20th May

On the evidence of today the quest for the late spring rarity is going to be a bit of slog - or looking more positively, it certainly isn't going to be overlooked amongst a wealth of other migrants. The pick of what little did turn today were 2 Nightjars that - in a re-enactment of the Caprimulgus Petrel evenings of bygone times - lingered distantly off Chesil during the last hour of daylight. Five each of Wheatear and Chiffchaff and a lone Willow Warbler were the only new migrants on the ground at the Bill where a Grey Heron was an unexpected arrival in off the sea and a light trickle of Swifts and hirundines were still passing through; elsewhere, singles of Yellow Wagtail and Whinchat were at High Angle Battery. The only sea reports were of 64 Common Scoter, 7 Sandwich Terns, 5 commic terns and singles of Black-throated Diver and Arctic Skua through off the Bill.

19th May

A day with lots of merits - notably more glorious weather that could be enjoyed without the spoiler of the majority of the general public who'd en masse stayed indoors to watch the various national happenings on television - but migrant interest wasn't really one of them. The conditions were far too nice to have expected anything other than passing hirundines to be in quantity and 2 Redstarts, a Grey Heron and a Sedge Warbler at the Bill, a Spotted Flycatcher at Avalanche Road, a Yellow Wagtail at High Angle Battery and 3 Sanderlings and 2 Whimbrel at Ferrybridge were about as good as it got on the ground; hirundines and Swifts provided the day's numbers, with Swallows passing at more than 300/hour at times at the Bill.

One of this evening's Whimbrel at Ferrybridge © Martin Cade: 

18th May

On a day that at least until late afternoon had a good deal more cloud in the sky than expected hirundines made up the bulk of the numbers but there was also a varied selection of late migrants on the ground. The burgeoning Tree Sparrow group at the Bill increased to 3, whilst other grounded migrants there included 10 each of Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler, 7 Redstarts, 4 Wheatears, 3 each of Whinchat and Spotted Flycatcher, 2 each of Yellow Wagtail and Reed Warbler, and singles of Black Redstart, Sedge Warbler, Blackcap and Bullfinch; waders at Ferrybridge included 10 Sanderling and 2 Whimbrel. Hirundines and to a lesser extent Swifts were moving through in quantity, with a sample 25 minute count of 130 Swallows, 29 Swifts and 22 House Martins through along West Cliffs at the Bill certainly being representative of what looked to be a strong day-long passage. Seawatch reports included 70 Common Scoter, 2 Great Northern Divers and singles of Great Skua and Arctic Skua through off the Bill and 4 Arctic Skuas and a Great Northern Diver through off Chesil.

A Basking Shark was off Chesil during the morning.

We've never been quite sure why - shouldn't they be off breeding somewhere? - but May has always been the peak spring month for migrant/vagrant/wandering Tree Sparrows at Portland © Martin Cade: 




Now that the flock is up to three the Tree Sparrows have got quite noisy:



Tardy migrants continue to feature, including Wheatear, Whinchat and Yellow Wagtail at the Bill over the last couple of days © Martin Cade (Wheatear & Whinchat) and Erin Taylor (Yellow Wagtail): 




17th May

Lovely day, fewer migrants. A second Tree Sparrow that joined the lingering individual still about at the Bill was the only slightly out of the ordinary sighting, whilst the day's migrant tally was largely made up of passing Swifts and hirundines, with the former getting up to 146 through at the Bill; grounded totals at the Bill included 20 Willow Warblers, 10 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Whinchats and singles of Hobby, Yellow Wagtail and Garden Warbler. Offshore, Manx Shearwaters staged another decent evening movement with c2500 passed through off the Bill but routine passage there consisted of little more than singles of Great Skua and Arctic Skua.

Swifts made up the bulk of today's migrant numbers © Keith Pritchard:


16th May

Today didn't disappoint on the migrant front with the decent cloud cover and brisk northeasterly dropping a steady flow of latecomers - enough to make it one of the best days of the month which was enjoyable enough on the one hand although a rather damning indictment of the numbers on offer over the last fortnight on the other. An Osprey over Blacknor and the lingering Tree Sparrow at the Bill were the only oddities putting in appearances but it was the numbers and movement that really entertained, with 500 Swallows, 200 House Martins, 50 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 40 Spotted Flycatchers, 30 each of Sand Martin and Willow Warbler, 15 Wheatears, 10 Chiffchaffs, 3 each of Garden Warbler and Blackcap, and singles of Hobby, Greenshank, Yellow Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Tree Pipit, Whinchat, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat logged around the south of the island.

You'd have thought that a grey-backed 'yellow' wagtail migrating high over the Bill in mid-May stood at least a chance of being Citrine but, sadly, our luck wasn't in and today's bird was no more than just a very unseasonable Grey Wagtail © Martin Cade: 



And back to the last few days for a bit of catching up. Common Blues and Dingy Skippers are both now on the wing - these two were at Bottomcombe on Tuesday © Ken Dolbear: 




And Nick Hopper popped us through a note on his last nocturnal recording visit on Saturday night (12th/13th May): singles of Greenshank, Whimbrel, Dunlin and Spotted Flycatcher were logged along with a small flock of Bar-tailed Godwits and single flocks of Common Tern and Arctic Tern; the oddity of the night was a Moorhen (it was a night when pretty well everything was distant, with the Moorhen just about the closest bird and even that recording had to considerably amplified - a 'record shot' recording!): 

15th May

On a warmer day than yesterday the breeze wasn't quiet so stiff and the migrant tally was correspondingly a little diminished. The Tree Sparrow was again knocking around at the Bill and, as befits the time of year, it was Spotted Flycatchers that were the most conspicuous new arrivals there, with 16 logged; Willow Warblers were actually slightly more numerous - 20 in total - but they and other tardy migrants are getting harder to census now that the trees are almost entirely leafy. Other arrivals at the Bill included 6 each of Wheatear and Chiffchaff, 5 Blackcaps, 3 Redstarts and singles of Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat and Garden Warbler; a Nightingale at Reap Lane was easily the most noteworthy migrant elsewhere. Visible passage included a good showing from House Martins, together with a single Hobby through at the Bill. Despite the offshore breeze Manx Shearwaters staged another good evening movement when 312 were counted in a sample hour at the Bill, whilst 3 Arctic Skuas, 2 Great Northern Divers and a single Great Skua passed by there at other times.

The Tree Sparrow - we're presuming that all the recent sightings relate to the same individual - finally gave itself up for a photograph © Erin Taylor...



...and Nick Hopper discovered that he'd got a recording of it calling after he'd left his nocturnal recording gear switched on well into Sunday morning:



The find of the day though came courtesy of Erin Taylor who stumbled upon several Common Twayblade orchids on the Slopes at the Bill; the orchid flora of Portland isn't exactly rich so even our woefully inadequate botanical knowledge extended to being unaware of any previous Portland records - a fact that's subsequently been confirmed by Ken Dolbear and Brian Edwards © Martin Cade: 





After being a notable absentee from the year list in 2017 it was nice to be able to add Nightingale to this year's tally; it remained resolutely invisible in its chosen elderberry patch beside the Reap Lane barn but at times it was blasting out some quite prolonged bursts of mainly half-hearted song (or at least it was trying to in the face of competition from a typical Portland soundscape of a combination of a pile driver, a helicopter and a whole bunch a noisy baby Starlings!):



Just as a lot of the other things that we're trying to get to grips with are getting increasingly furtive Spotted Flycatchers do at least have the rather agreeable habit of making themselves pretty obvious © Martin Cade: 



14th May

Another lovely sunny day with the brisk head-breeze dropping a small but varied selection of new arrivals at the Bill, including 25 Spotted Flycatchers, 13 Wheatears, 10 Willow Warblers, 6 Chiffchaffs, 4 each of Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler, and singles of Yellow Wagtail and Redstart; visible passage was maybe not quite as strong as might have been hoped but did include a steady - up to 100/hour at times - throughput of Swallows, as well as a passing Hobby at Blacknor. Despite the unhelpful wind direction 2 each of Arctic Skua and Pomarine Skua, and singles of Red-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver passed by off the Bill.

13th May

A small improvement in the hitherto pretty grim migrant situation saw a reasonable scatter of mainly routine arrivals everywhere. The only quality came in the form of the Tree Sparrow still about at the Bill/Southwell and a Wood Warbler at Verne Common, but the list from the Bill area included 20 Wheatears, 15 Chiffchaffs, 5 Willow Warblers, 4 Garden Warblers, 3 Blackcaps, 2 each of Yellow Wagtail, Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher, and singles of Little Egret, Greenshank, Black Redstart and Bullfinch. The breeze was always a little too far offshore for the sea, with the rewards from the Bill limited to 4 Arctic Skuas, a Great Northern Diver and a Pomarine Skua.

Today's Black Redstart © Nick Hopper: 


Wall Browns are now on the wing in good numbers © Ken Dolbear: 



Portland has a pretty rich bee fauna, with as many as 106 species listed for the island; amongst these, Brown-banded Carder Bees are on the wing in some numbers at the moment. This rare bumble bee was once widespread across lowland Britain but has undergone substantial declines during the second half of the 20th century, with modern day strongholds for the species now confined to Salisbury Plain, the coasts of southeast and southwest England and south Wales. This species needs a good flow of nectar throughout its flight period, with the well connected mosaics of dry, flower-rich grassland found at Portland helping to provide these requirements; the Observatory's blocks of flowering brassica-based Countryside Stewardship seed mixes are clearly attractive, with at least ten individuals nectaring in Helen's Fields yesterday additional information and photos © James Phillips: 


12th May

More cloud in the sky today but scarcely any improvement in migrant numbers. A Tree Sparrow that dropped in briefly at the Obs garden was a nice highlight amongst an otherwise poor list from the Bill area, where Wheatear and Chiffchaff both managed a half-dozen total and singles of Sedge Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher and Redpoll were of very minor note; there looked be something of a surge in Swallow numbers overhead but once again this went largely unquantified. Wader variety also perked up a little, with 9 Sanderling, a Whimbrel and a Greenshank amongst the commoner fare at Ferrybridge. What little breeze there was remained stubbornly offshore for longer than expected which restricted sea passage at the Bill to 47 Common Scoter, 7 Arctic Skuas, 4 Great Northern Divers, 2 Great Skuas and 2 Pomarine Skuas; later in the day another decent Manx Shearwater movement produced sample counts of up to 640 per hour.

11th May

In a brisk southeasterly the sea was watched almost for the duration but, sadly, failed to live up to the billing with totals for the Bill comprising 1787 Manx Shearwaters, 803 Gannets, 166 Kittiwakes, 123 Common Scoter, 57 commic terns, 13 Whimbrel, 7 Great Northern Divers, 5 Arctic Skuas, 3 Pomarine Skuas, 2 Great Skuas and singles of Black-throated Diver, Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Gull and Arctic Tern. The migration hiatus continued on the land where there were fewer new arrivals than on any day this week and only c100 Swallows arrived in off the sea at the Bill during one observer's nine hour seawatch; elsewhere, the Continental Coal Tit remained at Pennsylvania Castle and 3 Sanderling and 2 Whimbrel were settled at Ferrybridge.

A Roe Deer was at Ferrybridge early in the morning.

Singles of Dark Sword Grass and Silver Y were the only immigrant moths trapped overnight at the Obs.

One of the day's Arctic Skuas © Joe Stockwell: 




One of the West Cliff Fulmars © Ted Pressey...



...and our current Public Enemy No 1: the Guillemot egg-stealing Raven © Ted Pressey: 

10th May

The pretty dreadful start to May continued with a remarkable dearth of grounded migrants and, despite wall to wall sunny skies, only a very limited diurnal passage; only considerable effort salvaged a modicum of interest from the sea. What little there was on the land included nothing in the least bit noteworthy, whilst the seawatch totals from the Bill included 500 Manx Shearwaters, 5 Whimbrel, 3 each of Great Northern Diver, Sanderling and Arctic Skua, and singles of Great Skua and Pomarine Skua.

Little Terns are arriving back at a steady rate at their breeding colony at Ferrybridge and it was interesting also to see mating Sandwich Terns there - we've often thought it odd that they don't breed somewhere in the area, but there's always a first time...© Mike Trew: 




The attractions of the opposite sex were also foremost in the minds of several butterflies - Green-veined White, Small Blue and Speckled Wood were all mating at Bottomcombe today © Ken Dolbear: 




9th May

The supply of grounded migrants continues to dwindle by the day. Wheatears - including 40 at the Bill - again secured top spot but there was precious little else of note amongst the thinnest of spreads of back-ups; on the plus side there was a quite substantial passage of Swallows - sadly, not actually sample counted - arriving overhead. As would be expected at this stage of the spring the sea was well-watched but it was again only Manx Shearwaters that obliged in any quantity, with a steady stream heading east past the Bill through the evening; 5 Arctic Skuas and 2 Pomarine Skuas also passed by there.

Another distant Pom Skua passing the Bill © Martin Cade: 



Moth interest has been even more minimal than bird interest just lately. A hatch of Chocolate-tips that are the progeny of some unidentified eggs found in a moth-pot last summer (they'd fed up sleeved on sallow and overwintered outdoors as pupae ) has been noteworthy since the species is less than annual at the Obs...


...but immigrant interest has been limited to the odd ones of twos of the commonest species; a Narrow-winged Pug at the Obs yesterday was one of the few dispersers recorded in recent nights © Martin Cade: 

8th May

The beginnings of a change to fresher conditions were evident today but it came too late to perk up migrant interest that remained at a very low level. Wheatear and Chiffchaff again crept into double figures at the Bill but 2 White Wagtails and a Grasshopper Warbler were about as good as it got amongst the tiny handful of other grounded arrivals there. The sea got plenty of attention and it was again Manx Shearwaters that dominated on the numbers front, with upwards of 1000/hour heading east through the late afternoon and evening; 3 Arctic Skuas and 2 each of Great Northern Diver, Pomarine Skua and Arctic Skua passed by at other times, whilst 2 more Arctic Skuas also passed by off Chesil.

The first Small Blues of the year were on the wing at Bottomcombe today © Ken Dolbear: 


7th May

The fact that no Willow Warblers were ringed all day at the Obs in what amounted to absolutely perfect mist-netting conditions just about summed up the migrant situation on a day that was so hot and sunny that it felt a lot more like July than early May. Fortunately, a handful of island scarcities salvaged some interest, with singles of Red Kite and Osprey through over Easton Lane and Weston respectively, singles of Continental Coal Tit and Corn Bunting at the Bill (the former also later at Wakeham) and 4 Pomarine Skuas through off the Bill. The rather pitiful show of commoner migrants on the ground was almost limited at the Bill to 30 Wheatears, 20 Chiffchaffs, 3 White Wagtails and a Spotted Flycatcher; overhead passage was stronger and included the first three figure total of Swifts of the spring as well as a continuing heavier than expected movement of Sand Martins. Waders increased a little, with 23 Whimbrel and 8 Bar-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge. Manx Shearwaters dominated the numbers offshore, with close to 150/hour passing the Bill in the evening; additional to the Pomarine Skuas, singles of Great Northern Diver and Arctic Skua also passed by off the Bill.

The views of the Osprey over Weston were so good that some fortuitously snatched photos revealed it to be colour-ringed - blue Y1 - that in turn enabled it to be identified as a male ringed as a chick in the Kielder Forest, Northumberland, on 20th May 2016; evidently it had been spotted en route back to the UK in northern Spain on 26th April © Duncan Walbridge:




When it was such a common breeding bird at the Bill during the first few decades of the existence of the Obs you'd have never imagined for one moment that by the 21st century there'd be fewer Corn Buntings recorded here in a year than Ospreys - early May does still turn up the occasional vagrant jangling male and we cling to the hope that our conservation initiatives may eventually lead to their re-establishment © Martin Cade: 




Small Copper was on the wing for the first time this year - this one was at Bottomcombe © Ken Dolbear: 



Nocturnal recording in the last few very clear nights hasn't been particularly productive, with routine waders accounting for the majority of loggings - the first Greenshank of the spring were last night's highlight:


6th May

Weather-wise, a repeat of yesterday whilst on the bird front there was less in the way of both numbers and interest. A Red Kite over Ferrybridge and a Continental Coal Tit at the Bill were easily the best of the day's oddities, with 3 Little Ringed Plovers over Chesil also a belated addition to the year list. Wheatears topped 40 at the Bill but the two routine phylloscs were the only other common migrants even managing double figure totals there; 3 White Wagtails, 2 Redpolls and a Hobby were of minor note at the Bill, with a late Merlin of further interest over Chesil. In almost millpond calm conditions 3 Red-throated Divers and singles of Great Skua and Arctic Skua passed through off the Bill, whilst 80 Whimbrel and 15 Sanderling were the best of a more varied passage off Chesil.

A single Brimstone butterfly flying north along West Cliffs at the Bill had all the look of being an immigrant.

A single Rusty-dot Pearl was the only immigrant moth trapped overnight at the Obs.

A window seat on a flight to Gibraltar provided a nice view of Portland bathed in sunshine today © Steve Copsey:


It's been a good spring for Coal Tits, with all those that have been sub-specifically identified - like today's bird on the Slopes at the Bill - proving to be ater Continental birds © Erin Taylor:


The warm sunshine has at last seen butterflies on the wing in some quantity, with Orange-tip and Holly Blue both featuring today © Ken Dolbear:


5th May

Whilst holidaymakers were lapping up the glorious sunshine and warmth of the start of the bank holiday weekend birders were left scratching around with only meagre fare for entertainment. A brief Red-rumped Swallow at High Angle Battery would have been very popular had it lingered and none of the other oddities putting in appearances, including singles of Coal Tit and Marsh Harrier at the Bill, were any more obliging. Routine migrants weren't at all plentiful but did include 40 each of Wheatear and Willow Warbler, 30 Chiffchaffs and 12 Whinchats grounded at the Bill, where 11 Yellow Wagtails, 8 Tree Pipits and 3 White Wagtails were amongst the steady flow of visible migrants overhead. Less common interest came in the form of a Firecrest at the Bill and 4 Hobbys and a Cuckoo through at points northward. Seawatching was almost completely unrewarding, with 70 commic terns through off the Bill and 7 Bar-tailed Godwits and 4 Whimbrel through off Chesil.

Whimbrel at the Bill today © Dan Law:


4th May

A something of nothing day with early cloud failing to drop migrants in any quantity at all; a rapid clearance saw hirundines get moving but even their passage was steady rather than spectacular. On the ground only Wheatear (50) and Willow Warbler (30) managed double figure totals at the Bill where Swallow sample counts got up to around 250/hour; Sand Martins were unexpectedly numerous, with 70 through along West Cliffs in 75 minutes, whilst Yellow Wagtails continued their good run with 7 more through at the Bill and others elsewhere. Very minor oddities included a Marsh Harrier over at the Bill and singles of Grasshopper Warbler and Bullfinch grounded there. The calm conditions were hardly conducive to rewarding seawatching, with 2 Great Skuas and singles of Red-throated Diver and Pomarine Skua through off the Bill and 137 commic terns, 27 Arctic Terns and singles of Great Skua and Arctic Skua through off Chesil.

A Harbour Porpoise was in Chesil Cove during the evening.

Three Clouded Yellows heading north at the Bill during the morning included one that was watched arriving in off the sea.

More for fun and to try and learn something new, just lately we've started tinkering around with remote nocturnal recording ourselves rather than always relying on the goodwill of Nick and Joe; our efforts aren't as diligent as these stalwarts in as much as we've rarely got enough time to do more than skim the recordings for the obvious close calls rather scour them in detail for all the faint distant stuff but it has been remarkably educational. Last night's nice overcast conditions saw plenty of wader passage overhead but also one slightly freaky thing when a Shelduck (a female if our reading of BWP is correct) passed over during the early hours:

3rd May

Too nice a day for much of an arrival on the ground today and most of what did pitch up didn't linger long. Willow Warbler topped the numbers with around 50 at the Bill but it was the variety of less frequent migrants that provided most of the interest, with 18 Yellow Wagtails, 8 Redstarts, 6 Whinchats, 5 Whimbrel, 2 Hobbys, 2 Pied Flycatchers and singles of Purple Sandpiper, Grasshopper Warbler and White Wagtail at the Bill; a similar selection elsewhere included additional quality in the form of 2 Coal Tits at Pennsylvania Castle. In the rather benign conditions the only reports of note from the sea were of singles of Great Northern Diver and Pomarine Skua through off the Bill.

With the spring having hitherto been pretty dismal for Grasshopper Warblers it was nice to hear one singing well in Top Fields today:



Whimbrel at Ferrybridge © Debby Saunders...



...and Early Purple Orchid at the Bill © Joe Stockwell:


There can be few more agreeable spots for a vis-mig watch than the West Cliffs and this morning was no exception...



...all the better when the rewards include a Hobby and numerous Yellow Wagtails photos © Joe Stockwell:




Playing host today to Anita Rani and a BBC Countryfile crew © Peter Morgan and Countryfile: