February 2011



Purple Sandpiper - Portland Bill, 27th February 2011 © Tony Hovell

  28th February

Evening update.

The unwelcome drop in temperature - courtesy of what's looking to be a depressingly well established north-easterly - continued and early migrant interest has largely fizzled out. A Siskin was the only slightly unexpected newcomer at the Bill, where singles of Black Redstart and Chiffchaff were still around and 11 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers and 2 Red-breasted Mergansers passed by on the sea.



Rook - Portland Bill, 27th February 2011 © Pete Saunders

  27th February

A chillier day than of late and remaining very quiet on the bird front: 5 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Rooks and 2 Black Redstarts were at the Bill, where 5 Red-throated Divers and 4 Common Scoter also passed through on the sea.



International Space Station and Space Shuttle Discovery - over Portland, 26th February 2011 © Martin Cade

...we've spotted the International Space Station whizzing overhead from time to time over the years, but never as anything more than the speeding pinprick of bright light that it appears through binoculars. Thanks to an informed neighbour, Tom Playle, we discovered that during its pass over the island shortly after sunset this evening it would have the Space Shuttle Discovery in close proximity, just prior to the two docking. Through binoculars it was just about possible to make out that there were indeed two pinpricks of light and almost as an afterthought we blazed away a few handheld frames through the 400mm lens to capture the scene. The uncropped image was a most uninspiring tiny speck of white in a sea of blackness:


Although we're well aware of the resolving possibilities of the umpteen million pixels that they chuck inside cameras these days, we were still staggered by the amount of detail that can be made out once you crop in tightly on that white speck - really not too bad for an object that's 350km away.

  26th February

Not a hint of spring in today's meagre sightings list: 4 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Black Redstarts at the Bill, 5 Red-throated Divers and 3 Common Scoter through on the sea there and 5 Black-necked Grebes in Portland Harbour.

25th February

The first returning Puffin of the year was settled off the Bill early in the morning, whilst migrants passing by offshore included 11 Black-headed Gulls, 3 Brent Geese, 2 Red-throated Divers, an Oystercatcher and a steady movement of 'non-local' auks (in contrast to the winter period when Razorbills predominated, today's passage was mainly of Guillemots). The first Rook of the spring at the Bill was the rather insignificant highlight on the land, which otherwise came up with nothing much more than 3 Redwings at Weston and 3 Redwings and 2 Black Redstarts at the Bill.

24th February

By far the best weather of the week but, with a few minor exceptions, precious little of consequence to report. Migrant interest was provided by 2 Brent Geese and 2 Pochard through on the sea at the Bill and 3 Redwings, a Golden Plover and a Fieldfare on the land there. Winter fare still making the list included 15 Black-necked Grebes and 4 Slavonian Grebes in Portland Harbour, 3 Black Brants at Ferrybridge, 5 Purple Sandpipers, 4 Turnstones, a Water Rail, a Black Redstart and a Chiffchaff at the Bill and a Red-throated Diver through on the sea there.



Early spring moth trio: Satellite, Dark Chestnut and Dotted Border - Portland Bill, 23rd February 2011 © Martin Cade

  23rd February

Dense fog put a bit of a downer on proceedings today, and the only reports worth mentioning were of 6 Purple Sandpipers, a Water Rail and a Black Redstart at the Bill.

Moths attracted to the Obs garden traps for the first time this year included Dotted Border, Satellite and Dark Chestnut.

22nd February

Nice birding conditions today - overcast, still and very mild - and a decent little scatter of early migrants to show for efforts at the Bill, where 9 Curlew and 5 each of Red-throated Diver and Black-headed Gull passed through on the sea and 8 Redwings, 4 Purple Sandpipers, 4 Turnstones, 2 Chiffchaffs and singles of Black Redstart, Fieldfare and Yellowhammer were on the land; the only report from elsewhere was of 1 of the Black Brants again at Ferrybridge. Finally, click here to listen to a little recording of one of the wintering Chiffchaffs at the Bill that's beginning to get into the swing of spring...and ignore the usual Portland background soundscape that includes never-ending beach huts repairs and the inevitable fog signal.



Red-breasted Merganser - Ferrybridge, 21st February 2011 © Paul Baker

...and a couple of colour-ringed gulls from this month. Black-headed Gull 2V32 which was ringed as a nesting at the Cotswold Water Park, Wiltshire, on 9th June 2009, and had been previously sighted twice at Radipole Lake during October/November 2009, was at Ferrybridge yesterday (photo © Pete Saunders; thanks to John Wells for the recovery history):


Whilst Great Black-backed Gull A4MY which was first ringed by the RSPCA as a rehabilitated juvenile (originating from Truro, Cornwall, and released at Berry Head, Devon, on 8th September 2009), and had been variously sighted around the Weymouth area and along the West Dorset coastline between September 2009 and June 2010, was at the Bill on 2nd February (photo © Martin Cade; thanks to Shawn Clements for the recovery history):


  21st February

The day's only reports from the Bill were of a Golden Plover passing over, 6 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Chiffchaffs on the land and a single Red-throated Diver through on the sea. Elsewhere there were 130 Dunlin at Ferrybridge.



Gadwalls - Ferrybridge, 20th February 2011 © Pete Saunders

  20th February

Today's only hint of early passage involved 15 Teal and 2 Gadwall heading up-Channel off the Bill and another 3 Gadwall that dropped in briefly at Ferrybridge; 6 Red-throated Divers also passed by on the sea at the Bill and 7 Purple Sandpipers, 5 Turnstones, 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Chiffchaffs, a Water Rail and a Redwing were logged on the land there. Elsewhere there were 2 Black Brants and 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese at Ferrybridge and 6 Black-necked Grebes and a Great Northern Diver in Portland Harbour.



 Black Brant - Ferrybridge, 19th February 2011 © Paul Baker

  19th February

A big improvement in the weather got plenty more people in the field but rewards were scant. Two Eider settled offshore and a grounded Lapwing were the only obvious new arrivals at the Bill, where routine fare consisted of 3 Red-throated Divers through on the sea and 4 Turnstones, 4 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Redwings, a Black Redstart and a Chiffchaff on the land. Elsewhere, 3 migrant Curlews passed over Ferrybridge, 2 Black Brants were again there and 8 Black-necked Grebes and singles of Red-throated Diver (a fly-over), Great Northern Diver and Slavonian Grebe were in Portland Harbour.

18th February

Limited visibility and limited enthusiasm for fieldwork today. At the Bill 3 Stonechats were new arrivals (the wintering population there had dwindled to just a single individual after the freezing weather in December), a Golden Plover passed over and singles of Water Rail and Black Redstart were still present.


We understand that planning application for helicopter pleasure flights over the Bill area has now been withdrawn by the applicant. Many thanks to the considerable number of Obs members and others who've taken the trouble to object to this proposal in recent days.

17th February

The first passing Manx Shearwater of the year provided the morning's highlight at the Bill, where 5 Red-throated Divers, 2 Common Scoter and a lone Black-headed Gull also passed by on the sea and 4 Purple Sandpiper and 2 Black Redstarts were the best on offer on the land. 

16th February

With blustery southerlies the order of the day there remained the outside chance of something new showing up but it was still a surprise when a 'proper' migrant - a Sandwich Tern - was discovered in Portland Harbour; 3 Black-necked Grebes and a Slavonian Grebe were also in the harbour. At the Bill a flock of 27 Jackdaws heading north had the look of new arrivals, whilst old stagers there included 4 Redwings, 2 Turnstones, a Purple Sandpiper and a Chiffchaff.


Whilst we hesitate to get involved in the usually messy business of local politics, we feel we ought to alert visitors to a proposal to operate helicopter pleasure flights over the Bill (up to 22 flights a day between April and September). As visitors to the area during the thankfully now defunct Portland Steam Fair will be well aware, the racket from flights of this nature verges on the intolerable and certainly has the most detrimental effect on birding activity (quite apart from being potentially damaging should the flights take place, as proposed, during the breeding season). Click here for further details of this planning application.

15th February

On a damp and windy morning the only reports were of 2 Red-throated Divers and a lone Common Scoter passing through off the Bill. In slightly improved conditions during the afternoon - and with observers mildly galvanized by pager news of the year's first Wheatear in the West Country - perfunctory coverage of the land at the Bill produced just 3 Redwings and a (wintering) Chiffchaff.

14th February

A much nicer day than yesterday. Great Northern Divers have been all but absent from Portland Harbour this winter so the arrival of 4 there this morning was welcome; 7 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Slavonian Grebes and a Goosander were also in the harbour. The only other reports were of 4 Red-throated Divers through on the sea at the Bill and single Chiffchaffs at the Bill and Southwell.

13th February

Without doubt the grimmest day of the year so far: rain from dawn till dusk and a south-easterly of such strength that it wasn't even possible to seawatch from the shelter of the Obs lounge. Those that braved the elements for a 'proper' seawatch at the Bill returned with totals of 150 Kittiwakes, 4 Red-throated Divers, 4 Common Scoter and a Mute Swan passing by, whilst elsewhere 2 Black Brants and a Pale-bellied Brent Goose were amongst the brents at Ferrybridge and 3 Goosanders and 2 Slavonian Grebe were in Portland Harbour.



 Rush Veneer - Weston, 12th February 2011 © Duncan Walbridge

  12th February

...and, yet again, more of the same. A total of 10 Ravens heading north over the Bill during the course of the morning had something of the look of migrants about them but were maybe more likely to have been local birds making the most of the fine weather; otherwise the only reports from the Bill were of 10 Red-throated Divers and 4 Common Scoter through on the sea and 4 Purple Sandpipers, a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff on the land. Elsewhere, singles of Blackcap and Brambling visited at garden at Easton.

There was some more evidence of early moth immigration, with a Rush Veneer found on a house at Weston and another Dark Sword Grass trapped overnight in the Obs garden moth-traps.

11th February

Still February doldrums on the bird front, with the day's only worthwhile reports being of 13 Black-necked Grebes, 6 Goosanders, 5 Slavonian Grebes and a Red-necked Grebe in Portland Harbour and 5 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Redwings and singles of Snipe, Blackcap and Chiffchaff at the Bill. 



 Dark Sword Grass - Portland Bill, 10th February 2011 © Martin Cade

  10th February

With the weather map looking faintly interesting we thought we ought to put out an extra couple of moth-traps and the overnight reward at the Obs was the first immigrant of the year - a lone Dark Sword Grass.

Bird-wise, constant rain or drizzle prevented any serious field work and the only noteworthy report was of a Water Rail still in the Obs garden.




 Kestrel and Great Black-backed Gull from recent days - Portland Bill, February 2011 © Ken Dolbear

  9th February

Quiet, mild and overcast conditions today with just a hint of a south-easterly breeze. A small up-Channel movement of Brent Geese - 43 birds in total - provided some minor interest at the Bill, from where the only other reports were of 4 Purple Sandpipers, 4 Redwings, 2 Black Redstarts and a Blackcap on the land and 2 Red-throated Divers through on the sea.

8th February

A lovely fine day but few surprises on the bird front. The Bill area produced 10 Redwings, 2 Snipe, 2 Chiffchaffs and singles of Water Rail, Golden Plover, Black Redstart, Dartford Warbler, Blackcap and Reed Bunting on the land and 3 Red-throated Divers through on the sea, whilst elsewhere there were 2 Blackcaps at Easton, a Black Redstart at Portland Castle and 2 Goosanders in Portland Harbour.

A Hare was at the Heliport at Osprey Quay this morning (the first 'off Chesil' sighting that we've heard of for several years).

Single Mottled Greys have been the only macros trapped in the Obs garden moth-traps over the last couple of nights.




 Black Brants from last week - Ferrybridge, 2nd/3rd February 2011 © Pete Saunders

  7th February

Very little to report on another drizzly and breezy morning and very few observers out looking once the conditions perked up a bit during the afternoon: 5 Red-throated Divers and a lone Brent Goose passed through off the Bill and 3 Redwings, a Water Rail and a Blackcap were on the land there.

6th February

Rather little to show for today's efforts: 8 more Red-throated Divers and 4 Common Scoter passed through off the Bill, 3 Reed Buntings and the usual Blackcap were about on the land there and one of the Black Brants was amongst the Brent Geese at Ferrybridge.

5th February

Rough again today but, apart from 2 passing Sooty Shearwaters reported at the Bill by visiting birders, disappointingly uneventful on the sea; 4 Red-throated Divers constituted the only other minor interest amongst the decent numbers of routine seabirds there. The only reports from the land were of the wintering Blackcap still in the Obs garden and a Black Redstart still at the Bill.



 Purple Sandpiper - Portland Bill, 4th February 2011 © Paul Baker

  4th February

The good weather didn't last and today saw the return of a brisk westerly and overcast skies. Odds and ends making the tally included 4 Purple Sandpipers and a Black Redstart at the Bill, singles of Red-throated Diver and Pomarine Skua through on the sea there and 260 Brent Geese, a Pale-bellied Brent Goose and a Black Brant at Ferrybridge.

3rd February

A really fine and mild day but - despite a good deal of legwork - not especially rewarding. The two minor surprises were a fly-by Red-necked Grebe off the Bill and the (re)appearance of a presumed Siberian Chiffchaff at the Bill (a ringed bird so most likely one of the birds first trapped there late last autumn); otherwise the day's list was much as would be expected given the conditions: 20 Song Thrushes, 10 Redwings, 3 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Chiffchaffs, 2 Dartford Warblers and a Black Redstart at the Bill, 3 Red-throated Divers through on the sea off the Bill and 300 Brent Geese, 166 Mediterranean Gulls, 50 Oystercatchers, 3 Goosander, 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and 2 Black Brants at Ferrybridge.







 auks, Fulmar, Gannets and Red-throated Diver - Portland Bill, 2nd February 2011 © Martin Cade

  2nd February

Still very mild but much drearier than yesterday. Coverage of the land didn't seem to be high up anyone's agenda today, and the only reports from there were of 3 Purple Sandpipers, a Water Rail and a Blackcap at the Bill and 2 Black Brants with the Brent Geese at Ferrybridge. The sea did get plenty of attention but although there were again lots of birds off the Bill (including the first signs this year of up-Channel passage of migrant Gannets) the only particularly worthwhile reports from there were of 9 Red-throated Divers passing by.



 Chiffchaff - Portland Bill, 1st February 2011 © Martin Cade

  1st February

After an occasionally drizzly morning the afternoon saw the arrival of blue skies, sunshine and such mild air that the ongoing slashing and burning - aka habitat management - of the Obs garden suddenly became a shirtsleeves job. All the day's news came from the Bill where a Pomarine Skua lingered offshore for a good part of the morning, a single Red-throated Diver passed through on the sea and 6 Redwings, 4 Turnstones, 3 Purple Sandpipers, a Water Rail, the Blackcap and a Chiffchaff were logged on the land.