April 2009

Collared Flycatcher - Southwell, 29th/30th April 2009 © Pete Saunders

  30th April

A dreary day although the constant light rain never got heavy enough to actually stop anyone getting out in the field. The Collared Flycatcher remained at Southwell but once again new arrivals were very thinly spread. The first Turtle Dove of the spring showed up at the Bill, where there was nothing else at all unexpected amongst the few migrants on view; elsewhere, a late Snipe at Weston provided some minor interest. The sea was watched throughout the day but remained extremely quiet for the time of year (...one of these days some terns might actually get moving) with the Bill returning totals of 110 Common Scoter, 5 Whimbrel, 5 Arctic Skuas, 3 Great Skuas, 2 Tufted Ducks and a Pomarine Skua.






Wood Warbler and lunchtime and evening gatherings at the Collared Flycatcher - Old Hill and Southwell, 29th April 2009 © Martin Cade

...the Wood Warbler was a rather dowdy male (it gave very occasional snatches of song). In an effort to secure some views of it we were reduced to trying a lure it out with a recording which elicited an amazingly prolonged burst of vigorous calling from the bird; click here to listen to a short recording where it isn't quite drowned out by the constant din of traffic in the background.

  29th April

The Collared Flycatcher was still present and, once it had been established that the bird could be seen from the roadside in Southwell, it attracted a steady stream of admirers all day. The bird gave occasional snatches of song throughout the day; click here to listen to a recording made this morning (we've edited this down from more than 10 minutes of recording so the gaps between bursts of song are much shorter than they were in reality). At the more mundane level of routine passage it remained very quiet, with the pick of the better quality on offer being 2 Short-eared Owls and a Hobby at the Bill, a Nightingale at Church Ope Cove, a Wood Warbler at Old Hill and 4 Arctic Skuas, 2 Pomarine Skuas and a Great Skua through on the sea at the Bill; hirundines aside, commoner migrants were not at all plentiful anywhere.



   Collared Flycatcher - Southwell, 28th April 2009 © Pete Saunders

  28th April

There was stunning and totally unexpected find late this afternoon when a Collared Flycatcher - a new bird for Portland and Dorset - showed up in a private garden at Southwell. Earlier, in much nicer quiet, sunny conditions, plenty of legwork had been put in but there had been few rewards beyond the fleeting visit of a Serin to the hut fields beside the Obs just before midday. The rest of the day's tally was pretty routine: 4 Garden Warblers, 3 Yellow Wagtails, a Grasshopper Warbler and a Hobby were the best of a thin selection at the Bill, another Yellow Wagtail was at Barleycrates Lane and 2 Redstarts were at Southwell. Seawatching at the Bill produced 16 Whimbrel, 16 Sandwich Terns, 2 Great Northern Divers, 2 Great Skuas and an Arctic Skua.

27th April

The birding is getting poorer by the day: today the morning was a complete wash-out and only a late flurry of skuas on the sea salvaged some interest from an otherwise very quiet afternoon in much better weather conditions. Seawatching at the Bill produced at least 1000 Manx Shearwaters, 9 Whimbrel, 9 Great Skuas, 7 Pomarine Skuas, 6 Sandwich Terns, 3 Arctic Skuas and 2 Great Northern Divers, hirundines and breeding Whitethroats aside the only migrants at the Bill were 10 Wheatears, 2 Chiffchaffs, a Cuckoo and a Garden Warbler, whilst 6 Little Terns, 3 Dunlin and 2 Sandwich Terns were all that Ferrybridge could offer.



   dusk at the Bill - Portland Bill, 26th April 2009 © Martin Cade

  26th April

There must be some sort of blockage further down the Channel as today's really decent-looking seawatch conditions - a brisk southerly through the morning that gave way to a lighter south-easterly by the afternoon - produced next to nothing bar fair numbers of Manx Shearwaters. Both the main watchpoints were well covered and came up with just 1400 Manx Shearwaters, 55 Common Scoter, 6 Arctic Skuas, 7 Whimbrel, 5 Sandwich Terns, a Black-throated Diver and a Little Tern off the Bill and 600 Manx Shearwaters and 3 Arctic Skuas off Chesil. The situation on the land remained as dismal as it had been for the last couple of days, with a very light sprinkle of common migrants everywhere and just singles of Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat and Pied Flycatcher at the Bill by way of minor interest.



   Short-eared Owl - Portland Bill, 23rd April 2009 © Tim Dackus

  25th April

With a fresh southerly wind blowing all day most attention was given to the sea, which returned totals of 1000 Manx Shearwaters, 20 Common Scoter, 10 Whimbrel, 7 Sandwich Terns, 5 Great Skuas, 3 Arctic Skuas, 3 commic terns and 2 Red-throated Divers off the Bill and 150 Manx Shearwaters, 4 Sanderling, 2 Mediterranean Gulls and singles of Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Arctic Skua and Great Skua off Chesil Cove. The land was again the poor relation, with grounded migrants in low numbers everywhere and no very much on the move overhead. The Bill area produced 25 Wheatears, 15 Willow Warblers, 5 Blackcaps, 4 Chiffchaffs, a Whinchat, a Grasshopper Warbler and a Lesser Whitethroat on the ground and an early morning Hobby heading north, whilst odds and ends elsewhere included a Ring Ouzel at Tout Quarry and a Redstart at Verne Common.






Kittiwake, Common Scoter/Gannets, Puffins and Whimbrel - Portland Bill, 24th April 2009 © Martin Cade

  24th April

The fact that just 5 new birds had been trapped and ringed at the Obs by mid-afternoon was testament to how dire it was on the land today, indeed the only sightings worth mentioning from the the Bill area were of 2 Swifts, a Hobby and a Yellow Wagtail passing overhead. With a fresh south-easterly blowing plenty of attention was given to the sea, with 760 Manx Shearwaters, 176 Common Scoter, 54 Whimbrel, 40 Sandwich Terns, 18 Bar-tailed Godwits, 9 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 6 Puffins (3 local birds plus 3 presumed migrants passing straight through in the distance), 5 Arctic Skuas, 3 Great Northern Divers, a Red-throated Diver, a Pomarine Skua and a Great Skua logged at the Bill and 400 Manx Shearwaters, 82 Whimbrel, 65 Common Scoter, 57 Bar-tailed Godwits, 40 Sandwich Terns, 14 commic terns, 13 Little Terns, 4 Knot, a Black-throated Diver, a Great Northern Diver and a Mediterranean Gull the pick of the passage off Chesil.






 Roe Deer, Wood Warbler and a bit of Willow Warbler variation - Southwell and Portland Bill, 23rd April 2009 © Pete Saunders (Roe Deer) and Martin Cade (warblers)

  23rd April

Dense fog that rolled in late yesterday afternoon persisted for most of the night but by dawn had cleared enough to leave just heavily overcast skies. A Wood Warbler at the Obs and a Pomarine Skua through on the sea off the Bill were welcome year ticks but for the most part it was perhaps quieter than might have been expected. At the Bill, 4 Redstarts, 2 Yellow Wagtails, singles of Common Sandpiper, Short-eared Owl, Black Redstart and Grasshopper Warbler were the best of the sightings on the land and 250 Manx Shearwaters, 30 Whimbrel, 20 Bar-tailed Godwits, 4 Arctic Skuas, 2 Great Skuas, a Red-throated Diver and a Great Northern Diver were the pick of the returns from seawatching; elsewhere there was another Short-eared Owl at Barelycrates Lane, 2 Little Terns at Ferrybridge and 6 Whimbrel, 2 Great Skuas, 2 Mediterranean Gulls and 2 Little Terns were the pick of an afternoon seawatch at Chesil.

A Roe Deer (the first report we've received of a Roe Deer on the island for some months) was at Southwell early in the morning.





Ruby Tiger, Orange-tip and Ring Ouzel - Portland Bill, 22nd April 2009 © Martin Cade

  22nd April

A little more cloud evident by the afternoon but otherwise it was another lovely warm, sunny day. Hirundines were still arriving in a fairly steady stream but grounded migrants were less plentiful than in recent days. The Bill area produced totals that included 100 Willow Warblers, 40 Blackcaps, 30 Wheatears, 15 Chiffchaffs, 6 Sedge Warblers, 4 Grasshopper Warblers, 3 Whimbrel, 2 Redstarts, 2 Goldcrests and singles of Ringed Plover, Tree Pipit, Ring Ouzel, Garden Warbler and Pied Flycatcher, whilst elsewhere there were 2 more Grasshopper Warblers at Barleycrates Lane, 2 more Pied Flycatchers at Verne Common and a Cuckoo at Reap Lane. Sea passage was an almost complete non-event, with just 32 Common Scoter passing the Bill.





   Short-eared Owl and Grasshopper Warblers - Portland Bill, 21st April 2009 © Tim Dackus (Short-eared Owl) and Martin Cade (Grasshopper Warblers)

...with this amount of variation someone'll be spitting Grasshopper Warbler soon.

  21st April

Another cracking day of clear skies, warm sunshine and bags of migrants. The most conspicuous features were another good fall off Willow Warblers (the Bill area alone returned a total not far shy of 400), plenty of Grasshopper Warblers (with at least 20 between the Bill and Barleycrates Lane/Reap Lane) and a heavy passage of hirundines (certainly numbering well into the thousands); late in the day Short-eared Owls also put on a good show with 3 at the Bill and 2 more at Barelycrates Lane. The wide array of other new arrivals included a Black Redstart and a Corn Bunting at Barleycrates Lane, a Nightingale at Reap Lane and 2 Sparrowhawks and a Hobby in off the sea at the Bill. With the breeze still firmly in an offshore direction reports from the sea didn't get much than 19 Bar-tailed Godwits, 3 Great Skuas, 2 Great Crested Grebes, a Greylag Goose and an Arctic Skua passing the Bill.

20th April

With the migrant block clearly having been lifted over the weekend it was pleasing to see that plenty of birds were still on the move in today's quite indifferent conditions (largely cloudless skies and light winds). Swallows were arriving at a fair rate throughout the day and on the ground a good arrival of Willow Warblers included 175 in the Bill area. All the other expected common migrants were well represented, whilst scarcer species included 10 Whinchats, 4 Redstarts, 3 Grasshopper Warblers, 2 Tree Pipits, a Common Sandpiper, a Pied Flycatcher and a Lesser Redpoll at the Bill and another Grasshopper Warbler at Reap Lane. With a light offshore breeze not much was expected of the sea and 2 Red-throated Divers off Chesil and 3 Red-throated Divers, 2 Great Northern Divers, an Arctic Skua and a Great Skua off the Bill were the best of the sightings at the two watchpoints.



   Hobby - Portland Bill, 19th April 2009 © Martin Cade 

  19th April

Still a few new migrants arriving but with completely clear skies there was nothing like yesterday's numbers. A Hoopoe that showed up near Church Ope Cove would have rounded the weekend off nicely for the visitors but unfortunately it was seen just briefly in flight by one observer. The bulk of the day's tally was otherwise fairly predictable: the first Hobby of the spring was an on cue arrival at the Bill, where 5 Redstarts, 3 Whinchats, 3 Grasshopper Warblers, 2 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Pied Flycatchers, a Merlin, a Blue-headed Wagtail and a Tree Pipit were the pick of the scarce migrants on show; singles of Lapwing and Merlin at Chesil Beach and Ring Ouzel at Suckthumb Quarry were the best of the sightings elsewhere. The sea didn't come up with much more in the way of quality than singles of Great Northern Diver and Great Skua off the Bill and 2 Little Gulls off Chesil.





    Pied Flycatchers and Brambling - Southwell, 18th April 2009 © Pete Saunders

 We've also received a nice series of record shots of a 'blue' Fulmar that lingered off the Bill for a while on 16th April © Brett Spencer: 



...whilst this bird clearly isn't the darkest of 'blue' Fulmars it's still well outside the colour range of the local breeding population; interestingly, a similarly plumaged bird was resident on the West Cliffs at the Bill for many years in the 1970s and 80s.

  18th April

The most promising looking days so far this spring have failed to produce the goods so it came as a very welcome surprise when today's apparently decent conditions - cloud cover, overnight drizzle arriving from the north and a fresh headwind - came up trumps. The Bill area got the lion's share of the coverage and returned totals of 300 Willow Warblers, 200 Blackcaps, 60 Wheatears, 50 Whitethroats, 30 each of Redstart, Sedge Warbler and Chiffchaff, 20 Whinchats, 12 Grasshopper Warblers, 10 Reed Warblers, 10 Pied Flycatchers, 7 Dunlin, 4 Yellow Wagtails, 2 each of Tree Pipit, Fieldfare and Garden Warbler, and singles of Grey Heron, Common Sandpiper, Short-eared Owl, Song Thrush and a Brambling; further variety elsewhere included 5 Lesser Whitethroats at Verne Common and a Ring Ouzel at Tout Quarry. The sea was the poor relation but did still produce 50 Manx Shearwaters, 17 Whimbrel, 9 Arctic Terns, a Great Skua, an Arctic Skua and small numbers of other routine fare off the Bill and 11 Whimbrel and 2 Shoveler off Chesil.

The first Diamond-back Moth of the year showed up in a garden at Southwell.

Finally, we were quite gripped to be sent a photograph of yesterday's White Stork at Frampton, near Dorchester, that a couple of local residents had phoned us about at the time; click on the off-island archive to have a look.





    Wheatear and Sedge Warbler - Portland Bill, 17th April 2009 © Matthew Dampier (Wheatear) and Martin Cade (Sedge Warbler and ring)

...our first Sedge Warblers (and for that matter Reed Warblers) don't usually arrive until what seems like an age after the first birds return to inland breeding sites; there was a bonus this year as our first arrival was bearing a French ring. 

  17th April

Migrant seekers are still having to work hard to get much reward. On another lovely still day to be out looking the returns from the Bill area were relatively uninspiring for mid-April: Swallows were still on the move in quantity, whilst on the ground there were 40 Willow Warblers, 25 Wheatears, 20 Chiffchaffs, 15 Blackcaps, 5 Whitethroats, 3 Sedge Warblers, 2 Tree Pipits, 2 Redstarts, a Yellow Wagtail, a Whinchat, a Grasshopper Warbler and a Siskin. Sea passage off the Bill consisted of just small numbers of Manx Shearwaters, 65 Common Scoter, 2 Shelduck, 2 Red-breasted Merganser, 2 Whimbrel, a Great Northern Diver, a Shoveler and a Great Skua.

An unidentified medium-sized bat arrived in off the sea at the Bill this morning.

Late news for 11th April: we've just been told the rather gripping tale of an Alpine Swift that flew over the Beach Road near the Sailing Academy last Saturday; it was seen well by the observer who was driving off the island at the time.

16th April

Another dismal tally of grounded migrants today, with the Bill area returning single figure totals of the commonest species and just 2 Short-eared Owls, 2 Redstarts and a Whinchat by way of minor interest. There might have been next to no fall of nocturnal migrants but Swallows certainly weren't having any difficulties getting through during the hours of daylight as good numbers arrived in off the sea at the Bill throughout the day and many were still arriving over Chesil Beach until well into the evening. The sea produced a bit more of interest, with 90 Common Scoter, 40 Sandwich Terns, 26 commic terns, 15 Bar-tailed Godwits, 11 Whimbrel, 7 Great Skuas, 3 Great Northern Divers, 2 Red-throated Divers, 2 Arctic Skuas and a Sanderling logged at the Bill and 61 Whimbrel, 20 commic terns, 20 Sandwich Terns, 2 Great Skuas, a Red-throated Diver and an Arctic Skua the pick of the bunch off Chesil. The only other news was of the first Little Tern of the spring at Ferrybridge.

15th April

Much quieter all round today with only a very minor flurry of new common migrants on the land and precious little movement on the sea. Five Purple Sandpipers, 3 Redstarts, a Yellow Wagtail, a Tree Pipit and a Corn Bunting were the pick of the birds on the ground at the Bill, where Swallows were trickling through at around 100/hour during the morning; seawatching there produced just 25 Common Scoter and 2 Arctic Skuas.

A single Purple Thorn was the only moth of any interest in the Obs garden traps this morning.






Reed Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler and presumed Mealy Redpoll - Portland Bill, 14th April 2009 © Martin Cade

...and click here to listen to the Grasshopper Warbler singing. It's hard to believe that a redpoll looking like today's bird could be anything other than a Mealy (although in fairness it does look a little bit more contrasty in these photos than it did in life) but it measured up to be on the small side if it was one.

  14th April

A fair little smattering of new arrivals today although the feeling seems to be that the weather conditions to the south of us are too poor to allow migrants to get moving in quantity. Year ticks included Whinchat (2), Reed Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat at the Bill. The Bill area also produced 60 Chiffchaffs, 50 Willow Warblers, 20 Wheatears, 15 Blackcaps, 6 Redstarts, 6 Grasshopper Warblers, 3 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Short-eared Owls, 2 Whitethroats, a Merlin and a presumed Mealy Redpoll, whilst elsewhere there were 4 more Grasshopper Warblers and a Redwing amongst a good sprinkle of birds in the Reap Lane/Barleycrates Lane area. The rest of the reports were of seawatching at the Bill that produced 200 commic terns, 160 Common Scoter, 120 Manx Shearwaters, 17 Sandwich Terns, 10 Arctic Skuas, 7 Red-throated Divers and 4 Great Skuas.




Robin and Painted Lady - Portland Bill and Ferrybridge, 13th April 2009 © Hannah Anthony (Robin) and Martin Cade (Painted Lady)

  13th April

Another lovely day to be out and about around the island but from the birding point of view there was a distinctly underwhelming end to the Easter holiday weekend. Swallows aside, the flow of incoming migrants dwindled to the merest trickle, with 2 Short-eared Owls and a Firecrest just about the only worthwhile sightings on the land at the Bill. The sea was equally uninspiring, with 36 Common Scoter, 17 Sandwich Terns, 9 Manx Shearwaters, 2 Great Skuas and an Arctic Skua the best on offer from the Bill.

A Painted Lady was at Ferrybridge this evening.

Late news for recent days: a Painted Lady was at the Bill on Saturday (11th) and the first Orange-tips of the year were on the wing on the undercliff below the Grove yesterday (12th).



Agonopterix rotundella - Portland Bill, 12th April 2009 © Martin Cade

  12th April

A party overcast dawn soon gave way to clearer skies and lots of nice warm sunshine and from the birding point of view the brisk offshore wind was important as it served to drop a steady arrival of migrants through the morning. Most of the attention was given to the Bill area, where there were 200 Willow Warblers, 100 Chiffchaffs, 20 Redstarts, 15 Blackcaps, 10 Wheatears (Wheatear numbers have been particularly dreadful so far this spring), 4 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Goldcrests, a Grasshopper Warbler, a Firecrest and a Brambling, together with decent numbers of hirundines passing through overhead. Coverage of other areas produced more of the commonest species but only an extra single Grasshopper Warbler at Kingbarrow Quarry by way of quality. The weather conditions did the seawatchers no favours, with 46 Common Scoter, a few Manx Shearwaters and a Sandwich Tern the only worthwhile sightings at the Bill.

The first Holly Blue of the year was on the wing on the undercliff below the Grove.

The Obs garden moth-traps remain very quiet; the only faintly interesting species being caught with any regularity at the moment is Agonopterix rotundella - Portland is the best known site in Dorset for this Wild Carrot feeder that in Britain is a rather local inhabitant of coastal cliffs and downs.




   Great Spotted Woodpecker - Portland Bill, 11th April 2009 © Martin Cade

  11th April

A nicer day although migrants remained distinctly thin on the ground with singles of Snipe, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grasshopper Warbler and Brambling at the Bill and Ring Ouzel and Grasshopper Warbler at Verne Common being all that could found by way of interest amongst the thin scatter of commoner species. With what breeze there was having swung into the north-west the only reports from the sea were of 50 Manx Shearwaters, 8 Common Scoter, 3 Sandwich Terns, 2 Eider, 2 Red-breasted Mergansers and a Red-throated Diver passing the Bill.





   Greenfinch and Blackcap - Portland Bill, 9th and 10th April 2009 © Martin Cade (Greenfinch) and Dr Matt Wood (Blackcap)

...the Blackcap has a particularly heavy encrustration of pollen (and presumably other contaminants such as plant gum and/or nectar) on its forehead; we've touched on this subject before and it is currently being investigated in more detail by Dr Matt Wood from the Edward Grey Institute, University of Oxford, and fellow researchers at the University of Gloucestershire, using samples collected at PBO. Today's Greenfinch provided a nice example of making sure you check as many features as possible before jumping to a conclusion. Close examination of the photographs show that it has female patterned primaries and a male patterned tail; the bird had a prominent cloacal protuberance so was presumably a breeding male. The ageing of this particular bird is pretty straightforward as it has, for example, two rather conspicuous retained juvenile outer greater coverts.

  10th April

Birders on the land continue to be pretty poorly rewarded, with 3 Short-eared Owls, 2 White Wagtails, 2 Swifts and singles of Redstart, Grasshopper Warbler and Whitethroat being all that could be mustered by way of minor interest at the Bill where the commoner species were not at all numerous. The seawatchers had a little more to show for their efforts, with 380 Manx Shearwaters, 140 Common Scoter, 21 Sandwich Terns, 12 Great Skuas, 2 Brent Geese, 2 Wigeon, 2 Arctic Skuas, 2 Mediterranean Gulls and a Red-throated Diver logged at the Bill and 51 Common Scoter, 14 Sandwich Terns, 5 Great Skuas, 4 Whimbrel, 2 Brent Geese, a Great Northern Diver and an Arctic Skua off Chesil.

Despite vaguely favourable looking conditions a single Silver Y was the only immigrant attracted to the Obs garden moth-traps overnight.




   Great Shearwater - Lyme Bay, 19th February 2009 © James Phillips (settled) and Adrian Shephard (in flight)

...we don't usually feature 'at sea' news from the area as that is well covered on the excellent MARINElife website. However this record of a mid-winter Great Shearwater that was seen 20 miles south-west of the Bill during a Natural England/Marinelife White-beaked Dolphin survey transect certainly merits wider publicity even if it is rather old news. Thanks to James Phillips for filling us in with the details and sending us these tremendous photographs.

  9th April

After a damp start the day wasn't quite as unpleasant as the weather forecast had suggested although it did remain dreary throughout and the wind freshened noticeably during the afternoon. Grounded migrants were again in relatively short supply, with the best quality being provided by 3 Ring Ouzels scattered between the Bill and Weston and a lone Grasshopper Warbler at the Bill. Only sheer persistence provided any reward from the sea, with totals of 261 Common Scoter, 200 Manx Shearwaters, 11 Sandwich Terns, 3 commic terns, 2 Red-throated Divers, 2 Arctic Skuas, 2 Great Skuas, a Black-throated Diver and a Velvet Scoter being eventually accrued from the Bill.

8th April

The first Grasshopper Warbler of the spring showed up at the Bill where the rather miserable migrant tally otherwise included just 6 Blackcaps, 3 Wheatears, a Lapwing, a Black Redstart and a Redstart amongst a handful of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs; the long-staying Red-legged Partridge was also heard calling there. A passing flock of 25 Pale-bellied Brent Geese were a surprise on the morning seawatch at the Bill, but routine passage there included nothing much better than 9 Sandwich Terns, 2 Red-throated Divers and 2 Great Skua.






   Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler wing detail - Portland Bill, April 2009 © Martin Cade

...we're forever being asked by visitors each spring and autumn to run through the definitive features that separate Chiffchaff from Willow Warbler in the hand so we've cobbled together the little annotated photographs above that highlight the most important differences in wing structure. On the closed wing the most obvious difference is in the primary projection: in Willow Warbler this is approximately equal to the length of the tertials, whereas in Chiffchaff it is only about half the length of the tertials; closer inspection of the closed wing shows up differences in the spacing of the individual primary tips which correspond to the difference in wing shape - rounded and paddle-like in Chiffchaff and more pointed in Willow Warbler - that can be seen when the wing is opened. The differences on the open wing are otherwise largely the preserve of the ringer who can check for the presence of an emargination on the sixth primary (present on Chiffchaff but absent on Willow Warbler; the individual emarginations are highlighted by arrows in the photos). Field views rarely permit examination to the level where emarginations can be seen on the closed wing although they can be surprisingly easily seen in photographs: the four emarginations on our Chiffchaff show up quite clearly on the closed wing although the limitations of this method of examining wing structure are immediately revealed on our Willow Warbler, where it's only possible to make out one emargination on the partially obscured and more tightly closed wing. Of course, if all else fails and you can't hack all this New Approach stuff then you can always try the Gilbert White approach and listen to the song. Spring migrants rarely break into full blown song but both species frequently give bursts of quiet subsong/plastic song on passage; click here to listen to Chiffchaff and here to listen to Willow Warbler giving rudimentary versions of their song in recent days in the Obs garden.

  7th April

A nice bight, clear day to be out in the field but migrants were in distinctly short supply. The first Whitethroat of the spring showed up at the Bill, a White Wagtail dropped in at Southwell, 4 Great Skuas and a Mediterranean Gull passed though off the Bill where a decent movement of several hundred Manx Shearwaters got going during the evening, but otherwise there was just a very light scatter of grounded Wheatears, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers everywhere and hirundines trickled through in small numbers all day.



   Red-legged Partridge - Portland Bill, 13th March 2009 © Martin Cade

...we're not even sure that this bird is still around (but since it was only seen or heard on four dates during March it may well still be lurking) but we didn't get round to posting any record photos at the time. Over the years there's been a selection of dubious-looking hybrid partridges seen at the Bill but this bird looks OK for a Red-legged Partridge and seemed to sound OK as well (click here to listen to a short-recording of it calling/singing on 30th March). We've recently been told that there are some almost hand-tame Red-legged Partridges frequenting the caravan park on the mainland side of Ferrybridge and it is presumably these that account for the series of records from Chesil Beach and the Bill this year.

  6th April

Not nearly as much about on the land as in recent days but the gentle south-easterly got things going on the sea for the first time this spring. The morning seawatch at the Bill produced totals of 545 Common Scoter, 500 Gannets, 17 Sandwich Terns, 10 Manx Shearwaters, 8 Whimbrel, 8 Arctic Skuas, 6 commic terns, 4 Gadwall, 4 Great Skuas, 3 Red-throated Divers and 2 Black-throated Divers. Another Marsh Harrier passed over at the Bill where 2 Redpolls, a Yellow Wagtail and small numbers of hirundines were also on the move overhead and 50 Chiffchaffs, 25 Willow Warblers, 6 Wheatears, 5 Blackcaps, a Tree Pipit, a Brambling and a Bullfinch (the latter the same bird that has been present for several days) were among the grounded migrants logged.



   Marsh Harrier - Portland Bill, 5th April 2009 © Martin Cade

...from above the inner primaries and inner portion of the outer primaries were so pale that this individual was called by quite a few observers as a sub-adult male but the absence of, for example, a broad dark trailing edge to the wing and black outer 'hand' rule out that possibility. We'd always thought that a conspicuous pale 'comma' around the carpal - as shown by this individual - was supposed to be a feature of juveniles, but the vary variegated underwing coverts, the apparently faded primaries and what looks to be signs of moult in the flight feathers would indicate that the bird is older. We're sure that someone with a bit more experience of Marsh Harriers will put us right but for the time being we'll hazard a guess that it's a non-juvenile female. Incidentally, photographic evidence shows that this is the third different Marsh Harrier recorded so far this spring; we didn't bother to post at the time any of the lousy record-shots of the bird seen at vast distance on 29th March but these show a conspicuous creamy leading edge to the inner wing which was lacking on both today's individual and the juvenile seen on 20th February:

Portland Bill, 29th March 2009 © Martin Cade

  5th April

A good day if you enjoy watching Willow Warblers in quantity but not overmuch else to enthuse. Willow Warblers numbered around 175 at the Bill but it was certainly a bit of a monoculture there, where the only other reports of note were of 10 Chiffchaffs, 7 Common Buzzards, 5 Wheatears, 5 Goldcrests, 4 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Short-eared Owls, a Little Egret, a Marsh Harrier, a Merlin, a Tree Pipit, a Firecrest, a Bullfinch and a steady passage of Swallows and Sand Martins on/overhead on the land and 11 Common Scoter, a Red-throated Diver and a Grey Heron through on the sea.

4th April

A front of rain that passed during the hours of darkness had been talked up by the cognoscenti as likely to be the answer to migration watchers prayers but in the event - and despite lots of additional weekend coverage - things remained at a starkly samey level. Most of the coverage was again of the Bill area, where totals included 100 Willow Warblers, 35 Chiffchaffs, 10 Blackcaps, 5 Wheatears, 4 Redstarts, 3 Goldcrests, a Little Egret, a White Wagtail, a Firecrest and a Bullfinch, along with a very light overhead passage of Swallows. Seawatching there produced 9 Common Scoter, 5 Sandwich Terns, 4 Manx Shearwaters and a Great Skua.



   Redstart - Portland Bill, 2nd April 2009 © Martin Cade

...there are surely few birds better able to brighten up a dreary early spring morning at Portland.

  3rd April

The sun didn't ever manage to burn off some pretty resilient fog today and as a result it felt a good deal chillier than in recent days. On the land there was another respectable flurry of migrants, with totals from the Bill area of around 200 Willow Warblers, 30 Chiffchaffs, 15 Wheatears, 3 Short-eared Owls, 2 Redstarts, a White Wagtail, a Blackcap, a Firecrest and a Bullfinch on the ground and a few hirundines and Meadow Pipits overhead. The only noteworthy report from the sea was of 2 Red-throated Divers passing the Bill.




   Sparrowhawk with a Magpie that it had just taken - Portland Bill, 2nd April 2009 © Martin Cade

...although it's of entirely esoteric interest we were faintly interested to see the gross difference in colour reproduction in these two photographs of the same scene from different angles (in fact we set the colour balance on the camera to auto just to make it a fair test); the bottom photo was taken in shade and into the light, whilst the top photo was taken with the weak sunlight directly behind us.

  2nd April

In glorious sunshine the plus point from the birding point of view was the strength of the brisk north-east wind which was enough to drop a steady succession of small migrants at the Bill, where totals of 80 Wheatears, 75 Willow Warblers, 20 Chiffchaffs, 10 Blackcaps, 3 Goldcrests and a Bullfinch were logged through the morning. Unfortunately there was little else on the move bar a rather limited overhead passage of Meadow Pipits, hirundines and Linnets.



   Shoulder Stripe - Portland Bill, 1st April 2009 © Martin Cade

...also apologies to all the folk who've taken the trouble to send us photographs in recent days - we've been unexpectedly inundated with images and what with having so much to do at the Obs now that there are plenty of birds and birders around we just haven't managed to find the time to edit and post them all. One that we will quickly post is the following rather unusual image of two Short-eared Owls flying in tandem, taken a couple of evenings ago at the Bill:


© Robert Daw

  1st April

Although dawn was again overcast it soon became evident that there were far fewer migrants about than yesterday. Singles of Tree Pipit and Black Redstart, amongst a thin sprinkle of commoner species, provided some minor interest at the Bill where 2 Red-throated Divers also passed though on the sea.

The last couple of milder nights have seen better numbers of moths attracted to the Obs garden traps although two specimens of Shoulder Stripe - a species not caught every year - were the only out of the ordinary captures.