18th June


A reminder that there's an InFocus field day at the Obs between 10am and 4pm this Sunday, 20th June.

With Portland right on the cusp of an almost stationary weather front with rain to east and brightness to the west, today could have gone either way but in the event the rain just won out and persisted until late afternoon. A very frustrating event for the observer concerned saw what was very likely a pratincole pass rapidly up the Slopes at the Bill without giving any sort of clinching view before it disappeared from sight. With routine activities heavily curtailed by the rain the day's only other reports were of a Cuckoo at the Obs and a few Manx Shearwaters and Common Terns milling around offshore.

Maybe unexpectedly, Portland does already have a track record for pratincoles, with two birds that couldn't been be specifically clinched in Top Fields on 9th October 1971 and a Collared Pratincole high over the Bill on 31st May 1992. This woefully inadequate image of the latter (this is only a quick phone snap of the transparency - despite being a tiny image of the bird, you'll have to take our word that when projected it's possible to see perfectly well that it's a Collared Pratincole!) is a tangible reminder of one of those unforgettable Portland moments: in this case Geoff Moyser burtsting into the Obs after a lung-bursting run and blurting out there there was something that was either a pratincole, an Alpine Swift or a Hobby hawking insects high over the Privet Hedge! 'Scope views duly confirmed it was a Collared Pratincole and, since it was in view for only a few minutes before towering away and being lost to view, it's remained a high value sighting as there's been no subsequent record of a pratincole of any sort in Dorset  © Martin Cade:


Turning to moths, in the pretty stakes this fantastically richly-coloured Beautiful Marbled from the Grove moth-trap has been the hands-down winner in recent nights...


...however, we were much more excited to catch this Sloe Pug at the Obs last night as this is a new species for Portland. We've always been on the look out for this slightly tricky to identify moth having imagined it really ought to be here what with the amount of its food plant - Blackthorn - on the island; whether it really is here but has always escaped attention or this individual is just a stray from the mainland where it's thinly distributed right across Dorset remains to be clarified © Martin Cade:

17th June

Just when the land seemed like it was giving up the ghost, the sea stepped in to provide some entertainment today. This year has been poor for Manx Shearwaters, with a maximum count of 500 on both the 18th April and 3rd May being a well below average peak for the spring; today saw over 1000, first on the move eastward but later many swilling and shearing among the summer gull flock. This spectacle was accompanied by two Pomarine Skuas during the morning and another in the evening.

The two morning Poms were full adults heading west - failed breeders? - but this one that passed by during the evening was a scratchy-looking sub-adult of some sort © Martin Cade:

The Shag families in the seabird colony at the Bill are coming along nicely with parents regularly bringing in food to their pterodactyl-like chicks © Erin Taylor

16th June

You know it's June on Portland when you can wear shorts from dawn and the best bird of the day is a Reed Warbler at Bumpers Lane. Not that we have anything to complain about: this June has had its moments of excitement even if, unfortunately, today didn't have its share of them. The rest of the list consisted of two fly-over Siskins at Wakeham, a single Balearic and three Manx Shearwaters through off the Bill and the first juvenile Blackcap of the summer in the Obs garden.

It's hard to be too despondent with evening skies as tranquil as yesterday's © Erin Taylor:


And to pop back to the weekend: we had promised more of Sunday's Common Rosefinch and finally today got round to cobbling together a little video © Martin Cade:

15th June

The day dawned with a stiff northeasterly breeze and cloud that steadily ameliorated away to another gloriously warm day.  Once again it was down to the nets to provide the potential quality of the day as the afternoon session produced a single bird - a very bright, pale-legged Chiffchaff. Of course, we've been caught out before so caution is prudent but it looked to be a worthwhile candidate for an Iberian Chiffchaff. Unfortunately the bird was a female so singing was out of the question and no amount of recording equipment could induce the bird to call upon release. Aside from this glimmer of excitement, a Bonxie passed at sea and a single Blackcap was in the Obs garden. 

The afternoon Chiffchaff was a bright bird with a lot of yellow in the supercilium, a reduced under-eye crescent and a nice clean white belly...



...although even more interesting since this is supposed to be a good feature of first-summer Iberian Chiffchaffs was the evidence of moult in the flight feathers: this was a wee bit subtle since it's already mid-June so the whole tract of feathers was worn, but in comparison to the heavily worn inner primaries the outer primaries were noticeably darker and less worn; the outermost secondary was also conspicuously fresh and dark and so had the look of a more recently moulted feather than those around it © Martin Cade:




14th June

Important announcement for PBO members: in the light of this evening's Government announcement concerning a delay in the easing of lockdown restrictions we will be unable to hold this year's AGM on Saturday 3rd July as a physical meeting, instead the meeting will be held in virtual form via the Zoom video conferencing app. An agenda and details of how to join the meeting are available HERE.


You couldn't have asked for a nicer day: the sun was shining and the breeze provided just enough chill to stop the heat becoming unbearable. Obviously it would be too much to ask for there to be a slew of good birds two days on the trot so we made do with the little trickle of migrants we could find. Those included a Spotted Flycatcher each at Culverwell and Old Hill, as well as a Chiffchaff at the former and two singing Blackcaps around the Obs area. The rest of the day was spent admiring the local breeders with an excellent show of Kittiwakes in the West Cliff sea bird colony - the onomatopoeic calls sounded all the more magical given their absence over the past few years. 

The moth-traps can often be relied on to provide some interest when we're struggling for birds at this time of year, with quite a few local specials now on the wing including Portland Ribbon Wave and Thyme Pug © Debby Saunders:



The Little Tern colony at Ferrybridge is also a hive of action right now, with the shoreline there often also attracting a selection of gulls and waders displaced from the mudflats by the inevitable human activity in this warm weather...



...amongst the terns, three 'outsiders' are currently in residence - two from Irish colonies and this one 'PPF' that was ringed in the Gronnant colony in north Wales © John Dadds (photos taken under NE licence):

13th June

Wow, what a difference a waft of easterly makes. Outwardly, there was little change in the weather with a beautiful blue sky and warm sunshine from the outset, but those with a feel for possibilities had noted the evident shift in what little breeze there was and it didn't take too long before the hearing of an unfamiliar call led to the discovery of a Common Rosefinch in the Obs garden; it duly begun to sing pretty heartily before suddenly upping and heading away north. The next discovery came solely from perseverance with the Obs garden mist-nets: after a morning and most of an afternoon with literally not a single capture what should pop up completely of the blue towards teatime but a Red-breasted Flycatcher. It proved to be an in-hand only bird that couldn't be found after release but searching for it uncovered the day's most frustrating arrival, a Hippolais warbler lurking high in tree tops of the Obs front garden; whilst clearly a Melodious or Icterine the views were almost all extremely brief and from directly underneath and, although Melodious was strongly suspected, it defied conclusive identification. Further unseasonable arrivals at the Bill included singles of Yellow Wagtail, Mistle Thrush and Siskin, whilst a Little Egret also arrived from the south.

Once it got going the Common Rosefinch was in good voice (although to hear the recording you'll have to wait until tomorrow when we're less weary from gawping into treetops for several hours trying to clinch a Melodious Warbler!) © Martin Cade:


In keeping with all previous June Red-breasted Flycatchers at the Obs, today's bird was in really ragged first-summer plumage, with tiny pale tips just about visible in the greater coverts and two generations of tail feathers © Martin Cade:




A couple of glimpses of the Hippolais; we'll scrutinize again our other photos that appear to mostly show just random unhelpful bits of it in case there is something that could be relied on for an ID © Martin Cade:



There's been a really heartening development in the seabird colony at the Bill with the first evidence of Kittiwake breeding activity for several years. We'd mentioned a while ago just how many birds have been lingering offshore but some are now settling on the ledges and it looks like nests are being built on the invisible section of cliffs under the QinetiQ compound © Pete Saunders:


A fascinating piece of evidence for where these new arrivals might have originated from comes from a colour-ring sighting yesterday: this individual was ringed as a nestling on 30th July 2019 in a colony at Point du Raz, Brittany, France © John Hansford:


Pointe du Raz looks to be a picturesque location © Wikipedia Commons:

12th June

A gorgeously warm and sunny day but slow on the bird front: the Woodchat that remained at Wallsend was the only sighting of note on the land; 200 Manx Shearwaters, 18 Common Scoter and a Mediterranean Gull passed by on the sea.

Busiest night of the year in the moth-traps saw precious little evidence of immigration save for a surprise Silver Barred.

Quite where Portland's - and Dorset's - second Silver Barred popped up from remains anyone's guess: last year's first record occurred during a well-defined episode of immigration and dispersal but precious little of that nature looks to be underway at the moment © Martin Cade:



11th June

We awoke to the sound of the foghorn for the second morning in a row, and with little respite in the thick cloud it seemed unlikely that anything had been able to either arrive or leave. As such, the Woodchat Shrike was still present at Wallsend and the Wheatears continued their territorial displays with little else to add to the variety of the day. 

Early Gentians are considered an endemic to the UK, with a distribution centered on the southern counties, with Dorset being a key area. However, its distribution is called into question by those who bracket it as a subspecies of the commoner Autumn Gentian that flowers in almost identical habitats but with a flowering period from July-October as opposed to these specimens from April-July. The differences in physical appearance are somewhat subtle with the books telling us that, "the apical pedicel is greater than half the total height to pedicel apex" - us mortals will just have to take their word on it © Erin Taylor:


The Woodchat Shrike continued to delight on its fifth day in residence © Mark Eggleton (top) and Mike Trew (bottom): 


10th June

With thick fog enveloping the island all day there were literally just two entries on the bird list: the Woodchat Shrike was still at Wallsend and there was a Blackcap at Culverwell.

After what was the poorest spring for moth-trapping in the modern era it's been a pleasure to at last find the traps relatively busy now that the nights have warmed up. Immigration has never got going in a big way but odd morsels of quality by way of long distance travellers just lately have included singles of Striped Hawkmoth and Bordered Straw on consecutive nights at the Grove... 



...the Striped Hawk was released at the Obs where it lingered around a valerian patch for quite a while after nightfall © Martin Cade

9th June

Today proved that effort doesn't always pay off, when nine hours of netting at the Obs resulted in the capture of exactly zero birds. In the field, the Woodchat Shrike returned to its favoured bramble patches in the horse paddock below Wallsend and a Rosy Starling flew through at Blacknor. A lone Turnstone was the best the Bill could muster in terms of new migrants, with the sea there coming up with a Balearic Shearwater and low double figures of Manx Shearwaters and Common Scoter

The lingering Woodchat Shrike continued to show well at Wallsend © Pete Saunders



8th June

A calm, clear and dewy morning brought little in the way of new migrants save for 2 Reed Warblers and singles of Grey Heron and Golden Plover at the Bill. Yesterday's Woodchat Shrike remained in the horse paddocks along West Cliffs, whilst Rosy Starlings were represented by the Avalanche Road bird and another individual at Watery Lane. A lone Balearic Shearwater was the pick of some very limited movement off the Bill.

The Watery Lane Rosy Starling spent a lot of time out of sight in the deep grass of its favoured horse paddocks but it showed nicely when it did come into view © Martin Cade (settled) and Pete Saunders (flying):





The Woodchat Shrike was also showing nicely © Martin Cade:

7th June

There were a few decent birds on offer today, the most notable of which was a new Woodchat Shrike that dropped in on the Slopes before becoming quite mobile and eventually ending up in Top Fields. A Rosy Starling continued to entertain from time to time at Avalanche Road whilst a presumably departing Cuckoo also showed up at the Bill; other new arrivals included 2 Reed Warblers, a Little Egret and a Chiffchaff at the Bill and a Whinchat at Reap Lane. The sea chipped in with 56 Common Scoter and singles of Great and Arctic Skua through off the Bill.

Two in one season represents a continuation of a return to form for Woodchat after a lean spell in the last decade: singles in both the last two years had been the first logged on the island since 2012; the all-time Portland tally now stands at 66 © Martin Cade:




One of the Rosy Starlings continued to visit a feeder in a garden beside Avalanche Road at regular intervals throughout the day © Andy Luckhurst:



After yesterday's Sand Martin it looks like autumn really is getting going with this Cuckoo - another classic early leaver - showing up at the Bill today © Martin Cade:


It was a shame that the resolving powers of our kiddie camera weren't a bit better for the freak of the day: this striking-looking leucistic Gannet passing by off the Bill looked great through a 'scope but was just too far away to permit any decent photos - the higher magnification views revealed a ghosting of pale grey on the primaries that's just about apparent on these photos. We have a faint recollection of a similar-looking bird being seen off the Bill way back in the mid-1970s but to our knowledge there have been no reports from here since that time. Which colony does this bird hail from? © Martin Cade:

6th June

Another day saved by a Rosy Starling, with at least one of the recent birds still about - although never easy to catch up with - at Southwell. Persistent fog hampered migrant-hunting but 3 Reed Warblers were new arrivals around the south of the island where a Sand Martin could plausibly even be the first departing summer migrant.

This character went to extreme lengths to avoid the £10 charge to make use of the pretty grim sanitary conditions we've heard prevail in at least one of the pop-up campsites at the Bill - and even then he doesn't look best pleased with his decision. Seriously though, this sort of activity is just the latest example of the utter disregard for the natural world shown by so many visitors to Portland - we're guessing this guy thinks he's in some way connecting with nature but, as is so often the case, it's on his terms so he's turned a blind eye to the fact that he's right on the edge of a restricted section of cliff - the restriction is well-publicised in local climbing guides - and ignored the evidence of his own eyes that he's patently disturbing a seabird breeding colony © Pete Saunders:


5th June

A radiant day, almost entirely undarkened by any clouds throughout was unencumbered by birds until the evening when two Rosy Starlings pitched up in the hedges behind Southwell. The rest of the day was a struggle bird-wise with with a new Chiffchaff at the Obs and a Blackcap at Culverwell the only additions from the land. The sea was a little busier, including singles of Great Northern Diver, Balearic Shearwater and Arctic Skua through off the Bill.

The Rosy Starling influx continues... © Nick Stantiford:



With the resident auks being one of the best things to watch at the moment, a quick round of 'spot the bridled Guillemots' was in order © Pete Saunders: