches, but here's one on the move at night in early April:

You'd get the impression from our daytime censuses that both Moorhen and Coot are really unusual visitors to Portland but the nocturnal surveys keep revealing just how relatively frequent both are overhead at night - both must be really accomplished night migrants that rarely make mistakes and end up grounded in places they didn't mean to end up in. Nick's recording of Saturday morning's Moorhen is a particularly good one of an individual that took quite a while to pass over - presumably as it struggled in the stiff headwind that had developed at the time...

...the sonogram of this recording is also worth a look at:

8th April

For a good part of the day it seemed as though Portland was close to the edge of rain creeping north across the Channel to the east of us but the threat rarely materialised into more than the odd outbreak of spitsy drizzle. Given the conditions it was a tad disappointing that more wasn't on the move along this weather boundary, with the weekend observers having to content themselves with no more than a small flurry amongst which 5 Firecrests, an Iceland Gull, the spring's first Whitethroat and another Hawfinch at the Bill and a Ring Ouzel lingering on at Barleycrates Lane were about the best on offer. Numbers at the Bill included 30 each of Blackcap and Chiffchaff but, for example, no more than 10 Willow Warblers and 4 Wheatears - the latter in particular have for the most part been really poorly represented so far this season. Long-stayers still about included the 'Eastern' Lesser Whitethroat at Southwell and at least 2 Short-eared Owls at the Bill. The sea ticked over without being ever busy, with 47 Common Scoter and singles of Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver, Canada Goose, Goosander and Arctic Skua through off the Bill and 2 Gadwall dropping in at Portland Harbour.

With so many white-winged gulls in Devon and Cornwall this year it's been a surprise how few have shown up at Portland, with today's Iceland Gull being the first of either species for over a month - there again, we were graced with the presence of the Ross's Gull which we'd take in compensation every time! © Roger Hewitt: 

7th April

A day that panned out rather better than expected with the forecast morning of rain amounting to no more than a shower either side of dawn and doing the trick and dropping the most varied flurry of migrants so far this spring. There were few surprises but 3 Hawfinches over the Bill will likely prove to be the first of a few departing winterers, whilst seasonal firsts in the summer migrant line there included Tree Pipit, Redstart and Pied Flycatcher - all of which really ought to have been on the year list before now; the sixth Osprey of the spring also passed over (this one at Weston) and the 'Eastern' Lesser Whitethroat remained at Southwell. Migrant totals from the south of the island included 100 Chiffchaffs, 40 Willow Warblers, 40 Blackcaps, 5 Goldcrests, 4 Redstarts, 4 Siskins, 3 Bramblings, 3 Redpolls, 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Pied Flycatchers, 2 Long-tailed Tits, 2 Bullfinches, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Tree Pipit, a Redwing, a Ring Ouzel and a Firecrest on the ground and, at least for a while during the morning, a steady throughput of Meadow Pipits and hirnundines overhead; also at the Bill, 3 Short-eared Owls were still about and 2 Red-legged Partridges were local oddities. The sea was relatively uneventful, with 100 Common Scoter, 6 Red-throated Divers, 2 Eider, 2 Arctic Skuas and a Great Skua the pick of the early passage off the Bill.; elsewhere, an Arctic Tern was in Portland Harbour.

Barleycrates Lane was again the favoured Ring Ouzel spot today © Roger Hewitt:  

Pied Flycatcher was an overdue first for the year soon after dawn at the Obs...

...and on a black-and-white themed day this Great Spotted Woodpecker was more unexpected in spring (although they've increased in frequency at Portland in recent years the majority of new arrivals have been in late summer and autumn) - interestingly, this bird was seen over West Cliffs not long after it was released from where it was lost to sight heading in the direction of Abbotsbury...

...whilst finally on the ringing front a small arrival of new Wrens included this leucistic bird with an uneven white collar in-hand photos © Martin Cade: 

6th April

In a fresh south-easterly there were high hopes for the sea today, although ultimately there was perhaps less to show by way of rewards than might have been expected. The Bill and Chesil were well watched with the former only scoring slightly higher total by virtue of longer coverage; the dawn to midday tally at the Bill was 201 Common Scoter, 98 Sandwich Terns, 75 Manx Shearwaters, 10 commic terns, 9 Red-throated Divers, 8 Arctic Skuas, 7 Red-breasted Mergansers, 7 Whimbrel, 4 Puffins (that looked like passing migrants rather than an out-of-the-blue increase in the local population), 2 Garganey, 2 Shovelers, a Black-throated Diver and a Great Skua, whilst a shorter watch at Chesil came up, amongst others, 123 Sandwich Terns, 6 Arctic Skuas, 6 commic terns, 4 Arctic Terns, 3 Mallard and singles of Garganey, Gadwall, Little Gull and Common Tern. An Osprey passed over at the Bill during the afternoon and Swallows were moving in their highest numbers so far this spring (including a brief sample count of 46 in 15 minutes along West Cliffs at the Bill) but grounded migrants remained stubbornly thinly spread, with only Chiffchaffs at all conspicuous; 2 Short-eared Owls, the Green Woodpecker, a Black Redstart and a Firecrest were the only minor oddities at the Bill.

Common Scoters and Red-breasted Mergansers passing the Bill this morning © Mike Trew: 

At the fifth time of asking we finally broke our duck with seeing/photographing an Osprey this spring when this one appeared between the Obs and the Higher Light during the afternoon © Martin Cade:  

The Green Woodpecker was still about but was hardly giving itself up easily © Martin Cade: 

There was a time when singing Greenfinches dominated the spring soundscape at the Obs but their sad demise (...there isn't a single one within earshot of the garden this year) has coincided with the arrival of Pheasants on the scene, with the latter's advertising 'song' and wing-flicking now characteristic sounds of the season © Martin Cade: