31st March

March has been very much a month of fits and starts, with the overall feeling of spring action getting going really promptly being spoilt by spells when inclement weather has seen things grind to a halt. Fortunately, the month ended on a high with numbers on all fronts and a nice scarcity showing up in the form of a Hoopoe that dropped in briefly at Blacknor. The highest numbers were overhead, with quite a floodgate opening on West Cliffs where 1293 Meadow Pipits and 352 Linnets made up the bulk of the north-bound movement during a six hour watch; although the stiff easterly funneled a lot of passage up the cliffs it was also apparent from other viewpoints that plenty of birds - hirundines in particular - were arriving elsewhere over the Bill so better coverage would undoubtedly have resulted in considerably higher day-totals of these diurnal movers. The strength of the wind wasn't doing favours on the ground, but 100 Chiffchaffs and 60 Willow Warblers - along with a Ring Ouzel at the Bill and a Firecrest at Portland Castle amongst the also-rans - were a fair return at the Bill; there were further patches of conspicuous phyllosc abundance up-island and the feeling was always that some good totals might have been racked up there given more eyes out looking. The sea got plenty of attention, with combined totals from the the Bill and Chesil that included 362 Common Scoter, 77 Sandwich Terns, 35 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 35 Black-headed Gulls, 2 Red-throated Divers, 2 Arctic Skuas and singles of Velvet Scoter, Grey Plover, Whimbrel, Yellow-legged Gull and Common Tern.

The Hoopoe showed so well during its brief visit to a back-garden lawn that the event was captured perfectly well with a mobile phone © Si Gallali:

Whimbrel and Great Northern Diver from Ferrybridge this morning © Pete Saunders:

30th March

Much improved conditions were welcomed for permitting comfortable fieldwork but were maybe a little too improved to deliver on the migrant front, with the starlit night sky giving delayed movers plenty of opportunity to make unhindered progress. What small flurry of arrivals there was was most evident at dawn when the mainly phylloscs involved moved through very quickly, and later as a trickle of routine diurnal migrants got moving; further later arrivals included the spring's first Redstart at Southwell, an Osprey heading through over the Grove and a likely Icelandic Redwing trapped at the Obs. The sea was disappointing, with the increasingly brisk onshore breeze delivering little more at the Bill than 100 Common Scoter and the first commic tern of the season.

We wouldn't have thought there's too much doubt that today's Redwing was Iceland-bound even it wasn't quite such a compellingly-marked individual as, for example, this fabulously swarthy specimen handled yesterday on Skokholm. Our take is that coburni Icelandic Redwings are genuinely rare visitors to Portland: we've handled or photographed a few here over the years and there are biometrics recorded in the Obs archives that suggest the occasional specimen was trapped before our time but there's no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Redwings recorded here originate from Scandinavia or points further east © Martin Cade:

29th March

Yesterday's weather excesses may have passed but the overnight and daytime conditions remained far too turbulent for passerines to get moving in any numbers and the bank holiday rewards were scant on the ground and overhead. The odd singles of the most routine fare were uncovered but certainly nothing worth a mention beyond the year's first Grey Plover at Portland Harbour and a Reed Bunting at the Bill; also of interest, the presumed Siberian Lesser Whitethroat was still in a private garden at Southwell. The sea was a little more interesting, with 86 Sandwich Terns through at Ferrybridge and a steady trickle of Manx Shearwaters through off the Bill; 3 Red-throated Divers and a Whimbrel also passed the Bill, where 2 Garganey were also reported.

The Ferrybridge Sandwich Terns were all moving west after presumably having been driven into the sheltered waters of the harbour and Weymouth Bay by yesterday's storm © Pete Saunders:

The presumed Siberian Lesser Whitethroat hadn't been looked for for a number of days but was still in a private garden at Southwell - judging by it's shoddy appearance it's undergoing its pre-breeding body moult so will likely be present for a while longer yet © Alan Mayell:

28th March

What an extremely wild day: we haven't seen official figures for the afternoon wind strength but it seemed like it might have been gusting up well past 60mph in some violent squalls that followed torrential rain through the morning - all in all, really grim. Seawatching at the Bill from dawn before the heaviest rain set in did produce the spring's first Whimbrel, along with 5 Red-throated Divers and singles of Great Northern Diver and Arctic Skua, but the less said about the rest of the day the better.

Whimbrel, Arctic Skua and Kittiwake from the dawn seawatching session © Pete Saunders:

27th March

One day it's going to settle down and dry up but today most definitely wasn't that day...and by the sound of things nor is tomorrow! Grounded arrivals looked to be completely absent, with the only migrant interest on the land being a lone Merlin and a handful of Meadow Pipits and Swallows through overhead. The sea fared little better with 13 passing Red-throated Divers the only birds of particular note off the Bill.

As is often the case in late March, Red-throated Divers provided the bulk of the day's sea interest © Pete Saunders...

...and with the likes of wildfowl and skuas conspicuous absentees it was left to Gannets and the occasional Mediterranean Gull to keep us occupied in the pretty unpleasant conditions © Martin Cade

26th March

Spring passage seems to be taking a while to get back on track after it was derailed at the weekend, with today's pleasantly birdable almost windless and lightly overcast conditions coming up with relatively poor returns on the passerine front. Chiffchaff struggled up to 30 or so at the Bill/Southwell but Wheatear and Blackcap were the only other common migrants managing double figures on the ground; a brief Ring Ouzel was a first for the spring there and 2 lingering Firecrests came out of the woodwork. Overhead passage was equally underwhelming, with the lightest of passages of Meadow Pipits making up the bulk of the numbers. The sea was busier and also came up with bird of the day in the form of an unseasonable Sooty Shearwater through off the Bill; 32 Red-throated Divers, 98 Common Scoter, 6 Sandwich Terns, 2 Arctic Skuas and a Great Northern Diver also through there represented a fair return for late March.

Hobbies like birdwatching are full of esoteric 'little things please little minds' diversions to keep autistic participants out of mischief and something that's occupied this little mind just lately has been the ageing of Wrens. Ever since Rachel Taylor elucidated a novel method for tackling this hitherto troublesome conundrum more than a decade ago we've always taken Wren ageing to be pretty straightforward. However, quite by chance we discovered that Rachel's flight feather pattern feature we'd been relying on wasn't at all well covered in the standard published and online literature: among the ringers' guides, the Identification Atlas of the Continental Birds of Southwestern Europe and Jenni & Winkler do it fullest justice; despite dwelling at length on much trickier criteria Svensson mentions it just briefly without providing a helpful illustration and neither Demongin or the Ottenby Ringers' Digiguide mention it at all. Since it's perfectly visible in a good in-field photo you'd expect it to be mentioned in the field guides but only Britain's Birds gives it proper coverage, with neither the Collins Bird Guide nor the Advanced Bird ID Guide referring to it at all. We're guessing the humble Wren just isn't trendy enough in the way that, for example, Caspian Gulls or American Black Terns are! Anyway, a few photos from our handlings of Wrens in the last month illustrate the salient features (these are all retraps from the Obs garden breeding population so we're 100% certain that their ages are correct!). Basically, young Wrens (born last year) have a nice clean, parallel lining up of the dark bars across the flight feathers...

...whereas in adults (born before last year) these black bars are altogether more higgledy-piggledy - at first glance you might be fooled into thinking they look pretty parallel but closer inspection always  reveals much more unevenness:

Although we'd generally look for ageing clues on an open wing, this is the sort of feature that's actually often easier to gauge when the wing's closed or at most half-open:

This youngster has much reduced black barring but the characteristic pattern is still quite easily discernible © Martin Cade:

25th March

Accommodation update: we've been receiving a rash of calls and messages in recent days from folk requesting accommodation over Easter so it might be timely to give an update: as it stands at the moment we're already completely full for every weekend between now and 14th/15th June; additionally, even every mid-week night between Fri 19th April and Wed 15th May is already full. There are still a few mid-week nights during early April and late May with a room or two available but the whole spring migration period is extremely busy. This is fairly typical spring occupancy here so in future prospective visitors would be well advised not to leave things to the last minute!

A Hoopoe looked to have been in the offing for most of last week so for one to show up today at Penn's Weare was very welcome albeit not a huge surprise. It certainly cornered the migrant market today, with precious little uncovered beyond a Merlin at Sweethill and a handful of Wheatears, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers here and there; the lingering Firecrest was also still at the Obs. The brisk onshore breeze looked to offer some promise for the sea but it seemed a huge wodge of stationary rain not far to the west had other ideas and blocked off all but some early movement at the Bill: 324 Gannets, 85 Kittiwakes, 20 Common Scoter, 15 Red-throated Divers, 7 Sandwich Terns, 3 Manx Shearwaters and an Arctic Skua passed through in quick time before passage ground to a halt.

The Hoopoe showed extremely well © Martin Adlam Port and Wey:

Despite the unfavourably windy conditions the Obs moth-traps attracted a local scarcity in the form of a Blossom Underwing - a far less than annual visitor to the island... 

...moth interest has otherwise been pretty minimal just lately with the exception of a Brindled Beauty from John Lucas' garden at Southwell a few nights ago - another far less than annual stray here © Martin Cade:

24th March

Despite improved conditions the stiff breeze remained firmly in the northwest and again looked to have put a stop to most routine migration. Another fly-by Serin at the Obs was the day's highlight, with the reappearance of a lingering Firecrest there providing the only other real interest. Wheatears just scraped into double figures at the Bill, where Blackcap and Chiffchaff only made the day-list by virtue of singletons.

23rd March

In the face of a blasting, chilly northwesterly and frequent squally showers it was hardly surprising that migration momentum took a further hit today. Low single figure totals of even routine fare were the rule, with singles of Merlin and Curlew on the land and reports of the first Puffin of the year on the sea the only sightings of note from the Bill.

Freddy Alway did well in the sense-numbing cold and buffeting wind this afternoon to notice this week's second colour-ringed Wheatear that was lurking unobtrusively in the lee of East Cliffs; like the individual a few days ago, this one's from Lundy where it was first marked as a breeding female on 2nd June 2022 © Jodie Henderson:

22nd March

The forecast change from milder to cooler air duly arrived and could of gone either way; sadly, our thoughts of it doing us a favour proved well wide of the mark and migrant numbers dropped away. That's not to say it was entirely dead, but 25 Wheatears and lowish single figure totals of Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were certainly a less than impressive return from the ground at the Bill. Singles of Redwing and Firecrest were of interest there, a surprise spread of Siskins included as many as 3 visiting feeders at Easton, and a Redshank was new at Ferrybridge. Hirundines continued to battle through in small numbers but visible passage was otherwise very limited. Odds and ends of note amongst the lingering winterers included 5 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill and 3 Black-throated Divers still in Portland Harbour.

Although big things like Brent Geese are well known for wintering together as family parties and conversely - as far as we're aware at least - passerines don't typically migrate or winter in family groups, we've often pondered on whether, for example, things like the Purple Sandpipers that winter at the Bill are mostly close relatives. Receiving these photographs today of an adult (top photo) and a youngster (bottom photo) in close proximity reminded us that several times this winter we've seen two adults and several youngsters more or less together - are they a family group or is this just a random winter mixing event that we're tempted to read too much into? © David Lopez-Idiaquez:

21st March

Migrants remained on the move although in the murky conditions that rolled in after dawn and persisted for several hours there was a feeling that plenty - particularly those overhead - were being missed. The totals of new arrivals on the ground at the Bill/Southwell certainly weren't to be sniffed at this early in the season and included 40 Chiffchaffs, 30 Wheatears, 15 Willow Warblers, 12 Blackcaps, 2 Mallards and singles of Short-eared Owl, Black RedstartGoldcrest and Firecrest (with another lingering Firecrest also still present). Once the murk lifted a little it was apparent that all three common hirundines were featuring amongst the more routine alba wagtails and Meadow Pipits on the move overhead; single Siskins at the Bill and Southwell were also of note. The reduced visibility restricted seawatching opportunities and 4 passing Red-throated Divers were just about all that could be managed at the Bill. Other news from the day included a good count of 56 Turnstones at Hamm Beach.

Today's new Firecrest at Sweethill © Pete Saunders:

20th March

Well, what a scorching day for mid-March. With hardly a breath of breeze to take the edge off the increasingly pleasant sunshine conditions were perfect for birding and the migrants more than obliged with a decent little arrival of the regulars on the ground and overhead, some interesting sea passage and a selection of oddities that was topped off in fine fashion with an Alpine Swift that zoomed around over Southwell during the evening. Dawn saw immediate promise on the migrant front when the first 2 Willow Warblers of the season showed up in the Obs mist-nets; the other expected arrivals weren't hugely numerous on the ground there but Wheatear, Chiffchaff and Goldcrest all managed double figure totals and a lingering Firecrest provided further interest; amongst a similar spread of birds elsewhere, another Firecrest was at Southwell and the likely Siberian Lesser Whitethroat remained there. Overhead, alba wagtailMeadow Pipits and Sand Martins were arriving steadily, the first House Martin of the year passed through at Southwell, 2 Red Kites arrived from the north over Portland Harbour and singles of Marsh Harrier and Merlin passed over at the Bill. A small movement of 21 Pale-bellied Brent Geese in three flocks off the Bill was unexpected, with 18 Red-throated Divers, 12 Manx Shearwaters and 2 Sandwich Terns also through there and an impressive gathering of 3000 Herring Gulls lingering offshore.

Migrant moth interest perked up a little, with 6 Dark Sword Grass, 3 Turnip, 2 Rusty-dot Pearl and a Diamond-back trapped overnight at the Obs and a Silver Y attracted to the Obs porch light around midnight.

Pete and Debby Saunders' scarcity hotspot garden at Southwell has, by their own admission, been off the boil during the last two or three years so this evening's Alpine Swift right overhead there represented a welcome return to form - lots more of the same please © Pete Saunders:

You don't usually get to see Black-necked and Slavonian Grebes right next to each other in Portland Harbour © Pete Saunders:

Amongst this morning's arrival of Wheatears at the Bill this colour-ringed bird was of particular interest. The guys at Lundy Bird Observatory tell us that it was first ringed there as an adult male on 28th May 2022 and was back on the island during the 2023 breeding season; really oddly, after both breeding seasons it's left Lundy and moved to Skokholm to undertake its post-breeding moult during July/August - it might be that this isn't freaky behaviour at all but it's the sort of thing that you'd never realise was happening were it not for it bearing colour-rings © Simon Johnson

The Southwell Lesser Whitethroat today afforded some views of its tail, with the seemingly whopping amount of white in the outer feathers strongly supporting the suggestion that it belongs to one or other of the eastern forms © Alan Mayell

The Marsh Harrier motoring south so high over the Bill that it was only just discernable to the naked eye as a tiny speck was one of those things that was only spotted by virtue of looking for something else - in this case the Red Kites that we'd had a call about; it doesn't pay to dwell too long on all those things we must be missing that slip by like this! © Martin Cade:

19th March

A shocker of a day with drizzly rain setting in soon after dawn and thereafter coming and going until well after dark. Despite good soakings for the diehards making an effort they did achieve some modicum of success with a Serin dropping in briefly at the Obs and at least 1 new Firecrest at the Bill but common migrants were very poorly represented, with just odd singles of Wheatear and Chiffchaff here and there. Late in the day a Lesser Whitethroat was a surprise discovery in a private garden at Southwell.

Only seen briefly in the most challenging of conditions the Lesser Whitethroat at Southwell was surely not a newly arrived, ridiculously early migrant. There's nothing particularly helpful visible in the fortuitous few photographs obtained but you'd think that a hitherto unseen overwintering blythi Siberian Lesser Whitethroat would be the most likely explanation © Alan Mayell

18th March

Unexpected overnight rain - that appeared to be absent from both the weather forecasts and rainfall radars - dragged on for a while after dawn but dropped a far more underwhelming selection of migrants than had been the case yesterday. Single figure totals of grounded arrivals included just an extra Firecrest of note at the Bill, where 7 Long-tailed Tits were also new at the Obs and the season's first Swallow was the pick of the trickle of expected fare dribbling through overhead. Offshore, an Arctic Skua through off the Bill was another first for the spring; 16 Red-throated Divers and 2 Manx Shearwaters were the best of the rest there.

Four Dark Sword Grass and a Silver Y spread between the Obs and Grove moth-traps provided some more migrant moth interest.

17th March

Quite whether there were migrants on the move during the last few nights might not have been established but there was no such doubt about last night when another dose of heavy rain through the small hours dropped what for the middle of March were pretty decent numbers of Chiffchaffs, with a good 100 scattered across the Bill and plenty more elsewhere around the island. Unsurprisingly, variety was otherwise limited, with no more than 3 Blackcaps, 2 Goldcrests and singles of Wheatear and Firecrest at the Bill and a lone White Wagtail at Blacknor. Seawatching was thwarted for several hours by poor visibility and only singles of Red-throated Diver and Manx Shearwater were logged at the Bill once conditions improved.

16th March

We're not at all sure what we're doing wrong right now but the upshot of it is that migration is not far off a non-event despite the influence of a well-established and seemingly promising mild airflow. Three Wheatears, 2 Goldcrests and singles of White Wagtail, Blackcap and Chiffchaff were the sum total of the grounded tally at the Bill/Southwell, where a trickle of alba wagtails arrived overhead and 6 Red-throated Divers and a Manx Shearwater passed by on the sea. A selection of winterers - including 8 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Black Redstarts at the Bill and a Black-necked Grebe in Portland Harbour - remained on station.

Single Silver Ys provided overnight migrant moth interest at the Obs and the Grove.

Goldcrest at Southwell © Alan Mayell...

...and Black-necked Grebe and Great Northern Diver at Portland Harbour © Pete Saunders:

15th March

No uptick in migration at all today, with just 3 Chiffchaffs and 2 Wheatears grounded at the Bill. Even the sea failed to save the day with no more than 4 Red-throated Divers and 3 Common Scoter through offshore.

14th March

With a grounded migrant tally at the Bill of just 4 Wheatears, 4 Goldcrests and 2 Chiffchaffs the prevailing mild airstream continued to disappoint on the passerine front. However, the brisk onshore breeze looked to offer opportunities from the sea and duly delivered a surprise Surf Scoter passing through off the Bill amongst a passage of 173 Common Scoter; 15 Shoveler and 5 Red-throated Divers provided the only other interest offshore. A Black Redstart was still present at the Bill, whilst elsewhere the year's first Firecrest was at Sweethill, 3 more Chiffchaffs were at Portland Castle and 4 Great Northern Divers were still in Portland Harbour.

Common Scoters were moving through very purposefully if not in huge numbers off the Bill

If ever there's something that defies agreed quantification off the Bill it's the size of passing scoter flocks - by nature they never fly in an orderly manner and there always seems to be an observer on hand who's counting using a different appendage to everyone else and arrives at a figure one or two different to the majority. For this reason, after a quick scan of a flock for a Velvet Scoter or some other tag-along oddity, we very often photograph the larger flocks to obtain a definitive total. Such was the case today when this flock of 21 came through at a few hundred metres range...

...did you spot the Surf Scoter amongst them? - no, we didn't either until we reviewed this and the other photographs after the flock had gone on by! Here are a few more varyingly cropped enlargements where it's easier to spot © Martin Cade:

The Shoveler flock © Martin Cade:

The Sweethill Firecrest © Nick Stantiford:

One of the Portland Harbour Great Northern Divers © Pete Saunders:

13th March

The presence of a mild airstream isn't always a positive influence at this time of year as the happenings of the last couple of days can attest. Today's migrant activity at the Bill was restricted to just a handful of Chiffchaffs and singles of Wheatear and Redwing on the ground, a trickle of wagtails and pipits arriving overhead and 30 Common Scoter and 8 Red-throated Divers through on the sea - hardly the stuff of dreams. Winter fare still about included 4 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill, 7 Pale-bellied Brent Geese at Ferrybridge and a good total of 51 Turnstones on the Portland Harbour shore.

12th March

A nice mild airflow setting in ought to be just the ticket at this juncture but unfortunately it arrived in tandem with another dose of rain and a much fresher southwesterly that undid all the promising groundwork put in by the quiet conditions of the last couple of days. There were a few new arrivals about but they weren't at all numerous and getting to grips with them wasn't much fun: Chiffchaff just about got into double figures at the Bill where singles of Wheatear and Goldcrest were also grounded; Meadow Pipits were certainly arriving overhead but their passage wasn't tapped into in any meaningful way. The only rewards from the brisker conditions offshore were 15 Brent Geese and 2 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill.

Having handled a couple of birds bearing rings from elsewhere in the last few days reminded us of a nice recovery of one of our birds that we'd recently been notified of: a Sparrowhawk ringed at the Obs last September was found freshly dead a couple of weeks ago at Porthscatho, Cornwall...

...The majority of our recoveries and controls of Sparrowhawks are relatively local and probably largely involve Portland breeding birds. However, in addition to the movement to Cornwall reported above we have a couple of other longer-distance recoveries on our books: one ringed south of London during the breeding season was recovered here in the autumn of the same year and, more spectacularly, one ringed here on autumn passage was recovered during the next breeding season in southern Norway: