29th December

Still nowhere near enough going on to justify daily updates but today's brighter if still breezy conditions did see slightly more fieldwork undertaken. A Purple Sandpiper at Portland Harbour was a minor oddity as were the 4 Pintail - along with 5 Red-throated Divers and 2 Brent Geese - that passed by off the Bill. More mundane fare included 4 Purple Sandpipers and a Short-eared Owl at the Bill and several Gannets, 8 Great Northern Divers, 2 Black-necked Grebes and singles of Black-throated Diver and Slavonian Grebe scattered about at Portland Harbour.

One of the eight Great Northern Divers in Portland Harbour © John Dadds:

26th December

We've been absent or otherwise engaged quite a lot just lately so a brief catch-up this evening. Today's odds and ends included 3 Fieldfares and singles of Grey Heron, Shelduck, Short-eared Owl and Redwing at the Bill, 20 Common Scoter still settled offshore there and 3 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Great Northern Divers and a Slavonian Grebe in Portland Harbour. It's otherwise been very samey for the last week, with the only notables being 6 Golden Plover at Ferrybridge on 25th and up to 30 Greenfinches there daily.

Yesterday's little group of Golden Plovers that dropped in at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

Settled Greenfinches have been all but absent around the island in recent weeks (...and in fact for long periods of the year as a whole) so up to 30 that have appeared at Ferrybridge have been a welcome sight © Debby Saunders:

22nd December

Times are hard on the birding front right now with the constant nagging wind - a wholly unhelpful northwesterly today - restricting fieldwork opportunities. Five Red-throated Divers passed by off the Bill, the c20 Common Scoter were still settled offshore and singles of Woodcock and Snipe were flushed up at the Bill during the course of some non-birding activities (...perhaps we ought to be doing some more of those!).

17th December

Portland Bill: Great Northern Diver 1, Red-throated Diver 5, Common Scoter 15w.

Harbour: Great Northern Diver 2, Red-breasted Merganser 12+. 

16th December

Portland Bill: Great Northern Diver 2, Red-throated Diver 2, Common Scoter c20, Little Egret 1, Redwing 3.  

Hamm Beach: Kingfisher 1, Great Northern Diver 1, Razorbill 1. 

The first Kingfisher of the winter at Hamm Beach © Pete Saunders

A Razorbill in winter plumage from Portland Harbour © Debby Saunders

15th December

Portland Bill: Red-Throated Diver 68, Great Northern Diver 2, Fulmar 4, Dark-Bellied Brent Goose 1, Eider 2, Snipe 3.

Ferrybridge: Mediterranean Gull 350.

Portland Harbour: Great Northern Diver 3, Black-necked Grebe 1, Turnstone 26.  

14th December

Portland Bill: Great Northern Diver 1, Fieldfare 1.

The Hump: Redwing 3, Fieldfare 1. 

Church Ope: Black Redstart 3, Chiffchaff 4, Goldcrest 2.

13th December

Portland Bill: Great Northern Diver 3, Red-throated Diver 5, Fulmar 1, Purple Sandpiper 5, Short-eared Owl 1, Black Redstart 1, Redwing 1.

Ferrybridge/Harbour: Great Northern Diver 4.

Sandsfoot Castle: Slavonian Grebe 1, Great Northern Diver 2.

11th December

After several days of wet and windy weather, today's clear and warm conditions called for some much needed time in the field. The surprise of the day came in the form of a 1st winter Richard's Pipit, which was first seen in the horse fields along the East Cliffs before flying in the direction of the obs. Unfortunately, various searches in that direction failed to locate the bird before some brief showers set in mid-afternoon. Elsewhere at Ferrybridge a total of 4 Shelduck, 2 Curlew and 2 Pale-bellied among a flock of 200 Brent Geese were reported.

A couple of record shots of today's Richards Pipit © Jodie Henderson

The Southwell Barn Owl making an earlier than usual appearance in the remaining daylight © Debby Saunders

6th December

Whilst the sound of lashing rain against the Observatory window might not instill much hope for the morning's birding, the distant call of Redwing from out in the murk provided suitable reminder to never dismiss the chance of an unexpected arrival. A small uptick in sea passage saw a total of around 300 Kittiwakes, 50 Common Gulls, 15 Red-throated Divers and a single Pintail off the Bill, with a Little Egret heading north along the West Cliffs. On land, a flock of 11 Siskin passed through with a new Chiffchaff present at the Hump. At Ferrybridge, a total of 210 Dunlin, 42 Ringed Plover and a Great Northern Diver were logged with a total of 6 Great Northern Divers reported from Portland Castle.   

5th December

A calmer and brighter day did little to change our birding fortunes, with much of the same as seen in recent days. At the Bill, a total of 3 Purple Sandpipers were logged, with at least 1 of the Black Redstarts still in residence. Elsewhere at Ferrybridge, a single Goosander was present, with 2 Great Northern Divers, 4 Black-necked Grebes and 2 Great-crested Grebes across the causeway in Portland Harbour. 

An impressive flyby from the Goosander at Ferrybridge today © Pete Saunders

4th December

Apologies for the lack of blog post yesterday, but it appears we have become stuck in the winter doldrums, with steady rain putting halt to much of the day's birding. Still, a Velvet Scoter off the Bill, 2 Knot, 2 Curlew and 2 Shelduck at Ferrybridge and 2 Great Northern Divers, a Slavonian Grebe and Black-necked Grebe in Portland Harbour managed to save the day. 

The 2 Knot (right) that were seen from Ferrybridge this morning © Pete Saunders

2nd December

It seems that today's clear and sunny conditions were quite at odds with those faced on the mainland, with reports of thick fog from those intrepid fieldworkers travelling to Portland from further up-county. There was little change in the birding, with 10 Red-Throated Divers and a Great Northern Diver off the Bill, with an additional Black Redstart at Blacknor and 2 Blackcaps at Southwell. Elsewhere, 3 Great Northern Divers were seen off Portland Castle, as well as a Slavonian Grebe and 3 Black-neck Grebes across the harbour at Castle Cove. 

It may have been a quiet day on the birding front, but it did end with a rather impressive sunset © Jodie Henderson

1st December

Today's clear and frosty start, which kept the garden ponds frozen for most of the morning, saw little in the way of avian arrivals with the exception of a late departing Swallow seen from the Bill. At sea, just 5 Red-Throated Divers and a single Great Northern Diver were recorded and at least 1 Black Redstart and the Merlin were still present. Elsewhere at Ferrybridge 2 Knot, 1 Curlew and 2 Goosanders were logged.  

30th November

A brutally cold wind, sleety showers for a time early in the morning and comprehensively dreary throughout - all in all a pretty grim end to the month! Stiff northeasterlies in early winter often produce gull movements off the Bill so 58 Lesser Black-backs, 27 Black-headeds and an unquantified trickle of Mediterraneans and Commons trickling north along East Cliffs weren't too much of a surprise; the Common Scoter flock settled offshore also increased to at least 29 and a single Great Northern Diver passed by. Otherwise the only reports were of a Blackcap in a garden at Southwell and a Knot at Ferrybridge.

29th November

Quiet conditions prompted a fair bit of fieldwork today but the rewards were largely of a distinctly mid-winterish quality, with a Redpoll at the Bill, 2 Blackcaps at Sweethill and a Slavonian Grebe in Portland Harbour the only arrivals of particular note. Routine fare included 14 Red-throated and 2 Great Northern Divers through off the Bill, c20 Common Scoter settled offshore and 2 Water Rails and a Chiffchaff on the land there; elsewhere, a Chiffchaff was again at Sweethill, 4 Black Redstarts and a Chiffchaff were at Church Ope Cove with another Black Redstart at Blacknor, 5 Greenfinches, 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and singles of Great Northern Diver, Goosander and Redshank were at/over Ferrybridge and 3 Great Northern Divers, 2 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Common Scoter and a Black-throated Diver were in Portland Harbour.

The Great Northern Diver right overhead at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

And now back to an episode of crass ineptitude on our part that that we haven't found time to detail until now. For this event we go back to 22nd October that had been a decent day with, amongst other things, a Little Bunting trapped in the Crown Estate Field, whilst the good scatter of other seasonable migrants had included a couple of Yellowhammers - noteworthy scarcities here these days. Their presence clearly clouded our faculties to the extent that when an apparently quite bright yellow female/immature bunting also turned up in a net we didn't hesitate in taking it to be a Yellowhammer - it was exhibited as such and duly given to someone who hadn't ringed a Yellowhammer to get on with:

We featured the bird on the blog that evening and it was Mike Morse who first contacted us the next day with a 'why isn't that a Cirl Bunting?' message. If truth be known we probably thought something along the lines 'what a load of rubbish' but Mike's a sensible fellow who sees and clearly pays attention to non-male Cirl Buntings relatively often so his remarks needed following up. Apart from plumage differences Cirl Bunting has a definitively different wing-formula to Yellowhammer (Cirl has an emarginated 6th primary but Yellowhammer doesn't) so it was the easiest job to check our additional photos and see that it was indeed a perfectly obvious Cirl Bunting:

The morals of this story: don't take our word for anything and always take a good selection of photographs of oddities © Martin Cade:

28th November

Whilst hopes are rarely high this late in the autumn there was some expectation of a few late arrivals when the day dawned overcast and with little more than a waft of a northerly breeze. Sadly, the early signs weren't at all promising, with just 3 Redwings and a Fieldfare through over the Obs, but later fieldwork did turn up new singles of Grey Heron, Little Egret, Snipe, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Greenfinch at the Bill and 2 Chiffchaffs and a Goldcrest at Sweethill; the oddest arrivals of the day though were 5 Egyptian Geese that flew north over the Bill. Additionally, 4 Red-throated Divers, 2 Brent Geese and a Great Northern Diver passed through off the Bill, 22 Common Scoter were still offshore, 4 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Black Redstarts, a Merlin and a Short-eared Owl were still dotted about at the Bill and 4 Great Northern Divers, 4 Black-necked Grebes and a Black-throated Diver were in Portland Harbour.

Not that the meanderings of some crappy introduction are of any great importance but Egyptian Goose remains a very infrequent visitor to Portland so these five heading north through the dawn sky were an unusual sight over the Bill © Martin Cade:

We're hoping that the old adage of providing for them and they'll come eventually works with Waxwings but for the moment we're having to make do with our apple offerings keeping the arriving Blackcaps sustained © Martin Cade:

Another odd sight was this Sparrowhawk with rodent prey - something we've never noticed before © Debby Saunders:

27th November

Just a few snippets to report from the Bill on what turned out after a damp start to be a perfectly birdable day. Six Redwings dropped in at the Obs, 20 Common Scoter were settled offshore where singles of Red-throated Diver and Little Gull passed through, and 4 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Black Redstarts and a Short-eared Owl were about on the land.

26th November

A shocker of a day with early drizzly outbreaks soon coalescing into continual rain that scuppered all further fieldwork attempts. A late Sooty Shearwater through off the Bill was the day's highlight, with 6 Red-throated Divers also through and 23 Common Scoter settled offshore. Grounded migrant interest was confined to singles of Redwing at the Bill and Blackcap at the Grove, whilst the only other news concerned a second Goosander joining the long-stayer at Ferrybridge.

The two Goosanders at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

25th November

The first frosty dawn of the season gave way to a day of unbroken sunshine and in just the lightest of breezes it was very pleasant to be out birding. Unfortunately, migrant numbers were less than impressive, with 10 Black-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge and 2 Siskins, a Blackcap and a Brambling at the Bill as good as it got for new arrivals. Wintering fare included singles of Merlin and Short-eared Owl at the Bill, 5 Red-throated Divers through on the sea there, 4 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Great Northern Divers and the Goosander in Portland Harbour and 520 Dark-bellied Brents, 4 Shelduck, 2 Pale-bellied Brents and 2 Bar-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge. 

Any Black-tailed Godwits are a good record at Portland but these ten turning up in mid-winter at Ferrybridge were quite unexpected © Debby Saunders:

American Golden Plover is a weirdly really rare bird in Dorset - there's only ever been one at Portland and if we remember rightly there hasn't been a see-able bird amongst the handful of other county records - so it was well worth popping over to Lodmoor this afternoon for a look at the one found there today. It was a surprisingly subtle bird - OK if you were specifically looking for it but no doubt very easy to pass over if you only gave a big flock of Golden Plovers a cursory scan; nice to see and a good find by ?Daragh Croxson © Martin Cade:

24th November

Although the forecast upcoming chill begun to show its hand before the day was out this came too late to have much effect on the migrant situation, with no more than a trickle of late arrivals and departures showing up. At the Bill, thrushes were reduced to low single figures, 150 Starlings arrived from the south and 2 Blackcaps and singles of Snipe and Woodcock were new in; in fact the main interest there  concerned the lingerers, with the Hen Harrier, 4 Purple Sandpipers and singles of Merlin and Short-eared Owl all still about. Elsewhere, the Black Brant reappeared at Ferrybridge where 6 Pale-bellied Brents included some apparent new arrivals. Offshore, a Velvet Scoter passed the Bill where at least 250 Kittiwakes were amongst the feeding throng.

Whilst you can never tire of having a Hen Harrier in residence, it seemingly tired of our sub-optimal habitat offerings and eventually made the most of the clear sky and chill breeze to head away high to the southwest © Jodie Henderson (still) and Martin Cade (video):

The state of the tide is again favourable for the Brent Geese to visit Ferrybridge during the morning and the Black Brant and several Pale-bellied Brents were amongst the flock today © Pete Saunders:

I have photographed so many different birds over the years, this has to be top of the list for me, A male Hen Harrier today on Portland, what a great bird, many thanks to Martin Cade @PortlandBirdObs for the heads up pic.twitter.com/L8EsbbOJg9

23rd November

Today's stiff northwesterly wasn't much cop on the migrant front, with 16 Redwings, 15 Siskins, 3 Fieldfares, 2 Snipe and singles of Woodcock and Reed Bunting the day's arrivals at the Bill, but scarcity-wise the lingering Hen Harrier there and the sporadic Goosander at Ferrybridge provided ample compensation. Singles of Short-eared Owl and Merlin also remained at the Bill and the late Sanderling was again amongst the waders at Ferrybridge.

The Hen Harrier entertained on and off all day © Pete Saunders:

The Goosander was also putting on a good show for a while early in the morning © Roy Norris:

22nd November

Today was a bit of a slow burner, with a decent little list accumulated after a less than promising start. A Hen Harrier that lingered all day at the Bill stole the show but it had a worthy back-up cast of late migrants that included 590 inbound Starlings, 180 departing Wood Pigeons, 25 Blackbirds, 20 Stock Doves, 18 Lapwings, 15 Redwings, 8 Siskins, 7 Redpolls, 2 Fieldfares, a Brent Goose and a Woodcock at the Bill, another Woodcock at Southwell and 2 more Lapwings over Ferrybridge. Lingerers/winterers included a Merlin and a Black Redstart at the Bill, 226 Dunlin, 43 Ringed Plovers, a Goosander and a Sanderling at Ferrybridge and 3 Black-necked Grebes in Portland Harbour.

Any Hen Harrier's a good record at the Bill but an adult male gets even more plaudits © Pete Saunders (top two) and Martin Cade (bottom two):


Dawn broke rather beautifully but with not quite enough cloud in the sky to drop many thrushes...

...however, the arrival of heavy cloud overhead towards midday prompted a little flurry of Blackbirds to materialise at the Obs. Their autumn passage to date has been nothing short of dismal, to the extent that the seven ringed at the Obs today constitutes the highest day-total there so far this season; all were whopping northern/eastern birds: this female had a wing-length of 138mm - that's a good 10mm longer-winged than the local females © Martin Cade:

Black Redstarts continue to entertain - this adult male is one of the regulars at the Bill © Jodie Henderson:

21st November

The gentle northerly and heavily overcast sky that greeted the day looked altogether more propitious and dropped a steady trickle of thrushes everywhere; the 40 Redwings and 11 Fieldfares through at the Bill also had an unexpected travelling companion in the form of a late Ring Ouzel. However, disappointingly little else showed up, with a Snipe overhead at the Bill the only other obvious newcomer. Black Redstarts remained there and a Church Ope Cove, 3 Short-eared Owls emerged at the Bill as dusk fell and the Ferrybridge miscellany included 170 Dunlin, 40 Ringed Plovers, 2 Sanderling and a Goosander. Seawatching at the Bill racked a total of 10 Red-throated Divers, together with 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, a noticeable increase in auks and a peculiar pre-dusk aggregation of more than 70 Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

The day's thrushes - including this Fieldfare through at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders - were very active migrants, arriving in off the sea and heading away quickly northward...

...although quite why in late November they should include this Ring Ouzel was a bit of a mystery © Martin Cade:

Their sudden arrival didn't escape the attention of this Sparrowhawk that killed one of the Redwings but then made the mistake of flying into the Obs garden to consume it, whereupon it gained a ring but unfortunately lost its breakfast © Martin Cade:

20th November

A mid-winter Monday with an unexpectedly stiff westerly blowing wasn't the recipe for good coverage and the day's only reports were from the Bill where a trickle of Starlings, Goldfinches and Linnets were on the move overhead and 3 Brent Geese and 2 Red-throated Divers passed by on the sea. Roll on some quieter and/or colder weather.

19th November

Even the most committed local seawatchers seem to have grown weary of the incessant wind and today's turn out for a well into gale force westerly was underwhelming to say the least. A late Storm Petrel and a/the Grey Phalarope lingering in Chesil Cove wasn't too bad a return for those that did try even if the back-up cast of a lone Little Gull and a few Red-throated Divers left a fair bit to be desired. Other reports from the day included a Merlin at Chesil Cove, a Pintail at Ferrybridge, 2 Great Northern Divers in Portland Harbour and 4 Sandwich Terns in the Harbour/Ferrybridge area.

Pintail has increased in frequency as a visitor to Portland in recent years; this is today's bird over Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

Having four Sandwich Terns about the area in mid-winter is unusual - the odd singles do pop up from time to time during the winter months but typically they're nowhere near as frequent at this season as they are in, for example, Poole Harbour © Debby Saunders:

18th November

A slightly different feel to the seawatch conditions today saw the wind well round in the southwest with periodic damp, dizzly spells the rule. Quantity wasn't a feature anywhere but quality included a Grey Phalarope through at Ferrybridge and 2 Shoveler settled there, and singles of Red-throated Diver, Great Skua and Pomarine Skua through off the Bill; 63 Common Scoter through off the Bill was a fair total but Kittiwake struggled to even get into three figures there (although 14 of the latter over Ferrybridge suggested that some might have been taking the short cut over Portland Harbour). The only other reports were of the Goosander again at Ferrybridge, several Great Northern and a Black-throated Diver in Portland Harbour and 2 Redwings new at the Bill.

The two Shovelers...

...and some of the Kittiwakes over Ferrybridge© Pete Saunders:

17th November

In contrast to yesterday, today was entirely birdable but in a dwindling northwesterly breeze somehow didn't ever have a feel of an oddity being just around the corner. Some early visible passage included 800 Wood Pigeons, 150 Goldfinches, 2 Swallows, a Redwing and a Fieldfare over the Bill but action quickly fizzled out there; later, 1020 Starlings headed north over Blacknor. Grounded arrivals were very thinly spread and of low quality, with lingerers such as 3 Black Redstarts, a Merlin and a Short-eared Owl providing the only interest at the Bill; elsewhere, 4 Great Northern and a Black-throated Diver were in Portland Harbour and at least 1 Black Redstart remained at Chiswell. Sea interest came in the form of 43 Common Scoter, 5 Brent Geese, 2 each of Red-throated Diver and Wigeon, and a single Red-breasted Merganser through off the Bill.

16th November

If the whole morning hadn't been an unbirdable washout another waft of easterly today looked as though it might have had something of interest up its sleeve, with limited coverage during the afternoon coming with a fair spread of new arrivals. There were no particular surprises amongst what was uncovered, but a Goosander and 2 Black-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge, a Swallow at Broadcroft and the scatter of new thrushes and Robins, 2 Blackcaps, 2 Chiffchaffs and a Brambling at the Bill all gave hope that autumn's far from over. Additionally, lingerers and/or winterers still about included 7 Purple Sandpipers, 4 Black Redstarts and a Merlin at the Bill and 3 Pale-bellied Brent Geese at Ferrybridge. Twenty Common Scoter, 6 Brent Geese and singles of Red-throated and Great Northern Divers passed by on the sea at the Bill.

The Goosander and one of the Black-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

15th November

A completely dry day was a novelty even if for the most part it remained pretty windy. The clear sky tempted a few migrants aloft, with 610 Wood Pigeons and 300 Goldfinches departing to the south from the Bill where 160 Starlings arrived in off the sea; another 1610 Starlings headed north over Blacknor. Grounded arrivals hardly featured on the land, with a Blackcap the only certain newcomer at the Obs; however, presumed winterers did include a spread of several Black Redstarts. The sea continued to provide interest, with a Grey Phalarope settled at Chesil Cove (belated news suggests there have been singles there on many recent days), 2 Sandwich Terns at Ferrybridge and several Great Northern Divers in Portland Harbour.

One of the Great Northern Divers over Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

14th November

The favourable blip in the weather a couple of days is already seeming like a distant memory as unrelenting wind has returned to the fore. Another Leach's Petrel through at Chesil Cove was almost to be expected although there looked to be little else on the move, with a late Manx Shearwater through off the Bill the only other oddity to show from seawatch efforts; 8 Gannets making it right into Portland Harbour were also of note over the water, with 3 Great Northern Divers and a Black-necked Grebe there and a Pale-bellied Brent Goose and a Sandwich Tern at Ferrybridge providing additional interest in the vicinity. Singles of Merlin and Snipe were the best on offer from some cursory coverage of the Bill.

A Black-necked Grebe affording a flight view is a pretty rare sight anywhere © Pete Saunders:

13th November

Although we didn't feel the full force of the latest storm to roll in off the Atlantic it was far too windy for much serious birding on the land and most of the day's news was from the sea. A Leach's Petrel battling across Portland Harbour and another reported from Chesil Cove were the highlights, with an influx of Little Gulls and Sandwich Terns - seemingly as many as 13 of the former and 5 of the latter - in the same area, a Pomarine Skua through off the Bill and 6 Eider through at Ferrybridge also of note; a few storm-driven Kittiwakes also featured around the Harbour and Ferrybridge, and 2 Red-throated Divers and 2 Brent Geese passed by off the Bill. The third Pallas's Warbler in the last two days made a fleeting appearance in a private garden at Southwell, with yesterday's Avalanche Road bird also still in situ; also from the land, 2 Black Redstarts were at the Bill and 120 Dunlin, 2 Grey Plovers, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits and a Sanderling were at Ferrybridge. 

Although it remained windy all day there weren't any passing showers to drive quantities of birds closer to shore; the day's only Leach's Petrels were this one through at Portland Harbour and another reported by visitors from Chesil Cove © Pete Saunders:

This second-winter Little Gull was one of two through at Portland Harbour © Debby Saunders:

The Avalanche Road Pallas's Warbler wasn't any easier to get to grips with today: it had become more mobile than yesterday and many of its appearances were pretty fleeting but just once it did pop up slightly more favourably for us when it was below head height for a few seconds © Martin Cade: