19th November

With the wind gathering strength gradually through the day, it was down to the morning to produce a little excitement. A small arrival of Goldcrests, Firecrests and Chiffchaffs in the obs garden gave the hope that something might arrive with them. This was not to be, however, and we had to settle for highlights of the lingering Lesser Whitethroat, an adult Yellow-legged Gull at the Bill and a couple of Black Redstarts. Elsewhere on the island singles of Slavonian Grebe and Great Northern Diver were reported from the harbour.

18th November

An unexpectedly glorious day saw a small influx of Blackbirds and a handful of other thrushes early doors. Birds of note at the Bill included a Water Rail at Culverwell (we've been surprisingly low on Water Rail numbers this autumn so this was a welcome addition to the day list) and a Jacksnipe at Wallsend. The Lesser Whitethroat continued to intrigue at Penn Castle with much speculation over its origins, the Yellow-browed Warbler also remained in the area. Once again the Harbour and Ferrybridge were the place to be for variety with singles of Slavonian Grebe and Eider in the Harbour and Goosander at Ferrybridge amongst the now regular Black-necked Grebes, Great Northern Divers and Red-breasted Mergansers.

Firecrests have maintained decent numbers across the island despite the recent dip in temperatures ©Duncan Walbridge:


17th November

A beautiful, calm and clear day (one of the last for a while if the forecast is correct) brought a nice selection of wintering passerines as well as the usual waders. Finches put in a good show with just short of 100 Chaffinches being joined by seven Bramblings, two Siskins and 11 Greenfinches. The garden saw another flock of Long-tailed Tits whilst the Bill was harbouring the same flock of 10+ Purple Sandpipers, five Turnstones and a Black Redstart. Church Ope Cove was once again the place to be, the eastern looking Lesser Whitethroat made a reappearance along with the ling staying Yellow-browed Warbler and Firecrest flock.

One of the lingering Goosanders at Ferrybridge ©Pete Saunders:


16th November

A comparatively quiet day after yesterdays wintry flurry, the highlights at the southern end of the island were confined to a small selection of winter thrushes plus a good count of the over-wintering waders including 12 Purple Sandpipers and five Turnstones. The North end of the island was far more productive with some excellent early winter counts. The combined tallies from the Harbour and Ferrybridge included a singles of Black-throated Diver and Knot, two Great Northern Divers, four each of Great Crested Grebe and Common Scoter, eight Black-necked Grebes and 31 Red-breasted Mergansers. Elsewhere on the island the lingering Yellow-browed Warbler remained at Penn Castle.

15th November

With the remnants of yesterday's storm clouds leaving our shores a small but very welcome influx of late migrants showed their faces. The annual project of making the Obs garden look like a bizarre homage to apples paid off once again with at least 7 newly arrived Blackcaps queuing up to partake of the offerings. Blackbirds were also conspicuous with more than 50 through in the vicinity of the Obs alone, whilst other totals from the Bill included 700 inbound Starlings, 150 Chaffinches, 40 Redwings, 7 each of Long-tailed Tit and Goldcrest, 6 each of Fieldfare and Brambling, 2 Lapwings and a Firecrest; the long, long staying Wryneck also put in another appearance. Offshore, a passing Red-necked Grebe was a good highlight at the Bill where the Common Scoter flock increased to at least 67. 

There was a nice little influx of presumably incoming Blackcaps today © Martin Cade:


14th November

Depending on how you look at things Portland was favoured or blighted today: it was a lovely still and for the most part bright day that allowed for plenty of coverage but a look at the rainfall radar revealed that the island was within a sliver of fair weather that was surrounded by grim conditions through which it appeared nothing much was moving. The Yellow-browed Warbler remained at Pennsylvania Castle to provide a some quality but new arrivals were conspicuously few and amounted at the Bill to no more than a handful of thrushes and 2 each of Chiffchaff and Goldcrest; amongst the stayers a scatter of Black Redstarts included 2 at both the Bill and Osprey Quay, whilst Firecrests included 4 at Pennsylvania Castle. The flock of 50 or so Common Scoter remained off the Bill and 2 Red-throated Divers passed by there.

13th November

Although there ought to be a fair bit of late passage to get amongst today proved to less rewarding than anticipated, with a few hours of quiet weather during the morning producing a minor flurry of finches but little else. A Yellow-browed Warbler at Pennsylvania Castle was most likely a new arrival but grounded migrants were otherwise few and far between; the majority of movement at the Bill was overhead with 135 Chaffinches, 100 Goldfinches, 14 Greenfinches and 2 Bramblings through after dawn, whilst elsewhere 6 Fieldfares passed through at Hamm Beach. Winter fare included a good total of 15 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill, 58 Common Scoter still settled offshore there, a Knot still at Ferrybridge and 5 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Goosanders, a Great Northern Diver and an Eider in Portland Harbour.

Fieldfare and Great Northern Diver overhead at Hamm Beach © Pete Saunders:


12th November

The strength of the wind again scuppered attempts at comprehensive coverage and there was scant reward for those that did make an effort. The Bill area offered up 6 Purple Sandpipers and singles of Merlin, Yellow-legged Gull, Redwing and Firecrest on the land and 60 or so Common Scoter and 2 Eider settled offshore. Elsewhere there were 3 Firecrests in the Pennsylvania Castle area and 8 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and a Knot at Ferrybridge.

In comparison with yesterday's super-pristine full adult today's Yellow-legged Gull was a little bit sub-standard: it was a rather slighter bird - so perhaps more likely a female? - with a selection of not-quite-adult features...



This was yesterday's adult in flight © Martin Cade

11th November

A windswept day left eyes streaming, hands chilling and birds hiding. The Bill provided little new of note but the lingering Wryneck (surely it must be ready to leave soon?) and a fleeting glimpse of the Little Bunting at a new garden in Southwell added some much needed interest. Other migrants included a smart adult Yellow-legged Gull accompanied by a second-winter individual, four Lapwings and two Red-breasted Mergansers past at sea. Elsewhere on the island tallies were equally unimpressive although four Firecrests at Church Ope was a high count for recent days. Ferrybridge was quiet with three Goosanders and singles of Knot and Snipe.

This afternoon's particularly fine adult Yellow-legged Gull © Keith Pritchard:


At least one of the Ferrybridge Goosanders appears to be feeding well with a noticeable (perhaps imaginatively) fish shaped lump in its crop © Pete Saunders:


10th November

The gusting wind that confined some to their beds in the early morning dropped quickly to reveal a calm, clear and beautiful day. The cloud that disappeared toward the early afternoon meant a drop in avian activity towards the latter end of the day, however the morning produced a slack handful of migrants including three Brambling, four Firecrests, a Ring Ouzel at the hump and an eastern type Lesser Whitethroat at Church Ope. A quiet sea added but a few species to the day totals including Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver and two Red-breasted Mergansers. A perusal of Ferrybridge and the Harbour produced little of note but 8 Knot at the former and three Black-necked Grebes at the latter.

This female Sparrowhawk seemed undeterred by her small crowd of onlookers as she sat digesting whatever unfortunate creature was bulging in her crop ©Martin King:


9th November

With the dry beginning and end of the day punctuated by a spell of heavy rain birding opportunities were limited today. New arrivals weren't in evidence in any numbers, with a Siberian Chiffchaff at Pennsylvania Castle the only out of the ordinary report on the land and a fly-by Spotted Redshank at Ferrybridge the best overhead; the Black Brant was also again at Ferrybridge.

Mixed race courtships have been observed several times in the past at Ferrybridge and it looks like one of these has resulted in successful breeding; the youngsters certainly have the look of something of a half-way house between Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent and goose aficionados may well have some inkling from behaviour and the like as to which sex each parent is. It'd be interesting to discover whether they bred in Canada or Russia - either way, one of the parents found itself a long way away from where it itself had been raised © Pete Saunders:


8th November

Nice conditions and a lovely lot of interest today, not least a northbound passage of 4230 Chaffinches that developed during a three hour spell either side of midday. Migrant numbers were otherwise at typical end of season levels, with 32 Bramblings, 3 Woodcock and a Mistle Thrush off most note at the Bill; rarity interest came in the form of the Little Bunting still visiting a private garden at Southwell, the Black Brant again at Ferrybridge and a Siberian Lesser Whitethroat and the long-staying Wryneck trapped/retrapped in the Crown Estate Field.

The Chaffinch movement was a compelling spectacle and developed as cloud cover rolled in a few hours after dawn - it would have been interesting to discover if birds had been moving before this but were just too high in the clear sky to have been detected from the ground © Martin Cade/Erin Taylor:



7th November

A distinct bite to the wind brought a seasonable chill to a relatively uneventful day for routine migration. Yesterday's Little Bunting remained a regular visitor to a lucky garden in Southwell and a Caspian Gull - presumably the island's first ever lingerer showing up again - dropped in briefly off the Bill. The sea also produced further snippets of interest in the form of singles of Pomarine Skua and Velvet Scoter, but the only passage interest concerned a small movement of 4000 Wood Pigeons that developed overhead immediately after dawn.

What a phenomenal garden: Little Bunting brought Pete and Debby's garden list up to a whopping 155! © Debby Saunders...



...and a little video (in)action from yesterday and today © Martin Cade:


A Grey Wagtail also dropped in at Southwell © Debby Saunders:

6th November

So awful has the weather been in recent weeks that a flat calm, clear dawn was something to be really grateful for. Wood Pigeons were immediately apparent high overhead and an impressive 15000 were eventually logged heading away south from the Bill; sadly, routine passage was otherwise something of an anti-climax with noticeably fewer warblers and 'crests on the ground than of late and rather less visible passage than had been anticipated. Fortunately - the pigeons passage aside - the day was saved by two nice local rares: 4 Egyptian Geese over the Bill wouldn't have attracted much interest from anyone but the Portland diehards but the Little Bunting the dropped in late in the day at the Sweethill rarity magnet was a nice regional scarcity. Two Bearded Tits over the Bill were a none too surprising oddity for a still late autumn day and a Yellow-browed Warbler lingered on at Wakeham, whilst 3 Mistle Thrushes there and a Green Sandpiper at Ferrybridge were the best of the other scarcer migrants and 16 Reed Buntings at the Bill was by this autumn's poor standards a good total.

Although usually thought of a late September/October bird, there are actually previous early November records of Little Bunting at Portland so today's Southwell bird wasn't altogether unexpected - and certainly not as out of season as last year's well-watched December bird © Pete Saunders:



5th November

As the wind swung round to the north it brought with it a cool and occasionally cloudy day. The mornings ringing started with a nice surprise as one of the many flocks of Long-tailed Tits graced us with their presence, other ringing highlights were limited to singles of Yellow-browed Warbler and Firecrest. Fly-overs dominated the days highlights and what was presumably yesterday's Richard's Pipit made another appearance in similar circumstances to yesterday; a Serin put in a very brief appearance calling over the garden and three Bramblings were in amongst the diminutive Chaffinch flocks. Another short-lived sighting of the first winter Caspian Gull in the Culverwell flock was enough to keep the larophiles engrossed for the fourth morning in a week and the Bill was smattered with a flock of six Purple Sandpipers and eight Black Redstarts. As the winter approaches the local birders are turning their attention back towards the harbour and efforts today revealed singles of Long-tailed Duck and Great Northern Diver as well as two Common Scoters

The highest day count of Purple Sandpipers so far this autumn with a flock of six accompanied by five Turnstones ©Pete Saunders: 



4th November

A day we foolishly wrote off having seen the weather forecast the previous evening started slowly in the obs with the staff contemplating their various caffeine based drinks rather than the days birding, however a call about a Caspian Gull in the Culverwell flock finally kicked off the day.  The next surprise came from the woefully neglected garden as a Long-eared Owl was flushed out during the opening net round, it was then re-sighted going between the garden and the huts for much of the morning. The day was not over, however, as a Richard's Pipit first seen heading south over the patio and watched as it headed out to sea was an excellent highlight for the observers gathered in the doorway (this occurred just prior to a rather tremendous rain shower). The final bit of excitement came from a seeming mass hallucination culminating in a slightly disappointing twitch of a Willow Warbler (see pictures below). Other birds sighted on a slightly peculiar day included two Yellow-browed Warblers in Culverwell, four Firecrests around the Obs and a total of 6900 Woodpigeons heading south.

This morning's Caspian Gull © Martin Cade:



We had an entertaining little interlude during the morning when we received news of a Dusky or Radde's Warbler at Osprey Quay. On arrival a quick look at the observer's photos led to a far too hasty call of it being an obvious Dusky and when it duly appeared that identification was further accepted and everyone blazed away with cameras etc etc:




After a while Grahame Walbridge offered an opinion that one or two things didn't seem right and, to cut a long story short, the realisation hit that we'd had been completely fooled by an out of context Willow Warbler! Later, in bright sunshine as opposed to rain and heavy shadow you were left wondering quite how such a scenario could possibly have arisen! © Martin Cade:


3rd November

A much more birdable day with yesterday's wind and rain replaced by clearer skies and no more than a brisk breeze. The change prompted diurnal migrants to make tracks, with 1500 Wood Pigeons and a decent little passage of finches through in quick time after dawn at the Bill; several Swallows and a House Martin also passed through as the day went on. On the ground, a few new 'crests, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were in evidence whilst stickers still in residence included the Pallas's Warbler at Avalanche Road, a Yellow-browed Warbler at Wakeham, the Wryneck at the Bill and a sprinkle of Black Redstarts everywhere. Snippets from the water included a Great Northern Diver through off the Bill and 8 Common Scoter, a Black-throated Diver and a Black-necked Grebe in Portland Harbour.

2nd November

The really wild conditions that had been forecast came to pass - with the wind apparently gusting up to 77mph during the morning - and the quest for storm-driven seabirds kept those that ventured out occupied today. Portland Harbour and Ferrybridge scored quite well with at least 4 Leach's Petrels the pick of a list that also included 160 Kittiwakes, 50 Barnacle Geese, 17 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 2 Little Gulls and singles of Long-tailed Duck, Velvet Scoter, Purple Sandpiper, Pomarine Skua and Yellow-legged Gull. The conventional seawatch spots were too blown out and 2 Pomarine Skuas through off Chesil Cove were only worthwhile sightings from the open coast. Precious little attention was given to the land but a late Wheatear was on Hamm Beach and several Firecrests and another Barnacle Goose were at the Bill.

Kittiwakes made up the bulk of the numbers at Ferrybridge but a Pomarine Skua, a flock of Barnacle Geese and a Purple Sandpiper were all really good records for there © Pete Saunders:





One of the two Little Gulls that passed through Portland Harbour © Martin Cade:


And the lone Barnacle Goose that pitched in briefly amongst the Culverwell gull flock © Martin Cade:

1st November

A rewarding if still largely damp and dreary start to the new month saw a Pallas's Warbler at Southwell and a Caspian Gull at Culverwell provide the day's rarity interest. At least 6 Yellow-browed Warblers were scattered between the Bill and Weston, late singles of Ring Ouzel, Sedge Warbler and Willow Warbler were all logged, whilst common migrant totals from the centre and south of the island included c250 Goldcrests and 20 each of Black Redstart and Firecrest.

The Pallas's Warbler was only a relatively brief early morning visitor to Sweethill © Pete Saunders...



...but later what was presumed to be the same bird was found a few hundred metres away at Avalanche Road where it lingered - albeit often rather elusively - for the rest of the day © Martin Cade:


Another day, another Caspian Gull: this one followed to the tee the occurrence pattern we mentioned yesterday and stayed only long enough in the Culverwell gull flock to be witnessed by its finder © Keith Pritchard:


This Sedge Warbler certainly wasn't what would have been expected from the Crown Estate Field mist-nets today - we think it's the latest Portland record © Martin Cade:


There was a nice selection of other migrants to get amongst today; Redwing © Nick Stantiford...


...and Brambling © Joe Stockwell

31st October

The wind gradually subsided today but dank, dreary conditions continued to envelope the island. A Caspian Gull was a nice find in the gull flock below Culverwell, a Siberian Chiffchaff dropped in at Blacknor, at least 3 Yellow-browed Warblers were dotted about the south of the island and Black Redstarts and Firecrests remained spread in good quantity. Grounded commoner migrants were noticeably more numerous then they've been for a few days with Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs to the fore everywhere, whilst for a while after dawn there was a steady passage of thrushes along West Cliffs and later a constant trickle of small flocks of incoming Chaffinches developed. Sea interest dwindled, with 4 Teal and 2 each of Wigeon and Red-breasted Merganser the best off the Bill.

Caspian Gull remains a quality rare at Portland and one that's notoriously tricky to catch up with as they rarely linger for long (this was only the second multi-observed bird of the six recorded); the Culverwell gull flock is the place for them and late autumn's the time - four of the previous five records were of birds at this spot and all the records fall between extreme dates of 26th September and 21st November © Martin Cade:


Yellow-browed Warbler and Firecrest at Southwell © Debby Saunders:


30th October

The weather front hovering in the Channel meted another fair old battering with an easterly gale and frequent pulses of often heavy rain again the order of the day. Birding on the land was hard work and generally unrewarding but the sea was worth constant attention and returned a typical miscellany of island irregulars. Common Scoters, Brent Geese, Dunlin and Lesser Black-backed Gulls (all reached 50-150 totals) made up the bulk of the numbers off the Bill, where the likes of 14 Pintail, 4 Velvet Scoter, 3 Yellow-legged Gulls, a Great Crested Grebe and a Little Gull were maybe the pick of the varied bunch of waterfowl, waders and gulls logged; the selection of wildfowl on the move across Portland Harbour included 8 Shelduck and 6 Wigeon. The land was certainly worth attention even if there was a constant feeling that much of what was about wasn't actually showing itself in the blasting wind; single Yellow-browed Warblers showed up at the Obs and Southwell, 800 Starlings were grounded at the Bill, the long-staying Wryneck popped up again at the Bill and there were certainly a good few new arrivals amongst the more routine thrushes, 'crests and the like.

29th October

An intriguing day of gusting easterlies meant much focus was directed towards the sea. An early movement of 46 Barnacle Geese mulled around the Bill area for much of the morning heading back and forth out to sea, evidently unsure of which direction to head (probably something to do with the large bank of rain sitting in the channel between us and France). These weren't the only geese of the day as a flock of 8 'grey geese' heading south were later picked up in Normandy and were identified as Greylags. The sea continued its fine form with a male Pochard, a juvenile Pom Skua, four Velvet Scoter, a single Red-breasted Merganser and a large passage of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Brent Geese, Common Scoters and Dunlin. Land-based movement was much quieter but a Jack Snipe flushed from beside the road outside the obs was the first for the autumn, two Ring Ouzels were frequenting the top fields along with 30 Fieldfares, Black Redstarts and Firecrests were still well into double figures, a Yellow-browed Warbler was at Old Hill and Lapwings were moving with a maximum flock size of 19 over Southwell.

There's something quite spectacular about skeins of geese passing over-head, especially when you hear them before you see them emerging from behind the trees and passing over the lighthouses of Portland © Pete Saunders (upper middle) & Martin Cade (others):






Some of the 19-strong Lapwing flock over Southwell this morning © Pete Saunders:



There are still plenty of Black Redstarts knocking about the island - this one was at Southwell © Dan Law:


Two Purple Sandpipers from below the Pulpit Rock, one of our more attractive winter visitors © Roger Hewitt:


And finally, Nick Hopper's sent us through results from his last nocturnal recording session on the night of 23rd/24th October:

A massive movement of thrushes with birds calling virtually continuously for much of the night.

Song Thrush and Redwing dominated with 5611 calls and 4920 calls logged respectively. For Song Thrush around 70% of the calls were before midnight resulting in an average of 1 call every 4.5 seconds for the 5 hour period, although in reality the calls often came in rapid fire pulses.

Redwing calls started slower but continued in large numbers further into the night.

Blackbirds were also on the move with 388 calls logged. Very small numbers until midnight, the biggest pushes coming between 2 and 4am.

Also logged:

Ring Ouzel 5

Fieldfare 2

Goldcrest 28

Robin 16

Water Rail 3

Moorhen 2

Common Snipe 2

Golden Plover

Short-eared Owl

Grey Heron

Two late Tree Pipits and a Yellow Wagtail were also notable.




28th October

How many times have we heard this autumn the pained gripes from visitors who'd thought the conditions had promised so many more birds than had actually materialised - well, today was another such event! In truth, the combination of a freshening easterly and heavy cloud cover advancing from the south really had looked pretty decent but the birds didn't oblige and it was only Goldcrests that staged any sort of arrival on the ground. They numbered well into three figures over the island as a whole, with Chiffchaffs well spread if not quite so numerous; beyond that, Black Redstarts and Firecrests were well into double figures, 2 Ring Ouzels were at Old Hill and a lone Yellow-browed Warbler was at Southwell. The briefly clear skies of dawn were not busy with overhead passage although more than 1000 Wood Pigeons passed through along with more than 200 Jackdaws and a customarily varied selection of smaller numbers of thrushes, finches and the like; a Lapland Bunting over the Bill was as good as it got for overflying scarcities. Sea movement included singles of Red-throated and Great Northern Divers through off the Bill.

The Yellow-browed Warbler at Southwell © Pete Saunders...


...and one of the Black Redstarts at the Bill © Joe Stockwell: