December 2008

31st December

Dreary and feeling really raw today. Singles of Lapwing, Short-eared Owl and Firecrest were at the Bill, a Black Redstart was at Chesil Cove and 12 Mediterranean Gulls, 2 Black-headed Gulls and a Little Egret passed through on the sea at the Bill.

Late news for yesterday: a Black Redstart was at Reap Lane.


As 2008 draws to a close it's worth having a quick recap of the highlights of the birding year at Portland. The year total of 218 included no less than four additions to the Portland list - Great White Egret, Glossy Ibis, Hooded Merganser and Grey-cheeked Thrush - whilst the decent list of lesser rarities included the island's second Thrush Nightingale and third Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. There were record counts/totals of Manx Shearwater, Whooper Swan, Brent Goose, Hobby, Whimbrel and commic terns, along with notable influxes of, amongst others, mid-winter Balearic Shearwaters, Honey Buzzards, Long-tailed Tits and Crossbills. It wasn't a particularly vintage year for commoner migrants although there were welcome increases in numbers of, in particular, Turtle Dove and Goldcrest


...and finally, if you still have Christmas money burning a hole in your pocket - it's pretty pointless putting it in a bank at the moment so you may as well spend it - there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm tomorrow (New Year's Day).



30th December

A little less wind and a little more sunshine than in recent days but not much change in the birding. A Great Skua was a welcome addition to the seawatch list at the Bill as it allowed a couple of regular watchers to complete their 'A skua in every month of the year' tally for 2008; 5 Mediterranean Gulls, 3 Common Scoter and a Brent Goose also passed through there and 30 Common Scoter and 5 Pale-bellied Brents were settled off Chesil Cove. A Lapwing and a Short-eared Owl were at the Bill and 148 Mediterranean Gulls and 22 Pale-bellied Brents were at Ferrybridge. 

29th December

Today's reports in the continuing chilly weather consisted of a Mediterranean Gull off the Bill, 3 Short-eared Owls at the Bill, 2 Blackcaps in a garden at Easton, a Lapwing on Chesil Beach and 130 Mediterranean Gulls, 25 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and one of the Black Brants at Ferrybridge.



 Iceland Gull - Portland Bill, 28th December 2008 © Martin Cade

  28th December

Another day of stiff, cold easterlies. An Iceland Gull that showed up along East Cliffs at the Bill for a little while during the morning was the pick of another fair list of sightings that otherwise included 4 Common Scoter, 3 Brent Geese, 2 Teal, 2 Red-breasted Mergansers and a Mediterranean Gull through on the sea at the Bill, a Lapwing overhead there, 2 Great Northern Divers and a Red-necked Grebe in Portland Harbour and 30 Pale-bellied Brents and the 2 Black Brants at Ferrybridge. 

27th December

A brisk easterly wind remained the main feature of the weather and the birding was much as in recent days: 9 Black-headed Gulls, 7 Mediterranean Gulls, a Red-throated Diver and a Great Northern Diver passed through off the Bill, 2 new Lapwings were grounded at the Bill and at least 2 Short-eared Owls remained there and 15 Pale-bellied Brents and both Black Brants were amongst the brent flock at Ferrybridge during the morning.




   Kestrel attempting to rob Short-eared Owl of its prey - Portland Bill, 26th December 2008 © Martin Cade

  26th December

The lovely sunny conditions were tempered by a keen easterly wind that blew all day. A strong movement of Gannets, gulls and auks past the Bill early in the morning included 28 Mediterranean Gulls and a Little Gull. The only other reports were of 2 Redwings and a Blackcap at Easton and at least 1 Short-eared Owl still at the Bill.

Late news for recent days: yesterday a Lapwing passed through at the Bill and a Blackcap was at Easton, whilst on 23rd December Portland Harbour produced 23 Great Crested Grebes, 2 Great Northern Divers, 2 Slavonian Grebes and a Red-necked Grebe.

25th December

The only reports were of 2 Common Buzzards at Southwell and a Short-eared Owl at the Bill.

24th December

Hardly anybody birding today. The only reports were of 2 Short-eared Owls, a Common Buzzard and a Firecrest at the Bill and another Common Buzzard over Weston.

Overnight moth-trapping in the Obs garden produced just standard mid-winter fare, with the only additions to yesterday's list being Scobipalpa costella, Crocidosema plebejana and Dark Chestnut.



      Acleris hastiana - Portland Bill, 23rd December 2008 © Martin Cade

  23rd December

Still very dreary and mild until a marked improvement saw the sun appear for quite a bit of the afternoon. The Bill area came up with decent list of sightings: 20 Linnets, 4 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Golden Plovers, 3 Short-eared Owls, 2 Black Redstarts and singles of  Chiffchaff and Firecrest on the land and 5 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers and a diver sp through on the sea.

A few Winter Moths were again settled on the lit windows of the Obs after dark yesterday evening, whilst the overnight catch in the Obs garden moth-traps included several Light Brown Apple Moths, 2 Acleris hastiana, a Rusty-dot Pearl and a late Brick.

22nd December

Dreary and mild today. The only reports have been of a Common Buzzard and a Firecrest at the Bill and 3 Red-throated Divers and 2 Common Scoter passing through on the sea there.

21st December

Apologies for poor service over the weekend but the compiler of these notes has been laid low by a miserable lurgy. In the event there wasn't a great deal of change on the birding front: a fly-over Glaucous Gull reported from Ferrybridge today was easily the highlight; otherwise the best on offer were up to 3 Purple Sandpipers and at least 3 Short-eared Owls at the Bill and a few Red-throated Divers passing through on the sea there (3 yesterday and a single today).

19th December

Pleasant conditions saw a fair little list of sightings accumulated for the Bill area this morning: 3 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Turnstones, 2 Short-eared Owls and singles of Common Buzzard, Black Redstart, Redwing, Fieldfare and Firecrest on the land and 5 Velvet Scoter and a Common Scoter through on the sea.


A note from the bookshop:  we have a few back-numbers of the Handbook of the Birds of the World available @ £110 each; these are Volumes 1, 2, 6, 8, 9, 10 & 11. Ring Nick Wright on 01305 777991 to reserve.  First come - first served. Lynx Edicions have also announced the forthcoming publication of an 8-volume series Handbook of the Mammals of the World to accompany the acclaimed Handbook of the Birds of the World; volume 1 - "Carnivores" is due in April. RRP per volume will be £135 but Observatory members who wish to sign-up for all eight volumes through the bookshop can do so at the special price of £90 per volume. Please book soonest in writing to Nick Wright at the bookshop.

18th December

Just a couple of snippets of news from the Bill today, where singles of Red-throated Diver and Red-breasted Merganser passed through on the sea.

17th December

Diver movements off the Bill have been less conspicuous than usual this winter so 14 Red-throated Divers passing by this morning was a minor highlight, otherwise it was more of the same as in recent days there: 6 Mediterranean Gulls also passed by on the sea and 3 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Short-eared Owls and a Chiffchaff were logged on the land.

16th December

Just a routine list from the Bill today: 3 Short-eared Owls and singles of Pheasant, Redwing, Blackcap and Firecrest on the land and 5 Eider and 2 Red-throated Divers through on the sea. The only news from elsewhere was of another Short-eared Owl at Reap Lane.

15th December

We've been surprised many times in the past with how late Blackcap passage goes on for and today provided another case in point with 2 new birds turning up in the Obs garden and another individual showing up in a garden at the Grove; presumably the Obs garden individuals at least are newly arrived central European birds en route to a winter destination elsewhere in Britain although it would be good sometime soon to get a ringing recovery to actually prove that. The only other reports were of 3 Short-eared Owls at the Bill and a Pochard passing through on the sea there.

14th December

Not much seems to be changing at the moment: 7 Purple Sandpipers and 4 Short-eared Owls were at the Bill, 8 Black-headed Gulls, 7 Mediterranean Gulls and a Red-throated Diver passed through off the Bill, 50 Mediterranean Gulls, 5 Pale-bellied Brents and a Black Brant were at Ferrybridge and 2 Great Northern Divers, 2 Slavonian Grebes and a Black-throated Diver were in Portland Harbour.

After dark yesterday evening the first Winter Moth of the the season was settled on a lit window at the Obs.

13th December

After a night of howling wind and driving rain the morning was much calmer but still very overcast. A Redwing and a Firecrest were at the Obs, 5 Short-eared owls were still at the Bill and 6 Mediterranean Gulls, 6 Black-headed Gulls, 5 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers and 2 Red-necked Grebes passed through on the sea at the Bill. The only other reports were of 4 Common Scoter and 2 Red-throated Divers at Chesil Cove.

12th December

Spending most of the day trying to get rid of a Bengal Eagle Owl that nobody seems to want isn't conducive to getting much birding done and the only news was of 9 Common Scoter off the Bill and a Firecrest in the Obs garden.





      Bengal Eagle Owl - Easton and Portland Bill, 11th December 2008 © Martin Cade

...we thought the bird looked very small in the field; in the hand it turned out to be way below the range of a 'normal' Eagle Owl (wing length ca380mm and weight ca1100gm; in European Eagle Owl these figures ought to be in the region of 440-500mm and 1500+gm) and further information has revealed that the bird is a Bengal Eagle Owl.

  11th December

There was a very unexpected start to the day when we received a call from a member of the public reporting an owl - claimed to be a Short-eared Owl - that had been seen standing on parked cars and a garden wall at Easton; on going to investigate we discovered that the bird was a very tame eagle owl that we were able to pick up and bring back to the Obs. In lovely, fine conditions the only other reports were of 35 Chaffinches, 20 Song Thrushes, 2 Short-eared Owls, a Water Rail, a Mistle Thrush, a Firecrest and a Reed Bunting at the Bill and a Goldcrest at Southwell.





   Short-eared Owl - Portland Bill, 10th December 2008 © Martin Cade

...the wintering Short-eared Owls have become a good deal more mobile in recent days but they are still being seen quite regularly beside the Bill Road early and late in the day. Yesterday's photograph was a fluky shot taken at a few yards range from a slowly moving car - poking the camera out of the window in the general direction of the bird and hoping for the best! - whilst today's little series gives an example of the eyeball-to-eyeball views that passing motorists have sometimes been getting.

  10th December

Not much birding was possible today and the only reports were of 2 Short-eared Owls, a Golden Plover and a Redwing at the Bill and another Short-eared Owl at Reap Lane.



   Short-eared Owl - Portland Bill, 9th December 2008 © Martin Cade

  9th December

A slightly better tally at the Bill today, where singles of Mistle Thrush and Blackcap were new arrivals, winterers including 3 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Turnstones and 2 Short-eared Owls were still present and 2 Red-throated Divers, 2 Common Scoter and a Black-throated Diver passed by on the sea. Elsewhere, the same or another Mistle Thrush was at Southwell and a Black Redstart at Reap Lane was the first at that location for some time.

8th December

Far fewer birders about today and not too much to report: single Short-eared Owls were at the Bill and Reap Lane, a lone Purple Sandpiper was at the Bill and 7 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill. 

7th December

Today's list from the Bill included a fair selection of typical sightings for the prevailing anticyclonic conditions: 11 Common Scoter, 6 Red-throated Divers, a Black-throated Diver, a Great Northern Diver and a Shelduck passed though on the sea, another 25 Common Scoter were settled offshore, 8 Starlings arrived in off the sea from the south, 3 Bramblings, a Ringed Plover and a Redwing were new arrivals on the land and winterers still around included 3 Short-eared Owls, 2 Purple Sandpipers, a Chiffchaff and a Firecrest

6th December

A lovely still, sunny and quite mild mid-winter day. Odds and ends on the land included 25 Chaffinches, 15 Song Thrushes, 5 Redwings, 2 Water Rails, a Snipe, a Short-eared Owl and a Firecrest at the Bill and another Short-eared Owl at Reap Lane, whilst seawatching at the Bill produced 4 Red-throated Divers, 2 Great Northern Divers and 2 Common Scoter.

Late news for yesterday: a Barn Owl flew across the road near Cheyne House in the evening.







   and yet more Greenfinch detail from last week - Portland Bill, 28th November 2008 © Martin Cade

...carrying on where we left off a few days ago, we mentioned that Greenfinches can be particularly troublesome and don't always do what they're supposed to do. The individual in the top two photos is a pretty straightforward first year male: it looks much like an adult at first glance but on close inspection in the hand or in the field unmoulted juvenile feathers such as the outer two greater coverts, the primaries, the primary coverts, the alula and the tail are relatively easy to spot. The other three photos are of another male caught on the same day: this bird has moulted all its greater coverts so these are all of an adult-like pattern which isn't very helpful, but the presence of two generations of feathers in both the primaries and tail (note the darker, fresher, broader 'new' primary 5 and the four 'new' tail feathers) are examples of an eccentric moult that is a well-known and seemingly increasing frequently observed feature of post-juvenile moult in many Greenfinches, so ordinarily this bird ought to be a first winter. The odd features of this individual though are the primary coverts and alula: the former are more rounded at the tips than usual but since they certainly don't have the extensive grey edges and tips of an adult then that isn't really a problem; with the exception of the rather pointed shape of the individual feathers, the alula however is strikingly adult-like (the middle feather is mainly yellow and the longest feather has an extensive ash-grey tip). We can't remember having caught a certain first winter bird with an alula as 'advanced' as this but with all the other evidence pointing towards the bird being a first winter clearly it can happen at times. As so often with moult and ageing it pays not to jump to a snap decision based on a single detail but to have a good look at as many features as possible

  5th December

A really lousy list today, with the only reports being of a Chiffchaff at Southwell and singles of Common Scoter and Mediterranean Gull on the sea at the Bill.

On the insect front another Western Conifer Seed Bug was found at the Obs.

4th December

After a rough night there was a mini exodus of Red-throated Divers out of Lyme Bay, with 10 leaving to the east past the Bill through the morning, but the only other reports were of 4 Common Scoter, 3 Eider and 2 Mediterranean Gulls passing the Bill and singles of Redwing and Fieldfare on the land there.

3rd December

In better conditions it was a case of more of the same at the Bill: 35 'new' Wood Pigeons, 2 Short-eared Owls, 2 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Turnstones, 2 Redwings, 2 Reed Buntings, a Water Rail, a Fieldfare, a Blackcap, a Chiffchaff, a Firecrest and a Redpoll overhead/on the land and singles of Red-throated Diver and Mediterranean Gull on the sea. Further singles of Short-eared Owl were at Reap Lane and Barleycrates Lane.

2nd December

The fair weather didn't last and it was back to grey skies and sporadic showers today. The only reports were from the Bill: 3 Short-eared Owls, a Water Rail, a Snipe and a Firecrest on the land and 10 Common Scoter, 10 Mediterranean Gulls, 3 Red-throated Divers and an Eider on the sea.



   Whooper Swans - Portland Bill, 1st December 2008 © Martin Cade

...the East Shambles Buoy which is visible towards the bottom of this photograph is something like 5 miles from the Obs so the swans were enormously distant when we spotted them; fortunately another birder had seen them rounding the Bill a little earlier where they were much closer and could even be heard calling.

  1st December

The return of clear skies and sunshine was extremely welcome, as was the flock of 12 Whooper Swans that flew east off the Bill during the morning (they then headed into Weymouth Bay and were seen distantly from Ferrybridge and later from near Lodmoor, from where they headed away to the north-west). The rest of the day's list consisted of relatively routine fare at the Bill: 50 Chaffinches, 15 Song Thrushes, 4 Short-eared Owls, 3 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Turnstones, 3 Blackcaps, 2 Fieldfares, a Ringed Plover, a Redwing and a Firecrest on the land, a big increase in auk numbers offshore and at least 6 Mediterranean Gulls lingering offshore.