6th July

Still breezy but otherwise an altogether more pleasant day that came up with a slight surprise in the form of an early first Willow Warbler of the autumn at the Bill. A dispersing Great Spotted Woodpecker was also new in there, whilst a Black Redstart was a good mid-summer sighting at Chiswell - surely an area that's full of suitable breeding sites; however, as in recent days, it was the sea that came up with all the numbers. Manx Shearwaters exceeded 200 but the Balearic total was only c25, with the seawatchers missing out on higher numbers of the latter that were presumably associating with feeding gulls to the west of the island and eventually trailed away still further west, passing Chesil on the way. Six Common Scoter, 2 Great Skuas, a Whimbrel and an Arctic Skua also passed through off the Bill and a Yellow-legged Gull joined the offshore gull flock as the day went on.

Large Tortoiseshells were logged at St Andrew's Church, Wakeham, The Grove and Old Hill, the first Chalkhill Blue of the year was on the wing at Tout Quarry where a Red-veined Darter also showed up.

This morning's dispersing Great Spotted Woodpecker was looking decidedly bemused at discovering that south Portland's really not like the sylvan paradise that it grew up in © Martin Cade:


Today's random reports of Large Tortoiseshells included this one that was found trapped inside a garden shed at Wakeham © Roger Gall:

5th July

No respite from the wind again today, in fact by the evening it can't have been too far off gale force at the Bill; that said, the return of a blue sky saw to it that it was pleasantly warm wherever there was any shelter. A/the Serin did a quick fly-round at the Obs during the morning but the sea accounted for the rest of the interest, with 11 Balearic Shearwaters, a Great Skua and an unseasonable Great Northern Diver the best of it off the Bill; Gannets and Manx Shearwaters provided the numbers there: the former - particularly immatures - have been streaming by in recent days, with well into a four figure total again today, whilst the latter peaked in the evening when upwards of 200 per hour were heading east.

A Large Tortoiseshell was in private gardens at the Grove today.

Whilst hardly numerous, Large Tortoiseshells have become pretty routine during their appropriate seasons - this one was basking in evening sunshine at the Grove today. An interesting issue is how they seem to pop up randomly all over the island - are they just very mobile or is there more than the one breeding site? © Martin Cade:

4th July

A day of seriously grim conditions - constantly dreary skies, frequent reduced visibility and a stiff southwesterly - saw sea interest dwindle considerably, with morning totals of 80 Manx Shearwaters, 31 Common Scoter and 14 Balearic Shearwaters off the Bill and 12 Common Scoter, 4 Balearic Shearwaters and an Arctic Skua off Chesil. Single Yellow-legged Gulls were at Chesil Cove and the Bill Common, a Whimbrel dropped in at the Bill and 7 Dunlin and a Common Sandpiper were at Ferrybridge.

3rd July

A bright and breezy morning gave way to an increasingly wild afternoon that saw the wind gusting up toward gale force as a rain band arrived from the west. Balearic Shearwaters staged their first good movement of the year with 171 through off the Bill; unusually, most were tied in with a eastward pulse of Manx Shearwaters - the latter lagged behind in numbers for most of the day before a late surge saw them overtake the Balearics and end up just shy of 200. Perhaps the oddest offshore movement involved unseasonable skuas, with totals of 8 Pomarine, 5 Arctic and 2 Great through at the Bill; c600 Gannets, 65 Common Scoter and 2 Dunlin made up the rest of the day sea numbers there. Waders accounted for all of what little could be mustered from the land, with a Curlew at the Bill and 4 Dunlin and 2 Common Sandpipers at Ferrybridge.

One of this morning's Common Sandpipers at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:



Despite the strength of the wind it was nice and warm in sheltered spots and two Large Tortoiseshells were on the wing, one at New Ground and this one in a private garden above Church Ope Cove © Gerry Hinde:


2nd July

The lustre of rarity heritage that's burnished this week in the Portland annals has tarnished a little of late and today was far from able to bring back that shine. Singles of Whimbrel and Sand Martin provided the most minor of migrant interest on the land, whilst 45 Common Scoter, 7 Balearic Shearwaters and 4 Manx Shearwaters were as good as it got for the seawatchers.

1st July

PBO Trustees are pleased to announce that following the latest government guidelines for England the self-contained Cottage will re-open for guests from Monday 13th July. Those who have booked previously will be contacted with new guidelines which are also available here.

Unfortunately, Government guidelines concerning premises with shared facilities preclude the opening of accommodation in the main observatory building and annexe and these will remain closed until further notice.

Day visitors are reminded that although the observatory car park and viewing terrace are now open and toilet facilities are available in the annexe, the main building including lounge, kitchen, toilets and lighthouse tower remain strictly out of bounds; appropriate social distance should be maintained at all times on the viewing terrace. Our COVID-19 instructions are provided to ensure your wellbeing as well as that of our staff - please adhere to them during your visit.

An unexpectedly decent day for the first of July saw a couple of island (if not national) rarities. A Roseate Tern at Lodmoor was on the radar early on, and its escapade out to sea with the feeding, breeding Common Terns saw it venture within the Portland boundaries when it passed over Ferrybridge. Perhaps expectedly, the second good bird of the day was the return of the male Serin, first in a garden in Southwell, then returning for a couple of loops around the Obs before heading back to the Eight Kings Quarry. The third island rare came with a Great Egret that managed to sneak almost entirely under the radar as it flew up the East Cliffs before heading north, away from the awaiting birders. The sea also provided some further interest with the first summer record of Pomarine Skua, a Bonxie and five Balearic Shearwaters.

An update on the Ferrybridge Oystercatchers as two of the brood have reached a really healthy size © Debby Saunders


Balearic Shearwaters continued to feature on and off all day © Keith Pritchard:

30th June

The last day of the month was somewhat of a surprise weather-wise, with a solidly grey sky and continually renewing rain cloud lingering over the west side of the island, it felt more like September than the beginning of summer. Despite the main focus of the day being on the sea as it drifted in and out of view, the highlight came as a Serin was heard calling, doing loops above the Obs garden before heading north in a gap between showers. The sea was more eventful than in recent days with 19 Balearic Shearwaters, mostly close in offshore heading west. Common fare included nine Manx Shearwaters, singles of Sandwich Tern, commic Tern and Mediterranean Gull as well as the now usual gull flock. The rest of the day was spent tweaking the various DIY projects that have been keeping us busy throughout the lockdown.

Once they arrive in local waters, Balearic Shearwaters are regular visitors - usually a little bit peripherally - to the offshore gull flock © Martin Cade:

29th June

Whilst the east coast of the country experienced an extraordinary passage of Swifts, we were experiencing another incredibly blustery, grey day with little in the way of land-based migration apart for the likely lingering Yellow-legged Gull. The sea was a different matter with an evening spectacle of swirling gulls, Balearic and Manx Shearwaters (a good 10 of the former, 250+ of the latter). The gusting on-shore winds also saw the second day-time Storm Petrel of the year, as well as an Arctic Skua, what will presumably be one of the final Puffins of the year, and a single Sandwich Tern amongst the local Common Terns. At the north end of the island, a Sanderling at Ferrybridge was present for the second day along with a new Turnstone.

Balearic Shearwaters are never going to be winners in the beauty stakes and some of the moulting birds look truly grim at this time of year © Martin Cade:



It remains to be ascertained if all the recent sightings of a Yellow-legged Gull are of the same lingering individual - apparent plumage differences might just be the result of moult progress © Keith Pritchard:


The Chesil Little Terns seem to be making a brilliant recovery after some predatory set-backs earlier in the season © Pete Saunders

28th June

Howlingly windy conditions made for difficult birding today and, aside from a Bee-eater heard calling high over Barleycrates Lane, there were few rewards on offer for those that took the trouble. The sea was an obvious first port of call but a few Manx and 2 Balearic Shearwaters were all that could be mustered from plenty of looking. The only reports from the land were of 3 Shelduck, 2 Dunlin and a Sanderling at Ferrybridge.

As might be expected at this time of year, waders have provided most of what little interest there's been on the land: the likes of Common Sandpiper, Curlew, Whimbrel and Redshank have begun to feature on both the nocmig recordings and daytime sightings sheet, with this Sanderling a new arrival at Ferrybridge today © Pete Saunders:


The presence of a summer gull flock off the Bill is a relatively recent phenomenon and one that still retains some novelty value; at its closest the feeding frenzy is easy enough to work through but it's more usual for the flock to remain several hundred metres or more offshore which makes the detection of oddities a lot more challenging © Martin Cade:

27th June

A morning of thick cloud, heavy rain and the return of the dreaded westerly hindering any field work until after mid-morning. This resulted in the only record of a migrant passerine being a new singing Reed Warbler just outside the Obs garden. The sea, however, made up for this sad lack of avian life with a steady trickle both before and after the rain. The morning saw the passage of Manx Shearwaters reach 44, being joined by 9 Balearic Shearwaters, double figures of Common and Sandwich Terns, and one apiece of Bonxie and Arctic Skua.

The highlight of the day was, once again, not ornithological but of the moth variety with a Silver Barred trapped in the Obs garden - the first record for both Portland and Dorset.

Although the majority of immigrant records are from the coastal counties of south-east England, Silver Barred has occurred in both Hampshire and the Isle of Wight so a Dorset record was certainly on the cards...


...Bright Wave seems to be a little more infrequent as an immigrant but yesterday's specimen was actually our third © Martin Cade:  


The first full size Great Green Bush-cricket of the year was just shedding into its final, vivid form today © Erin Taylor

26th June

The overnight thunderstorms had disappeared by the morning, but as the dawn broke thick fog rolled in entirely blocking the sea from view. The only bird shining through the fog was the lingering male Serin, singing at the top of the sallows in Culverwell before disappearing north as the fog eased. More signs that spring is ending and autumn is on its way were evident with 3 Lapwings in the Top Fields and a single Whimbrel past the Bill, as well as a Spotted Flycatcher trapped in the nets mid-morning.

It was another good day for Lepidoptera, with a fresh Large Tortoiseshell in Perryfield Quarry (not too far from the larvae-stripped elm at Church Ope Cove) an on cue highlight. The moth-traps were very busy, with immigrant highlights that included a Bright Wave at the Grove and a Marbled Grass-veneer Catoptria verellus.

An immigrant moth selection from last night - Marbled Grass-veneer, Scarce Oak Knot horn Acrobasis tumidana and Latticed Heath © Martin Cade:



25th June

After belated reports of the Rosy Starlings feeding voraciously until nearly dusk yesterday it was no great surprise that they couldn't be found today; the Serin, however, lingered on even if it too gave indications of wanderlust in its quest for a mate - having spent most of the morning at the Obs it moved up to Culverwell before disappearing from there as well. The scorching conditions and brisk northeasterly saw another steady little passage of Swifts develop at the Bill where the first 30 Swallows and 8 Sand Martins of the autumn also passed through and there was a slightly less expected vismig event in the form of 3 Wood Pigeons arriving in off the sea (...3 more we could well do without bearing in mind the amount of damage being inflicted on our stewardship crops by the rather too prolific local pigeons!). On the ground a Reed Warbler in song at Avalanche Road and a Redshank at Ferrybridge was as good as it got. Offshore, a Yellow-legged Gull joined the gull flock and a handful of Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls passed by.

The last few very warm nights have been great for moth-trapping even if their promise of immigration or dispersal didn't materialise in any big way. That said, last night did come up with some encouraging signs, not the least of which was a remarkable arrival of the pretty little pyralid, Warted Knot-horn Acrobasis repandana: with just seven or so records before this year a pattern of occasional straying from its oak woodland haunts had been established but nothing to hint at last night's 15 trapped at the Obs and 13 scattered between the other garden moth-traps operated around the island; evidently this event was very widespread, with reports of influxes at many coastal sites between Dorset and Suffolk © Martin Cade:

24th June

A continuation of the clear blue skies and gentle breeze of yesterday but with some added heat gave the impression that summer is well and truly underway. This was supported by the general lack of migrants across a well covered lower half of the island. After the fleeting glimpses of yesterday's Serin, it was a relief today to get some views of a stunning male giving bursts of song as it roamed between the Bill and the Obs garden. The day's supporting cast included a strong passage of 72 Swifts over the Obs, 9 Crossbills and a Hobby over Easton, the lingering Rosy Starlings at Weston and a new Chiffchaff in Top Fields. A few birds of note on the sea included a Bonxie harassing the gull flock (the latter topped four figures so made for a spectacular sight whenever they were spooked by the Bonxie) and a Balearic Shearwater also associating with the gulls.

Although the Serin spent several hours in and around the Obs garden this photo gives the entirely erroneous impression that it was showing well which generally it wasn't since it spent the best part of the time hidden in dense cover or in flight...


...however, it was singing really well at times © Martin Cade:


23rd June

Clear blue skies and a gentle sea breeze were the perfect conditions for a handful of high flying finches. Three Crossbills over the centre of the island were a much expected year-tick after their recent form across the south coast and further afield, whilst a Serin that dropped in briefly amongst the Linnets at the Bill was a welcome sighting of a Portland regular that's been conspicuously thin on the ground this year. The 2 Rosy Starlings lingered on at Weston, whilst marginally less exciting land-based observations included the lingering Reed Warbler at Culverwell with a second new individual at Weston, the first fly-over Grey Wagtail since the 9th May and a wealth of common breeding birds. The sea was a fraction more varied than in previous days with two Arctic Skuas west, a third calendar year Yellow-legged Gull and the standard fare including Common Scoter, Mediterranean Gulls, Black-headed Gulls and three Sandwich Terns.

The breeding birds have been out in force making the most of the first calm, warm weather for a few days © Geoff Orton:



22nd June

Were it not for the pair of dazzlingly pink Rosy Starlings remaining at Weston (alright one was more dazzling than the other), today might have been an almost total write-off. The rest of the birding day left a lot to be desired with a lingering Reed Warbler making up the remains of the migrant tallies. It was down to the breeding birds to complete the ringing totals with some freshly fledged Whitethroats and a Greenfinch, sadly now a rarity in the nets. The sea was exceptionally quiet, and the haze that set in around mid-morning didn't help matters, meaning totals reached a paltry one Common Scoter, one Mediterranean Gull and two Sandwich Terns.


The Rosy Starlings continued to show nicely at Weston today © Martin Cade (top) and Pete Saunders (bottom):



  The unbroken sunshine warming the ground and vegetation saw the emergence of some more Gatekeepers, the first photographed at the Bill this year © Roy Norris:



21st June

A bright and unexpectedly blustery day saw yesterday's single Rosy Starling show up again at Weston where it was soon discovered that it had a companion, with both remaining in situ all day. A fly-by Serin over Easton was another nice mid-summer scarcity but other interest was minimal to say the least: a handful of Swifts looked to be departing from the Bill but there was little else of note on land or sea.

And one became two: it may be that there were already two Rosy Starlings at Weston, since no sooner had what was assumed to be yesterday's bird been relocated then it was realised there were actually two birds present - an adult male and a female/immature - they remained together for the rest of the day © Martin Cade:

20th June

Certainly not a day to write home about - at least not until after dark when news of a Rosy Starling photographed by a member of the public in a private garden at Weston surfaced via a local Facebook page. The dawn cloud cover and associated warm, humid air had given the birders some early hope, but migrants were soon revealed to be scarce across the board with the only real highlights being a Whimbrel heading west at sea and a singing Reed Warbler in Culverwell. A limited supporting cast on the sea featured low numbers of all the usual suspects as well as a handful of Manx Shearwaters, and seven each of Sandwich and Common Tern.

The Kittiwakes seem to have all but abandoned the West Cliffs breeding sites of old so its always a relief to see younger birds amongst the feeding flocks lingering offshore - perhaps they'll prove to be the founders of a new colony © Pete Saunders:


19th June

An unexpectedly windy day saw clear skies interrupted by sudden, heavy downpours. Avian life was dominated by a seeming mass fledging of the garden tits, Whitethroats and Wrens. Migrants were under represented throughout the Obs area with a singles of singing Reed Warbler and Blackcap holding the fort. The sea was disappointingly quiet, despite the wind whipping up a fair swell, and the highlight of a single Bonxie was supported by a cast of only the most frequent fliers (a handful each of Common Scoter and Manx Shearwaters).

Perhaps the most exciting find of the day was once again a moth, with a Cloaked Pug trapped at the Obs being a first for the island.

As pugs go, Cloaked Pug is pretty sizeable and distinctively marked so has always had a certain cachet. It also has a rather peculiar status, being established once again in spruce plantations here and there throughout Britain after being presumed to have been lost as a resident moth earlier in the 20th century; immigrants - like our specimen from last night - occur infrequently just about anywhere © Martin Cade:

18th June

Quite how Portland managed to miss heavy rainfall for the best part of the day when a constant downpour was visible just to the north of the island was one of those quirks of meteorology that went a long way toward explaining why the island is consistently by far the driest part of Dorset; however, an evening pivot in the rain band eventually saw it make landfall and linger on into the hours of darkness. Under the veil of cloud singles of Hobby, Chiffchaff and Spotted Flycatcher were new in at the Bill but the day's only other interest concerned odds and ends of routine terns and gulls periodically joining the mass of Herring Gulls feeding offshore.

17th June

As we plough steadily on towards July, the birding becomes an increasingly Sisyphean task as hope has entirely turned from quantity to quality. With bright skies but persistent drizzle through part of the morning the expectations of something good were raised, however, a great deal of coverage across the island reaped little reward and passerine arrivals were limited to two singing Reed Warblers; elsewhere a Knot was new in at Ferrybridge. The sea provided additional variety including the fourth Arctic Skua for the month and a steady passage of Common Scoter amounting to 45 birds. A lone Common Scoter also made it into Portland Harbour where a becalmed Gannet was another incongruous sight. With a changeable forecast approaching, hopefully our rock-shifting efforts will pay off once more.

With its dazzlingly-plumaged adult congeners way away breeding on the Arctic tundra this dowdy immature Knot has been consigned to spending its first full summer like Billy no-mates stuck between winter quarters and the breeding grounds © Pete Saunders:


16th June

A truly abysmal day for birds was slightly remedied by a couple of Lepidopteran highlights. On the avian front, migrants were on exceptionally poor form with little more than a Blackcap in Culverwell to speak of across the entire Obs area. The sea was also distinctly average with seven Sandwich Terns, three Common Terns and the usual Common Scoter flock. It was therefore down to the moths to save the day, and the emergence of one of the garden's Lunar Hornet Clearwings (found handily sat on a mist net otherwise entirely unperturbed by birds) and an early record of Olive-tree Pearl Palpita vitrealis.

Needs must and it was our hand that provided the only acceptable substrate for both of the afternoon's serendipitously secured lepidoptera: the Lunar Hornet Clearwing was found settled on a mist-net and in the absence of a pot was gingerly transported indoors for inspection in cupped hands, whilst a Lulworth Skipper had earlier been found fluttering against a window in the Obs lounge © Martin Cade:


15th June

Blistering blue skies and barely a breathe of wind did wonders for the veg patch after the recent rain, but the birding day got off to a slow start. Three singing male Reed Warblers at Culverwell were a sign that passage had not fully ground to a halt and this was confirmed soon afterwards when a Golden Oriole showed briefly for one fortunate observer at the Merchant's Incline (remarkably this is the first record for the year - the poorest spring showing since 2016). The sea was not eventful, with double figures of both Common Scoter and Mediterranean Gull as good as it got.

Back to yesterday for another exciting if slightly obscure little discovery by Will Langton during his Large Tortoiseshell exploration at Church Ope Cove. This tiny blotch mine on a honeysuckle leaf contains a larva of the Honeysuckle Dwarf Perittia obscurepunctella - the first record for Portland. Although described as widely distributed in England, this species appears on the basis of the few county records to be very rare in Dorset as a whole - it's a small, insignificant-looking early season flyer so we'll take a punt on it actually being more widespread in the county but largely overlooked © Will Langdon:


14th June

The Obs car park and viewing terrace will re-open tomorrow. We'll be providing toilet facilities for visitors in the Annexe but please note that all the indoor facilities in the main building will remain closed for the time being. 

Overnight showers, thick cloud all the way to the horizon and a drop in the wind raised hopes for the day. New arrivals were soon uncovered, including 2 Reed Warblers, 2 Blackcaps and a Willow Warbler at the Bill and 14 Mediterranean Gulls, 9 Sandwich Terns, 4 Dunlin and 4 Sanderling at Ferryridge, but the best of the bunch - at least 2 Bee-eaters heard heading north over East Weare - came later once the sky cleared and proved to be frustratingly fleeting. The Rosy Starling was also still in residence although today it shunned the Bill and remained at Southwell. Five more Sandwich Terns, along with 2 Great Skuas and an Arctic Skua, passed through off the Bill.

Ferrybridge had plenty of activity this morning; Mediterranean Gulls © Pete Saunders...


...and Sanderling, Oystercatchers, Mallards and Sandwich Terns © Debby Saunders:





Regardless of the speculation about their initial origin, we've assumed for a year or more that Large Tortoiseshell butterflies must be breeding on the island: there were just too many being seen - and being seen in the same places for days on end - for them all to be primary immigrants. With elm being reported to be a favoured foodplant the woodland at Pennsylvania Castle/Church Ope Cove seemed like the best bet to host a colony and we pointed Will Langdon in that direction when he got in touch this week for tips as to where to look. Will succeded handsomely in his quest today with the discovery first of obvious signs of larval damage...



...and then, after some intrepid climbing, the finding of egg shells and a variety of spent larval skins; sadly, he was just a day or two late to find the larvae themselves that had presumably very recently pupated all photos © Will Langdon.




13th June

After the wind dropped yesterday evening there was a small hope that today might bring with it some calmer weather (accompanied by migrant birds and moths galore). However, it was not to be as the wind picked back up overnight and the afternoon was riddled with heavy rain showers. That being said, the day was not without its highlights, the main one being the return of the mid-morning Rosy Starling (its getting like clockwork, arriving in the mid-morning and leaving before noon - today it resurfaced at Reap Lane during the afternoon). The best bits from the mornings sea watch included one apiece of Grey Plover and Balearic Shearwater, along with all the usual suspects. The land was much quieter with little more than singles of Blackcap, Spotted Flycatcher and Wheatear.

12th June

After threatening for a couple of days the island finally took a hit from the rain that's been circulating around a low pressure area to the west; however, this was not before the Rosy Starling reappeared at the Bill and showed for rather longer than it did the day before yesterday. A Quail was also a new arrival at this time even if it couldn't actually be pinned down properly until the clearance came during the evening. Migrant interest otherwise consisted of a Spotted Flycatcher at the Bill, a Yellow-legged Gull offshore and a trickle of displaced Swifts overhead.

Today's Rosy Starling was a bit of a chameleon that looked alternately drably-plumaged or surprisingly bright as the light changed, however, there didn't seem to be any obvious reason why it wasn't the individual that was in the same vicinity the day before yesterday © Martin Cade:





We first had a fleeting hearing of a Quail whilst watching the Rosy Starling during the morning but it was so brief that we hadn't a clue where it had sung from and the onset of heavy rain scuppered any chance of locating it. Come the improved conditions during the evening it sung again from time to time when it could be pinned down to the Strips and, whilst we were making a sound recording, even afforded a view of its head as it moved along one of the dividing banks between the 'lawns'.



What followed though was most unexpected: for no apparent reason it took flight and landed in one of the Crown Estate Field stewardship strips where, due to this spring's drought, the crop's sparse enough that it was barely concealed; here it afforded remarkably good views before quickly slinking away into more appropriate cover © Martin Cade