March 2012

31st March

The forecast weather conditions for today had looked promising for some while and - just as predicted - a heavy cloud cover duly rolled in from the north-west in the late hours of the night. At dawn it was immediately apparent that the Bill area was leaping with grounded migrants and it wasn't long before the true extent of an astoundingly good fall for this date became clear. With birds absolutely everywhere - both grounded and moving rapidly onwards - it was all but impossible to get to anything other than a best guesstimate of numbers but 3000 phylloscs and 500 Blackcaps seems reasonable; at the Obs - where the day's ringing total reached an all-time record of 615 - the ratio of Willow Warblers to Chiffchaffs wasn't too far off 3:2. Since it is only the end of March the back-up cast was not that varied, although the south of the island from Barelycrates Lane to the Bill did come up with totals of 75 Wheatears, 12 Redstarts, 6 Ring Ouzels, 5 Black Redstarts, 4 Pied Flycatchers, 2 Fieldfares and a Redpoll, along with a steady arrival of hirundines overhead. A few odds and ends on the sea included 5 Red-throated Divers, 4 Shelduck, 2 Mallards, 2 Shoveler and a Red-breasted Merganser through off the Bill.




   Ring Ouzels - Barleycrates Lane, 30th March 2012 © Pete Saunders

...and a few photos from Pete from yesterday; Blackcap, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Raven:




  30th March

Really quite similar to yesterday, although a reduction in the strength of the wind saw to it that not quite so much grounded and those that did drop didn't linger around for long. A notable concentration of 6 Ring Ouzels gathered at Barelycrates Lane, where there were also 3 Redstarts and a Black Redstart. At the Bill the phyllosc ratio amongst the 200 or so grounded was again 3:2, but today it was Willow Warbler that came out on top; further totals there included 35 Blackcaps, 25 Wheatears, 10 Redwings, 3 Redstarts, 2 Shelducks, 2 Redpolls and singles of Curlew, Black Redstart, Ring Ouzel and Bullfinch, together with another lightish passage of passing wagtails, pipits and hirundines. A lone Red-throated Diver passed through on the sea there.

29th March

Although skies remained completely clear the north-easterly wind had freshened once more which was the catalyst in dropping a much better array of migrants. An exceptionally early Swift (we haven't had time to check yet but we'd think this is the first March record for Portland) passed over at the Bill, where the 250 or more phylloscs included the first good flurry of Willow Warblers (the ratio from the Obs mist-nets was 3:2 in favour of Chiffchaff); the list from there also included 25 Wheatears, 25 Blackcaps, 20 Robins, 3 Redstarts, 2 Bullfinches, 2 Goldcrests and singles of Merlin, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Redwing, Ring Ouzel, Black Redstart, Firecrest and Siskin. A similarly varied list from elsewhere around the island included an Osprey north over the Grove and the Verne and another Ring Ouzel at Barleycrates Lane.

The first Clouded Yellow butterfly of the year was on the wing at Chesil Cove today.

A Silver Y at the Grove was the only immigrant moth caught overnight.



   Chiffchaff - Portland Bill, 28th March 2012 © Nick Hopper

  28th March

The keen north-easterly of recent days had died right away and, under crystal-clear skies, at times it was feeling extraordinarily hot for late March. Once again the west side of the island was the place to be, with migrants heading through - either overhead or briefly grounded - in some quantity. A Hoopoe at Blacknor, an Osprey in off the sea at the Bill and later another arriving off Chesil Cove were the pick of the bunch, but the decent passage of wagtails, pipits, hirundines and Chiffchaffs included the likes of 3 Redpolls and singles of Tree Pipit and Redstart tagging along. Another Redstart was at the Bill, where singles of Black Redstart and Firecrest provided further variety amongst the light scatter of Wheatears, Blackcaps and phylloscs on the ground; 2 Little Egrets also passed over there, whilst elsewhere a Great Spotted Woodpecker was at Old Hill and an Iceland Gull passed through at Ferrybridge. A little bit more sea passage included 53 Common Scoter, 6 Red-throated Divers, 4 Sandwich Terns, 2 Red-breasted Mergansers, a Brent Goose and a Curlew through off the Bill.

27th March

With no change at all in the weather the birding remained much as in recent days. Those willing to put in the time on the West Cliffs were rewarded with a constant light passage of incoming wagtails, pipits and hirundines, but trudging the fields wasn't far short of flogging a dead horse. A small concentrations of birds at Barleycrates Lane included 25 Wheatears, 5 Blackcaps and a Ring Ouzel, but the Bill area held little beyond 50 Wheatears, 3 White Wagtails, 2 Lapwings and a handful of phylloscs. The sea continued to come up with a few oddities, including 3 Tufted Ducks, 3 Red-breasted Mergansers and a Yellow-legged Gull through off the Bill.

26th March

More of the same - weather and birds. Incoming Meadow Pipits were easily the most numerous migrants at the Bill, where the only numbers on the ground were provided by 40 Wheatears and 10 or thereabouts totals of Blackcap and Chiffchaff; amongst the not particularly varied selection of lesser totals there were 2 White Wagtails, 2 Firecrests, 2 Long-tailed Tits, a Merlin, a Golden Plover, a Black Redstart and a Redpoll. A similarly low-key list from the sea included 2 Pintail through off Chesil and 8 Sandwich Terns, 7 Eider, a Black-throated Diver and a Manx Shearwater through off the Bill.



A reminder that the next In Focus field event at the Obs takes place between 10am and 4pm tomorrow, Tuesday 27th March. 

  25th March

Precious little change today. Wheatear numbers improved to around the 50 mark at the Bill, but the very thin spread of other grounded arrivals there included nothing better than 3 White Wagtails, 2 Song Thrushes, 2 Firecrests and a Redpoll; elsewhere, a Ring Ouzel, 3 Siskins, 2 Fieldfares and 2 Black Redstarts were amongst a notable concentration of migrants in the High Angle Battery/Fancy's Farm area. Once again, the sea looked promising but didn't really get going: 35 Common Scoter, 12 Sandwich Terns, 2 Red-throated Divers and a Red-necked Grebe passed through off the Bill, and 90 Black-headed Gulls, 21 Common Scoter, 10 Sandwich Terns, 5 Brent Geese and 2 Red-throated Divers made up the bulk of the numbers off Chesil; the first 2 Common Terns of the season also passed through at Ferrybridge.

The first Green-veined White butterfly of the spring was on the wing at the Bill.

24th March

Another day of unbroken sunshine and unseasonable warmth - unfortunately not the sort of conditions likely to drop much in the way of numbers of migrants. A sample half-hour count of northbound passage along the West Cliffs - that returned totals of 350 Meadow Pipits, 94 Linnets, 6 alba wagtails and 2 Sand Martins - showed that there were plenty of birds on the move, but with nothing likely to ground them the measly totals on the land at the Bill consisted of little more than 25 Chiffchaffs, 10 Wheatears and singles of Song Thrush, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Goldcrest and Firecrest. The easterly breeze and reduced visibility looked likely to be helpful for the seawatchers, but in the event there wasn't too much on the move, with 37 Common Scoter, 3 Teal, 2 Mallard and a Sanderling the best off Chesil, and 3 Red-throated Divers and 2 Sandwich Terns the pick of a poor selection off the Bill; 2 Slavonian Grebes were also settled off Chesil.

Immigrant interest in the moth-traps was provided by singles of Pearly Underwing and Dark Sword Grass at the Obs, whilst an Early Moth at the Grove constituted only the fifth island record of the modern era.



   Water Rail - Portland Bill, 23rd March 2012 © Martin Cade

...presumably a stray migrant that was inadvertently flushed up in the Obs garden in the middle of the afternoon.

  23rd March

A day of constant warm sunshine, albeit with a frustratingly opaque haze over the water that spoilt things for the seawatchers. At the Bill, common migrants consisted of little more than the thinnest scatter of Wheatears, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests, 2 Sand Martins, 2 Blackcaps, a Song Thrush and Willow Warbler, with minor interest provided by 4 Black Redstarts, 3 Firecrests, 3 Long-tailed Tits, 2 Fieldfares and a Water Rail. Elsewhere there were 2 Sandwich Terns, a Great Northern Diver and a Red-necked Grebe in Portland Harbour.

Butterflies on the wing today included Large White, Speckled Wood, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell.



   Goldcrest - Portland Bill, 22nd March 2012 © Martin Cade

  22nd March

In a brisk easterly there was no repeat of yesterday's flurry of migrants, with new arrivals being decidedly thin on the ground. Once again all the reports were from the Bill, where there were 30 Chiffchaffs, 5 Goldcrests, 3 Black Redstarts, a Purple Sandpiper, a Firecrest and just a solitary Wheatear on the land, 2 Sand Martins, a Canada Goose and a Swallow were amongst a light passage overhead and 5 Common Scoter and a Great Skua passed through on the sea.

21st March

In terms just of numbers on the ground today was certainly the best day of the spring to date, with a decent arrival of Chiffchaffs in particular; unfortunately, however, the cloudy skies of dawn that had dropped the migrants soon brightened, and by midday there was precious little left to entertain the tardy visitor. The majority of the coverage was of the Bill area, where 100 Chiffchaffs, 30 Wheatears, 30 Goldcrests, 3 Sand Martins, 2 Black Redstarts and singles of Water Rail, Redwing, Willow Warbler and Firecrest made the log; elsewhere there were singles of Willow Warbler and Brambling at Portland Castle and 2 Golden Plovers headed north over Ferrybridge. The only reports from the sea were of 6 Common Scoter and a Red-throated Diver through off the Bill.

20th March

A wee bit disappointing today: a promising-looking heavy cloud cover had rolled in overnight and dawn saw fair numbers of Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests grounded, but thereafter - bar some steady incoming passage of pipits and wagtails - everything gradually fizzled out. Fifty Chiffchaffs and 15 Goldcrests made up the bulk of the numbers at the Bill, where there also 10 Wheatears, 4 Black Redstarts, 2 Redwings and a Firecrest; overhead passage there wasn't properly censused but Meadow Pipits numbered well into four figures, whilst alba wagtails looked to be getting up towards a three figure total. The only reports from elsewhere were of a Red-necked Grebe still in Portland Harbour (click here for a video of this bird), also a Mute Swan there and a Goosander at Ferrybridge. Finally, the seawatchers came up with little more than 7 Red-throated Divers, 5 Common Scoter, 2 Sandwich Terns and a Red-breasted Merganser through off the Bill.

Immigrant interest in the moth-traps was provided by a Pearly Underwing at the Obs and a Dark Sword Grass at the Grove. 19th March

Much too fine a day for there to be any quantity of grounded migrants, although a fly-over Iceland Gull and the first Manx Shearwater of the year did provide some interest at the Bill. More routine fare on the ground there included a very light scatter of Wheatears, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests, along with 4 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Firecrests, 2 Black Redstarts and 2 Redwings, whilst out to sea 12 Common Scoter and 3 Red-throated Divers passed by.

A lone Red Admiral was at Barleycrates Lane.




   Curlew and Wheatear - Portland Bill, 18th March 2012 © Pete Saunders

  18th March

The touch of frost on the ground at dawn was evidence enough of how the sky had remained cloud-free all night and it soon became apparent that new arrivals were very thinly spread. At the Bill, Wheatear and Chiffchaff both got up to around the 20 mark but there was little else in numbers; 4 Black Redstarts, 3 Firecrests and a passing Curlew were the only less common migrants logged there.

A Pearly Underwing was the first immigrant moth of the year in the Obs garden traps.




   Puffins and Wheatear - Portland Bill, 17th March 2012 © Simon Johnson

  17th March

A fair dose of rain in the late hours of darkness looked to have been instrumental in dropping more early migrants at the Bill, but in the event the early promise quite quickly fizzled out. Wheatears remained better represented than they had been earlier in the week, with 50 or more dotted about the Bill; there was also well into double figure totals of Chiffchaff and Goldcrest there, whilst further interest was provided by 4 Blackcaps, 3 White Wagtails, 3 Redwings, 2 Firecrests and singles of Curlew, Fieldfare, Black Redstart and Merlin. The sea came up with the first 4 passing Sandwich Terns, along with 4 Red-throated Divers; a second Puffin also joined the single bird that has been about the auk colony early in the mornings.



   Wheatear - Portland Bill, 16th March 2012 © Pete Saunders

  16th March

Decent-looking conditions - dry, overcast and no more than a light breeze - brought an early morning highlight in the form of the reappearance (for the first time in seven weeks) of the Black Guillemot off the Bill; however, it was migrants that most visitors were after, and following a night when Redwings in particular had been heard passing over in quantity, new arrivals duly showed up in reasonable numbers. Pretty well all the attention was given to the Bill area, where there were 40 Wheatears, 25 Chiffchaffs, 20 Blackbirds, 15 Goldcrests, 10 Song Thrushes, 8 Blackcaps, 4 Redwings, 2 Firecrests and a Woodcock on the ground, 500 Wood Pigeons, a Common Buzzard, a Golden Plover, a Siskin and plenty more Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails headed north overhead and 6 Red-throated Divers, 2 Black-throated Divers and singles of both Dark-bellied and Pale-bellied Brent Goose passed by on the sea.




Siskins - Southwell, 14th March 2012 © Pete Saunders

...the rash of Siskins in recent days has been unusual for Portland - spring records are less than frequent here - and no doubt involves the return northwards of a few of the vast numbers that were on the move last autumn; click here to listen to a brief recording (from the Bill the day before yesterday) of some flight calls and here for a little sequence of the chattering calls given by a settled male.

  15th March

Another pretty decent day to be bumbling about the island looking for early migrants, with the lingering fog dropping a steady little trickle of newcomers that included an unexpected flurry of Blackcaps, along with the first hirundines of the season. Most coverage was given to the Bill area, where 20 Chiffchaffs, 15 Goldcrests, 10 Song Thrushes, 5 Redwings, 4 Blackcaps, a Fieldfare, a Wheatear and a Firecrest provided interest on the ground, whilst Meadow Pipits, alba wagtails, a variety of finches, at least one party of Starlings and singles of Sand Martin and Swallow were moving through overhead (once again, with many birds only audible up in the fog, quantifying the passage was well-nigh impossible).

14th March

This week is certainly coming up with the goods weather-wise, with a gradual deterioration from summer-like a couple of days ago to it feeling a lot like winter today in a raw easterly. Visible migrants were again on the move, with a sample 40 minute count at the Bill returning totals of 100 Meadow Pipits, 2 Chaffinches and a Siskin, but it was relatively quiet on the ground, with little more than 10 Chiffchaffs, 6 Song Thrushes and singles of Grey Wagtail, Fieldfare, Goldcrest, Firecrest and Siskin at the Bill, further Siskins at both Southwell and Easton Street (2 at each) and a lone Wheatear at Reap Lane. The only worthwhile seawatch report was of 3 Shoveler passing the Bill. 





   Siskins and Purple Sandpipers - Portland Bill, 13th March 2012 © Martin Cade (Siskins) and Nigel Milbourne blagdonlakebirds (Purple Sandpipers)

...and taken under the lovely blue skies of yesterday, a Common Buzzard and a Meadow Pipit (© Pete Saunders):



  13th March

The dense fog that rolled in overnight and persisted throughout the day made all the difference on the migrant front, with a light scatter of grounded new arrivals and a steady overhead movement of incoming pipits and wagtails. All the reports came from the Bill, where 20 Chiffchaffs, 6 Goldcrests, 4 Song Thrushes, 3 Redwings, 3 Fieldfares, 2 Siskins and a Curlew dropped in at times through the day, 2 wintering Purple Sandpipers were still present, 4 Greylag Geese did a brief fly-past and plenty of Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails (many only audible in the fog) trickled over through the middle of the day.

12th March

More fantastic warmth and sunshine - almost unbelievable conditions for the time of year. Alas, incoming migrants remained very sparsely spread, with the lack of visible passage of the likes of Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails being particularly surprising. Two White Wagtails, a likely Continental Stonechat and a Wheatear were at Barleycrates Lane, whilst the day's tally at the Bill included 4 Goldcrests, 2 Chiffchaffs and singles of Lapwing, Golden Plover, Firecrest and Siskin on the land and 2 more Red-throated Divers through on the sea.

The first Comma butterfly of the year was on the wing at Barleycrates Lane.

11th March

An especially glorious day but still hardly leaping with migrants. The majority of reports came from the Bill area, where there were 5 Goldcrests, 3 Chiffchaffs and singles of Black Redstart, Firecrest and Bullfinch; elsewhere a lone Wheatear was at Reap Lane.

10th March

More seemingly decent-looking conditions but still precious little about. New arrivals included a Firecrest at the Obs and a White Wagtail at Reap Lane but there was nothing in the way of a back-up list of commoner migrants on the ground or overhead. The day's only other reports were of 5 Common Scoter and 3 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill and singles of Purple Sandpiper, Black Redstart and Chiffchaff on the land there.

9th March

Despite what looked to be vaguely promising conditions - mild, still and overcast - the lack of any quantity of new arrivals would seem to indicate that passage really hasn't resumed after the little flourish a week or more ago. The Bill area was well-covered and returned a list that included just 3 Goldcrests, 2 Black Redstarts, a Curlew and a Chiffchaff on the land, 6 Cormorants and 5 Starlings arriving in from the south and 3 Red-throated Divers and 2 Mallards through on the sea.




   Black Redstart and 'bridled' Guillemot - Portland Bill, 8th March 2012 © Simon Johnson

  8th March

A big improvement in the weather but precious little improvement in the birding. The day's only reports were from the Bill where there were singles of Black Redstart and Goldcrest on the land, 3 Brent Geese and a Red-throated Diver passed through on the sea and a Puffin was again back at the auk colony.

7th March

Despite pretty hopeless conditions - a miserable wet morning giving way to a brighter but very windy afternoon - there was a welcome highlight in the form of the spring's first Wheatear that showed up beside the Beach Road late in the afternoon. The only other reports were of the singing Black Redstart still present at the Bill and 2 Common Scoter through on the sea there.




Black Redstarts - Portland Bill, 5th and 6th March 2012 © Allan Neilson (the adult male in flight) and Pete Saunders (the singing cairii male)

  6th March

Another lovely fine, sunny day with the wind having dropped to nothing more than a waft of a northerly breeze. Unfortunately, on the bird front it was less than eventful at the Bill, where 3 Skylarks arrived in off the sea, a new Goldcrest joined a lingerer still in the Obs garden, both Black Redstarts were still present and 5 Common Scoter, 3 Black-headed Gulls and a Red-throated Diver passed through on the sea.



   Iceland Gull - Portland Bill, 5th March 2012 © Martin Cade

  5th March

Fine and sunny although the stiff north-westerly wind that set in yesterday remained a constant irritation. The day's highlight at the Bill was an Iceland Gull that lingered around East Cliffs either side of midday; also there, 10 Common Scoter and 2 Red-throated Divers passed through on the sea, 38 Starlings arrived from the south and 3 Purple Sandpipers and singles of Black Redstart and Rook were about on the land. Elsewhere a Black Redstart was in a private garden at Fortuneswell.

Another single Diurnea fagella was the pick of the overnight moth catch at the Obs.

4th March

After a fortnight or more of relatively quiet conditions today brought a rude awakening on the weather front, with a morning of constant and at times quite heavy rain giving way to a brighter afternoon during which a stiff north-westerly set in and the temperature took a right tumble. Needless to say, birding activity was severely reduced and the only reports were of 2 Black Redstarts, a Fieldfare and a Goldcrest at the Bill and a lone Common Scoter passing through on the sea there.



   Gannets - Portland Bill, 3rd March 2012 © Simon Johnson

  3rd March

An unexpectedly fine day after overnight wind and rain had cleared the fog away. The first Puffin of the spring was an on-cue returnee off the Bill, where there was a steady up-Channel passage of Gannets, the first few obviously migrant Lesser Black-backed Gulls were arriving from the south and 3 more Red-throated Divers passed by. There was little change on the land, with just 3 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Black Redstarts and 2 Chiffchaffs of note at the Bill.

The first Small Tortoiseshell of the year was on the wing at Haylands.

Visitors to the site will have noticed that today we begun posting on Twitter; we'll still be undertaking our usual end of the day summary on the site, but posting on Twitter should afford us the opportunity to make brief, informal updates through the day on happenings at Portland, without the rigmarole of having to upload to the website - we'll see how it goes.

Also news of what we hope will prove to be the end of our hitherto never-ending internet connection woes. As of yesterday the Obs was upgraded to a fibre broadband line which, since it's turned out to be somewhere in the region of 22 times faster than our previous internet connection, represents a considerable leap from the ridiculous to the sublime. Wi-Fi facilities - hopefully, much improved - will of course still be available to visitors and, since we now evidently qualify as a BT Openzone hotspot, BT customers will be able to connect laptops, smartphones and the like to the internet without the need for a Wi-Fi key.

2nd March

Pretty much of a dead loss today with fog rolling in and out and a freshening easterly breeze making it feel unpleasantly chilly. The only reports were of a Barn Owl in the early hours of the morning at Weston and 3 Rooks, 2 Black Redstarts and singles of Golden Plover and Goldcrest at the Bill.

A party of 10 or more Bottle-nosed Dolphins were again off East Cliffs at the Bill during the morning.





   Diurnea fagella and Black Redstarts - Portland Bill, 1st March 2012 © Martin Cade (Diurnea fagella) and Pete Saunders (Black Redstarts)

...the very unprepossessing 'cairii' Black Redstart has been holding territory in the Bill Quarry/QinetiQ compound area for several days, affording a rare opportunity to hear the species in song at Portland; click here to have a listen (the weird scrunching/crackling sounds are part of the song rather than some artefact generated what would usually be the ineptness of this recordist, whilst the blast in the middle of the recording is the Bill lighthouse fog signal sounding off). Despite its dowdy appearance the bird wasted no time in seeing off the much dandier-looking full-blown male which was a new arrival today.

  1st March

Dense fog descended during a clear, chilly night and reduced the flow of new arrivals to nothing more than a tiny trickle, with the day's list from the Bill consisting of just 5 Redwings, 2 Black Redstarts and 2 Goldcrests.

A single Diurnea fagella was the only moth of interest in the Obs garden traps this morning; this is the second year running that this hitherto very infrequently recorded species has turned up at the Obs. Also late news from yesterday of the year's first - and, if our memory serves us correctly, earliest ever - Eudonia angustea caught overnight at Weston.