March 2006

March 31st

Migrants remained in short supply, with the Bill area producing just 20 Wheatears, 8 Purple Sandpipers, 4 Willow Warblers, 2 Chiffchaffs and a Goldcrest. Two Puffins appeared off the Bill for the first time in three weeks, with seawatching there also producing 150 Brent Geese, 45 Common Scoter, 5 Red-throated Divers, 3 Sandwich Terns and 3 Manx Shearwaters passing by and 20 Common Scoter and 3 Eiders still settled offshore. As a measure of just how poor March has been for common migrants it's worth mentioning that only 117 birds have been trapped and ringed in the Obs garden this month. This is a total similar to the March totals achieved in the early 1990s when there was a run of cool, easterly-dominated early springs; the average March ringing total in the last 10 years has been 280. 

March 30th

Still precious little to report, with nothing more in the Bill area than 8 Purple Sandpipers, 8 Wheatears, 2 Turnstones, 2 Swallows, 2 Chiffchaffs, a Willow Warbler and a Firecrest. Seawatching there produced 150 Kittiwakes, 30 Common Scoter, 4 Sandwich Terns, 2 Curlew, a Red-throated Diver, a Manx Shearwater and a Mediterranean Gull passing by and 11 Common Scoter and an Eider still settled offshore. 




   Firecrest and partial eclipse of the sun (at 11.30am and midday) - Portland Bill, March 29th 2006 © Martin Cade

  March 29th

Where are all the summer migrants that we ought to be getting by now? The clear skies of dawn didn't look likely to produce much in the way of a decent fall but there really should have been more about than the pitiful selection logged today. The Bill area provided totals of just 20 Wheatears, 10 Chiffchaffs, 9 Swallows, 3 Willow Warblers, 3 Firecrests, 2 Sand Martins, a Grey Wagtail and a Redwing, with even lower numbers of the commonest of these species elsewhere around the island. Despite promising-looking conditions - light onshore winds and clear skies - even the sea came up with nothing more than 23 Common Scoter, 8 Red-throated Divers, a Great Skua and a Sandwich Tern passing through off the Bill. The only other reports were of singles of Great Northern Diver, Eider and Razorbill still in Portland Harbour.

Late news for yesterday: the first Painted Lady of the year was seen at East Weare.

March 28th

A day of almost unbroken sunshine although the stiff south-westerly wind again hindered birding on the land. There was a light scatter of Wheatears and Chiffchaffs everywhere, but 3 Willow Warblers, a Goldcrest and a Bullfinch were the only other new arrivals of note at the Bill; elsewhere there was a Ring Ouzel, 2 Willow Warblers and 2 Goldcrests at Penn's Weare and another single Willow Warbler at Weston. Seawatching at the Bill produced 19 Common Scoter, 8 Brent Geese, 5 Manx Shearwaters, 5 Red-throated Divers, 2 commic terns, a Black-throated Diver, a Mute Swan, an Arctic Skua and a Mediterranean Gull passing by and 12 Common Scoter and an Eider settled offshore.

The first Small Tortoiseshells of the year were on the wing at several sites.

March 27th

Mild, wet and stormy until mid-afternoon when some welcome warm sunshine broke through. The wind put paid to much birding on the land although sheltered spots held more than might have been expected, with 100 Wheatears, 10 Chiffchaffs, a Swallow and a Blackcap logged during occasional forays into the field at the Bill; elsewhere there was a Ring Ouzel at Verne Common and more than 50 Meadow Pipits flew north over Weston where there was also a single Merlin. Chesil Cove provided most of the sea interest, with 60 Sandwich Terns, 9 Arctic Skuas, 9 Little Gulls and an Arctic Tern passing through during the morning; the Bill was quieter and produced nothing more than 120 Common Scoter, 12 Sandwich Terns, 8 Manx Shearwaters and 5 Red-throated Divers passing by and another 13 Common Scoter settled offshore. At least 50 Sandwich Terns were in Portland Harbour during the afternoon.

Finally, a reminder that there is an In Focus field event at the Obs tomorrow when the PBO bookshop will also be open all day.

March 26th

A foggy morning gave way to another very wet afternoon and there was little to report from the land but some indications of birds on the move offshore. The pick of the few new arrivals was a Ring Ouzel beside the coast path above West Weare; the only reports of any interest from the Bill area were of 9 Wheatears, 7 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Turnstones and a Chiffchaff, whilst elsewhere there were 7 Redwings, a Wheatear, a Chiffchaff and a Siskin in the Pennsylvania Castle/Perryfields area and a Grey Plover and a Bar-tailed Godwit at Ferrybridge. Seawatching was hampered by poor - at times virtually nil - visibility, but nonetheless 70 Brent Geese, 9 Black-headed Gulls, 4 Sandwich Terns, 3 Red-throated Divers, 2 Shelduck and a Manx Shearwater were spotted passing through in the gloom off the Bill.




   Fieldfare and Willow Warbler - Portland Bill, March 25th 2006 © Martin Cade

  March 25th

With the day's helping of low cloud and rain holding off until late morning there was plenty of time for a good portion of the island to be covered. Migrants were still not at all plentiful but variety increased noticeably, with the highlights being the first records for the year of Whimbrel (at Barleycrates Lane), Ring Ouzel (at the RN Cemetery, Verne Common) and Willow Warbler (at the Bill), along with the first migrant Firecrest (also at the Bill). Routine fare in the Bill area included 13 Wheatears, 7 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Grey Wagtails, 2 Redwings, 2 Chiffchaffs, a Fieldfare and a Goldcrest, whilst Barleycrates Lane provided another 4 Chiffchaffs, 2 Redwings and a Mistle Thrush. Sea passage petered out, with the Bill producing just 4 Red-throated and a Black-throated Diver, 2 Red-breasted Mergansers and a Manx Shearwater passing by and 10 Common Scoter and an Eider still settled offshore.

The temperature might be creeping up but the moths don't seem to have realised as nothing at all was caught in three moth-traps operated overnight in the Obs garden.

Late news for yesterday: Red-throated Divers continued to trickle through off the Bill, with the day's final tally being 24 flying up-Channel.......hardly in the Dungeness league but a fair spring total for Portland!

March 24th

Milder conditions finally arrived after a night of brisk southerlies and heavy rain, with quite frequent drizzly rain showers continuing to blow through throughout the day. The land was not a lot busier than it had been in the colder weather, with the best on offer around the Bill area being 33 Wheatears, 3 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Turnstones, 2 Chiffchaffs, a Common Buzzard, a Water Rail and a Goldcrest; elsewhere there were 2 White Wagtails at Weston and a Redwing lingered on at Easton. Sea passage picked up a little, with 175 Gannets, 160 Common Scoter, 17 Red-throated Divers, 5 Manx Shearwaters, 4 Sandwich Terns and 3 Black-headed Gulls passing through off the Bill.

March 23rd

Despite the weather forecast hinting at an improvement in conditions it remained just as chilly and the strong wind was still set firmly in the east. The only migrants in the Bill area were 10 Wheatears, a Chiffchaff and a Goldcrest on the ground and a trickle of Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails passing overhead. On the sea, a couple of passing Manx Shearwaters were hopefully an indicator of things to come although the only other birds on the move today were 2 Red-throated Divers and a Curlew. The only reports from elsewhere were of 2 Curlew and a Mediterranean Gull at Ferrybridge.

March 22nd

It almost goes without saying that it was still cold and windy. The only news was from the Bill area where there were 16 Wheatears, 9 Stonechats, 2 Black Redstarts, a Common Buzzard, a Merlin, a Chiffchaff, a Goldcrest, a Brambling and a Bullfinch on the land, Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails were on the move in small numbers overhead, 11 Common Scoter and an Eider were settled offshore and 17 Common Scoter and 8 Red-throated Divers passed through on the sea.

A Hummingbird Hawk-moth was on the wing at Weston during the afternoon.

March 21st

We might well have got past the equinox but it certainly didn't feel like spring in the raw easterly wind sweeping the island this morning. On the plus side the presence of 50 Wheatears at the Bill was a welcome sign of continuing movement on the bird front; 12 Stonechats, 10 Song Thrushes, 3 Chiffchaffs, a Black Redstart, a Goldcrest and a Brambling were also at the Bill, 26 Song Thrushes, 10 Redwings, 3 Wheatears, 2 Black Redstarts and a Chiffchaff were at Barleycrates Lane, whilst oddities elsewhere included a Grey Heron flying north over Easton. A movement of 450 'non-local' auks passing up-Channel off the Bill was unexpected but otherwise the sea produced nothing more than 17 Common Scoter, 10 Brent Geese and 6 Red-throated Divers passing through and another 7 Common Scoter and an Eider settled offshore. 

March 20th

Overcast, windy and still feeling very chilly but there was quite a bit more movement than in recent days. Meadow Pipit passage got going strongly, with even rather casual observations revealing well over 1000 arriving in off the sea at the Bill; fair numbers of alba wagtails were also passing overhead, whilst grounded migrants at the Bill included 7 Wheatears, 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Chiffchaffs, a Lapwing, a Fieldfare and a Brambling. The sea wasn't to be outdone and produced 41 Common Scoter, 5 Shoveler, 4 Red-throated Divers, 4 Pintail and a single Great Skua passing through off the Bill. Odds and sods elsewhere included another Chiffchaff at Weston and 3 Mediterranean Gulls, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits and a Grey Plover at Ferrybridge. 

March 19th

Quite a varied list for today although summer migrants remained very conspicuously all but absent. Bird of the day was a Spoonbill that dropped in briefly at Ferrybridge. The Bill area produced 15 Stonechats, 5 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Bramblings, a Wheatear, a Fieldfare and a Goldcrest; 2 more Wheatears and a Chiffchaff were at Barleycrates Lane and there was a Merlin at Reap Lane. The sea provided 42 Black-headed Gulls, 14 Common Scoter, a Great Crested Grebe and an Eider passing Chesil Beach, 3 Eider as usual remained settled off the Bill and 10 Common Scoter, a Red-throated Diver, a Black-throated Diver and a Great Crested Grebe passed the Bill.

March 18th

The wind remained firmly rooted in the east and interest was again at a premium. The meagre assortment in the Bill area included 11 Stonechats, 2 Bramblings, a Common Buzzard, a Merlin, a Fieldfare, a Wheatear and a Goldcrest, with 3 Eider still settled offshore and 17 Common Scoter passing through on the sea. A more productive seawatch at Chesil Beach provided totals of 21 Black-headed Gulls, 12 Common Scoter, 2 Grey Plovers, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Red-throated Diver and a Black-throated Diver passing by.



   Cormorant - Portland Bill, March 17th 2006 © Martin Cade

  March 17th

With the easterly wind having noticeably increased it felt even colder today. There wasn't much change at the Bill where the pick of the day's sightings were 10 Redwings, 3 Wheatears, 2 Fieldfares, 2 Goldcrests, 2 Bramblings, a White Wagtail and a Common Buzzard on the land and 3 Eider still settled offshore. Elsewhere there were 3 Mediterranean Gulls at Ferrybridge, a Chiffchaff at Southwell and a Redwing at Suckthumb Quarry.



   Brambling - Portland Bill, March 16th 2006 © Martin Cade

  March 16th

Yesterday's welcome taste of spring proved to be a bit of a flash in the pan and it was a lot quieter today in a brisk and much chillier north-easterly. Most of the news came from the Bill area where there were 3 Wheatears, 2 Fieldfares, 2 Bramblings, a Common Buzzard, a Swallow, a Black Redstart and a Chiffchaff on the land, a trickle of Meadow Pipits still arriving in off the sea, 5 Common Scoter and 3 Eider still settled offshore and a single Red-throated Diver passing by on the sea. The only other news was of 12 Redwings at Barleycrates Lane and 3 Chiffchaffs and a Brambling at the Grove.




   Wheatear and Swallow - Portland Bill, March 15th 2006 © Martin Cade

  March 15th

Plenty of action today for the first time this spring. Heavily overcast skies at dawn resulted in a strong overhead passage of thrushes; the centre and north of the island produced the lion's share of the movement but there were overall totals of around 500 Redwings, 80 Song Thrushes, 15 Fieldfares and a Mistle Thrush logged in the first hour of daylight. Forty Stock Doves, 40 Skyarks and 16 Carrion Crows were among the other oddments on the move overhead, whilst grounded migrants in the Bill area at the time included a Stone Curlew flushed from Top Fields, a Jack Snipe at Culverwell, 26 Stonechats, 3 Chiffchaffs, a Redshank, a Black Redstart and a Goldcrest; elsewhere there were 2 White Wagtails at the Grove and a Lapwing and a Chiffchaff at Southwell. Before long skies cleared and the presence of some tolerably warm sunshine seemed to be the prompt for 5 Wheatears to drop in, 3 Swallows to pass through (one of which then ended up lingering all afternoon along East Cliffs) and plenty of Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails to get moving. Not too much attention was paid to the sea but 9 Teal, a Shelduck and a Great Skua passed the Bill and 27 Black-headed Gulls and 2 Red-throated Divers passed through off Chesil Beach.

Late news for the last two days: 2 Barn Owls have been seen hunting beside the Beach Road near Ferrybridge during both the last two nights and yesterday a Black Redstart was at the Grove.



   Reed Bunting - Portland Bill, March 14th 2006 © Martin Cade

  March 14th

Much more to see today although the only 'proper' summer migrants discovered were 2 Chiffchaffs at Southwell. Among the shorter distance migrants there was a notable influx of Bramblings, with 3 at Avalanche Road, 2 at the Bill and 1 at Barleycrates Lane, along with 2 Reed Buntings, 2 Redwings and a Fieldfare at the Bill, 3 Fieldfares, a Snipe and a Redwing at Barleycrates Lane and a Lapwing and a Reed Bunting at Suckthumb Quarry; Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and Song Thrushes, no doubt many of which were new arrivals, were also more conspicuous everywhere. Four Purple Sandpipers, a Common Buzzard and a Turnstone were also still at the Bill and 2 Redwings lingered on at Easton. Seawatching at the Bill produced 19 Common Scoter, 5 Red-throated Divers, 2 Mediterranean Gulls and a Black-throated Diver on the move and 3 Eider still settled offshore.

Late news for yesterday: a Coot (a good Portland rarity!) was at Ferrybridge.



  Brambling - Portland Bill, March 13th 2006 © Martin Cade

  March 13th

Not quite such an unpleasant day: still feeling cold in the brisk southerly wind but a lot brighter than forecast. A Brambling and a few extra Chaffinches were new at the Bill where Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails again trickled in off the sea in small numbers; late in the evening a Barn Owl was seen hunting over fields near the Obs. Seawatching at the Bill produced 35 Teal, 18 Common Scoter and 6 Golden Plover passing by, along with the regular 3 Eider still settled offshore. The only news from elsewhere was of 2 Redwings at Barleycrates Lane.

March 12th

A resoundingly miserable day with drizzly rain through much of the morning and a blasting and really raw south-east wind blowing throughout the day. A total of 14 Stonechats and 2 Redwings were new arrivals at the Bill where 17 Common Scoter, 3 Red-breasted Mergansers and a Red-throated Diver passed through on the sea and 3 Eider were still settled offshore. Elsewhere there were 7 Shelduck at Chesil Cove, 4 Slavonian Grebes in Portland Harbour, a Mediterranean Gull at Ferrybridge and a Mistle Thrush and a Fieldfare at the Grove.



  Long-tailed Tit - Portland Bill, March 11th 2006 © Martin Cade

  March 11th

Despite the bright, still and mild conditions it remained disappointingly migrant-less, with the best on offer at the Bill being a small movement of at least 19 new Blue Tits, a Redwing and a few new finches that included a Siskin and the first couple of Linnets of the spring; the 7 Long-tailed Tits first seen earlier in the week also reappeared in the Obs garden and there were still 4 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill. Four Common Scoter and 3 Eider remained offshore where a Mediterranean Gull also lingered and 5 Red-throated Divers passed by. The only news from elsewhere was of 4 Fieldfares at Barleycrates Lane and a Black-tailed Godwit briefly at Ferrybridge.

March 10th

There was another small passage of Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails in off the sea but otherwise it remained very quiet, with the only sightings of note on the land being of a Purple Sandpiper and a Snipe at the Bill. Three more Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill where 3 Eider and 3 Common Scoter were still settled off East Cliffs. Elsewhere there were 2 Redwings at Easton and another lone Eider was in Portland Harbour.

March 9th

Still no sign of the long-awaited first Wheatear/Chiffchaff etc but from late morning onwards there was a steady arrival of Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails in off the sea - a full count wasn't possible but the pipit total was clearly going to be well into the low hundreds. The only other reports were of seawatching at the Bill that produced 10 Black-headed Gulls and a Red-throated Diver passing by and 9 Common Scoter and 3 Eider settled offshore.

March 8th

Foggy and often quite wet again today. A Grey Wagtail arrived in off the sea at the Bill where there were also singles of Common Buzzard, Pheasant (the first sighting for a while), Snipe, Redwing and Fieldfare. Seawatching there produced 3 passing Red-throated Divers and 4 settled Common Scoter. The only news from elsewhere was of Firecrest at Foundry Close, Easton.

March 7th

Very little coverage in miserable conditions, with thick fog setting in early in the afternoon following a morning of constant heavy rain; the one redeeming feature was the considerably milder air that had arrived with the overdue rainfall. The only reports were of 4 Mallards near Victoria Square, 3 Fieldfares and a Redwing at the Bill and a general increase in grounded Meadow Pipits.

March 6th

With the weather remaining pretty settled and the temperature slowly creeping up it was a surprise that the only newcomers of note were a White Wagtail at Barleycrates Lane and 7 Long-tailed Tits and a Yellowhammer at the Bill (with the latter two having probably wandered from no further away than the middle of the island!). Groups of 3 Fieldfares remained at both the Bill and Barleycrates Lane, 3 Eider were still settled off the Bill and 8 more Red-throated Divers and a single Mediterranean Gull passed through off the Bill. 

March 5th

Disappointingly little news considering it was a dry and sunny Sunday with quite a few visiting birders in the field. The only reports were from the Bill where there were 8 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Fieldfares and a Snipe on the land, 6 Eider settled offshore and 4 Red-throated Divers passed through on the sea. 

March 4th

Clear skies and pleasant sunshine saw a few more early migrants trickle in, with 2 Woodlarks found at Suckthumb Quarry, a Siskin overhead at Weston and a few more parties of Meadow Pipits and ones and twos of alba wagtails arriving in off the sea. A Puffin was again off the Bill early in the morning (along with the 5 semi-resident Eider), 5 Red-throated and a Great Northern Diver passed by there, 4 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Rooks and a Common Buzzard were at the Bill and 2 more Common Buzzards were around the centre of the island. Reports from elsewhere included 13 Mediterranean Gulls at Ferrybridge and 6 Common Scoter, 4 Great Northern Divers, 3 Mediterranean Gulls, a Black-throated Diver and an Eider in Portland Harbour.



  Blue Tit - Portland Bill, March 3rd 2006 © Martin Cade

  March 3rd

More encouraging signs of spring today with the first Puffin of the year appearing off the Bill where a Merlin was another year-tick on the land and a small mixed flock of Blue and Great Tits that eventually left high to the north were presumed new arrivals; a Siskin was another newcomer at Weston. Thirteen more Red-throated Diver passed through off the Bill where 5 Eider still remained, whilst 7 Purple Sandpipers, 4 Turnstones, 3 Fieldfares, 2 Snipe and a Common Buzzard were winter regulars in the Bill area, as were 5 more Fieldfares at Weston. 



  Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese - Ferrybrbridge, March 2nd 2006 © Allan Neilson

  March 2nd

Just a hint of light at the end of the winter tunnel today with the arrival in off the sea at the Bill of several small flocks of Meadow Pipits and 2 alba wagtails. Red-throated Diver passage continued offshore, where another 15 passed through during the morning, but it otherwise remained very quiet with just 7 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Fieldfares and a Common Buzzard at the Bill and 105 Dunlin, 5 Bar-tailed Godwits and a Pale-bellied Brent Goose at Ferrybridge.



  Taking delivery of the new Obs tractor in a blizzard - March 1st 2006 © Martin Cade

  March 1st

By the look of today's weather - a raw north-westerly wind and occasional snow showers - it's going to be some while before the first of the long-awaited spring migrants start to show up. The only movement today occurred at sea where 32 Common Scoter and 12 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill; 5 Eider were still settled offshore and there were 3 Fieldfares at both the Bill and Barleycrates Lane. The only reports from other sites were of 7 Mediterranean Gulls and 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese at Ferrybridge.

Of further interest, the Obs today took delivery of a tractor that has been purchased to enable us to carry out a variety of habitat management and improvement schemes on land owned and rented at the Bill. In recent years management has only been possible on an occasional basis using outside contractors but today's acquisition will enable us to carry out a more extensive programme of habitat improvement that should have immediate benefits for birds - and birders - on the island.