22nd April

What a difference a year makes: on this date last year 412 birds were ringed at the Obs (...and the previous day 300 had been ringed), today's total there was just 9! Yesterday's thunderstorms had continued to rumble through into the early hours and offered the possibility of migrants being grounded but in the event they'd more likely kept things from moving in the first place, with only single figure totals of even the commonest species in evidence at the Bill at daybreak; a Hoopoe briefly at Southwell was presumed to be a new arrival rather than a lingerer re-emerging but the only other oddity making the list was a Wood Warbler in Top Fields. The sea tantalised rather than excited, with 7 Great Skuas, 5 Arctic Skuas, 4 Little Gulls and 2 Velvet Scoter off the Bill and 59 Whimbrel, 5 Arctic Skuas, 4 Bar-tailed Godwits, 3 Red-throated Divers and 2 Grey Plover off Chesil hinted at there being plenty on the move had poor visibility not restricted opportunities for long periods during the morning in particular. 

The trouble with this time of year is trying to spirit up enough hours out of each day to get all the interesting jobs done and we've run out time again in our attempt to catch up in particular with most of the recordings from recent days; the one we did get round to sorting was the ater Coal Tit at the Bill lighthouse a couple of days ago; sadly, as had been the case with the birds at the Obs a couple of days previously, we contrived to miss most of the best song - although in the case of Coal Tit it does seem to be the calls that are the more interesting:

21st April

Today's parting of the thunderstorms as they approached the island was a thing of some marvel and ensured that the island stayed dry as intense rain fell frequently just a few miles away. Sadly, this good fortune didn't extend to the day's migrant happenings with it relatively quiet everywhere: variety wasn't too bad but the totals at the Bill of, for example, 50 Willow Warblers and 40 Wheatears on the ground and 300 Swallows through overhead were hardly impressive for the last third of April; 6 Yellow Wagtails, 4 Redstarts, 3 Firecrests, 2 each of White Wagtail, Lesser Whitethroat and Redpoll, and singles of Merlin, Tree Pipit, Whinchat and Bullfinch were the best of the less frequent migrants there, whilst singles of Wood Warbler at Southwell and Weston were the highlights elsewhere. With the breeze remaining frustratingly just north of east the sea was never busy although a Sabine's Gull reported from the Bill would have been a nice highlight had it shown for more than its single observer; the pick of the more mundane fare were 6 Red-throated Divers, 3 Arctic Skuas and a Great Northern Diver through off the Bill and 3 Red-breasted Mergansers and 2 Canada Geese through off Chesil.

Another dispersing Pine Beauty was the only moth of note from overnight trapping.

Before a couple of photos from today we'll go back to yesterday for a recording of the Mealy Redpoll; we've run out of time both yesterday and again tonight to be able to discuss this and the ater Coal Tit's vocalisations, so more on them later:



Willow Warbler and Wheatear were today's most conspicuous migrants on the ground © Nick Hopper:



20th April

Another gloriously hot and sunny day with the bonus of an unexpected flurry of migrants. Wheatears staged a strong arrival with at least 150 at the Bill, where 120 Willow Warblers and 30 Chiffchaffs made up the bulk of the rest of the numbers on the ground and Swallows - along with the first 2 Swifts of the spring - were moving through steadily overhead; 8 Whinchats, 5 Redstarts, 3 each of Yellow Wagtail, Lesser Whitethroat, Redpoll (including a Mealy Redpoll) and Bullfinch, 2 each of Tree Pipit and Siskin and singles of Pied Flycatcher and Continental Coal Tit were among the less common migrants featuring there, with singles of Marsh Harrier, Black Redstart and Pied Flycatcher of note at other sites around the centre of the island. Two Mute Swans and singles of Red-throated Diver, Great Skua and Arctic Skua were as good as it got on the sea at the Bill.

A single Clouded Yellow was at the Bill, whilst Holly Blue and Wall Brown were both on the wing for the first time this year.

Singles of Diamond-back Moth and Dark Sword Grass at the Obs and Silver Y at the Grove made up the night's immigrant moth tally, with a Pine Beauty at the Obs a good local record.

As we've mentioned before, having seen all manner of intermediate birds we've never been great fans of splitting the redpolls but today's frosty adult male Mealy-type was as obvious as they come and as far removed as they come from the dowdy Lesser-types that make up the majority of birds trapped at Portland © Martin Cade (in-hand side) and Nick Hopper (in-hand front and in-field):




The ater Coal Tit was seen in particularly bizarre circumstances: whilst watching Wheatears in the Bill Quarry we became aware of the vaguely Yellow-browed Warbler-like calls of what we took to be a Continental Coal Tit high overhead. Assuming that it was an overflying migrant we looked up to try and locate it and discovered it was on the very top of the Bill lighthouse from where it parachuted down - by now in song - onto the chimneys of the lighthouse cottages; it continued to alternate between these two perches, sometimes also landing on the window ledges of the lighthouse tower and still calling and singing, for a couple of minutes before making off north © Martin Cade:



Redstart, Pied Flycatcher and Clouded Yellow from today © Mark Eggleton:




Lulls in the flow of visible migrants moving along West Cliffs can always be spent keeping your hand in at flight photography © Nick Hopper:

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: