March 2010

31st March

There wasn't much enthusiasm for fieldwork today with a blasting, cold westerly keeping a lot of people indoors. The Hoopoe continued its long stay in the Suckthumb Quarry area, but the only other reports from the land were of 3 Swallows, 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Chiffchaffs, a Wheatear and a Firecrest at the Bill and a White Wagtail at Suckthumb Quarry. Seawatching at the Bill produced 7 Manx Shearwaters and 2 Golden Plovers along with a steady movement of Fulmars passing by; another Manx Shearwater was a very unusual visitor to Portland Harbour, where there were also 10 Sandwich Terns and a Slavonian Grebe.

Also, thanks to a combination of Ian Dodd, Brett Spencer and the BTO we've learnt of a rather remarkable recovery of a Portland-ringed Dartford Warbler. V185356 that was trapped and ringed at the Obs on 29th October 2006 was caught again last Sunday (28th March) beside the Fleet, just to the west of Weymouth; we featured a photo of the bird when it was originally ringed here, and Brett's blog features some photos from Sunday.






     Barnacle Geese - Portland Bill, 30th March 2010 © Martin Cade

...a mildly interesting example of the resolving abilities of umpteen million pixels and a 400mm lens - the top photograph is the original minus a tiny bit of cropping to straighten a wonky horizon.

  30th March

A pretty horrible day with any early promise soon fading with the arrival of a freshening south-westerly and frequent showers. The sea again provided most of the interest, with 26 Common Scoter, 17 Barnacle Geese, 16 Sandwich Terns, 3 Red-throated Divers, 2 Manx Shearwaters, 2 commic terns and a Great Skua passing through off the Bill. Despite the conditions there were a few hirundines and Meadow Pipits trickling in off the sea, although the only migrants of note on the ground at the Bill were singles of Black Redstart and Firecrest; elsewhere, 3 Purple Sandpipers well away from the Bill at Church Ope Cove were noteworthy.

29th March

The recent migration hiatus continued on the land but there were signs of things picking up a little on the sea today. A lone Firecrest was amongst the handful of new arrivals at the Bill, where 224 Common Scoter, 8 Sandwich Terns, 5 Teal and 2 Red-throated Divers passed by on the sea. The only other news was of the long-staying Hoopoe still present in the Suckthumb Quarry area.





        Greylag Goose - Portland Bill, 28th March 2010 © Martin Cade

  28th March

Another migration non-event. The Hoopoe remained - and seemed to getting a lot more settled - at Suckthumb Quarry, a Greylag Goose overflew the Bill and a Red-necked Grebe was seen offshore at the Bill, but routine passage of commoner migrants didn't pick up at all. Two White Wagtails were just about the only birds of any interest on the ground at the Bill, where 3 Red-throated Divers and a Great Northern Diver passed through on the sea. The only other news was from Portland Harbour where there were 3 Eider, 2 Sandwich Terns and a Great Northern Diver.

Another single Dark Sword Grass was attracted to the Obs garden moth-traps overnight.

27th March

The Hoopoe continued to pop up in the Suckthumb Quarry area from time to time but otherwise there was a sad lack of both numbers and other quality. At the Bill, grounded migrants included 6 Chiffchaffs, 5 Wheatears, 2 Blackcaps, 2 Firecrests, a Black Redstart and a Willow Warbler, a steady trickle of Meadow Pipits and a few Swallows trickled in overhead and 2 Common Scoter, an Arctic Skua and a Sandwich Tern passed by on the sea.

And click here for a few photos of the Alpine Swift that's been roaming around the Weymouth area over the last couple of days.





        Hoopoe - Suckthumb Quarry, 26th March 2010 © Martin Cade

  26th March

In more blustery conditions than recent days the Hoopoe was still ranging far and wide in the Suckthumb Quarry/ Weston Street/Perryfields area but new arrivals were pretty thin on the ground. The Bill area produced 3 Black Redstarts, 2 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaffs on the land and 9 Common Scoter, 7 Mediterranean Gulls, 7 Sandwich Terns, 3 Red-throated Divers, a Great Northern Diver, a Curlew and the first Manx Shearwater of the spring through on the sea.




        Goldcrest and Oak Beauty - Portland Bill, 25th March 2010 © Martin Cade

...the Goldcrest was the first recorded on the island since 27th October last year (only five were logged at the Bill the whole of last autumn - the lowest autumn total there since 1963). We're not quite sure of the status of Oak Beauty here: there were no Portland records at all before 1985 and with it remaining a less than annual visitor to the Obs garden moth-traps it's difficult to know whether it's a very low density recent colonist or perhaps more likely just an occasional wanderer from off-island.

  25th March

A repeat of yesterday with a fair morning giving way to a lousy, damp afternoon. Both land and sea provided some interest at the Bill, where there were 30 Wheatears, 15 Chiffchaffs, 10 Blackcaps, 10 Willow Warblers, 5 White Wagtails, 3 Black Redstarts, a Redwing, a Goldcrest and a Firecrest on the land, a few Meadow Pipits and Swallows arriving overhead, 171 Common Scoter, 5 Teal, 4 Black-headed Gulls, 2 Red-throated Divers and 2 Sandwich Terns through on the sea and a report of 1, maybe 2, Red-necked Grebes settled offshore. Elsewhere, the Hoopoe popped up during the afternoon back in the Suckthumb Quarry area.

Another single Dark Sword Grass provided the only immigrant interest in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning; an Oak Beauty was the only other capture of local interest.



        likely Continental Stonechat - Portland Bill, 24th March 2010 © Martin Cade

...we've featured apparent Continental Stonechats before and today's bird looked to be another good candidate, with its white rump, white belly and underparts rather less saturated with chestnut than on typical British birds.


The ageing of this bird was quite straightforward with, for example, the worn/faded flight feathers and tail, and the good juvenile vs post-juvenile moult limits in the wing coverts giving it away as a first-summer. Incidentally, also illustrated here is a potential ageing pitfall that we've noticed before: the greater covert next to the white wing-patch often seems to be blacker-centred than the adjacent 'black' coverts; this isn't a big deal on today's bird, where age is easily determined elsewhere in the greater coverts, but on an adult (where all the outer greater coverts are black) this contrast could be mistaken for a moult limit and the bird mis-aged as a first-summer.


  24th March

The damp spell continued, with some quite heavy rain seeing the afternoon out. After a fairly quiet morning on the migrant front a minor flurry of new arrivals coinciding with the advance of the latest weather front from midday onwards did boost numbers a little bit, with the Bill area returning totals of 40 Chiffchaffs, 10 Swallows, 10 Sand Martins, 10 Wheatears, 3 White Wagtails, 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Blackcaps, a Water Rail, a Ringed Plover, a House Martin, a Grey Wagtail and a Firecrest. There was more of the same elsewhere, along with another report of the wandering Hoopoe - this time from the Perryfields area.

23rd March

Murky and sporadically quite wet today. A Hoopoe seen flying over Suckthumb Quarry during the morning was the best of the day's sightings. At the Bill, a likely Stone Curlew was heard calling in the gloom on a couple of occasions during the morning but unfortunately couldn't be pinned down on the ground. Commoner migrants were again pretty sparsely spread, with just 8 migrant Great Tits, 2 Blackcaps, a White Wagtail, a Redwing, a Firecrest and low single figure totals of the likes of Wheatear and Chiffchaff at the Bill. A single Red-throated Diver passed by on the sea at the Bill.



        Dark Sword Grass - Portland Bill, 22nd March 2010 © Martin Cade

  22nd March

A pleasant enough morning gave way to an increasingly breezy and wet afternoon. The birding was disappointingly uneventful, with the Bill area producing just 3 Firecrests and a Blackcap, along with a handful of Wheatears and Chiffchaffs, on the land and 11 Common Scoter, 3 Red-throated Divers and 3 Tufted Ducks through on the sea.

A lone Dark Sword Grass was the first immigrant of the season in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning; we haven't bothered to mention moth-trapping just recently because the traps have been so quiet: the only resident macros caught at the Obs in recent nights have been Mottled Grey, Dotted Border and Hebrew Character.

21st March

The mildest and most pleasant day of the year to date. A Hoopoe - probably the bird from a few days ago but perhaps just as likely a new individual - seen briefly near Culverwell was the best of the day's sightings. Otherwise things were not exactly leaping on the migrant front, with the Bill area returning totals of 30 Wheatears, 14 'new' Wood Pigeons, 10 Chiffchaffs, 4 Blackcaps, 4 Firecrests, 3 Black Redstarts, 2 White Wagtails, 2 Redwings, 2 Reed Buntings, a Curlew, a Short-eared Owl, a Swallow and a Brambling. The only reports of note from the sea there were of single Red-throated and Great Northern Divers.





     Great Skua - Portland Bill, 20th March 2010 © Martin Cade

...assuming this is a Bonxie - you never know with big skuas these days - we were surprised to see that it appeared to be a juvenile/first-winter (adults ought to be in this sort of wing moult in late autumn, whereas juvenile wing moult doesn't start until this time of year). We'd always thought that the vast majority of juveniles headed well south to winter off Iberian and Africa, where they remain through their first summer. 

  20th March

For anyone braving the drizzle and fog there were a few birds about again today. Seawatching at Chesil Cove produced 114 Black-headed Gulls, 15 Common Scoter, 10 Sandwich Terns, 4 Mediterranean Gulls, a Great Crested Grebe and a Garganey; frequent poor visibility at the Bill restricted the list from there to 9 Common Scoter, 4 Brent Geese, 4 Black-headed Gulls, 2 Red-throated Divers, a Great Skua and a Sandwich Tern. Odds and ends on the land included 20 Wheatears, 2 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap at the Bill and a Redwing at Southwell.



     Collared Dove - Portland Bill, 19th March 2010 © Martin Cade

...considering what a late, chilly spring it's been we were surprised to be brought this well-grown nestling that had fallen from a nest at Easton - unfortunately the nest was inaccessible so we'll be saddled with the bird for a few days!

  19th March

A miserable, foggy day of almost constant drizzle or heavier rain. Despite - or more likely because of - the conditions there were a few new arrivals around, with 15 Wheatears, 6 Redwings, 4 Black Redstarts, 2 Swallows, 2 White Wagtails, 2 Fieldfares, 2 Chiffchaffs, 2 Siskins, a Lapwing, a Snipe, a Blackcap and a Firecrest logged at the Bill; another Black Redstart was at Weston.




    Pied and White Wagtails - Portland Bill, 18th March 2010 © Martin Cade 

  18th March

Nice mild, quiet conditions today - not bad for a day that earlier in the week had been forecast to be horribly wet and windy. The Hoopoe was still at Southwell early in the morning but rather quickly did a bunk and couldn't be found later on. Otherwise it was a case of more of the same, with 15 Chiffchaffs, 10 Wheatears, 3 Purple Sandpipers, 3 White Wagtails, 3 Firecrests, 2 Black Redstarts, a Grey Heron and the first Blackcap of the spring logged at the Bill and 7 Wheatears, 3 White Wagtails and a Redwing at Reap Lane. Seawatching at the Bill produced 35 Common Scoter and 7 Red-throated Divers.

Late news for yesterday: a Short-eared Owl was on Chesil Beach north of Ferrybridge in the afternoon.






     Hoopoe, White Wagtail and Chiffchaff - Southwell and Portland Bill, 17th March 2010 © Martin Cade (distant Hoopoe, White Wagtail and Chiffchaff) and Pete Saunders (close Hoopoe)

...the Chiffchaff - like many at this time of year - has a good encrustation of pollen, plant sap and whatever else they pick up on their foreheads whilst feeding around flowering plants in their winter quarters or during the earlier parts of their migration towards the UK. 

And after our earlier batch of Southwell Hoopoe photographs we received another from Nick Hopper that was much too good not to post:


.     17th March

Spring sprung to life nicely today with the discovery of a Hoopoe at Southwell. With a waft of southerly air and the arrival of murky skies there had been high hopes for a few migrants but, with the exception of the Hoopoe and the first Ring Ouzel of the spring (also at Southwell), it wasn't that good on the numbers front. The Bill area produced 10 Chiffchaffs, 3 Purple Sandpiers, 3 White Wagtails, 2 Firecrests, a Wheatear, a Black Redstart and a Redwing on the land and 8 Red-throated Divers through on the sea, whilst elsewhere there was another Black Redstart at the High Angle Battery and another Firecrest at Jordan's Quarry.

Late news for yesterday: the first 2 Willow Warblers of the spring were at Portland Castle.





   Kestrel, Peregrine and Skylark - Westcliff and Portland Bill, 16th March 2010 © Ken Dolbear (Kestrel and Peregrine) and Martin Cade (Skylark)

.     16th March

In comparison with the miserable totals of recent days there was a veritable migrant bonanza today. New arrivals at the Bill included 10 Wheatears, 3 Black Redstarts, 2 White Wagtails, a Sparrowhawk, a Sand Martin, a Swallow, a Chiffchaff and a Firecrest, with smaller numbers of a similar selection elsewhere. Four passing Garganey were the highlight on the sea at the Bill, where 14 Common Scoter, 7 Brent Geese, 4 Red-throated Divers and a Curlew also passed by.




   White Wagtail and Wheatear - Reap Lane, 15th March 2010 © Pete Saunders

.     15th March

Something of a re-run of yesterday with fair weather and the odd single migrant here and there. The Bill area produced 3 Turnstones, 2 Purple Sandpipers, a Water Rail (a road casualty beside Culverwell), a Black Redstart and a Chiffchaff on the land and 3 Common Scoter, 3 Black-headed Gulls, a Red-throated Diver and a Mediterranean Gull through on the sea. A Greenshank at Ferrybridge, a Black Redstart at Blacknor and singles of White Wagtail and Wheatear at Reap Lane were the pick of the bunch elsewhere.

14th March

More lovely fine weather but still hardly anything by way of migrants. Singles of White Wagtail, Wheatear and Chiffchaff did drop in at the Bill, where there were also 3 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Turnstones and a Redwing on the land and 16 Common Scoter and 6 Red-throated Divers through on the sea.

13th March

Still a sad lack of interest on what was a really nice still and mild day. There was a steady procession of alba wagtails and Meadow Pipits arriving in off the sea but no other new migrant interest at all on the land where winterers still about included 4 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill and a Firecrest at Easton. Another 8 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill where 2 Puffins were showing early in the morning.



    Cormorant - Portland Harbour, 12th March 2010 © Paul Baker

.     12th March

Cloudier and a wee bit milder today. New arrivals at the Bill consisted of just a couple of Song Thrushes, a Redwing and the first White Wagtail of the spring; Red-throated Divers were also still on the move on the sea there, with 21 passing through during the morning. Otherwise it was pretty uneventful, with the only other reports of note being of the Black Brant at Ferrybridge again.

11th March

Another chilly, breezy morning gave way to a slightly more pleasant afternoon when the relentless wind of recent days finally seemed to be easing. There was still hardly any 'proper' migration afoot, although the flow of Meadow Pipits arriving in off the sea had picked up a little and among the Stonechats a group of 9 at Barleycrates Lane and a good rubicola 'Continental Stonechat' candidate at the Bill were obvious new arrivals; 5 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Turnstones, 2 Redwings and a Fieldfare at the Bill and a Black Redstart at Blacknor were the only other birds of note on the land. Seawatching at the Bill produced 9 Red-throated Divers, a Great Northern Diver and a Curlew passing by and the first Puffin of the week lingering beneath the auk colony.

10th March

No change in the weather and nothing of great consequence on the bird front. The only worthwhile reports were of 4 Red-throated Divers and a single Goldeneye passing through off the Bill and a Black Redstart at Blacknor.



    Blackbird - Portland Bill, 9th March 2010 © Martin Cade

.     9th March

With anticyclonic conditions now well established it seems likely that most incoming migrants are heading straight over Portland without bothering to stop. Today's paltry tally of new arrivals included just 3 Redwings, 2 Blackbirds, a Golden Plover and a Chiffchaff at the Bill and singles of Merlin and Redwing at Reap Lane. Winterers still about included 4 Purple Sandpipers and a Black Redstart at the Bill, whilst seawatching there produced 3 Common Scoter still settled offshore and 12 Common Scoter and 2 Red-throated Divers passing by.



    Wheatear - Osprey Quay, 8th March 2010 © Pete Saunders

.     8th March

The first Wheatear of the spring was at Osprey Quay this morning but incoming passage otherwise remained at a very low level, with a Redwing and a few extra Pied Wagtails and Stonechats grounded at the Bill and a trickle of Meadow Pipits arriving in off the sea. The only seawatch reports from the Bill were of 2 Common Scoter settled offshore and 10 Common Scoter and a Red-throated Diver passing by. Also, thanks to Terry Coombs for the ringing details of the Mute Swan that drifted past the Bill the day before yesterday: the bird - a female - was first marked at Abbotsbury on 5th July 2000.

7th March

The blasting easterly wind returned yet again. The only reports were from the Bill where a Merlin arrived in off the sea, 3 Common Scoter were still settled offshore and 5 Red-throated Divers and 2 Red-breasted Mergansers passed by on the sea.




      Mute Swan - Portland Bill, 6th March 2010 © Martin Cade

...a rather incongruous sight as it drifted west past the Bill.; it was colour-ringed so was probably of relatively local origin - we'll post the recovery details when we get them through.

.     6th March

After a pleasant start it became increasingly cloudy as the day wore on. Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails (all those checked seemed to be Pieds) were arriving in slightly better numbers today, but the only other obvious newcomer on the land was a solitary Lapwing at the Bill; the wintering Black Redstart was also still at the Bill. Passage on the sea picked up a little, with 18 Red-throated Divers, 12 Common Scoter, 4 Great Crested Grebes, 2 Mediterranean Gulls and a Great Skua passing through off the Bill, where a lone Mute Swan also drifted past.

5th March

After a very frosty night the fair weather of earlier in the week made a welcome return. The decent conditions brought out a flurry of birders who unfortunately drew a complete blank on the early migrant front, with the Bill area returning totals of just 3 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Turnstones, a Redwing and a Rook on the land and 3 Common Scoter and a Red-throated Diver through on the sea.

4th March

With the easterly wind still firmly in place it was a chilly start to the day although increasingly clear and sunny skies made for quite an improvement by the afternoon. Most attention was given to the sea with watches at the Bill producing, amongst other lesser fare, 3 Red-throated Divers, a Red-necked Grebe, a Shelduck and a Red-breasted Merganser. Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails were still arriving in off the sea in small numbers and 9 Purple Sandpipers were still around.




      Little Grebe and Mute Swan - Ferrybridge, 3rd March 2010 © Paul Baker

.     3rd March

A blasting easterly wind made for very uncomfortable birding today. Seawatching at the Bill produced the first Sandwich Tern of the spring, along with 10 Common Scoter, 7 Mediterranean Gulls, 2 Red-throated Divers, a Red-breasted Merganser and a Snipe; interest on the land there was restricted to 2 Lapwings, a Fieldfare, a Black Redstart and a Yellowhammer, along with another trickle of Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails arriving in off the sea, whilst another Fieldfare was at Hamm Beach. The only other reports came from Portland Harbour/Ferrybridge where there were 70 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 12 Mediterranean Gulls, 3 Little Grebes, 2 Pale-bellied Brents, a Mute Swan and the Black Brant




      Puffin and Dunock - Portland Bill, 2nd March 2010 © Paul Chandler (Puffin) and Martin Cade (Dunnock)

...whilst never quite drowning out the ubiquitous Greenfinches, Dunnocks are getting increasingly conspicuous amongst the chorus of song in the mornings at the Obs; click here to have a listen to the bird above singing.

.     2nd March

Another lovely spring day, with the highlight being the first returning Puffin back on station off the Bill; the morning's list from there also included 9 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers and 2 Velvet Scoter through on the sea, 4 Purple Sandpipers and singles of Water Rail, Redwing, Long-tailed Tit, Rook and Siskin on/overhead on the land and the first sign of a few alba wagtails and Meadow Pipits arriving in off the sea.



      Little Owl - Portland Bill, 1st March 2010 © Martin Cade

...after nearly two months of not a sight nor sound of any Little Owls at the Obs Quarry one suddenly started singing in earnest from the telegraph poles between the the Obs and the quarry just before midnight tonight; click here to have a listen to him singing.

.     1st March

Glorious weather to start the new month but not very much change on the bird front. The first Rook of the spring, along with 5 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Long-tailed Tits and a Redwing, were at the Bill, 4 Red-throated Divers passed by on the sea at the Bill, a Firecrest was at Easton, the Black Brant was at Ferrybridge and 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, a Great Northern Diver and an Eider were in Portland Harbour.