27th March

Crystal clear skies and a cool breeze kicked off the day, bringing with it another Bullfinch to the garden. The morning's constitutional walk was unremarkable with a handful of common migrants including five Wheatears, two Goldcrests and one Black Redstart. Reports from elsewhere on the island provided the day list with two Siskins and a single Coal Tit (evidently there has been a small influx of Coal Tits across the West Coast, whether this individual was part of that or one of our regular spring continental birds remains to be seen). As the day wore on the wind dropped and the temperature rose, bringing the general feeling of the day to nothing short of magnificent, and the perfect weather for a spot of raptor passage;  three Red Kites were recorded in total, one over the obs (which headed east) and two together over Weston.

With the amount of reports of Red Kites over Wyke and Weymouth, it was surely only a matter of time before one meandered over our heads © Martin Cade:


Social isolation has not fazed our regular Ferrybridge-goers and a quick walk up the road instead provided a pair of Stonechats...© Debby Saunders:


...and this fabulous male Siskin © Pete Saunders


26th March

Not much of a migration spectacle on land or sea today with the continuing fine weather reducing groundings of nocturnal migrants at the Bill to little more than could be counted on the fingers of two hands, whilst a shift in the breeze back towards the northeast killed off sea passage; the most disappointing feature was an almost total lack of visible passage in what looked to be perfect conditions. Several of what few migrants were about on the ground looked to be long-term lingerers including 2 White Wagtails and singles of Black Redstart and Redwing at the Bill; sea movement there included 53 Common Scoter, 3 Red-throated Divers and singles of Black-throated Diver, Arctic Skua and Sandwich Tern.

Single Large Tortoiseshells were seen at two sites at Fortuneswell.

Portland residents are pretty fortunate to have a wealth of potentially migrant-rich footpaths along which to undertake their daily constitutional walk during these peculiar times; their rewards have been pretty scant so far but we wouldn't mind betting that with the extra miles being covered one or other of them bumps into something decent before too long. Yesterday's routine fare included Wheatear and Turnstone © Geoff Orton:



At the Obs, our mist-nets have quietened right off in recent days, although that has allowed us to tinker around with perhaps restarting having a closer look at some species on the blog. When we used to have a go at this on the old website the aim wasn't a 'teaching granny to suck eggs' series for ringers but rather dabbling at showing birders the sorts of features that might be visible on a good field view. We doubt that we'll ever get round to being systematic with this and the first bird out of a bag yesterday was a minor Bill scarcity in the form of a Bullfinch. Sexing's well covered in any guide so there was no bother with this female:


Ageing also wasn't a problem since all young Bullfinches retain a certain number of juvenile feathers throughout their first year - most visibly, this youngster born last summer retained, for example, a couple of outer greater coverts and all the primary coverts:


On the closed wing, we did notice just how readily the two juvenile greater coverts disappeared from view beneath the other eight adult-patterned feathers in this tract so in the field it might be that the most obvious sign of immaturity would be the dull - matt as opposed to glossy - primary coverts and alula © Martin Cade:

25th March

Another bout of glorious sunshine today, albeit always tempered by a keen southeasterly breeze. A fall of migrants was never on the cards but the subtle shift in wind direction more than perked up the sea that provided entertainment throughout the morning, with Bill totals that included c300 auk spp, c250 Gannets, 126 Kittiwakes, 88 Common Scoter, 13 Red-throated Divers, 12 Little Gulls, 7 Black-headed Gulls, 6 Garganey, 4 Eider, 3 Manx Shearwaters, 3 Mediterranean Gulls, 2 Shelducks and the first Arctic Skua of the spring; lower numbers off Chesil included 2 Red-breasted Mergansers. It was very hard going on the land, where odds and ends amongst pitiful numbers of common numbers on the ground included singles of Snipe, Black Redstart, Redwing and Bullfinch at the Bill, a White Wagtail at Suckthumb and a Black Redstart at the Grove; visible passage was also disappointingly light, with no more than a trickle of hirundines, pipits and finches on the move along West Cliffs.

A Large Tortoiseshell was seen near Verne Common.

24th March

A truly beautiful day - which was a tad ironic given it was also the first day of the nationwide lockdown - saw brilliant blue skies and a drop in the hitherto ever-present wind. Once again, however, it was not a great day for migrating birds with grounded migrants in particular pretty thinly spread; 2 White Wagtails were as good as it got at the Bill. Three species of hirundine was a bonus though with the first House Martin of the year (at Blacknor) accompanied by six Swallows and three Sand Martin; a decent passage of Meadow Pipits and Linnets was also evident  along the West Cliffs . The sea was relatively quiet, with 5 Red-throated Divers and 4 Shoveler easily the pick of a lean return from the Bill.

Yesterday we mentioned appreciating the little things and in the same breath should have dwelt on the capture for ringing of the year's first Greenfinch at the Obs. It still sometimes seems almost inconceivable that we've reached the point where the trapping of a Greenfinch should be deemed noteworthy but it's a sad reflection on the demise of what was once the Obs garden's commonest breeding bird © Martin Cade:


We've posted versions of the graph below on previous blogs but the latest update shows there's been no upturn in the fortunes of a bird whose population both locally and nationally has been decimated by the emergence of the respiratory disease, trichomonosis. It's safe to say that the totals shown for the first 15 or so years of ringing activity at the Obs can be largely ignored: ringing effort in those days wasn't what it is now and we understand that Greenfinches were so numerous in that era that, to save money, many of those trapped weren't even ringed! Amongst the ups and downs in the 'modern era' we've never managed to glean from the literature a satisfactory explanation for the noticeable dip in numbers during the 1980s - was this a nation-wide event or something that occurred only at a local level?

23rd March

We regret to have to announce that in the light of the restrictions placed on travel and size of gatherings the Obs car park will be closed with immediate effect and until further notice.

Another brisk, cold but bright day was a treat to look at, if not to be in outside. A couple of interesting moments on the sea included singles of Red-breasted Merganser, Manx Shearwater and Sandwich Tern; as well as three Bar-tailed Godwits and a Curlew off Chesil Cove. On the land, there was little evidence of movement with most Chiffchaffs in the garden being ringed birds from recent days, Black Redstarts in the same locations as recent days and two lingering Blackcaps. Meadow Pipits once again represented the most common migrants with an increasing stream of birds throughout the morning, culminating in 123 birds through in 20 minutes above the West Cliffs.

Sometimes it's nice to appreciate the little things... © Erin Taylor:


22nd March

Judging by the number of sightings from a wide range of places across Portland, our local birders are managing to maintain social distancing whilst also enjoying the islands various birding hot spots. A marginal drop in the wind meant that the day dawned cool and clear once more. The most numerous species battling the elements to make landfall was the humble Meadow Pipit, with 124 heading in off the sea during the mornings sea watch. However, the highlight at sea was a flock of three Tufted Ducks (the first for the year), also seen at Chesil Cove. The Chesil watch also added 20 Black-headed Gulls and singles of Black-throated and Great Northern Diver. Elsewhere on the island, Church Ope saw singles of Common Sandpiper and Firecrest, there was a single Fieldfare at Barleycrates, the harbour and Ferrybridge contained an additional pair of Great Northern Divers and two Shelducks, and a Merlin was sighted speeding along the West Cliffs. 

The population of Buzzards on Portland seems to be on the rise, particularly at the south end of the island and a noticeable 'wondering' pair have been checking out new sights for the past month. This evidently came to a head today with three birds present at the scene, there obviously isn't room for the both of them © Geoff Orton:

21st March

The sound of the wind whipping itself into a frenzy last night did not inspire much confidence in the day ahead. It was a morning for a slow wake up, but we should always know better and an early morning phone call from the Quinetiq compound revealed that a Stone Curlew had been sighted on their morning patrols. An initial search for the bird around the Bill yielded little success, but a fortunate farmer unearthed the bird later within the ploughed field across the road before it swiftly departed northwards. Despite the howling easterly wind, migrants were still revealing themselves across the obs area; three Black Redstarts remained, a sad total of seven Wheatears, three White Wagtails and singles of Redwing and Fieldfare were located throughout the day. The sea produced the first Bar-tailed Godwit of the year along with 10 Manx Shearwaters and 26 Common Gulls

The Stone Curlew was an unfortunate combination of incredibly flighty and very prone to hunkering in ploughed fields making it difficult to get to grips with... © Martin Cade

20th March

A surprisingly brutal blast of easterly wasn't welcome for those indulging in bouts of self-isolation exercise but it did drop a steady arrival of mainly Chiffchaffs at the Bill, where 150 or so pitched up through the day. Migrant variety was otherwise pretty limited: the likes of Robins were noticeably more numerous than of late and 2 Little Egrets and a Merlin were of note at the Bill but, for example, Wheatear barely managed a double figure total there; odds and ends elsewhere included a Fieldfare at Barleycrates Lane and a Black Redstart at Blacknor. Offshore, the first Sandwich Tern of the season passed through off the Bill where the settled Common Scoter flock was bolstered by the arrival of dithering migrants, with at least 75 present at times.

19th March

A welcome switch in the wind brought a cool, calm day with plenty of potential. An initial movement of Chiffchaffs kicked off the day, and remained the commonest species trapped; tallies reached 31 in the garden and a further 94 across the recording area. Mid-morning saw the first real movement of hirundines with 36 Sand Martins and 9 Swallows in off the sea, shooting off north. A noticeable increase in Goldcrests included 11 trapped in the garden and an additional 30 around the Top Fields, Culverwell and the East Cliffs. Other migrants present in smaller numbers included: a Merlin, six Black Redstarts, 11 Blackcaps, 12 Willow Warblers and two Firecrests.


18th March

Another little flourish of migrants under dreary skies today. Chiffchaffs made up the bulk of the numbers with at least 100 at the Bill and another 50 in the Pennsylvania Castle area. Willow Warbler and Blackcap (2) were both firsts for the spring at the Bill where 30 Wheatears, 15 Goldcrests and a Black Redstart were also logged on the ground and 2 Lapwings and a steady arrival of alba wagtails, Meadow Pipits and Linnets featured overhead; elsewhere, another Black Redstart was at Blacknor and 3 Firecrests were again about at Pennsylvania Castle. The sea chipped in with 6 Red-throated Divers, 5 Mediterranean Gulls, 3 Manx Shearwaters and the first 3 Puffins of the season.

17th March

There certainly doesn't look to be any momentum of passage getting established, with today's returns very much poorer than yesterday's. Odds and ends on the ground at the Bill included 3 Black Redstarts, 2 Firecrests and barely into double figure totals of Wheatear and Chiffchaff. Sea passage there was also subdued: a close to triple figure total of Kittiwakes was of note but otherwise nothing more than 2 Brent Geese and a lone Red-throated Diver passed by; 2 Great Northern Divers were still knocking about in Portland Harbour.

After a winter hiatus it's good to have Ken Dolbear back keeping us abreast of invertebrate discoveries; this Cereal Leaf Beetle Oulema melanopus at Bottomcombe yesterday is evidently a first for Portland © Ken Dolbear:


16th March

For a week now talk has been turning to the mythical perfect Monday: the forecasts had predicted the stiff westerly that has been battering us for over a month would finally abate and be replaced by a gentle northerly and clear skies - propitious conditions so often in the past. Just for once the reality lived up to expectations. Straight away from dawn, Wheatears were watched coming in off the sea over the Obs patio and soon Chiffchaffs were flycatching from the bushes. A sweep of the Obs recording area revealed a Wheatear tally of 125 (although the true figure was likely far higher as birds were passing through rapidly), Chiffchaffs were the most numerous species ringed with 29 trapped in the garden and a further 67 recorded throughout the obs area. The chat-fest continued as more Black Redstarts emerged and a total of 5 around the Bill were joined by singles at Church Ope, the Verne and Chesil Cove; Stonechats also put in an impressive showing with a conservative tally of 51 reached. Other migrants travelling in lesser numbers included a single Merlin (the first for the year), two Swallows, two White Wagtails, the first 2 Goldcrests of the spring and four Firecrests

The bright, warm day also brought out a few non-avian highlights: 2 Large Tortoiseshells were re-sighted at Church Ope, along with several Brimstones, whilst a further Large Tortoiseshell surfaced at Bottomcombe.

Large Tortoiseshells showed nicely in today's lovely sunshine; this one was at Bottomcombe © Ken Dolbear...


...and two or more were again frequenting Pennsylvania Castle/Church Ope Cove © Martin Cade:

15th March

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT

Due to the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak PBO is unable to guarantee the wellbeing of visitors and is to close for residential guests with immediate effect and until further notice; our carpark and viewing patio will remain open for the time being but all indoor facilities will be out of bounds to day-visitors. These instructions will be constantly reviewed and may change without warning.

We will endeavour to contact all those with accommodation bookings in place for this spring but should this not be possible please do not travel and expect to be accommodated.


What would have been the morning rush was interrupted by some heavyish rain showers, so early morning tallies consisted of just one Wheatear at the Bill, a Fieldfare over the obs and single figures of Chiffchaffs. However, by the afternoon the rain had cleared and the wind FINALLY dropped to almost nothing; with this came a small movement of Chiffchaffs (12 in the obs recording area, three at Church Ope and 3 around Bumpers Lane), Wheatears (three in the East Cliffs fields), Stonechats (18 between Sweethill and Culverwell) and a single Black Redstart at Shepherds Dinner. The sea saw its share of the action too with 36 Manx Shearwaters, 19 Fulmars, 26 Common Scoter and singles of Red-throated Diver, Brent Goose and Bonxie.

14th March

The day we have been waiting for since the onset of the foul weather last November, the first 2 Wheatears of the spring arrived today, a sure sign that spring is on its way. However, the glory of the bird of the day was stolen by a singing Mistle Thrush at Culverwell, an uncommon sound on Portland to say the least. The sunny morning saw small arrivals of common migrants including three White and 25 alba Wagtails, the first triple figure tally of Meadow Pipits, 23 Stonechats across the recording area, a flock of 35 Linnets in off the sea and 20 Chiffchaffs grounded at the Bill. The sea itself was of interest with six Red-throated Divers (with passage continuing throughout the day), 26 Common Scoter loitering offshore and eight Mediterranean Gulls; the evening seawatch added three Manx Shearwaters and a small but noticeable movement of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

13th March

The adage relates that one Swallow doesn't make a summer and today's first single of the spring that passed through at Blacknor certainly wasn't moving with any other quantity of migrants. A few gatherings of Stonechats - including 9 at Kingbarrow Quarry - were about as good as it got on the ground, with no more than a minor trickle of pipits and wagtails through overhead. Another 3 Manx Shearwaters and 2 Red-throated Divers passed by off the Bill.

Two Large Tortoiseshells were again at Church Ope Cove, with the first Small White and Hummingbird Hawkmoth of the year also on the wing at Blacknor and Portland Port respectively.

There mightn't have been much migrant activity but it was a decent enough day to get amongst some routine Portland fare - Skylark, Stonechat, Common Buzzard and Linnet © Roy Norris:





12th March

Lots of nice sunshine was comprehensively spoilt by a blasting westerly today. A steady trickle of Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails continued to battle in off the sea but little more than a handful of 'crests and Chiffchaffs were evident in what few sheltered spots there were on the ground. Odds and ends from the sea included 5 Manx Shearwaters and a Red-throated Diver through off the Bill.

The first Comma of the year was on the wing at Church Ope Cove and a lone Dark Sword Grass was caught overnight at the Obs.

11th March

Blue skies and a very slight drop in the wind saw a very small influx in the early morning including singles of Redwing and Song Thrush in the garden (judging by results of noct-mig sessions across the south-coast there was a large passage of thrushes over night); also within the garden, a new Firecrest joined 2 of the overwinterers. The sea provided some entertainment with a Bonxie that settled both on the sea and then the rocks by the obelisk; the second Manx Shearwater of the year was joined by one Red-throated Diver, eight Mediterranean Gulls and 16 Common Scoter. A steady trickle of commoner migrants joined the foray with 87 Meadow Pipits, 11 Stonechats and four alba Wagtails arriving in off the sea through the morning.

Sometimes the best part about living on an island is getting watching the sea during a spring tide with a big swell rolling in... © Erin Taylor:




Grounded migrants were again very thinly spread but a new Firecrest did show up at the Obs where it joined at least two overwinterers still present. These lingering Firecrests did provide a nice example of how easy it is to get the wrong end of the stick with numbers: we'd have put money on there being no more than two wintering Firecrests at the Obs (in fact we only saw two birds on one occasion back in January - all the other sightings this winter have been of singles) but now that the mist-nets have begun to be opened more regularly we've retrapped three birds that were all first ringed last autumn and now wouldn't be at all surprised if even more don't come out of the woodwork © Martin Cade:



10th March

 A brisk westerly wind and a rolling fog was not greatly conducive to any migratory efforts so the appearance of at least three Firecrest in the obs garden and hut fields were a pleasant surprise. The rest of the day's list remained woefully short consisting of 15 Common Scoter, one Mediterranean Gull, four Turnstones and one of the incredibly elusive Short-eared Owls.

The continually damp weather hasn't been bad news for everyone, the Bill Rock Pipits are thriving on the invertebrates being forced to the surface by the water logged soil, prompting some pairs into early nest building attempts ©Erin Taylor: 


9th March

Despite the obvious omissions from the early migrants list, the first vanguard began to trickle through today. A couple of big influxes included a flock of 180 Jackdaws in off the sea in the morning, followed by 150 Woodpigeons in the afternoon. The sparse selection of other migrants included 11 Stonechats, seven alba Wagtails and three Chiffchaffs.

8th March

Today's bright and blustery conditions were punctuated by a few hefty showers and migrant activity remained at a premium. A handful of pipits and wagtails continued to trickle in off the sea but a single Chiffchaff at the Bill was the only grounded migrant of note. Four Red-throated Divers passed by off the Bill and 4 Black-necked Grebes and a Great Northern Diver were still in Portland Harbour.

We received an interesting message from an island resident today reporting this Lesser Whitethroat that's been visiting their garden feeders for the last couple of months; although not enough detail is apparent on these images we wouldn't mind betting that this is the same 'eastern' bird that was present at Pennsylvania Castle/Wakeham back in November and December - by the look of the provisions on offer at its new haunt it's no surprise that it's stuck around there: 


7th March

An overcast dawn after a largely clear night looked to offer some hope but in the event there was practically nothing to show for today's efforts. The only faintly interesting report from the Bill was of a lone Red-throated Diver through on the sea.

6th March

Nice quiet conditions offered more promise and, even if visible passage didn't amount to much, there was a better selection of migrants on the ground today. Chiffchaffs staged their first double figure arrival of the new season with 10 scattered at the Bill, where further variety included 20 Stonechats, 2 Redwings and a White Wagtail, with the Obs mist-nets also hinting at an otherwise undetected arrival of the likes of tits and Robins; an overcast morning wasn't so favourable for overhead passage and little more than a trickle of incoming alba wagtails and Meadow Pipits developed. Collared Dove and Rook - 2 of each - were also seasonable firsts for the year at the Bill, where 14 Purple Sandpipers and a Firecrest were still about; 3 more Firecrests also lingered on at Pennsylvania Castle. The only reports from the sea 4 Red-throated Divers, 4 Shelduck, 2 Common Scoter and a Mediterranean Gull through off the Bill, whilst Portland Harbour still held a few winterers including 7 Common Scoter, 6 Black-necked Grebes, a Great Northern Diver and an Eider.

The first Small Tortoiseshell of the year was on the wing at Church Ope Cove.

5th March

Another goliath rain cloud gently rotated over the south coast for much of the morning, accompanied by a biting northerly wind. The first Wheatear of the year remained elusive but a new Chiffchaff at Culverwell was additional to yesterday's garden bird. Culverwell was also harbouring the first Water Rail of the year. Away from the obs recording area, a Goldcrest in Easton Square was the only other new migrant of the day.

4th March

A return to form as far as this year's weather goes with sheets of rain in a strong south-easterly through most of the morning. The meagre rewards for those daring to brave the storm was 14 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill and a new Chiffchaff in the garden. 

The Portland Amphibians must've been enjoying the wet weather until the Heron starting cashing in on their success... ©Nick Stantiford:



The first proper (pollen) horney Chiffchaff of the year... ©Erin Taylor:


The recent sunny spells have brought the local Adders out of hibernation ©Andy Mitchell:


3rd March

Two days on the trot of fair weather was a novelty for this year and another little trickle of early season migrants certainly made the most of it. Meadow Pipits dribbled in off the sea all day, a Greylag Goose passed through on the sea and on the land Stonechats totalled 20 at the Bill alone; also making the list from the Bill were 11 Purple Sandpipers and singles of Grey Heron, Snipe and Chiffchaff, with 2 Blackcaps at Southwell and 3 Firecrests and 2 Chiffchaffs at Church Ope Cove. A couple of sightings of what was likely to have been a/the Black Guillemot at Portland Harbour were something that'll be worth following up in the coming days; 6 Black-necked Grebes, 5 Common Scoter and singles of Great Northern Diver and Red-necked Grebe were also still there.

Large Tortoiseshells were showing on and off through the afternoon at Church Ope Cove.

Little groups of Stonechats were popping up all over the place at the Bill...


...and a long shot of the passing Greylag Goose off East Cliffs © Martin Cade:

2nd March

Another little glimmer of spring at the Bill today with the first Manx Shearwater of the year, along with 3 more inbound Carrion Crows and a trickle of arriving Meadow Pipits; as a sad reflection of their current status on the island, 4 Greenfinches at Culverwell were also worth a mention. Winterers still on station included Firecrests at Pennsylvania Castle (2) and the Obs. The harbour was busy once more with four species of grebe (Red-necked, Black-necked, Great Crested and Slavonian), a single Great Northern Diver, 4 Common Scoter and an Eider.

The non-avian highlight of the day came in the form of two Large Tortoiseshells at Church Ope Cove; a Brimstone butterfly - a minor Portland scarcity - was also there © Martin Adlam Port and Wey

1st March

The first day of a new month brought with it a drop in the wind and clearing of the sky (albeit interspersed with some heavy showers). The very slow arrival of Chiffchaffs continued with three birds around the Church Ope/Bumpers Lane area. The sunshine also saw the beginnings of Meadow Pipits moving with single figures seen coming in off the sea. A Bonxie and two Red-throated Divers were the highlights of the morning's seawatch and seven Purple Sandpipers remained at the Bill.

29th February

The arrival of two Chiffchaffs, one at Sweet Hill and one in Penn Castle Woods gave everyone a little hope that the end of February marked the end of our birding drought.

28th February

Another abysmal day meant focus was on inside jobs for much of the day. As such the day list consisted of 150+ Brent Geese and c.100 Dunlin at Ferrybridge from one diligent birder in the field.

27th February

Sitting on the obs patio in the morning, one could have been tricked into thinking that it was going to be a gloriously pleasant day. The wind had swung round overnight into a stiff northerly breeze, but the morning coffee was spent in the shelter of the lighthouse in the first truly warm bit of sunshine for quite some time. Whilst basking, the now uncommon wheeze of a Greenfinch amongst the Goldfinch flock came to our attention, sadly this is the first record of the year at the Bill for a once ubiquitous species. The rest of the Bill remained relatively quiet with 11 Purple Sandpipers and a smattering of six Stonechats the only birds of note. The harbour produced singles of Great Northern and Black-throated Diver, three Common Scoter and six Black-necked Grebes.

26th February

A beautiful, sunny day saw several of the over-wintering Firecrests show up, with three at Church Ope and one in the Obs garden. A single Red-throated Diver past the Bill was the only other bird of note.

One of the wintering Ringed Plovers at Ferrybridge today © Roy Norris:


When we had a closer look at Roy's photo it became apparent that the bird was ringed above the knee (Ringed Plovers ringed in the UK must be ringed above the knee but we're not sure how many/which foreign schemes have the same requirement). Whilst there's a perfectly good reason why waders are ringed above the knee we were left wondering if any research has been done on the recovery rate of small waders ringed in this way: since a bird ringed above the knee would almost certainly have to be trapped again or found dead to generate a recovery (...or are the metal rings read in the field more often than we imagine?) we're guessing the recovery rate must be pretty low and surely far lower than for birds marked with inscribed plastic rings, colour rings or leg flags. Maybe the longevity of an above the knee ring evens out the equation but whatever the answer it was frustrating not to be able to generate a recovery from this sighting!