27th September

The impeding passing of Storm Agnes brought with it an ever-freshening southerly but, for long periods at least, far less cloud than might have been expected and overhead passage was the day's main feature. Swallows were streaming through both at Ferrybridge and the Bill, with a sample count at the latter of 2750 in 90 minutes giving a good indication of the volume of movement at its peak; Meadow Pipits were also on the move in quantity but they looked to be taking a subtly different track that didn't lend itself to straightforward counting, whilst the morning's other prominent mover was Great Black-backed Gull, with 288 south at the Bill. After a largely clear, moonlit night grounded migrants weren't a feature, with no more than odds and ends of expected fare everywhere. The island's waters weren't graced with even a fraction of the seabirds logged further west: the tally at the Bill of 22 Balearic Shearwaters, 3 Arctic Skuas and a Grey Phalarope was, with the exception of the latter, barely worth a mention.

26th September

Both pre- and post-dawn rain failed to make any noticeable difference to our fortunes and it remained quiet on all fronts. A handful more grounded arrivals saw 35 Wheatears make up the loin's share, the first three-figure tally of Linnets and a lone Merlin were the pick of overhead passage and 28 Balearic Shearwaters and singles of Sooty Shearwater and Arctic Skua passed by on the sea. 

25th September

 A very underwhelming day, with passage on all fronts at a low ebb. The sea provided the day's two highlights with a Long-tailed Skua through at Chesil Cove and a Cory's Shearwater through off the Bill, but routine movement there was hardly up to scratch with just 229 Great Black-backed Gulls (with another 107 settled ashore), 30 Balearic Shearwaters and a Little Gull of additional note off the Bill. On a bright and breeze morning visible passage was unaccountably poor, with Meadow Pipits reduced to the low hundreds and the likes of Siskins to a few dozen. The land was well scrutinized but was also disappointing: Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs weren't at all numerous and there were no noteworthy finds amongst the ones and twos of other migrants uncovered.

24th September

Today might have marked the beginning of the downhill slide into winter but you'd have been forgiven for overlooking that unpleasant detail as dawn broke considerable milder - albeit also considerably windier - than the last few. The immediately recapture of yesterday's Red-eyed Vireo was not altogether unexpected, although less welcome for those tardy observers wishing to catch up with it was its subsequent disappearance into the ether. It was the strength of the southerly wind that was to prove the provider of a lot of day's other interest, with a steady seawatch developing that included 90 Balearic Shearwaters, 12 Sooty Shearwaters, 5 Manx Shearwaters, 5 Arctic Skuas and singles of Cory's Shearwater and Great Skua through off the Bill. A roaming Cattle Egret that was noticed over both Easton and Southwell was an unexpected oddity, whilst a Grey Phalarope that dropped in briefly at Ferrybridge was an on-cue first for the autumn. Neither grounded nor overflying migrants were much of a feature, with a Firecrest at Pennsylvania Castle and 2 Curlew Sandpipers at Ferrybridge easily the best of the day's more routine new arrivals.

Equinoctial gales might be a bit of a meteorological myth but windy spells at this time of year do usually produce the first wrecked Grey Phalaropes of the season; they're nearly always youngsters like today's bird at Ferrybridge that are presumably more susceptible to being affected but also on the move later than adults (...is that actually right? - it's just that a lot of the photos we see of them elsewhere in August/early September seem to involve adults):

In comparison with some other places Curlew Sandpipers seem to be a little under-represented amongst the Ferrybridge waders so far this month:

You can bet your bottom dollar it won't be a Cory's that's the closest shearwater of the day at the Bill photos © Paul Matson:

23rd September

Portland's day always comes around and today's excitement came in the form of the island's third Red-eyed Vireo that was trapped at Culverwell - seemingly so far the furthest east that something from the current displacement of North American passerines has reached. In far too fair conditions routine migrants weren't at all numerous on the ground, with only a thin spread of Wheatears, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs everywhere and little of particular note beyond singles of Knot and Firecrest at the Bill. Far more was on the move overhead, although even there totals of the likes of c1000 Meadow Pipits, 66 Siskins and 26 Chaffinches were far from big league as we near the last week of September. Another good movement of Balearic Shearwaters saw 201 pass the Bill where the first Great Northern Diver of the season was also logged.

Some detail on the vireo © Martin Cade...

...and we had no idea there were so many birdwatchers about today © Jodie Henderson:

22nd September

Lots of passage afoot today as migrants made the most of clear skies and a northwesterly breeze to head off towards winter quarters. Overhead passage dominated, with 2500 Meadow Pipits, 500 Swallows (hirundines were actually oddly under-represented, with far fewer logged than would be expected at this juncture), 100 Siskins and lower totals of a good range of tag-alongs leaving to the south. It was quieter on the ground but with a bit of perseverance a decently varied tally of expected fare was accumulated that included well into three-figure totals of Blackcap and Chiffchaff along with the likes of 7 Bar-tailed Godwits, 4 Spotted Flycatchers, 3 Knot, 2 Redstarts and singles of Golden Plover, Little Stint, White Wagtail, Whinchat, Garden Warbler and Pied Flycatcher (along with a likely Grey Phalarope reported by non-birders from Chesil). Another resurgence in Balearic Shearwaters saw 142 pass the Bill, where 293 auks was easily their highest total of the autumn to date and a single Red-throated Diver was a first for the season.

21st September

Gallows humour aplenty today as the best efforts of a few stalwarts uncovered not a sniff of an American passerine despite a veritable torrent of their congeners in other parts - our day's been before and it'll come again. What did unfold for those out on the hunt was a decent enough day with most routine mid-September migrants represented overhead and on the ground. Passing Meadow Pipits got well into four figures at the Bill, where 141 Siskins, singles of Hobby and Merlin, and the first Reed Bunting of the season were of note amongst the wide variety of other overhead movers. Blackcaps dominated on the ground, where the lingering Barred Warbler again showed occasionally in the Obs Quarry but there was little else beyond the routine; the middle and north of the island was busier, with singles of Turtle Dove and Pied Flycatcher of note at Coombefield. In benign conditions and after yesterday's excesses the sea was always going to disappoint so a passing Sabine's Gull off the Bill - along with just 18 Balearic Shearwaters - was a surprise.

Wheatear and Whitethroat amongst the day's migrants at the Bill © Joe Stockwell:

20th September

A day that was one of a peculiar mix of joy and deep frustration. There was elation for the listers, some of whom scored two county ticks from the morning's short, sharp seawatch, but there was also no shortage of pondering on what might have been: the island's waters were clearly right on the cusp of a much more significant seabird event, whilst the torrents of rain that fell from mid-morning until after dark almost entirely scuppered chances for getting out on the hunt for the American passerine that could so easily have been out there. The morning's sea happenings were verging on a 'blink and you missed it' event, with 220 Balearic Shearwaters, 6 Cory's Shearwaters, 3 Arctic Skuas, 2 each of Great Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater and Great Skua, and singles of Storm Petrel and Sabine's Gull through in remarkably quick time from dawn before movement all but stopped dead; another 3 Balearic Shearwaters also passed through at Chesil Cove. Scant coverage of the land revealed little more amongst a few Blackcaps and phylloscs than 4 Goldcrests, a Pied Flycatcher and a Siskin at Pennsylvania Castle and another Goldcrest at Tillycombe.

The first...

...and second Great Shearwaters of the morning...

...and one of the two Sooty Shearwaters © Joe Stockwell:

19th September

The stir-up in the weather associated with the remains of Hurricane Lee manifested itself in pretty unpleasant conditions throughout, with seawatching occupying the majority of the day. Three Cory's Shearwaters through off the Bill and another through at Chesil Cove were the chief rewards, with at least one Long-tailed Skua (and another couple of likely candidates) a further bonus off the Bill. Routine passage wasn't rip-roaring, with c270 Kittiwakes, 74 Balearic Shearwaters, 14 Arctic Skuas, 12 Manx Shearwaters, 7 Sandwich Terns and a Great Skua through off the Bill. The only other reports were from Ferrybridge where 5 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Little Stint, a Knot and a Greenshank were amongst the waders and a Merlin passed through.

The day's Arctic Skuas afforded a range of viewing opportunities...

...but the Great Skua and the majority of the Balearic Shearwaters weren't really so obliging...

...whilst the Cory's Shearwaters were, as usual, rather camera-shy to say the least:

We'd like to furnish viewers with some nice video of a Bill Cory's but since we can't we'll have to fall back on this random (or maybe not so random?) selection of Pendeen Cory's that obliged during the course of our family summer holiday in Cornwall back in August - the weather was terrible for a summer holiday but great for a couple of nice seawatches. Out of interest, the closest of these birds are at c800 metres range, whilst the more distant ones must be at a fair bit over a kilometre away:

And finally a little bit of amusing ineptness on our part. Just last week we maligned having so little time for any birding after teatime and by the time we managed to get to Ferrybridge this evening it was already semi-dark as well as drizzling heavily. During a scan through the waders we came upon a ghostly-pale Tringa standing motionless in the furthest corner of the sandflats; it immediately looked arrestingly interesting and, unaccountably (...although in our defense we're pretty sure we've never seen a settled Greenshank there on an evening visit), we decided without a thought or critical appraisal it'd be a yellowlegs species that'd just dropped in totally knackered after a non-stop flight from Canada. The rapidly failing light dictated a run back to the car for a camera and then a run along the edge of the beach to get a closer view. Was it worth all this and a good soaking for a perfectly typical Greenshank - no, probably not! © Martin Cade:

18th September

With a few days of wilder weather in prospect interest in the land dwindled and most attention was given to the sea, with 78 Balearic Shearwaters, 17 Arctic Skuas, 2 Manx Shearwaters, 2 Sooty Shearwaters and singles of Great Skua and Long-tailed Skua the chief rewards from the Bill. The Barred Warbler maintained an occasional presence in the Obs Quarry, with double figure totals of Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear and Chiffchaff providing the bulk of the grounded migrant tally at the Bill. Elsewhere, a Merlin was at Ferrybridge where the wader selection included 5 Bar-tailed Godwits, 2 Sanderling and singles of Knot and Little Stint.

17th September

Variety with the weather and variety on the bird front today. The weather was all over the place, with electric storms, torrential rain, bright sunshine and steaming humidity all featuring at times and all in their own way messing up birding opportunities. A Cory's Shearwater off the Bill was the day's birding highlight, with that coming out of seawatching sessions that otherwise didn't produce much more than 31 Balearic Shearwaters. The land was only a little more productive with an elusive Barred Warbler at the Obs Quarry - likely to be a reappearance of the bird trapped last week although the views were never prolonged enough to establish that fact for sure - the pick of a thin but varied selection of more expected fare on the ground; overhead, singles of Lapwing and Ruff were oddities at the Bill, with the latter also pitching up at Ferrybridge where a Little Stint was also a brief visitor.

After flying overhead at the Bill, the Ruff later appeared looking rather incongruous on the sandflats at Ferrybridge © Martin Cade:

16th September

Not a great deal to shout about again today: for the duration, Portland remained right on the edge of a band of rain to the west - a scenario that on another occasion might have delivered but today provided little to excite. Overhead passage did pick up again, with a steady flow of Meadow Pipits and hirundines - many well out over the sea - heading east into the breeze; singles of Osprey and Kestrel also left to the south, the customary array of other mid-autumn pipits, wagtails and the like were represented in small numbers and 16 Black-headed Gulls were of note after their almost absence just lately. It was uneventful on the ground, with no surprises amongst the thin scatter of passerines on the land and just 5 each of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit with the otherwise routine waders at Ferrybridge. A resurgence in Balearic Shearwaters off the Bill - 207 before the movement abruptly halted - saw the sea given a fair bit of attention, with 4 Arctic Skuas and singles of Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Mallard and Teal noteworthy additions to the tally.

Carrying on from yesterday's musing on Whitethroats, today we trapped another nice adult that further illustrated their pale - in this case verging on orange - iris:

Adults are quite odd in as much they very often arrest/suspend moult in the secondaries (and occasional in other feather tracts as well) during their otherwise complete post-breeding moult; today's bird - a male by the look of it - has left the penultimate inner secondary unmoulted:

Here's another adult - likely a female - that's moulted all of its flight feathers but looks to have left some of the lesser coverts unmoulted. Incidentally, compare the tertials of these birds with those of the Kenyan bird - a rubicola? - we posted yesterday; as far as we know there aren't any accepted records of 'eastern' Whitethroats for Britain but any of the forms could surely occur and a vagrant with tertials anything like this ought to stand out like a sore thumb:

We're not great fans of giving too much weigh to feather shape as an ageing criteria - give us an unambiguous plumage difference any time! Feather shape is often a useful back-up feature but it seems to be one of those things that the more you look the more you find exceptions to what ought to be the rule - today's Whitethroat featured above had just the right colour pattern to its tail feathers but the outer ones at least were oddly pointed...

...and quite unlike the broad, round-ended shape expected in a text-book adult like this one from earlier in the week:

And for comparison here are a couple of tails of youngsters from this week © Martin Cade:

15th September

Any promise engendered by a few decent enough days evaporated today - perhaps unexpectedly given the waft of easterly breeze - as passage at the Bill dwindled right away on all fronts. The likes of singles of Redstart, Whinchat, Reed Warbler and Goldcrest amongst a thin spread of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were well short of what might have excited on the ground and for long periods the sky was all but bereft of movement, with an eventual 100 each of Swallow and Meadow Pipit an order of magnitude shy of what ought to be making the log in mid-September. Five Balearic Shearwaters and 2 Arctic Skuas passed by on the sea.

Our photos of yesterday's Barred Warbler that showed the fantastic difference in iris colour between adults and youngsters reminded us that we'd been tinkering around during the last couple of weeks with a few ageing photos for Common Whitethroat. Given good light, the iris colour of their two age classes is surprisingly different - although of course there are differences and differences and things are a bit more subtle in Whitethroat than in Barred Warbler! Here are a couple of youngsters...

...that have a much darker iris than adults - the first of these adults is a likely female from Portland this week and the second is an adult male (quite likely of the race icterops) from Kenya last November:

Even in the field the paler iris of an adult should be reasonably obvious - this is another from Kenya (maybe of the race rubicola?) last November © Martin Cade:

14th September

Whilst not quite in the blink and you miss it league today was one of those days when you needed to out and about during the first couple of hours after dawn or all you got for your trouble was sunburn. The mainly clear sky didn't promise to have delivered much on the ground and what was about filtered away pretty sharpish; fortunately, the odds and ends that did drop included a nice highlight in the form of a Barred Warbler trapped in the Crown Estate Field. Its back-up cast wasn't of particular quality but did include enough Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs that the trees and scrub were full of activity for a while. Far greater numbers rushed through overhead, with 1300 Meadow Pipits, 650 Swallows, 130 Siskins, 91 House Martins, 44 Yellow Wagtails, 16 Tree Pipits, 16 Chaffinches and 10 Grey Wagtails through in very quick time over the Bill; amongst their travelling companions were an Osprey and the first signs this autumn of both Skylarks and Dunnocks beginning to get going. The sea didn't get going at all, with just 14 Balearic Shearwaters and 3 Arctic Skuas the best off the Bill.

The closer you look the more you find going on with a Barred Warbler's plumage - a subtly smart bird...

...although if you think today's youngster looked good then check out what an adult looks like in autumn - this is one from Kenya last November © Martin Cade:

13th September

A huge improvement today saw migration at last regain some momentum with a good little drop of particularly Chiffchaffs on the ground and a strong overhead passage that included the first four-figure total of Meadow Pipits; a Wryneck at the Bill also provided some long-overdue scarcity interest. An arrival on the ground was obvious as dawn broke but it proved to be a slow-burner, with the peak in numbers of Chiffchaffs - including about 100 at the Bill - not coming until much later in the morning; 40 Wheatears, 30 each of Yellow Wagtail, Blackcap and Willow Warbler, 20 Whitethroats and single figure totals of Whinchat, Grasshopper Warbler, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher provided the variety there, with a Lesser Whitethroat and a Pied Flycatcher at Coombefield/Thumb Lane and 15 Knot, 2 Golden Plovers and 2 Curlew Sandpipers at Ferrybridge of interest elsewhere. Overhead passage wasn't really sustained, but 1000 Meadow Pipits, 600 Swallows, 62 House Martins, 54 Siskins and a few other odds and ends passed through in quick time at the Bill. In a slack northeasterly the sea was uneventful, with 17 Balearic Shearwaters and a Teal the best off the Bill.

Quite how Portland hadn't been graced with a Wryneck so far this autumn was beyond us but that did to lead to this bird being much appreciated © Gavin Haig Not Quite Scilly (top) and John Martin (bottom)

12th September

As inevitable as a Harry Maguire own goal, today's non-appearance of the customary September dawn overhead passage was shrugged off and the soon to be revealed dearth of grounded migrants made light of - if migration's for some reason vectored away from Portland there's no point in fretting about it. The 385 Meadow Pipits, 150 Swallows, 38 Siskins, 29 Yellow Wagtails and 23 Grey Wagtails logged making up the bulk of visible passage at the Bill were evidence that overhead happenings eventually got slightly beyond their pedestrian pace at dawn, but the only improvement on the ground was the discovery of a mini hot-spot at Coombefield/Thumb Lane were the first 2 Goldcrests of the autumn accompanied a Pied Flycatcher and double-figure totals of Blackcap and Chiffchaff; the best that could be mustered from the Bill were 2 Short-eared Owls at dusk. On the wader front, the recent good showing of Knot continued with 12 at Ferrybridge, where there were also 4 Bar-tailed Godwits and a Sanderling. Sea passage was reduced to just 33 Common Scoter, 5 Arctic Skuas and 4 Balearic Shearwaters through off the Bill.

11th September

Whatever it is that we've been doing wrong just lately we clearly didn't correct it today, with the migrant tally its poorest so far this month. There really wasn't anything noteworthy on the ground or overhead, with few if any of the routine species even managing a double-figure total. A tiny bit more of interest offshore included 26 Balearic Shearwaters and an Arctic Skua, with a further skua that looked likely on a subliminal view to have been a Long-tailed escaping being clinched as the observers had been lulled by the soporific proceedings into inattentiveness.

It's a shame the birding hasn't been as rewarding as the mothing. The varied and numerous selections of migrant moths making their way into the traps each night have provided compelling interest, with last night's highlight another Echium Leaf-miner - this one was from the Obs garden © Martin Cade:

10th September

With a drizzly start to the morning, expectations had been raised for a decent fall of migrants, although such hopes were soon dashed after the first couple of empty net rounds - the day's eventual grounded migrant tally was in fact considerably poorer in both number and quality than most during the last week! As it was, most of the day's bird activity occurred overhead with 39 Yellow Wagtails, 15 Tree Pipits, 10 Siskin, 4 Grey Wagtails and singles of Cattle Egret and Osprey passing through the Bill in the morning alongside a pulse of over 150 Swallows and 50 House Martins. At sea, 49 Balearic Shearwater and just 1 Arctic Skua were recorded. 

The threat of a deluge or good storm loomed throughout the morning without ever actually materialising © Jodie Henderson

Due to the diligence of visitors to the island two nice micro-moths have come our way over the last couple of days, Last night, John Chainey, Jenny Spence and friends trapped an Echium Leaf-miner Dialectica scalariella at Freshwater Bay - a new species for both Portland and Dorset. Formerly a great rarity with just single records in Kent and Scilly, scalariella was found breeding at Dungeness last autumn; in the light of this latter discovery we'd already made half-hearted and - most likely because we're fairly inept at this sort of thing - unsuccessful searches for the leaf mines on Viper's Bugloss at various spots around the island but it wouldn't surprise us at all if last night's specimen wasn't a one-off vagrant but part of an already established breeding population:

Feathered Stem-moth Ochsenheimeria taurella is a day-flying species with rather peculiar habits - apparently it usually only flies for a short while around midday - whose presence on the island was well-known to the Victorians: Nelson Richardson - who was pretty good at not missing much - described it as 'sometimes common in fields on top of the cliff', but thereafter it escaped attention for more than a century until one landed on David Slade while he was birding near Southwell on 10th September 2006. With no further records in the intervening time we cut to this week when Graham and Zoe Geen have discovered several specimens floating in the swimming pool of their holiday accommodation at the Higher Lighthouse; whether swimming pools - or perhaps more practically trays of water placed in its grassland habitat - offer a way of recording the presence of this obscure and no doubt very under-recorded species remains to be seen! © Martin Cade:

9th September

The extreme heat adjectives were getting another good airing today as the shade temperature at the Obs soared to 24C (...and it got beyond 30C in the Obs lounge) and provided considerable disincentive for any prolonged fieldwork. Overhead passage continued, with 300 Swallows, 175 Meadow Pipits, 95 Yellow Wagtails, 32 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 32 Siskins, 12 Grey Wagtails, 10 Tree Pipits, a Marsh Harrier and a Green Sandpiper amongst the movers over the Bill, where there were small arrivals of particularly Sedge Warblers and Blackcaps on the ground. Wader-wise, the first 4 Curlew Sandpipers of the autumn - along with a Common Sandpiper - were the pick of the new arrivals at Ferrybridge. The sea continued to produce, with 70 Balearic Shearwaters and 11 Arctic Skuas of note off the Bill.

This is always a bit of a depressing time of year from the point of view of losing so much birding time: just as autumn passage is getting to its peak so our chances of a post-teatime seawatch or check of Ferrybridge are fading fast as the evenings draw in - this evening we'd barely arrived at Ferrybridge before the sun sunk behind Chesil and scuppered our chances of a nicely lit Curlew Sandpiper © Martin Cade:

We get perverse pleasure from hiding the odd Tree Pipit amongst a catch of Meadow Pipits and seeing how many visiting ringers actually spot it  - seen like this the differences are gross (Tree Pipit on the left, Meadow Pipit on the right) but you'd be surprised...© Martin Cade:

8th September

Calm, often very hazy and frequently brutally hot - balmy or barmy depending on your outlook on these things. Weirdly, the sea had almost as much going for it today as the land, with 141 Balearic Shearwaters, 9 Arctic Skuas. 3 Teal and a Great Skua amongst others through over the glassy waters off the Bill. A lot of the land's numbers were overhead, with 360 Swallows, 140 Yellow Wagtails, 140 Siskins, 82 Tree Pipits, 61 Meadow Pipits, 37 Lesser Black-backed Gulls and singles of Merlin, Hobby and Golden Plover amongst the miscellany on the move over the Bill. There was a fair bit of variety on the ground but numbers remained woefully short of optimistic expectations, with 4 Whinchats, a Reed Warbler and a Pied Flycatcher the only faintly interesting less common migrants at the Bill.

One of the 2 lingering Bar-tailed Godwits were amongst the almost unchanged wader selection at Ferrybridge today © Pete Saunders:

7th September

There was a time - getting on for 40 years ago now - when a whole bunch of Ortolan Buntings (along with the odd Aquatic Warbler and plenty more besides) would have been expected on an early September wafting easterly, but these days beggars can't be choosers and today's single discovered soon after dawn in the Crown Estate Field seemed like a bigger deal than the high number of island records would suggest it ought to be. With much heavier hazy cloud cover in the sky a small increase in grounded migrants was detected, although the 5 White Wagtails, 4 Spotted Flycatchers, 3 Whinchats, 2 Redstarts and 2 Reed Warblers amongst the slightly more numerous routine fare at the Bill were hardly a rich return; elsewhere, a Firecrest was of note at Reap Lane. It was busier overhead, with 2000 Swallows through in quick time at Ferrybridge and plenty more elsewhere; at the Bill the 100 Meadow Pipits, 85 Yellow Wagtails, 42 Siskins (a considerable underestimate of the true totals since many of the high-flying flocks couldn't even be seen), 21 Tree Pipits and 10 Chaffinches were among their companion travellers. Balearic Shearwaters so often buck expectations from the sea that the 254 through over a millpond-calm sea off the Bill shouldn't have been any surprise; 2 Arctic Skuas and a lone Manx Shearwater were pretty much all that could be mustered otherwise. The wader situation didn't change much, with 8 Sanderling and 7 Knot the pick of the Ferrybridge selection.

For a few minutes when it settled atop the Privet Hedge the Ortolan was a good performer but that proved to be the exception and it was extremely mobile over the couple of hours or so that it roamed widely around the Bill © Simon Craft...

...typically, it was nicely vocal - here it is flying over Nick Hopper's nocmig recorder that had been left deployed into the morning © Nick Hopper:

Just lately, Knot have been a little more frequent and numerous at Ferrybridge than's often the case at this time of year © Pete Saunders:

And a Sparrowhawk at Sweethill © Pete Saunders: