20th April

Spring northeasterlies have attained almost magical status here in recent times so their forecast arrival - for pretty well the first time this season - had been hotly anticipated. Whilst the reality was a fair bit removed from the hype it was actually a half-decent day with, at least by way of passerines and visible migrants, easily the best variety of the spring to date; the sea was a different kettle of fish with, aside from Great Northern Divers, passage remaining exceptionally lame for this time. Amongst the few dozen or so of routine Blackcaps and Willow Warblers, migrant totals from around the island included 75 Wheatears, 8 Redstarts, 7 Whinchats, 5 Lesser Whitethroats, 2 Yellow Wagtails and singles of Redwing, Fieldfare, Black Redstart, Grasshopper Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Pied Flycatcher. Overhead, Hobby and Swift (2) were both firsts for the spring, a Short-eared Owl bombed about and 2 Yellow Wagtails and a Tree Pipit were logged amongst the heaviest hirundine passage of the season to date. A varied selection at Ferrybridge included 18 Dunlin, 11 Shelducks, 5 Gadwall (another first for the year) and 3 Mute Swans, whilst across the causeway in Portland Harbour an oddly wintery selection included 5 Great Northern Divers, 2 Razorbills and a Guillemot. The recent dismal run of seawatching continued, with 6 Great Northern Divers, 3 Red-throated Divers and 3 Canada Geese as good as it got off the Bill.

We're not sure whether it's that we've given away most Lesser Whitethroats in recent years to other ringers or, more likely, our faculties are just dimming, but we'd forgotten just how different the tails of the different age classes of Lesser Whitethroats are at this time of year. The last few days have given us several opportunities for close looks at them and this morning provided nice examples in successive birds. This is the tail of a first-summer bird (one of last year's youngsters)...

...whereas this is an adult tail (it'd look even better if the bird hadn't c**pped all over one side of the tail in the bird-bag!):

The somewhat sullied and less crisply marked outer feathers of the youngster contrast with the much more cleanly white adult outer feathers, whilst the penultimate feathers of the youngster completely lack white tips; notice also the central tail feathers of the young bird that are completely shattered in contrast to the well-kept adult feathers (the feathers of young birds are poorer quality than those of adults so wear out that bit more quickly). Whilst we can unequivocally age a bird with a tail like our upper example as one of last year's youngsters we can't actually be certain that a bird with a tail like the lower example has to be an adult: some youngsters apparently moult some or all of their tail feathers in their post-juvenile moult and end up with a tail pattern like this, as would also be the case if the feathers were lost accidentally.