September 2008



    Nightjar - Portland Bill, probably 1st May 1960 © John Ash it was a quiet day on the bird front we thought we'd post this wonderful old photograph from the archives. Perhaps rather surprisingly, last Sunday's Nightjar was only the third ever to have been trapped and ringed at Portland and we remembered that some years ago John Ash, one of the early pioneers of Portland ornithology, had given us this undated photograph of an in-hand Nightjar at the Bill. Assuming that the bird depicted was alive (it certainly looks as though it was alive but there are a couple of records of Nightjars being picked up dead in the 1950s so it's just possible the picture is of one of those birds) then the photograph was taken on 1st May 1960 and shows the first Nightjar to be ringed at Portland; evidently the bird flew into the Obs kitchen and was caught by hand! The dilapidated state of the Lower Lighthouse dates the picture to before summer 1960 and the only other Nightjar ringed at Portland was netted in the Coastguards garden in September 1960. There probably aren't too many photographs from this era that still survive but if any visitors to the website do posses archive photographs such as this then we'd love to see them.

  30th September

The arrival of quite stormy, westerly/north-westerly weather brought an end to our recent Indian summer and certainly knocked migrant interest on the head. Dribs and drabs of left-overs on the land included a few Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests in sheltered spots but, with the exception of a Merlin at the Bill, there was otherwise precious little of any interest. The seawatchers were able to dust off their 'scopes for the first time in nearly three weeks but got no reward whatsoever at either Chesil Cove or the Bill. 




   Great Spotted Woodpecker and Yellow-browed Warbler - Portland Bill, 29th September 2008 © Martin Cade

  29th September

Another reasonable arrival of migrants today included singles of Great Spotted Woodpecker, Woodlark and Yellow-browed Warbler at the Bill and another Yellow-browed Warbler at Avalanche Road. Among the commoner species all the usual suspects were represented, albeit in generally slightly lower numbers than yesterday, with 35 Siskins, 9 Short-eared Owls, 4 Redpolls, 2 Firecrests, a Merlin, a Snipe, a Golden Plover, a Pied Flycatcher and a Crossbill providing interest at the Bill.

Immigrant-wise it was a little better in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 12 Rusty-dot Pearl, 9 Silver Y, a Diamond-back Moth, a Rush Veneer, a Delicate and a Clancy's Rustic.

Late news for Saturday (27th): the island's first Yellow-browed Warbler of the autumn was heard calling at Reap Lane early in the morning.






   Yellow-browed Warbler, Nightjar and Continental Coal Tit - Portland Bill, 28th September 2008 © Martin Cade

...the Nightjar was interesting as it was a good deal smaller than we'd expected (wing length 175mm and tail length 112mm, as opposed to ranges given in BWP for British Nightjars of 183-202mm for the wing and 123-146mm for the tail). We know pretty well nothing about Nightjars but the literature seems to indicate that, at least in the Western Palearctic, birds from the south and east of the species range are smaller and paler/plainer/greyer than British birds; our individual might just be a runt youngster but it'll be interesting to see how the plumage of this bird compares with those from the southern/eastern populations. Another bird that has been putting on a good show has been the Continental Coal Tits in the Obs garden. The blue back, out-sized bib and little tufty crest certainly give birds of this form a characterful appearance but we get the feeling that they're very under-appreciated by the majority of birders. We've followed this bird around for a while over the weekend trying to get a few sound recordings as there seems to be something about the vocalisations of ater that doesn't tally with the usual vocabulary of British Coal Tit (but there again, being marooned on the end of Portland we aren't exactly well up on the full vocal repertoire of British Coal Tit); click here to listen to a sequence of both calling and singing this morning, and here for a composite of a whole host of calls recorded at various times yesterday.

  28th September

Despite almost cloudless skies there were a lot more birds grounded today (presumably the influence of the New Moon period?) of which the most noteworthy were a Nightjar trapped and ringed at the Obs and a Yellow-browed Warbler in the Obs garden; the Continental Coal Tit was also still there for a while early in the morning before it moved on to Culverwell. Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests were the most conspicuous commoner migrants, with both topping the 100 mark at the Bill, whilst Stonechats are also starting to figure in some numbers, with at least 25 at the Bill today. A day-list of some variety also included singles of Merlin, Short-eared Owl, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grasshopper Warbler and Firecrest amongst small numbers of most of the usual late September migrants at the Bill; quality elsewhere included another Firecrest at Reap Lane and a Little Stint at Ferrybridge.





   Lesser Whitethroats - Portland Bill, 27th September 2008 © Paul Baker (in field) and Martin Cade (in hand)

...the in-hand bird showed some characters suggestive of eastern origin (notably the pale brown mantle and tertial edges, the pale crown and strongish supercilium) but the tail pattern wasn't especially different to a British bird so we won't be wasting much time trying to assign this individual to any of the named subspecies.

  27th September

Fairly uneventful in really glorious summer-like conditions today. The Continental Coal Tit remained at the Obs but lots of weekend coverage otherwise revealed just a light scatter of Wheatears, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests everywhere and surprisingly little on the move overhead. The only faintly interesting less regular migrants reported were a Little Stint at Ferrybridge, a Merlin and a Mistle Thrush at Tradecroft and 2 Snipe, 2 Short-eared Owls, 2 Lesser Whitethroats (one of which showed some features of one or other of the eastern forms), a Turtle Dove and a Redstart at the Bill.

Still nothing of particular note in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning, with 7 Rusty-dot Pearl, 2 Delicate and 2 Silver Y the only immigrants recorded.

Late news for yesterday: the first Ring Ouzel of the autumn was at Priory Corner.




 Continental Coal Tit - Portland Bill, 26th September 2008 © Martin Cade 

  26th September

There were welcome morsels of quality today in the form of a Lapland Bunting over Top Fields early in the morning, yet another Honey Buzzard that flew south down the island later in the morning and a Continental Coal Tit that was trapped and ringed at the Obs early in the afternoon. Under very clear skies and freshening north-easterly there was plenty of movement, particularly of Meadow Pipits, very high overhead but once again nothing in any great quantity on the ground, with the best of the bunch at the Bill being 40 Chiffchaffs, 20 Wheatears, 15 Yellow Wagtails, 15 Goldcrests, 10 Whinchats, 10 Blackcaps, 9 Siskins, 7 Tree Pipits, 4 Grey Herons, 3 Snipe, 3 Grey Wagtails, 2 Redstarts, 2 Garden Warblers, 2 Spotted Flycatchers and a Lesser Whitethroat.

It was another pretty hopeless night for immigrant moths with nothing more than 22 Rusty-dot Pearl and 5 Silver Y caught in the Obs garden traps.

25th September

Welcome to the website of one of the few British bird observatories whose recording area isn't awash with Siberian vagrants. Portland's only oddities today were another 2 Honey Buzzards: one flew south along the West Cliffs before heading away to the east over the Bill late in the morning and the second appeared over the north of the island before heading away east towards the Purbecks late in the afternoon; otherwise it was more or less a repeat of recent days with small numbers of grounded common migrants and a light passage of overflying hirundines, wagtails, pipits and finches. Most of the coverage was of the Bill area where 20 Yellow Wagtails, 10 Siskins, 8 Tree Pipits, 6 Golden Plovers, 5 Grey Wagtails, 3 Short-eared Owls, 3 Pied Flycatchers, 2 Turtle Doves, 2 Garden Warblers, 2 Spotted Flycatchers and singles of Lapwing, Snipe, Redstart and Lesser Whitethroat were the pick of a very routine selection.

Nineteen Rusty-dot Pearl and a Silver Y were the only immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning.

24th September

Still no sign of any of the goodies that a fortnight of easterly weather ought to have produced. Another two Honey Buzzards left to the south at the Bill during the morning but otherwise it was a day of routine migrants in relatively small numbers. The first 2 Redwings of the autumn dropped in at the Bill, where there were also 40 Chiffchaffs, 25 Yellow Wagtails, 20 Wheatears, 10 Goldcrests, 3 Short-eared Owls, 3 Whinchats, 3 Blackcaps, 3 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 White Wagtails, a Merlin, a Lesser Whitethroat and a Garden Warbler. Heavy cloud cover put paid to much in the way of visible passage although 13 Siskins, 3 Grey Wagtails, 2 Snipe and a Ringed Plover passed over the Bill amongst a little movement of the usual Meadow Pipits and hirundines. The only report from elsewhere was of a Little Stint at Ferrybridge.

The only immigrants/wanderers attracted to the Obs garden moth-traps overnight were 6 Rusty-dot Pearl, a Frosted Orange and a Silver Y.



 Honey Buzzard - Portland Bill, 23rd September 2008 © Martin Cade 

  23rd September

With just one exception - a Honey Buzzard that arrived in off the sea at the Bill during the evening - it was a day of pretty standard fare, with a little more on the ground than in recent days and still quite a bit to see/hear overhead. Grounded Meadow Pipits have been increasing in recent days and today between 500 and 1000 were scattered widely in the Bill area, where there were also 50 Wheatears, 40 Chiffchaffs and 10 Goldcrests; 3 Short-eared Owls and a single Turtle Dove were the pick of the fair selection of other species in single figure totals there. Overflying hirundines were well into a four figure total at the Bill, where 2 Hobbys and a Merlin passed through but most of the other expected wagtails, pipits and finches were somewhat fewer in number than might have been hoped on a clear, breezy morning.

In rather brisk conditions overnight the only immigrants attracted to the Obs garden moth-traps were 7 Rusty-dot Pearl, 6 Silver Y and 2 Dark Sword Grass.




   Autumn equinox sunrise and Melodious Warbler - Portland Bill and Culverwell, 22nd September 2008 © Martin Cade 

  22nd September

The Culverwell Melodious Warbler - which was trapped and ringed today - was still present but otherwise it was fairly quiet: another mainly clear night meant that precious little was grounded, whilst some heavy cloud that lingered overhead from dawn until well into the morning seemed to restrict visible passage to small numbers of the usual hirundines, wagtails, pipits and finches. What little there was on the ground included a thin sprinkle of the commoner September migrants everywhere along with minor oddities such as 2 Lapwings and singles of Redshank, Snipe, White Wagtail and Grasshopper Warbler at the Bill. Four Balearic Shearwaters passed through off the Bill. The only reports from elsewhere were of 5 Mediterranean Gulls and 5 Sandwich Terns in Portland Harbour.

This morning's immigrant list in the Obs garden moth-traps consisted of 12 Silver Y, 12 Rusty-dot Pearl and singles of Diamond-back Moth, Convolvulus Hawk-moth and Delicate.

Late news for yesterday: a Wryneck was evidently seen during the afternoon near Culverwell by two visiting bird club parties who didn't report the sighting at the time.

21st September

With virtually no change in the weather it was a case of same birds, slightly different numbers. The Culverwell Melodious Warbler was present for yet another day and the raptor tally reached a relatively lowly 2 Honey Buzzards (one south all along the West Cliffs mid-morning and another south over the Bill early afternoon) and 1 Hobby. Hirundines again streamed through and 55 Siskins were amongst the wealth of other over-flying migrants at the Bill. It was again rather quiet on the ground where 16 Whinchats, 5 Grasshopper Warblers, a Short-eared Owl and a Firecrest were among the better sightings at the Bill and a Little Stint was still present at Ferrybridge. The sea was again largely neglected although odd watches at the Bill did produce 3 Balearic Shearwaters, a Great Northern Diver and a Sooty Shearwater.

The immigrant tally continued to drop in the Obs garden moth-traps which produced just 6 Silver Y, 2 Rusty-dot Pearl and 2 Dark Sword Grass.




           Honey Buzzard and Hobby - Portland Bill and Portland Heights, 20th September 2008 © Martin Cade (Honey Buzzard) and Pete Saunders (Hobby)

  20th September

The Culverwell Melodious Warbler remained in situ but most of the other interest revolved around the continuing overhead raptor-fest, with a total of 6 Honey Buzzards, 3 Hobbys and an Osprey heading south during the day; 3 of the Honey Buzzards passed over the Bill during the first hour of daylight whilst all the other raptors were all spotted from the Portland Heights area between late morning and early evening. Routine passage was much as in recent days: hirundines, wagtails, pipits and Siskins were conspicuous overhead but grounded migrants were not at all plentiful; the pick of the scarcer migrants were 3 Grasshopper Warblers, a Merlin and a Great Spotted Woodpecker at the Bill and a Little Stint at Ferrybridge. Precious little attention was paid to the sea although a lone Balearic Shearwater was noticed passing the Bill.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning included 39 Silver Y, 10 Rusty-dot Pearl, 5 Rush Veneer and a Dark Sword Grass.

Late news for yesterday: 3 Short-eared Owls were at the Bill in the evening and a Honey Buzzard flew on to the north of the island just prior to dusk.






   Great Spotted Woodpecker and some Meadow Pipit (left hand photos) vs Tree Pipit (right hand photos) detail - Portland Bill, 19th September 2008 © Martin Cade

  19th September

Our Indian summer continued and once again migrants overhead were far more conspicuous than those on the ground. The Culverwell Melodious Warbler remained as did the Barleycrates Lane Wryneck, whilst a new Wryneck turned up at Watery Lane; raptor interest was provided a Honey Buzzard around the north-east of the island during the morning and another probable Honey Buzzard that headed south off the same area without ever coming ashore a little later. Hirundines (numbering in the order of 5-10000) dominated overhead where many lingered instead of passing straight through; Meadow Pipits were also well into a four figure total and there were fair numbers of all the other expected pipits, wagtails and finches. Grounded migrants included a few more Chiffchaffs than in recent days but otherwise just 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers at the Bill by way of minor quality. The first couple of Brent Geese of the autumn passed through off the Bill.

Overnight immigrant interest in the Obs garden moth-traps was restricted to 25 Silver Y, 12 Rusty-dot Pearl, 2 Diamond-back Moth, 2 Dark Sword Grass and a Pearly Underwing; a single Frosted Orange was also an unusual capture at the Bill.





   Honey Buzzard, Wryneck and Yellow Wagtail - Portland Bill and Barleycrates Lane, 18th September 2008 © Martin Cade (Honey Buzzard and Wryneck) and Pete Saunders (Yellow Wagtail)

  18th September

Another day when, hirundines aside, quality outweighed quantity. The quality was provided by the Melodious Warbler that lingered on at Culverwell, a Wryneck that showed up at Barelycrates Lane, a Honey Buzzard that left to the south from the Bill during the morning and two single Ospreys that passed over the north of the island (mid-morning and early afternoon respectively). After a crystal clear night there was no expectation of any fall of migrants and all that could be mustered was a wide scatter of small numbers of most of the expected mid-autumn species. It was much busier overhead where hirundines (House Martins easily outnumbering Swallows) were moving in the low thousands per hour for most of the morning

The overnight immigrant tally in Obs garden moth-traps included 25 Silver Y,  9 Rusty-dot Pearl, 4 Dark Sword Grass and singles of Diamond-back Moth, Rush Veneer, Pearly Underwing, White-speck, Delicate and Scarce Bordered Straw.



   Grey Plover - Ferrybridge, 17th September 2008 © Pete Saunders

  17th September

Very little to show for today's fieldwork. The Melodious Warbler remained at Culverwell and a Marsh Harrier was at the Bill for an hour or so after dawn but there was little except Swallows on the move overhead and the quest for any numbers of grounded migrants went largely unrewarded. The best of a thin selection at the Bill were 3 Sedge Warblers, 2 Grey Wagtails, 2 Whinchats, 2 Redstarts, 2 Siskins and singles of Hobby, Swift, Grasshopper Warbler, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Spotted Flycatcher and Pied Flycatcher, whilst singles of Hobby at Cheyne Weare and Grey Plover and Little Gull at Ferrybridge were the only reports of note from elsewhere.

It was again too chilly and breezy for productive overnight mothing, although the Obs garden traps still attracted a small selection of immigrants: 40 Silver Y, 5 Diamond-back Moth, 3 Rusty-dot Pearl, 3 Dark Sword Grass, 2 Rush Veneer and singles of Pearly Underwing and White-speck.

Late news for yesterday: a Wryneck dropped in briefly on the West Cliffs at the Bill...and belated news for 11th September: a Tawny Pipit showed well on and around the fence on the north side of Southwell Business Park (the observer reported that it looked to be very similar to the bird photographed not too far away at Barelycrates Lane a few days previously so perhaps the same individual was involved?)



   Osprey - Portland Bill, 16th September 2008 © Martin Cade

  16th September

Another nice list of scarcer migrants today included the Melodious Warbler that remained at Culverwell, a Corncrake flushed up once in Top Fields, a Marsh Harrier overhead at the Bill early in the morning and an Osprey that flew south along the West Cliffs from Fortuneswell to the Bill later in the morning; unfortunately, commoner migrants - Swallows aside - were still not at all plentiful. The light scatter of routine migrants at the Bill included 25 Yellow Wagtails, 20 Siskins, 10 Grey Wagtails, 6 Tree Pipits, 4 Whinchats, 2 Short-eared Owls, a Hobby, a Merlin, a Redstart and a Lesser Whitethroat; other sites produced more, or in most cases less, of the same.

In chillier conditions overnight there weren't quite so many immigrant moths on the wing at the Bill; the Obs garden traps produced 26 Silver Y, 11 Diamond-back Moth, 8 Rusty-dot Pearl, 6 Rush Veneer and singles of Vestal, Gem, Delicate, Porter's Rustic and Scarce Bordered Straw.









   Marsh Harrier, Antigastra catalaunalis and some Pied Flycatcher detail - Ferrybridge and Portland Bill, 15th September 2008 © Pete Saunders (Marsh Harrier) and Martin Cade (A. catalaunalis and the flycatchers).

...having seen today's debate concerning flycatchers in other parts of the country we thought we'd cobble together a few photographs showing some first-winter Pied Flycatchers from the last few days. Saturday's bird shown in the top two photos was particularly interesting as it was distinctly colder, greyer toned than usual and had a really large white primary patch (which started on P5 as opposed to the usual P6); we had a good look at this bird but unfortunately the wing formula/biometry (for example, P2=P5/6 and P1-P2=37) were good for Pied Fly and the nape feathers just had concealed white central shaft streaks as opposed to the white anchor marks that we'd hoped to see had it have been a Collared! Although the primary patch on this bird is large it actually doesn't extend much - if at all - beyond the longest primary covert. We'd guess that this individual was a female as it had no black on the upper tail coverts; our other two birds from this past weekend are likely to be males as they had black upper tail coverts and much darker flight feathers, wing coverts and tails. The bird in the centre photograph has a somewhat smaller primary patch (with just a faint spot on P6) and the individual in the lower two photos has such a small patch that it isn't visible at all on the closed wing.

  15th September

Portland hardly vies with Falsterbo in the raptor stakes but a Honey Buzzard heading south over the north of the island during the morning and 3 Marsh Harriers leaving in the same direction (one off the West Cliffs early in the morning and the other two over Ferrybridge either side of midday) were very welcome; on the land the Melodious Warbler remained at Culverwell for its sixth day. A veil of cloud overhead at dawn did little to perk up interest on the land but under clearer skies later in the day Swallows were again moving in quantity, with sample counts suggesting totals of around 3500/hour flying south at Ferrybridge around midday; 50 Siskins, 2 Short-eared Owls, a Merlin and a Turtle Dove were the best of a pretty thin selection of routine migrants at the Bill, where a lone Balearic Shearwater was the only bird of note on the sea.

Immigrants were again quite well represented in the Obs garden moth-traps. A single Antigastra catalaunalis was the rarity highlight although at a local level the second island record of Tachystola acroxantha was perhaps more notweworthy; other totals included 130 Silver Y, 30 Rusty-dot Pearl, 20 Rush Veneer, 9 Diamond-back Moth, 7 Dark Sword Grass, 2 Vestal, a Convolvulus Hawk-moth, a Pearly Underwing and a White-speck.

14th September

Thank goodness for the long-staying Melodious Warbler since, for all the talk of imminent Honey Buzzards and eastern rarities, there wasn't a great deal of note to be seen around the island today. In more very fair conditions most routine passage took place high overhead with, for example, plenty more wagtails, pipits and Siskins on the move amongst the myriad hirundines leaving to the south. It was much quieter on the ground with the Bill area producing just 3 Pied Flycatchers, 2 Reed Warblers and singles of Hobby, Snipe, Redstart and Lesser Whitethroat by way of minor interest. The seawatchers were eventually rewarded with a tally that included 6 Great Skuas, 4 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Wigeon, an Arctic Skua and a Pomarine Skua passing through off the Bill, whilst elsewhere a Grey Phalarope was briefly settled in Portland Harbour before flying off towards Chesil Cove.

The recent improvement in immigrant numbers in the Obs garden moth-traps continued, with totals this morning that included 50 Silver Y, 9 Rusty-dot Pearl, 8 Rush Veneer, 3 Delicate, 2 Porter's Rustic, a Dark Sword Grass and a Cosmopolitan.



   Dewick's Plusia - Portland Bill, 13th September 2008 © Martin Cade

  13th September

The Melodious Warbler remained at Culverwell where there were several sightings of 2 Hippolais warblers but seemingly not a fully confirmed sighting of an Icterine Warbler. With quality otherwise at a premium it was left to a rather similar variety of commoner migrants to yesterday to provide the interest. Under cloudless skies most movement was overhead, with four figure totals of both Swallow and House Martin, along with 40 Siskins, 24 Tree Pipits,10 Grey Wagtails and 2 Swifts the pick of the list at the Bill. The light scatter of grounded migrants included 20 Yellow Wagtails, 6 Pied Flycatchers, 3 Redstarts, 2 Sedge Warblers, a White Wagtail, a Whinchat and a Reed Warbler at the Bill.

A Dewick's Plusia was the pick of the overnight catch in the Obs garden moth-traps; commoner immigrants included 37 Silver Y, 7 Rush Veneer, 7 Rusty-dot Pearl, 2 Dark Sword Grass and a Pearly Underwing.






   Icterine Warbler, Melodious Warbler and Grey Wagtail detail - Portland Bill, 12th September 2008 © Martin Cade

...catching an adult Grey Wagtail at Portland is about as rare as getting Melodious and Icterine Warblers together here, so rather than waiting on the faint chance of a comparison photo we'll just dwell for a moment on the first year Grey Wag netted this morning. Ageing isn't usually too difficult as there ought to be a relatively obvious moult-limit in the greater coverts (although usually only the innermost one-three feathers are replaced by adult pattern feathers); there is often also a moult-limit within the tertials and for those odd few birds that haven't replaced any greater coverts there is always a contrast to be looked for between these dull brownish tinged feathers and the glossier black median coverts which seem always to be replaced in the post-juvenile moult.

  12th September

A rare Portland event today: an Icterine Warbler was a new arrival at Culverwell where it joined the Melodious Warbler already present; the Reap Lane Woodchat Shrike was also still present and a Wryneck was another new arrival at Kingbarrow Quarry.. After a very clear night grounded commoner migrants weren't at all numerous but did include, for example, 10 Whinchats at Barelycrates Lane and 20 Whinchats, 4 Sedge Warblers, 3 Grasshopper Warblers, a Turtle Dove, a Short-eared Owl, a Reed Warbler, a Garden Warbler and a Pied Flycatcher at the Bill. Quite a bit on the move overhead included 45 Siskins, 17 Grey Wagtails, 14 Tree Pipits, 5 Chaffinches, 2 Swifts, a Merlin, a Golden Plover, a Snipe and a Crossbill at the Bill. The first Red-throated Diver of the autumn was the only bird of note on the sea at the Bill.

A small improvement in immigrant numbers in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning included 17 Silver Y, 4 Rush Veneer, 4 Rusty-dot Pearl, 4 Delicate, 2 Dark Sword Grass, 2 Pearly Underwing and a Porter's Rustic.

11th September

Dire on the migrant front today (for example, nothing at all was netted and ringed all day at the Obs!) so it was fortunate that both of yesterday's goodies - the Melodious Warbler at Culverwell and the Woodchat Shrike at Reap Lane - remained overnight. What few grounded migrants there were were mainly left-overs and included 10 Wheatears, 5 Grey Wagtails, 2 Chiffchaffs, 2 Willow Warblers, a Turnstone, a Snipe, a Garden Warbler and a Pied Flycatcher at the Bill; elsewhere a Little Stint was a new arrival at Ferrybridge. Conditions didn't look too bad for another decent seawatch session but in the event just 6 Arctic Skuas, 4 Great Skuas, 3 Sooty Shearwaters, 3 Common Scoter, a Balearic Shearwater, a Whimbrel and a Pomarine Skua passed through off the Bill.

A lone Convolvulus Hawk-moth was a welcome better quality immigrant in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning; 2 Silver Y and a Dark Spectacle were the only other worthwhile captures.

Late news for yesterday: a few more late afternoon/evening seabirds boosted the day-totals at the Bill to 27 Arctic Skuas, 19 Sooty Shearwaters, 15 Great Skuas and 13 Balearic Shearwaters.





   Melodious Warbler and Woodchat Shrike - Culverwell and Reap Lane, 10th September 2008 © Martin Cade

  10th September

On the land it was very much a case of quality rather than quantity: singles of Melodious Warbler at Culverwell and Woodchat Shrike at Reap Lane showed on and off from late morning through the afternoon but an early morning Tawny Pipit on the West Cliffs near Weston was not so co-operative and was not seen after discovery. Commoner migrants were not at all plentiful but did include 4 Garden Warblers, 4 Blackcaps, 2 Reed Warblers, a Whinchat and a Pied Flycatcher at the Bill. The sea continued to provide quite a bit of interest, with 17 Sooty Shearwaters, 12 Arctic Skuas, 8 Common Scoter, 6 Manx Shearwaters, 3 Balearic Shearwaters and 2 Sandwich Terns passing through off the Bill.

Another disappointing catch of immigrant moths at the Obs included 5 Silver Y, 2 Dark Sword Grass, 2 Delicate, a Rusty-dot Pearl, a Rush Veneer and a Pearly Underwing.



   Reed Warbler - Portland Bill, 9th September 2008 © Martin Cade

  9th September

In really miserable conditions the smattering of new arrivals on the land included 2 Reed Warblers and singles of Grey Heron, Knot, Turtle Dove, Pied Flycatcher and Spotted Flycatcher at the Bill where surprising high numbers of Swallows left out to sea in the rain. Seawatching at the Bill produced 37 Common Scoter, 18 commic terns, 17 Great Skuas, 16 Arctic Skuas, 10 Manx Shearwaters, 3 Sandwich Terns, a Grey Phalarope and an Arctic Tern. News from elsewhere included an early morning Ortolan Bunting at Barelycrates Lane and 63 Sandwich Terns, 3 Sanderling and an Arctic Tern at Ferrybridge.

In what looked to be quite promising overnight conditions the only immigrants attracted to the Obs garden moth-traps were 5 Silver Y and singles of Rusty-dot Pearl, Rush Veneer, Dark Sword Grass and Red Admiral butterfly.

Late news for yesterday: further details received regarding the plumage of the Watery Lane Ortolan Bunting indicate that it was a different individual to the bird photographed at the Bill.




Ortolan Bunting - Portland Bill, 8th September 2008 © Martin Cade

...and click here to listen to a short recording of the bird calling whilst it was settled in a tree in the Obs garden.

  8th September

In much calmer conditions there was quite a bit on the move overhead but a rather disappointing array of new arrivals on the ground; single Ortolan Buntings - the same bird in each case? - that showed up during the afternoon first at Watery Lane and later at the Obs were the only oddities discovered. At the Bill the overhead tally included 29 Tree Pipits, 25 Yellow Wagtails and 23 Grey Wagtails along with a relatively small passage of hirundines and the first movement of the autumn of a few hundred Meadow Pipits. On the ground there were small numbers of Wheatears everywhere (including 30 at the Bill) but most other common migrants, which included the first couple of Goldcrests of the autumn at Southwell, were only present on ones and twos; the pick of the scarcer species included 3 White Wagtails, 3 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Grasshopper Warblers, 2 Garden Warblers, a Snipe, a Lesser Whitethroat and a Reed Bunting at the Bill and a Pied Flycatcher at Reap Lane. The only reports of note from the sea were of 2 Manx Shearwaters and 2 Arctic Skuas passing the Bill.

The overnight immigrant tally in the Obs garden moth-traps consisted of 13 Silver Y, 3 Dark Sword Grass and 1 Delicate.








  Grey Phalaropes and some more Whitethroat detail - Chesil Cove and Portland Bill, 7th September 2008 © Kevin Lane (Grey Phalaropes) and Martin Cade (Whitethroats).

...a couple of weeks ago we touched on Whitethroat ageing and remarked on how tricky they can be - a point well illustrated by two of today's birds. The top three photos are of an adult (being a rather brown headed bird we'd hazard a guess that it was more likely to be a female). Like the presumed males we illustrated before this individual shows evidence of a moult interruption with, for example, the central two secondaries, the carpal covert and the smallest alula feather all left unmoulted; the photo of the closed wing shows how with careful observation it might just be possible to spot the old secondaries in the field. The two photos of a first year bird show one of those troublesome individuals that has very white outer tail-feathers (in a fleeting field view this would surely be called as an adult!). In this case correct ageing requires closer inspection of the rest of the tail (for example, the paler overall colour of the tail, the thinner, more pointed shape of the individual feathers and the pattern of white on the penultimate feather) and a look at the greater coverts (this individual is particularly subtle, with just the innermost feather - which very unhelpfully is nearly always hidden on a field view - having been moulted and showing the adult-like pattern of a dark centre and well-defined rufous edge).

  7th September

Up to 4 Grey Phalaropes remained off Chesil Cove but otherwise there was relatively poor reward for the weekend visitors. In slightly improved weather conditions - well, at least it was dry all day - there was a noticeable improvement in common migrant numbers, with 120 Wheatears grounded at the Bill and 12 Grey Wagtails, 12 Tree Pipits and good numbers of hirundines passing overhead there; most other expected species were only poorly represented but odds and ends of better quality included 11 White Wagtails, 9 Turnstones, 7 Whinchats, 2 Spotted Flycatchers, a Garden Warbler and a Pied Flycatcher at the Bill, 2 Whinchats and a Sedge Warbler at Barleycrates Lane and 16 Sanderling and a Bar-tailed Godwit at Ferrybridge. With the wind having veered into the north-west sea interest was restricted to 5 Manx Shearwaters, 3 Arctic Skuas and a Balearic Shearwater passing through off the Bill.

Two Bottle-nosed Dolphins were off the Bill this morning.



colour-ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull - Portland Bill, 4th September 2008 © Martin Cade

...with so many other photographs to post in the last couple of days we hadn't got round to this colour-ringed Lesser Black-back that was at the Bill the day before yesterday. Peter Rock informs us that this bird was ringed at Cardiff on 7th July 2004 and that there had been further sightings of it near Bilbao, Spain, in July 2006, at A Coruña, also in Spain, in February 2007 and near Les Sables d'Olonne, France, in October 2007.

  6th September

Another Long-tailed Skua - this one lingering for a good part of the afternoon off Chesil Beach - provided today's highlight. Once again virtually all the other news was of seawatching, with 8 Arctic Skuas, 3 Grey Phalaropes, a Pomarine Skua and a Little Gull passing through/lingering off Chesil Cove and 7 Balearic Shearwaters, 4 Manx Shearwaters, 3 Arctic Skuas, a Storm Petrel and a Great Skua the pick of another relatively poor selection at the Bill. The few sightings from the land included 2 Knot at Ferrybridge and 4 White Wagtails, a Knot and a Pied Flycatcher at the Bill.

In slightly less windy conditions overnight singles of Diamond-back Moth, Rusty-dot Pearl and Scarce Bordered Straw provided a little immigrant interest in the Obs garden moth-traps.







  Long-tailed Skua, Sandwich Terns and Tawny Pipit - Ferrybridge and Barleycrates Lane, 5th September 2008 © Pete Saunders (the skua) and Martin Cade (the terns and the pipit)

  5th September

In a howlingly strong southerly the Tawny Pipit remained at Barleycrates Lane but pretty well all the other news was from the seawatchers. The bird of the day was a Long-tailed Skua that passed overhead at Ferrybridge; 68 Sandwich Terns and 13 commic terns also passed through there and 6 Sanderling and a Bar-tailed Godwit were amongst the waders present. At the Bill the quality per hour quotient was on the low side with all-day totals that comprised 93 commic terns, 30 Common Terns, 16 Arctic Skuas, 15 Common Scoter, 7 Manx Shearwaters, 5 Guillemots, 4 Great Skuas, 3 Balearic Shearwaters, 3 Sooty Shearwaters and 2 Arctic Terns. The only additional report from the land was of a Pied Flycatcher in the Obs garden.






   Grey Phalaropes and Yellow-legged Gull - Chesil Cove and Portland Bill, 4th September 2008 © Martin Cade

...quite an influx of new gulls today included 3 Yellow-legged Gulls (the bird above is moulting from second-summer into third-winter plumage - one of the less regular plumages seen at the Bill) and half-a-dozen intermedius Lesser Black-backs (the first multiple arrival so far this autumn).

  4th September

The Tawny Pipit remained at Barleycrates Lane and 2 Grey Phalaropes were new arrivals at Chesil Cove. On the land there were just ones and twos of a few routine common migrants, with the only minor oddities reported being 3 Yellow-legged Gulls and a lone Turtle Dove at the Bill. Despite getting plenty of attention in the continuing windy conditions the sea didn't come up with a great deal more than the phalaropes, with watches at the Bill producing just 8 Common Scoter, 5 Manx Shearwaters, 2 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Sandwich Terns and singles of Sooty Shearwater, Great Skua and  Arctic Skua.







 Tawny Pipit and a few more Pied and White Wagtails - Barleycrates Lane and Portland Bill, 3rd September 2008 © Martin Cade

...most of the wagtails are no trouble at all but there are always some that make you think twice.

  3rd September

The Tawny Pipit remained at Barleycrates Lane but there was no sign of the Rose-coloured Starling or any Ortolan Buntings at the Bill. In an incessant strong wind birding on the land was never easy but it was apparent that there were precious few new arrivals anywhere; the best of what did crop up were 5 White Wagtails and 2 Pied Flycatchers at the Bill and a Crossbill over Barelycrates Lane. The sea received quite a bit of attention but nothing much more than 7 Manx and 6 Balearic Shearwaters passed through off the Bill.







  Little Gull, Sparrowhawk, Barn Owl and White Wagtail - Ferrybridge and Portland Bill, 2nd September 2008 © Pete Saunders (Little Gull) and Martin Cade (other photos).

...we've always thought rump colour was a pretty dodgy identification feature (quite apart from the fact that it's usually extremely hard to judge accurately in the field) in the Pied vs White Wagtail debate and our flight shot does little to dispel that feeling.

  2nd September

The Rose-coloured Starling at the Bill and the Tawny Pipit (click here to listen to short recording of the slightly sparrow-like flight call of this bird; you'll probably have to turn the sound right up on your computer as the bird was only calling rather quietly and it was hellish windy at the time! - we'll try and have another go at a recording if the wind ever dies down here) at Barleycrates Lane were both still present and entertained a steady stream of visitors all day; an Ortolan Bunting was also reported to still be present in Top Fields but was much more elusive in the windy conditions and escaped the attention of most observers. On the common migrant front there were practically no new arrivals after a night of constant wind and rain, and it was left to lingerers such as 6 White Wagtails at the Bill and a Pied Flycatcher at the Bill to provide what interest there was; a roosting Barn Owl was also discovered in Top Fields. Despite promising-looking conditions there was precious little on the move at sea, with just 30 Common Scoter, 4 Manx Shearwaters, 4 commic terns, 2 Sandwich Terns and singles of Balearic Shearwater, Great Skua and Arctic Skua logged at the Bill. The only other reports were of 5 Sanderling, 3 Mediterranean Gulls and a Little Gull at Ferrybridge.

Late news for yesterday: we forgot to update the seawatch figures for the day which included final totals of 66 Balearic Shearwaters and 21 Manx Shearwaters passing the Bill; 5 Great Skuas, 3 Arctic Skuas and a probable Long-tailed Skua also passed through off Chesil Cove.








  Rose-coloured Starling, Wryneck, Tawny Pipit and Pied Flycatcher - Portland Bill, Southwell and Barleycrates Lane, 1st September 2008 © Martin Cade (Rose-coloured Starling, Wryneck and Tawny Pipit on the fence), Paul Baker (Tawny Pipit on the rock) and Pete Saunders (Pied Flycatcher).

  1st September

The Rose-coloured Starling showed well as it wandered between the Coastguard Cottages and the Bill Lighthouse through the day but the other scarcities proved to be much more elusive: there were just single sightings of one of the Ortolan Buntings and the Wryneck at the Bill early in the morning, a Tawny Pipit that was reported first as a probable fly-over at Top Fields popped up briefly a couple of times at Barleycrates Lane before finally being pinned down there in the evening, another Ortolan Bunting also showed a couple of times at Barleycrates Lane and another Wryneck visited a private garden at Southwell. Yellow Wagtails and Wheatears were still quite numerous at the Bill, where there were also 11 White Wagtails, but most other common migrants were in very reduced numbers; the best of the less regular species were singles of Hobby, Merlin, Grasshopper Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat at the Bill and Grasshopper Warbler and Pied Flycatcher at Southwell. In increasingly blustery conditions the sea produced 60 Balearic Shearwaters, 3 Arctic Skuas, 2 Manx Shearwaters and a Sooty Shearwater passing through off the Bill.

The strength of the wind spoilt overnight mothing and the only immigrants caught in the Obs garden traps were 10 Silver Y and 2 Rusty-dot Pearl.