31st October

Did we need another bucketload of rain today? - no, certainly not, but there was a painful inevitability about it coming anyway. The only redeeming feature was that it held off for most of the morning and permitted another impressive pulse of overhead passage to develop as dawn broke, with a good momentum maintained for several hours afterwards. Wood Pigeons were the star turn, with 31500 south over the Bill; 275 Stock Doves were counted amongst them but very many more were presumably missed amongst the many pigeon flocks that were too high or distant for them to be distinguished. Further totals from the Bill included 825 Goldfinches, 450 Starlings, 320 Chaffinches, 165 Linnets and 125 Meadow Pipits, with a lone Cirl Bunting a notable highlight amongst the lower totals. It was far quieter on the ground, with a Caspian Gull easily the pick of what few arrivals there were at the Bill; a new Firecrest was, in the context of their very low numbers this autumn, also of interest there as was yesterday's late Sand Martin that lingered on for another day and the long-staying Ring Ouzel that remained in situ; amongst what ought to be more routine fare, thrushes were again all but absent. Away from the Bill, 2 Black Redstarts were at Chiswell and the Ferrybridge Mediterranean Gull total reached 1100.

For a bird almost entirely dismissed for most of the year the now nearly annual (it used to be a less frequent event with multiples of years passing with hardly any southbound passage logged) mass emigration of Wood Pigeons is a compelling spectacle; as Bill day-totals go, today's tally is second only to the 37000 logged on 1st November 2005 © Verity Hill:

Caspian Gulls are becoming a little more routine these days but the vast majority of records involve birds in first-winter plumage, so today's second-winter was a nice sight © Martin Cade:

30th October

A considerable - and very welcome - amelioration in the weather saw the wind gradually ease down and the sky clear that in turn saw visible passage resume, with 3370 Wood Pigeons, 575 Goldfinches, 150 Linnets and 130 Starlings making up the bulk of a steady little movement over the Bill; also overhead there, a Sand Martin lingered amongst a few tardy Swallows, a Merlin was about and at dusk 3 Short-eared Owls appeared. Grounded arrivals weren't plentiful but included a handful of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests at the Bill and 3 Wheatears and a Whinchat at Hamm Beach/Ferrybridge; the long-staying Ring Ouzel was also still in residence at the Bill. The trickle through on the sea at the Bill included 3 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Great Northern Divers and singles of Red-throated Diver, Sooty Shearwater and Pomarine Skua; 200 Gannets were also feeding offshore there, whilst elsewhere a settled Great Northern Diver was at Ferrybridge.

We were hoping that today's late aerial hawker would have been some sort of swift but a Sand Martin had to suffice, not that that's a bad record in itself - the island's only later occurrence is of one on 10th November 1998 © Martin Cade:

The morning's very high tide saw a good-sized aggregation of up to 50 Turnstones gather on Hamm Beach © Pete Saunders:

29th October

Apart from an unknown observer reporting to the news services a streak of hot seawatching (Great Shearwaters, Sooty Shearwaters and Little Gulls) off the Bill during the afternoon that escaped the attention of other watchers, today's continuing wind and heavy showers did us precious little good: singles of Redwing, Ring Ouzel, Firecrest, Siskin and Reed Bunting were uncovered on the land and 2 Balearic Shearwaters and singles of Manx Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater and Arctic Tern passed by off the Bill.

28th October

The very unsettled conditions continued and did us very few favours today. A small redeeming feature was the trapping of an eastern Lesser Whitethroat in the Crown Estate Field although that wasn't a new arrival, rather a reappearance of a bird first found eight days ago that had escaped attention for most of the last week; unfortunately, a likely Radde's Warbler at Thumb Lane proved to be extremely elusive and couldn't be conclusively clinched. Most of the rest of the day's interest came from the sea, with far from comprehensive coverage producing more than 500 Kittiwakes, 10 Balearic Shearwaters, 3 Sooty Shearwaters, 3 Manx Shearwaters and singles of Red-throated Diver, Pomarine Skua, Arctic Skua and Arctic Tern through off the Bill. Overhead passage was almost non-existent and 3 Merlins, 3 Ring Ouzels and a Firecrest were the best that could be mustered on the ground around the southern half of the island.

Lab work will no doubt come up a definitive answer and the smart money will always be on it being a blythi Siberian bird but the Lesser Whitethroat did look to have one or two features worth debating before that answer's known © Martin Cade:

27th October

Not the most enjoyable day to be out in the field, what with the ever present threat of a good soaking at the hands of the frequent heavy showers coming in off the Channel, but minimal coverage saw one or two folk get lucky: a Caspian Gull at the Bill was a first for the season, the Black Brant was back at Ferrybridge and a Yellow-browed Warbler was at Easton. The conditions were likely a little too inclement for most overhead migrants but 3290 Wood Pigeons still gave it a try and headed off south from the Bill; a few Starlings and finches were likewise inclined but the overall volume of movement was considerably less than in recent days. There were arrivals on the ground but they weren't especially plentiful, with 2 Firecrests (at Pennsylvania Castle) amongst a fair spread of Goldcrests and 2 Ring Ouzels and a Woodlark at the Bill the best on offer. The sea continued to offer good numbers of auks and Kittiwakes, with 4 Balearic Shearwaters and a Sooty Shearwater also through off the Bill, whilst the Brent Goose total at Ferrybridge increased to 1190 (that include 49 juveniles - a big jump from the measly 7 a couple of days ago).

The season's first Caspian Gull was amongst the loafing gulls below Culverwell this morning but it lasted barely more than a minute before lifting off in a flush of the flock © Martin Cade:

26th October

Lots of variety on offer today, with the land, the sky, the sea and the mudflats all chipping in with interest throughout the morning before the onset of frequent and sometimes heavy showers put paid to concerted fieldwork during the afternoon. The first return this season of a Black Brant to Ferrybridge - amongst 900 Dark-bellied and 2 Pale-bellied Brents - provided the only rarity of the day, although it was maybe overshadowed as a spectacle by the passage of 13970 Wood Pigeons over the Bill. Visible passage there also saw 700 Starlings, 440 Jackdaws, 260 Linnets, 155 Goldfinches, 130 Chaffinches, 125 Meadow Pipits and 76 Skylarks logged, with 8 Bramblings, a Merlin and a Woodlark amongst the lower totals there; another 6 Woodlarks passed over at mid-island sites. A small influx of Goldcrests featured on the ground, where 5 Ring Ouzels, 4 Black Redstarts and 2 Short-eared Owls were also dotted about. The sea was unexpectedly busy, with 1180 Kittiwakes, 25 Balearic Shearwaters, 3 Arctic Skuas and singles of Red-throated Diver and Sooty Shearwater through off the Bill, where up to 200 Gannets were feeding offshore.

Ferrybridge has now hosted Black Brant(s) for 18 consecutive winters © Debby Saunders:

Mark Cutts and Verity Hill, our stalwart owl-catchers, had a huge surprise yesterday evening when one of the Barn Owls they trapped in the Crown Estate Field at the Bill turned out to be a control, already ringed - and in fact also colour-ringed - elsewhere:

We received the ringing details today and it turns out that this bird was ringed by Tony John as a nestling 49 kms away at Chardstock, east Devon, on 7th June this year:

 BTO data (from more more than 4500 chicks ringed in the UK) tells us that the median juvenile dispersal distance up to 12 months after ringing is only 6.7 kms, so a 49 km movement is very unusual indeed. A fascinating recovery and a great result from Mark and Verity's hard work © Mark Cutts

Also received today from Martin Collinson at the University of Aberdeen were the results from the lab work on feather samples of our two Lesser Whitethroats on 28th and 30th September;

 Despite looking really quite different - we suspect mainly because the first bird was a youngster and the second was an adult (...although we're not sure how that explains away the noticeable wing-formula differences) - both these birds were confirmed to be blythi Siberian Lesser Whitethroats. As usual, many thanks indeed to Martin and his team.

25th October

Whopping quantities of rain overnight weren't appreciated and rendered daytime negotiation of muddy footpaths something akin to slalom skiing; however, the leaden sky and drizzly rain that lasted on into the morning saw a succession of migrants arrive in off the sea and created an air of constant anticipation even if the rewards weren't quite of East Coast proportions. A Yellow-browed Warbler trapped at the Obs was the chief highlight, but a flurry of Short-eared Owls - 4 arrived in off the sea and there were subsequent multiple sightings across the Bill area that looked to involve at least 6 birds - together with a spread of 8 Black Redstarts, 5 Ring Ouzels and a Woodcock provided some nice scarcity interest, whilst a constant light trickle of over-flying thrushes was most welcome in view of their near-absence just lately. Grounded arrivals, notably Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, also increased although not to anything like the level that might be hoped in late October. For a while after dawn the sea was busy, with 488 Kittiwakes, 9 Balearic Shearwaters and 2 Arctic Skuas through off the Bill, whilst 655 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, along with the usual lone Pale-bellied Brent, represented their highest total of the autumn to date.

The Yellow-browed Warbler might have been the best of the day's scarcer migrants...

...but it was the frequent sightings of Short-eared Owls that provided the most compelling spectacle © Martin Cade:

The Dark-bellied Brents at Ferrybridge are building up nicely but it's looking like they've had a very poor breeding season: of the 655 present this morning just seven are juveniles - the five in this photograph are a family party with their parents, whilst two other pairs are accompanied by single youngsters each © Debby Saunders:

24th October

We're stuck in a bit of a groove at the moment, with migration progressing in a really samey manner: overhead passage isn't too bad but grounded arrivals - including many like thrushes and 'crests that ought to be far more numerous than they are - aren't at all well represented. Today's arrivals or lingerers on the ground at the Bill included 3 Black Redstarts, 2 Ring Ouzels and a Firecrest but, for example, no more than 3 Goldcrests, 2 Redwings and 2 Song Thrushes. The overhead totals there included 2710 Wood Pigeons, 275 Jackdaws, 155 Goldfinches, 130 Meadow Pipits, 87 Starlings, 85 Linnets, 75 Skylarks and 50 Chaffinches

Although there are migrants dropping in - today they included this really nice Black Redstart © Joe Stockwell...

...pretty well all of the numbers are overhead, with departing Wood Pigeons filling the dawn sky...

...and wheeling flocks of passing Jackdaws amongst the make-weights © Martin Cade:

Migrant insects are also still numerous, with this Vagrant Emperor one of the day's highlights © Martin Cade:

23rd October

A southeasterly wind always gives encouragement but today it was always a bit too blustery to permit enjoyable fieldwork and interest dwindled faster than it perhaps ought to have done; had it not have dwindled for the majority they might have been out when the day's highlight - a Glossy Ibis that flew northwest over the Bill late in the afternoon - made its brief appearance. There were a few other new arrivals of note uncovered, notably a Yellow-browed Warbler at Reforne, the season's first Woodcock at Southwell and a new Ring Ouzel at the Bill, but grounded common migrants remained stubbornly few in number. Despite a largely clear sky overhead passage had very little momentum, with 780 Wood Pigeons, 578 Starlings, 390 Linnets and 132 Jackdaws the main constituents of what passage there was over the Bill. Two Red-throated Divers and an Arctic Skua passed by on the sea at the Bill.

We haven't been graced with the presence of anything like the number of Ring Ouzels that some other migration spots have been reported just lately but it has been a pleasure to have trapped three in recent days and get the opportunity to have such good looks at them © Martin Cade:

We had an arresting moment this morning when we were scanning through social media reports of migrant moths from around the country and were stopped in our tracks by a photograph of a moth reported to be a second for Britain that we immediately recognised: James Halsey had posted an image of a Cream Pearl Hodebertia testalis that he'd caught a couple of nights ago on the Isle of Wight; it took us just a moment to pop to the fridge where our specimen of what was clearly the same species was still languishing after being taken from one of our moth-traps at the Obs last Friday morning. Our moth had been part of a huge catch of migrants on that night; it bore some passing resemblance to a small, pale (and very late in the season) Mother of Pearl but it several respects it didn't seem quite right so was potted up for a later inspection that we still hadn't got round to. The only previous British record of testalis involved one on the Isles of Scilly in 2006 and we offer apologies to James (as well as thanks for his posting the photographs of his specimen) for gazumping him to the second by just a couple of nights © Martin Cade:

As we mentioned, last Friday morning's run through the moth-traps had been really exciting, with lovely specimens of Toadflax Pearl Antigastra catalaunalis and Vagrant Metal-mark Tebenna micalis amongst the huge catch of migrants...

...and the quality has continued even if the overall numbers have declined a little; this morning's migrant highlight was a Small Marbled...

...whilst yesterday there'd been a third record for the island in the form of a Flounced Chestnut from one of the Grove moth-traps © Martin Cade:

22nd October

A really nice day of light winds and warm sunshine with lots of migrant action to tap into. The day's highlight was a Little Bunting trapped in the Crown Estate Field but the numbers were all again overhead, where 6200 Wood Pigeons, 240 Linnets, 220 Chaffinches, 205 Goldfinches, 183 Jackdaws, 180 Stock Doves, 180 Starlings, 160 Meadow Pipits, 105 Redpolls, 75 Siskins, 50 Skylarks, 28 Greenfinches, 20 Reed Buntings, 5 Woodlarks, 5 Bramblings, 4 Great Northern Divers (all high-flyers heading west over the land), 2 Yellowhammers and a Golden Plover were amongst the totals logged over the Bill. It wasn't busy on the ground but amongst a good spread of expected late October migrants, 4 Ring Ouzels (2 at the Bill and 2 at Verne Common), a Yellow-browed Warbler (at the Grove), a Pintail (through at Portland Harbour) and a Short-eared Owl (at the Bill) were all of interest. The sea was again chock-a-block with Mediterranean Gulls, with 26 Common Scoter, 11 Balearic Shearwaters and a Red-throated Diver also through off the Bill.

Another weekend, another Little Bunting...

21st October

A last-minute reminder that there's an InFocus field day at the Obs tomorrow, Sunday 22nd October.

A day that looked to be struggling to get going - enthusiasm for prolonged fieldwork being dented by sporadic, sometimes heavy showers until early afternoon after which a stiff northwesterly sprung up - ultimately produced a decently varied tally of seasonable fare. Grounded totals left a lot to be desired, with the season's rather belated first Dartford Warbler (at Coombefield) the pick of the new arrivals; the eastern Lesser Whitethroat, Ring Ouzel and Firecrest all lingered on at the Bill, whilst there were also regular sightings of Merlin there and at Ferrybridge and single Short-eared Owls were at the Bill and East Weare. There was far more on the move overhead, with morning totals from the Bill that included 1475 Wood Pigeons, 510 Goldfinches, 325 Linnets, 220 Meadow Pipits, 185 Pied Wagtails, 120 Chaffinches, 70 Skylarks and 45 Siskins, with 8 Redpolls, 7 Bramblings and 2 Mistle Thrushes amongst the miscellany of tag-alongs. The sea chipped in with a few useful additions to the day-list that included 2 Arctic Skuas and singles of Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver and Common Tern through off the Bill.

20th October

While we were swanning about in shorts and t-shirts under blue skies and blazing sunshine it was barely believable to read that great swathes of the rest of the country were being battered by incessant wind and rain; not only was our weather glorious but the quality of the birding and mothing left little to be desired. A nice arrival of scarcities included 3 Yellow-browed Warblers (2 at Culverwell and another at Wakeham) and an eastern Lesser Whitethroat (in the Crown Estate Field), whilst a scatter of the likes of 4 Black Redstarts, 2 Ring Ouzels and singles of Jack Snipe, Short-eared Owl and Firecrest were all there to be enjoyed. A slightly unconventional arrival of commoner migrants included large numbers of grounded Dunnocks and parties of tits dropping from the sky, along with a steady overhead passage of Wood Pigeons, Skylarks and Chaffinches

A few of today's oddities: Yellow-browed Warbler, eastern Lesser Whitethroat and Jack Snipe © Joe Stockwell...

...and Ring Ouzel © Martin Cade:

19th October

With the storm passed today was a day that always felt like it had promise but, ultimately and a couple of seabird sightings aside, that promise went unfulfilled. The seabird highlights - a Sabine's Gull through at Chesil Cove and 2 Cory's Shearwaters through off the Bill - required being stood in the right spot at the right moment and only two observers chose that rewarding course; single Great Skuas through off both watchpoints were the only other worthwhile sea sightings. The land just never really got going: there were odd morsels of interest such as singles of Merlin, Ring Ouzel, Firecrest, a late Sedge Warbler and quite a few grounded Siskins at the Bill, another Firecrest at Pennsylvania Castle, another Ring Ouzel at Verne Common and 2 Black Redstarts at Blacknor, but despite all efforts that level couldn't be breached.

Siskins are routine enough fly-bys at this time of year but many of today's birds settled and permitted scorching views...

...much less routine was this mid-October Sedge Warbler that thankfully also permitted good views that quickly put to bed any thoughts of rarer things © Joe Stockwell:

And finally, being rather frustrated at still never having seen a Pallid Harrier at Portland - there surely can't be a more overdue addition to the island bird list than this species - we cracked at the end of the afternoon and went up to Wyke Down to see if the bird found in that area by James Phillips might put in an appearance towards dusk. In the event it seems we jammed into the most prolonged views of it in its more than a week of elusive residence - had there have been even a shaft a sunlight it would have looked even more of a vision of tangerine but beggars can't be choosers and it was good to imagine how great one will look when it eventually appears quartering the Crown Estate Field © Martin Cade:

18th October

Storm Babet proved to be far too tempestuous to do us any good - in fact the quantities of rain that fell meant for the most part staying indoors was the only option. A few short windows of opportunity during the morning revealed the presence of some new arrivals at the Bill, including 5 Snipe, a few thrushes, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests, and singles of Firecrest and Brambling, whilst the sea there came up with singles of Red-throated Diver, Pintail, Arctic Skua, Little Gull and Common Tern amongst others. The Pale-bellied Brent Goose was again at Ferrybridge/Hamm Beach, along with 11 Bar-tailed Godwits, 6 Sanderling, a Common Scoter and 500 passing Starlings.

Scenes from a stormy Portland Harbour and Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

17th October

The continuing ferociously strong easterly wind scuppered any chance of meaningful coverage today and certainly left the feeling that as much would have been missed as was chanced upon. It didn't appear to be too busy on the ground, with a solitary Ring Ouzel the pick of what arrivals were apparent at the Bill; elsewhere, a Black Redstart was new at Blacknor. There was more passage overhead to be tapped into but the Wood Pigeons, Swallows, Starlings and various finches involved seemed to be moving in a variety of directions and weren't particularly easy to get amongst. Sea passage included 56 Common Scoter, 13 Brent Geese, 4 Wigeon, 3 Dunlin, 2 Red-throated Divers and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill.

Nice close views of a Pale-bellied Brent Goose at Ferrybridge today - we know next to nothing about geese so will have to read up on the interesting mix of new and ?old feathers on the mantle, scapulars and coverts of this adult/sub-adult © Roy Norris:

16th October

Far from easy birding today in a blasting easterly but there were birds about for those that persevered. By far the best was an overflying Richard's Pipit at the Bill, with the season's first Brambling and the first signs of late autumn vismig - including 3500 departing Wood Pigeons and the 150 arriving Starlings - showed just how quickly the season's advancing. Grounded arrivals were far from easy to get amongst but included increased numbers of Chiffchaffs everywhere and a lone Ring Ouzel at West Weare. Apart from the aforementioned Wood Pigeons and Starlings, overhead passage wasn't heavy and was dominated by Meadow Pipits and a variety of finches, none of which were particularly numerous. The sea ticked over all day, with totals that included 250 Kittiwakes, 220 Mediterranean Gulls, 73 Common Scoter, 14 Black-headed Gulls, 5 Brent Geese, 4 Arctic Skuas, 2 Red-throated Divers, 2 Pomarine Skuas and a Great Skua.

The Richard's Pipit didn't oblige beyond a few calls and a snatched record-shot for its observer © Joe Stockwell:

Seasonable fare included the first Brambling...

...and the first signs of Starling immigration © Joe Stockwell:

There's always hope and even expectation when the little patch of burdocks beside the Bill Quarry hosts the likes of multiples of Chiffchaffs and a Goldcrest © Martin Cade: