May 2003


 Partial annular solar eclipse - Portland Bill, 05.15am May 31st 2003 © Martin Cade

  May 31st The only news today was from the Bill where there 3 Turtle Doves, 2 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Reed Warblers, a Grey Wagtail, a Wheatear, a Willow Warbler and a Chiffchaff on the land, and 5 Black-headed Gulls, 4 Common Scoter and 2 Manx Shearwaters on the sea; a hybrid Barnacle Goose x Canada Goose - a different individual to the bird seen a week ago - also flew overhead there. May 30th A Honey Buzzard arrived in off the sea over the Bill late in the afternoon but grounded migrants were even fewer than yesterday, with the Bill area providing just a Yellow Wagtail, a Willow Warbler and a Chiffchaff; elsewhere there was a lone Turtle Dove at Reap Lane. Seawatching was hardly riveting, with totals at the Bill of 29 commic and 5 Sandwich Terns, 25 Common Scoter, 5 Manx Shearwaters, 3 Black-headed Gulls, a Turnstone and a Sanderling.



 Hobby - Portland Bill, May 29th 2003 © Martin Cade

  May 29th The sea provided an unseasonable highlight today when a first-summer Sabine's Gull passed the Bill; also off there were 51 commic Terns, 34 Black-headed Gulls and a Great Northern Diver. In very warm and sunny weather the land remained fairly quiet, with 6 Turtle Doves, 3 Yellow Wagtails, a Hobby, a Grey Wagtail, a Wheatear, a Sedge Warbler and a Spotted Flycatcher at the Bill and a couple more Turtle Doves around the centre of the island.



 Red-backed Shrike - Verne Common, May 28th 2003 © Martin Cade

  May 28th Thick fog blanketed the island at dawn and new arrivals were hard to find anywhere. Once the fog cleared from the higher ground a Red-backed Shrike was found at Verne Common, single Hobbies passed overhead there and at Barleycrates Lane, and there were 3 Turtle Doves at Suckthumb Quarry, 2 Buzzards over the centre of the island and a Reed Warbler at Barleycrates Lane. Single Pomarine and Arctic Skuas passed the Bill during a brief clear spell there in the morning. May 27th Rather quiet still despite some damp, foggy weather promising to have dropped a few birds at dawn. Seven Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Reed Warblers, a Turtle Dove and a Sedge Warbler were at the Bill, and a Turtle Dove and a Reed Warbler were at Avalanche Road. A Great Skua and three probable Pomarine Skuas were the only birds of note on the sea at the Bill. May 26th There was another strong passage of hirundines arriving in off the sea, but migrants otherwise remained thinly scattered. The Bill area provided 6 Spotted Flycatchers, 5 Yellow Wagtails, 4 Wheatears, 3 Reed Warblers, 3 Willow Warblers, a Grey Heron, a Blackcap and a Lesser Redpoll; oddities elsewhere included 2 Buzzards over Easton, a Turtle Dove at Weston Street and a Tree Pipit at Broadcroft. Four Arctic Skuas were the only noteworthy birds past on the sea at the Bill. May 25th Spotted Flycatchers were again conspicuous, with 20 or more scattered around the south of the island, and hirundines were still arriving in some quantity, but new arrivals in the Bill area otherwise consisted of just 3 Wheatears, 2 Willow Warblers, a Hobby, a Redstart, a Sedge Warbler and a Blackcap; elsewhere there were 2 Turtle Doves at Barleycrates Lane. Seawatching at the Bill produced 40 Manx Shearwaters, 3 Great Northern Divers, and 2 Arctic, 1 Pomarine and 1 Great Skua; whilst waders at Ferrybridge included 41 Sanderling. For curiosity value, bird of the day was an overflying Barnacle x Canada Goose hybrid at the Bill! May 24th A Serin flew overhead at the Obs during the morning, but yesterday's small improvement in the common migrant situation was not maintained. The only new arrivals around the Bill area were small numbers of hirundines arriving in off the sea, 4 Yellow Wagtails, 3 Wheatears, 3 Chiffchaffs, 3 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Whinchats, a Turtle Dove and a Sedge Warbler. The sea came up with nothing more than 10 Common Scoter, 2 Manx Shearwaters, a Great Northern Diver and an Arctic Skua. There was a brief increase in wader numbers at Ferrybridge during the afternoon when 67 Dunlin, 41 Sanderling, 6 Turnstones, 4 Whimbrel and a Little Stint were present, but by the evening numbers had more than halved and the Little Stint could not be found. May 23rd A little bit more to report from the land today, with the Bill area producing 15 Spotted Flycatchers, 3 Wheatears, 2 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Reed Warblers, a Sedge Warbler, a Garden Warbler, a Willow Warbler and a Chiffchaff; hirundines were also on the move overhead in fair numbers. Elsewhere there were 5 Spotted Flycatchers and a Sedge Warbler at Verne Common. A single Balearic Shearwater was the highlight on the sea, where there were also 50 Manx Shearwaters, 9 Whimbrel, 2 Arctic Skuas, a Dunlin and a Sandwich Tern. Waders at Ferrybridge included 16 Sanderling. May 22nd Desperate times still on the land with a lone Spotted Flycatcher being the only noteworthy migrant in the Bill area. Despite a whole morning of trying, no birds were trapped at the Obs where the ringing tally for the week stands at just 3 birds (of which only one was a summer migrant!). Fortunately, the perseverance of the seawatchers again salvaged something for the day, with totals of 300 Manx Shearwaters, 41 Common Scoter, 11 Dunlin, 5 Arctic and 3 Pomarine Skuas, 4 Sandwich Terns and a Red-throated Diver off the Bill. After yesterday's flourish, wader numbers dropped off at Ferrybridge, where only 20 Dunlin and a single Sanderling could be found. May 21st  Migrants around the Bill area today included 4 Spotted Flycatchers, 3 Wheatears, 2 Blackcaps, a Hobby, a Sedge Warbler and a Reed Warbler. The sea remained quite productive, with totals at the Bill of 300 Manx Shearwaters, 6 Arctic and 2 Pomarine Skuas, 3 Great Northern Divers, 2 Sanderling and a Storm Petrel. Waders numbers improved a little at Ferrybridge, where there were 30 Sanderling, 21 Dunlin and a Turnstone in the evening; more than 90 Little Terns were also present in the breeding colony there.



 Storm Petrel - Portland Bill, May 20th 2003 © Martin Cade

  May 20th New arrivals on the land consisted of nothing more than a Sedge Warbler and a Spotted Flycatcher at the Bill so once again plenty of attention was directed towards the sea. Three Storm Petrels were the highlight at the Bill, where there were also 600 Manx Shearwaters, 10 Common Scoter and 2 Pomarine and an Arctic Skua. Chesil Cove produced just a few Manx Shearwaters, a Black-throated Diver and another Arctic Skua May 19th With just 2 Wheatears and 2 Spotted Flycatchers grounded in the Bill area it was obvious that passerine migration was all but non-existent and the sea occupied most birders attention. Manx Shearwaters were on the move all day, with 150 flying west off the Bill in the morning and more than 400 flying east there and at Chesil Cove in increasingly windy weather during the evening. Six Arctic, 4 Great and 2 Pomarine Skuas also passed through off the Bill. May 18th Extremely quiet on the land again today, with the Bill area producing nothing more than 5 Wheatears, 3 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Yellow Wagtails, a Purple Sandpiper and a Common Sandpiper. Bird of the day was a Long-tailed Skua that lingered for a while in Chesil Cove early in the evening; 5 Arctic Skuas also passed through there during the morning. At the Bill there was an unprecedented spring report of a Sooty Shearwater, but otherwise the sea produced just a trickle of Manx Shearwaters and 3 Great and an Arctic Skua. May 17th Another dull, damp day with a sprinkle of common migrants everywhere. The Bill area held 5 Spotted Flycatchers, 4 Chiffchaffs, 3 Yellow Wagtails, 3 Reed Warblers, 3 Sedge Warblers, 2 Whinchats, a Hobby, a Purple Sandpiper, a Wheatear, a Lesser Whitethroat and a Willow Warbler, whilst there were another 6 Spotted Flycatchers and 2 Sedge Warblers at Verne Common. Seawatching at the Bill produced 40 Manx Shearwaters, 9 Common Scoter, 9 Sandwich and 7 Common Terns, 6 Arctic and 2 Great Skuas, and a Great Northern Diver, whilst at Chesil Cove a single Pomarine Skua passed through. There was a hint of an improvement in wader numbers at Ferrybridge, where there were 40 Dunlin and 7 Sanderling. May 16th Wind and rain swept in overnight and made birding pretty difficult all day. In the occasional drier interludes the only common migrants found in the Bill area were 3 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Chiffchaffs, a Reed Warbler, a Blackcap and a Willow Warbler; despite the poor conditions occasional parties of hirundines and Swifts were still on the move overhead. Seawatching was disappointingly unproductive, with just 48 Common Scoter, 11 Sanderling, 5 Arctic Skuas, 3 Great Northern Divers and a few Manx Shearwaters off the Bill.



 Purple Sandpiper - Portland Bill, May 15th 2003 © Martin Cade

  May 15th Something of a repeat of yesterday but without the rarity. Another minor flurry of common migrants provided counts of 13 Spotted Flycatchers, 7 Wheatears, 6 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Redstarts, 2 Chiffchaffs, 2 Willow Warblers, a Buzzard, a Purple Sandpiper and a Sedge Warbler at the Bill, where a sample hour-long count of visible passage on the West Cliffs also produced 486 Swallows, 15 House Martins and 14 Swifts passing through. Seawatchers at the Bill were rewarded with nothing more than 27 Common Scoter, 10 Oystercatchers, 8 commic Terns, 2 Arctic Skuas, a Great Northern Diver and a Whimbrel.



 Golden Oriole - Portland Bill, May 14th 2003 © Martin Cade

  May 14th The arrival of a singing male Golden Oriole revived flagging spirits today; it first showed up in the Obs garden from where it soon moved on to the Top Fields before eventually leaving towards Southwell. A few more common migrants were also in evidence, with counts from the Bill area of 10 Spotted Flycatchers, 6 Sedge Warblers, 3 Turtle Doves, 3 Blackcaps, 3 Chiffchaffs, 2 Wheatears, a Purple Sandpiper, a Garden Warbler and a Willow Warbler. Offshore, Manx Shearwaters trickled westwards all morning and a lone Great Northern Diver passed through. May 13th  Bright and blustery north-westerly weather is rarely productive at Portland, and today proved no exception. The handful of migrants at the Bill included 6 Wheatears, a Common Sandpiper (the first of the spring there!), a Sedge Warbler, a Garden Warbler, a Willow Warbler and a Spotted Flycatcher. The sea produced nothing more than a couple of Great Northern Divers in the morning and a steady up-Channel movement of Manx Shearwaters during the afternoon. May 12th Eight Wheatears and a Chiffchaff were the only new arrivals reported on the ground at the Bill, where a trickle of hirundines and 11 Swifts also passed overhead. Dogged effort produced a little more reward on the sea, with 31 Manx Shearwaters, 6 Arctic, 3 Pomarine and a Great Skua, 3 Great Northern and a Red-throated Diver, and 3 Sanderling logged passing the Bill. May 11th Precious little improvement despite more seemingly promising conditions. The Bill area held 12 Wheatears, 3 Chiffchaffs, 2 Willow Warblers, a Purple Sandpiper, a Yellow Wagtail, a Whinchat, a Sedge Warbler and a Lesser Whitethroat. A lot of seawatching effort at the Bill produced just 57 Common Scoter, 7 Manx Shearwaters, 2 Great and 2 Arctic Skuas, 2 Whimbrel and a Red-throated Diver. May 10th Bearing in mind the near-perfect 'fall' conditions at dawn, interest on the land plumbed previously unimagined depths, with - occasional hirundines and breeding Whitethroats aside - just single Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear and Chiffchaff in the whole Bill area. Seawatching at the Bill produced a trickle of Manx Shearwaters, 7 Common Scoter, 3 Arctic and 2 Great Skuas, and 2 Red-throated and 2 Great Northern Divers. May 9th The extremely mobile and elusive Jay remained at the Bill and there were early morning reports of Serins briefly at both Culverwell and Reap Lane. Common migrants were all but absent, with the Bill area producing just 3 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Wheatears, 2 Yellow Wagtails, a Tree Pipit, a Redstart and a Blackcap. The sea continued to provide a little interest, with 14 Common Scoter, 2 Great Northern and a Red-throated Diver, 2 Sanderling, a Long-tailed Duck and a Great Skua off the Bill.


 Serin - Portland Bill, May 8th 2003 © Martin Cade

  May 8th Another day with extremely promising-looking overcast conditions at dawn but hardly any birds to be seen. Ten Wheatears, 5 Chiffchaffs, 3 Lesser Whitethroats, 3 Blackcaps, 2 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Spotted Flycatchers and a Willow Warbler were the sum total of the non-hirundine migrants at the Bill, where the only injection of excitement came with the discovery of a Jay and a Serin. Seawatching there produced 29 Common Scoter, 5 Black-headed Gulls and single Red-throated, Black-throated and Great Northern Divers, and Great and Pomarine Skuas. May 7th More typical fare today, with 25 Wheatears, 13 Spotted Flycatchers, 5 Yellow Wagtails, 4 Lesser Whitethroats, 3 Whinchats, 2 Redstarts, 2 Blackcaps, 2 Chiffchaffs, 2 Willow Warblers, a Black Redstart and a Reed Warbler scattered around the south of the island; Swallows and House Martins trickled through overhead all day. For most of the day the sea was again very quiet, with just single Black-throated and Great Northern Divers passing the Bill all morning, however in the evening 7 Pomarine and an Arctic Skua passed through there. In common with the rest of recent passage, wader numbers at Ferrybridge have been abysmal: this evening there were just 11 Dunlin and a single Sanderling there. May 6th An end of spring feel to the day, with a handful of typical late-arriving common migrants everywhere. Spotted Flycatchers were widely scattered, with at least 8 in the Bill area where there were also 14 Greenland Wheatears, 3 Yellow Wagtails, 3 Lesser Whitethroats, 2 Redstarts and a Sedge Warbler; arrivals in off the sea during the day included a Hobby in the morning and a Marsh Harrier in the afternoon. A lone Red-throated Diver was in Portland Harbour, but no noteworthy sea movement was recorded at the Bill or Chesil. May 5th And so ended the poorest Early May Bank Holiday weekend in recent memory! The grand total of just 8 summer migrants trapped and ringed at the Obs during the three days (the comparable figure for last year was 459) was an entirely accurate reflection of the dearth of birds everywhere, with nothing of even minor interest reported on the land today. A hint of respectability was salvaged by the seawatchers who logged more than 100 Manx Shearwaters, 9 Pomarine Skuas and 3 Red-throated, 3 Great Northern and 1 Black-throated Diver passing the Bill.   May 4th A clear night was followed by a warm, sunny day and migrant numbers and variety were much reduced on both land and sea. Swallows arrived in off the sea in quantity all day, but more unexpected was a strong southward passage of more 200 Goldfinches at the Bill. Migrants were hard to find on the land, with nothing more interesting than a scatter of Spotted Flycatchers everywhere, and 2 Siskins and a Turtle Dove at the Bill. Plenty of seawatching provided just a few Manx Shearwaters and terns, 27 Common Scoter, 9 Sanderling, 2 Arctic and a Pomarine Skua, and 2 Great Nothern Divers off the Bill, and a lone Arctic Skua off Chesil Beach. May 3rd Quieter weather and much quieter on the bird front. The thin sprinkle of common migrants included ones and twos of most of the expected species, together with a Dartford Warbler at Verne Common, a Nightingale at Easton, a Grasshopper Warbler at the Bill (the first there this year) and a Hobby passing overhead there. Seawatching at the Bill produced 6 Pomarine, 2 Arctic and 2 Great Skuas, and 2 Great Northern, a Red-throated and a Black-throated Diver but precious little movement of commoner species. May 2nd A very stormy day that produced a fair bit on the sea and also, somewhat unexpectedly, more on the land than for some while. The Golden Oriole remained in Top Fields but was always elusive in the windy conditions. The relative shelter of Verne Common provided counts of 20 Willow Warblers, 12 Spotted and a Pied Flycatcher, 5 Lesser Whitethroats, 3 Whinchats, 3 Garden Warblers, a Tree Pipit, a Redstart ,a Wood Warbler and a Pied Flycatcher, whilst the Bill area produced smaller numbers of the same species together with 4 Sedge Warblers and a Turtle Dove; elsewhere a Reed Warbler was at the Grove. Morning seawatching at Chesil Cove provided counts including 14 Arctic and 5 Pomarine Skuas, and longer watches at the Bill provided 8 Arctic, 7 Great and 4 Pomarine Skuas, and 6 Great Northern and a Black-throated Diver.


 Whinchat - Portland Bill, May 1st 2003 © Phil Sydenham

  May 1st The Serin flew over the Obs garden several times during the morning and the Golden Oriole remained in Top Fields, but it was otherwise a most inauspicious start to the new month with, for example, just two birds (a Whinchat and a Whitethroat) trapped and ringed at the Obs all day. Odds and sods elsewhere around the Bill area included 12 Wheatears (the majority of Wheatears seen in recent days have been Greenland Wheatears), 2 Whinchats and singles of a few other species, whilst a Hobby passed overhead there together with a trickle of Swallows and 4 Swifts. The blustery westerly conditions were not helpful for the seawatchers, and a lot of effort at the Bill produced just 19 Common Scoter, 9 Manx Shearwaters, 7 Sandwich Terns, 3 Arctic, 2 Pomarine and 2 Great Skuas, a Red-throated Diver and a Whimbrel.