20th August

Just a hint of an upturn in passage today as the relentless wind of recent days finally begun to subside. Numbers were far lower than might have been hoped for the last third of the month but variety at the Bill included 30 Wheatears, 25 Sedge Warblers, 20 Whitethroats, 10 each of Yellow Wagtail and Willow Warbler, 2 Little Egrets and singles of Redstart, Grasshopper Warbler and Reed Warbler. An impressive 320 Ringed Plover topped the numbers at Ferrybridge, where 64 Dunlin, 8 Sanderling and singles of Knot and Redshank were also on show, whilst seawatching at the Bill came up with a steady southbound passage of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 11 Sandwich Terns, 8 Manx Shearwaters, 5 Balearic Shearwaters, 3 Arctic Skuas.

19th August

Another unremarkable day was only saved from the recent monotony by a passing Osprey - initially seen heading south past Chesil Cove it was soon re-sighted as it headed on out to sea over the Bill. The sea was quiet with just a handful of Manx Shearwaters and a Bonxie west. Ferrybridge was still very busy, with 2 Black-tailed Godwits an addition to the tally for the last few days.

The autumn's first Osprey heading south high over the Bill © Martin Cade:


One of the two Black-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

18th August

 A post-dawn deluge preceded a little flurry of migrants, particularly within the crown fields where two Grasshopper Warblers, 15 Sedge Warblers and a Tree Pipit were both seen and ringed throughout the morning. A small movement of Wheatears was evident with 13 recorded predominantly through the top fields. The sea was anti-climatic with only a single Arctic Skua of note. Ferrybridge was once again the place to be with a selection of waders including singles of Green Sandpiper, Whimbrel and Knot.

17th August

If yesterday was a day to forget then today barely merits a mention, even the Manx Shearwaters didn't make it to double figures. Four Balearic Shearwaters and 2 Bonxies made up the mornings sea-watch totals. The land was almost deathly quiet with a pair of Willow Warblers and four Wheatears making up the entire grounded passerine count for the day at the Bill. Ferrybridge held little to inspire with the usual selection of waders accompanied by the 2 long-staying Little Gulls.

The pick of the day's lepidoptera were a noticeable hatch/arrival of Clouded Yellows that included at least 11 at the Bill.

We've occasionally made reference on the blog to the acoustic bat monitoring - primarily to inform research into the migration of Nathusius' Pipistrelle - being undertaken at the Obs. Sadly, beyond managing the hardware, we still haven't found time to get involved in the analysis of the recordings obtained so we're fortunate that Adrian Bicker, who instigated this project in the first instance, is still on board to undertake this work. We were very excited to hear back from Adrian this week that amongst our latest batch of recordings he'd identified calls of the rare Kuhl's Pipistrelle from the evening of 3rd May (at 21:16; sunset on this date was at 20:19) when the bat detector was situated at the top of the Obs lighthouse tower:



Adrian comments that: Nathusius' Pipistrelles produce similar calls to Kuhl’s, with a strong, near-vertical FM “chirp” but such calls would be at or just above 40kHz. These calls are much lower – just like the 1,900 Kuhl’s calls collected from the Brittany coast as part of my spring Nathusius' Pipistrelle migration survey. Many of the Brittany calls had the diagnostic low, slow “ChowChowChow” (or “ChowChow”) social calls which confirm Kuhl’s. The spectrograms shows the calls.  The vertical axis is frequency (grid lines at 40kHz and 36kHz). The strong echoes show that the bat flew over the observatory’s flat roof; the 27ms delay indicates that the echo travelled 9m further than the call!

16th August

A day to forget, with the rain that rolled in as promised by mid-morning still not having cleared through by dusk. The sea was well-watched for as long as it was visible(!) but there were few rewards at the Bill beyond c200 Manx Shearwaters, 3 Balearic Shearwaters and an Arctic Skua. Odds and ends from what little other fieldwork was possible included a Tree Pipit at the Bill and 2 Little Gulls at Ferrybridge.

15th August

A break in the unrelenting wind and rain came with the first glorious sunshine for what feels like ages. The relaxed wind and clear skies didn't do us any favours on the birding front but the sea still produced 16 Balearic Shearwaters, three Arctic Skuas, singles of Bonxie and Storm Petrel, a strong passage of c.160 Mediterranean Gulls and the first two Guillemots since the colony dispersed at the end of last month. Land based passage was underwhelming with little more than a Yellow Wagtail over Ferrybridge, singles figures of Tree Pipit, 11 Wheatears, 10 Sand Martins and two Swifts at the Bill and 8 Sanderling and 2 Little Gulls at Ferrybridge.

Little Gulls have been a semi-permanent feature at Ferrybridge in recent weeks - one of these two has been pretty well daily there although the other bird was today making its first appearance since 1st August © Pete Saunders:


14th August

As the current spell of unsettled weather continued it was the partially obscured, rolling sea that was the focus for much of the day. With observers present throughout the daylight hours highlights from the Bill included a single Sooty Shearwater, three Arctic Skuas, 32 Balearic Shearwaters and 24 Arctic Terns. Chesil Cove was also watched at intervals through the day and produced singles of Black Tern and Storm Petrel as well as an additional 12 Balearic Shearwaters and 16 Sandwich Terns.

There were quite a few nice 'Balearic in amongst Manx' fly-bys today © Martin Cade:



13th August

A misting damp that refused to move for the early morning put pay to much of the ringing attempt. Land-based migrants were thin on the ground, even after the rain passed, and single figures of Wheatear, Tree Pipit and Lesser Whitethroat were all we could muster. The sea was also far less productive than of late with just 17 Balearic Shearwaters and 35 Manx Shearwaters, however, some oddities driven in by the rough weather included singles of Grey Plover, Pomarine Skua and Storm Petrel

The slightly droopy Grey Phalarope looked to have met a rather unfortunate end this evening as the local Kestrel obviously noticed its sad looking posture. The Little Tern flock continued to dwindle, it can't be long now before they're all gone for another year. Smaller numbers of common waders were accompanied by a lone Knot, six Sanderlings and 16 Turnstones.

Not long after dropping in on the Grey Phalarope this evening we'd turned our back whereupon we heard it call several times as if it had taken flight; on looking round we couldn't see the bird but then noticed a Kestrel landing nearby with prey that it immediately started plucking. When approached for a clearer view of its hapless victim the Kestrel flew off still carrying its meal that, at least from the feathers left behind, looked very much like it had been the phalarope...© Martin Cade:

12th August

Apart from a sudden and rather torrential downpour at midday the rain remained mostly in the channel. The looming storm clouds that slipped between us and the continent had the fortuitous effect of pushing the passing seabirds shoreward and as such the Balearic Shearwater tally for the morning reached 239, accompanied by double figures of Manx Shearwater, Common Scoter, Kittiwake and Mediterranean Gulls. The amassed gull flock, including a pair of Yellow-legged Gulls, attracted the interests of two passing Arctic Skuas although they did not linger for long. On the land the calming of the wind saw a trickle of migrants with the first double figure count of Tree Pipits, two Pied Flycatchers (dispersed across the island), 19 Wheatears and a Grasshopper Warbler in Culverwell. 

The wader-fest at Ferrybridge continued to gather steam with a maximum flock of 20 Knot, triple figures of Ringed Plovers and Dunlin and the lingering Grey Phalarope

Amongst the flock of Ringed Plovers at Ferrybridge the eagle-eyed watchers spotted a colour-ringed individual that it transpires was originally ringed on 7th July 2017 at Bylot Island, Nunavut, Canada - close to the northwestern limit of the species' breeding range. Of 93 birds ringed at this site 10 have been re-sighted on migration of which 4 were in the UK - 2 of these have been at Ferrybridge (the previous record being in 2014). We couldn't be more grateful to our dedicated local birders for this kind of brilliant information © Pete Saunders: 


The co-ordinator of this ringing project, Don-Jean LĂ©andri-Breton, kindly passed Pete and Debby Saunders an aerial photograph of the bird's breeding site in the Canadian high arctic and a link to a paper documenting certain aspects of the annual migration cycle of this population of Ringed Plovers: Seasonal variation in migration strategies used to cross ecological barriers in a nearctic migrant wintering in Africa


The local butterflies don't seem to have been put off by the recent spate of showers and wind, although the female of this Common Blue pair appears to be much smaller this is evidently typical of a second generation. The Painted Lady is so fresh its not too greater stretch to suppose it may have hatched here on the island © Ken Dolbear: 




11th August

Ferrybridge remained the place with both numbers and variety today, amongst which an early storm-driven Grey Phalarope was nice new arrival and a Little Ringed Plover was the first there for a while. Ten Wheatears, a handful of Willow Warblers, 3 Turnstones, 2 Swifts and singles of Sanderling and Sand Martin made up the very meagre migrant tally at the Bill where 2 Balearic Shearwaters passed by on the sea.

The Grey Phalarope was still showing traces of summer plumage and at first glance looked pretty sorry for itself © Pete Saunders...


...although it was perfectly able to fly about without any obvious sign of being inconvenienced © Debby Saunders:



And some video from the evening when it had moved from the main mudflats onto the creek and small pools beside the car park © Martin Cade:


The fledged Little Terns are still being fed by their parents but will surely be off any day now © Pete Saunders:

10th August

The wind that had freshened throughout yesterday reached well into gale force overnight and barely abated all day; with passerine hunting a lost cause all the day's attention was given to the sea and Ferrybridge, with largely expected results from both. It was way too windy off the Bill, where 8 Balearic Shearwaters, 7 Manx Shearwaters, 7 Dunlin, 3 Great Skuas, a Sooty Shearwater and an Arctic Skua were the only rewards amongst the c700 Gannets and c100 Kittiwakes that made up the bulk of the commoner fare on the move; 3 Yellow-legged Gulls were also grounded at the Bill, with 2 more off Chesil Cove where a lone Arctic Skua also put in an appearance. Ferrybridge was busy with routine waders, amongst which 23 Sanderling, 10 Kittiwakes, 3 Whimbrel and singles of Knot, Redshank, Little Gull and Arctic Tern provided interest.

The second Scarce Striped Grass-veneer Ancylolomia tentaculella for the island was an unlikely highlight from the Obs moth-traps on a night when nothing in its right mind should have been flying!

The ever-reliable Ferrybridge chipped in with a nice selection of storm-driven birds that included Arctic Tern, Kittiwake and Knot © Pete Saunders:




They're such an interesting-looking moth that we can't imagine even their eventual likely colonisation will ever truly devalue tentaculella but, status-wise, they're never again going to be the massive rarity they once were © Martin Cade:

9th August

A day of extremes, heavy downpours were interspersed with clear sun filled skies that made the howling wind feel more like a hairdryer than an unseasonable gale. The onshore wind meant that we experienced the first real Shearwater passage of the autumn with 90 Balearic Shearwaters, one (possibly two) Sooty Shearwaters and a decent movement of Manxies past throughout the morning. The backing cast included two Arctic Skuas, seven Common Scoters and a pair of Whimbrel. In the garden things were looking encouraging with the first Pied Flycatcher trapped (plus another unringed bird) and the first Redstart of the autumn. However, the wind was such that, even in our sheltered oasis, catching was tricky and totals were thus affected. 

Ferrybridge was swarming with birds and 285 Dunlin was the highest count yet this autumn. Joining them were 140 Ringed Plovers, 20 Sanderling, two each of Whimbrel and Curlew, singles of Redshank and Little Gull plus six Common Terns and nine fledgling Little Terns


8th August

Intermittent drizzle and a relaxation of the battering winds led to a small movement of migrants which continued throughout the day. Willow Warblers made up the bulk of the passage with 120 recorded, Sedge Warblers were also conspicuous being the second most numerous species in the nets and a Grasshopper Warbler was an anticipated but welcome addition to the days tallies. Tree Pipits were present for the second time this autumn with two trapped and seven swirling overhead. A small arrival of Wheatears was also noted as six were recorded at the Bill and Slopes as well as four at Ferrybridge. The sea remained quiet but with a greater variety than recent days with seven Black-tailed Godwits, nine Turnstones and a Yellow-legged Gull making appearances. Ferrybridge saw an increase in numbers if not in range of species with Dunlin and Ringed Plover reaching triple figures, 17 Sanderlings and four Common Sandpipers.

The first Tree Pipits trapped of the autumn, they're particularly smart looking birds... ©Erin Taylor/Pete Morgan:


7th August

In theme with recent days non-passerine movements far outweighed that of the passerines. Highlights from a quiet sea-watch included just three Balearic Shearwaters, an Arctic Skua and 15 Sanderlings. There was a distinctly autumnal feel to the rocks below the Bill as three Turnstones and a Purple Sandpiper returned to our shores. In terms of passerine movements a Lesser Whitethroat and a Sedge Warbler in the garden were accompanied by a new pair of Wheatears at the Bill. Ferrybridge saw a greater variety than in recent days with six Black-tailed Godwits, four Sanderlings, three each of Curlew and Turnstone and singles of Whimbrel, Redshank and the lingering Little Gull.  

The second generation of Adonis Blues are beginning to appear in the quarries to the north ©Ken Dolbear:



The remaining Little Gull is performing beautifully ©Pete Saunders:


Some of the brilliant mixed flocks we get treated to at Ferrybridge...©Debby Saunders: 



6th August

Very little to report from a day marked by gusting westerlies and clear skies. The nets were once again quiet as we failed to reach double figures (in fact the only new migrants were a pair of Whitethroats). The sea provided some mild interest with 20 Manx and seven Balearic Shearwaters, two lingering Common Scoter on the sea, a Turnstone east and two Mediterranean Gulls past the Bill. One of the Ferrybridge Little Gulls put in another showing alongside six Sanderling, a Whimbrel, three Wheatears and a flock of five Rooks heading South.

It's wonderful to see that at least a handful of the Little Tern chicks have made it to fledging, its just a shame that plastic has become a feature in their lives so early... ©Debby Saunders:


We'll be keeping an eye out for members of 'generation Z' over the next couple of years ©Pete Saunders:


5th August

A quieter day in the nets was reflected in the day totals with little variety at obs proper. The sea provided the only real passage with 16 Balearic Shearwaters and 13 Manxies. Ferrybridge fared a little better with seven Sanderlings, two Redshank and singles of Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel and Curlew.

We were really excited to spot this moth settled on the underside of the perspex of one of the Obs garden moth-traps this morning and guessed that it might be a Lesser Pearl Sitochroa verticalis - something that we'd often been concerned about overlooking; sure enough, once potted that's what it turned out to be and we could indeed see that if just the upperside had been seen it could easily have been passed off in a busy trap as a European Corn-borer or one of the Anania Pearls. Lesser Pearl evidently occurred on the island in the Victorian era but, in common with much of its former range, it's long gone from here as a resident, indeed the Dorset Moth Group website suggests it hasn't been recorded in Dorset since the Second World War © Martin Cade:



Three of the seven Sanderling present at Ferrybridge ©Pete Saunders:



4th August

The cloud cover and eventually even spits and spots of rain that rolled in as the day went on came too late to drop many migrants that looked to have had a largely unhindered passage over the island in the clearer hours of darkness. The few odds and ends that did materialise included a Grasshopper Warbler at the Bill, whilst a stray Great Spotted Woodpecker at the Grove and later the Bill was the first reported for a while; waders continued to feature, with 84 Dunlin, 65 Ringed Plover, 2 Redshank and singles of Sanderling and Whimbrel at Ferrybridge where 2 Little Gulls were also in residence and an unseasonable Dark-bellied Brent Goose put in an appearance. Three Gadwall, a Balearic Shearwater and a Yellow-legged Gull also passed through off the Bill.

The Little Gulls continue to entertain at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:



3rd August

A varied but largely undistinguished list from today's efforts, with migrant numbers taking a tumble from the relative excesses of the last couple of days. Willow Warbler struggled to get past the 20 mark at the Bill where the best of the interest came in the form of 7 Tree Pipits, 3 Grey Herons, 2 Lesser Whitethroats and singles of Whinchat and Grasshopper Warbler on the land and 7 Shoveler, 3 Balearic Shearwaters and a Little Egret through on the sea. A Little Gull dropped in again at Ferrybridge where waders increased through the day and included 71 Dunlin, 50 Ringed Plovers and singles of Sanderling, Whimbrel and Common Sandpiper.

Some nice variety at Ferrybridge included both Common Sandpiper and Whimbrel...



...whilst it was really pleasing after their travails this summer to finally see some juvenile Little Terns on the wing - there were five flying by the evening with hopefully a few more yet to get this mobile © Pete Saunders:

2nd August

A re-run of yesterday's weather - if anything it was even warmer by the afternoon - and more or less a re-run of yesterday's birds. Willow Warbler again hit the 200 mark at the Bill and although Sedge Warbler dropped back to 15 and there weren't quite as many hirundines overhead there was variety in the form of 10 Wheatears and ones and twos of Little Egret, Ringed Plover, Yellow Wagtail, Garden Warbler, Blackcap and Spotted Flycatcher. Routine fare offshore included 90 Mediterranean Gulls, 25 Manx Shearwaters, 11 Black-headed Gulls, 5 Dunlin, 4 Balearic Shearwaters, 3 Common Scoter, 3 Sanderling, 2 Yellow-legged Gulls and a Whimbrel.

1st August

Of interest to visitors this weekend: a local event in the National Whale & Dolphin Watch programme is being held near the Bill lighthouse on Sunday:



August got off to a great start with lovely quiet, warm weather and the first really decent little fall of migrants of the autumn. The Bill got most of what relatively little coverage there was and returned totals of 300 Swallows, 200 each of Sand Martin and Willow Warbler, 30 Sedge Warblers, 2 each of Ringed Plover, Lesser Whitethroat and Blackcap, and singles of Grey Heron, Cuckoo, Robin (the first likely migrant of the season) and Garden Warbler; limited looks elsewhere produced additions in the form of a Pied Flycatcher at Thumb Lane and 2 Whimbrel, 2 Wheatears and a Little Gull at Ferrybridge. Action on the millpond-calm sea included 100 Mediterranean Gulls and 2 each of Manx and Balearic Shearwaters off the Bill.

We're not sure if today's Ferrybridge Little Gull was one of the individuals that was there a few days ago but if it was it's providing a nice object lesson in the transition from first-summer to second-winter plumage © Debby Saunders (top) and Pete Saunders (bottom):



And a really terrible photo of the freakily great-looking Cuckoo, the capture of which marked pretty well the end of the day's migrant action at the Obs - it was a nice little flurry while it lasted but the weather was far too nice for much to linger today © Martin Cade:


We're well aware that we've been very remiss this year in not bringing some of our ringing recoveries to a wider audience (...hint to our visiting ringers: this would be a really useful job for one of you to help with!) so in the hope that we can find a bit of time to make progress with this we'll get the ball rolling with a Sandwich Tern from a couple of days ago. This colour-ringed bird dropped in at Ferrybridge on 29th July and Debby Saunders kindly tracked down the ringing details via Date Lutterop in The Netherlands: it was ringed as a breeding adult in a colony at Griend on the Wadden Sea in 2018 and was probably breeding in a different colony at Wagejot on the island of Texel this year © Debby Saunders:

31st July

A small smattering of migrants today as the howling gale from yesterday slowly abated leaving a warm but cloudy day behind. The sea saw the majority of the action with singles of Balearic Shearwater and Black-headed Gull, 2 each of Arctic and Great Skuas, three Turnstones, four Manx Shearwaters and a plethora of Mediterranean Gulls. Passerine migrants left a lot to be desired with little more than a smattering of Whitethroats and a trio of Willow Warblers in Suckthumb Quarry. Ferrybridge was equally quiet with only a Whimbrel to show for the hard working birders efforts.

Ever since we'd first seen photographs of it many years ago in Barry Goater's original pyralid guide, Scarce Striped Grass-veneer Ancylolomia tentaculella was a species that had captured our imagination and our desire to catch one for ourselves. That opportunity first arose last year when on family (=mothing!) holiday in northern France we were surprised to discover it's actually quite a common moth barely more than 100 miles south of Portland; however, with only half-a-dozen British records - and most of those in far south-east England - we didn't get carried away with thinking we might ever see one here. All that's changed in the last week when not only has there been a remarkable influx into Kent and Sussex but the first for Dorset also made it to Paul Harris' fantastic migrant-interception garden at Weymouth. Our capture this morning suddenly doesn't seem such as surprise but rest assured it was still a really exciting little event for us!


The last week has been really good for moth immigration with a nice array of other highlights from around the island. The best were our third Beautiful Marbled...


...and fourth and fifth Dark Crimson Underwings:



Our best ever arrival of Scarce Oak Knot-horns Acrobasis tumidana has also been of note:


Among the other noteworthy captures have been three Channel Islands Pugs; although established in places along the South Coast we suspect ours both this year and in the past are still primary immigrants rather than colonists of our tamarisk trees:


Lots of nice moth-trapping weather has also resulted in captures of plenty of local specials that are always good to see; Marjoram Crest Acompsia schmidtiellus is a very rare resident in Dorset that crops up from time to time in our Grove traps...


...whilst in Dorset the Wormwood is rarely seen away from Portland and is a relatively frequent visitor to moth-traps around the top of the island. All moth photos © Martin Cade:

30th July

In huge contrast to what we'd got used to in recent weeks some really wild weather blew in overnight and, quite apart from sounding an at least temporary death knell for moth immigration, caused a right stir-up on the wader front; Ferrybridge scored heavily in the squally showers after dawn when minima of 100 Dunlin, 81 Sanderlings, 74 Turnstones, 60 Oystercatchers, 50 Ringed Plovers, 20 Black-tailed Godwits, 8 Whimbrel, 6 Redshank, 5 Knot and singles of Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper and Wood Sandpiper were logged. The sea was well watched but rather unrewarding, with little more than 46 Manx Shearwaters, 8 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Arctic Skuas and singles of Curlew, Whimbrel and Great Skua through off the Bill, whilst 2 Yellow-legged Gulls at the Bill were the best from a very blown-out land.

Two Vestals at Weston were by far the best of some very limited overnight catches in the moth-traps.

Although hardly a surprise arrival given the numbers recorded elsewhere in Britain in recent days, this morning's Wood Sandpiper was nonetheless a very welcome Portland record (...it was only the second in the last four years). In fact, so subliminal are most of our records that we're not even sure that we've ever before been able to provide tangible evidence for any of them on the blog © Pete Saunders (settled) and Debby Saunders (flying):



Knots and Whimbrel were just a few of the wealth of other waders dropping in at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders: