October 2003

October 31st A much more pleasant day that unfortunately provided poor reward for plenty of searching. A Yellow-browed Warbler was reported briefly at Avalanche Road but subsequent searches for it drew a blank; rarity interest was otherwise limited to a fly-over Lapland Bunting at the Bill. A handful of thrushes, finches and Reed Buntings passed overhead, but the only birds of note on the ground were a couple of Firecrests at the Bill and another at Avalanche Road, and a thin sprinkle of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests at all the suitable sites. Seawatching at the Bill produced 7 Common and 4 Velvet Scoters, a Mediterranean Gull and a single unidentified diver. October 30th The early promise of a still and overcast dawn soon fizzled out as heavy rain and gale force winds swept in through the morning to spoil any birding during the rest of the day. A few thrushes, finches and Reed Buntings passed through again at the Bill, and there were good counts of 44 Goldcrests and 11 Chiffchaffs at Pennsylvania Castle, but the only scarcer migrants found were 11 Firecrests scattered around the south of the island and a lone Treecreeper at Pennsylvania Castle.



 Lesser Redpoll - Portland Bill, October 29th 2003 © James Lees

  October 29th After a night of heavy rainfall there was a small arrival of grounded migrants but overhead passage all but petered out. A Serin made another brief appearance at the Obs, but otherwise the best of the scarcer migrants were a respectable island-wide count of at least 13 Firecrests, 3 Short-eared Owls between the Bill and Barleycrates Lane, and single Treecreepers at Old Hill and Pennsylvania Castle. Noteworthy counts of commoner migrants included 12 new Blackcaps at the Obs.



 Pallas's Warbler - Southwell, October 28th 2003 © Martin Cade

  October 28th The long-awaited first Pallas's Warbler of the autumn was today's highlight: it showed well all day at Southwell School. Further rarities and scarce migrants included 4 Firecrests at the Bill, 3 Black Redstarts at the Bill and Southwell, 2 Woodlarks flying over at Portland Heights, a Merlin at the Bill, a late Yellow Wagtail over Top Fields and Weston, a Treecreeper at Old Hill and a Serin at Barleycrates Lane. Thrushes, finches and Reed Buntings continued to pass through in some numbers and there was also an influx of new Goldcrests; Swallows still linger on, with at least 30 at the Bill alone. October 27th Same weather, same trickle of birds. Bramblings and Reed Buntings, with counts of 25 and 20 respectively, were conspicuous at the Bill early in the morning where all the other usual suspects also passed through in small numbers; a fly-over Serin, 3 Mistle Thrushes, a Merlin, a Black Redstart and a Firecrest were the best of the oddities there. The only news from other sites was of 2 Firecrests at both Pennsylvania Castle and Avalanche Road. October 26th Another day of typical late autumn passage that produced small numbers of all the expected commoner migrants. Less regular species around the island included Firecrests at Verne Common (5), the Bill (3) and Wakeham, 4 Yellowhammers, a Merlin and a Woodlark at the Bill, a Short-eared Owl at Barleycrates Lane, a Treecreeper at Pennsylvania Castle and a Black Redstart at Broadcroft Quarry. October 25th More of the same today, although rarities and scarce migrants were all but absent. Counts from the Bill area included 20 Redwings, 15 Bramblings, 8 Fieldfares, 5 Redpolls, 3 Siskins, 3 Reed Buntings, 2 Firecrests, a Golden Plover and a Ring Ouzel. Elsewhere there were 32 Redwings, 11 Fieldfares, a Mistle Thrush and a Firecrest at Verne Common, a late Whinchat lingering on at Barleycrates Lane, a Black Redstart at Easton and further Firecrests at Avalanche Road (2), Pennsylvania Castle (2), the Grove (2) and Southwell. October 24th A calmer day that saw plenty of common migrants on the move again (with a week of the month still to go, the total of more than 1250 birds trapped and ringed already constitutes the highest October ringing total recorded at the Obs). Thrushes and finches were again numerous, and there were still good numbers of alba Wagtails, Meadow Pipits, Stonechats, Goldcrests and Reed Buntings passing through. In the very fine weather it was no surprise that none of the rarities and scarcer migrants reported lingered for more than a few minutes; highlights included a Serin at Culverwell, a Richard's Pipit and 2 Lapland Buntings at Reap Lane, a Woodcock, a Woodlark and a Corn Bunting at the Bill and another Woodcock at Verne Common. 



 Brambling - Portland Bill, October 23rd 2003 © James Lees

  October 23rd Quite a disappointing day, with the stir-up in the weather yesterday failing to produce any obvious reward today. Thrushes and finches, including a Mistle Thrush and a Ring Ouzel at the Bill, were still on the move in small numbers, but the only slightly scarcer migrants seen were 2 Firecrests at the Obs and another at Verne Common, a Short-eared Owl at the Bill and a Water Rail at Culverwell. Three Teal were the only birds of note passing through on the sea at the Bill.



 Lapland Bunting - Blacknor, October 22nd 2003 © James Lees

  October 22nd The first substantial rainfall for many weeks made serious birding a less than inviting proposition and there were relatively few observations to report. A settled Lapland Bunting at Blacknor was the best find of the day, whilst scarcer migrants still around included single Ring Ouzels at the Bill and Priory Corner, a Merlin at the Bill and several Firecrests at the Bill, Avalanche Road and the former Weston Craft Centre. A few thrushes and finches trickled through but otherwise the rain seemed not to have dropped many new common migrants.



 Dartford Warbler - Portland Bill, October 21st 2003 © James Lees

  October 21st The calmest day for a couple of weeks saw a good selection of typical late autumn birds recorded around the island. Highlights included a Yellow-browed Warbler at Avalanche Road, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Woodlark, a Dartford Warbler and a Lapland Bunting at the Bill. Common migrants, particularly Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests and a variety of finches, passed though in good numbers again, whilst scarcer species included 6 Firecrests at the Bill and another single at Avalanche Road, 2 Black Redstarts at Tout Quarry, single Ring Ouzels at Tout Quarry and the Bill, a Short-eared Owl at Suckthumb Quarry and a Merlin at the Bill. October 20th The still brisk and cold wind edged into the north after a weak weather front had passed through during the night, and thrushes and finches again moved through in quantity for a couple of hours after dawn. New common migrants were otherwise not particularly plentiful, although Ring Ouzels and Firecrests were still scattered around the island in some numbers, and lone Short-eared Owls were at the Bill and Portland Heights. The rarities of the day proved frustratingly difficult to get to grips with: a very vocal Red-throated Pipit roamed the fields immediately to the north of the Obs for a while early in the afternoon but afforded flight views only; a Richard's Pipit was flushed from Top Fields and left strongly to the north; a Lapland Bunting was another 'fly-over only' at the Bill; and finally, a Yellow-browed Warbler found late in the afternoon at Avalanche Road was heard calling frequently but couldn't be seen.




 Mute Swan - Portland Bill, October 19th 2003 © Martin Cade/James Lees

  October 19th With strong, cold easterly winds continuing to dominate there were plenty more birds to be seen everywhere. Thrushes, Stonechats, Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests and finches were conspicuous and appeared to be arriving throughout the day; rarities and less regular migrants included at least 12 Ring Ouzels and 6 Firecrests scattered around the island, a Merlin and a Short eared Owl a the Bill, a Yellow-browed Warbler heard briefly at Southwell School, a Continental Coal Tit at Avalanche Road and a Lapland Bunting overhead on the West Cliffs. Another 160 Black-headed Gulls passed through off the Bill, along with 30 Common Scoter, 3 Wigeon, a Brent Goose and Mediterranean Gull. The most peculiar incident of the day concerned the arrival in off the sea and subsequent capture of the first Mute Swan to be ringed at the Bill; having escaped the attention of marauding gulls and made landfall on the East Cliff, this hapless individual was spectacularly plucked from the sky as it tried to take to the air again and duly became one of the more unlikely species to be ringed at the Obs. October 18th More of the same today. The Continental Coal Tit was still present at the Obs and a second individual was found at Old Hill. A Lapland Bunting was a new arrival at the Bill, where there were also 8 Firecrests and 8 Ring Ouzels; another 2 Firecrests and 7 Ring Ouzels were scattered around the centre and north of the island, and single Short-eared Owls were seen at the Bill and Church Ope. Grounded and fly-over migrants were reasonably plentiful everywhere, and included a noteworthy count of 66 Stonechats between Tout Quarry and the Bill, as well as late records of lone Lesser Whitethroats at Wakeham and Delhi Lane, and a Reed Warbler at the Bill. Black-headed Gulls continued to feature off the Bill, where 352 were counted moving east during the morning. October 17th Another day of clear skies and strong easterly winds. Grounded migrants were not plentiful, but there was plenty of visible passage overhead and a few more interesting scarcities showed up. A Yellow-browed Warbler was a new arrival at the former Weston Craft Centre, a Treecreeper showed up at Pennsylvania Castle, another Woodlark passed through at the Bill, the Continental Coal Tit remained in the Obs garden, and 15 Ring Ouzels, 7 Firecrests and a couple of Merlins were scattered widely around the Island. An hour-and-a-half sample count of overhead passage at the Bill provided totals of 205 Meadow Pipits, 160 Starlings, 141 Chaffinches, 115 Linnets, 84 Greenfinches, 55 alba Wagtails, 23 Skylarks and smaller numbers of a good variety of other species. Another 102 Black-headed Gulls passed through off the Bill, along with 12 Teal and 5 Brent Geese.



 Continental Coal Tit - Portland Bill, October 16th 2003 © Martin Cade

  October 16th The wind remained firmly in the east and there was another interesting selection of rarities and scarce migrants on view around the island. A Yellow-browed Warbler remained at Culverwell, and a Great Crested Grebe, a Jack Snipe and a Continental Coal Tit were all new arrivals elsewhere in the Bill area. A fly-over Woodlark at Cheyne Weare was a first for the autumn, whilst there were still 6 Ring Ouzels, 6 Firecrests, 2 Merlins and a Short-eared Owl scattered widely. The variety of common migrants was rather similar to yesterday, although visible passage was a good deal less conspicuous. Seawatching at the Bill produced 102 Black-headed Gulls, 47 Common Gulls, 11 Common Scoter, 3 Great Skuas, a Brent Goose and a Red-breasted Merganser.



 Ring Ouzel - West Weare, October 15th 2003 © James Lees

  October 15th Another bird-filled day, although birding itself remained very difficult in almost gale force easterlies. Notable new arrivals included a Red Kite over the Verne and Church Ope, a Hen Harrier over Church Ope, a Barn Owl at Wide Street, an 'eastern' Chiffchaff at Old Hill and reports of 1 or more Yellow-browed Warblers at Culverwell; a Cetti's Warbler at Bumpers Lane may have been the individual first seen at the same site (in fact in the same bush!) several weeks ago. Grounded migrants were less numerous than in recent days, although still included at least 23 Ring Ouzels dotted around the north of the island, and 3 Firecrests and 2 Short-eared Owls at the Bill. Ouzels aside, thrush numbers dwindled and the majority of overhead passage consisted of Skylarks, pipits, wagtails and finches moving north; an hour-and-a-half sample count at the Bill in the morning produced totals including 670 Linnets, 440 Meadow Pipits, 105 alba Wagtails, 60 Starlings and 28 Skylarks. Seawatching at the Bill provided a typically motley selection of sightings including 75 Black-headed Gulls, 21 Brent Geese, 9 Teal, a Wigeon and a Pintail.



 Kestrel - Portland Bill, October 14th 2003 © Martin Cade

  October 14th Rather surprisingly, all of yesterday's rarities had moved on and, although common migrants were still passing through in quantity, the only quality arrivals in their place were a Quail and a Lapland Bunting at the Bill. Thrushes again featured prominently everywhere, with a minimum of 20 Ring Ouzels scattered around the island, as well as counts of 250 Blackbirds, 200 Song Thrushes, 200 Redwings, 10 Fieldfares and 2 Mistle Thrushes passing through at the BIll. Further interest was provided by 3 Black Redstarts, 2 Merlins, 2 Firecrests and a Short-eared Owl at the Bill, and a Hobby over Reforne, whilst among the commoner species there was the first good passage of Starlings of the autumn and a good count of 9 Snipe at the Bill. On the sea, Common Gulls were on the move for the first time, and 12 Wigeon, 3 Dunlin, 8 Brent Geese, 2 Teal, a Curlew and a Little Gull also passed the Bill.




 Radde's Warbler, Chiffchaff and 'eastern' Chiffchaff, and Yellow-browed Warbler - Portland Bill, October 13th 2003 © Martin Cade/James Lees

  October 13th A storming good day today with several excellent quality rarities and plenty of common migrants. The highlight was a Radde's Warbler trapped and ringed in the Obs garden and released in the Obs Quarry where it showed well throughout the day; the strong supporting cast included a Common Rosefinch in and around the Obs garden for a while at dawn, single Yellow-browed Warblers at the Obs, Southwell and Wakeham, an 'eastern' Chiffchaff trapped and ringed at the Obs, an Osprey and a Marsh Harrier flying south at the Bill and, finally, a elusive Siberian Stonechat that was found at Barleycrates Lane late in the day. Counts of commoner migrants included 460 Chaffinches overhead in the centre of the island, 100 Blackbirds at the Bill, 100 Redwings at both the Bill and Weston, 75 Song Thrushes at Weston and 10 Bramblings at both the Bill and Weston, whilst scarcer migrants included 4 Firecrests at the Bill, 3 Mistle Thrushes at the Bill, Ring Ouzels at Priory Corner (2) and Reap Lane, and a Dartford Warbler at the Bill. October 12th A howling south-east gale had set in by dawn and with shelter at a premium birding was hard work and pretty unrewarding. Substantial numbers of wagtails, pipits, thrushes and finches were on the move overhead, but the best of the few grounded migrants were 2 Ring Ouzels and 2 Firecrests at the Bill. The hoped-for busy seawatch came to nothing, with only 14 Common Scoter, 2 Grey Plover, a Red-breasted Merganser and an Arctic Skua logged passing the BIll. October 11th Yesterday's Yellow-browed Warbler showed up briefly in Southwell early in the morning but it was again the only sighting of any great note on the island. In fine, sunny weather grounded migrants were relatively thin on the ground, with the best being 13 Stonechats, 9 Reed Buntings, a Golden Plover, a Whinchat, a Redstart and a Dartford Warbler at the Bill; among the commoner species there were conspicuous influxes of Dunnocks, Great Tits and Greenfinches. Overhead passage was again quite heavy, and included counts of 200 alba Wagtails, 45 Siskins, 12 Bramblings and 5 Redpolls at the Bill. October 10th After a lean few days for rarities the appearance of a Yellow-browed Warbler in a private garden at Southwell was welcome. Unfortunately the day was otherwise very quiet, with grounded and over-flying migrants in short supply. The Bill area produced just 10 Chiffchaffs, 5 Blackcaps, 4 Goldcrests, 2 Wheatears, a Merlin and a Firecrest on the ground, as well as 500 Linnets and small numbers of pipits, wagtails and other finches passing through overhead. The only report from elsewhere was of a lone Reed Bunting at Suckthumb Quarry. October 9th Plenty more routine October passage but still not a hint of anything remotely out of the ordinary. Overhead passage again dominated at the Bill, where 800 Linnets, 300 Meadow Pipits, 300 alba Wagtails, 50 Siskins, 40 Chaffinches, 15 Skylarks and 3 Reed Buntings passed through. On the ground there were more Stonechats in evidence, but otherwise just a sprinkle of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests everywhere; a late Redstart was at Wakeham and a late Whitethroat at the Bill, but the only scarcer migrants were a Merlin and a Firecrest at the Bill. Seawatching at the Bill produced 17 Common Scoter, a Red-throated Diver, a Sooty Shearwater and an Arctic Skua. October 8th A milder but still overcast day that produced quite a bit more movement. Overhead passage was surprisingly heavy, with totals at the Bill of 1300 Linnets, 200 alba Wagtails, 150 Goldfinches, 75 Chaffinches, 35 Siskins, 3 Reed Buntings, 2 Redpolls and 2 Bramblings flying south. Grounded migrants included small numbers of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests everywhere, but still nothing better than a Merlin and a Firecrest at the Bill. Only sheer persistence provided any reward on the seawatchhing front, with the majority of the total of 8 Great and an Arctic Skua seen at the Bill passing through during a brief flurry of action during the afternoon. October 7th The blustery north-westerly weather continued and land and sea were both pretty quiet. Seawatching at the Bill produced 4 Arctic and 3 Great Skuas as well as a report of a lone Leach's Petrel, and there was little more interesting than a Merlin and a Reed Bunting on the land there. Elsewhere there were 4 Brent Geese at Ferrybridge and a Firecrest at Pennsylvania Castle.



 Common Rosefinch - Portland Bill, October 6th 2003 © Martin Cade

  October 6th After a wet and at times quite stormy night it was a surprise that there were a few new arrivals on the land. The highlights were another Common Rosefinch trapped and ringed at the Obs (the sixth island record this year) and a Dartford Warbler reported at Southwell. Among the scatter of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests at the Bill there was also a Redstart, a Garden Warbler and a Reed Bunting. Despite the wind veering back into the north-west the sea provided some interest, with 5 Arctic and 3 Great Skuas and a lone Balearic Shearwater passing the Bill.



 Pied Wagtail - Portland Bill, October 5th 2003 © Martin Cade

  October 5th Overhead passage dominated again today, with Meadow Pipits, alba Wagtails, Chaffinches and Linnets still on the move in quantity; among the variety of other species logged there were 90 Siskins over the Bill, the first 2 Bramblings of the autumn at Culverwell, 3 Lapland Buntings over Southwell and a Snow Bunting over Barleycrates Lane. On the ground there were still fair numbers of Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests everywhere, whilst oddities included 2 Firecrests, a Short-eared Owl, a Turtle Dove and a Ring Ouzel at the Bill, another Turtle Dove at Barleycrates Lane, another Firecrest at Avalanche Road and a Treecreeper at Southwell School. The sea remained very quiet in the strong offshore winds, with nothing more interesting than 2 Arctic Terns and an Arctic Skua off the Bill. October 4th The return of chilly, blustery north-westerlies saw to it that there were fewer grounded migrants but a lot more overhead passage today. Visible passage totals at the Bill included 1500 Meadow Pipits, 1500 Linnets, 400 alba Wagtails, 300 Goldfinches, 100 Chaffinches, 55 Siskins, 6 Golden Plovers and 5 Reed Buntings. Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests made up the bulk of the few grounded migrants everywhere, with the only oddities reported being a Merlin and a Firecrest at the Bill, a Ring Ouzel at Reforne, and a flock of 23 Ravens over Verne Common. Seawatching at the Bill produced 2 Little Egrets, 2 Brent Geese, a Great Northern Diver, a Red-breasted Merganser and a Pomarine Skua, whilst waders at Ferrybridge included 4 Bar-tailed and a lone Black-tailed Godwit.



 Chiffchaff - Portland Bill, October 3rd 2003 © Martin Cade

  October 3rd After a long time of waiting, dawn saw almost perfect 'fall' conditions over the island and the few birders around were certainly not disappointed by the events of the day. Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps dominated, with totals at the Bill alone of 400 and 200 respectively; other counts from there included 500 House Martins, 300 alba Wagtails, 300 Linnets, 40 Siskins, 30 Song Thrushes, 25 Chaffinches, 8 Redstarts and 6 Redwings. Trapping effort at the Obs and Culverwell produced a joint day total of 253 new birds ringed - more than double the previous highest day total this year. Scarcer migrants around the island included at least 4 Firecrests and a couple of Ring Ouzels, whilst rarity interest was provided by a Cirl Bunting briefly at Culverwell (the first island record for ten years), a Common Rosefinch at Tilleycombe and a presumed Siberian Chiffchaff at Culverwell. October 2nd More variety today although numbers remained pretty poor. The only rarity reported was a Red Kite that did a round of the island during the morning. The Bill area produced counts of 30 Wheatears, 25 Chaffinches, 10 Chiffchaffs, 6 Yellow Wagtails, 5 Redstarts, 3 Tree Pipits, 3 Song Thrushes, 3 Whinchats, a Hobby, a Snipe, a Dunlin, a Turtle Dove, a Ring Ouzel, a Sedge Warbler, a Garden Warbler, a Goldcrest and a Siskin. Elsewhere there were 3 Firecrests at Easton and 2 Turtle Doves at Suckthumb Quarry.



 Common Rosefinch - Portland Bill, October 1st 2003 © Martin Cade

  October 1st There was an encouraging start to the new month when a Common Rosefinch was trapped and ringed in the Obs garden early in the morning. Searching for common migrants was hard work in very strong easterly winds and, as the day went on, increasingly heavy rain; however, the Bill area produced the first flurry of migrant Blackbirds of the autumn, as well as a sprinkle of other common migrants, 5 Grey Herons, 2 Hobbies, a Golden Plover and a Snipe. Six Wigeon and 2 Great Skuas were the only birds of note on the sea.