30th April

April went out with a whimper rather than a bang, with today's quieter conditions less advantageous for us than they seemed to be for the birds: hirundines and other visible migrants were still a conspicuous feature overhead but grounded arrivals were considerably fewer than they have been of late. The relatively few migrants that did deign to drop included a Jay at Southwell Business Park and a Ring Ouzel at the Bill but the Willow Warbler tally fell to 100 at the Bill where although most of the expected late April migrants were represented there were no particularly notable totals accrued. Hirundines were again storming through in hundreds per hour quantities, with 4 Hobbys, 2 tardy Siskins and a Marsh Harrier of note amongst the taggers along. Once again, the sea didn't live up to its billing with 6 Red-throated Divers, 4 Arctic Skuas, a late Dark-bellied Brent Goose, an Eider and a Great Skua off the Bill and a Little Gull off Chesil the best from plenty of watching.

Our Pom Skuas will come - so far we've only managed a measly two this month - but there have been plenty of Arctic Skuas to keep us entertained whilst we wait © Pete Saunders:

With Dorset seemingly awash with Black Kites the sight of this look-alike dark raptor arriving in off the sea at the Bill this morning - always at long range and right into the sun - caused some panic, particularly as it wasn't hard to imagine it had a forked tail...

...however, a rapid-fire dash after it in the car overtook it before it got to Church Ope Cove and showed it to be a perfectly straightforward Marsh Harrier, albeit a rather dark-headed presumably non-breeding youngster © Martin Cade:

29th April

And still they keep coming: just at the moment we don't seem to be able to do any wrong on the summer migrant front, with today's 'classic' conditions of a northeasterly headwind under a clear sky producing a hatful of rewards around the south of the island at least. Willow Warblers, Swallows and House Martins were so unmissably abundant that even uninformed members of the public were remarking on their prominence: the Willow Warbler tally for the Bill was c300, whilst the two hirundine species were ripping through on a broad front at a rate of c500 per hour at their peak; other totals from the Bill included 200 Wheatears, 25 Whinchats, 11 Yellow Wagtails, 8 Garden Warblers, 7 Redstarts and 6 Reed Warblers, whilst 2 Hobbys and singles of Greylag Goose and Ring Ouzel were notable amongst the lesser totals. With the offshore breeze of the morning switching to an onshore sea breeze as the day warmed more might have been expected of the sea on this date but there was little on offer at the Bill, where 11 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 7 Little Terns, 5 Red-throated Divers, 2 Arctic Skuas and a Pomarine Skua were the best of it from prolonged coverage.

Always two of the most popular summer migrant arrivals: Yellow Wagtail at Reap Lane © Debby Saunders and Whinchat at the Obs © Martin Cade:

The Greylag Goose was an incongruous sight as it wandered about in the long grass of the East Cliff fields © Martin Cade:

28th April

Today saw a continuation of our rewarding spell for grounded migrants, even if on this occasion it occurred in the oddest of circumstances: the fierce and really chilly easterly blowing at dawn made the first couple of birdless hours something akin to purgatory, but there followed a wholly unexpected grounding of new arrivals that more than salvaged the day. Although not quite a monoculture, the dominance of Willow Warblers again hinted at the season still having some way to go before it catches up with the timings we've grown accustomed to in recent years. The Willow Warbler tally was a good 200 at the Bill, where the strength of the wind likely led to some significant undercounting of both them and the other rapidly moving migrants that included substantial numbers of Swallows and House Martins overhead; there were few surprises amongst the array on offer, with 4 more Hobbys about as good as it got around the south of the island. Overall, the sea was again a disappointment even if 10 Arctic Skuas, 6 Red-throated Divers, 3 Great Northern Divers, a Great Skua and another fly-by by the as yet unconfirmed white-winged gull between the the Bill and Chesil wasn't to be sniffed at.

Some wader passage involving something other than Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwits was both overdue and welcome, with Ferrybridge hosting both this Golden Plover © Debby Saunders...

...and a couple of Sanderling © Pete Saunders:

27th April

The final third of April continues to be kind to us, with no shortage of common migrants again today both on the ground and overhead. Although still very clear for the best part of the day it never really warmed up in the keen northeasterly which, together with a veil of cloud overhead for a while during the early afternoon, perhaps contributed to keeping new arrivals trickling in until late in the afternoon. Willow Warbler and Wheatear again made up the bulk of the numbers on the ground, with 150 and 100 respectively at the Bill, but variety continues to increase with the lingering Ring Ouzel the pick of an assortment of most of the expected late April arrivals. Overhead, hirundine numbers perked up again with sample counts suggesting Swallow made a low thousands total; both House and Sand Martins were well represented, with the first 8 Swifts of the season and 4 Hobbys a further bonus. The sea had less on offer than might have been hoped, with a candidate Glaucous Gull the highlight of reduced numbers off the Bill where 3 Little Terns and an Arctic Skua were the best of the rest; shorter looks off Chesil provided a few waders including 98 Bar-tailed Godwits.

We hesitate about being too confident when it comes to heavily bleached first-summer white-winged gulls at a distance off the Bill; today's bird immediately struck us as being pretty hulking and shows a noticeable two-tone bill in the photos suggesting it might be a Glaucous but we weren't fully convinced, as much because there have been the occasional look-alike leucistic Herring Gulls seen in this part of the world in recent years - it might be safest to put this bird on hold and hope it turns up in Weymouth and permits closer scrutiny © Martin Cade:

A major surprise this afternoon was the discovery at Ferrybridge by visitors Martin Bell and Ai-Lin Kee of a single 'going-over' spike of what might well be an Early Spider Orchid - although easy enough to see on Purbeck, Early Spider Orchid has never been recorded at Portland. With a rather imperfect specimen to support what would be such an important record we sought the opinion of our go-to botanist, Bryan Edwards, who kindly replied as follows: 'It looks 95% OK but I really need to see a fully-formed open flower to be 100% sure. The flowers look a bit pinched or mal-formed, possibly it is not liking the shingle/sand combination with a lack of calcium. It is one species that could turn up on Portland: it has shown a few signs of moving from the Purbeck limestone being found on the Purbeck Chalk Ridge a few years back and then more recently at Tyneham which is visible from Portland. The only other possibility is some other Mediterranean Ophrys: there are a few orchid fanatics who have planted things like Woodcock Orchid and Sawfly Orchid on Purbeck in the past so you have be aware of this too'. In the light of Bryan's comments full confirmation will probably have to wait until next year, but a great discovery and clearly something to look out for elsewhere on the island © Ai-Lin Kee:

26th April

With scarcely a cloud in the sky from dawn 'til dusk even our much-loved northeasterlies couldn't work their magic today and the supply of grounded migrants dipped significantly. That said, it wasn't exactly birdless on the ground, with the Bill area returning totals of 100 Willow Warblers, 50 Wheatears, 20 Chiffchaffs, 7 Whinchats, 5 Blackcaps, 3 Redstarts, 2 Yellow Wagtails and singles of Redshank, Black Redstart, Ring Ouzel, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Garden Warbler; another Ring Ouzel and a Grasshopper Warbler at Tout Quarry were the best of the rest elsewhere. Overhead passage didn't really ever get going: a steady if unspectacular flow of Swallows was maintain all day but little else looked to be making use of the seemingly perfect conditions. The sea demanded constant attention, as much in expectation as anything else: the season's first Pomarine Skua through off the Bill was much appreciated but the day's principal interest concerned a short, sharp movement of 650 Bar-tailed Godwits there during the evening; further day-totals included 161 Common Scoter, 159 Whimbrel, 79 Bar-tailed Godwits (before the evening rush), 8 Arctic Skuas and singles of Red-throated and Great Northern Divers.

Just as it was looking like we wouldn't get a 'Barwit day' this year so a decent little passage developed this evening when c650 passed through off the Bill in 90 minutes. It's hard to think of another migration event that involves birds being seen so poorly that as individuals they're not even remotely close to being identified to species level and yet as an almost amorphous, smoke-like flock at five miles range and moving at 70mph (...that's a wild guess but it really does look like they're seriously motoring) they're an instantly identifiable and fantastically compelling spectacle © Martin Cade:

25th April

A nice day for anyone who appreciates Willow Warblers since they seemed to be everywhere you looked today: the Bill area held a good 400 and there were plenty more in every up-island spot that got attention. They certainly stole the show numbers-wise, even if the likes of Wheatear with 150 at the Bill alone were far from inconspicuous; variety on the ground was otherwise considerably more limited than in recent days, with 7 Redstarts, 6 Whinchats, 5 Yellow Wagtails, 2 White Wagtails and a Ring Ouzel the pick of the selection of the Bill. The clear sky overhead again found favour with diurnal migrants, with 2 Ospreys and a Hen Harrier through along with a steady if unspectacular passage of hirundines and finches. More largely routine sea passage included 3 Arctic Skuas through off the Bill and another passing the Bill.

Wheatear and 'bridled' Guillemot at the Bill and Shelducks at Ferrybridge this morning © Pete Saunders:

24th April

In comparison with yesterday's totals today's stats might convey an after the Lord Mayor's Show feel to proceedings but that'd be utterly undervaluing another excellent day for anyone wanting to tap into mainstream spring migration at its best, with Swallows in particular staging a mightily impressive return to form after their passage logjam cleared in one fell swoop. The fallout of grounded migrants was again impressive - perhaps helped by an unexpectedly heavy pulse of rain during the hours of darkness - and included another 300 Willow Warblers and 100 Blackcaps at the Bill, the Swallow passage along West Cliffs (...that included a lot of House Martins tagging along) was woefully under-recorded but certainly topped 5000 and likely would have reached a five figure total with more serious coverage, whilst some overdue rarity interest was provided by single Red-rumped Swallows through along West Cliffs and lingering briefly at Reap Lane, and a Cattle Egret at Fancy's Farm. Ring Ouzels were scattered far and wide and cumulatively reached an unusually late spring peak of 8 with, to boot, 2 tardy Fieldfares and a Mistle Thrush in tow; other migrant totals included 200 Wheatears, 30 Garden Warblers, 13 Sedge Warblers, 10 Whinchats, 7 Yellow Wagtails, 6 Redstarts, 4 Pied Flycatchers, 3 Reed Warblers, 2 Tree Pipits and singles of Merlin, Hobby and Grasshopper Warbler. The sea continued to be worth a squint, with 10 Arctic Skuas and 6 Red-throated Divers among the selection logged at the Bill.

Ring Ouzels above the Verne Moat this afternoon © Dave Foot:

There's a fair bit of tern love action on the go at Ferrybridge right now © John Dadds:

23rd April


A reminder that there's an InFocus field day at the Obs between 10am and 4pm tomorrow, Sunday 24th April.

The river of migrants continued to flow - and in fact today it was distinctly in flood as the persisting northeasterlies dropped a steady procession of newcomers both at dawn and throughout the morning hours when tired arrivals could be watched dropping onto the shore at the Bill as they struggled in off the Channel; the only missing ingredient that would have been the icing on the cake was anything really out of the ordinary, with local oddities like a crack of dawn Osprey over Blacknor, an unusual for spring Green Sandpiper at the Bill and a settled pair of Garganey at Ferrybridge all that was discovered amongst the wealth of routine fare. There was so much movement afoot that the day's numbers can be no more than informed guesstimates, but 800 Willow Warblers, 300 Wheatears, 150 Blackcaps, 35 Whinchats and 20 Redstarts - together with low hundreds of Swallow and multiple dozens of House Martin overhead (there simply weren't enough eyes skyward to cover visible passage) - seem appropriate for the south of the island; among the less frequent migrants all-island totals of 15 Yellow Wagtails, 10 Tree Pipits, 8 each of Sedge Warbler and Pied Flycatcher, 5 Lesser Whitethroats, 4 each of Ring Ouzel and Grasshopper Warbler, 3 Hobbys, 2 Reed Warblers and singles of Cuckoo and Black Redstart were of note. Amongst all the migrant mayhem the sea was surprisingly well covered although not especially rewarding, with 77 Bar-tailed Godwits, 66 Common Scoter, 34 Whimbrel, 4 Arctic Skuas, a Red-throated Diver and a Great Skua the best of the return from the Bill.

A flavour of the day: Redstart, Wheatear, Pied Flycatcher, Willow Warbler and Green Sandpiper © Joe Stockwell...

...Whinchats © Pete Saunders...

...and Ring Ouzel © Martin Cade:

Bar-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge this evening - how cool must the males look once they get to strut their stuff up on the Russian tundra? © Martin Cade:

22nd April

We've always had a soft spot for northeasterlies in April and that love's been more than rekindled in the last few days as migration's really hotted up around the island. Willow Warblers continue to make up the bulk of the numbers, with a minimum of 500 at the Bill alone, but variety is increasing by the day and, after a long hiatus, visible passage has got renewed momentum. Two Jays, 2 Red Kites, a Hen Harrier and a Corn Bunting were bonus scarcities but the day was really one for enjoying getting amongst a good spread of seasonable fare that included 75 Wheatears, 15 Yellow Wagtails, 12 Redstarts, 10 Whinchats, 5 Tree Pipits, 5 Garden Warblers, 2 Sedge Warblers and singles of Common Sandpiper, Ring Ouzel, Black Redstart, Pied FlycatcherSpotted Flycatcher (the first of the season) and Siskin at the Bill/Southwell and plenty more of the same elsewhere. It's taken a long time this spring for hirundines to get beyond the level where virtually every passing single gets remarked upon, so today's stronger passage that included c250 Swallows was noteworthy even if it was still way below what might be expected at this time. The sea remained the poor relation, with passing singles of Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Little Egret and Arctic Skua the best on offer at the Bill; 48 Bar-tailed Godwits watched arriving over Chesil at Ferrybridge perhaps hinted at there having been more on the move had there been fuller coverage.

Willow Warblers really were ubiquitous today © Geoff Orton:

Pied Flycatcher at Southwell and Bar-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge © Debby Saunders:

Always a good Portland bird: the two Jays at the Bill this morning were presumably the birds that have been seen around the north of the island for the last few days and are some sort of legacy of the exceptional Jay events last autumn © Martin Cade:

The Hen Harrier above the Strips at the Bill - it later passed over Fortuneswell en route to the mainland © Martin Cade:

21st April

Similar-ish conditions to yesterday brought forth another fair little flurry of mainly Willow Warblers, including 120 at the Bill. Variety, however, remained firmly at the disappointing end of the scale: an Osprey was a nice sight passing over Wakeham, but a tally of 4 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Whinchats and 2 Lesser Whitethroats amongst the more routine fare around the whole of the southern half of the island was far below what might have been expected in the circumstances; elsewhere, a Greenshank was a first for the spring at Ferrybridge. The continuing offshore breeze kept the seabirds and waders that were logged in plenty further up-Channel well beyond our vision, with 3 Whimbrel, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits and singles of Great Northern Diver and Great Skua all that could be managed from the Bill.

The Little Terns are returning in force to Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

Whilst most of our attention at this time of year is devoted to migrants there's plenty going on with the island's residents right now: noticing a Stonechat carrying food this morning quite quickly led to the discovery of its nest full of well-grown young © Martin Cade:

Moth interest remains at a very low level but a surprise overnight catch at the Obs was this Northern Drab - only the fourth island record of a moth that's no more than a local, low density resident across mainland Dorset © Martin Cade:

The world would be a poorer place without Little Egrets: they've become so familiar as to be taken for granted but, when you stop and look at them for a moment or two, there are few more animated, characterful birds to be seen at Portland © Martin Cade:

Osprey heading north up Wakeham around 9:50am pic.twitter.com/LH6bXs0oX5

20th April

That's more like it. As has so often happened in the past, migrants moving in a clearish sky but into a brisk and chilly northeasterly dropped in some quantity on reaching the coast, with the Bill the focus of an arrival of c400 Willow Warblers. The feeling is that spring here's running a week to ten days later than the recent average so variety wasn't as good as might have been expected as we enter the final third of April: Wheatear, Chiffchaff and Blackcap all managed 50ish totals at the Bill, where the back-up cast of 4 each of Tree Pipit and Redstart, 2 Pied Flycatchers and singles of Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat and Garden Warbler (the latter the first of the spring) was really pretty paltry; a few more of the same elsewhere, together with 2 Jays and a Ring Ouzel at King Barrow and the first small arrival of Dunlin at Ferrybridge, did however make for easily the most productive land birding of the spring to date. Overhead passage was either disappointingly weak in comparison with the riches on the ground or, perhaps, largely overlooked: hirundines and finches - the latter including a couple of Siskins - were certainly dribbling through but the numbers reported were far below what might have been hoped. Given the conditions nothing was expected of the sea and a lone Great Northern Diver and a handful of Manx Shearwaters and Common Scoter were all that was logged from watches at the Bill.

A nice male Bar-tailed Godwit amongst the slightly improved wader numbers at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

Ageing Pied Flycatchers in spring is always something you have to be a bit cautious with since they're one of a limited tranche of passerines that have a pre-breeding season moult that can create contrasts in several plumage tracts that can easily be mistaken for similar contrasts introduced by post-juvenile moult - for the non-ringers amongst our viewers: put simply, adults usually moult their whole plumage after the breeding season so their feathers are of uniform age, whereas most youngsters moult only some of their plumage so have a mixture of young and adult-like feathers; a limited range of passerines - like Pied Flycatcher - sneak in another partial moult before the breeding season and because both adults and first-summer birds do this both age classes might have a mish-mash of old and new feathers at this time of year.

Our two Pied Flycatchers today were thankfully pretty straightforward and both were youngsters born last summer. Females are trickier than males because their plumage is that bit drabber but, even on the closed wing, you can just about make out the old brown-edged, juvenile outer greater coverts...

...more telling though was the tail: few if any of the tail feathers are renewed in the pre-breeding moult so the normal pattern for a youngster would include quite well-worn and faded outer feathers like we can see on the left side of our bird's tail; however, the outer feather on the right side is very fresh and adult-like with a conspicuous broad white rim - we're guessing this feather had been accidently lost during the winter and replaced with one with an adult-like pattern.

The male was easier to age as a youngster: quite apart from being conspicuously plastered with grey-brown plumage above...

...and having a very heavily worn tail...

...absolutely diagnostically, the faded outer greater coverts had conspicuous pale tips - had these have been adult feathers they may well (since they'd already be six or more months old) have looked a paler black than the new glossy inner feathers but they'd have only had, at the most, very inconspicuous pale rims. Also visible on the open wing is a single renewed innermost secondary - this is not an age-related feature but a quirk of pre-breeding moult in some but not all Pied Flycatchers that renew this and maybe some other inner secondaries © Martin Cade:

19th April

Another of our incremental improvements today saw both higher numbers on the ground and a stronger visible passage overhead: Turtle Dove and Lesser Whitethroat were additions to the year-list at the Bill where 150 Willow Warblers made up the bulk of a decent little dawn arrival, 2 Common Sandpipers at Hamm Beach were also new for the year whilst a good passage of hirundines developed along Chesil during the afternoon; 2 Jays at Ventnor Road were the day's only island oddities. The island-wide tally of slightly more infrequent migrants included 3 Whinchats, 2 White Wagtails, 2 Redstarts, a Yellow Wagtail and a Grasshopper Warbler, with 4 Red-throated and a lone Great Northern Diver the best of a poor return from the sea at the Bill.

Wheatear and Fulmar at the Bill this morning © Joe Stockwell and a wader selection from Ferrybridge © Debby Saunders:

18th April

Advances in our fortunes have been incremental to say the least but today's subtle shift in wind direction from northeast to northwest brought with it a small improvement in migrant numbers and variety. Single Cuckoos singing at Southwell and heading north at the Bill were the first this year, whilst single Pied Flycatchers - at Thumb Lane and Portland Castle - were popular; numbers included 50 each of Wheatear and Willow Warbler on the ground at the Bill and Swallows passing through at a rate of a few dozen per hour by the afternoon. Also worth a mention were at least one Red Kite that did a tour of the island, 3 Whinchats at the Bill, 2 Yellow Wagtails and a Tree Pipit overhead at Fancy's Farm and 4 Arctic Skuas, 2 Red-throated Divers and a single Great Skua through off the Bill.

The odd single Pied Flycatchers that have popped up here and there so far this spring have been very good at passing over the Bill and successfully finding the little patches of habitat that most match their ultimate destinations - this one was in the tiny but ever-reliable clump of trees at Thumb Lane © Duncan Walbridge:

The day's 'blink and you nearly missed it' Kite was of the Red variety © Martin Cade:

17th April

No improvement on the passerine migrant front but a Black Kite that arrived over the island after earlier passing over Weymouth provided some welcome rarity interest, even it proved pretty tricky to catch up despite spending more than half-an-hour overhead. Further island oddities came in the form of a Coal Tit at Thumb Lane (presumably another ater Continental bird but it wasn't seen for long enough to be sure of that), a Jay at Verne Common and a Greylag Goose over the Bill. After a bit of a lull, sea passage picked up with 300 each of Manx Shearwater and Gannet, 76 Common Scoter, 87 Bar-tailed Godwits, 85 Kittiwakes, 55 commic terns, 35 Whimbrel, 26 Sandwich Terns, 11 Little Terns, 8 Arctic Skuas, 5 Red-throated Divers, 3 Puffins, 2 Teal and 2 Little Gulls among the totals from long watches at Chesil and the Bill.

Black Kite has always been a notoriously difficult bird to catch up with at Portland and today's individual maintained that record despite having all the hallmarks of something that you wouldn't have thought you could have missed: there was ample warning of its approach over Portland Harbour but it then proceeded to vanish for quite a while before making a languid pass high over Weston and Easton - as can be seen from this record photo it was very distant indeed from our viewpoint at Portland Heights! © Martin Cade:

16th April

These persistent days of lame selections of migrants do sometimes lead you to ponder on whether you really are bearing witness to the end game in the oft-mentioned ecological breakdown; there's no doubt the weather's rubbish right now but for the middle of April the migrant variety and numbers were pretty shocking today. Singles of Marsh Harrier and Hobby at the Bill and Pied Flycatcher at Thumb Lane provided glimmers of interest around the south of the island where Wheatear, Blackcap and Willow Warbler were the only commoner migrants to return double figure totals. The sea was equally bereft of numbers, with 6 Gadwall off Chesil a minor local highlight. 

These three Grey Herons over Hamm Beach and the Bill were an odd sight for the time of year © Pete Saunders:

15th April

Very slim picking on a gloriously sunny and warm day when it was at least a pleasure to be out looking for what obviously wasn't there to be found. A Continental Coal Tit was the briefest of visitors to the tiny bushes beside the car park at Ferrybridge and there was a report of what would be a very early Quail seen equally briefly at the Bill. It was no surprise at all given the huge moon and crystal-clear overnight skies that the common migrant situation was hardly worth a comment: the lowest of numbers and the poorest of variety were the order of the day; perhaps slightly more surprisingly was the dearth of visible migrants although they were maybe reluctant to move what with the quantities of fog in the Channel that did eventually roll back in at the Bill towards dusk. The fog might also have been a factor in accounting for the lack of sea passage, with just 85 Common Scoter, a Red-throated Diver and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill on a day when the waft of an easterly breeze perhaps promised more.

Whitethroat territories are filling up fast and provide a good indication that, despite the lack of fall-outs this month, summer visitors are piling through on the frequent good migration nights © Mark Eggleton:

Singles of both Painted Lady and Clouded Yellow were new at the Bill today; beyond the first Turnip Moth of the year, overnight moth-trapping hadn't provided evidence of other lepidopteran arrivals so it'll be interesting to see if any more signs of immigration materialise in the next few days © Mark Eggleton: