October 2012

31st October

An undistinguished and at times really quite miserable end to a fabulous month, as a blasting westerly blew through a constant succession of heavy showers. At least 1 of the Black Brants was again at Ferrybridge, whilst the tiny handful of grounded migrants at the Bill included nothing more interesting than 3 Siskins.

Singles of Diamond-back Moth, Pearly Underwing and Silver Y were the only immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps.

The grim conditions kept Peter Morgan indoors for much of the day, where he took the opportunity to get the ringing totals up to date. This month's Obs garden/Crown Estate Field total ended up on a rather staggering 2274: we haven't got the all-time totals to hand but we can't remember a month before this one when the 2000 mark has been exceeded. Of particular note within this total were a remarkable 400 Robins: the previous highest annual Robin total was 262 in 1998.








   Red-throated Diver, Continental Coal Tit, Black Brant, Mute Swans and Siskins - Portland Harbour, Portland Bill, Ferrybridge and Southwell, 30th October 2012 © Paul Baker The Bagsy Blog (Red-throated Diver), Martin Cade (Coal Tit) and Pete Saunders (Black Brant, Mute Swans and Siskins)

  30th October

A lovely still, mild and sunny late autumn day. Passage was much as would be expected given the conditions, with small numbers of routine finches - including low double figure totals of Brambling, Siskin and Redpoll - dominating at the Bill; the best of the rest there were 8 Black Redstarts, 3 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Firecrests, a Ring Ouzel, a Continental Coal Tit, a Bullfinch and a Yellowhammer. Elsewhere, the Dark-bellied Brent Goose total at Ferrybridge increased to 1370, with 176 Mediterranean Gulls, 6 Pale-bellied Brents, 2-3 Black Brants and 2 Mute Swans also present there, whilst nearby a Red-throated Diver was in Portland Harbour. The only seawatch reports were of 3 Brent Geese and singles of Red-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver through off the Bill.



   Pink-footed Goose - Ferrybridge, 29th October 2012 © Martin Cade

  29th October

How the mighty doth fall: last week Portland was on fire but today it was resoundingly back down to earth with a bump as a stiff south-westerly and frequent heavy showers put the block on migration. That said, there was a major local highlight in the form of a settled Pink-footed Goose that pitched up amongst the brents at Ferrybridge; 6 Pale-bellied Brents and 2 Black Brants were also among the flock. Passerine-wise it was pretty dreadful, with tiny numbers of routine fare and just 2 Black Redstarts at the Bill by way of quality. The sea was disappointingly quiet, with nothing more than 2 Manx Shearwaters through off the Bill.



A reminder that the next In Focus field event at the Obs takes place between 10am and 4pm tomorrow, Tuesday 30th October. 




   Brambling - Portland Bill, 28th October 2012 © Pete Saunders

  28th October

Although there were a scatter of new arrivals it was extremely quiet in comparison with recent days, and it seems as though the good times are fizzling out now that the wind has returned to the west. Today's only particularly out of the ordinary sighting concerned a Siberian Chiffchaff at Easton; otherwise interest was restricted to a light scatter of Ring Ouzels, Black Redstarts and Firecrests everywhere, 2 Short-eared Owls at the Bill, a Woodcock at Suckthumb Quarry and, amongst the generally small numbers of commoner migrants, a short, sharp movement of 3000 Wood Pigeons over the Bill. The sea got more attention than of late, with wildfowl getting going to a limited extent off the Bill, where 84 Common Scoter, 37 Wigeon, 8 Teal and 3 Velvet Scoter passed by and 3 Eider were settled offshore.



  Daurian Shrike - Portland Bill, 27th October 2012 © Rich Andrews www.richandrewsphotography.co.uk

...and also a couple of the day's Black Redstarts at the Bill © Brett Spencer Brett's Goosey Ganderings:



  27th October

After a much colder night that saw the skies clear for the first time this week it was perhaps a surprise that the Daurian Shrike was still present; the Siberian Stonechat had moved on though, and there was also no sign of the Subalpine Warbler; at least 2 Long-eared Owls at the Bill included a new arrival that arrived in off the sea, whilst a Barred Warbler at Culverwell may or may not have been the bird last seen there a few days ago. Additionally, an Egyptian Vulture - thought likely to the the wide-ranging escapee last reported in Norfolk a fortnight ago - was seen briefly high over the north of the island. Notable events on the common migrant front included a strong passage of Wood Pigeons (including 7000+ over the Bill and 3000 over the centre of the island), together with a good spread of the likes of Ring Ouzels and Black Redstarts. Fuller update to follow later.





   Siberian Stonechat - Portland Bill, 26th October 2012 © Martin Cade

...with some perseverence - it was b****y cold and damp sitting in the middle of an open field for several hours - it was trapped today. The well-saturated plumage speaks for itself; biometric-wise, the only useful measurement is supposed to be bill width (proximal end of nostrils) which came out at a rather unhelpful middle of the road 4.9mm (a minimum figure; this isn't that easy a measurement to take on a live bird so two of us did several re-checks which were all in the range 4.9-5.0 mm). This'll be another story that runs and runs...

  26th October

In the early hours of the morning there was a surprise in the form of a Stone Curlew heard calling over the Obs; click here to listen to a recording of it. On a colder, damper day most of the quality remained in situ, with the Daurian Shrike, Siberian Stonechat and at least 1 Long-eared Owl still at the Bill; also not altogether surprising was the rediscovery of the Subalpine Warbler a couple of hundred metres from Avalanche Road at the former Weston Craft Centre. Amongst plenty more routine fare, new arrivals at the Bill included the likes of 10 Ring Ouzels and 1 or 2 Wrynecks, whilst elsewhere there were 10 Ring Ouzels at Suckthumb Quarry, a late Wood Warbler at Avalanche Road and more Ring Ouzels, Black Redstarts and Firecrests dotted around the island, A fuller report to follow in due course.






Siberian Stonechat and Long-eared Owl - Portland Bill, 25th October 2012 © Martin Cade

...and also thanks to Duncan Walbridge for a photo of the Siberian Chiffchaff at Southwell a couple of days ago (23rd):


  25th October

With the easterly wind having freshened noticeably, birding was often not so easy today. That said, yesterday's putative Siberian Stonechat was quickly rediscovered and confirmed near Culverwell, 2 Long-eared Owls put in an appearance in the Hut Fields area, the Daurian Shrike remained in Top Fields and a new Siberian Chiffchaff showed up at Wakeham. Routine migrants were still passing through in quantity: thrushes were not quite so numerous as in recent days, but Chaffinches in particular were on the move throughout the morning; uncommon migrants at the Bill included 10 Black Redstarts, 3 Ring Ouzels, 2 Woodcock and a Short-eared Owl.



Wryneck - Portland Bill, 24th October 2012 © Martin King

  24th October

What an excellent spell of birding this has been, with migrants still on the move in really impressive numbers today. We're just not finding enough time to be able to give full reports at the moment but today's highlights included the Daurian Shrike which eventually settled and showed well in Top Fields, a Wryneck and a Long-eared Owl in the Bill Quarry/QinetiQ compound area, singles of Siberian Chiffchaff and Yellow-browed Warbler at Southwell and, at last light, a likely Siberian Stonechat seen briefly near Culverwell. Amongst the many hundreds of thrushes, Robins, finches and the like passing through the Bill area there were noteworthy totals of 25 Black Redstarts, 8 Ring Ouzels, 8 Short-eared Owls and 3 Woodcock

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps: 35 Rusty-dot Pearl, 27 Silver Y, 16 Rush Veneer, 2 Dark Sword Grass, 2 Scarce Bordered Straw, 1 Pearly Underwing and 1 Delicate; elsewhere, another Flame Brocade was the pick of the overnight moth catch at Southwell.



Daurian Shrike - Portland Bill, 23rd October 2012 © Brett Spencer Brett's Goosey Ganderings

  23rd October

The continuing murky, easterly conditions produced another hatful of migrants, amongst which a Daurian Shrike frequenting the fields either side of the Bill Road was a fine highlight. We'll come back to the numbers of common migrants on a later update, but for the time being the list of scarcities included 10 Black Redstarts, 5 Ring Ouzels, 2 Woodcock, 2 Short-eared Owls, a Wryneck, a Woodlark, a Yellow-browed Warbler and the Barred Warbler at the Bill and 2 Yellow-browed Warblers and a Siberian Chiffchaff at Southwell.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps: 18 Rusty-dot Pearl, 8 Silver Y, 6 Rush Veneer, 2 Pearly Underwing and 1 Dark Sword Grass; elsewhere, another Flame Brocade was caught at the Grove.





Further news for today, Monday 22nd, when a Pale-legged or Sakhalin Leaf Warbler was present during the afternoon in a private garden at Southwell. General access was not possible at the time, but once the identification was established after scrutiny of photographs during the evening an agreement was reached that PBO could attempt to trap the bird in the morning with a view to relocating it to a nearby site where access would be possible; unfortunately it was not present on Tuesday and has not been seen since (photos © Pete Saunders)

Postscript: it seems highly likely that, since the bird was not critically examined in the hand, it will never be possible to specifically identify it with certainty. Paul Leader has very kindly communicated to us his initial thoughts which slightly favour SLW; these include:

Plumage-wise, there is nothing to choose as the two species are extremely similar.

Structurally, the apparent relatively long primary projection may be a pro-SLW feature.

In terms of range there is little to choose: although PLLW breeds further west (around 7100 km from Portland), the bulk of the breeding grounds are further east at 7400-8500 km away; Hokkaido/Sakhalin are approx. 8300-9100 km from Portland.

 SLW is on average a later migrant through Hong Kong.

On the breeding grounds SLW is highly arboreal, singing in the canopy, whereas PLLW is generally a low-level skulker (the Southwell bird spent most of its time relatively high up a sycamore in eg Yellow-browed Warbler fashion).

And in-hand photos of the two species © Paul Leader; Pale-legged Leaf Warbler:


Sakhalin Leaf Warbler:






   Hawfinch and Yellow-browed Warbler - Portland Bill, 22nd October 2012 © Martin Cade

  22nd October

Top-notch migration watching today with overnight rain coupled with dreary skies and fog through the day dropping a constant succession of mainly thrushes and finches around the centre and south of the island. Nothing much lingered for long but the spectacle of flocks of birds dropping out of the murk and heading away northwards was certainly memorable; we haven't yet got a full handle on numbers from the various fieldworkers but there must have been getting on for 1000 each of Blackbird and Chaffinch, together with totals of well into the hundreds of, for example, Redwing and Song Thrush. Among the spread of oddities through this area there were 16 Lapwings, 10 Ring Ouzels, 10 Black Redstarts, 6 Yellow-browed Warbler, 5 Snipe, 4 Tree Pipits, 4 Redstarts, 2 Merlins, 2 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Mistle Thrushes, 2 Reed Warblers, a Woodcock, a Garden Warbler, a Willow Warbler, a Siberian Chiffchaff and a Hawfinch, together with the Barred Warbler that remained at Culverwell.

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




   Subalpine Warbler and Red-throated Diver - Portland Bill, 21st October 2012 © Tony Hovell (Subalpine Warbler) and Ken Parker (Red-throated Diver)

  21st October

There was a distinct air of anticipation about proceedings today, mainly borne out of the enticing mix of overcast skies and easterly wind. As it was, the day's highlights largely involved lingerers, with the Subalpine Warbler still at Avalanche Road and the ever-elusive Barred Warbler glimpsed on odd occasions at Culverwell; new arrivals included singles of Woodlark and Lapland Bunting at the Bill and another Woodlark over Verne Common. Although there was a scatter of the likes of Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests on the ground, most the day's routine passage involved migrants overflying or dropping in only briefly: thrushes were conspicuous at dawn, including more than 100 Song Thrushes headed north over the Bill/Southwell, whilst Pied Wagtails and a variety of common finches were also conspicuous at this time; later arrivals included more than 400 Wood Pigeons over the north of the island and the Bill and the first signs of Starlings arriving from the south (including 105 over the Bill). Among the variety of less frequent/late migrants there were 3 Black Redstarts and singles of Merlin, Snipe and Mistle Thrush at the Bill, a Whinchat at Reap Lane, a Garden Warbler at Avalanche Road, a Redstart at Easton and a Lesser Whitethroat at Verne Common. A Great Northern Diver passed through off the Bill, where the very confiding Red-throated Diver was also still settled off East Cliffs.

Immigrant moths in the Obs garden moth-traps: 9 Rusty-dot Pearl, 3 Dark Sword Grass, 2 Rush Veneer, 2 Delicate, a Pearly Underwing and a Silver Y; elsewhere visiting moth-trappers caught another Flame Brocade at Freshwater Bay.



  Subalpine Warbler - Avalanche Road, 20th October 2012 © Martin Cade

...it looking to be as much at home feeding high in sycamores as it was in lower cover, and it was quite a little chameleon - constantly taking on apparently different guises as the light changed:



We were a bit concerned that the boldness of the submoustachial, the richness of the saturation on the underparts (at least in some lights) and amount of white on the outer tail feathers were not altogether compatible with the idea that it was most likely a first-winter male:


...but on closer examination the tail pattern at least looks to rule out any possibility of it being, for example, a well-marked adult female.


And whilst searching for the Subalp after it disappeared we had the mildly disconcerting experience of stumbling across this late reed warbler-type lurking deep in cover (these days you're supposed to relish these experiences and make out that you're always learning or some such thing, but more often our heart sinks and we ponder on how much easier it would be if we'd got it in the hand):

Anyway, eventually it did deign to pop out in the open whereupon it looked a lot less interesting:

...and a few calls - click here to have a listen - finally confirmed it really was just a Reed Warbler. Incidentally, if you think that something calling a bit shorter and sharper than this is going to be a Blyth's Reed, have a listen to these Marsh Warblers that we recorded last autumn in Kenya.

  20th October

Lovely and calm again today, with the rediscovery of the Subalpine Warbler at Avalanche Road (after nearly a week of being overlooked) providing compensation for the general dearth of common migrants; a Wryneck was a new arrival at Southwell, the Culverwell Barred Warbler was still present, whilst further interest was provided by the likes of a scatter of Firecrests, single Ring Ouzels at Southwell and Broadcroft Quarry, and a Woodlark over the Bill. Grounded common migrants included all the usual suspects in rather small numbers, along with late singles of Reed Warbler at Avalanche Road and Lesser Whitethroat at Verne Common, whilst overhead 300 Wood Pigeons and 100 Jackdaws were noteworthy amongst the trickle of routine fare. A settled Red-throated Diver off East Cliffs at the Bill was the only notable sighting on the sea.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps: 17 Rusty-dot Pearl, 10 Rush Veneer, 5 Silver Y, 3 Delicate and 1 Flame Brocade; another Flame Brocade was the pick of the catch at the Grove.




   Goldcrest and Barred Warbler - Portland Bill, 19th October 2012 © Martin Cade

  19th Octobe

After several days of far too much wind and far too few migrants it was very welcome indeed to wake to a calm, heavily overcast dawn, when it was quickly apparent that there was plenty about. In truth, variety was a little disappointing, with Goldcrests by far the most numerous new arrivals: a good 150 were at the Bill, whilst plenty more were scattered throughout suitable cover elsewhere; Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were well spread without being especially numerous, whilst Pied Wagtails and various common finches made up the bulk of the rest of the numbers on the ground. A surprise was the reappearance of the Culverwell Barred Warbler which turned up out of the blue in a mist-net having escaped notice for a couple of days; other interest was provided by 6 Firecrests, a Merlin, a Short-eared Owl and late singles of Whinchat and Willow Warbler at the Bill, a Great Spotted Woodpecker at Southwell, 2 more Firecrests and another Great Spotted Woodpecker at Easton and a Ring Ouzel at West Weare. An early passing Little Auk was an unexpected highlight on the sea at the Bill, where a lone Balearic Shearwater also passed by.

The moth-traps were much busier overnight, with the immigrant tally at the Obs consisting of 14 Rusty-dot Pearl, 12 Rush Veneer, 6 Delicate, 3 Silver Y, a Diamond-back Moth and a Dark Sword Grass; elsewhere, single Flame Brocades were caught at Southwell and the Grove.




   Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese - Ferrybridge, 15th October 2012 © Pete Saunders

...it seems as though the brents have had a very poor breeding season, with no juveniles present amongst the 900 or so Dark-bellied Brents present when this photo was taken earlier in the week.

    18th October

The brisk south-westerly wind remained a feature all day and, together with some very stormy conditions overnight, looked have put the block on passerine passage for another day. A little interest was salvaged by the seawatchers who logged 4 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Great Skuas, a Sooty Shearwater and a Pomarine Skua through off the Bill and singles of Great Northern Diver and Little Gull at Chesil Cove. A Continental Coal Tit at Easton was the pick of the day's new arrivals on the land, with 2 Firecrests and a Short-eared Owl at the Bill and another Firecrest at Pennsylvania Castle providing the rest of the day's interest.

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

17th October

With the notable exception of a Sabine's Gull that lingered distantly for a little while off Chesil Cove before heading away south and soon afterwards being picked up as it rounded the Bill, today's blustery south-westerlies weren't conducive to perking up interest. Most attention was given to the sea, but the only worthwhile reports from the Bill were of 12 Common Scoter, 3 Great Skuas and singles of Red-throated Diver, Manx Shearwater, Arctic Skua and Sandwich Tern passing by. The land came up with a Merlin at the Bill and a very light sprinkle of routine grounded migrants everywhere.

Four Rush Veneer were the only immigrants caught overnight in the Obs garden moth-traps.

16th October

For the most part, comprehensively dismal today with few if any new arrivals on the ground, only the mearest trickle of migrants on the move overhead and precious little through on the sea. The Barred Warbler remained at Culverwell although in the strong westerly wind its appearances were as infrequent as ever, whilst 2 Short-eared Owls and a Merlin at the Bill, a Firecrest at Grove Point and a Great Spotted Woodpecker at Easton were the day's only uncommon migrants. The only seawatch reports were of 4 Brent Geese, 2 Common Scoter and 2 Great Skuas through off the Bill.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps: 5 Rush Veneer and 1 Diamond-back Moth.




   Merlin and Clouded Yellow - Portland Bill, 13th October 2012 © Tracey Edwards/Paul Cook

...a couple of photos from the weekend.

    15th October

The forecast of a rain front passing over south-west England during the night had looked mildly promising but it was quickly apparent in the brisk north-westerlies and clear skies of dawn that new arrivals weren't at all prominent. Some surprise pigeon movement was evident at the Bill, where 1400 Wood Pigeons and 90 Stock Doves arrived from the north, but in the absence of any other worthwhile numbers of common migrants the day's interest stemmed largely from the list of oddities : the ever-elusive Barred Warbler, 2 Merlins, 2 Ring Ouzels, 2 Firecrests and a Short-eared Owl at the Bill, singles of Balearic Shearwater, Great Skua and Arctic Skua through on the sea there, a Woodlark over Avalanche Road and a Yellow-browed Warbler at Foundry Close. Elsewhere, brent goose numbers continued to build up at Ferrybridge, where 900 Dark-bellied Brents and a lone Pale-bellied Brent were counted this morning.

Immigrant moths were a little more mumerous, with 19 Rush Veneer, 9 Silver Y, a Delicate and a White-speck caught overnight in the Obs garden traps.

14th October

With little change in the weather it was maybe not a surprise that there wasn't a significant arrival of new grounded migrants, however, amongst those that did drop in there was a notable find in the form of a Subalpine Warbler that made a brief visit to Avalanche Road before seemingly disappearing towards Coombefield Quarry. A Wryneck equally briefly in Top Fields was also new, the Culverwell Barred Warbler finally gave itself up to those willing to put in the time, the Yellow-browed Warbler remained at New Ground, whilst noteworthy scarce migrants included Woodlarks at Avalanche Road (2) and over the Bill, 10 Ring Ouzels at West Weare, singles of Merlin and Great Spotted Woodpecker at the Bill and several Firecrests dotted around the areas of cover. Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests were again the most conspicuous commoner migrants on the ground, whilst a rather subdued overhead passage was dominated by a typical mix of hirundines, finches and the like.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps: 3 Silver Y and singles of Dark Sword Grass, Pearly Underwing and Delicate.

13th October

North-westerlies and, bar a couple of early and late showers, mainly clear skies again today. Another small arrival of Yellow-browed Warblers saw singles found early in the morning at New Ground, the Eight Kings Quarry and in a private garden at Southwell; Firecrests were also well-represented, with 10 or more scattered around the centre and south of the island amongst a small arrival of more new Robins, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests. Variety on the ground was otherwise not too great, but did include 3 Willow Warblers, 2 Whinchats, 2 Reed Buntings and singles of Merlin, Water Rail, Redstart, Black Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher at the Bill. Passage was a good deal stronger overhead, with 400 alba wagtails, 200 Wood Pigeons, 50 Siskins, 2 Grey Wagtails, 2 Tree Pipits, 2 Bramblings and a Redpoll amongst the plentiful Meadow Pipits and commoner finches over the Bill. Seawatching at the Bill produced 50 Dunlin, 7 Balearic Shearwaters and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill, where more than 150 Mediterranean Gulls were lingering offshore.

The first Clouded Yellow for several weeks was seen at the Obs Quarry.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps: 3 Silver Y and singles of Rush Veneer, Dark Sword Grass and Pearly Underwing.

12th October

A complete change in the weather - this week's easterlies and dreary skies were replaced overnight by brisk north-westerlies - saw migrant interest largely fizzle out. There were still a few new arrivals and a handful of lingerers but quality didn't get beyond a couple of glimpses of what apparently looked likely to be the Barred Warbler at Culverwell, a scatter of Firecrests - including 3 at the Obs, 2 at Culverwell and 2 at Grove Point - and the likes of a lone Merlin at the Bill. Numbers on the ground were much reduced, but still included a fair spread of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests everywhere, whilst a scatter of tardy migrants included singles of Yellow Wagtail, Tree Pipit, Reed Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher at the Bill. Two Balearic Shearwaters were lingering off the Bill, where a lone Arctic Tern also passed by.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps: 2 Silver Y and singles of Diamond-back Moth, Rush Veneer, Dark Sword Grass and Pearly Underwing.




   Hobby - Castletown, 11th October 2012 © Ralph Todd

    11th October

Another heavy downpour in the late hours of the night dropped plenty more migrants, with the highlights being a rather elusive Barred Warbler at Culverwell and at least 2 new Yellow-browed Warblers - at the Obs and Ladymead, Easton - to add to 1 at Weston Street that was perhaps lingering on from a couple of days ago. The pick of the more routine fare included lots more of the likes of Robins, thrushes, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests and finches, amongst which 15 Bramblings, 7 Whinchats, 5 Redstarts, 2 Firecrests, a Merlin, a Barn Owl, a Lesser Whitethroat and a Yellowhammer at the Bill, a Ring Ouzel a Avalanche Road, a Black Redstart at Barleycrates Lane, a Hobby, a Ring Ouzel and a Firecrest at East Weare and a Hobby at Castletown were of particular note. Singles of Great Northern Diver, Wigeon and Arctic Skua passed through off the Bill, whilst 18 Sandwich Terns were still at Ferrybridge.

The overnight immigrant moth catch at the Obs consisted of 13 Silver Y, 10 Rush Veneer, 7 Dark Sword Grass, 5 Rusty-dot Pearl and a Scarce Bordered Straw, whilst by day single Hummingbird Hawk-moths were at the Obs and Weston.

10th October

With overcast skies and the wind still firmly in the east there was another nice arrival of migrants throughout the island today. Yellow-browed Warblers were again the only minor oddities to put in an appearance, with at least 3 remaining in the Southwell area and likely new arrivals showing up at Wakeham and the Grove (click here to listen to a short recording - made with the phone as we didn't have any proper gear with us - of the latter bird calling just before dusk). The back-up array of commoner fare included another substantial fall of Robins - including 100 or more at the Bill - together with a good spread of the likes of thrushes, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests, whilst uncommon migrants included 5 Firecrests, 4 Bramblings and singles of Little Egret, Merlin and Black Redstart at the Bill, and another 5 or so Firecrest, 2 Crossbills and a Mistle Thrush around the centre of the island; unexpectedly late migrants still figured with, for example, getting on for 10 each of Redstart and Willow Warbler, and 2 Spotted Flycatchers scattered about. The sea got more attention than of late, with a strong eastward movement of Lesser Black-backed Gulls off the Bill being of note; at least 31 Mediterranean Gulls and 6 Sandwich Terns were also feeding off there, whilst singles of Red-throated Diver, Great Skua and Arctic Skua also passed by/lingered; up to 28 Sandwich Terns (together with the first three figure total of Dark-bellied Brent Geese of the autumn) were also settled at Ferrybridge.

A small party of Bottle-nosed Dolphins headed north off East Cliffs/Penn's Weare during the morning.

Windy conditions hampered overnight moth-trapping, with the immigrant totals at the Obs reduced to just 20 Rush Veneer, 9 Silver Y, 2 each of Dark Sword Grass, Pearly Underwing and Delicate, and a single Rusty-dot Pearl.



   Yellow-browed Warbler - Portland Bill, 9th October 2012 © Martin Cade

...and one of the recent run of late-ish Willow Warblers doing its best to look rare and interesting whilst sheltering from the rain:


...before eventually showing a lot better:


  9th October

A second day of almost continual rain or drizzle saw many of the well-walked pathways begin to resemble a scene from a Passchendaele re-enactment; however, trench-foot aside, there were plenty of rewards for those that braved the mud. Yellow-browed Warblers again featured strongly, with 5 in the Southwell area and at least 1 at the Obs, whilst notable amongst a wide array of uncommoner migrants were 10 Bramblings, 3 Golden Plovers, 3 Whinchats, 3 Firecrests, 2 Snipe, 2 Redstarts, 2 Black Redstarts and singles of Hobby, Water Rail and Mistle Thrush at the Bill, a Firecrest at Avalanche Road, a Pied Flycatcher at Reap Lane, 2 Ring Ouzels at Penn's Weare and a Merlin at Ferrybridge. Robins, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests again all figured strongly amongst the routine fare on the ground, whilst there were surprisingly conspicuous pulses of visible passage overhead, notably including good totals of Skylarks, House Martins and Chaffinches over the Bill.

An overnight pause in the rain, accompanied by a decent temperature and virtually no wind, saw the various moth-traps get much busier than they have been of late, with newly arrived immigrants particularly conspicuous. The Obs garden traps came up with totals of 163 Rush Veneer, 60 Angle Shades, 22 Rusty-dot Pearl, 21 Silver Y, 15 Delicate, 5 Dark Sword Grass and singles of Spoladea recurvalis, Dark Spectacle and Red Admiral butterfly; elsewhere there were 2 Delicates at both Southwell and the Grove, with the latter also chipping in with 2 more Flame Brocades.




Yellow-browed Warblers - Portland Bill, 8th October 2012 © Martin Cade

...the two Yellow-browed Warblers trapped and ringed at the Obs today. The change in this species' status has been remarkable: in the early days of PBO it took six years of fieldwork before Yellow-browed Warbler was even added to the island list (the first for Portland - in 1960 - was also the first record for Dorset), and another two decades passed before the island total got beyond 10. The all-time total now stands at somewhere only a little shy of 250, with the species considered to be nothing less than an expected scarce migrant. 

  8th October

Another excellent day today, although quite different to the two clear, dry weekend days. The wind remained in the east but rain and fog that arrived during the hours of darkness dropped a fine and varied arrival of new migrants throughout the island - noteworthy amongst which were tremendous numbers of Robins, at least 5 Yellow-browed Warblers (3 at the Bill and 2 at Southwell), a Coal Tit (at Culverwell), the first conspicuous arrival of thrushes of the autumn and unexpected numbers of several late common migrants. The centre and south of the island got the lion's share of the coverage, which was always hampered by poor visibility and spells of drizzle: Robins numbered around 200 at the Bill, and were described as more numerous around the centre of the island than one observer with many year's experience had ever seen before; selected other totals for these areas included 200 Chiffchaffs, 70 Blackcaps, 50 Blackbirds, 40 Song Thrushes, 40 Goldcrests, 25 Redwings, 17 Bramblings, 13 Redstarts, 10 Whinchats, 10 Willow Warblers, 5 Pied Flycatchers, 4 Black Redstarts, 4 Firecrests and 3 Reed Warblers.




   Red-backed Shrike and Yellow-browed Warbler - Southwell, 6th October 2012 © Pete Saunders

...thanks to Pete for these additional photos from yesterday.

    7th October

A day of quantity rather than quality, with all of yesterday's oddities having moved on during a clear, moonlit night. Northbound overhead passage was very conspicuous throughout the island during the first few hours of the morning, when sample counts included 1200 House Martins, 450 Swallows and 11 Chaffinches in an hour at the Bill, 385 Linnets, 277 alba wagtails, 249 Meadow Pipits and 222 Swallows in 30 minutes at Portland Heights and 115 Siskins over the centre of the island; the wide selection of other species logged during this period included a Spoonbill over the Bill, a Jay at Foundry Close, at least 4 Great Spotted Woodpeckers around the centre and south of the island and a scatter of the first few Redwings and 2 Bramblings of the autumn. Grounded/off-passage migrants were also numerous, with 75 Chiffchaffs and 50 each of Blackcap and Goldcrest at the Bill, where there were also around 700 Linnets still present.

Red Admiral passage was again evident, with a steady eastward movement noted throughout the day at the Bill/Southwell.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps: 6 Silver Y, 3 Rusty-dot Pearl and 1 White-speck; a Flame Brocade at the Grove was the pick of the overnight catches in the various garden traps.



Yellow-browed Warbler - Portland Bill, 6th October 2012 © Martin Cade

...and a few more random images from the day. Linnets were the most conspicuous migrants at the Bill, where flocks of many hundreds were continually swirling overhead and around the various crop fields:




...Meadow Pipits were logged in their hundreds on the ground and thousands overhead:


...a constant succession of east-bound Red Admirals were a feature throughout the day:


...and finally, two images of absolutely no merit beyond showing that there was something looking vaguely like a small bunting lurking in the hedge beyond the Eight Kings Quarry; through the 'scope it was possible to make out it was the Little Bunting that Nigel Pleass had done really well to notice whilst he was looking for the nearby Red-backed Shrike - unfortunately it was 100m too far away to photograph properly:


  6th October

October at its best today, with an overdue easterly wind and sunny skies, three half-decent rarities, several scarce migrants and plenty of routine fare both on the ground and overhead. The oddities proved troublesome to get to grips with: 2 Great White Egrets flew rapidly south-east over the Bill during the morning, the autumn's second Little Bunting showed only for a short while late in the afternoon near the Eight Kings Quarry, the nearby long-staying Red-backed Shrike was always elusive, whilst none of the 4 Yellow-browed Warblers - 2 in a private garden at Southwell, another trapped and ringed at the Obs and one heard calling at Perryfields - was straightforward. Common migrants were much more plentiful than of late, with, for example, 2000 Meadow Pipits east over the centre of the island, 1000 off-passage Linnets at the Bill and 50-100 each of Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Goldcrest scattered around patches of cover in the centre and south of the island; less frequent migrants included the likes of 3 Grasshopper Warblers, 2 Merlins and a Firecrest at the Bill. Seawatching at the Bill produced 28 Common Scoter and 2 each of Balearic Shearwater, Dark-bellied Brent Goose and Great Skua.

A strong east/south-east passage of some hundreds of Red Admirals was evident at the Bill throughout the day.




   Red-backed Shrike - Southwell, 4th October 2012 © Pete Saunders

    5th October

Although there are promises of fairer conditions for the weekend, today brought plenty more rainfall - first during the early hours when it was accompanied by a brief but quite  severe gale, and later during the afternoon and evening. The grim overnight conditions were enough to put a stop to passage then, with few new arrivals evident on the ground at dawn; however, visible passage soon got going and there were strong movements of hirundines, alba wagtails, Meadow Pipits and Linnets in particular throughout the daylight hours. The Red-backed Shrike begun a second week of residence at Southwell, but oddities were otherwise confined to singles of Firecrest at the Obs, Lapland Bunting overhead at the Bill and Curlew Sandpiper still at Ferrybridge; additionally, another 19 Balearic Shearwaters passed through on the sea at the Bill.

The first Flame Brocade of the autumn was caught overnight by a visiting moth-trapper at the Grove; singles of Hummingbird Hawk-moth and Dark Sword Grass were the only immigrants caught in the Obs traps.

4th October

A much finer day than the last few although the stiff westerly wind was a constant feature. Overhead passage was conspicuous throughout the morning, with a 50 minute sample count at the Bill coming up with totals that included 270 Linnets, 220 Meadow Pipits, 130 Goldfinches, 129 alba wagtails, 55 Swallows, 13 Chaffinches and single figure totals of Merlin, Grey Plover, Grey Wagtail, Tree Pipit and Siskin; Swallow numbers picked up towards midday when more than 300/hour were heading south along the east side of the island. It was quieter on the ground, although the Bill Wheatear total got to around 75, whilst amongst the light scatter of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests there were single Firecrests at The Bill and Wakeham, and late-ish singles of Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat at the Bill and Spotted Flycatcher at Pennsylvania Castle; the Southwell Red-backed Shrike was also reported at least once during the day. The only news from the sea was of 7 Balearic Shearwaters and a single Great Skua through off the Bill.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps: 2 Diamond-back Moth, 2 Rush Veneer, 1 Dark Sword Grass and 1 Red Admiral butterfly.

3rd October

After yesterday's events the continuing unsettled conditions ensured that there was a strong turn out of seawatchers at the Bill; unfortunately it was very quickly apparent that passage had largely fizzled out and was limited to a trickle of Balearic Shearwaters - a total of 39 passed through during the day; the only other worthwhile sighting from there was a single Arctic Skua. There was also a sad lack of numbers on the land: the Red-backed Shrike remained at Southwell, with a second individual reported from Cheyne Weare, but the only other slightly noteworthy sightings were of 3 Siskins at Southwell, a Turtle Dove at Wakeham and a Firecrest at Weston.





   Gannet and Sooty Shearwaters - Portland Bill, 2nd October 2012 © Martin Cade

  2nd October

Somewhat out of the blue, since the sea has been relatively quiet in recent days, today's fresh westerly and occasional showers saw a decent down-Channel passage of shearwaters develop, with 80 Balearics and 60 Sootys logged at the Bill; although Gannets were well represented there was surprisingly little else on the move, with 14 Common Scoter, 3 Great Skuas and a lone Manx Shearwater the only other worthwhile sightings at the Bill, and singles of Balearic Shearwater, Little Gull and Great Skua the only birds of note at Chesil Cove. On the land the Red-backed Shrike was still present at Southwell and a Curlew Sandpiper was still at Ferrybridge, but apart from 2 Merlins at the Bill there was precious little else worth mentioning.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps: 4 Rush Veneer, 2 Silver Y and singles of Rusty-dot Pearl, Convolvulus Hawk-moth and Pearly Underwing; elsewhere a single Delicate was of note at the Grove.

1st October

An inauspicious start to the new month saw the unsettled theme continued with quite long spells of rain during the later hours of the night and again during the mid/late morning - conditions that look to be putting the block on any sort of sustained passage. Today's disappointing list of grounded migrants at the Bill saw even the likes of Wheatear, Blackcap and Chiffchaff struggle to get beyond the 10-20 mark; the Red-backed Shrike remained at Southwell and a Curlew Sandpiper was still at Ferrybridge but there was precious little else of quality worth a mention. Hirundines in particular were still passing through in decent numbers but 15 Siskins were the only worthwhile extras amongst the limited array overhead at the Bill. Seawatching came up with 22 Balearic Shearwaters, 20 Common Scoter and a Great Skua through off the Bill, whilst also on the water a Red-necked Grebe was settled in Portland Harbour.

Immigrants in the Obs garden moth-traps: 4 Silver Y, 2 Diamond-back Moth, 1 Rush Veneer and 1 Dark Sword Grass.