2nd April

With the strength of the wind dwindling and heavy cloud cover rolling in overnight migrants were at last downed in some quantity today. The hours of darkness had seen a steady passage of Redwings develop - 151 calls were logged at the Obs with a strong peak in the couple of hours of darkness - and it was they that proved the harbingers of things to come as dawn broke when 45 greeted the early risers around the south of the island; 21 Fieldfare and 20 Blackbirds also made rapid departures at this time. Willow Warblers made up the bulk of the numbers amongst the summer migrants, with 150 at the Bill alone; also there, Chiffchaff and Blackcap reached 50 each, Wheatear was rather  under-strength at just 40 and none of the other also-rans managed a double-figure total. Sea passage continued to improve, with a year peak of 42 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill; 90 Common Scoter and singles of Brent Goose and Sandwich Tern were also of note there, whilst off Chesil singles of Black-throated Diver, Lapwing, Curlew and the season's first Little Ringed Plover added variety to the mix. Thirteen Common Scoter and a Great Northern Diver were also still about at Portland Harbour.

Redwing, Blackcap and Redshank were among the migrants that featured today © Martin Cade, Debby Saunders and Joe Stockwell respectively:




It's many, many years since they've bred at Portland so, away from the Ferrybridge carpark, Rook is always a rather appreciated and strongly seasonal visitor to the island © Pete Saunders:

1st April

We're not quite sure why certain folk think the very clear guidelines issued by the government in relation to the Covid-19 outbreak don't apply to them but from the steady number of day-visitors that are calling in or parking at the Obs that seems to be the case. We'd like to reiterate that the Obs - including all our facilities and car park - is closed until further notice; this is for your good as well as ours. We're very keen to receive news of sightings from around the island but please forward these via social media or email rather than report them in person.

A joyous occurrence today as the first pair of shorts were sighted on the patio (some immediate regret was experienced by the wearer when the clouds rolled in, but isn't that always the case on the first shorts day of the year?). Some more positive signs of movement included 34 Wheatears across the Bill recording area, a single Swallow up the West Cliffs and a new Willow Warbler in the garden. The sea was also busier than in recent days with 26 Red-throated Divers, 58 Common Scoter, five Manx Shearwaters and three Eiders. Elsewhere on the island, there were another 18 Wheatears at Ferrybridge (within a daily exercise cycle of one of our regulars), a Merlin at Chesil Cove and two Great Northern Divers in the Harbour.

With the sudden disappearance of our regular birders around the Bill, we have been neglecting to photograph the commoner migrants, and that's real shame when the male Wheatears are looking this resplendent © Erin Taylor:

31st March

The quality of the birding in recent days has been, frankly, abject and today brought no upturn in fortunes for the island residents undertaking constitutional walks that were reported to be almost devoid of migrants, both on the ground and overhead. Chiffchaff just about made a double figure total at the Bill, where 2 Redwings, a Snipe and one of the overwintering Firecrests provided the only high spots amongst the thinnest of migrant tallies; elsewhere, a White Wagtail at Reap Lane was as good as it got. With the stiff breeze remaining firmly in the northeasterly singles of Red-throated Diver and Arctic Skua were the only rewards from the sea at the Bill.

A Large Tortoiseshell was again on the wing at Church Ope Cove.

30th March

To demonstrate the dearth of migrants at the Bill, we celebrated 'breaking our duck' today with the capture of a single Goldfinch in the garden nets. Highlights on the birding front included the return of the Culverwell Moorhen, 8 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill and nine Wheatears across the obs recording area. The sea remained relatively quiet with four Manx Shearwaters, 35 Common Scoters and a Little Egret. Elsewhere on the island, a Yellow Wagtail showed up at Wakeham, a Black Redstart was at Blacknor whilst a trickle of migrants at Reap Lane included White Wagtail, Wheatear and a couple of Chiffchaffs.

It's good to see the Buzzards helping out with the over abundance of rats ©Geoff Orton: 

29th March

Is the wind ever going to stop? It has seemed almost relentless since last November and today was no exception. Not a single new bird was trapped throughout an entire morning in the garden, and the only lingering bird was yesterday's Bullfinch. The sea was woefully quiet with just two Red-throated Divers, three Manx Shearwaters and 14 Common Scoter through off the Bill. Other migrants at the Bill were limited to five Song Thrushes (including a very grey individual) as well as six Wheatears. Random additions to the tally from elsewhere included singles of Mute Swan and Dunlin at Chesil Cove and 15 Black-headed Gulls and a Red-throated Diver through at Portland Harbour.

28th March

Sunshine was again the order of the day but birding on the land was hard work and largely unrewarding in a freshening and chilly northeasterly. Migrant numbers were stuck at barely more than ones and twos of routine fare, with 3 White Wagtails at Reap Lane and another Bullfinch at the Obs the best of the minor oddities. The sea was little better in the offshore wind, with 33 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers, a Great Crested Grebe and a Little Egret the best off the Bill.

A first White-speck of the year was a surprise in the Obs garden moth-traps.

Our little looks at ageing and sexing were supposed to just low-key dippings into whatever we came across rather than being in any way systematic but, having done a young Bullfinch a couple of days ago, it was probably inevitable that one of the next birds out of a bag should be an adult Bullfinch - this really wasn't rigged! We're known for being very conservative when it comes to ageing and try to avoid the temptation to look too hard for very subtle features - our experience is that doing so more often than not leads to mistakes. This adult certainly fell into the glaringly obvious category, with its nice blue gloss to all the major covert tracts and neat greyish-white tips to the greater coverts and carpal covert (the latter is the little covert feather tucked between the greater coverts and the alula - it's brown tipped in a youngster)...


...given a good field view we'd have thought the correct ageing of this bird would have been quite do-able © Martin Cade:

27th March

Crystal clear skies and a cool breeze kicked off the day, bringing with it another Bullfinch to the garden. The morning's constitutional walk was unremarkable with a handful of common migrants including five Wheatears, two Goldcrests and one Black Redstart. Reports from elsewhere on the island provided the day list with two Siskins and a single Coal Tit (evidently there has been a small influx of Coal Tits across the West Coast, whether this individual was part of that or one of our regular spring continental birds remains to be seen). As the day wore on the wind dropped and the temperature rose, bringing the general feeling of the day to nothing short of magnificent, and the perfect weather for a spot of raptor passage;  three Red Kites were recorded in total, one over the obs (which headed east) and two together over Weston.

With the amount of reports of Red Kites over Wyke and Weymouth, it was surely only a matter of time before one meandered over our heads © Martin Cade:


Social isolation has not fazed our regular Ferrybridge-goers and a quick walk up the road instead provided a pair of Stonechats...© Debby Saunders:


...and this fabulous male Siskin © Pete Saunders


26th March

Not much of a migration spectacle on land or sea today with the continuing fine weather reducing groundings of nocturnal migrants at the Bill to little more than could be counted on the fingers of two hands, whilst a shift in the breeze back towards the northeast killed off sea passage; the most disappointing feature was an almost total lack of visible passage in what looked to be perfect conditions. Several of what few migrants were about on the ground looked to be long-term lingerers including 2 White Wagtails and singles of Black Redstart and Redwing at the Bill; sea movement there included 53 Common Scoter, 3 Red-throated Divers and singles of Black-throated Diver, Arctic Skua and Sandwich Tern.

Single Large Tortoiseshells were seen at two sites at Fortuneswell.

Portland residents are pretty fortunate to have a wealth of potentially migrant-rich footpaths along which to undertake their daily constitutional walk during these peculiar times; their rewards have been pretty scant so far but we wouldn't mind betting that with the extra miles being covered one or other of them bumps into something decent before too long. Yesterday's routine fare included Wheatear and Turnstone © Geoff Orton:



At the Obs, our mist-nets have quietened right off in recent days, although that has allowed us to tinker around with perhaps restarting having a closer look at some species on the blog. When we used to have a go at this on the old website the aim wasn't a 'teaching granny to suck eggs' series for ringers but rather dabbling at showing birders the sorts of features that might be visible on a good field view. We doubt that we'll ever get round to being systematic with this and the first bird out of a bag yesterday was a minor Bill scarcity in the form of a Bullfinch. Sexing's well covered in any guide so there was no bother with this female:


Ageing also wasn't a problem since all young Bullfinches retain a certain number of juvenile feathers throughout their first year - most visibly, this youngster born last summer retained, for example, a couple of outer greater coverts and all the primary coverts:


On the closed wing, we did notice just how readily the two juvenile greater coverts disappeared from view beneath the other eight adult-patterned feathers in this tract so in the field it might be that the most obvious sign of immaturity would be the dull - matt as opposed to glossy - primary coverts and alula © Martin Cade:

25th March

Another bout of glorious sunshine today, albeit always tempered by a keen southeasterly breeze. A fall of migrants was never on the cards but the subtle shift in wind direction more than perked up the sea that provided entertainment throughout the morning, with Bill totals that included c300 auk spp, c250 Gannets, 126 Kittiwakes, 88 Common Scoter, 13 Red-throated Divers, 12 Little Gulls, 7 Black-headed Gulls, 6 Garganey, 4 Eider, 3 Manx Shearwaters, 3 Mediterranean Gulls, 2 Shelducks and the first Arctic Skua of the spring; lower numbers off Chesil included 2 Red-breasted Mergansers. It was very hard going on the land, where odds and ends amongst pitiful numbers of common numbers on the ground included singles of Snipe, Black Redstart, Redwing and Bullfinch at the Bill, a White Wagtail at Suckthumb and a Black Redstart at the Grove; visible passage was also disappointingly light, with no more than a trickle of hirundines, pipits and finches on the move along West Cliffs.

A Large Tortoiseshell was seen near Verne Common.

24th March

A truly beautiful day - which was a tad ironic given it was also the first day of the nationwide lockdown - saw brilliant blue skies and a drop in the hitherto ever-present wind. Once again, however, it was not a great day for migrating birds with grounded migrants in particular pretty thinly spread; 2 White Wagtails were as good as it got at the Bill. Three species of hirundine was a bonus though with the first House Martin of the year (at Blacknor) accompanied by six Swallows and three Sand Martin; a decent passage of Meadow Pipits and Linnets was also evident  along the West Cliffs . The sea was relatively quiet, with 5 Red-throated Divers and 4 Shoveler easily the pick of a lean return from the Bill.

Yesterday we mentioned appreciating the little things and in the same breath should have dwelt on the capture for ringing of the year's first Greenfinch at the Obs. It still sometimes seems almost inconceivable that we've reached the point where the trapping of a Greenfinch should be deemed noteworthy but it's a sad reflection on the demise of what was once the Obs garden's commonest breeding bird © Martin Cade:


We've posted versions of the graph below on previous blogs but the latest update shows there's been no upturn in the fortunes of a bird whose population both locally and nationally has been decimated by the emergence of the respiratory disease, trichomonosis. It's safe to say that the totals shown for the first 15 or so years of ringing activity at the Obs can be largely ignored: ringing effort in those days wasn't what it is now and we understand that Greenfinches were so numerous in that era that, to save money, many of those trapped weren't even ringed! Amongst the ups and downs in the 'modern era' we've never managed to glean from the literature a satisfactory explanation for the noticeable dip in numbers during the 1980s - was this a nation-wide event or something that occurred only at a local level?

23rd March

We regret to have to announce that in the light of the restrictions placed on travel and size of gatherings the Obs car park will be closed with immediate effect and until further notice.

Another brisk, cold but bright day was a treat to look at, if not to be in outside. A couple of interesting moments on the sea included singles of Red-breasted Merganser, Manx Shearwater and Sandwich Tern; as well as three Bar-tailed Godwits and a Curlew off Chesil Cove. On the land, there was little evidence of movement with most Chiffchaffs in the garden being ringed birds from recent days, Black Redstarts in the same locations as recent days and two lingering Blackcaps. Meadow Pipits once again represented the most common migrants with an increasing stream of birds throughout the morning, culminating in 123 birds through in 20 minutes above the West Cliffs.

Sometimes it's nice to appreciate the little things... © Erin Taylor:


22nd March

Judging by the number of sightings from a wide range of places across Portland, our local birders are managing to maintain social distancing whilst also enjoying the islands various birding hot spots. A marginal drop in the wind meant that the day dawned cool and clear once more. The most numerous species battling the elements to make landfall was the humble Meadow Pipit, with 124 heading in off the sea during the mornings sea watch. However, the highlight at sea was a flock of three Tufted Ducks (the first for the year), also seen at Chesil Cove. The Chesil watch also added 20 Black-headed Gulls and singles of Black-throated and Great Northern Diver. Elsewhere on the island, Church Ope saw singles of Common Sandpiper and Firecrest, there was a single Fieldfare at Barleycrates, the harbour and Ferrybridge contained an additional pair of Great Northern Divers and two Shelducks, and a Merlin was sighted speeding along the West Cliffs. 

The population of Buzzards on Portland seems to be on the rise, particularly at the south end of the island and a noticeable 'wondering' pair have been checking out new sights for the past month. This evidently came to a head today with three birds present at the scene, there obviously isn't room for the both of them © Geoff Orton:

21st March

The sound of the wind whipping itself into a frenzy last night did not inspire much confidence in the day ahead. It was a morning for a slow wake up, but we should always know better and an early morning phone call from the Quinetiq compound revealed that a Stone Curlew had been sighted on their morning patrols. An initial search for the bird around the Bill yielded little success, but a fortunate farmer unearthed the bird later within the ploughed field across the road before it swiftly departed northwards. Despite the howling easterly wind, migrants were still revealing themselves across the obs area; three Black Redstarts remained, a sad total of seven Wheatears, three White Wagtails and singles of Redwing and Fieldfare were located throughout the day. The sea produced the first Bar-tailed Godwit of the year along with 10 Manx Shearwaters and 26 Common Gulls

The Stone Curlew was an unfortunate combination of incredibly flighty and very prone to hunkering in ploughed fields making it difficult to get to grips with... © Martin Cade

20th March

A surprisingly brutal blast of easterly wasn't welcome for those indulging in bouts of self-isolation exercise but it did drop a steady arrival of mainly Chiffchaffs at the Bill, where 150 or so pitched up through the day. Migrant variety was otherwise pretty limited: the likes of Robins were noticeably more numerous than of late and 2 Little Egrets and a Merlin were of note at the Bill but, for example, Wheatear barely managed a double figure total there; odds and ends elsewhere included a Fieldfare at Barleycrates Lane and a Black Redstart at Blacknor. Offshore, the first Sandwich Tern of the season passed through off the Bill where the settled Common Scoter flock was bolstered by the arrival of dithering migrants, with at least 75 present at times.

19th March

A welcome switch in the wind brought a cool, calm day with plenty of potential. An initial movement of Chiffchaffs kicked off the day, and remained the commonest species trapped; tallies reached 31 in the garden and a further 94 across the recording area. Mid-morning saw the first real movement of hirundines with 36 Sand Martins and 9 Swallows in off the sea, shooting off north. A noticeable increase in Goldcrests included 11 trapped in the garden and an additional 30 around the Top Fields, Culverwell and the East Cliffs. Other migrants present in smaller numbers included: a Merlin, six Black Redstarts, 11 Blackcaps, 12 Willow Warblers and two Firecrests.


18th March

Another little flourish of migrants under dreary skies today. Chiffchaffs made up the bulk of the numbers with at least 100 at the Bill and another 50 in the Pennsylvania Castle area. Willow Warbler and Blackcap (2) were both firsts for the spring at the Bill where 30 Wheatears, 15 Goldcrests and a Black Redstart were also logged on the ground and 2 Lapwings and a steady arrival of alba wagtails, Meadow Pipits and Linnets featured overhead; elsewhere, another Black Redstart was at Blacknor and 3 Firecrests were again about at Pennsylvania Castle. The sea chipped in with 6 Red-throated Divers, 5 Mediterranean Gulls, 3 Manx Shearwaters and the first 3 Puffins of the season.

17th March

There certainly doesn't look to be any momentum of passage getting established, with today's returns very much poorer than yesterday's. Odds and ends on the ground at the Bill included 3 Black Redstarts, 2 Firecrests and barely into double figure totals of Wheatear and Chiffchaff. Sea passage there was also subdued: a close to triple figure total of Kittiwakes was of note but otherwise nothing more than 2 Brent Geese and a lone Red-throated Diver passed by; 2 Great Northern Divers were still knocking about in Portland Harbour.

After a winter hiatus it's good to have Ken Dolbear back keeping us abreast of invertebrate discoveries; this Cereal Leaf Beetle Oulema melanopus at Bottomcombe yesterday is evidently a first for Portland © Ken Dolbear:


16th March

For a week now talk has been turning to the mythical perfect Monday: the forecasts had predicted the stiff westerly that has been battering us for over a month would finally abate and be replaced by a gentle northerly and clear skies - propitious conditions so often in the past. Just for once the reality lived up to expectations. Straight away from dawn, Wheatears were watched coming in off the sea over the Obs patio and soon Chiffchaffs were flycatching from the bushes. A sweep of the Obs recording area revealed a Wheatear tally of 125 (although the true figure was likely far higher as birds were passing through rapidly), Chiffchaffs were the most numerous species ringed with 29 trapped in the garden and a further 67 recorded throughout the obs area. The chat-fest continued as more Black Redstarts emerged and a total of 5 around the Bill were joined by singles at Church Ope, the Verne and Chesil Cove; Stonechats also put in an impressive showing with a conservative tally of 51 reached. Other migrants travelling in lesser numbers included a single Merlin (the first for the year), two Swallows, two White Wagtails, the first 2 Goldcrests of the spring and four Firecrests

The bright, warm day also brought out a few non-avian highlights: 2 Large Tortoiseshells were re-sighted at Church Ope, along with several Brimstones, whilst a further Large Tortoiseshell surfaced at Bottomcombe.

Large Tortoiseshells showed nicely in today's lovely sunshine; this one was at Bottomcombe © Ken Dolbear...


...and two or more were again frequenting Pennsylvania Castle/Church Ope Cove © Martin Cade:

15th March

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT

Due to the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak PBO is unable to guarantee the wellbeing of visitors and is to close for residential guests with immediate effect and until further notice; our carpark and viewing patio will remain open for the time being but all indoor facilities will be out of bounds to day-visitors. These instructions will be constantly reviewed and may change without warning.

We will endeavour to contact all those with accommodation bookings in place for this spring but should this not be possible please do not travel and expect to be accommodated.


What would have been the morning rush was interrupted by some heavyish rain showers, so early morning tallies consisted of just one Wheatear at the Bill, a Fieldfare over the obs and single figures of Chiffchaffs. However, by the afternoon the rain had cleared and the wind FINALLY dropped to almost nothing; with this came a small movement of Chiffchaffs (12 in the obs recording area, three at Church Ope and 3 around Bumpers Lane), Wheatears (three in the East Cliffs fields), Stonechats (18 between Sweethill and Culverwell) and a single Black Redstart at Shepherds Dinner. The sea saw its share of the action too with 36 Manx Shearwaters, 19 Fulmars, 26 Common Scoter and singles of Red-throated Diver, Brent Goose and Bonxie.

14th March

The day we have been waiting for since the onset of the foul weather last November, the first 2 Wheatears of the spring arrived today, a sure sign that spring is on its way. However, the glory of the bird of the day was stolen by a singing Mistle Thrush at Culverwell, an uncommon sound on Portland to say the least. The sunny morning saw small arrivals of common migrants including three White and 25 alba Wagtails, the first triple figure tally of Meadow Pipits, 23 Stonechats across the recording area, a flock of 35 Linnets in off the sea and 20 Chiffchaffs grounded at the Bill. The sea itself was of interest with six Red-throated Divers (with passage continuing throughout the day), 26 Common Scoter loitering offshore and eight Mediterranean Gulls; the evening seawatch added three Manx Shearwaters and a small but noticeable movement of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

13th March

The adage relates that one Swallow doesn't make a summer and today's first single of the spring that passed through at Blacknor certainly wasn't moving with any other quantity of migrants. A few gatherings of Stonechats - including 9 at Kingbarrow Quarry - were about as good as it got on the ground, with no more than a minor trickle of pipits and wagtails through overhead. Another 3 Manx Shearwaters and 2 Red-throated Divers passed by off the Bill.

Two Large Tortoiseshells were again at Church Ope Cove, with the first Small White and Hummingbird Hawkmoth of the year also on the wing at Blacknor and Portland Port respectively.

There mightn't have been much migrant activity but it was a decent enough day to get amongst some routine Portland fare - Skylark, Stonechat, Common Buzzard and Linnet © Roy Norris:





12th March

Lots of nice sunshine was comprehensively spoilt by a blasting westerly today. A steady trickle of Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails continued to battle in off the sea but little more than a handful of 'crests and Chiffchaffs were evident in what few sheltered spots there were on the ground. Odds and ends from the sea included 5 Manx Shearwaters and a Red-throated Diver through off the Bill.

The first Comma of the year was on the wing at Church Ope Cove and a lone Dark Sword Grass was caught overnight at the Obs.

11th March

Blue skies and a very slight drop in the wind saw a very small influx in the early morning including singles of Redwing and Song Thrush in the garden (judging by results of noct-mig sessions across the south-coast there was a large passage of thrushes over night); also within the garden, a new Firecrest joined 2 of the overwinterers. The sea provided some entertainment with a Bonxie that settled both on the sea and then the rocks by the obelisk; the second Manx Shearwater of the year was joined by one Red-throated Diver, eight Mediterranean Gulls and 16 Common Scoter. A steady trickle of commoner migrants joined the foray with 87 Meadow Pipits, 11 Stonechats and four alba Wagtails arriving in off the sea through the morning.

Sometimes the best part about living on an island is getting watching the sea during a spring tide with a big swell rolling in... © Erin Taylor:




Grounded migrants were again very thinly spread but a new Firecrest did show up at the Obs where it joined at least two overwinterers still present. These lingering Firecrests did provide a nice example of how easy it is to get the wrong end of the stick with numbers: we'd have put money on there being no more than two wintering Firecrests at the Obs (in fact we only saw two birds on one occasion back in January - all the other sightings this winter have been of singles) but now that the mist-nets have begun to be opened more regularly we've retrapped three birds that were all first ringed last autumn and now wouldn't be at all surprised if even more don't come out of the woodwork © Martin Cade:



10th March

 A brisk westerly wind and a rolling fog was not greatly conducive to any migratory efforts so the appearance of at least three Firecrest in the obs garden and hut fields were a pleasant surprise. The rest of the day's list remained woefully short consisting of 15 Common Scoter, one Mediterranean Gull, four Turnstones and one of the incredibly elusive Short-eared Owls.

The continually damp weather hasn't been bad news for everyone, the Bill Rock Pipits are thriving on the invertebrates being forced to the surface by the water logged soil, prompting some pairs into early nest building attempts ©Erin Taylor: 


9th March

Despite the obvious omissions from the early migrants list, the first vanguard began to trickle through today. A couple of big influxes included a flock of 180 Jackdaws in off the sea in the morning, followed by 150 Woodpigeons in the afternoon. The sparse selection of other migrants included 11 Stonechats, seven alba Wagtails and three Chiffchaffs.

8th March

Today's bright and blustery conditions were punctuated by a few hefty showers and migrant activity remained at a premium. A handful of pipits and wagtails continued to trickle in off the sea but a single Chiffchaff at the Bill was the only grounded migrant of note. Four Red-throated Divers passed by off the Bill and 4 Black-necked Grebes and a Great Northern Diver were still in Portland Harbour.

We received an interesting message from an island resident today reporting this Lesser Whitethroat that's been visiting their garden feeders for the last couple of months; although not enough detail is apparent on these images we wouldn't mind betting that this is the same 'eastern' bird that was present at Pennsylvania Castle/Wakeham back in November and December - by the look of the provisions on offer at its new haunt it's no surprise that it's stuck around there: 


7th March

An overcast dawn after a largely clear night looked to offer some hope but in the event there was practically nothing to show for today's efforts. The only faintly interesting report from the Bill was of a lone Red-throated Diver through on the sea.

6th March

Nice quiet conditions offered more promise and, even if visible passage didn't amount to much, there was a better selection of migrants on the ground today. Chiffchaffs staged their first double figure arrival of the new season with 10 scattered at the Bill, where further variety included 20 Stonechats, 2 Redwings and a White Wagtail, with the Obs mist-nets also hinting at an otherwise undetected arrival of the likes of tits and Robins; an overcast morning wasn't so favourable for overhead passage and little more than a trickle of incoming alba wagtails and Meadow Pipits developed. Collared Dove and Rook - 2 of each - were also seasonable firsts for the year at the Bill, where 14 Purple Sandpipers and a Firecrest were still about; 3 more Firecrests also lingered on at Pennsylvania Castle. The only reports from the sea 4 Red-throated Divers, 4 Shelduck, 2 Common Scoter and a Mediterranean Gull through off the Bill, whilst Portland Harbour still held a few winterers including 7 Common Scoter, 6 Black-necked Grebes, a Great Northern Diver and an Eider.

The first Small Tortoiseshell of the year was on the wing at Church Ope Cove.

5th March

Another goliath rain cloud gently rotated over the south coast for much of the morning, accompanied by a biting northerly wind. The first Wheatear of the year remained elusive but a new Chiffchaff at Culverwell was additional to yesterday's garden bird. Culverwell was also harbouring the first Water Rail of the year. Away from the obs recording area, a Goldcrest in Easton Square was the only other new migrant of the day.

4th March

A return to form as far as this year's weather goes with sheets of rain in a strong south-easterly through most of the morning. The meagre rewards for those daring to brave the storm was 14 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill and a new Chiffchaff in the garden. 

The Portland Amphibians must've been enjoying the wet weather until the Heron starting cashing in on their success... ©Nick Stantiford:



The first proper (pollen) horney Chiffchaff of the year... ©Erin Taylor:


The recent sunny spells have brought the local Adders out of hibernation ©Andy Mitchell:


3rd March

Two days on the trot of fair weather was a novelty for this year and another little trickle of early season migrants certainly made the most of it. Meadow Pipits dribbled in off the sea all day, a Greylag Goose passed through on the sea and on the land Stonechats totalled 20 at the Bill alone; also making the list from the Bill were 11 Purple Sandpipers and singles of Grey Heron, Snipe and Chiffchaff, with 2 Blackcaps at Southwell and 3 Firecrests and 2 Chiffchaffs at Church Ope Cove. A couple of sightings of what was likely to have been a/the Black Guillemot at Portland Harbour were something that'll be worth following up in the coming days; 6 Black-necked Grebes, 5 Common Scoter and singles of Great Northern Diver and Red-necked Grebe were also still there.

Large Tortoiseshells were showing on and off through the afternoon at Church Ope Cove.

Little groups of Stonechats were popping up all over the place at the Bill...


...and a long shot of the passing Greylag Goose off East Cliffs © Martin Cade:

2nd March

Another little glimmer of spring at the Bill today with the first Manx Shearwater of the year, along with 3 more inbound Carrion Crows and a trickle of arriving Meadow Pipits; as a sad reflection of their current status on the island, 4 Greenfinches at Culverwell were also worth a mention. Winterers still on station included Firecrests at Pennsylvania Castle (2) and the Obs. The harbour was busy once more with four species of grebe (Red-necked, Black-necked, Great Crested and Slavonian), a single Great Northern Diver, 4 Common Scoter and an Eider.

The non-avian highlight of the day came in the form of two Large Tortoiseshells at Church Ope Cove; a Brimstone butterfly - a minor Portland scarcity - was also there © Martin Adlam Port and Wey

1st March

The first day of a new month brought with it a drop in the wind and clearing of the sky (albeit interspersed with some heavy showers). The very slow arrival of Chiffchaffs continued with three birds around the Church Ope/Bumpers Lane area. The sunshine also saw the beginnings of Meadow Pipits moving with single figures seen coming in off the sea. A Bonxie and two Red-throated Divers were the highlights of the morning's seawatch and seven Purple Sandpipers remained at the Bill.

29th February

The arrival of two Chiffchaffs, one at Sweet Hill and one in Penn Castle Woods gave everyone a little hope that the end of February marked the end of our birding drought.

28th February

Another abysmal day meant focus was on inside jobs for much of the day. As such the day list consisted of 150+ Brent Geese and c.100 Dunlin at Ferrybridge from one diligent birder in the field.

27th February

Sitting on the obs patio in the morning, one could have been tricked into thinking that it was going to be a gloriously pleasant day. The wind had swung round overnight into a stiff northerly breeze, but the morning coffee was spent in the shelter of the lighthouse in the first truly warm bit of sunshine for quite some time. Whilst basking, the now uncommon wheeze of a Greenfinch amongst the Goldfinch flock came to our attention, sadly this is the first record of the year at the Bill for a once ubiquitous species. The rest of the Bill remained relatively quiet with 11 Purple Sandpipers and a smattering of six Stonechats the only birds of note. The harbour produced singles of Great Northern and Black-throated Diver, three Common Scoter and six Black-necked Grebes.

26th February

A beautiful, sunny day saw several of the over-wintering Firecrests show up, with three at Church Ope and one in the Obs garden. A single Red-throated Diver past the Bill was the only other bird of note.

One of the wintering Ringed Plovers at Ferrybridge today © Roy Norris:


When we had a closer look at Roy's photo it became apparent that the bird was ringed above the knee (Ringed Plovers ringed in the UK must be ringed above the knee but we're not sure how many/which foreign schemes have the same requirement). Whilst there's a perfectly good reason why waders are ringed above the knee we were left wondering if any research has been done on the recovery rate of small waders ringed in this way: since a bird ringed above the knee would almost certainly have to be trapped again or found dead to generate a recovery (...or are the metal rings read in the field more often than we imagine?) we're guessing the recovery rate must be pretty low and surely far lower than for birds marked with inscribed plastic rings, colour rings or leg flags. Maybe the longevity of an above the knee ring evens out the equation but whatever the answer it was frustrating not to be able to generate a recovery from this sighting!

25th February

In the gaps between heavy rain showers the sun shone brightly and you could almost be tricked into thinking that spring was on its way. Further early passage at the Bill came in the form of a trickle of arriving Meadow Pipits and the first 2 Carrion Crows of the season in off the sea; 2 more Red-throated Divers also passed by on the sea. The harbour was also a little livelier with the return of the Red-necked Grebe as well as 5 Great Northern Divers, a Black-throated Diver, 5 Black-necked Grebes and 6 Common Scoter.

In addition to the avian hints of spring the moth-traps have also begun to liven up just a little, with early season fare at the Obs including this routine quartet - Mottled Grey, Common Quaker, Early Grey and Hebrew Character © Martin Cade


And finally, three little videos taken recently at the Bill by Chris Hull:



24th February

Yesterday evening saw an almost total drop in the overly persistent winds we have been experiencing and brought a welcome pulse of early passage, with a 2.5 hour noct-mig session producing 86 Redwing calls (along with single figure totals of Blackbird and Song Thrush), a flock of Oystercatchers and a Moorhen over the Obs; unfortunately the weather reverted back to its usual course by midnight and movement slowed down once more. The change back to rain and wind saw little more recorded today than a Black-throated Diver in the harbour.

23rd February

Consistency isn't always something to be appreciated when it comes to the weather but at least at the moment its means our days start with squalls of rains and strong wind that tapers out into clear, brisk afternoons. A nice surprise of the first Redwing of the year flushed in Culverwell was the highlight of an otherwise unremarkable day.

One lucky resident in Fortuneswell has had a brilliant male Black Redstart visiting his meal worms regularly since December © Trevor Felstead:

22nd February

With the wind having strengthened a notch or two overnight it was certainly against expectations when what were surely the first few passerine arrivals of the spring showed up: an aggregation of 8 Stonechats at Wakeham were certainly on cue time-wise and were at a spot where no more than ones and twos have been present all winter. Other than that, increased weekend coverage revealed just a few of the regulars, with 19 Common Scoter settled off the Bill and 5 Black-necked Grebes, 4 Common Scoter and 2 Great Northern Divers in Portland Harbour.

21st February

Yet another blustery day with little to add to the year list. 12 Purple Sandpipers were present on the ledges by the pulpit and a single Red-throated Diver was sighted during the morning seawatch.

20th February

A reminder that there's an InFocus field day at the Obs between 10am and 4pm this Saturday, 22nd February.

An impressively miserable morning melted away into a clear, albeit windy, afternoon. Once more, attention was paid primarily to the upkeep of the buildings and therefore the list from the Bill remained much the same as in recent days with 20 Common Scoter settled offshore and a lone Red-throated Diver through. The Harbour was still worth a look with 3 Black-necked Grebes, 5 Common Scoter, a Red-throated Diver and 2 Great Northern Divers visible in the testing conditions, whilst elsewhere singles of Goldcrest and Firecrest remained at Pennsylvania Castle.

Ravens are such a familiar sight at the Bill these days © Martin King:

19th February

A truly appreciated gap in the wind (for the foreseeable future if the forecast is to be believed), allowed for some fruitless searches for early migrants. The day tallies amounted to little more than in recent days with six Red-throated Divers, a single Brent Goose and 20 Common Scoter on the sea with the lingering Firecrest remaining in the garden.

18th February

The grim times continued with nothing much more than 5 Turnstones and a Grey Wagtail at the Bill and 3 Common Scoter and 2 Great Northern Divers in Portland Harbour to show for the few that took the trouble to struggle through today's wind and heavy showers.

17th February

The deluge of rain of the weekend might have subsided but it remained far too windy for most fieldwork and the day's only report was of 2 Firecrests still at Pennsylvania Castle.

16th February

Very little in the way of news today. A brief moment of excitement (before either of the staff had ventured out of their beds) was an unidentified Skua sp. but the rest of the seawatch proved to be unproductive.

15th February

As Storm Dennis approached, there was little more to do than watch the sea as it swam in and out of view in ever worsening drizzle. The highlight was a Bonxie, first seen heading east then back west, but additions thereafter were thin on the ground. The usual fare included three Red-throated Divers, 33 Common Scoter and three Mediterranean Gulls.

It was the sort of day that drives you to cleaning and decorating © Erin Taylor:


14th February

A substantial drop in the wind brought a few familiar faces back through our doors for the first time this season. The change also saw the return of the Obs Firecrest, as well as the first Eider past the Bill this year and a good passage of Common Gulls. The rest of the morning's seawatch proved to be very quiet with just one Red-throated Diver and 25 Common Scoter. Elsewhere, 2 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaffs were still at Southwell.

13th February

The winter winds howled on and the day's list looked suitably sad. Twelve Purple Sandpipers were present near the obelisk, along with a lone Turnstone. A Short-eared Owl cropped up at Southwell where the long-staying singles of Blackcap and Chiffchaff were still present. The north end of the island was equally poor with 150 Brent Geese, four Black-necked Grebes and a single Great Northern Diver at Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour.

12th February

The wind of recent days finally abated but what little fieldwork there was returned no surprises, with 25 Common Scoter still off the Bill, 4 Purple Sandpipers still on the shore there and single Firecrests still at the Obs and Pennsylvania Castle.

Every now and again a quirky little detail crops up amongst the often rather mundane/expected life histories and movements revealed from all the colour-ring readings of gulls in the area. We were particularly taken by the details relating to this Herring Gull that Debby Saunders kindly sent through to us: the bird was at Ferrybridge yesterday morning and it turns out that it was ringed in August 2010 after rehabilitation at the RSPCA Wildlife Centre at West Hatch; it had originally been found oiled at Weymouth Marina in July of that year and, until yesterday, there'd only been one subsequent sighting of it at Arlingham on the River Severn in December 2018 © Debby Saunders:


Based purely on how difficult it is to see a live animal on Portland (we only saw our first earlier this winter) we've always imagined that Badgers must be pretty uncommon here but the frequency with which road casualties crop up - this one was on the Bill Road this morning - maybe suggests otherwise © John Lucas

11th February

Another blustery but clear day saw a good passage of Fulmars early on, resulting in a count of 48 birds west. A Sandwich Tern, first sighted in the Radipole car park, made its way into the recording area by the early afternoon. The rest of the harbour contained a minimum of four Great Northern Divers, along with a single Black-necked Grebe. Passerines were slightly better represented than in recent days with two Firecrests in Penn's Wood and Five Long-tailed Tits, one Blackcap and one Chiffchaff in Southwell.

The Rosemary in Southwell seems to be a particular favourite of late... © Debby Saunders: