22nd May

A wet start today but improved later. Bill area: strong passage of Swallows + c50 House Martins; Red Kite over Top Fields mid-morning; new grounded migrants: 3 Wheatears, singles Whinchat, Reed W & Spot Fly; sea: 4 Arctic Skuas; Ferrybridge: a new Knot but only poor nos of other waders

— Portland Bird Observatory (@portlandbirdobs.bsky.social) May 22, 2024 at 22:48

Moths much improved today. Migrants nos were still low but a Pale-shouldered Tortrix Capula vulgana at the Obs was new for the island - evidently a pretty scarce moth anywhere in south Dorset; Thyme Pug also at the Obs was one of the first of the local specials to be on the wing

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— Portland Bird Observatory (@portlandbirdobs.bsky.social) May 22, 2024 at 22:58

Portland Bill 19 May 2024: Sanderling at Pulpit Rock. Painted Lady on the same Pinks as the SIlver Y a week earlier. Swollen-thigh beetle without swollen thighs - so female. Click Beetle sp - Agrypnus Murinus ? Also 4 Black Swans with the Domestic Geese in Southwell.

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— Steve M (@steveweynature.bsky.social) May 22, 2024 at 20:42

21st May


No more than just ticking over this mrng: odd few tardy migrants incl 2 Reed Warblers & a Blackcap turning up in the mist-nets; Pom Skua and 60 commic terns thru off the Bill. Moths incl the year's first - and earliest ever - Beautiful Marbled from John Lucas' garden at Southwell

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— Portland Bird Observatory (@portlandbirdobs.bsky.social) May 21, 2024 at 10:32

A few odds and ends to add to our earlier news: 2 RtDivers, 2 Pintail and a GNDiver thru off the Bill; GNDiver still in Portland Hbr; steady evening movement of Manx Shearwaters incl 250 thru off Chesil in 30mins.

— Portland Bird Observatory (@portlandbirdobs.bsky.social) May 21, 2024 at 22:23

20th May

 

Very limited selection of new arrivals at the Bill so far this mrng but another new Lesser Whitethroat trapped - it's been the best spring for them since 2012

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— Portland Bird Observatory (@portlandbirdobs.bsky.social) May 20, 2024 at 9:53

Even an initially brisk northeasterly couldn't drop much out of today's cloudless sky: Swallows continued to arrive in quantity but the grounded tally at the Bill was a lowly 2 each of Reed W, CC and Spot Fly + a single LWT; Sanderling & RP thru overhead. 64 commic terns & a GNDiver thru on the sea.

— Portland Bird Observatory (@portlandbirdobs.bsky.social) May 20, 2024 at 21:58

Nice to see the Scarce Blue-tailed Damselflies have persisted for another year on the pond in the Crown Estate Field - many on the wing there this afternoon along with plenty of Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies...

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— Portland Bird Observatory (@portlandbirdobs.bsky.social) May 20, 2024 at 14:33

...lots of Broad-bodied Chasers around the pond as well - from one viewpoint we could see 41 exuviae on the yellow flag irises! Not bad for a little 'home made' pool lined with the cheapest liner we could find

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— Portland Bird Observatory (@portlandbirdobs.bsky.social) May 20, 2024 at 14:45

19th May

 

Steady day-long trickle of arriving hirundines + a few Swifts today but quiet for passerines: 3 Spot Flys, 2 Yellow Wags and a few other singles at the Bill. Sanderlings still moving: 12 at the Bill & 22 at Ferrybridge; also 3 Knot at Fb. GNDiver still in Portland Hbr & 2 GCGrebes off Chesil.

— Portland Bird Observatory (@portlandbirdobs.bsky.social) May 19, 2024 at 22:30

18th May

 

The threat - and eventual arrival - of rain dropped a few new migrants today incl 3 Spot Flys, Grey Heron, Hobby, Redstart, Whinchat, Reed W, Sedge W & Blue-headed Wagtail at the Bill and Siskin at Sweethill; also better for waders incl 6 species at the Bill and Sanderling up to 19 at Ferrybridge

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— Portland Bird Observatory (@portlandbirdobs.bsky.social) May 18, 2024 at 23:39

youtu.be/T6W7zpwj7xo?...

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— Portland Bird Observatory (@portlandbirdobs.bsky.social) May 18, 2024 at 23:42

17th May

 

Probably time to wind down the daily blog updates - it really has been that quiet this week - and start daily summaries on here on the slow days. Today's migrants incl 6 Wheatears, 2 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Chiffchaffs & a Siskin. First Portland Ribbon Wave of the yr among continuing low moth nos

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— Portland Bird Observatory (@portlandbirdobs.bsky.social) May 17, 2024 at 23:41

16th May

An incremental improvement - albeit only a very small one - today saw a handful more migrants in evidence around the Bill, where 2 each of Reed Warbler, Garden Warbler and Chiffchaff, and singles of Wheatear, Sedge Warbler and Willow Warbler were knocking about on the ground. Swallow passage picked up, including a low hundreds total from the Bill where 3 Yellow Wagtails were amongst the other overhead arrivals. The second Balearic Shearwater of the week passed by off the Bill amongst the c200 total of Manx Shearwaters; 2 Arctic Skuas and a Red-throated Diver were also logged on the sea there.

15th May

Not much sign of a migrant improvement today - in fact there was another 11 hour blank from the Obs mist-nets so it really was quiet! The few odds and ends uncovered by the fieldworkers included 2 Reed Warblers, 2 Garden Warblers, a Sedge Warbler and a Lesser Whitethroat at the Bill and a Spotted Flycatcher at Reap Lane; even waders failed to save the day with just 3 Sanderling, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits and a Whimbrel of note at Ferrybridge. The sea fared only slightly better, with 2 Arctic Skuas, a Great Skua and a Pomarine Skua amongst what little else was on the move off the Bill.

14th May

There's still plenty of time for spring to come good on the rarity front but it's fair to say that the twelve hours of working the Obs garden mist-nets for a nil return today tells us all we need to know about the common migrant situation - passage is all over bar the shouting. Three Reed Warbler were literally the only grounded arrivals logged in the whole Bill area, where a few Swallows were arriving overhead but even they didn't look to have been tempted into the air by the return of sunny skies. There are surely more hirundines and Swifts to come - perhaps along with one of our Spotted Flycatcher surges - but if they're largely over as well then we'd think there must have been some sort of House Martin catastrophe since our totals of them this spring have been absolutely pitiful. The day's fresh onshore breeze looked to offer promise from the sea but a tally that included the summer's first Balearic Shearwater off Chesil and combined Bill/Chesil totals of 460 Kittiwakes, 390 Gannets, 5 Arctic Skuas, 3 Great Northern Divers, 3 Great Skuas and an Arctic Tern lacked the quality expected.

13th May

We shouldn't have complained about too much samey weather just lately as today we were on the receiving end of the pay-back - 12 hour and counting of heavy rain! What birding was possible for a few hours from dawn revealed an island all but bereft of grounded arrivals, with no more than 2 Wheatears and singles of Reed Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher at the Bill and 3 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Grey Plover and a Knot at Ferrybridge; of local interest, the Alexandrine Parakeet was in gardens at Southwell during the morning - having obviously returned from its jaunt way out to sea last evening. A Hobby, as well as a few Swifts and hirundines, made it through overhead before the rain put the block on further diurnal passage. Two Red-throated Divers and singles of Pomarine and Arctic Skua also passed by Chesil and the Bill ahead of the rain.

A slowed-up Arctic Skua fly-by from the Bill this morning © Martin Cade:


Moth interest has been uniformly terrible for some weeks, with poor numbers and even poorer variety from the Obs moth-traps. Finally, this past weekend did bring a significant increase in Silver Ys, with a strong diurnal northbound passage evident throughout the island © Steve Mansfield:


In tandem with the Silver Ys one or two strays have begun to show up in the moth-traps, the best of which in a local context was this Pine Beauty at the Obs - they're a less than annual visitor to the island © Martin Cade:

12th May

After the relative wealth of oddities over the last couple of days today was quieter, with a fly-through Turtle Dove at the Bill the best on offer. In the continuing warmth and sunshine not much was expected in the common migrant line and 12 Wheatears, 7 Yellow Wagtails, 5 Willow Warblers, 2 each of Redstart and Whinchat, and singles of Sedge Warbler and Garden Warbler constituted the suitably lean return from the Bill. The sea provided more in the way of numbers, with 500 Manx Shearwaters, 153 commic terns and singles of Pomarine and Arctic Skuas through off the Bill.

For entertainment value and dazzling colour the bird of the day was this Alexandrine Parakeet that pitched up during the morning in the Obs garden having earlier been spotted flying towards the island from Wyke Regis; later it returned to the mainland where it was seen over RSPB Radipole. Having been assumed on the initial flying views to be a Ring-necked Parakeet, the bird's correct identity was realised once it landed; in fact, if we didn't positively avoid the Home Counties we might have remembered from frequent familiarity that even on a brief flight view a Ring-necked Parakeet would look a whole lot smaller than this bird...



...the characteristic little maroon shoulder patch was mostly hidden when the bird was settled but shows up quite clearly on the flight photographs.


And as a bizarre postscript, in the middle of our evening seawatch at the Bill - ten hours or more after the earlier sighting - the bird suddenly appeared again right overhead at the Trinity House obelisk; from there it carried on purposefully straight out to sea and was eventually lost to view way, way out to the southwest - extraordinary! © Martin Cade:

11th May

A second successive day when it was possible to spend all day in the field and get almost no return for your time investment despite there being several decent birds on offer: a Hoopoe - presumably yesterday's bird that had moved up the island - was photographed at the north of the island, a Nightjar was serendipitously flushed up at Ferrybridge and, after earlier uneventful seawatching at the Bill, Chesil came good with a fly-by Bonaparte's Gull and at least 2 Nightjars lingering offshore. In the continuing fair and increasingly warm weather the common migrant tally improved a little and included 25 Willow Warblers, 15 Wheatears, 5 Whinchats, 4 Spotted Flycatchers and singles of Cuckoo, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler and Garden Warbler grounded at the Bill and a Tree Pipit at Tout Quarry amongst the thinner selection elsewhere; overhead, hirundines and Swifts were again arriving in fair numbers everywhere. The sea was never busy but, the rarity aside, morning totals at the Bill included 177 commic terns, 49 Common Scoter and singles of Red-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver, with a selection of Black-headed Gulls and waders through off Chesil during the evening.

Spot the Bonaparte's Gull...


We'd always imagined that one day someone would get lucky with a Bonaparte's Gull passing Chesil amongst a flock of Black-headed Gulls and this evening that's just what happened when a flock appeared out of the sun (...Chesil seawatching on a cloudless spring evening is really hard work since half of the field of view is completely out of action in the setting sun and the birds are already going away from you when they get out into useable light) and just as we were lifting the camera to photograph them Brett exclaimed that there a Bonaparte's amongst them. Torn between the camera and the scope we decided to blast off a few photographs whilst they were still close enough and then switch to scoping it - fortunately the flock opened up enough that the Bonaparte's is reasonably visible in several of the frames...




...and here's the upperwing with the 'extra' marks on the primary-coverts and the narrower and more well-defined dark trailing edge to the wing visible © Martin Cade:


One tale from Portland folklore - now nearly lost in the mists of time - is the story of the so-called 'Caprimulgus petrels': the sequence of events surrounding the original discovery in the late 1980s/early 1990s of Nightjars lingering off Chesil on spring evenings and how they were at first believed to be some sort of rare petrel - the views are often at enormous range and, if you've never witnessed it before, it's the sort of sighting that permits the imagination to run riot. Quite why Nightjars sometimes linger off there in broad daylight has never been entirely explained but is assumed to be in some way related to migrating birds being afraid to come ashore until darkness falls. Whatever the reason, it's a really peculiar and exciting sight to see Nightjars lingering for ages over the sea and this evening - after a long and typically distant preamble - we were eventually treated to views close enough to allow a few record-shots to be taken, perhaps for the first time ever © Martin Cade:







10th May

It hasn't taken long to get into the rut of migrants getting the hang of samey conditions and steering clear of dropping out at as sub-optimal a spot as Portland. The redeeming feature of increased chances of scarcities might have been the silver lining but for the fact that today's arrivals in that department eluded nearly everyone: a seemingly active-migrant Hoopoe shot straight through beside the Obs without stopping, a Hawfinch made the briefest of visits to a garden at Blacknor and, potentially best of all, a very likely Short-toed Lark passed overhead so quickly near the Bill tip that it couldn't even be clinched for certain. Swallows were again moving through steadily if unspectacularly but it was dismal on the ground with barely more than ones and twos of even the most routine arrivals. After yesterday's tern-fest there were hopes for the sea but these quickly fizzled out and the morning's tally at the Bill consisted of just 52 Common Scoter, 33 commic terns, 31 Sandwich Terns, 8 Black Terns and singles of Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver and Arctic Skua. Ferrybridge waders included 9 Sanderling and a Knot.

Some of this morning's Black Terns - always an exciting sight off the Bill and, for obvious reasons, nearly always really difficult to get a meaningful record photograph of © Martin Cade:



A nice little event over the Obs in the small hours of the morning was the logging by the nocmig recorder of a species almost no living birder has actually seen in the flesh at the Bill - a Little Grebe; of course, Little Grebe's a perfectly see-able bird - albeit these days much declined - at Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour during the winter months but although the nocmig archive shows they're very occasional overhead at the Bill during the hours of darkness they're fabulously rare there by day:


9th May

A very pleasant sunny and warm day with no more than a waft of an easterly breeze - very nice for getting out birding but, some sea passage aside, not much cop migrant-wise. The sea came up with the bulk of the numbers, particularly involving terns of which 976 commics - sadly, way too far out to have even the faintest idea whether Commons or Arctics predominated - passed through off the Bill in the first few hours of the morning; 136 Common Scoter, 3 Arctic Skuas, 3 Black Terns, 2 Great Northern Divers, 2 Red-throated Divers and a Great Crested Grebe were amongst the other movers there. Hirundines - mainly Swallows but also a few late-ish Sand Martins - along with a season peak to date of 27 Swifts and singles of Red Kite, Hobby and Redpoll, were arriving overhead in a steady procession but grounded arrivals were the poor relation, with the main interest concerning some other rather tardy newcomers including singles of Merlin and Goldcrest at the Bill. Waders included 24 Dunlin, 6 Grey Plovers, 3 Bar-tailed Godwits and a Knot at Ferrybridge, whilst nearby there were still 5 Great Northern Divers in Portland Harbour.

8th May

What a difference a day makes: in broadly similar conditions to yesterday - the light breeze a tad more easterly than northerly but the sky just as clear at dawn - today's rewards were scant indeed. A Nightingale in song at the Obs may or may not have been yesterday's individual and the species mix was still pretty good but today's numbers - aside from the 200 or so arriving Swallows - were reduced to barely more than ones and twos rather than the tens and dozens of yesterday; a Marsh Harrier in off the sea at the Bill and a passing Bullfinch at the Obs were the day's only other oddities. It might have been thought that conditions favoured the sea, but 80 commic terns, 66 Common Scoter, 14 Black-headed Gulls, 9 Shelducks, 3 Great Northern Divers and singles of Black-throated Diver and Little Gull wasn't the best of returns from a good deal of effort at the Bill. 

Today was a day of sounds rather than sights. The nocmig recorder revealed that the Obs garden Nightingale begun singing at 04.25 - a good 15 minutes before the dawn chorus begun in earnest; whether it was yesterday's individual was never established because it was never actually seen or retrapped but it does seem slightly odd that if it was the same bird it didn't sing yesterday evening:


The nocmig recorder also picked up an overflying Coot before midnight; in our early nocmig days it was a revelation that Coots were so relatively frequent overhead during the hours of darkness but that situation has changed and we drew a blank last year and last night's bird was the first logged this year:


Bullfinch is never a frequent migrant at the Bill and - as with the Hawfinch a few days ago - we wonder why one would pitch up in early May; this morning's bird was calling constantly in the few minutes it was present:


7th May

What I nice day to be out birding: the migrants were again very varied if not actually individually hugely numerous but it was a particular pleasure to get amongst them - for one of the first times this year - in warm sunshine and barely a waft of breeze; what breeze there was was in the north which probably accounted for what looked to be a steady throughput of birds dropping from the clear sky throughout the day. We're struggling to remember the last time there was a two Nightingale day on the island so the singles at the Obs and the Eight Kings Quarry were very welcome amongst an arrival at the Bill that included 50 Wheatears, 40 Garden Warblers, 30 Willow Warbler, 20 Blackcaps, 15 each of Reed and Sedge Warbler, 10 Spotted Flycatchers, 8 Whinchats, 4 Redstarts, a Lesser Whitethroat and a Goldcrest. Visible passage also picked up there, with a constant arrival of Swallows overhead, Swifts present amongst them if still not at all numerously and 2 Hobbys and 2 Yellow Wagtails tagging along. Migrants evidently diminished in numbers further up the island but there were still some good patches of them around the middle where at least 9 more Reed Warblers were in evidence; 2 more Hobbys were also logged at points northward. The switch in wind direction coupled with increasing haziness as the day went on saw to it that a lone Great Skua through off the Bill was pretty well the only sighting of note from the sea.

Sadly, although both the day's Nightingales were males they were vocally reticent and we were always too otherwise engaged to be able to grab a recording during what fitful bursts of song there were. However, the Obs bird obliged by eventually popping up in a mist-net so a good view was had!...


Talking of good views - or preferably a photograph - Nightingale ageing should be pretty do-able in the field as the previous year's youngsters retain some old juvenile feathers in their wing when they return to northern latitudes in spring; our bird today was one such youngster as evidenced by, for example, the pale tips to the outer greater coverts and the little pale 'spikes' on the tip of the middle tertial
 - these would be lacking on an adult © Martin Cade:



Today was a bit of an oddity in that, despite lovely weather that should have enabled them to get away easily, there were quite a few migrants about that seemed to be marooned in tiny patches of cover; for example, early morning visitors told us of several Reed Warblers lurking in the little clump of stunted Tree Mallows beside the Bill Quarry and when we passed the same patch after an evening seawatch - a good 13 hours later - at least two of them were still there © Martin Cade:


6th May

The quiet conditions of the last few days continued and, for the first time this month, delivered a nicely varied drop of new arrivals around the centre and south of the island. A Bee-eater that pitched up for a few minutes at the Obs was the highlight, but amongst the commoner migrants a strong showing of 30 Garden Warblers was nice and only topped in the day's tally by the 40 Willow Warblers; other totals included 18 Sedge Warblers, 13 Spotted Flycatchers, 10 Whinchats, 12 Wheatears, 5 Reed Warblers and 2 Little Egrets. The sea had its moments, with 102 commic terns, 4 Red-throated Divers, 2 Great Northern Divers, 2 Arctic Skuas and a Pomarine Skua through off the Bill, but waders were disappointing with little more of interest beyond 4 Sanderling at Ferrybridge and 2 Turnstones and a Common Sandpiper at the Bill.

What a change there's been in the status of Bee-eater at Portland: the first for the island in 1964 was the only one logged during that decade and there followed just one record during the 1970s and three during the 1980s; today's bird, however, takes the island tally to 58 and the species is now an expected annual visitor here © Martin Cade:


The best ringing day for over a week at the Obs and Culverwell - in fact easily the best fall of migrants so far this month: 62 birds of 15 species incl what for spring is an excellent catch of 10 Sedge Warblers

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— Portland Bird Observatory (@portlandbirdobs.bsky.social) May 6, 2024 at 22:50

5th May

Another day that looked to have bags of potential but failed to deliver any numbers of grounded or visible migrants; fortunately a couple of scarcities and an at least fair seawatch went some way toward saving the day. Yesterday's Hawfinch remained at the Obs for a while during the morning and later at least 1 perhaps 2 Wood Warblers showed up there. A couple of Garden Warblers and singles of HobbyWhinchat and Spotted Flycatcher were about as good as it got amongst the thinnest of spreads of commoner grounded arrivals and almost non-existent overhead passage. The sea made a valiant attempt to salvage further interest although even that required a lot of watching for any really worthwhile totals, that included 306 commic terns, 17 Sanderlings, 2 Great Crested Grebes and singles of Pomarine Skua, Arctic Skua and Black Tern through off Chesil and 3 Great Northern Divers, 3 Great Crested Grebes, 2 Pomarine Skuas and singles of Red-throated Diver and Great Skua through off the Bill.

Red sky in the morning... There seems to have been a lot of these just lately and in general they've been a fair guide to the day's prospects. Today? - maybe slightly less so © Joe Stockwell:


Wood Warbler is so often a spring 'rain bird' at Portland and today's occurrence fitted that billing yet again: the damp, drizzly morning had looked promising for one but didn't deliver; however, no sooner were the Obs mist-nets reopened after a heavier downpour at midday than this was the first bird trapped © Martin Cade:



Rain's also good for grounding newly-arrived Hobbys © Pete Saunders:


There's plenty of time left before we have thoughts of one of our late spring Spotted Flycatcher rushes being on the cards but they're certainly quite slow to get going this year © Pete Saunders:


Classic Chesil views of an Arctic Skua about to take the short cut over the beach and Portland Harbour © Joe Stockwell


And back to yesterday for something we completely forgot to post: Jon Stokes sent us through this little scene-setting video of a Nightingale giving some bursts of song from a garden hedge right beside busy High Street in Fortuneswell - migrants really can drop into some most unlikely spots © Jon Stokes:


4th May

The return of summer-like conditions was very welcome but did precious little for the land where, barring the unexpected appearance of a Hawfinch at the Obs that followed the almost as unlikely hearing of a Nightingale in song at Fortuneswell, migrants were few and far between and, apart from an incoming Short-eared Owl at the Bill, didn't include anything else that was in the least unexpected. In a propitious easterly breeze the sea was very disappointing for this date: 124 Common Scoter through off the Bill represented quite a resurgence in their passage that's been painfully slow just lately, but 2 Pomarine and an Arctic Skua off Chesil and 4 Pomarine and 2 Arctic Skuas, and 3 each of Red-throated and Great Northern Diver off the Bill was a poor showing of the marquee species. 

A Minke Whale off Chesil in the morning may be only the second record of this species in local waters.

Bug interest has been extremely limited just recently so it's good to get back into the groove with what we believe is the first confirmed record of Hairy Dragonfly for Portland - not that this is in any way a surprise since sightings have been expected following their remarkable increase in recent years in Weymouth. We're aware of at least one previous sight record from an experienced observer but in this day and age it seems almost obligatory to secure tangible evidence for a first record of pretty well anything so we're very pleased that Steve Mansfield obliged with some nice photographs of the specimen he came across today high up on West Cliffs beside the Southwell Business Park © Steve Mansfield:



Hawfinches are something of a Pomarine Skua of the land: rarer of course, but also similarly charismatic and - at least in the context of Portland - prone to turning up on a complete whim when least expected; today's bird showed up at midday on a bright, sunny day when there was almost no other passerine migration afoot and we can immediately remember that last year's bird was found in a mist-net that was just about to be shut right at the end of another equally birdless day. And why are so many of them adult males - what's all that about? © Martin Cade:


Four of the Sanderlings at Ferrybridge this morning © Pete Saunders:

3rd May

Migrant-wise, a general settling down of the weather prompted a small flurry of activity if not the fall that would have been more appropriate at this juncture. There were no surprises amongst the light scatter of new grounded arrivals, with unseasonable singles of Goldcrest at the Bill and Black Redstart at Ferrybridge as interesting as it got amongst the more routine fare. Overhead, a Hen Harrier that looked to have arrived in off the sea at the Bill shortly after dawn was unexpected, as was a Great White Egret flying up the Fleet from Ferrybridge, whilst later a steady if unspectacular passage of mainly Swallows developed. The sea remained quiet, with singles of Red-throated Diver and Arctic Skua through off the Bill the only real interest. Wader passage gained a little more momentum, with 24 Dunlin, 11 Sanderling, 9 Whimbrel and 2 Grey Plover at Ferrybridge and 2 Common Sandpipers at the Bill.

Neither Black Redstart nor Goldcrest would be the sort of things usually on the menu in early May © Martin Cade:



Grey Plover © Martin Cade (top) & Debby Saunders (bottom) and Whimbrel © Debby Saunders at Ferrybridge today:





Portland today Yellow Wagtail my first this year with Whinchat

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— philc72.bsky.social (@philc72.bsky.social) May 3, 2024 at 17:09

2nd May

Today really was a struggle: another night of continuous and at times heavy rain looked to have prevented all but the most determined passerine migrants getting airborne, whilst diurnal passage was reduced to no more than a trickle; there didn't look to be any reason why seabirds shouldn't have been on the move but they obviously felt otherwise. Waders accounted for the bulk of the new arrivals and included 65 Dunlin, 5 Whimbrel, 4 Grey Plovers and a Sanderling at Ferrybridge and a Common Sandpiper at the Bill; passerine numbers and variety were hopeless, with singles of Lesser Whitethroat and Spotted Flycatcher providing the only minor interest at the Bill where not a single migrant was trapped all day at the Obs; elsewhere there was a Pied Flycatcher at Avalanche Road. Upwards of 200 Manx Shearwaters lingering close inshore off the Bill were entertaining but 3 Red-throated Divers and a single Arctic Skua represented a terrible return by way of passage seabirds there.

Right up there as one of the coolest of Arctic-breeding waders, the Grey Plovers at Ferrybridge were a real treat © Martin Cade:

1st May

Thank goodness for the sea at the moment. Passerine migration - at least with the honourable exception of diurnal hirundines - seems to have ground to a halt this week: despite far damper conditions than expected or forecast Swallows and Sand Martins, together with a single Hobby, continued to trickle through in fair numbers but if there were nocturnal migrants on the move - which we seriously doubt given the night had been even more constantly damp and drizzly - they didn't deign to drop in, with 5 Yellow Wagtails, 3 Whinchats, 2 Sedge Warblers and singles of Redstart, Black Redstart and Grasshopper Warbler easily the best of it on the ground at the Bill. Sea passage was hardly compelling, as much because there was so little else moving to relieve the tedium between appearances of the always fickle skuas; however, their tally reached what in the circumstances was a very respectable 12 Arctics, 7 Pomarines and 1 Great through off the Bill. Four Red-throated Divers, a Great Northern Diver and a Little Gull were the only other particularly notable loggings from there.

Our occasional musings on ageing and sexing - usually from the angle of being lucky enough to get to handle the birds in question - aren't usually aimed at ringers but rather at ordinary birders who could easily pick up on the features we draw attention to in the field; today's little dabble into Whitethroats, however, is perhaps just as much aimed at ringers is it features example of birds of known age. First off, Whitethroats are really tricky birds with fabulously complicated and variable moults that makes ageing and sexing them notoriously difficult - these days we only 'do' the very beautiful and usually obvious full adult males and at the other end of the spectrum bird that have very worn, sullied brownish outer tail-feathers that have to be last year's youngsters; everything else of inbetweeny appearance gets lumped up as of unknown age and sex. No doubt in the next few days and weeks we'll get some more example to feature but to start with here are two birds we're 100% sure of the age of because they were first ringed last summer as locally-bred juveniles and returned today still obviously wearing their rings. Without the evidence of the ring number the first individual would have sat squarely in the inbetweeny category even if we'd have taken a punt in our mind on it being a first-summer male...




...since it still possesses one heavily worn and obviously brown-washed outer tail-feather our second individual was clearly born last summer and we'd take a guess at it being a female. These two birds were trapped together and it'll be interesting to see if they stick around, pair up if they haven't already, and breed © Martin Cade:



30th April

Popular opinion today had it a band of rain lingering right across the Channel to the west of Portland would likely act as a block and the day's seabirds would be the few already to its east. It certainly seemed as though that scenario played out so the watchers who were out in force were fortunate that several skuas were amongst what little was on the move offshore, with 15 Arctics and 3 Pomarines through off the Bill and Chesil; Manx Shearwaters, Gannets and Kittiwakes were reasonably represented but sea passage was otherwise pretty limited, with 4 Sanderling, 3 Red-throated Divers and a Yellow-legged Gull amongst others through off the Bill and 33 Arctic Terns, 8 Whimbrel, 7 Sanderling, 3 Red-throated Divers, 3 Gadwall and 2 Great Northern Divers the best off Chesil. Grounded arrivals remained few and far between, with singles of Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Whinchat and Pied Flycatcher easily the best on offer around the Bill. An Osprey arriving from the south at the Bill was of note and a Merlin was also overhead there but visible passage of the likes of hirundines didn't really get going at all.

There were contrasting fortunes with the morning's Pom Skuas off the Bill: the first was a shocker in horrible harsh light against a dark sea and keeping so low that we believe the guys watching from the Obelisk missed it altogether (it subsequently headed back west before returning an hour later)..


...however, the next two were fantastic - giving absolutely blistering views as they rounded the Bill tip at close range and in nice flat light © Martin Cade:





The Chesil watchers were treated to a compelling show by a group of Arctic Skuas that lingered offshore...




...whilst 3 Gadwall through and nice views of Arctic Terns right overhead there were a treat © Joe Stockwell:




Kittiwakes have been really abundant in recent days with some strong up-Channel passage and also plenty of apparent lingerers around the Bill tip...


...it was interesting to see the varying level of wear in the first-summer birds - some are seemingly fresh as a daisy...


...whilst others are already massively worn with shattered flight feathers, something we've seen and probably remarked on in the past - do they come from different wintering areas or what's the explanation? © Martin Cade:


And talking of gulls, Common Gulls are now getting towards the end of their long winter away from the breeding grounds but there are still a few - nearly all immature to some degree or other - passing by © Martin Cade:



By way of non-seabirds today was a bit of a flop but this Osprey arriving in off the sea at the Bill was nice and only the second of the spring © Martin Cade...


...and after hours of mist-nets being open for virtually no reward a random Pied Flycatcher suddenly popped up in the Obs garden - you can never write off the unexpected at this time of year © Steve Hunting: