May 2008




     Red-rumped Swallow - Portland Bill, 31st May 2008 © Martin Cade

  May 31st

The return of clear skies and hot sunshine saw an excellent tally of oddities logged although, as so often happens in these conditions, seeing them necessitated being in the right spot at the right moment as none lingered for long. A quick fly-past by a Red-rumped Swallow that was spotted over the Hut Fields at the Bill and soon headed away high to the south-west was the best of the morning's sightings. Around midday a Montagu's Harrier appeared in Top Fields before heading away north, a Red Kite flew in off the sea at Southwell and a Marsh Harrier was reported from the Bill. The last of the goodies was a Bee-eater that showed up in the afternoon; it first flew south over Verne Common and was later heard but not seen flying back north near Southwell. Predictably, commoner migrants were hard to find with nothing much more than 5 Spotted Flycatchers and singles of Hobby, Yellow Wagtail, Reed Warbler and Chiffchaff at the Bill. Twenty commic terns passed through on the sea at the Bill.

May 30th

As uneventful a day as most of the others have been this week. New arrivals on the land were limited to 2 Turtle Doves, a Reed Warbler and a Blackcap at Avalanche Road and 3 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Reed Warblers, a Wheatear and a Black Redstart at the Bill. Seawatching at the Bill produced 29 commic terns, 22 Manx Shearwaters, 6 Common Scoter and 2 Arctic Skuas





     Wood Pigeon, Porter's Rustic and Cream-spot Tiger - Portland Bill, 29th May 2008 © Martin Cade was a sad reflection on the quality of the day's birding that we were reduced to attempting to photograph Wood Pigeon carrying nest-material. Some would argue that it was also a sad reflection on the quality of the mothing that the only rarity on offer was a Porter's Rustic - a species that has the misfortune of being perhaps the least inspiring scarce immigrant on the British list; at least the moth-traps are now getting busier with attractive residents such as Cream-spot Tiger.

  May 29th

With the exception of a Honey Buzzard that arrived in off the sea over Cheyne during the afternoon quality was not the order of the day. All the other reports came from the Bill where there were 2 Spotted Flycatchers and singles of Wheatear, Reed Warbler and Chiffchaff on the land and 20 Common Scoter, 16 commic terns, 4 Manx Shearwaters and 2 Whimbrel passed through on the sea.

Overnight moth-trapping at the Obs produced singles of Diamond-back Moth, Porter's Rustic and Silver Y.

May 28th

Whilst the East Coast remained awash with bucket-loads of quality late spring migrants Portland remained awash with nothing more than bucket-loads of rain: a little birding was possible early in the morning but up to the time of writing these notes the rest of the day had been a complete wash-out. Seawatching at the Bill produced 200 Common Scoter, 30 commic terns, 2 Storm Petrels and an Arctic Skua, whilst a less than inspiring array on the land there included 9 Sanderling and singles of Common Sandpiper, Yellow Wagtail, Reed Warbler, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Spotted Flycatcher. Eight Sanderling and 2 Bar-tailed Godwits were the only waders of note at Ferrybridge.



     Turnstone - Castletown, 27th May 2008 © Ruth Ashdown

  May 27th

Yet more overnight wind and rain produced a small fall of late migrants on the land. A Serin in song at Easton was the highlight rarity, whilst the list of more mundane fare included 10 Reed Warblers, 6 Spotted Flycatchers, 3 Willow Warblers, 2 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Wheatears, 2 Chiffchaffs, a Turtle Dove, a Cuckoo, a Sedge Warbler and a Blackcap at the Bill, 5 Reed Warblers, a Whinchat and a Spotted Flycatcher around the centre of the island and 17 Sanderling and a Knot at Ferrybridge. Sea interest also perked up a little, with 200 commic terns, 41 Common Scoter, 40 Manx Shearwaters, 11 Storm Petrels, 3 Arctic Skuas and 3 Little Terns passing through off the Bill.

We also popped in to see the White-winged Black Tern - the latest in a good run of rarities visiting the Weymouth RSPB reserves - that showed up at Lodmoor this evening. Unfortunately our inept technique with kiddies camera equipment failed to do justice to this good-looking bird; click here to take a look at a few of our record-shots.

May 26th

Another overnight bout of wind and rain lasted well on into the morning. Swifts - along with an accompanying Hobby -  were again arriving in off the sea in good numbers but the only other reports from a very wind and rain-swept land were of 4 Spotted Flycatchers and a Lapwing at the Bill and 7 Sanderling and 2 Knot at Ferrybridge. On the sea there was a year-tick in the form of several sightings of at least 1 Storm Petrel lingering off the Bill, where 2 Knot also passed by and a feeding flock of up to 70 commic terns and a Black Tern lingered offshore.

Despite the muggy feel to the night it was much too windy and wet to expect much in the Obs garden moth-traps and the only immigrant caught was a lone Diamond-back Moth.

May 25th

After a miserable wet and windy night fair weather returned a good deal sooner than anticipated but although there were again a few more migrants around than during much of last week it was still distinctly on the quiet side everywhere. Bird of the day was a Quail that was flushed by chance in Top Fields; a Marsh Harrier was overhead at Southwell early in the morning and commoner migrants included another steady passage of Swifts in off the sea, 7 Spotted Flycatchers, 4 Willow Warblers, a Ringed Plover, a Yellow Wagtail and a Reed Warbler at the Bill and 14 Sanderling, 2 Grey Plover and a Knot at Ferrybridge. The stir-up in the weather did nothing for the sea, from where the only reports were of 60 commic terns and small numbers of Manx Shearwaters off the Bill.

May 24th

A tiny bit more about today although the brisk north-easterly wind blew in nothing of any great quality. A Marsh Harrier (a male, so certainly not the individual that has wandered out from Weymouth with some regularity throughout the spring) over Suckthumb Quarry was the best of the sightings that otherwise included a Hobby through at Barleycrates Lane, 7 Spotted Flycatchers and a Turtle Dove at the Bill, a steady arrival of Swifts along with 2 Dunlin and another Hobby passing through at the Bill, an Arctic Skua past on the sea at the Bill and a Roseate Tern through off Chesil.

Once again immigrant interest in the Obs garden moth-traps was restricted to just a single Rusty-dot Pearl.

May 23rd

A particularly dismal selection of new arrivals today with the only birds of any consequence on or overhead on the land being a Grey Heron, a Marsh Harrier, a Whimbrel and a Reed Warbler at the Bill (just one migrant was trapped and ringed at the Obs making it easily the poorest mist-netting day of the spring to date). A few Manx Shearwaters remained offshore but there was no other sea passage to speak of.



     Four-spotted - Portland Bill, 22nd May 2008 © Martin Cade

  May 22nd

Precious little to report again today. The very thin scatter of migrants on the land included 5 Spotted Flycatchers, a Whinchat and an overflying Greenshank between the Bill and Avalanche Road. A few Manx Shearwaters continued to linger off the Bill where 150 commic terns, 26 Common Scoter and an Arctic Skua also passed by.

On the moth front it was very quiet in the Obs garden moth-traps, with a single Rusty-dot Pearl the only immigrant caught, but the first Four-spotted of the year was seen by day at a favoured location for this species beside the footpath between the Privet Hedge and Wallsend

May 21st

Another Honey Buzzard passed overhead today - this time at Weston in the early afternoon - but otherwise there wasn't too much on offer. The Bill area produced just 3 Chiffchaffs, 2 Willow Warblers, 2 Spotted Flycatchers and a Turtle Dove on the land and 200 commic terns, 100 Common Scoter and 2 Arctic Skuas passing by on the sea, whilst elsewhere there were 3 Turtle Doves at Avalanche Road, 2 Turtle Doves at High Angle Battery, a Hobby over Perryfields and 2 Sanderling and a Knot at Ferrybridge.

A single Rusty-dot Pearl was the only immigrant in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning.

Of interest to local birders, we've uploaded a couple of photos taken yesterday by one of our visitors of the Little Bittern currently residing at Lodmoor RSPB reserve; click here to take a look.

And finally, last night we got round to listening for the first time to the whole recording of last weekend's Thrush Nightingale and we discovered how different some of the sequences are to the clip that we'd chosen at random and in haste to publish on the site on the day; if you've got a few minutes spare then click here to listen to another clip of this fantastic songster in full flow.

May 20th

A brisk easterly breeze was a constant feature on what was otherwise another clear, sunny day and, with the exception of a Serin that was in the Obs garden just after dawn and a Honey Buzzard that arrived in off the sea over the Bill at midday, it was pretty quiet on the migrant front. What odds and ends there were included 12 Spotted Flycatchers, 4 Whinchats, 2 Wheatears, a Reed Warbler and a Tree Sparrow at the Bill and a strong passage of several hundred House Martins arriving in off the sea. A little more late passage on the sea included 75 commic terns, 60 Common Scoter, a Sanderling and a Great Skua on the move off the Bill.



     Oblique Striped - Portland Bill, 19th May 2008 © Martin Cade

  May 19th

The wind remained in the east but with the cloud and rain of the last few days having been replaced by crystal clear skies there was nothing to drop migrants in any numbers. At least 2 Tree Sparrows remained at the Bill, where there were also 20 Willow Warblers, 20 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Whinchats, a Hobby, a Brambling and another steady arrival of Swifts and House Martins; the best on offer elsewhere were 2 Turtle Doves at Barleycrates Lane, another Hobby at Weston and a Knot at Ferrybridge. Seawatching at the Bill produced 74 Common Scoter, 50 commic terns, 2 Mallard and a Red-throated Diver.

An Oblique Striped (we haven't yet had enough time to check how many previous island records there have been although it certainly isn't very many) was the best of the captures in the Obs garden moth-traps on a night that otherwise produced no recognised immigrants.




    Marsh Harrier and Serin - Portland Bill, 18th May 2008 © Vaughan Ashby Birdfinders (Marsh Harrier) and Martin Cade (Serin)

  May 18th

Another cracking day with the chief prize being a Thrush Nightingale that was present beside the Obs Quarry all day. It was singing vigorously for a couple of hours early this morning but rarely afforded anything other than brief glimpses at any time; click here for a recording of the bird singing. The supporting cast from the Bill of a Bee-eater seen twice during the morning, 1 or 2 typically flighty Serins (click here for a recording of one of these birds calling whilst it was settled beside the Obs garden; although it's of absolutely no interest to anyone away from Portland this recording ends with a burst of 'song' from the resident male Pheasant - a minor Portland highlight - in the crop fields across the road from the Obs), 3 Tree Sparrows and a fly-over Marsh Harrier would have constituted a more than decent list in themselves had it not been for the presence of the nightingale. Commoner migrants there included 30 Willow Warblers, 30 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Hobbys and small numbers of a fair variety of other typical mid-May species, whilst elsewhere there were 3 Turtle Doves in the Avalanche Road/Suckthumb Quarry area. Seawatching at the Bill produced 50 Manx Shearwaters, 50 commic terns, 5 Little Egrets, 2 Arctic Skuas and a Red-throated Diver.




    Eastern Olivaceous Warbler - Portland Bill, 17th May 2008 © Keith Vinicombe (the bird) and Chris Stone (the viewers)

...and for in-hand aficionados a bit more detail (all photos © Martin Cade):


Although the structural details and plumage all fitted Eastern Olivaceous (for example the bill shape, presence of a faint secondary panel and the tail pattern) we did have a good look at the measurements and other details just to be sure it couldn't be a Sykes's Warbler. There's a good deal of overlap in the biometry and wing formula of these two species but in all respects, including the crucial differences highlighted below, our bird fell well outside the range of Sykes's.



Today’s bird

Eastern Olivaceous

Sykes’s Warbler

1st primary < 2nd primary




10th primary < tip of wing




emargination on 6th primary





May 17th

The long run of easterly weather finally paid dividends today when an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler was trapped and ringed during the morning at the Obs  and a Glossy Ibis pitched in very briefly at Ferrybridge early in the afternoon. In almost continual drizzly rain commoner migrants were again well represented and included 30 Spotted Flycatchers, 12 Whinchats, 10 Garden Warblers, 8 Yellow Wagtails, 6 Reed Warblers, 5 Sedge Warblers, 4 Turtle Doves, 3 Hobbys, 3 Tree Sparrows, 2 Tree Pipits, a Redpoll and lots more Swifts and House Martins passing through at the Bill. Elsewhere there was a Wood Warbler at Weston, a Turtle Dove at Pennsylvania Castle and the Little Stint remained at Ferrybridge. Seawatching at the Bill produced 370 commic terns, 200 Manx Shearwaters, 5 Grey Plovers and 2 Arctic Skuas.

May 16th

An unfortunately just fleeting Golden Oriole at Weston, the 2 Tree Sparrows again at the Bill and 3 Roseate Terns lingering in Portland Harbour were the best on offer around the island today. Otherwise it was a case of more of the same with common migrants fairly well represented in the Bill area, where counts included 60 Spotted Flycatchers, 25 Willow Warblers, 20 Reed Warblers, 10 Sedge Warblers, 10 Garden Warblers, 6 Turtle Doves, 6 Yellow Wagtails, 5 Whinchats, 2 Tree Pipits, a Hobby, a Whimbrel, a Wood Warbler and a Bullfinch; elsewhere the Little Stint remained at Ferrybridge where a Knot was a new arrival. The only reports from the sea were of single Great and Pomarine Skuas passing through off the Bill.





    Little Stint and White Spot - Ferrybridge and Portland Bill, 15th May 2008 © Martin Cade

  May 15th

The arrival of some heavy, thundery rain overnight heralded a change to dreary, damp conditions that persisted throughout the day; the change did no harm from the birding point of view and produced the best arrival of common migrants of the month. Spotted Flycatchers were conspicuous everywhere, with 100 grounded around the centre of the island, another 50 there that headed straight through overhead and a good 75 or so grounded or on the move at the Bill. A couple of Tree Sparrows and a Wood Warbler provided some scarcity interest at the Bill, where further commoner migrant numbers included 60 Willow Warblers, 30 Whitethroats, 15 Wheatears, 15 Garden Warblers, 14 Turnstones, 10 Redstarts, 10 Chiffchaffs, 8 Blackcaps, 7 Whinchats, 5 Reed Warblers, 5 Sedge Warblers, 2 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Cuckoos, 2 Yellow Wagtails, a Water Rail, a Dunlin and a Turtle Dove on the ground and a steady passage of Swifts, Swallows and House Martins overhead. The pick of the new arrivals elsewhere were a Cuckoo at Wakeham and a Little Stint at Ferrybridge.

Two White Spot were the best of the overnight catch in the Obs garden moth-traps; 2 Rusty-dot Pearl, a Pearly Underwing and a Silver Y were the only other immigrants in the traps.





    Spotted Flycatcher and Incurvaria masculella - Portland Bill and Southwell, 14th and 12th May 2008 © Martin Cade

...Incurvaria masculella isn't at all uncommon at Portland but it's certainly one of the most characterful micros on the wing at this time of year.

  May 14th

Still warm and for the most part sunny but the presence of a brisk north-easterly headwind, together with a bit more cloud bubbling up from time to time, certainly dropped quite a few more common migrants than we've grown used to in recent days. The south of the island was well covered and returned totals that included 60 Spotted Flycatchers, 50 Willow Warblers, 15 Wheatears, 8 Whinchats, 4 Hobbys, 3 Turtle Doves, 2 Yellow Wagtail, 2 Redstarts, 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Garden Warblers, 2 Wood Warblers, 2 Tree Sparrows, a Sedge Warbler, a Lesser Whitethroat, a Redpoll and a Brambling, together with decent numbers of Swifts and hirundines passing through overhead; elsewhere, waders at Ferrybridge included 4 Redshank, 3 Grey Plover and 3 Sanderling. More than 100 Manx Shearwaters were still lingering off the Bill but late passage there was restricted to 75 commic terns, a Great Northern Diver and an Arctic Skua still on the move.




    Marsh Harrier - Portland Bill, 13th May 2008 © Martin Cade

  May 13th

Relatively slim pickings again today in more warm and sunny weather. All the reports were from the Bill where 10 Spotted Flycatchers, 3 Whimbrel, 2 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Yellow Wagtails, a Common Sandpiper, a Turtle Dove, a Black Redstart, a Reed Warbler, a Pied Flycatcher, a Tree Sparrow and a Bullfinch were the best on offer on the land, 3 Hobbys and a Marsh Harrier passed through overhead and 30 Common Scoter, 30 commic terns, 18 Bar-tailed Godwits, 3 Arctic Skuas, 2 Little Terns, a Great Crested Grebe, a Great Skua, a Pomarine Skua and a Mediterranean Gull passed by on the sea.




    Tachystola acroxantha and Dorset Cream Wave - Portland Bill, 12th May 2008 © John Lucas/Martin Cade

  May 12th

The moth-traps came up with the goods today, with the overnight capture of the first Portland and third British specimen of Dorset Cream Wave (an individual of the form cognatana and so quite different to the typical, pale form of the species to which the previous British specimens belonged) in an actinic trap in a garden at Reap Lane, Southwell, and the first Portland specimen of Tachystola acroxantha in one of the Obs garden traps; the only other immigrants caught on what was otherwise a fairly mundane night were 4 Rusty-dot Pearl, 2 Diamond-back Moth and singles of Small Mottled Willow and Silver Y in the Obs garden traps.

On the birding front most of the interest was on the sea, with 60 Bar-tailed Godwits, 7 Pomarine Skuas, 5 Little Egrets, a Red-throated Diver, a Great Northern Diver and an Arctic Skua passing through off the Bill. The miserable selection of migrants on the land included singles of Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper, Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, Tree Pipit, Whinchat and Redpoll at the Bill, 3 Spotted Flycatchers at Avalanche Road and 2 Hobbys at Barleycrates Lane.


The next In Focus field event at the Obs takes place between 10am to 4pm tomorrow, Tuesday 13th May.



    Wall Brown - Portland Bill, 9th May 2008 © Ken Dolbear

  May 11th

Summer-like weather and quiet summer-like birding today. Another very poor selection of migrants at the Bill included 6 Chiffchaffs, 6 Spotted Flycatchers, 3 Hobbys, 3 Reed Warblers, 2 Yellow Wagtails, a Common Sandpiper, a Whinchat, a Sedge Warbler and a Blackcap, whilst elsewhere there were 3 Turtle Doves at Barleycrates Lane. What breeze there was was from the north during the morning so the only reports from the sea were of 2 Great Northern Divers passing the Bill where 150 Manx Shearwaters were still lingering offshore; in an onshore breeze during the evening singles of Red-throated Diver and Arctic Skua passed through.

May 10th

Pretty dreadful today with hardly any arrival of new migrants on the land and extremely lean seawatching. Odds and ends of interest on the land included 2 Turtle Doves, a Hobby, a Short-eared Owl and a Corn Bunting at the Bill, a Hobby over Easton and a Red-legged Partridge at Ferrybridge amongst very small numbers of commoner migrants. The only reports of note from the sea were of 16 Whimbrel, 2 Arctic Skuas and a Bar-tailed Godwit past the Bill and singles of Arctic Skua, Little Gull and Black Tern off Chesil.

May 9th

After the excitement of the last couple of days it was much quieter today. A foggy dawn followed a quite wet night and although the sun had broken through on the land by midday a curtain of dense fog continued to lurk just offshore. A few terns and an Arctic Skua were spotted from the Bill on the odd occasion that it was possible to make an attempt at seawatching but otherwise the only interest was on the land where there was a slight improvement in common migrant numbers, with the Bill area producing 15 Spotted Flycatchers, 5 Garden Warblers, 4 Wheatears, 4 Reed Warblers, 3 Whinchats, 3 Sedge Warblers, 3 Lesser Whitethroats, 2 Turtle Doves, 2 Tree Pipits, a Yellow Wagtail and a Redpoll; smaller numbers of a similar array were reported from sites further up the island. The only other news was of 10 Sanderling, 3 Greenshank and a Knot at Ferrybridge.

Singles of Dark Sword Grass and Silver Y constituted the only immigrant interest in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning.






    Arctic Skua and Red-rumped Swallows - Portland Bill, 8th May 2008 © Joe Cockram Joe's Birding Blog (Arctic Skua and Red-rumped Swallows settled in front of the Obs) and Martin Cade (other settled Red-rumped Swallows)

..we won't bore you with more photos of the Red-rumped Swallows today, instead just take a look at Joe's Birding Blog for the definitive flight shots of these birds.

As well as showing well the Red-rumped Swallows were also calling very frequently, with the call often being the best clue to their whereabouts in a melee of hirundines. Unfortunately it was hellish windy on their favoured clifftop so securing a decent recording of the call wasn't very easy; click here for a recording of a close lone bird calling and here for a more distant bird that joins a group of Swallows and House Martins that contains at least one more Red-rumped Swallow.

  May 8th

Plenty to keep everyone occupied again today with rarity interest provided by 3 of the Red-rumped Swallows that reappeared at the Bill for a couple of hours before midday, a Short-toed Lark that flew in off the sea at the Bill early this morning and 7 Tree Sparrows at Cheyne; the morning seawatching was also productive but, Swallows aside, it remained relatively quiet for common migrants on the land. Seawatching at the Bill produced 200 commic terns, 96 Common Scoter, 72 Black Terns, 23 Sanderling, 12 Bar-tailed Godwits, 10 Whimbrel, 2 Little Terns, an Arctic Skua, a Little Gull and a Roseate Tern. Swallows were arriving in quantity all day but grounded migrants were not at all plentiful, with 3 Turtle Doves and a Siskin at the Bill, 11 Whinchats at Barleycrates Lane, a Siskin at Verne Common and 11 Sanderling, 8 Bar-tailed Godwits, 4 Grey Plover and a Knot at Ferrybridge being about the best amongst the meagre selection everywhere.

A single Silver Y was the only immigrant caught overnight in the Obs garden moth-traps.







     Red-rumped Swallows - Portland Bill, 7th May 2008 © Martin Cade

  May 7th

A Mediterranean feel to the day today with a Bee-eater and a party of up to 5 Red-rumped Swallows putting in appearances at the Bill. In glorious sunny weather it wasn't particularly surprising that precious few commoner migrants dropped in although Swallows in particular were on the move overhead in good numbers; the only worthwhile grounded migrants were 5 Whinchats, 3 Turtle Doves, a Reed Warbler, a Firecrest and a Redpoll at the Bill, where 3 Hobbys also passed through overhead. The sea was again worth a look, with 400 commic terns, 14 Black Terns, 5 Arctic Skuas, 4 Pomarine Skuas and a Great Skua passing through off the Bill (where 500 or more Manx Shearwaters are still lingering offshore) and 300 commic terns and 11 Black Terns passing Chesil.



    Waxing crescent moon setting over the Old Higher Lighthouse this evening - Portland Bill, 6th May 2008 © Martin Cade

  May 6th

The return of fair weather and a brisk easterly breeze saw a few more birds on the move overhead and on the sea but again rather little in the way of grounded arrivals. At the Bill, where many of the new arrivals were passing straight through, the pick of the reports were of 100 Swifts, 15 Wheatears, 12 Spotted Flycatchers, 11 Turtle Doves, 7 Yellow Wagtails, 5 Whinchats, 4 Whimbrel, 3 Firecrests, 2 Tree Pipits, 2 Garden Warblers, a Purple Sandpiper, a Redstart, a Sedge Warbler and a Brambling. Seawatching there produced 260 commic terns, 25 Black Terns, 3 Arctic Skuas, 3 Roseate Terns and a Black-throated Diver

A lone Harbour Porpoise was off the Bill this morning.

Two Diamond-back Moths and a Rusty-dot Pearl were the only immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning.

Radipole Lake struck with another rarity this evening when a Red-rumped Swallow was discovered there; click here for a few record shots from our brief outing to see it and here for some very nice shots from one of our visitors of the long-staying Hoopoe at Lodmoor.




      Turtle Doves - Southwell, 5th May 2008 © Pete Saunders  

  May 5th

Overcast, drizzly and quite muggy today. With the wind having switched to an offshore direction sea interest dwindled but there was still a little movement including 3 Pomarine Skuas, 2 Eider and 2 Arctic Skuas off Chesil and 2 Eider and singles of Black-throated Diver and Arctic Skua off the Bill. Numbers were still lacking on the land but coverage of the Bill area came up with enough to keep interest going, including 100 Swifts, 20 Wheatears, 10 Spotted Flycatchers, 7 Yellow Wagtails, 3 Turtle Doves, 3 Whinchats,  3 Sedge Warblers, 2 Hobbys and singles of Blue-headed Wagtail, Reed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and Mealy Redpoll; 2 more Turtle Doves were at Southwell.

There would probably have been better coverage of the island had most of us not been distracted by the Whiskered Tern that dropped in at Radipole Lake; click here for a few photos.

The first 8 Diamond-back Moths of the year were caught in the Obs garden moth-traps overnight.

Late news for yesterday: we quite forgot to mention a flurry of immigrant butterflies: several Red Admirals and Painted Ladys were on the wing around the island, with two of the Red Admirals actually watched arriving in off the sea during an evening seawatch.








          Blue-headed Wagtail, Velvet Scoters and redpoll sp - Portland Bill, 4th May 2008 ©  Joe Cockram Joe's Birding Blog (Blue-headed Wagtail and Velvet Scoters) and Martin Cade (redpoll sp)

...the dodgy split of the redpolls continues to give us grief! At first glance the buff face, with buff bleeding down onto the sides of the breast, gave this individual the appearance of a routine Lesser Redpoll but closer examination revealed a good many pro-Mealy features, such as the white mantle stripes, the white tips to the 'new' post-juvenile inner greater coverts and the amount of white on the lower back/rump (forgive our miserable attempt at photographing the latter, but at least it does give some idea of the extent of white in this area).

  May 4th

A right old miscellany today with quite a bit passing on the sea and a few minor goodies amongst the limited numbers on and overhead on the land. The best of the oddities were a Hen Harrier that was tracked flying south from Chesil before it confounded expectations by leaving out to sea from the Bill, 1-2 Blue-headed Wagtails at Top Fields/Southwell Business Park and a Siberian Chiffchaff still at the Obs. More routine fare on the land included a Turtle Dove, a White Wagtail and a Black Redstart at the Bill, 3 Turtle Doves at Southwell, a Hobby over Avalanche Road, a Black Redstart at Weston and a Knot at Ferrybridge; Swifts and hirundines were again arriving in quantity but common migrant numbers on the ground were sufficiently dismal as to not be worth mentioning. The two main seawatch points returned quite similar lists, of which the highlights were 1000 Manx Shearwaters, 290 commic terns, 18 Black Terns, 10 Arctic Skuas, 4 Pomarine Skuas, 3 Velvet Scoter, a Great Skua, a Little Gull and a Roseate Tern off the Bill and 500 commic terns, 62 Whimbrel, 23 Black Terns, 4 Arctic Skuas, 3 Black-throated Divers, 3 Velvet Scoters, a Grey Plover, a Pomarine Skua, a Little Gull and a Roseate Tern off Chesil.




Yesterday we mentioned spring Wheatears with three generations of feathers in their wings and today we caught just such a bird (...we also keep mentioning that Portland has never been graced with a Roller or a Great Spotted Cuckoo but it's a safe bet that neither of those will turn up tomorrow!) This first-summer female Greenland Wheatear has a largely juvenile wing but we can also see evidence of last autumn's  post-juvenile moult (for example the innermost greater covert) and last winter's pre-breeding moult (for example the single much blacker feathers in both the greater-coverts and the tertials).



Today's new Siberian Chiffchaff arrived just two days after our wintering bird departed, providing interesting evidence that, as might be expected, birds of this form are likely to moult later and therefore migrate later than the majority of European Chiffchaffs





We didn't choose this little series of Chesil seawatch photos for their technical merit as they were taken in lousy conditions this evening, however they do illustrate the challenging but also often very rewarding nature of watches from the beach. We won't dwell on the reasons for this save to say that it's one of those watchpoints where you have to have your wits about you as birds can appear from all directions and at a variety of heights. 


...and finally an Arctic Skua in action off the Bill.

      Greenland Wheatear, Siberian Chiffchaff, commic terns, Sanderling and Dunlin flock, Dunlins, Arctic Tern and Arctic Skua attacking Kittiwake - Portland Bill and Chesil Beach, 3rd May 2008 © James Phillips (Arctic Skua) and Martin Cade (all other photos)

  May 3rd

The sea continues to provide most of the interest with decent watches in a brisk easterly at both Chesil and the Bill. The pick of the long and varied lists for these sites included 300 commic terns, 25 Sanderling, 8 Grey Plovers, 8 Arctic Skuas, 5 Black Terns, 3 Velvet Scoter, 2 Great Skuas, a Black-throated Diver, a Knot, a Pomarine Skua, an Iceland Gull and a Little Gull off Chesil and 500 Manx Shearwaters, 200 commic terns, 6 Black Terns, 5 Arctic Skuas, 2 Great Northern Divers, 2 Great Skuas, a Red-throated Diver and a Little Tern off the Bill. On the land there was precious little in the way of an overnight arrival of migrants but diurnal arrivals were very conspicuous and included a good passage of Swifts and hirundines and a total of at least 15 Turtle Doves dropping in through the day. The best of the rest of the reports were of a new Siberian Chiffchaff trapped and ringed at the Obs and late-ish singles of Siskin and Redpoll at the Bill, Siskin at Southwell and Reed Bunting over Chesil.

A single Rusty-dot Pearl was the only immigrant in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning.





      Greenland Wheatear - Portland Bill, 2nd May 2008 ©  Martin Cade  

...ageing male Wheatears in the spring shouldn't be too difficult and our Greenland bird today was readily recognised as a first-summer male by virtue of the strong moult contrast in the greater coverts; in an adult male the whole wing would have been as black as the single 'new' inner greater covert on our bird. In Wheatear, spring moult contrasts can be the result of the post-juvenile moult or the pre-breeding moult (three generations of feathers can be recognised in many first-summer birds) but in adult males any contrast should be between degrees of black rather than between black and brown as would be seen in a first-summer bird. At some time our bird had clearly lost the left half of its tail and there is a nice black vs brown contrast between these newer and older feathers.

  May 2nd

Negative news on both the Serin and Siberian Chiffchaff today and unfortunately nothing of any quality had arrived to take their place. Common migrants were again thin on the ground at the Bill where the best anyone could muster were 40 Wheatears (now nearly all Greenland Wheatears), 15 Yellow Wagtails, 4 Whinchats, 3 Garden Warblers, a Grasshopper Warbler, a Sedge Warbler and a Redpoll; odds and ends elsewhere included singles of Pied and Spotted Flycatcher at Avalanche Road. Were it not for the remarkable numbers of Manx Shearwaters still lingering offshore - estimates today included 5000 off the Bill and 1000 off Chesil Cove - and a steady movement of commic terns past the Bill - 300 headed east today - the sea was still relatively quiet, with the pick of the quality being 10 Brent Geese, 4 Pomarine Skuas, 3 Arctic Skuas, 2 Black-throated Divers and singles of Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver and Red-necked Grebe through off the Bill and the same Red-necked Grebe and 2 Roseate Terns off Chesil Cove.



      A Cormorant from yesterday - Portland Bill, 30th April 2008 ©  Martin Cade  

  May 1st

Today's highlight was an exceptional movement of Manx Shearwaters during the afternoon and evening. Lingering Manx have been an ever-present feature off the Bill in recent days but from mid-afternoon onwards a spectacular westward passage took place that involved birds passing at 100-200/minute for several hours; no full count was possible but we'd hazard a guess at 25000 being a pretty conservative estimate of the numbers involved; the previous highest count at the Bill was of around 10000 lingering offshore on 10th April 1999. Seawatching at the Bill otherwise produced 350 commic terns, 8 Pomarine Skuas, 7 Great Northern Divers, 3 Shelduck, 2 Red-throated Divers, 2 Little Gulls and a Roseate Tern. On the land, both the Serin and Siberian Chiffchaff remained at the Bill but it was still much quieter than might be expected for common migrants, with the best on offer at the Bill being 8 Yellow Wagtails, 4 Garden Warblers, 2 Whinchats, 2 Sedge Warblers, a Redstart and a Spotted Flycatcher; elsewhere the first Turtle Dove of the spring was at Easton, a Hobby passed over at New Ground and a Grasshopper Warbler was at Suckthumb Quarry.