September 2009




Grey Seal and Turtle Doves  - Portland Bill, 30th September 2009 © Paul Baker (the seal) and Martin Cade (the doves) interesting feature of today's little party of Turtle Doves - let alone the fact that it's verging on the extraordinary to see this many together at Portland these days - was the ageing of the three birds. With two being bright, well-marked specimens and the third being an obviously drabber juvenile we overheard folk wondering if they were a family party of two adults and a youngster. In fact close examination showed that they were all youngsters: two in advanced first-winter plumage and the other - perhaps a bird from a later brood? - showing much more juvenile plumage. On the ground the two extremes were quite strikingly different:




Study of the better-marked birds showed that they retained white-tipped/rimmed juvenile feathers in the greater, median and lesser coverts and the scapulars, and showed two generations of flight feathers indicating a moult suspension. The latter in itself doesn't actually mean anything as both age classes routinely suspend flight feather moult during migration, although it does create a slightly odd appearance in flight when the new, dark, first-winter inner primaries contrast with the older, paler, shorter juvenile secondaries and outer primaries:


additional photos © Martin Cade

  30th September

Quieter overhead and on the ground today although in compensation the very calm and warm conditions at least made it pleasant for wandering around looking at nothing in particular. The Chiffchaff tally at the Bill remained at around yesterday's level, whilst the best of the rest there included 6 Rooks, 3 Turtle Doves, 3 Yellow Wagtails, 3 Siskins, 3 Reed Buntings, 2 Garden Warblers, 2 Spotted Flycatchers and a Water Rail on the land and 28 Black-headed Gulls, 12 Mediterranean Gulls, a Balearic Shearwater and a Common Gull through on the sea.

Immigrants/wanderers in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 8 Rusty-dot Pearl, 7 Rush Veneer, 5 Silver Y, 2 Dark Spectacle and a Pearly Underwing.

29th September

Still very little change to report. Morsels of interest amongst the 75 or so Chiffchaffs at the Bill included 2 Turtle Doves, 2 Reed Buntings and singles of Yellow Wagtail, Grasshopper Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher, Siskin and Redpoll, whilst elsewhere there were 4 Siskins, 2 Tree Pipits and 2 Lesser Whitethroats in the Reap Lane/Barleycrates Lane area. The only report from the sea was of at least 4 Mediterranean Gulls still lingering of the Bill.

Immigrants/wanderers in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 10 Rush Veneer, 8 Rusty-dot Pearl, 6 Silver Y, 2 Diamond-back Moth, 2 Pearly Underwing and a Pink-barred Sallow.



Lesser Whitethroat - Portland Bill, 28th September 2009 © Martin Cade's Lesser Whitethroat was interesting as it was yet another apparently non-British bird (most of our late September to November Lesser Whitethroats exhibit features vaguely akin to those shown by this bird). It was clearly sandier above, particularly on the tertials, than would be usual with a British bird. The wing was also blunter than you'd expect in a British bird (the 2nd primary fell a little short of the 6th primary, as opposed to being more or less equal to the 5th):

...and the pale portions on the outer tail feather were probably a little more extensive than on a British bird:

Current thinking would have us leaning toward this being another halimodendri-esque individual but since everyone who writes about Lesser Whitethroats tells us something different we'll reserve judgement until someone boils up the odd feathers that happened to fall out when it was in the hand.

  28th September

For the most part it was more of the same again today, although an overflying Serin at the Bill - a very unusual record at this time of year - did provide some unexpected interest. At the Bill, Chiffchaffs continued to dominate on the ground (the day total there was around 100) whilst overhead Swallows and Meadow Pipits were again on the move in quantity (both getting to totals of well over 1000); other totals from there included 20 Chaffinches, 15 Song Thrushes, 15 Blackcaps, 10 Wheatears, 10 Stonechats, 4 Grey Wagtails, 2 Turtle Doves, 2 Tree Pipits, a Golden Plover, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Yellow Wagtail, a Sedge Warbler and a Lesser Whitethroat. Four Mediterranean Gulls lingered offshore at the Bill.

Immigrants/wanderers in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 4 Rush Veneer, 4 Silver Y, 2 Rusty-dot Pearl, 2 Dark Spectacle, a Pearly Underwing and a Nephopterix angustella.

Finally, apologies for the apparently delayed/disjointed updates to the site in the last couple of days: the Obs internet connection has been sporadically out of action and more often than not we've had to cart the computer home to Southwell to upload updates.





   Grey Partridges - Portland Bill, 27th September 2009 © Martin Cade

...and click here to listen to a recording of some of these birds calling.

  27th September

Another glorious day but alas much too glorious to have expected a lot in the way of new arrivals. At a local level the event of the day was the discovery of a family party of at least 6 Grey Partridges in the Top Fields/Culverwell area; it seems almost inconceivable that successful breeding could have taken place undetected at the Bill (we can't remember off hand when the last record of Grey Partridge on the island was but it might be as long ago as 1993!) so the general feeling is that these birds must have been released. Migrant-wise most of the usual suspects were present but the fact that, for example, the Chiffchaff total at the Bill dropped to just 40 was a fair reflection of the general dearth of birds; all that could be mustered by way of minor interest at the Bill were 3 Teal, 3 Grey Wagtails, 2 Grey Herons, a Turtle Dove, a White Wagtail, a Tree Pipit and a Spotted Flycatcher on the land and a single Balearic Shearwater through on the sea there.

The mothing remained as low-key as the birding, with 15 Rush Veneer, 4 Silver Y, a Rusty-dot Pearl, a Pearly Underwing and a Dark Spectacle the only immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps.

26th September

In the continuing very fair weather routine passage was again dominated by Meadow Pipits and hirundines overhead and Chiffchaffs on the ground. At the Bill the day's Chiffchaff total reached about 120, whilst the miscellaneous selection of other arrivals included 4 Yellow Wagtails, 4 Grey Wagtails, 3 Turtle Doves, 2 Tree Pipits, a Snipe, a Short-eared Owl, a White Wagtail, a Redstart, a Grasshopper Warbler and quite a few new Blue and Great Tits. The pick of a similar selection elsewhere included a Great Spotted Woodpecker over Portland Heights and another Turtle Dove at Wakeham.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 14 Rush Veneer, 4 each of  Pearly Underwing and Silver Y, 3 Rusty-dot Pear and a Diamond-back Moth.





   Little Bunting - Portland Bill, 25th September 2009 © Martin Cade

...and click here to listen to a short recording of some calls from this bird whilst it was settled (this sequence is heavily edited to get rid of all the extraneous noise - mainly the constant chit-chat from birders! - so there is much less of a gap between individual call notes than there was in real time).

  25th September

There was a nice highlight today in the form of Little Bunting that looked as though it might just have arrived in off the sea when it first discovered on East Cliffs at the Bill; it soon settled for a while in the Coastguard Cottages/Pulpit Inn/Slopes area before later turning up in a mist-net in the Obs garden. With precious little change in the weather passage was otherwise much as in recent days. Chiffchaffs numbered around 60 at the Bill, where less common migrants included 6 Yellow Wagtails, 5 Grey Wagtails, 4 Whinchats, 3 Siskins, 3 Reed Buntings, 2 Snipe, 2 Turtle Doves, 2 Spotted Flycatchers, a Merlin, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Redstart. Elsewhere there was a Hobby at Reap Lane.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 14 Rush Veneer, 3 Rusty-dot Pearl, 2 each of Diamond-back Moth, 2 Pearly Underwing and Dark Sword Grass and singles of Dark Spectacle and Silver Y.

24th September

The return of clear skies and warm sunshine saw a lot of birds get moving again, with hirundines, Meadow Pipits and Chiffchaffs particularly conspicuous everywhere. The Bill area got most of the coverage and returned totals that included estimates of 1000 Swallows, 500 Meadow Pipits, 100 Chiffchaffs and 50 Wheatears, whilst among the smaller numbers of other expected species there were 7 Grey Wagtails, 6 Whinchats, 5 Rooks, 3 Yellow Wagtails, 3 Grasshopper Warblers, 3 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Dunlin, a Golden Plover, a Whimbrel, a Turtle Dove, a Sedge Warbler, a Reed Warbler and a Tree Pipit. A Dartford Warbler was the pick of a 'more of the same' selection elsewhere.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 21 Rush Veneer, 4 Diamond-back Moth, 4 Rusty-dot Pearl, 4 Silver Y, 2 Pearly Underwing and a Small Mottled Willow.

23rd September

Rather quiet again today with the heavily overcast conditions seemingly having put a temporary stop to most passage. An unexpected report from the Bill concerned 5 Common Buzzards and a Honey Buzzard seen heading south along the West Cliffs; further odds and ends of interest there included ones and twos of White Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat, Redstart and the like amongst small numbers of more routine fare. Elsewhere, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and good numbers of Robins (estimated at 50+) were at East Weare.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 5 Rush Veneer, 3 Diamond-back Moth, 2 Rusty-dot Pearl and a Pearly Underwing.

22nd September

The last few days have been quite enjoyable with plenty to see overhead and on the ground; today proved to quite the opposite and, barring one bit of late interest, there was next to nothing anywhere. The one highlight was an Ortolan Bunting that showed briefly at the Coastwatch lookout on the West Cliffs at the Bill during the evening. What very little news there was of commoner migrants from the Bill included just 2 Whinchats, a Grey Wagtail, a Yellow Wagtail and a Blackcap by way of minor interest on the ground and 6 Common Scoter, 4 Balearic Shearwaters and a Red-breasted Merganser through on the sea.

It was as quiet for moths as it was for birds, with 8 Rush Veneer, 2 each of Diamond-back Moth, Dark Sword Grass and Pearly Underwing and a single Silver Y the only immigrants in the Obs garden traps this morning.



   Pied Flycatcher - Portland Bill, 18th September 2009 © Tim Dackus

Tim Dackus kindly let us have this really nice portrait (and the view from a different angle, below) of a Pied Flycatcher taken at the Bill a couple of days ago. This is such a good photograph that it enables the bird to be easily aged/sexed as an adult male. Autumn ageing is usually pretty straightforward, even in the field, and this bird shows the even white/pale surround to the tertials and relatively narrow brownish-white tips to the greater coverts characteristic of an adult. Sexing can sometimes be more troublesome but in this case the black tail, upper tail coverts, flight feathers and smaller wing coverts leave little doubt that it's a male:


Needless to say we haven't got any recent in-field photos of a first-winter that are anywhere near as good a Tim's photo of the adult. However this in-hand first-winter from last month does show the critical differences, particularly the 'stepped' pattern of the white tertial fringe and the rather similar stepped pattern of the much larger white tips to the greater coverts, both of which are diagnostic of first-winter birds:


The only two in-field photos of first-winters from recent weeks that we did have both show the much more conspicuous white tips to the greater coverts but at these angles the pattern of the tertial tips can only just be made out. As regards sexing, the glossy black tail, upper tail coverts and primaries of the top bird would strongly suggest it was a male, whereas the apparent lack of black in these areas on the lower bird would suggest it was a female (although caution is advised as there does seem to be a considerable overlap in characters when first-winters are examined in the hand):



first-winters © Martin Cade

  21st September

A lovely still morning allowed for plenty of coverage of the Bill area and although there was plenty of routine passage overhead and a fair scatter of birds on the ground nothing of any particular quality was located. In the still conditions overhead movement seemed to be taking place in all directions with, as in recent days, hirundines and Meadow Pipits dominating; Skylarks and alba wagtails are also becoming more numerous, whilst further interest was provided by 12 Yellow Wagtails, 10 Grey Wagtails and 8 Tree Pipits. On the ground a few more species are joining the mid-autumn mix, with 15 Stonechats (Stonechats have been virtually absent from the Bill area since late June) being particularly noteworthy; 4 Whinchats, 3 Redstarts, 2 Lesser Whitethroats and a Grasshopper Warbler were also of interest there. The only reports from elsewhere were of a Marsh Harrier over Tout Quarry and 2 Pied Flycatchers on the ground there.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 35 Rush Veneer, 6 Silver Y and singles of Diamond-back Moth, Rusty-dot Pearl, Convolvulus Hawk-moth and Pearly Underwing.


...finally, a reminder that the next In Focus field event at the Obs takes place between 10am and 4pm tomorrow, Tuesday 22nd September.




   Firecrest - Portland Bill, 20th September 2009 © Martin Cade

  20th September

Slightly less in the way of numbers today although a very mobile Wryneck in Top Fields at the Bill and a fly-over Ortolan Bunting at the Bill provided a little rarity interest. Among the commonest migrants, Meadow Pipits, Wheatears and Chiffchaffs were conspicuous everywhere, whilst the list of less common species at the Bill included a 14 Yellow Wagtails, 6 Grey Wagtails, 6 Redstarts, 4 Spotted Flycatchers, 3 Whinchats, 3 Chaffinches (the first of the autumn), 2 Tree Pipits, 2 Lesser Whitethroats, 2 Garden Warblers, a Hobby, a Merlin, a Golden Plover, a Short-eared Owl, a White Wagtail, a Pied Flycatcher and a Firecrest.

It was also quieter in the Obs garden moth-traps, with the immigrant tally consisting of 35 Rush Veneer, 11 Diamond-back Moth, 12 Silver Y, 3 Dark Sword Grass, 3 Pearly Underwing and a Rusty-dot Pearl.

Also of interest, Andrew Duff has kindly let us have some record photographs - click here to have a look - of yesterday's flock of 6 Glossy Ibis that flew south over Wyke Regis heading towards Portland; unfortunately they must have done a sharp left turn soon after the photographs were taken as we didn't see them and a little later in the afternoon they flew east over Pennington in Hampshire! 




falcon sp - Portland Bill, 19th September 2009 © Martin Cade

...the escaped falcon that we mentioned yesterday flew over the Obs this morning but, from these views at least, we were none the wiser as to its identity/parentage. Although it was impressively enormous (being considerable longer-winged than a Carrion Crow) it certainly didn't have the barrel-bodied appearance of a Gyr, whilst the dark underwing-coverts lent it something of the look of a Saker.

  19th September

With the strength of the wind having dropped right away overnight birding conditions were altogether more pleasant than of late. A Tawny Pipit that did a tour round the island through the morning (flying over at the Bill and later being seen briefly near Perryfields) was the pick of the sightings, although at least 4 Short-eared Owls and 2 Tree Sparrows were also notable records from the Bill. Commoner migrants at the Bill included 10 Yellow Wagtails, 5 Redstarts, 4 Whinchats, 3 Grey Wagtails, 3 Grasshopper Warblers, 3 Lesser Whitethroats, 2 Tree Pipits, 2 Song Thrushes and a Turtle Dove, whilst 2 Balearic Shearwaters and a Mute Swan passed by on the sea there.

In overcast, quiet conditions overnight much better numbers of moths than in recent nights were attracted to the Obs garden traps, although immigrant numbers remained on the low side: 33 Rush Veneer, 21 Diamond-back Moth, 14 Silver Y, 3 Dark Sword Grass, a Convolvulus Hawk-moth, a Pearly Underwing and a Gold Spot; there was also a noteworthy total of 15 Harlequin Ladybirds (the highest count yet recorded in the Obs traps).



Great Spotted Woodpecker - Portland Bill, 18th September 2009 © Martin Cade

...with National Moth Night coming up this weekend it's worth drawing attention to the fact that, in common with quite a few other mainly coastal sites, we've been marking moths in the hope that some might be found at sites further afield. So far this week we've marked over 400 moths with blue paint in the manner of today's Convolvulus Hawk:


Since the small pot of paint provided by the NMN organisers seems to be going a long way we plan to carry on marking after the weekend events have finished - keep looking out for those blue blotches!

  18th September

Much heavier cloud cover today but the stiff north-easterly remained firmly established. Yesterday's Wryneck showed up again at the Bill (once again only on view when it was retrapped - it doesn't seem to be giving itself up to anyone looking for it in the field) and, to complete a slightly unexpected woodpecker duo, a Great Spotted Woodpecker also did the rounds between Avalanche Road and the Bill and was eventually trapped and ringed at the Obs. On the commoner migrant front most of the expected mid-September species put in an appearance: 70 Wheatears, 40 Chiffchaffs, 25 Willow Warblers and 20 Robins made up the bulk of the numbers on the ground at the Bill, where less regular species included 3 Grasshopper Warblers and a White Wagtail; good numbers of birds on the move overhead included 7 Rock Pipits, a Ringed Plover and a Crossbill amongst a fair passage of hirundines and Meadow Pipits. Also of interest, an escaped large falcon (wearing jesses) has been present in the Church Ope Cove/Cheyne Weare area for a couple of days; we were asked to look out for a Gyr x Peregrine that was lost at the Dorset County Show a couple of weekends ago and this may be that individual.

A very small increase in immigrant numbers in the Obs garden moth-traps included 5 Silver Y, 3 Rush Veneer, 2 Diamond-back Moth and a Convolvulus Hawk-moth.




Wryneck - Portland Bill, 17th September 2009 © Martin Cade

We haven't been featuring many in-hand photos lately (there haven't been that many birds to trap and it's one of those times of the year when we tend to get eased out of the routine ringing at the Obs by the many visiting ringers who come down to assist/catch all the goodies) so we thought we'd have a quick delve into eccentric moult - a subject we haven't covered before. This juvenile Greenfinch was caught at the Obs earlier in the month:




...ordinarily, post-juvenile moult in Greenfinches - the moult during which they lose their initial drab, streaky plumage - involves just the body feathers and some of the wing-coverts. However, a few birds (apparently - in Greenfinches at least - an increasing proportion) also replace varying numbers of flight feathers and tail feathers. Since feather replacement of this sort occurs 'out of sequence' (ie it doesn't begin with, for example, the innermost or outermost primary but usually occurs in the centre of the primaries) it is usually referred to as eccentric moult. Our bird above has replaced primaries 5, 6 and 7 and perhaps, although we didn't notice it at the time, secondary 1 (notice the much greener fringe of the latter), along with several of the outer and central tail feathers. Whilst eccentric moult in juvenile birds is mainly a subject of esoteric interest to geeky ringers, it might pay field-birders to be aware of it as the moult-limits that it creates can look surprisingly like the similar patterns created by suspended/arrested moult in adult birds and the potential for mis-ageing is obvious (photos © Martin Cade).

  17th September

Despite the largely unchanged weather conditions there was a little bit of quality today with an early morning Honey Buzzard heading out to sea from the Bill and single Wrynecks at the Obs (trapped and ringed) and at the High Angle Battery. Commoner migrants at the Bill included 70 Wheatears, 60 Chiffchaffs, 20 Willow Warblers, 5 Yellow Wagtails, 5 Whinchats, 5 Sedge Warblers, 5 Whitethroats, 5 Blackcaps, 4 Rooks, 3 Tree Pipits, 3 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 White Wagtails, 2 Lesser Whitethroats, 2 Garden Warblers, 2 Pied Flycatchers, a Redstart and a Reed Warbler, along with a fair passage of hirundines and Meadow Pipits, 24 Cormorants and 2 Sparrowhawks overhead. Elsewhere there were Firecrests at Avalanche Road (2) and Wakeham. The only reports from the sea were of 7 Common Scoter and a Great Skua passing through off the Bill.

Two Silver Y, a Diamond-back Moth and a Rush Veneer were the only immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning.




Common Gulls - Ferrybridge, 15th September 2009 © Martin Cade

...we didn't have enough time yesterday evening to post these photos of the two juvenile Common Gulls that dropped in at Ferrybridge in the rain towards dusk. Common Gulls are amazingly infrequent visitors to Portland anytime between mid-May and early October and birds like these in more or less full juvenile plumage are hardly ever recorded. Both birds were consorting with a few Mediterranean Gulls, the first-years of which have now pretty well finished their moult from juvenile into first-winter plumage (photo © Martin Cade):


...and another colour-ringed gull. This Lesser Black-back (red ring AD.AR) was photographed by Steve Copsey on the East Cliffs at the Bill last Saturday: 


Mike Marsh, from Languard Bird Observatory, has kindly got in touch to let us know that it was ringed as a pullus at Orfordness, Suffolk, on 12th July 2008 and that it had been seen again at Playa de Meiras, Valdovino, La Coruna, Spain, on 21st May this year. Mike remarked that having been present in its presumed winter quarters as late as late May he was surprised that this bird came back to the UK this year and hadn't remained for the summer in Spain before returning to the UK for the first time next year.


16th September

There was a dreary start to the day in a very fresh north-easterly but by late morning the cloud had given way to warm sunshine. The light sprinkle of migrants at the Bill included 70 Wheatears, 20 Chiffchaffs, 15 Yellow Wagtails, 5 Tree Pipits, 3 Merlins, 3 Whinchats and singles of Hobby, Redstart, Sedge Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap and Garden Warbler. Seawatching at the Bill produced just 18 Common Scoter and a single Wigeon.

Late news for yesterday: 4 Mediterranean Gulls, 3 Sanderling and 2 Common Gulls were at Ferrybridge in the evening.



   White Wagtail - Portland Bill, 15th September 2009 © Martin Cade


15th September

A minor change in the weather saw increasing amounts of cloud in the sky and eventually quite a bit of rain in the evening but, with the brisk north-easterlies still firmly established, the birding situation was much the same as in recent days. Migrant counts at the Bill included 50 Wheatears, 30 Chiffchaffs, 10 Golden Plovers, 10 Yellow Wagtails, 6 Spotted Flycatchers, 5 Grey Wagtails, 5 Blackcaps, 4 Tree Pipits, 3 Redstarts, 2 Grey Herons, 2 Hobbys and singles of Marsh Harrier (heading east offshore during the afternoon), White Wagtail and Sedge Warbler, along with good numbers of hirundines, Meadow Pipits and Linnets on the move overhead. A single Red-necked Grebe passed by on the sea at the Bill.

A sharp drop in immigrant moth numbers saw just 4 Silver Y, 2 Diamond-back Moth, 2 Rush Veneer and a Pearly Underwing caught overnight in the Obs garden traps. 

Late news for yesterday: a Vapourer caught in a garden moth-trap at Weston was another noteworthy dispersing moth for the list.



   Tree Pipit - Portland Bill, 14th September 2009 © Martin Cade

...Tree Pipits have been in pretty poor supply so far this autumn and with the blasting wind of recent days having prevented us making any meaningful recordings of the flight calls of the few that there have been we'll have to resort to a recording of a settled bird that we made a few weeks ago; click here to have a listen. As it is, the usual flight call is pretty well the same as this settled bird is giving; settled migrants do sometimes give a variety of other calls, as do some flushed individuals, so we might feature Tree Pipit again this autumn.


14th September

Another lovely warm, sunny day but with the fresh north-easterly still firmly in place there was little change on the migrant front. Another strong passage of hirundines - particularly House Martins - was a feature throughout the morning, whilst other migrant totals for the Bill area included 90 Wheatears, 20 Yellow Wagtails, 20 Chiffchaffs, 10 Whitethroats, 10 Willow Warblers, 5 Blackcaps, 4 Whinchats, 4 Spotted Flycatchers, 3 White Wagtails, 2 Sparrowhawks (passing migrants overhead), 2 Grey Wagtails, a Yellow-legged Gull, a Tree Pipit, a Grasshopper Warbler and a Lesser Whitethroat. Elsewhere there were 3 Golden Plovers at Reap Lane.

The persistent easterlies are beginning to produce some wandering/dispersing moths, with the Obs garden traps coming up with singles of Acleris emargana, Oak-Hook-tip and Heath Rustic this morning; more routine immigrants in the traps included 18 Rush Veneer, 11 Silver Y, 4 Pearly Underwing and a Scarce Bordered Straw.

13th September

Still relatively uneventful in the continuing fair weather. The best of the day's sightings at the Bill included 20 each of Yellow Wagtail and Wheatear, 15 Chiffchaffs, 6 Spotted Flycatchers, 5 Grey Wagtails, 3 Whinchats, 2 Tree Pipits, a Golden Plover and a Redstart, with little of any consequence reported elsewhere.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 39 Rush Veneer, 12 Silver Y, 2 Rusty-dot Pearl and singles of Maiden's Blush, Convolvulus Hawk-moth and Pearly Underwing.



   The new and the old: HMS Ocean - currently the largest ship in the Royal Navy - passing the Obs this morning - Portland Bill, 12th September 2009 © Paul Baker


12th September

As so often happens in very settled conditions the birding seems to getting quite samey with - as in recent days - a fair passage overhead and a small scatter of grounded arrivals but not really much to fire the enthusiasm. Once again, visible passage was dominated by hirundines, pipits and wagtails, with the first 4 Siskins of the autumn over Barleycrates Lane no doubt being a sign of things to come. On the ground all the usual mid-September suspects were represented in small numbers, with minor highlights that included a Short-eared Owl and a Turtle Dove at the Bill, a Black Redstart at Reap Lane, a Grasshopper Warbler at Barleycrates Lane and a Pied Flycatcher at Verne Common. With the wind remaining firmly offshore seawatching at the Bill produced little more than a lone Great Skua.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 24 Rush Veneer, 9 Silver Y, 2 Pearly Underwing and a Convolvulus Hawk-moth.





   Cetti's Warbler, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff - Portland Bill, 11th September 2009 © Martin Cade

...and more autumn calls. Early/mid-September is a time when the autumn passage periods of Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff overlap and we're often asked by visitors for tips on how to separate the two. The rather similar calls often seem to cause confusion but once learnt they do seem to be a pretty reliable way of telling the two apart. Being musical philistines we won't attempt to describe the differences in technical terms we don't understand but click here to have a listen to Willow Warbler and here and here to listen to a couple of Chiffchaffs. 


11th September

Despite the repeat of yesterday's weather there wasn't quite the volume of birds on the move overhead and grounded migrants were also a little more thinly spread. Quality was provided by a Cetti's Warbler trapped and ringed at the Obs and a Marsh Harrier that headed south-east off the Bill. Hirundines, pipits, wagtails and the like were still well represented overhead (hirundines in particular were reported to be moving south along Chesil Beach in very large numbers early in the morning but not as many as yesterday reached the Bill), and odd newcomers like small parties of Blue Tits were passing over or dropping in briefly at the Bill. On the ground, 8 Spotted Flycatchers, 4 Pied Flycatchers and singles of Lapwing, Snipe, Barn Owl and Lesser Whitethroat were the best on offer at the Bill, whilst a Hobby was at Tout Quarry. Seawatching at the Bill produced 13 Wigeon and 2 Balearic Shearwaters.

An Ocean Sunfish was reported heading east close inshore off the Bill during the afternoon.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 50 Rush Veneer, 23 Silver Y, 2 Dark Sword Grass and singles of Diamond-back Moth, Convolvulus Hawk-moth, Pearly Underwing and Western Conifer Seed Bug.



   Spotted Flycatcher - Portland Bill, 10th September 2009 © Martin Cade

...and some more autumn calls. The Spotted Flycatcher above and a couple of others in close proximity were giving prolonged bursts of alarm/agitation calling in the Obs garden this morning (in this case it looked liked they were mainly getting upset with each other over who had/wanted the best perch, but this does seem to be a frequently heard call from migrant Spot Flys); click here for a listen.


10th September

A brisk north-easterly and crystal clear skies provided ideal conditions for visible passage but grounded migrants were in relatively short supply. Hirundine passage was particularly impressive through the morning with certainly a five figure total at the Bill, where Swallows dominated for the first hour of daylight (when around 1000 passed through) before House Martins in particular started to stream over for several more hours; the Meadow Pipit total also reached well into four figures, whilst further sample counts included 220 Linnets, 47 alba wagtails, 33 Wheatears, 8 Tree Pipits, 7 Grey Wagtails and a Sparrowhawk passing through in 2 hours. A selection of oddballs were also on the move at sea, with 18 Avocets, a Teal and a Little Gull the best of the bunch off the Bill. Grounded migrants at the Bill included 50 Yellow Wagtails, 50 Wheatears, 10 Spotted Flycatchers, 6 Whinchats, 4 Pied Flycatchers, 2 White Wagtails, 2 Grasshopper Warblers and a Redshank, whilst elsewhere there were singles of Hobby at Southwell and Merlin at Perryfields.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 98 Rush Veneer, 57 Silver Y, 6 Pearly Underwing, 5 Dark Sword Grass, a Diamond-back Moth, a Rusty-dot Pearl, a Convolvulus Hawk-moth and a Striped Hawk-moth (the latter a different individual to the one caught yesterday).





Ortolan Bunting - Portland Bill, 9th September 2009 © Martin Cade

...and click here to listen to a recording of the bird calling quietly whilst it was settled, and here for a shorter recording of some flight calls as it whizzes off.

We've been messing around lately with recording of few calls from commoner autumn migrants and with any luck we'll get round to featuring a few of these on the site in the next few weeks. One of this morning's Pied Flycatchers was particularly noisy; click here to listen to a sequence of agitated alarm calling from this first-winter bird:


Finally, and just as a bit of fun, we wondered if we might have had a unique (at least in the British context) photo opportunity today. We still had yesterday's Silver-striped Hawk-moth and the capture of a Striped Hawk-moth this morning allowed us to get a photo of the two species together (...shame the Striped Hawk was so battered it looked as though it was trying for a new longevity record for the species):



9th September

An Ortolan Bunting that showed up for a little while during the morning near Culverwell was a decent - albeit not altogether unexpected - new arrival at the Bill. The beginnings of a change in the weather also dropped a better scatter of common migrants everywhere, with the Bill area producing 60 Wheatears, 50 Willow Warblers, 25 Yellow Wagtails, 16 Whinchats, 10 Chiffchaffs, 8 White Wagtails, 4 Grey Wagtails, 4 Sedge Warblers, 4 Pied Flycatchers, a Whimbrel, a Swift, a Turtle Dove and a Tree Pipit along with a steady northward passage of hirundines and Meadow Pipits. Reports from elsewhere included a Tree Sparrow near Perryfileds, a Hobby at Church Ope Cove and 9 Sanderling at Ferrybridge. Despite the offshore wind direction there was a little bit of sea passage, with 12 Common Scoter, 11 Balearic Shearwaters and 2 Sooty Shearwaters the best of the selection at the Bill. 

A party of about 10 Bottle-nosed Dolphins headed east just off the East Cliffs at the Bill early in the afternoon.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 271 Rush Veneer, 83 Silver Y, 3 Pearly Underwing, 3 Dark Sword Grass, 2 Diamond-back Moth, 2 Convolvulus Hawk-moth, a Rusty-dot Pearl and a Striped Hawk-moth; 2 Scarce Bordered Straw were also caught overnight in a garden trap at Reap Lane.





Silver-striped & Convolvulus Hawk-moths and Sandwich Tern - Portland Bill and Ferrybridge, 8th September 2009 © Martin Cade (the moths) and Paul Baker (the tern)


8th September

The Obs garden moth-traps provided the day's big highlight in the form of Portland's third record of Silver-striped Hawk-moth; other immigrants in the traps included 110 Rush Veneer, 2 Convolvulus Hawk-moth and a Silver Y.

On the bird front a Long-tailed Skua passing through on the sea at the Bill provided some welcome quality; 23 Common Scoter, 16 Balearic Shearwaters, 9 Great Skuas, 5 Arctic Skuas and 2 Sandwich Terns also passed by there. On the land grounded common migrants were still not at all plentiful although a steady passage of hirundines did get going once the overnight fog had lifted; 5 Sedge Warblers, 4 Grey Wagtails, 2 White Wagtails, 2 Pied Flycatchers, a Ringed Plover, a Bar-tailed Godwit, a Hobby and a Lesser Whitethroat were the best on offer at the Bill.

7th September

Still very quiet in dreary but increasingly muggy conditions. The 'best' of the odds and ends at the Bill included 5 Sedge Warblers, 2 Grey Herons, a Ringed Plover, a Dunlin and a Whinchat on the land and 53 Common Scoter, 4 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Arctic Skuas, a Manx Shearwater and a Great Skua through on the sea.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 124 Rush Veneer, and singles of White-speck and Silver Y.




   Sanderling and Yellow Wagtail from yesterday - Ferrybridge and Portland Bill, 5th September 2009 © Pete Saunders


6th September

Dismal reward today from what looked to be promising conditions. The Rose-coloured Starling was seen once near Blacknor but new arrivals were few and far between everywhere, with the best on offer at the Bill being 10 Yellow Wagtails, 3 Tree Pipits, 2 White Wagtails and a Spotted Flycatcher amongst the merest handful of commoner migrants. Seawatching there produced 65 Common Scoter, 10 Balearic Shearwaters, 6 Arctic Skuas, 3 Great Crested Grebes, a Black-throated Diver and a Great Skua.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 160 Rush Veneer, 16 Silver Y, a Diamond-back Moth, a Dark Sword Grass and a Pearly Underwing.

5th September

The north-west wind had dropped away a little overnight and although warblers and the like remained pretty sparsely spread in the bushes there was more in the way of wagtails and chats scattered around the fields and quite an increase in overhead hirundine passage. The Bill area got plenty of weekend coverage and returned totals of 50 Wheatears, 30 Yellow Wagtails, 10 Chiffchaffs (the first sign of autumn migrants on the move), 9 Grey Wagtails and 5 Whinchats, along with smaller numbers of other expected early September species; Swallows were leaving out to sea at around 300/hour early in the morning. Seawatching at the Bill produced 7 Balearic Shearwaters, 5 Sandwich Terns, 3 Manx Shearwaters and 3 Arctic Skuas. Elsewhere, the Rose-coloured Starling showed up again briefly nearly the windmills between Weston Street and Easton.

The first attempt at moth-trapping at the Obs for a few nights produced by way of immigrants 6 Rush Veneer, 4 Silver Y, a Convolvulus Hawk-moth and a Pearly Underwing.

4th September

A brisk, chilly north-westerly did nobody any favours today. The paltry sprinkle of migrants at the Bill included 25 each of Yellow Wagtail and Wheatear but otherwise just 5 Grey Wagtails, 5 Willow Warblers, a Black-headed Gull, a White Wagtail (the first of the autumn), a Sedge Warbler and a Whitethroat; nothing at all of interest passed through on the sea there. The only other reports were from Ferrybridge where 2 Mediterranean Gulls and singles of Redshank, Sanderling and Knot were the best on offer.

3rd September

The wind remained strong but shifted from south-west towards north-west so sea passage dwindled right away, with the best of the sightings at the Bill being of 20 Balearic Shearwaters, 10 Manx Shearwaters, 6 Great Skuas, 2 Arctic Terns, a Storm Petrel and an Arctic Skua. Bar the odd few grounded Wheatears and a small movement of hirundines there was precious little of note on the land.




 Sooty Shearwaters - Portland Bill, 2nd September 2009 © Martin Cade

...and back to colour-ringed seagulls. This juvenile Great Black-back was in the Bill car park on 28th August (it took off just as we spotted it so we were a bit jammy in getting a photo that actually showed the whole ring number):



Paul Veron kindly let us know that this was another of his birds from Guernsey. It was ringed as a nestling on the islet of Crevichon, 3km off the east coast of Guernsey, on 9th June this year. The quality of the information we get back with these recoveries gets better and better and in this case Paul even went to the trouble of sending through a photo of Crevichon (...which looks decidedly more idyllic than the bird's next port of call in the Bill car park):


Paul also passed us some more details on Herring Gull 6:AA2 which we spotted at the Bill on 1st August; this bird had been ringed on Guernsey on 5th July and evidently it was back on Guernsey again the day before yesterday (31st August).

photos © Paul Veron and Martin Cade


2nd September

Cracking seawatching at the Bill today in increasingly windy and ultimately also very wet conditions, with the highlight being a record-breaking down-Channel movement of 177 Sooty Shearwaters (the previous highest day total there was 118 on 29th September 1963, whilst the previous highest annual total was only 156); 80 Balearic Shearwaters, 7 Manx Shearwaters, 5 Great Skuas, 2 Shoveler and an Arctic Skua also passed through. The only other reports were of the Rose-coloured Starling still at Weston and a largely unchanged variety of waders at Ferrybridge that included 4 Sanderling.





   Rose-coloured Starling and Western Conifer Seed Bug - Weston and Portland Bill, 1st September 2009 © Martin Cade

...the Rose-coloured Starling was a nice find for Duncan Walbridge right outside his house at Weston. The Western Conifer Seed Bug was the first specimen of this species seen since several were recorded in October and November of last year.


1st September

Given the current spell of almost constant westerly weather a Rose-coloured Starling was a slightly surprising new arrival at Weston today. Once again, commoner migrants hardly figured, with the best of the rest being 5 Grey Wagtails, a Pied Flycatcher and a Reed Bunting at the Bill, a Merlin at Fancy Beach and singles of Sanderling and Whimbrel at Ferrybridge. A lot of seawatching at the Bill eventually produced totals of 17 Common Scoter, 5 Arctic Skuas, 4 Balearic Shearwaters, 3 Sooty Shearwaters and 2 Manx Shearwaters.

The early part of the night looked quite promising for mothing but in the event the only immigrants caught in the Obs garden traps were 38 Rush Veneer, 2 Silver Y and singles of Diamond-back Moth, Dark Sword Grass, Pearly Underwing, Scarce Bordered Straw, Painted Lady butterfly, Common Darter dragonfly and Western Conifer Seed Bug.