November 2010



    Black Redstart - Portland Bill, 30th November 2010 © Paul Baker

  30th November

Quieter today. Two Goosanders were again at Ferrybridge, whilst the Bill area came up with 30 Lapwings, 15 Golden Plover, 3 Turnstones, 2 Water Rails, 2 Snipe and singles of Grey Heron, Ringed Plover, Black Redstart, Redwing, Blackcap, Goldcrest and Brambling on the land and 3 Shelducks, 2 Common Scoter and a Red-throated Diver through on the sea.




  Golden Plover and Lapwing - Portland Bill, 29th November 2010 © Martin Cade

  29th November

Although the temperature continued to hover just above freezing it felt a good deal more pleasant in unbroken sunshine and a slightly less fierce wind than over the weekend. Movement remained a feature at the Bill where the 140 Lapwings and 40 Golden Plovers that left to the south were clearly fleeing the cold weather, the 110 Black-headed Gulls that headed north-east were presumably also moving as a result of the weather but the ca500 Chaffinches, 8 Bramblings, 3 Starlings, 1 Fieldfare and 1 Siskin that were also heading north-east looked more likely to be late migrants. The Bill area also produced a handful of grounded Lapwings and Golden Plovers, a few new Blackbirds and Song Thrushes, 10 Snipe, 3 Chiffchaffs, 2 Redwings, 2 Blackcaps and singles of Water Rail, Cetti's Warbler and Dartford Warbler. Elsewhere there were 72 Dunlin, 35 Ringed Plover, 13 Little Egrets, 3 Goosander, a Lapwing, a Redshank, a Little Gull and a Kittiwake at Ferrybridge and a (the same?) Little Gull in Portland Harbour. Also of interest, we contrived to dip the Glossy Ibis that presumably entered Portland airspace this morning once it left to the south from RSPB Radipole and was watched until it was so far away that it was considered to be well over Portland Harbour!

Late news for Saturday (27th November): a minimum of 400 Mediterranean Gulls - a record total for both Portland and Dorset - were at Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour (the observer gave up counting when he'd reached a round 400!).






    Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Little Egret and Goosander - Portland Bill and Ferrybridge, 28th November 2010 © Martin Cade (warblers and Little Egret) and Paul baker (Goosanders)

  28th November

On another very cold and dreary day there was a right mixed bag of hard weather refugees and late migrants at the Bill, where birds on the move included 150 Golden Plovers, 110 Lapwings, 100 Lesser Black-backed Gulls and 60 Black-headed Gulls (the plovers mainly leaving to the south, the gulls all heading north-east) overhead and 11 Shoveler, 2 Red-throated Divers, 2 Pochard and a Shelduck through on the sea; the miscellaneous selection on the land there included 5 Snipe, 4 Fieldfares, 2 Water Rails, 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Blackcaps, 2 Siskins, a Grey Heron, a Little Egret, a Dunlin, a Merlin, a Redwing, a Mistle Thrush, a Dartford Warbler and a Garden Warbler. Elsewhere, 13 Goosanders were at Ferrybridge, where 40 Lapwings, 2 Grey Herons and a Snipe flew over, and a Red-necked Grebe was in Portland Harbour.

27th November

A bitterly cold north-east wind and dreary skies saw to it that there were plenty of good reasons to stay indoors today. Those that did venture out at the Bill were rewarded with just 2 Lapwings, 2 Bramblings, a Snipe, a Redwing and a Redpoll on/overhead on the land and 18 Black-headed Gulls, 2 Common Scoter, a Red-throated Diver and a Brent Goose through on the sea. As a postscript to the day's events, after dark there was some evidence of a little more cold weather movement: a few Golden Plovers and at least 1 Lapwing were heard calling over the Obs and 3 Grey Herons arrived at the Bill (somewhat bizarrely the first of the herons was initially spotted when it was illuminated in the car headlights standing on the pavement near Culverwell - when we stopped to investigate it quickly flew off and was joined by the other two birds that flushed up from an adjacent field!)




    Black Redstart and Little Gull - Small Mouth and Portland Harbour, 26th November 2010 © Pete Saunders

  26th November

After another freezing start the day itself was pleasantly calm and sunny but, rather like yesterday, quiet on the bird front. Not surprisingly the supply of new arrivals has slowed right down, with nothing much more than 2 Bramblings, a Snipe, a Woodcock and a Redwing amongst the few new commoner finches at the Bill; winterers still there included 5 Reed Buntings, 2 Dartford Warblers, 3 Chiffchaffs (including one of the ringed 'eastern' birds), a Water Rail and the Cetti's Warbler. Eight Common Scoter and a Red-throated Diver passed through on the sea at the Bill, whilst elsewhere there were 264 Mediterranean Gulls at Ferrybridge, 2 Black Redstarts at Small Mouth, the Little Gull again in Portland Harbour, a Great Spotted Woodpecker at Wakeham and, after dark, a Barn Owl at Southwell.




    Black Redstart and Willow Warbler - Portland Bill, 25th November 2010 © Ken Dolbear (Black Redstart) and Martin Cade (Willow Warbler)

...the Willow Warbler is presumably attempting to overwinter; it's been lurking very unobtrusively in the crops in the Crown Estate Field since it was first trapped and ringed on 26th September - virtually all the reports of it since then have been on the odd occasions it's turned up again in a mist-net. If it gets through the current cold snap then it'll soon be the latest Portland record: the latest record we could find in a quick flick through some old reports was of one at Pennsylvania Castle on 27th November 1996.

  25th November

After the chilliest night of the winter so far (with ice on the Obs pond for the first time since February) the day was pleasantly fair and sunny although disappointingly uneventful by recent standards. The handful of birds on the move overhead at the Bill included 10 Siskins, 7 each of Redwing and Fieldfare, and a lone Redpoll, whilst odds and ends scattered on the ground included 3 Black Redstarts, 2 Blackcaps, 2 Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler at the Bill and 2 Bramblings, a Woodcock and a Blackcap at Southwell. A single Red-throated Diver passed through off the Bill and a Little Gull remained in Portland Harbour.




    Yesterday's Goosanders  - Portland Harbour, 23rd November 2010 © Colin White (the flock) and Pete Saunders (closer birds)

  24th November

On a nice still day there was plenty of coverage of the island, with the pick of the sightings being of the Portland Harbour Goosander flock that had increased to 12; 3 Black-necked Grebes, 3 Eider, 2 Red-necked Grebes and singles of Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver and Little Gull were also in the harbour. A 'more of the same' list from the Bill included 7 Siskins, 6 Bramblings, 3 Water Rails, 3 Chiffchaffs, 3 Redpolls, 2 Short-eared Owls, 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Dartford Warblers, a Lapwing, a Mistle Thrush, the Cetti's Warbler and a Yellowhammer, whilst elsewhere there were 7 Bramblings, 3 Siskins and a Blackcap at Southwell and 2 Chiffchaffs, 2 Siskins, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Firecrest, a Brambling and a Redpoll at Wakeham; additionally, small numbers of Redwings and Fieldfares, along with a few new Blackbirds and Song Thrushes, were scattered everywhere.



    Goosander from a couple of days ago - Ferrybridge, 21st November 2010 © Pete Saunders

  23rd November

On a chilly but otherwise quite pleasant day the highlights from a local perspective were a party of 10 Goosanders in Portland Harbour (a record Portland count?) and a Green Woodpecker at Easton. At the Bill a similar mix of late migrants and winterers to yesterday included 3 Redpolls, 2 Lapland Buntings, a Short-eared Owl, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, the Cetti's Warbler, at least 1 Dartford Warbler, a Blackcap, an 'eastern' Chiffchaff (seen and heard only briefly so we weren't sure whether it was a new arrival or a wintering bird surfacing for the first time in several days) and a Goldcrest amongst the more routine thrushes and finches; upwards of 100 Mediterranean Gulls were feeding offshore and 2 Shelduck, a Red-throated Diver and a Great Skua also passed through on the sea there. Elsewhere there were 2 Red-necked Grebes, 2 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Eider, a Black-throated Diver and a Common Scoter in Portland Harbour and 200 Mediterranean Gulls, 2 Black Brants and a Pale-bellied Brent Goose at Ferrybridge.



    Dartford Warbler - Portland Bill, 22nd November 2010 © Martin Cade of the three wintering birds at the Bill.

  22nd November

Another small arrival of late migrants, together with the now well established winterers, saw the Bill area come up with totals today that included 12 Bramblings, 8 each of Redwing and Fieldfare, 5 Siskins, 3 each of Lapwing, Black Redstart and Dartford Warbler, a Water Rail, a Woodcock, a Snipe, a Short-eared Owl, a Cetti's Warbler and a Blackcap; elsewhere a Shoveler joined the Brent Goose flock at Ferrybridge. The only report from the sea was of a lone Red-throated Diver through off the Bill.



    Chaffinch - Portland Bill, 21st November 2010 © Martin Cade

...a couple of weeks ago we mentioned the 7000th bird ringed at our two main ringing sites - the Obs garden and the Crown Estate Field - so far this year, and now we can report on the 8000th ringed in total by PBO (at these two sites and at Culverwell) which was this Chaffinch. Peter Morgan, who left today after another two months of sterling service helping out with the ringing at the Obs, kindly keeps our running totals up to date and these reveal that, amongst a wealth of good species totals, this autumn alone we've ringed 1015 Linnets, 448 Chaffinches and 72 Bramblings (the previous highest annual totals of these species were 763, 108 and 47 respectively). 

  21st November

With a northerly-easterly wind now looking to be well established today produced a light but steady little passage of late migrants trickling through into the breeze, with the Bill area returning totals of 50 Redwings, 10 Fieldfares, 10 Bramblings, 4 Siskins, 2 Lapland Buntings and a Short-eared Owl amongst the commoner fare; elsewhere there were Snow Buntings overhead at Perryfields (2) and the West Cliffs. On the ground the Pallas's Warbler remained at Perryfields/Wakeham, where there were also 2 Firecrests and a Great Spotted Woodpecker, whilst 3 Black Redstarts, a Purple Sandpiper, the Cetti's Warbler and a Blackcap were at the Bill, another Blackcap was at Southwell and singles of Black Brant and Goosander were at Ferrybridge. Seawatch news was limited to 4 Red-throated Divers, 3 Brent Geese and a Great Skua passing through off the Bill.



    Pallas's Warbler - Wakeham, 20th November 2010 © Martin Cade

  20th November

A promising-looking brisk easterly set in overnight and soon delivered some quality in the form of a Pallas's Warbler at Wakeham. New arrivals were otherwise only sparsely spread, with nothing much more than 14 Redwings and a fly-by Lapland Bunting logged at the Bill (where the long-staying Cetti's Warbler was also still in residence). The change in weather stirred things up a little on the sea, with singles of Balearic Shearwater, Great Skua and Little Gull lingering off the Bill and a Sandwich Tern showing up in Portland Harbour.

19th November

Another day of relatively fair conditions punctuated by heavy downpours. Finches, including at least 12 Bramblings, continued to be a conspicuous feature at the Bill where the dearth of re-traps in the Crown Estate Field mist-nets would suggest that new arrivals continue to trickle through; 3 Blackcaps, 2 Redwings, 2 Black Redstarts, a Little Egret, a Short-eared Owl, a Cetti's Warbler and a Chiffchaff  were also logged on the land there and 5 Brent Geese and a Red-throated Diver passed through on the sea.



    Grey Heron - Ferrybridge, 18th November 2010 © Paul Baker

  18th November

A little disappointing today with the calm (albeit often punctuated by heavy showers) after the storm producing a good deal less than might have been hoped. At the Bill a few extra thrushes, including 15 Redwings, were evident, 4 Lapwings passed over, a new Blackcaps was trapped and ringed and a second Water Rail joined the bird already present at Culverwell, but finch numbers in particular dwindled to the extent that there were just 2 Bramblings amongst the relatively small numbers of commoner species; at least 1 Dartford Warbler and the Cetti's Warbler were also still present there. Elsewhere there were 54 Mediterranean Gulls and singles of Grey Heron, Goosander and Bar-tailed Godwit at Ferrybridge. The only seawatch reports were of 3 Red-throated Divers, 3 Teal and a Shelduck passing through off the Bill.

Another single Rusty-dot Pearl was the only immigrant caught overnight in the Obs garden moth-traps.

17th November

For the most part a truly awful day of pouring rain and strong wind when birding of any sort was out of the question. When the clearance eventually came it allowed an hour or so of coverage of the Bill area that revealed a few new arrivals, including 10 Redwings, 3 Lapwings, 2 Blackcaps and a Snipe, along with the long-staying Cetti's Warbler.

Singles of Rusty-dot Pearl and Silver Y were the only immigrants caught overnight in the Obs garden moth-traps.




Linnet - Portland Bill, 15th November 2010 © Martin Cade

...this abberant individual was trapped and ringed yesterday; there's probably a special term for a leucism-like mutation such as this where some feathers are partly pigmented but we don't know what it is.

  16th November

A repeat of yesterday afternoon's fair weather but not over much in the way of late migrants to report. All the news was from the Bill where yesterday's 'eastern' Chiffchaff remained, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, the Cetti's Warbler and at least 1 Dartford Warbler were also still present and new arrivals amongst a thin scatter of routine thrushes and finches included 16 Long-tailed Tits (click here to listen to a recording of this flock calling), 3 Mistle Thrushes, a Redshank and a Lapland Bunting (click here to listen to a recording of this bird calling overhead in the background of the inevitable wind noise/passing car/calling Chaffinches etc).





     Great Spotted Woodpecker, Firecrest and 'eastern' Chiffchaff - Southwell, Easton and Portland Bill, 15th November 2010 © Pete Saunders (Great Spotted Woodpecker and Firecrest) and Martin Cade (chiffchaff)

  15th November

On the weather front a day of contrasts with drizzly rain, threatening skies and even thunder and lightning a little way out in the Channel at dawn giving way to warm sunshine by mid-morning. At the Bill another good throughput of finches and a few thrushes in the Obs/Crown Estate Field mist-nets (despite it looking like there was precious little on the move overhead) included 20 or so Bramblings; another 'eastern' Chiffchaff was also trapped and ringed, 2 Golden Plovers, a Grey Heron, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Lapland Bunting passed over and long-stayers still around included 2 Dartford Warblers, (click here to listen to a recording of one of these birds calling), a Cetti's Warbler and a Firecrest. Elsewhere the same or another Great Spotted Woodpecker was at Southwell, a Firecrest was at Easton and 6 Goosanders, 2 Great Northern Divers, a Black-throated Diver and a Red-necked Grebe were in Portland Harbour.

The only immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning were singles of Rusty-dot Pearl and Silver Y.

14th November

Although the beginning and end of the day were dry the middle was spoilt by persistent light rain. As usual at this time of year Portland Harbour is beginning to get better coverage, with 3 Great Northern Divers, 2 Red-necked Grebes and singles of Red-throated Diver and Black-throated Diver seen there today; nearby 7 Goosanders were at Ferrybridge. At the Bill 12 Long-tailed Tits and another Water Rail were new arrivals, a Firecrest was still present and there were still a few Bramblings amongst the wintering/off-passage finch flock.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 3 Rusty-dot Pearl and 1 Silver Y.



     Brambling - Portland Bill, 13th November 2010 © Martin Cade

...the trapping of so many today gave us an opportunity to have a close look at ageing, with the males providing some nice examples. The vast majority of birds were in first winter plumage with, for example, paler unmoulted juvenile outer greater coverts and spots on the lesser coverts:


...with adults there may be a slight problem since the pale tips to each individual greater covert get smaller towards the outside of the wing so that the outermost feather may have only a thin rim of white, not unlike the pattern on a juvenile feather (although of course the rest of the feather is much glossier black than a juvenile feather):


...this isn't really an issue in the hand but on a brief field view of the closed wing could easily be a pitfall:



The difference in tail feather pattern/shape was usually conspicuous:



Listening to some senior ringers and field birders droning on about the subject, newcomers to birding might be forgiven for believing that ageing and sexing is some sort of exact science, but the reality is that there'll always be troublesome birds that you can't quite get your head round. This morning we confidently aged this Brambling as an adult in the hand:



The glossy black greater coverts, lack of spots on the lesser coverts and adult-like tail pattern all looked OK at the time but when we had a closer look on the screen this evening it became apparent that, for example, the primary coverts were maybe not as black as they ought to be and, more importantly, both they and the longest alula feather were really quite pointed (juvenile features) so perhaps it's safer just to record this bird as an 'age uncertain'.

additional photos © Martin Cade

  13th November

The return of calm albeit heavily overcast conditions made for easier birding today. Odds and ends of quality included 3 Goosanders off Chesil Beach, a Grey Phalarope at Chesil Cove and the Cetti's Warbler still at the Obs, but the oddest feature of the day was the almost continual capture of a variety of finches in the Crown Estate Field mist-nets when there appeared to be little or no visible migration going on. Most remarkable amongst these were a total of 31 Bramblings (prior to this year the highest annual total of Bramblings ringed at the Bill was 47 in 1963 but 48 have already been ringed in the first fortnight of November); Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Linnets were also all relatively numerous for the time of year. It was otherwise rather quiet at the Bill, where 50 or more Mediterranean Gulls were lingering offshore and 2 Chiffchaffs, 2 Siskins, a Water Rail and a Firecrest were also logged.

As a postscript to yesterday's Southern Oak Bush-cricket, Michael Skelton has kindly been in touch to report that the species has already been recorded in Dorset: Michael found the first specimen in Bournemouth on 26th October 2009 and discovered another nearby in September this year.





     Southern Oak Bush-cricket - Portland Bill, 12th November 2010 © Martin Cade far as we know the first record for Portland (and Dorset?) of this newly naturalized orthopteran that was discovered for the first time in the UK in the Home Counties in 2001.

  12th November

After a wild, stormy night rather persistent rain set in as the wind eased away during the morning. A mixed bag of reports included the first returning Fulmar and a Red-throated Diver through on the sea at the Bill, 10 Bramblings, a Merlin, a Chiffchaff, a Firecrest and a Siskin on the land at the Bill, 26 Cormorants (migrants heading south) and a Goldeneye over Ferrybridge and 1130 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 10 Pale-bellied Brents and a Black Brant settled at Ferrybridge.

A Southern Oak Bush-cricket - thought to be the first record for Portland - was discovered on the garage wall at the Obs.



     Badger - Verne Common Estate, November 2010 © Trevor Felstead

...our first photo of a Portland Badger was of one found dead on the roadside at Southwell back in October so it's pleasing to be able to post a photo of one that's very much alive; this animal is currently making nightly visits to a garden on the Verne Common Estate.

And a minor milestone from yesterday: this Song Thrush was the 7000th bird ringed at the Obs this year (photo © Martin Cade):


Since we currently operate three ringing sites (the Obs garden, the Crown Estate Field and Culverwell; all birds trapped at the former two sites are ringed at the Obs, whilst Culverwell birds are ringed on site) it isn't really possible to make direct comparisons with past annual ringing totals. In the earliest days of ornithological exploration at Portland most ringing activities were undertaken at Culverwell, but once the Obs was established at the Old Lower Light in 1961 most ringing took place there. It's only in recent years that we've been able to branch out and re-start a ringing programme at Culverwell and also net in the crops planted in the leased Crown Estate Field. With 7000 birds ringed at the Obs/Crown Estate Field, and another few hundred (we haven't fully totted them up yet) ringed at Culverwell, this year's annual ringing total already comfortably exceeds the previous record annual total of 7068 birds in 1986.

  11th November

Hopeless conditions today - a raging south-westerly and frequent heavy rain - for anything other than seawatching or watching from the shelter of the car at Ferrybridge. The sea didn't come up with much more than 2 Little Gulls, a Red-throated Diver and a Great Skua through at Chesil Cove, whilst the Ferrybridge vigil produced 11 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 8 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Black Brant, a Purple Sandpiper, a Redshank and a Kittiwake. Elsewhere the Cetti's Warbler remained at the Obs.

A lone Pearly Underwing constituted the only immigrant in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning.









    Chaffinches and Bramblings - Portland Bill, 10th November 2010 © Martin Cade

  10th November

Completely different conditions today - crystal clear skies and just a light northerly breeze - but still plenty of birds on the move. Fair weather passage, with migrants passing through in small flocks on a broad front, is never easy to census and today proved to be no exception: Chaffinches were certainly in the many hundreds at the Bill, where there were also around 30 Bramblings and similar or smaller totals of Skylark, Reed Bunting and most of the other expected thrushes and finches, along with a single Short-eared Owl (Wood Pigeons and Starlings looked like getting going but both quickly fizzled out). Also in the Bill area a late Wheatear and 2 Brent Geese were grounded, the long-staying Firecrest was still at the Obs and 3 Velvet Scoter, a Pintail and a Red-breasted Merganser passed by on the sea, whilst elsewhere a Red Kite passed over at Weston.



    Fieldfare - Portland Bill, 9th November 2010 © Martin Cade

And as so often before we failed miserably to come up with a set of meaningful photos that captured the spectacle of migrants on the move in these sort of circumstances: chucking down with rain, howling wind and semi-darkness but all the time birds just streaming through regardless. The best we could do was a little sequence of part of a flock of Chaffinches coming up the Slopes and passing by at knee height before whizzing on past the Coastwatch lookout:






Nobody likes seeing rares more than we do but anyone who thinks that birding's all about sitting at home waiting for the pager to tell you which hide to head to to join a crowd of like-minded listers ticking the latest DNA split really ought to get out on a day like today...

  9th November

A morning of atrocious conditions - a blasting north-easterly and almost constant rain - provided some compelling interest on the birding front as a constant stream of migrants battled in low over the sea at the Bill and continued northwards. Chaffinches and Starlings figured most conspicuously, with sample counts of 5660 Chaffinches and 730 Starlings north along the West Cliffs at the Bill in 2¼ hours and 2710 Chaffinches and 780 Starlings north over Ferrybridge in 1½ hours; with passage of both going on throughout the morning it seems likely that something of the order of 10000 Chaffinches and 2000 Starlings passed through before the arrival of very heavy rain at midday saw things slow up. Small numbers of thrushes and other finches - along with 17 Lapwings, a Short-eared Owl and a Snow Bunting at the Bill - were caught up in this movement but it was very difficult to get a handle on their numbers given the lousy conditions; singles of both Cetti's Warbler and Firecrest were also both still at the Bill, a Black Redstart was at Reap Lane and 930 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 3 Pale-bellied Brents, 2 Shoveler, a Black Brant and a Snipe were at Ferrybridge. Seawatching produced 30 Common Scoter, 15 Black-headed Gulls, 2 Red-breasted Mergansers, a Red-throated Diver and a Great Northern Diver passing through off the Bill and singles of Red-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver through over Ferrybridge.



    Brindled Ochre - Portland Bill, 8th November 2010 © Martin Cade

...formerly thought of as a bit of a Portland speciality in this area, this species has declined to the point where these days it isn't even an annual visitor to the Obs garden moth-traps.

  8th November

After a brief but pretty ferocious overnight gale the seawatchers were out in force only to be thwarted by the wind easing away and veering right into the north-west soon after dawn; 24 Common Scoter, 7 Red-breasted Mergansers, 2 Brent Geese, a Red-throated Diver, a Red-necked Grebe, a Teal, a Tufted Duck and a Great Skua were the only rewards from watches through the morning at the Bill. With the conditions having been too poor for any overnight arrival of migrants the only reports from the land at the Bill were of 3 Lapwings and a few finches - including 8 Bramblings - dropping in through the morning and long-stayers such as the Cetti's Warbler and Firecrest still at the Obs. The only other news came from Ferrybridge where there were 3 each of Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Shelduck and Pintail and singles of Golden Plover, Knot, Black-tailed Godwit and Snipe.

Singles of Pearly Underwing and White-speck were the only immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning.


Also, thanks to Erik Maassen from The Netherlands who kindly got in touch regarding our Quail from a couple of days ago: "Your quail is a first year male. Sex is based on the uniform orange breast without spots, strong demarcation between throat and breast. The well known anchor pattern is not always as obvious as stated in the field guides. Females have a more cream coloured breast with a lot of spotting. Age is based upon the fact that 5 innermost primaries are post juvenile and have a different shape (and colour) than the outer ones (pointed tips and browner). There is also a moult contrast in the primary coverts. Although the outermost secondary is half the length of the rest of the secondaries, it is full grown - this is normal in quails."


And later Erik sent through a photograph (taken on 24th May 2008) to highlight the difference in tone of the breast colour, although with this he does add a caution: "However there is a lot of variation of the intensity of the spotting in female and especially the colour/pattern of the throat and head of the male. I have ringed hundreds in Holland and Italy and astonished about that variation (which is not mentioned in the field guides!)"



Finally, Richard Broughton has also been in touch to correct, and further clarify, our misinterpretation of the situation with the short outer secondary (which, since it was present on both wings, we'd taken as a sign of active moult): "The comment mentions that the outer secondary is still growing. This isn’t the case (unless a growing quill was looked for at the feather base). The short outermost secondary is the axial secondary or axial feather, and is common to many gamebirds and poultry. It’s kind of a dividing feather between the secondaries and primaries, but is always much shorter than either. So the bird probably wasn’t showing any active moult at all."






   Common Buzzard, Wheatear and 'eastern' Chiffchaff - Portland Bill, 7th November 2010 © Nick Hopper (Buzzard and Wheatear) and Martin Cade (Chiffchaff)

...on the basis of call alone the chiffchaff seems likely to be a tristis of some sort; click here to have a listen to a recording of the bird being released just after these photos were taken (it's still in the hand for the first call note, it's then released and the last two call notes were made as it settles in a nearby tree). abietinus can be ruled out by, for example, the lack of any hint of yellow on the underparts but in several respects it doesn't look that much like a 'true' tristis either:


...note in particular how on close examination the scapulars and to a lesser extent the mantle actually possess a quite strong green component that wasn't at all obvious at any distance.


We'd guess that this bird conforms closest to one or other of 'fulvescens' or 'riphaeus' but then what do we know about it...

Finally, an example of how difficult it is to gauge the 'true' appearance of a bird from photographs. We took the photos above in shade on a sunny afternoon and then walked a couple of yards into the sunlight to take the photo below of the same bird:


additional photos © Martin Cade

  7th November

Fair weather again today, with most of the day's passage involving typical fare for this time of year. The pick of the day's reports were of a Snow Bunting over Ferrybridge, a Lapland Bunting over the Bill, the Cetti's Warbler lingering on the Obs and an 'eastern' Chiffchaff trapped and ringed there. Portland certainly didn't figure in the huge Wood Pigeon passage observed along the mainland coast of Dorset, with the 1000 or so in small flocks that did make it out to the island  seemingly taking a quick look out to sea before heading rapidly back north. New arrivals - many of which were just fly-overs - at the Bill did included 150 Starlings, 150 Chaffinches, 30 Bramblings, 13 Lapwings, 8 Redwings, 6 Fieldfares, 6 Reed Buntings, 5 Siskins, 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Blackcaps, a Golden Plover, a Snipe, a Dunlin and a Wheatear. Seawatching there produced 5 Red-breasted Mergansers and a Red-throated Diver.




  Quail - Portland Bill, 6th November 2010 © Martin Cade seems from a quick search of the literature that the ageing and sexing of anything other than an adult male at this time of year isn't altogether straightforward and a look at the wing of this bird seems to show conflicting evidence from the ageing point of view:


...the outer three primaries look to be perhaps of a different generation than the rest of the primaries (as would be the case in a juvenile) but the outermost secondary is still growing (assuming this isn't due to accidental feather loss then more likely in an adult). Looks like much more research needed...

  6th November

Quieter conditions today with the gloom of recent days being replaced by increasingly clear, sunny skies. The trapping of a Quail in the Crown Estate Field at the Bill was a real surprise, although it was a decent day in all respects with much more to see than has been the case just recently. There seemed to a steady throughput of new finches at the Bill (including 200 Chaffinches, 15 Bramblings and 3 Siskins), where 60 Wood Pigeons, 2 Fieldfares, a Mallard, a Golden Plover, a Swallow and a Lapland Bunting also passed over. New arrivals weren't especially plentiful on the ground, with many of the better birds at the Bill - including 2 Dartford Warblers, a Black Redstart, a Cetti's Warbler (click here to listen to a recording of this bird calling) and a Willow Warbler - looking to be long-staying lingerers; the first Purple Sandpiper of the winter was also at the Bill, whilst elsewhere another Dartford Warbler was at the High Angle Battery. Seawatching at the Bill produced 4 Balearic Shearwaters, a Black-throated Diver and a Pomarine Skua.

Four Rusty-dot Pearl were the only immigrants caught overnight in the Obs garden moth-traps.






Scandinavian Herring Gull - Portland Bill, 5th November 2010 © Martin Cade

...we don't usually bother much with seagulls when there are 'better' birds about during the autumn but a cursory look a some loitering Herring Gulls at dusk revealed an apparent argentatus amongst them; whilst this wouldn't be a big deal further up-country, down here they're still amazingly infrequent (although perhaps overlooked in anything other than adult plumage?)

  5th November

Dreary, damp and breezy again today. There was still a lone Pomarine Skua lingering off the Bill for a while early in the morning but, apart from 2 passing Curlews there, sea interest fizzled out with nothing else of note reported from either there or Chesil Cove. New arrivals were few and far between on the land, from where the only reports were of 2 Goldcrests and singles of Scandinavian Herring Gull, Black Redstart, Chiffchaff, Firecrest, Brambling and Siskin at the Bill.



Gannet - Portland Bill, 4th November 2010 © Martin Cade

...when a decent little melee of feeding Gannets and gulls developed just off the tip of the Bill:




...we thought we were going to be quids in for a nice close view of one of the juvenile Pomarine Skuas that have been lingering offshore in recent days - needless to say when one did appear it was during just about the only sunny minute of the day and it was rendered a virtual silhouette:


additional photos © Martin Cade

  4th November

Stiff westerlies and very dreary skies again today. Pomarine Skuas were seen on and off throughout the day at the Bill although there was some uncertainty as to how many individuals were involved: 2 or more were a constant feature amongst the feeding flocks of Gannets and gulls, but several other sightings were of birds that looked to be passing straight through; 2 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Great Skua and singles of Red-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver also passed by there. It was much too windy for any serious coverage of the land but odds and ends that did make the list included singles of Merlin, Swallow, Cetti's Warbler, Firecrest and Siskin at the Bill.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 5 Rusty-dot Pearl and 2 Silver Y.



Wood Pigeons - Portland Bill, 3rd November 2010 © Martin Cade

  3rd November

More of the same on another breezy and increasingly overcast day. The sprinkle of grounded migrants included 2 Black Redstarts and a Firecrest at the Bill, whilst overhead passage there included 500 Wood Pigeons, 220 Goldfinches, 120 Chaffinches, 3 Siskins, 2 Bramblings and 2 Redpolls mostly heading south or west. At least 2 Pomarine Skuas were lingering off the Bill throughout the day, a Red-throated Diver passed through on the sea there and a Long-tailed Duck was settled in Chesil Cove.

There were just 3 immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 2 Rusty-dot Pearl and a Silver Y.



    Firecrest - Weston Street, 2nd November 2010 © Martin Cade

  2nd November

Still very mild but the stiff westerly wind that looks set to dominate through the rest of the week set in earlier than expected and pretty well killed off the flow of late migrants dropping in on the land. A light passage on southbound migrants overhead at the Bill included 250 Goldfinches, 100 Chaffinches, 100 Linnets, 70 Wood Pigeons and 2 Siskins, whilst 110 Starlings passed over in the opposite direction. Odds and ends scattered on the land included 3 Blackcaps, 3 Goldcrests, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Fieldfare, a Black Redstart, a Chiffchaff, a Firecrest and a Brambling at the Bill and additional Firecrests at Pennsylvania Castle (2) and Weston Street. The sea was worth a look for a while during the morning when at least 4 Pomarine Skuas, 2 Great Skuas and a Red-throated Diver passed through off the Bill.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 4 Rusty-dot Pearl, 4 Silver Y and 2 Dark Sword Grass.





Cetti's Warbler, Pallas's Warbler and Speckled Wood - Portland Bill, 1st November 2010 © Martin Cade

  1st November

A lovely mild and sunny day with the light northerly wind freshening slightly as it backed into the west as the afternoon went on. The Pallas's Warbler remained at the Obs, where a Cetti's Warbler was also trapped and ringed; 3 Dartford Warblers, a fly-over Lapland Bunting and yet another Great Spotted Woodpecker were the best of the rest at the Bill. Another decent arrival of commoner migrants included totals of 200 Chaffinches, 30 each of Blackbird, Goldcrest and Brambling, 20 Redwings, 10 each of Fieldfare and Siskin, 6 Lapwings, 5 each of Blackcap and Chiffchaffs and 2 each of Snipe, Black Redstart and Firecrest at the Bill, whilst a similar array elsewhere included a Swallow and a Firecrest at Weston Street and a Black Redstart and a Firecrest at Wakeham. 

Late insects still on the wing included good numbers of Red Admirals everywhere (including some evidence of a southbound movement through the Bill area) and a few Specked Woods and Common Darters.

Immigrant moths caught overnight included a Delicate at Southwell and 4 Rusty-dot Pearl and 2 Silver Y at the Obs.