June 2012



juvenile Guillemot leaving the cliffs - Portland Bill, 27th June 2012 © Martin Cade

...we know absolutely nothing about video and probably chose the most difficult possible situation/event to make a first try at it! This year's crop of baby auks have been leaving the cliffs in the last week or so, and having spent several evenings watching them we thought we ought to make an attempt to capture one of these little 'jumpers' on film. Our experience at Portland has been that very few young leave the cliffs until well after sunset, and in the example above it had got so dark (at nearly quarter past 10) that we couldn't actually resolve any of the happenings with the naked eye and had to rely on a ludicrously high ISO setting on the camera to get any sort of meaningful result. Since the camera wasn't picking up very well the sounds of this peculiarly compelling event, click here to listen to a recording we made at the same time: the braying calls are mainly from the males that are on the water at the foot of the cliffs trying the entice the young down, whilst the piping calls are from the understandably apprehensive youngsters.

  30th June

Apart from a new Chiffchaff trapped at the Obs the day's reports were again all of seawatching at the Bill: up to 10 Balearic Shearwaters were lingering offshore and 25 Common Scoter, 2 Arctic Skuas and a handful of Manx Shearwaters passed by.

The first 2 Delicates of the year were the only immigrants caught overnight in the Obs garden moth-traps.




Balearic Shearwater and Common Scoters - Portland Bill, 29th June 2012 © Martin Cade

  29th June

The handful of reports from the sea today included 21 Manx Shearwaters, 13 Common Scoter, 6 Balearic Shearwaters and a Mediterranean Gull through off the Bill.

Five Silver Y were the only immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning.

Also, click here for a few photos from an off-island trip over to Lodmoor to see the Gull-billed Tern that showed up there this evening.



Four Spotted - Portland Bill, 28th June 2012 © Martin Cade

Having been been otherwise engaged for a lot of this week with mailing out our 2011 report we've got behind with posting photos we've been sent; amongst these, an Oystercatcher from Hamm Beach (© Ruth Martindale):


...and a baby Great Black-backed Gull on the Harbour breakwaters (© Luke Philips A Welsh birder in Dorset):


This bird was photographed yesterday during a visit to the breakwaters to colour-ring gull chicks; 79 Great Black-backs and 19 Herring Gulls were marked during this and a previous visit earlier in the month. Terry Coombs, who co-ordinates the project, has kindly sent through a couple of photos of examples of the rings to look out for (the white/red rings on Great Black-backs and the black/white rings on Herring Gulls):   



  28th June

More quite topsy-turvy weather today, with everything from flat calm and foggy, though really warm and sunny to fresh and breezy. Watches from the Bill when the sea was visible produced totals of 125 Common Scoter, 11 Manx Shearwaters and 5 Balearic Shearwaters passing by; the only other worthwhile report was of 2 Grey Herons over the Bill.

Another overnight fall-out of Saharan dust gave some hope on the moth front, but in the event the immigrant tally from the Obs traps didn't get beyond singles of Bordered Straw and Silver Y; the first Four Spotted of the year was of interest amongst the rest of the catch.



Striped Hawk-moth - Portland Bill, 27th June 2012 © Martin Cade

...a bit unexpected considering the almost complete lack of immigrant activity just lately.

  27th June

Another fog-blighted day, although an early afternoon shower (which deposited a really conspicuous fall-out of Saharan dust) did at least occasion enough of a clearance that some seawatching was possible at the Bill, where there was a light movement of Manx Shearwaters, along with 41 Common Scoter, 8 Balearic Shearwaters and singles of Curlew, Whimbrel and Arctic Skua.

A Striped Hawk-moth attracted to a garden moth-trap at the Grove was a surprise overnight highlight; the only other immigrants caught were singles of Rusty-dot Pearl at the Obs and Silver Y at the Grove.



Three-banded Garden Slug Lehmannia valentiana - Portland Bill, 26th June 2012 © Martin Cade

...this juvenile specimen - evidently a first for Portland - was found by John Fleming in the Obs garden.

  26th June

Muggy with low cloud/fog coming and going but rain restricted to just one afternoon shower. The only reports were from the Bill where a Reed Warbler was singing in the Obs garden, 2 Curlews flew over and 10 Common Scoter passed by on the sea.

Despite much improved moth-trapping conditions singles of Diamond-back Moth and Silver Y were the only immigrants in the Obs garden traps.



Willow Warbler - Portland Bill, 25th June 2012 © Martin Cade

...this rather cold-coloured, acredula-ish Willow was another departing failed breeder: it had a large brood-patch and was already in wing-moult.

  25th June

Quieter conditions today produced one or two surprises, notably singles of Willow Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher at the Bill and another lone Spotted Flycatcher at Southwell; slightly less of a surprise were the first 3 Sand Martins of the 'autumn' over the Bill, whilst elsewhere Dunlin numbers at Ferrybridge increased to 10. In recent days Cormorants have featured more conspicuously than usual at this time of year, with 7 east and another south off the Bill during the morning, whilst more routine fare off there included 25 Manx Shearwaters and a single Balearic Shearwater.

Singles of Diamond-back Moth, Rusty-dot Pearl and Cream-bordered Green Pea were the only immigrants attracted to the Obs garden moth-traps.


After 5 days of blissful peace we again have a functioning phone line so if you have been trying to get in touch with us during this period apologies for the problems (blame BT, not us) and please give it a try again.

24th June

Overnight rain took a good deal longer than we'd expected to clear through, with the result that only the sea was at all well covered at the Bill, where 263 Manx Shearwaters, 63 Common Scoter, 9 Balearic Shearwaters and 4 Arctic Skuas passed by.

The Muntjac remained at the Bill, where it was seen beside the Bill Road during the evening.


A note for anyone trying to get in touch with the Obs at the moment: our phone line is currently out of order so until such time as it's fixed please just drop us an e-mail instead (the internet on the same line is working OK).




Muntjac - Portland Bill, 19th June 2012 © Roger Isted

...in case our dodgy hoof-print photo of a week ago didn't convince, here's the animal itself. We knew that Roger had been lucky enough to see it out in the open as it slipped through the security fence of the QintetiQ compound, but we hadn't realised until tonight that he'd managed to photograph it as well.

  23rd June

With it remaining quite breezy the only reports were of seawatching at the Bill, that produced 500 Manx Shearwaters, 2 Balearic Shearwaters and 2 Arctic Skuas.

The first Lulworth Skippers of the year were on the wing at the Bill.



Common Spotted Orchid - Fancy's Farm, 22nd June 2012 © Bob Ford

...perhaps surprisingly, it seems that this is a first for Portland: the species is specifically mentioned in the last Flora of Dorset (2000) as being absent from the island, and we're not aware of any unpublished records since that time.

  22nd July

With the westerly wind gusting up around gale force all day most attention was given to the sea, with 100 Manx Shearwaters, 4 Balearic Shearwaters and a Sooty Shearwater logged at the Bill and 2 Arctic Skuas through off Chesil Cove.

A Common Spotted Orchid found today at Fancy's Farm is thought to be a first record for Portland.



Razorbills - Portland Bill, June 2012 © Colin Thorne

  21st June

Cool and miserable today, with pulses of rain throughout the afternoon. A new Chiffchaff appeared at the Obs but the only other reports were of seawatching at the Bill that produced 600 Gannets/hour in the evening, 36 Common Scoter, 13 Manx Shearwaters, 6 commic terns, 3 Arctic Skuas, a Balearic Shearwater, a Curlew and a Black-headed Gull.

Four Silver Y constituted the only immigrant interest in the Obs garden moth-traps.



Storm Petrel - Portland Bill, 20th June 2012 © Martin Cade

...and from the sublime to the ridiculous: the day's seawatch 'highlight' was this domestic duck that floated past the Bill tip - we know they get just about everywhere but we can't actually remember one ever having been seen at the Bill before this! (photos © Pete Saunders):



  20th June

It was too much to have expected the decent weather to last and, sure enough, by the end of the afternoon a freshening easterly wind had set in and a veil of cloud overhead heralded the arrival of yet another depression. In quieter conditions overnight another single Storm Petrel was tape-lured and ringed at the Bill, but the daylight hours saw little more of interest there than 60 Common Scoter, 26 Manx Shearwaters and a Balearic Shearwater through on the sea and 2 Grey Herons arriving from south.

Still no sign of any moth movement, with a single Silver Y the only immigrant in the Obs garden moth-traps.

19th June

The apparently only brief return of summer continued and the only reports were of a Hobby and a Curlew at the Bill and 19 Common Scoter and 6 Manx Shearwaters through offshore there.

The Muntjac surfaced again this evening when it was seen at the QintetiQ compound at the Bill.

Another single Clouded Yellow was seen at the Bill.

A lone Rush Veneer was the only immigrant caught overnight in the Obs garden moth-traps.

18th June

Back to a typical late June miscellany today, with all the news coming from the Bill: 3 Grey Herons overhead, singles of Redstart, Willow Warbler and Yellowhammer on the ground and a handful of Manx Shearwaters, 7 Common Scoter, 5 Sandwich Terns, 3 Balearic Shearwaters and an Arctic Skua through offshore.

A single Clouded Yellow made a brief visit to the Obs garden.


As visitors to the site will have already noticed, we're now able to include on this page a constantly refreshed image from the camera situated on West Cliffs overlooking the seabird colony within the QinetiQ compound; a live feed from this camera is also available in the Obs lounge. Many thanks to Jason Fathers of Wildlife Windows for sorting out the often fraught logistics involved, and to Lyn Cooch, the Weymouth and Portland Ranger, for securing the necessary funding.



Pomarine Skua - Portland Bill, 17th June 2012 © Martin Cade

...with cutlery like that we're not quite sure why this bird isn't duffing up all-comers on the Russian tundra - it certainly cast a rather forlorn figure as it lumbered away down-Channel 3000 miles from where it ought to be holding court.

  17th June

Despite the wind dropping right away it was again the sea that came up with all the day's interest, with 40 Manx Shearwaters, 28 Common Scoter, 9 Balearic Shearwaters, 3 Pomarine Skuas and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill.




Arctic Skua - Portland Bill, 16th June 2012 © Simon Johnson

  16th June

Barely a sniff of an improvement in the weather today - if anything it got progressively windier as the day went on. For the most part seawatching was disappointingly unproductive, but persistence eventually produced a tally that included 5 Pomarine Skuas, 5 Arctic Skuas and 2 Storm Petrels through or lingering at Chesil Cove and 300 Manx Shearwaters, 3 Arctic Skuas, 2 Balearic Shearwaters and a Great Skua through off the Bill.



Muntjac print - Portland Bill, 15th June 2012 © Martin Cade

...a photograph of the animal would be a Portland first but for the moment we can't offer any more than this scrap of evidence of its visit to the Obs garden!

  15th June

The arrival of another quite vigorous depression saw the wind freshen right up, although not quite to the stormy level we saw last week. All the bird news was from the sea, with 2 Pomarine Skuas and a Great Skua through at Chesil Cove and 50 Manx Shearwaters, 9 Common Scoter, 5 Arctic Skuas, 4 Great Skuas, 3 Balearic Shearwaters, a Curlew and a Sandwich Tern through off the Bill.

The Muntjac deer was in the Obs garden during the morning.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps this morning: 3 Silver Y, 1 Diamond-back Moth and 1 Hummingbird Hawk-moth.

Finally, an announcement for Obs members: this year's AGM will take place at 7pm on Saturday 7th July; an agenda for the meeting can be viewed/printed here.




Knot, Redshank & Dunlin and Redstart - Ferrybridge and Portland Bill, 14th June 2012 © Paul Baker The Bagsy Blog (waders) and Martin Cade (Redstart)

...we often refer to our wondering whether some of the June migrants are arriving or leaving, and in the case of today's Redstart the answer was fairly easy to establish: the presence of a well-formed brood-patch clearly indicating that it had already attempted - and presumably failed - to breed:


The retained, pale-tipped, juvenile outer greater coverts meant that this first-summer individual was easier to age than many female Redstarts:


Ordinarily we wouldn't see a post-breeding Redstart in such dog-eared plumage as this as they ought to have a complete moult before they start autumn migration, but since this bird has already reached Portland it must be a pretty safe bet that it won't be in the UK for much longer and certainly won't be moulting anywhere near where it attempted to breed.

  14th June

A day of freshening south-easterlies and eventually the onset of more rain brought one or two surprises, of which the most unexpected was a ringtail harrier that arrived in off the sea at the Bill; several relatively brief/distant views suggested it was most likely a Hen Harrier but it disappeared before the identification could be fully clinched. Amongst the other new arrivals there were singles of Curlew, Redstart, Blackcap and Chiffchaff at the Bill, and Redshank and Knot at Ferrybridge, whilst another quite late Great Northern Diver passed by off the Bill and an unseasonable Common Gull also appeared offshore there. The only other reports were of 40 Common Scoter through off the Bill and 10 Dunlin at Ferrybridge.

Two Rusty-dot Pearl and a Silver Y provided the only immigrant interest in the Obs garden moth-traps.

Also some late news from yesterday of a Muntjac deer being seen at Southwell School.



Turtle Dove - Southwell, 13th June 2012 © Pete Saunders

  13th June

A light easterly and some patchy rain that developed in the early hours and lasted on beyond dawn were enough to drop a small arrival of late migrants, notably a Turtle Dove at Southwell, and 3 Reed Warblers and 2 Chiffchaffs at the Bill; 78 Swifts that headed north over the Bill were perhaps more likely a weather-related movement than late arrivals. The day's other news concerned 12 Common Scoter and singles of Arctic Skua and Great Skua through off the Bill.

12th June

Hardly worth a report today. The only news from the Bill was of a few Manx Shearwaters and commic terns lingering offshore and an Arctic Skua passing by. Waders at Ferrybridge included 23 Dunlin and a Sanderling.

Singles of Rusty-dot Pearl and Pearly Underwing were the only immigrants in the rain-sodden moth-traps at the Obs.

11th June

An at times quite pleasant day that ended in another yet another evening of steady rain. Three Blackcaps were unexpected new arrivals (...coming or going?) at the Bill, where 2 Canada Geese and the first 2 departing Curlews of the summer also passed through; a unseasonable Siskin (a juvenile bird) at Southwell was also rather out of the ordinary. The rest of the day's list consisted of 11 Common Scoter, 8 Manx Shearwaters and 2 Sandwich Terns through on the sea at the Bill and 22 Dunlin and a Sanderling at Ferrybridge.

Another very limited selection of immigrant moths included 5 Silver Y and a Diamond-back Moth caught overnight in the Obs garden traps.

10th June

The forecast rain held off for a little longer than expected before setting in during the afternoon and spoiling the rest of the day's fieldwork. With no reports of anything in the way of new arrivals on the land it was left to the morning seawatch at the Bill to provide all the day's bird news: 167 Manx Shearwaters again made up the bulk of the numbers, with 10 Common Scoter, 2 Sandwich Terns and singles of Great Northern Diver, Storm Petrel and Arctic Skua providing a little variety.

Three Rush Veneer, a Rusty-dot Pearl and a Cream-bordered Green Pea were the only immigrants/wanderers caught overnight in the Obs garden moth-traps.

9th June

A gradual return to normality on the weather front saw the strength of the wind ease away as the day went on, although it remained brisk enough through the morning to ensure there was another decent selection of reports from the sea. The Bill produced the lion's share of the numbers, with Manx Shearwaters passing at around 250/hour early and late in the day; 12 Common Scoter, 12 commic terns, 9 Storm Petrels and 2 Sandwich Terns also passed though there, whilst 2 Storm Petrels, 2 Pomarine Skuas and 2 Arctic Skuas lingered throughout the morning off Chesil Cove. The only other reports were of 23 Dunlin and a Sanderling at Ferrybridge.

8th June

Yesterday's unseasonably stormy conditions lasted through the night and the wind only abated a little through the day. With the land pretty well unbirdable -  the only reports from there were of 8 Dunlin and 6 Sanderling at Ferrybridge - it was again the sea that got all the coverage. Chesil Cove picked up the quality, with up to 30 Storm Petrels and 9 Pomarine Skuas lingering for much of the morning, when 6 Great Skuas and 4 Arctic Skuas also passed through. Manx Shearwaters dominated at the Bill, with 200 heading mainly west during the morning and 300 or more heading east during the late afternoon/evening; 10 Storm Petrels, 6 Pomarine Skuas, 2 Arctic Skuas, 2 Great Skuas and a Common Scoter were also logged there through the day.

7th June

A very wet day that turned increasingly stormy as the rain eventually petered out during the afternoon. A Reed Warbler was a new arrival at the Bill, but it was the sea that got most attention once the wind really started freshening up. Chesil Cove was well watched, with 600 Gannets, 50 Fulmars, 24 Manx Shearwaters, 2 Pomarine Skuas, a Balearic Shearwater, a Sooty Shearwater and a Storm Petrel logged through the afternoon. The Bill got less coverage and although Manx Shearwaters were a little more numerous (52 in 2 hours during the morning looked to representative of passage through the day as a whole) the only other worthwhile sightings were of 4 Common Scoter and singles of Sooty Shearwater and Mediterranean Gull.

Singles of Diamond-back Moth and Pearly Underwing were the only immigrants attracted to the Obs garden moth-traps.

6th June

Another very low-key day, with a trickle of passing Manx Shearwaters and singles of Arctic Skua and Great Skua the only worthwhile sightings at the Bill. Elsewhere there were 11 Dunlin at Ferrybridge.

The moth-trapping was as uneventful as the birding, with 2 Diamond-back Moth and a Rusty-dot Pearl the only immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps; a Hummingbird Hawk-moth was in the Obs garden during the afternoon.



Hobby - Portland Bill, 5th June 2012 © Martin Cade

  5th June

With three hours or so of dry weather before it started raining (...and didn't let up for the rest of the day) there was a fair bit of coverage of the Bill area, where a lone Hobby looked to be the only new arrival; a few Manx Shearwaters were also milling around offshore there.

Four Diamond-back Moth and 3 Silver Y were the only immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps.

4th June

Today's handful of late migrants included 2 Black-headed Gulls, 2 Spotted Flycatchers and singles of Yellow Wagtail, Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chaffinch at the Bill, where 200 or so Swifts also arrived in off the sea (late migrants or wandering breeders?). Fifty Manx Shearwaters were milling around off the Bill through the morning.

Immigrant moths included 4 Diamond-back Moth at the Obs and a Pearly Underwing at Weston.

3rd June

A gradual deterioration in the weather of recent days continued, with today's dreary skies and brisk westerly making it feel distinctly un-summery. A pulse of movement offshore included 444 Gannets, 146 Manx Shearwaters and 23 Common Scoter through off the Bill during the morning, but the only worthwhile newcomers on the land were singles of Sedge Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher trapped at the Obs.

Despite the poor conditions a few immigrants continue to appear in the moth-traps, with 7 Diamond-back Moth and a single Red Admiral butterfly at the Obs, and 5 Diamond-back Moth, 5 Silver Y and a Pearly Underwing at the Grove.

2nd June

A blast of easterly in increasingly poor conditions - fog was a feature for much of the day and light rain had arrived by early evening - made a bit of difference today, with a few late migrants dropping in and a couple of brief highlights. The quality was provided a Hawfinch that flew over/through the Obs garden twice early in the morning and a ringtail harrier (the poor views in ropey light suggested it was most likely a Montagu's Harrier) that flew high over the Bill during the afternoon, whilst the more routine fare included singles of Yellow Wagtail, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps: 4 Silver Y and 2 Diamond-back Moth.

1st June

The only new arrivals reported were singles of Hobby and Spotted Flycatcher at the Bill; 12 Manx Shearwaters also passed through on the sea there.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps: 15 Diamond-back Moth, 4 Rusty-dot Pearl and 4 Silver Y.


Now that we've seen the back of May and all but the tardiest of migrants have arrived, it seems timely to dwell for a moment on quite how good spring 2012 was at Portland. We haven't had enough time to tot up all the log totals yet, but using the Obs garden ringing totals as a gauge (the level of effort was pretty much the same as usual) shows that this spring was certainly the busiest in the more than 50 year history of PBO. The table below, which compares the 2012 totals of the most numerous migrants we trap with the average spring totals for the previous five years, shows almost across the board increases, with only Spotted Flycatcher revealed as not having fared so well:


  2012 total 2007-11 average % change
Redstart 56 47 +19
Sedge Warbler 67 34 +97
Reed Warbler 75 24 +212
Lesser Whitethroat 19 8 +137
Whitethroat 246 103 +138
Garden Warbler 170 57 +198
Blackcap 723 254 +184
Chiffchaff 939 380 +147
Willow Warbler 1868 1176 +58
Goldcrest 46 20 +130
Spotted Flycatcher 44 66 -33

A remarkable feature was just how large some of the increases were: the totals of both Reed Warbler and Blackcap were higher than any previous whole year total for those species, with both Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler also nearly reaching that milestone. Only time will tell quite how much can be read into these figures, but at the simplest level it's pretty clear that, even allowing for this spring's often freakish conditions, there must have been an awful lot of migrants passing through in the first place for so many to be grounded so frequently.