23rd November

The morning once again kicked off with overhead passage of more than 1000 Wood Pigeons and 81 Chaffinches, with a tardy Swallow and single figure totals of Long-tailed TitsRedwings, BramblingsSiskins and Redpolls as worthy back-ups. It was relatively quiet on the ground bar a small influx of Black Redstarts that included at least seven south of Southwell; the Rosy Starling also remained at Easton. The sea was busier than in recent days with Common Gull passage surpassing 140 birds and Common Scoters also reaching a three figure total for the first time since early July; in terms of scarcer interest, a Long-tailed Duck west past the Bill was the first for the autumn, with 4 Pintail, a Great Skua and single figure totals of each of the three regular divers also of note. 

Overhead passage can be a mixed affair at this time of year, with today's eight Long-tailed Tits departing high out to sea quite likely a unique event in the history of vis-migging at the Bill © Joe Stockwell:

The almost daily pulses of visible migrants have been popular with the long-staying Merlin that's been on the prowl for potential victims most mornings just lately © Martin Cade:

22nd November

With the novelty of the wind almost entirely abating overnight there was some expectation for a good day - what was not expected was the near constant drizzle of rain so fine that the radar couldn't pick it up but anyone in the field succumbed to several good soakings. The arrival of a handful of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs proved not to be a sign of a widespread flurry of grounded migrants and the bulk of the day's interest was - despite the seemingly unfavourable conditions - overhead. Chaffinches and Goldfinches both reached near-200 totals at the Bill, where 2 Mistle Thrushes were the pick of a miscellaneous selection of lesser totals. Another steady passage of Kittiwakes off the Bill totalled 238; a Red-throated Diver also passed by and the 2 settled Eider lingered on. A winterier theme at Portland Harbour included 11 Great Northern Divers, 7 Black-necked Grebes and ones and twos of Red-necked Grebe and Red-throated and Black-throated Divers.

Chiffchaff at Southwell and Red-breasted Merganser in Portland Harbour © Pete Saunders:

21st November

Today's unrelenting gloom and and stiff southwesterly did nothing for the land but did see some movement on the sea, with 266 Kittiwakes, 34 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers and a Sooty Shearwater through off the Bill. There was little in evidence by way of new migrant arrivals but a scatter of presumably now wintering Black Redstarts, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests lingered on and the Rosy Starling was still at Easton; a Red-necked Grebe and a Black-throated Diver were also still amongst the regulars in Portland Harbour.

20th November

Despite a clear start to the day and a reasonably unthreatening rain radar, it was with some surprise that the day turned out to be almost unceasingly wet and miserable. This, however, did not stop a steady little overhead passage until the first heavier rain set in an hour or so after dawn, with more than 2000 Wood Pigeons and over 150 each of Chaffinch and Goldfinch over the Bill and 360 Jackdaws over Blacknor; surprises amongst this movement included singles of Goosander and Jack Snipe. The sea was also worth a look, with 3 Great Northern and singles of Red-throated and Black-throated Divers, along with Red-breasted Mergansers through off the Bill; 2 Eider were also still settled offshore and 6 Black-necked Grebes, 4 Great Northern Divers, 2 Black-throated Divers and a Red-necked Grebe were in Portland Harbour.

19th November

A beautiful, autumnal day with clear blue skies and just enough bite in the wind to remind us that we're well on our way to December. As is traditional at this time of year the harbour was the place to be with different viewing positions offering slightly different selections of birds but totalling a minimum of six Great Northern Divers and three apiece of Black-necked Grebe and Black-throated Diver; the third of the common British divers could be found just across the road with a very confiding individual at Ferrybridge. Back at the Bill, the morning saw a decent overhead passage of Goldfinches and Woodpigeons whilst the gusting winds prevented any land-based treasures being found. 

The Ferrybridge Red-throated Diver didn't hang around at close range for too long © Joe Stockwell:

The Brent Geese are making the most of the reduced footfall to come out onto the grass © Roy Norris:

18th November

A day of meagre returns - or at least, meagre in the way of anything new and exciting. The Ferrybridge Black Brant provided some rarity value but the constant drizzle and freshening wind that marked the passage of a weather front introducing cooler air made the quest for new arrivals a largely futile exercise. A Little Gull did pass through at Ferrybridge and 3 Redwings, a Siskin and a handful of flocks of passing Goldfinches were logged at the Bill but otherwise interest consisted of just a few regulars: the Merlin at both the Bill and Southwell, 2 of the Eider still settled off the Bill with a lone Red-throated Diver also through on the sea, a Firecrest at Pennsylvania Castle, the Black-throated Diver still in Portland Harbour and a few lingering Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests here and there.

17th November

Dreary, mild and breezy conditions weren't conducive for a repeat of yesterday's finch passage and no more than a few small flocks of Goldfinches and a single Brambling were logged over the Bill. It was just as uneventful there on the ground, with a new Chiffchaff and odd lingerers including 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Goldcrests and a Blackcap of note; elsewhere, a Water Rail was new at Southwell, the Rosy Starling remained at Easton and a Yellow-browed Warbler at Pennsylvania Castle may or may not have been another lingerer resurfacing. As usual, it was busier on the water, with 1240 Mediterranean Gulls, 6 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and the Black Brant at Ferrybridge, a Red-throated Diver through there, singles of Red-throated and Black-throated Divers in Portland Harbour and 6 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill. 

Late news for yesterday: evidently, 3 Avocets dropped in at some time at Ferrybridge.

This morning's Red-throated Diver over Ferrybridge and a Great Northern Diver from there from a few days ago © Pete Saunders:

16th November

This morning saw the first day of significant finch passage over the Bill since the 3rd of the month with over 650 Chaffinches and 400 Goldfinches before midday, along with 18 Siskins, 17 Linnets and six Bramblings; a late pulse of 380 Wood Pigeons also headed over Portland Harbour whilst, in keeping with events this late autumn, a Merlin was seen chasing the finch flocks out to sea and back off the Bill. The sea itself was of some interest with a Red-necked Grebe adding to the local influx (a further two birds have been seen at Lodmoor today), the loitering four Eiders and three Red-throated Divers. At the northern end of the island, Ferrybridge saw the return of the Black Brant, as well as a visit from a Long-tailed Duck, whilst the harbour held eight Great Northern Divers, singles of Red-throated Diver and Black-necked Grebe and two Kingfishers

The coves and bays around the island have started playing host to regular Black Redstarts © Geoff Orton:

The gardens of Southwell are still providing food and shelter for some overwinters including Goldcrests and Grey Wagtails © Nick Stantiford

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15th November

With wind speeds gusting up to 78mph in the harbour, it was always going to be left to the sea to save the day. A Sooty Shearwater past the Bill was the ultimate highlight, with a supporting cast of four Eiders, two Red-throated Divers and a tardy Manx Shearwater. The land was unsurprisingly quiet with little more than a Golden Plover below Culverwell, a lingering Purple Sandpiper and the odd wind-blown Goldcrest. The harbour is starting to show some class with a Velvet Scoter in with four Great Northern Divers

Rather unusual companions at Ferrybridge a juvenile Gannet © Debby Saunders...

...and three Bar-tailed Godwits © Pete Saunders

14th November

A wind swept, rain soaked day saw little in the way of fieldwork as we instead attended our Zoom-based trustees' meeting. The highlight of the rather miserable day was the return of the Black Brant to Ferrybridge along with two Pale-bellied and 180 Dark-bellied Brent Geese. At the salt-sprayed Bill avian life was hard to come by, but there was some evidence of overnight passage of Redwings and Fieldfares as a few lingerers remained through the morning. A Firecrest and a Great Spotted Woodpecker at Penn's Wood were the only other additions to an otherwise unremarkable day list. 

The Black Brant was showing well despite the inclement conditions © Debby Saunders

Yesterday's Ferrybridge Pintail © Debby Saunders

13th November

 A really rather typical November day in terms of birds was made remarkably pleasant by the continued warmth of the month. Bird-wise there were few highlights but the appearance of a Water Rail at Culverwell was a welcome sight given their scarcity this year. Around the Bill tip, the four Eiders continued their stint on the sea, while a lone Purple Sandpiper was feeding on the rocks and a single Black Redstart lurked in the quarry; elsewhere, at least four more Black Redstarts were dotted about the centre and north of the island. Overhead migration has become limited of late, but fifty Goldfinches, 15 Chaffinches, nine Siskins and three Bramblings made for a decent start to the morning at the Bill, 200 Wood Pigeons and 2 Crossbills passed over Easton and later two tardy Swallows passed over at Southwell. Elsewhere on the island, five Pale-bellied Brent Geese joined 410 of their Dark-bellied counterparts at Ferrybridge along with a single Pintail and three Bar-tailed Godwits

12th November

Even though we knew it was far too early to write off a Portland autumn there's been plenty of temptation in recent days to see all the signs of the season winding down - indeed, today's largely birdless dawn merely reinforced these feelings. However, in a dramatic rabbit out of the hat moment everything changed when a frosty-white redpoll swept into view over the Obs patio; quickly lured back to the garden, its identity could then be confirmed as the island's first Arctic Redpoll - always mobile and with 2 Lesser Redpolls in attendance, it remained about until mid-afternoon. The redpolls aside, two flocks of passing Wood Pigeons totalling 500 and a handful of lingering Black Redstarts and Goldcrests were all that could be mustered by way of migrant activity on/over the land and 4 lingering Eider were the best on offer offshore. Elsewhere on the island the Rosy Starling remained at Easton.

By common consensus the Arctic Redpoll was adjudged to be an exilipes, Coues's Arctic Redpoll. However, we wonder how plausible that really is: there's been a huge movement of redpolls on the East Coast this autumn but we don't recollect hearing of a single Coues's being reported amongst them - is it really very likely that there should have been at least one and probably two Coues's in Cornwall and now another in Dorset in recent days and yet there have been none in, for example, Norfolk or Yorkshire? Would it not be just as likely that these birds may have originated from Iceland where, seemingly, the pale 'Arctic Redpolls' look a lot like today's bird? © Nick Hopper (top still), Joe Stockwell (lower two stills) and Martin Cade (video):

11th November

With the impending storm heading this way, it felt very much like the autumn was coming to an end today. Wall to wall grey skies coupled with a steadily encroaching gale made for increasingly difficult birding conditions. The sea produced a trickle of interest with the now regular quartet of Eiders joined by two Velvet Scoters, two Red-throated Divers and three Great Skuas. The winter waders also seem to have settled into their cold-weather routines with both Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers present on the rocks below the Bill. Elsewhere on the island, the harbour continued its form with four Black-necked Grebes (also seemingly set for the winter) and four Great Northern Divers. The Rosy Starling remained in Easton, now showing the signs of its future glorious regalia. 

Ferrybridge was busy with 680 Mediterranean Gulls (at times flushed by the training helicopters), 47 Ringed Plovers, 38 Dunlin and a lone Sanderling © Pete Saunders

10th November

Somewhat of an anticlimax today, with seemingly very little change in conditions there appeared to have been a mass departure, most noticeably of Goldcrests. An increase in Black Redstarts was evident across the island with double figures reaches, however, other novel migrants were thin on the ground.  The highlights on the sea were a lone Velvet Scoter past the Bill with two Common Scoters, and four Eiders. Land-based highlights were hard to come by and we had to rely on the lingering delights of Yellow-browed Warblers (one each in Southwell and Church Ope Cove) and the ever faithful Rosy Starling in Easton.

Tree Mallow is invaluable at this time of year, providing a rich source of invertebrates for hungry migrants © Pete Saunders

Two of the Black Redstarts at the Bill © Joe Stockwell:

9th November

Quite a miscellany today with calm and mild conditions affording plenty of opportunities for exploration. Chief amongst the quality was the season's second Pallas's Warbler that showed up, together with a Yellow-browed Warbler and a Firecrest, at Pennsylvania Castle; another Yellow-browed Warbler remained at Southwell, the Rosy Starling remained at Easton (although it also wandered further afield to Blacknor for a while during the morning) and a Tree Sparrow was at the Bill. Migrant numbers were a little down on the highs of the weekend, with Goldcrests falling back to about the 100 mark and visible passage reduced to little more than a trickle, although by way of tardy summer visitors it did include a Swallow at the Bill and 2 House Martins at Penn's Weare. The now customary scatter of Black Redstarts, along with a Merlin, provided further interest on the land, a Great Skua passed by off the Bill and 9 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 2 Sanderling and a Knot were of note at Ferrybridge.

It's been a really good late autumn for Merlins, with this at times quite confiding bird a frequent sight at the Bill in recent days © Geoff Orton:

Ferrybridge can always be relied on to boost flagging numbers at this time of year, with a couple of late Sanderlings a noteworthy sight just at the moment © Debby Saunders (top) and Pete Saunders (bottom)...

...given an appropriate state of the tide, there's usually a few Pale-bellied Brents amongst the Dark-bellied Brent flock © Pete Saunders:

We'd have liked to have furnished visitors to the blog with a nice photograph of the Pallas's Warbler but, sadly, it was fabulously elusive and afforded little more than the occasional fleeting glimpse; the Yellow-browed Warbler was hardly more obliging as it lurked deep inside the dingiest of cover © Martin Cade:

8th November

With the wind dropping to almost nothing, overnight rain took a little longer to clear than anticipated and it wasn't until mid-morning that we got out among the steadily emerging flocks of Goldcrests. With 21 new individuals trapped, alongside flocks of upwards of 50 across the island, the whole island count was likely over 250. Unsurprisingly, given the abundance of Goldcrests, a Woodcock was attempting to hide within the Burdock in the Bill Quarry (because of course the Goldcrests ride on the back of Woodcocks) but was unceremoniously disturbed by a curious Crow. Within the gathering flocks of Goldcrests emerged 2 Firecrests, three Yellow-browed Warblers and an eastern Lesser Whitethroat. Today's calm allowed for the first good look this winter at Portland Harbour, resulting in the discovery of both a Red-necked and 5 Black-necked Grebes, as well as four Great Northern Divers

The Crown Estate Field seems like an unlikely location for flocks of Goldcrests but they're loving the dregs of this year's maize crop © Joe Stockwell:

Today's Lesser Whitethroat was the seventh this autumn and appeared both small and very pale, although the minimal white ghosting on the tail suggests it could be another blythi © Joe Stockwell:

After a very lean mothing spell during the batteringly windy and then cold weather of the last three weeks or so last night saw the return of both suitable trapping conditions and a promising southerly wind - immigrant numbers leapt up, with the island's 11th Red-headed Chestnut the pick of the catch at the Obs. As usual, the night's full immigrant list is available here (or click on the link to the right) © Martin Cade:

7th November

Another change in the wind brought with it some milder air. The traditional November fare continued with a flurry of Goldcrests, this time bringing with them at least two Firecrests and a new Yellow-browed Warbler. A smattering of autumnal migrants around the Bill included two apiece of Great Northern Diver and Merlin, singles of Fieldfare and Black Redstart, as well as seven Bramblings. The day's highlight came as a Great Egret came in straight over the Obs garden making this a record year for the species. Away from the Obs, the Rosy Starling continued its monumental stay in Easton. 

Portland's Great White Egret tally reflects the huge increase in national records: unrecorded during the first five decades of fieldwork but now regular enough that today's bird was the sixth recorded this year alone © Martin Cade:

The Southwell gardens continue to attract Goldcrests, bringing Yellow-browed Warblers with them - three of the latter have now been recorded in as many days © Pete Saunders:

6th November

With the prospect of the wind changing to a south-easterly over night. it was with a twinge of disappointment that the Bill list couldn't be extended further. A fall of Goldcrests, particularly within the Obs garden, resulted in the capture of 26 individuals. The finches failed to materialize in any great numbers with thirty Chaffinches joined by seven Redpolls, five Siskins and a lone Brambling. Away from the Bill, an early morning sighting of a Cattle Egret was presumably yesterday's bird and had the title of 'bird of the day' stolen by a ring-tail Hen Harrier heading in over Chesil Cove; one of the Yellow-browed Warblers also remained at Southwell. Additional species included a smattering of Black Redstarts and a lone Firecrest amongst the Goldcrest flocks in the centre of the island. 

5th November

A glorious autumnal day saw the day dawn crisp and clear. The early morning flurry of Chaffinches and Bramblings fizzled out rather rapidly, leaving the morning to be rescued by the arrival at the Bill of a Cattle Egret - it was always mobile but quite often settled amongst livestock before eventually heading away north. A smattering of additional late autumn staples overhead included single figures of Lapwing, Woodlark, Bullfinch, Redpoll and Reed Bunting, along with a rather measly 1000 Wood Pigeons and 500 Starlings. It was a little busier than in recent days on the ground, with the 2 Yellow-browed Warblers at Southwell being joined by the first Siberian Chiffchaff of the autumn; a handful more Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests were evident, with the mist-nets also revealing an otherwise under the radar arrival of new Blue and Great Tits. A Grey Phalarope dropped in briefly at Ferrybridge, whilst winter fare included the odd Black Redstart here and there and singles of Great Northern Diver and Shelduck in Portland Harbour. 

Although of almost no consequence in most of Southern England, Cattle Egret's still a surprisingly high value bird at Portland - this was only the sixth record for the island © Pete Saunders (top) and Martin Cade (bottom):

The Southwell Siberian Chiffchaff was a really good performer © Pete Saunders:

Having just heard news of Pete and Debby's Siberian Chiffchaff we were rather amused to find that the next Chiffchaff that turned up in a net at the Obs was something that was about as far removed from a tristis as you could get - it was right at the other end of the saturation scale, being a swarthy brownish-olive above and in places almost yellow ochre beneath © Martin Cade:

Not everything looks as good - or better - in the hand than it does in the field but a Brambling is always a bird worth grossing out on at point blank range where the intricacies of their plumage can be fully appreciated © Martin Cade:

4th November

Today's quiet conditions -  in a gentle northerly and under a crystal clear sky it was pretty crisp at dawn but had really warmed up by the afternoon - have been a long time coming and whilst the day matched expectations it hardly exceeded them. An all-island tally of scarcities that included 3 Short-eared Owls, 3 Yellow-browed Warblers and singles of Woodlark, Siberian Lesser Whitethroat, Tree Sparrow and Snow Bunting certainly provided a modicum of quality but it was far too clear for much of an arrival of grounded migrants and the light breeze saw to it that overhead passage was for the most part light and rather random. Pigeon passage rarely features in a northerly (instead it takes place along the mainland coast) and no more than 550 Wood Pigeons were mustered over the Bill; far more of a spectacle there was an unseasonable southbound passage of 360 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, with 43 Bramblings the one stand-out total amongst generally low numbers of other passing migrants. On the ground there were a handful of new Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and 'crests but none reached double figure totals in any one area.

Two of the Yellow-browed Warblers were showing nicely at Southwell © Pete Saunders...

...with a nice Fieldfare also dropping in there © Debby Saunders:

The migrating Lesser Black-backed Gulls that trickled through all morning were a compelling little spectacle and, passing as they did many hundreds of metres overhead, could easily have been overlooked were it not for the Vs of them standing out so boldly against the deep blue sky. They were clearly going to be crossing the French coast within a couple of hours and will presumably end up in Iberia or Morocco before long but how do they fit in with the main thrust of Lesser Black-back passage way back in August and early September - do these have a completely different geographical origin to the earlier birds or is Lesser Black-back passage just one big jumble that has a long temporal span? © Joe Stockwell:

It's not unusual to find the remains of a prey item next to a raptor when we trap one of the latter in a mist-net at the Obs - open country birds such as Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Wheatear are favourites of Sparrowhawks that often carry them into the Obs garden to pluck and consume. This morning we had the surprise discovery of the remains of a Purple Sandpiper hanging in a net beside a young female Sparrowhawk - we can only hope that this bird doesn't get a taste for Purple Sands for breakfast or there won't be much of a wintering flock of them left by the end of the week © Martin Cade: