March 2008





   Iceland Gull - Portland Bill, 31st March 2008 © Martin Cade (settled photos) and Pete Saunders (flight photo)

. March 31st

Another pleasant day but - Firecrests aside - it was still a struggle to find any really worthwhile numbers of common migrants. An Iceland Gull lingered around the Bill for a while during the morning but the only other oddity reported was the Siberian Chiffchaff that remained at the Bill. More routine fare at the Bill included 25 Chiffchaffs, 20 Wheatears, 10 Willow Warblers, 10 Firecrests, 7 Swallows, 2 Redwings, 2 Blackcaps, a Water Rail, a Short-eared Owl and a White Wagtail on the land and 60 Manx Shearwaters, 50 Black-headed Gulls, 7 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers and a Sandwich Tern past on the sea. Elsewhere the Red-necked Grebe remained in Portland Harbour.



   Willow Warbler - Portland Bill, 30th March 2008 © Joe Cockram Joe's Birding Blog

. March 30th

One of the nicest days of the year so far, at least in terms of the weather, with light winds and mainly sunny skies. Firecrest continues to be one of the most conspicuous migrants, with 15 or so dotted about between the Bill and Weston, whilst the highlight amongst the commoner migrants were the first records for the spring of Whimbrel (at the Bill) and Redstart (near Tout Quarry). Small numbers of Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers were everywhere but there was a surprising lack of Wheatears and Goldcrests and only the lightest of movements of pipits and wagtails overhead. The pick of the rest of the sightings were of 6 Purple Sandpipers, a Water Rail, a Snipe, a Fieldfare, the Siberian Chiffchaff and a Bullfinch at the Bill, a Redwing at Barleycrates Lane and the Red-necked Grebe in Portland Harbour. A lone lingering Balearic Shearwater was a notable sighting off the Bill where 10 Manx Shearwaters, 10 Common Scoter, 8 Black-headed Gulls, 5 Mediterranean Gulls, 2 Sandwich Terns and a Red-throated Diver also passed by. 





Chiffchaff and Siberian Chiffchaff - Portland Bill, 29th March 2008 © Martin Cade

. March 29th

A nice sunny start to the day but by late morning rain had swept in to spoil proceedings. Most of the interest was on the sea, with 500+ Kittiwakes, 99 Manx Shearwaters, 67 Common Scoter, a Red-throated Diver and a Great Skua passing through off the Bill. New migrants were very thinly spread on the land, with most of what was about at the Bill - including 25 Chiffchaffs and 4 Firecrests - being left-overs from recent days; the wintering Siberian Chiffchaff was also still there and another Siberian Chiffchaff - presumably the individual seen in the same area in November/December - was at Easton.

March 28th

The wet and windy conditions that arrived overnight were enough to drop a small arrival of new migrants, with counts from the Bill area that included 50 Chiffchaffs, 15 Wheatears, 5 Firecrests, 3 Willow Warblers, a Swallow, a Blackcap and a Goldcrest; the wintering Siberian Chiffchaff was also still present there. Despite the increase in wind strength there wasn't much going past on the sea, with 12 Common Scoter, 4 Manx Shearwaters and a Red-throated Diver the only reports of note from the Bill. Elsewhere there were singles of Grey Plover and Knot at Ferrybridge and a Black Redstart was near the Sailing Academy.

Late news for yesterday: a Marsh Harrier was over Weston at midday.




Skylark - Portland Bill, 27th March 2008 © Martin Cade

...we handle very few Skylarks so the serendipitous capture of one this morning after it had plunged into the Obs garden to escape the attentions of a pursuing Merlin was quite welcome (...catching the Merlin would have been even more welcome but she was much too clever!). Skylark is one of that motley collection of families/species in which juveniles undergo a complete moult in their first calendar year so ordinarily there isn't much that can be done with regard to ageing once juvenile plumage has been lost. This particular individual exhibited a peculiar difference in tertial pattern between the two wings: the tertials were typical adult pattern on the left wing but seemingly juvenile pattern on the right wing. It is tempting to suggest that the juvenile tertials were inadvertently retained during last autumn's complete moult and so we could age this bird as a second calendar year but surely these juvenile patterned feathers are much too fresh for this to be the case (note how these very exposed feathers are already heavily worn on the left wing). So, all in all, a bit of a mystery and another telling example of how some birds don't always do what they're supposed to do.

. March 27th

With the exception of an early morning Glaucous Gull that was seen disappearing northward up the West Cliffs interest remained at a fairly low ebb. Common migrant numbers dropped, with just single figure totals of Wheatear and Chiffchaff, whilst the only less regular migrants logged were 2 Firecrests, a Merlin and a Black Redstart at the Bill and singles of White Wagtail and Black Redstart at Reap Lane. One Red-throated Diver passed through on the sea at the Bill. 




    A Kingfisher from earlier in the month and today's Short-eared Owl - Portland Harbour and Portland Bill, 12th and 26th March 2008 © Pete Saunders (Kingfisher) and Martin Cade (Short-eared Owl)

. March 26th

Whilst in no way bursting with new arrivals it was nonetheless a good deal busier than in recent days. At the Bill small numbers of Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails tricked in off the sea, whilst on the ground Wheatear and Chiffchaff just about sneaked into double figures and variety was provided by 4 Firecrests, 3 Swallows, 3 White Wagtails, 2 Willow Warblers, a Merlin, a Snipe, a Short-eared Owl, a Brambling and the wintering Siberian Chiffchaff that made another of its remarkably infrequent appearances; 9 Common Scoter and 5 Red-throated Divers also passed through on the sea. The only reports from elsewhere was of another Firecrest at Easton and 2 Mediterranean Gulls, a Red-necked Grebe and a Sandwich Tern in Portland Harbour.

March 25th

Still precious little in the way of grounded migrants but a light inward bound passage of Meadow Pipits that developed as the day went on gave a welcome hint that perhaps the recent migration hiatus may be coming to an end. Six Wheatears, a White Wagtail and a Black Redstart on the land and another single Red-throated Diver passing on the sea had been just about all that had been on offer at the Bill during the morning.

March 24th

The Easter holiday weekend ended as quietly as it had started, with the only particularly noteworthy sighting being of the first Willow Warbler of the spring at Reap Lane. The migrant tally otherwise consisted of just 7 Chiffchaffs, 2 Wheatears, a Black Redstart, a Goldcrest and a Firecrest at the Bill, a Reed Bunting at Barleycrates Lane and a Chiffchaff and a Brambling at Reap Lane. Three Red-throated Divers and a Great Northern Diver passed through on the sea at the Bill.

As it was so quiet we took the opportunity to have another look at the Pallas's Warbler at Two Mile Copse, Weymouth, this afternoon; click here for a couple of iffy photos and a short recording of the bird singing that we've added to our new off-island archive.

March 23rd

Migration remained pretty much at a standstill, with the only worthwhile sightings at the Bill being of 3 Wheatears, 2 Chiffchaffs, a Black Redstart, a Firecrest and a Bullfinch on the land and 21 Common Scoter, 4 Red-throated Divers, 2 Manx Shearwaters, a Curlew and a Mediterranean Gull passing on the sea. Elsewhere there were several Sandwich Terns, 2 Great Northern Divers and a Red-necked Grebe in Portland Harbour.

Two Bottle-nosed Dolphins were off the Bill around midday.




    two more photos from last week: Brambling and Great Crested Grebe - Southwell and Portland Harbour, March 2008 © Pete Saunders

. March 22nd

A change in the wind direction - north-easterlies instead of north-westerlies - but otherwise just as grim as yesterday. The only migrants reported were 4 Chiffchaffs, 3 Redwings, 2 Wheatears and a Firecrest at the Bill.

March 21st

Pretty dire today in blasting north-westerlies, with the only noteworthy migrants reported being singles of Redwing, Black Redstart and Firecrest at the Bill and 2 White Wagtails at Barleycrates Lane. Five Red-throated Divers passed through on the sea at the Bill.



    Cirl Bunting - Portland Bill, March 20th 2008 © Martin Cade

...this could be a subliminal, distant view of just about any grotty female bunting but with a fairly vivid imagination you might just be able to make out something of the head pattern, cold tones and maybe even the two-tone bill...but there again you might not! 

Today's Cirl Bunting constituted just the second Portland record in the last fifteen years so perhaps it's timely to indulge in some images from that bygone era when the species was still a tolerably regular visitor to the island:




...some Cirl Buntings from the archives (all photographed at the Bill) - top: April 15th 1968 © David Godfrey; centre: April 16th 1975 © Iain Robertson; bottom: March 28th 1990 © Pete Howlett

. March 20th

Poor variety and numbers again today in increasingly windy conditions but high quality was provided by a Cirl Bunting seen briefly during the morning near the Obs. The extremely thin spread of commoner migrants included 3 Firecrests and a Brambling at the Bill and a Black Redstart at Church Ope Cove. Odds and ends on the sea included 4 Brent Geese and 3 Red-throated Divers passing the Bill.



    Large White - Portland Bill, March 19th 2008 © Martin Cade

. March 19th

Rather quiet again on the migration front with the likes of Wheatear and Chiffchaff just about making double figure totals at the Bill, where the best of the variety was provided by 9 Redwings, 3 Bramblings, 2 Firecrests, 2 Bullfinches, a Marsh Harrier (in a repeat of events last spring it looks like this individual is wandering out on a regular basis from the Weymouth area), a Water Rail, a Curlew, a Snipe and a Reed Bunting. Elsewhere an early Osprey passed overhead at Ferrybridge during the morning. Two Red-throated Divers and a Sandwich Tern passed through on the sea at the Bill.

A Large White on the wing in the Obs garden struck us as being very early but we haven't yet had enough time to check the earliest emergence dates for previous years; a Small Tortoiseshell was also on the wing at the Bill.



    Firecrest - Portland Bill, March 18th 2008 © Martin Cade

. March 18th

Given the clear conditions overnight there was no expectation of any sort of fall of migrants but in the event there were some snippets of interest on offer. The first Firecrests of the spring arrived at the Bill (2) and at Perryfields, and although standard fare such as Wheatear and Chiffchaff were reduced to little more than single figure totals there were surprising numbers of a few shorter distance migrants (including, for instance, 5 new Robins trapped at the Obs); Meadow Pipits also got moving in some numbers during the morning, with 300 counted in just 30 minutes over Barleycrates Lane. The Firecrests aide, the only oddities reported were 'the' Siberian Chiffchaff at the Bill (the first time this wintering individual has been seen since 24th February!), 2 Black Redstarts at Reap Lane, White Wagtails over the Bill (3) and Barleycrates Lane and Bramblings at the Bill (2) and Barleycrates Lane.




    Red Kite and Long-tailed Tit - New Ground and Portland Bill, March 17th 2008 © Martin Cade

. March 17th

Bird of the day today was a Red Kite that appeared during the morning over Southwell and eventually left to the north over Verne Common. On the migrant front it was quieter than over the weekend with 50 Chiffchaffs, 30 Wheatears, 25 Stonechats, 6 Goldcrests, 2 Reed Buntings and a single Black Redstart being the pick of the counts at the Bill. Oddities there included a fly-over Little Ringed Plover, a Long-tailed Tit and a Bullfinch, whilst elsewhere there were 2 White Wagtails and 2 Black Redstarts at Southwell, another Black Redstart at Church Ope Cove and a Brambling at Barleycrates Lane. Two Red-throated Divers passed through on the sea at the Bill.



    Chiffchaff - Portland Bill, March 16th 2008 © Martin Cade

. March 16th

A wet morning with a brisk north-easterly blowing saw another nice arrival of migrants and although variety wasn't too great it was good to see, for example, fields festooned with incoming Wheatears. All the news was from the Bill area where there were 150 Wheatears, 60 Chiffchaffs, 25 Stonechats, 4 Goldcrests, 2 Redwings, 2 Reed Buntings, a Fieldfare, a Song Thrush and a Blackcap on the ground and a steady passage of Meadow Pipits and the odd Sand Martin passing through overhead. Seawatching there was pretty uneventful and produced just 15 Common Scoter and 2 Red-throated Divers.

March 15th

In between pulses of rain there was another decent scatter of early migrants to be seen, with counts from the south of the island (Barleycrates Lane to the Bill) that included 400 Meadow Pipits, 70 Chiffchaffs, 30 Wheatears, 30 Stonechats, 11 Rooks, 4 Redwings, 3 Goldcrests, 2 Fieldfares, a Short-eared Owl, a Black Redstart and a Blackcap on the ground and 800 Meadow Pipits and small numbers of hirundines and alba wagtails passing through overhead. On the sea the first returning Puffin showed up at the Bill, where 60 Common Scoter and 2 Red-throated Divers also passed by. Elsewhere there were 2 Great Northern Divers and a Red-necked Grebe in Portland Harbour and 3 Red-breasted Mergansers and a Red-throated Diver passed through off Chesil.

Moth-trapping at the Obs has been so unproductive in recent weeks that we haven't bothered to bore you with the details of the few entirely routine captures of common resident species; however this morning there was a minor highlight in the traps in the form of the second island record of Yellow Horned (the previous record was of one attracted to sallow catkins in the Obs garden on 14th April 1979).




   Marsh Harrier and the Bill's first Wheatear of the year - Portland Bill, March 14th 2008 © Martin Cade

. March 14th

The still, overcast and damp conditions of dawn looked good for dropping a few early migrants and although it certainly wasn't busy there was enough to keep interest going. Good coverage of the Bill area produced 19 Stonechats, 6 Redwings, 6 Wheatears, 5 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Turnstones, a Fieldfare, a Black Redstart, a Chiffchaff and a Brambling on the ground, 16 Chaffinches, 5 Sand Martins, a Marsh Harrier, a Common Buzzard, a Swallow and a House Martin overhead and 3 Red-throated Divers and 3 Curlews past on the sea. Elsewhere at least 300 Meadow Pipits flew north over Weston.

March 13th

The strong wind of recent days dropped right away but there were just a couple of dry hours early in the morning before steady drizzly rain set in. A little passage was evident at the Bill where 60 Meadow Pipits, 8 Pied Wagtails, 8 alba wagtails and a Skylark arrived in off the sea early in the morning but a much stronger movement was detected at Weston where 222 Meadow Pipits, 13 Pied Wagtails, 13 alba wagtails and 5 White Wagtails flew north in quick time later in the morning. On the ground there were 5 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Chiffchaffs at the Bill, a Black Redstart and a Chiffchaff at Barleycrates Lane and another Chiffchaff at Reap Lane. An unidentified white-winged gull passed through off the Bill where 2 Red-throated Divers were also logged.

March 12th

One of those rare days with absolutely nothing worth reporting - and there were birders out looking!

March 11th

Another very thin list from the Bill today: 2 Manx Shearwaters through on the sea and a Short-eared Owl flushed from near Culverwell. Elsewhere the long-staying Black Redstart was still at Reap Lane.


Some diary dates: the next three In Focus field events at the Obs will be taking place on Tuesday 22nd April, Tuesday 13th May and Saturday 7th June. March 10th

Very stormy and for the most part pretty birdless today. Two Manx Shearwaters and the first Sandwich Tern of the year passed through at Chesil Cove and a Great Northern Diver was off the Bill.

March 9th

Considering how mild it has been in recent weeks there has been a surprising dearth of early arrivals, with the first Wheatear not showing up until today (..and even then it pitched in at Hamm Beach rather than the Bill!); other new arrivals included a few Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails, a White Wagtail, a Black Redstart and a Fieldfare at the Bill and 2 more White Wagtails at Barleycrates Lane. A Blackcap was still at Barleycrates Lane and 16 Stonechats, 4 Rooks, 3 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Chiffchaffs were at the Bill. Three Balearic Shearwaters - or the same bird three times? - passed through off the Bill, along with 4 Brent Geese and 3 Red-throated Divers.

  March 8th

In increasingly overcast and windy conditions the sea received quite a bit of attention, with 22 Black-headed Gulls, 11 Common Scoter, 6 Brent Geese and 4 Red-throated Divers logged at the Bill. The only other reports were of 60 Dark-bellied and a lone Pale-bellied Brent Goose along with 15 Mediterranean Gulls at Ferrybridge.




   two more of yesterday's Stonechats - Portland Bill, March 6th 2008 © Martin Cade

...the majority of yesterday's flurry of migrant Stonechats were - as usual at this time of year - returning British-breeders of the form hibernans (top photo); one though (bottom photo) stood out like a sore thumb by virtue of its paler underparts, blacker mantle and white rump and was presumably an overshooting Continental-breeder of the form rubicola

. March 7th

Quieter so far today with precious little evidence of new arrivals aside from a Blackcap and a couple of fly-over alba wagtails at the Bill. Other odds and ends at the Bill included 9 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Turnstones and a Chiffchaff on the land and 2 Black-headed Gulls passing through on the sea.

Late news for yesterday: a Merlin was at the Bill in the early evening.




   Stonechats and Meadow Pipits - Portland Bill, March 6th 2008 © Martin Cade

. March 6th

A Balearic Shearwater that passed though off the Bill during the morning was particularly noteworthy as it constituted the first March record for Portland (...and until this year March was the only month of the year without a record of this species at Portland). On the migrant front there were some more encouraging signs of spring passage at the Bill, where more than 100 Meadow Pipits arrived in off the sea and 20 Stonechats and 3 Redwings were also logged. Six Purple Sandpipers, 3 Chiffchaffs, 2 Common Buzzards and 2 Turnstones were also at the Bill, a Black Redstart was still at Reap Lane and there was a decent count of 80 Greenfinches at Weston. Aside from the Balearic Shearwater, seawatching at the Bill produced 8 Common Scoter, 4 Red-throated Divers and a Mediterranean Gull.

March 5th

A lovely sunny day albeit still feeling chilly in the breeze. Plenty of coverage of the Bill area produced nothing more than 9 Stonechats, 4 Redwings, 3 Chiffchaffs, 2 Rooks, a Purple Sandpiper, a Dartford Warbler and a Reed Bunting on the land, a little trickle of Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails arriving in off the sea and 5 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers and a Great Northern Diver passing through on the sea; elsewhere there was a Blackcap at Barleycrates Lane.




   Marsh Harrier - Portland Bill, March 4th 2008 © Martin Cade

. March 4th

A Marsh Harrier managed to struggle in off the sea at the Bill but the very stiff north wind seemed to have knocked all other potential passage on the head, with the only other reports being of 3 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Turnstones, a Snipe, a Black Redstart and a Chiffchaff at the Bill.



   Mediterranean Gull - Portland Harbour, March 1st 2008 © Martin Cade

. March 3rd

A White Wagtail was a new arrival at Weston but the only other new migrants reported were a few more Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails arriving in off the sea at the Bill. On a very quiet day for news the only other sighting of note was of a Black Redstart at the Bill.


An announcement for Obs members (or anyone else who may fit the bill): The Observatory committee is appealing to any member with suitable accounting experience to come forward and volunteer to examine our accounts for the year ending 31st December 2007 as official examiner. This is not a full audit - our turnover is not large enough to require that - merely the examination required by the Charity Commission. So please could any working or retired accountant or banker etc among our membership help save us a considerable accountant's fee! Responses please to the Hon Secretary c/o the Obs or via our usual e-mail address:

March 2nd

A trickle of Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails, along with a couple of Skylarks, arrived in off the sea at the Bill through the morning but there was still no sign of a Wheatear or anything of better quality. The only other reports so far have been of a Short-eared Owl at the Bill and 3 Red-throated Divers, a Common Scoter and a Black-headed Gull passing through on the sea there.

March 1st

The first Manx Shearwater of the spring was a not unexpected sighting off the Bill after a quite stormy night, but other than that there wasn't too much change with the best of the rest being a Black Redstart at Reap Lane, 4 Red-throated Divers and a Common Scoter passing the Bill and 8 Purple Sandpipers, 4 Turnstones and a Chiffchaff on the land at the Bill.