December 2012



   The annual rainfall total as registered on the Obs weather station.

  31st December

With wind and rain from dawn until dusk today was a day like an awful lot of others in the last nine months. The only reports were of 3 Great Skuas and 2 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill and a Black-throated Diver in Portland Harbour.


Finally, a note for potential PBO bookshop customers that the shop will be closed on Wednesdays throughout January and February; the shop will be open as usual on Saturdays and Sundays during this period.




   Barn Owls - Portland Bill, December 2012 © Pete Saunders (flying) and Martin Cade (settled)

...dusk sightings have been quite frequent at the Bill/Southwell this month, with 2 individuals present on the last couple of evenings.

  30th December

The sea continues to provide most of the interest, with 5 Red-throated Divers, at least 3 Great Skuas, 2 Brent Geese, a Great Northern Diver and a Little Gull through or lingering off the Bill and 11 Black-necked Grebes, 2 each of Great Northern Diver and Velvet Scoter, and singles of Red-necked Grebe and Eider in Portland Harbour. Five Turnstones,  2 Purple Sandpipers and a Black Redstart were also at the Bill.

29th December

On a really quite stormy and at times very wet day there were again some impressive gatherings of seabirds off the Bill: in the region of 1000 auks, 500 Kittiwakes and 250 Gannets were ever present, with plenty more of each passing through; 9 Great Skuas - some of which lingered for periods - were also logged, along with 9 settled Common Scoter and 11 passing Red-throated Divers. Elsewhere, the Snow Bunting was again at Ferrybridge, whilst a minimum of 5 Black-necked Grebes and singles of Great Northern Diver, Slavonian Grebe and Eider were present in the not very sheltered waters of Portland Harbour.



   auks trapped in fishing nets - Freshwater Bay, 28th December 2012 © Martin Cade

...and click here to watch of short video of this distressing scene. We've alerted the authorities to incidents like this in the past and although it appears there are guidelines that fishermen are asked to follow (setting nets late in the day and bringing them in soon after dawn, placing distraction markers on the nets etc) these are nothing more than advice on best practice and, sadly, are widely ignored. 

  28th December

The day's only reports have been of a Great Skua lingering off the Bill and a Great Northern Diver passing through on the sea there.

27th December

A uninspiring very stiff westerly was a feature throughout the day. A Balearic Shearwater again joined the melee of feeding seabirds off the Bill, where 8 Common Scoter were still lingering and a lone Red-throated Diver passed by. A scatter of wintering warblers around the centre of the island included 2 each of Blackcap and Chiffchaff, whilst the 2 Velvet Scoter, along with 8 Black-necked Grebes, 4 Great Northern Divers, 4 Slavonian Grebes and 3 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, were again in Portland Harbour.

26th December

A Balearic Shearwater was off the Bill again today, but the only other reports were of 4 Slavonian Grebes, a Great Northern Diver and an Eider in Portland Harbour.

25th December

The day's only report was of 2 Slavonian Grebes in Portland Harbour. 







   Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Sparrowhawk, Kittiwake and Great Skua - Portland Bill, 24th December 2012 © Martin Cade

  24th December

A really rewarding Christmas Eve at the Bill, with the clearance that came through towards midday in the wake of a dreary and wet morning being accompanied by a concerted westward push of seabirds: c3000 auks, c2000 Kittiwakes and c700 Gannets made up the numbers, whilst 10 Great Skuas and a Pomarine Skua provided the quality; routine fare included 9 Common Scoter settled offshore and another 2 passing Red-throated Divers. Long-staying singles of Chiffchaff and Brambling were still at the Obs, whilst 5 Turnstones and a lone Purple Sandpiper were at the Bill tip.

With the mild weather continuing it wasn't too much of a surprise to find a Silver Y caught overnight in the Obs garden moth-traps.

23rd December

Soggy underfoot everywhere but at least the rain held off today. The first Balearic Shearwater of the month was not too unexpected off the Bill where there's been an impressive build-up in numbers of routine seabirds in recent days; 6 Red-throated Divers and singles of Great Northern Diver and Velvet Scoter also passed by there. The 2 Velvet Scoter also remained in Portland Harbour, where 18 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Slavonian Grebes, a Great Northern Diver and an Eider were also still present. The only other reports were of 3 Goldcrests and a Chiffchaff at Easton.

A Hummingbird Hawk-moth was on the wing at Easton.

22nd December

The only reports on a wet and increasingly windy day were of 25 Common Scoter and a Redshank through off the Bill.

21st December

Much nicer weather and much better coverage today. Portland Harbour got a lot of attention and returned totals of 21 Black-necked Grebes, 8 Common Scoter, 2 each of Great Northern Diver, Slavonian Grebe, Eider and Velvet Scoter and a single Black-throated Diver; nearby the Snow Bunting was still at Ferrybridge. At the Bill there was a hint of late passage in the form of 40 Starlings arriving in off the sea and a trickle of small flocks of Goldfinches leaving in the opposite direction; a few thrushes together with singles of Black Redstart and Brambling were still about on the land, whilst 15 Red-throated Divers, a Great Northern Diver and a Brent Goose passed by on the sea. Elsewhere there were 2 Chiffchaffs at Easton.

20th December

A short window of drier conditions on another otherwise wet day permitted a little birding at the Bill where 2 Chiffchaffs were in the Obs garden, 6 Common Scoter were settled offshore and another Red-throated Diver passed by on the sea.

19th December

In stark contrast to yesterday - and hardly surprisingly in a year of such pluvial excesses - today it rained from before dawn until well after nightfall. A short attempt at seawatching from the Obs revealled 4 passing Red-throated Divers.

18th December

Although it hardly seems appropriate to describe a day in late December as spring-like the blue skies and pleasantly warm sunshine certainly made it feel that way. The day's chief prize was another almost subliminal Waxwing that pitched into tree tops at the Obs for a few seconds; also at the Bill, 5 Siskins and a Snipe were newcomers, the Brambling lingered on and 25 Red-throated Divers and a Black-throated Diver passed by on the sea. The 2 Velvet Scoters were still in Portland Harbour, along with 18 Black-necked Grebes and 5 Great Northern Divers.



   Great Northern Diver - Ferrybridge, 17th December 2012 © Will Bown

  17th December

Not much change today, with the main interest provided by the 2 Velvet Scoters still in Portland Harbour and the Snow Bunting still at Ferrybridge. A Great Northern Diver was also at Ferrybridge, 11 Black-necked Grebe, another Great Northern Diver and an Eider were in Portland Harbour, the Brambling was lingering on in the Obs garden as was a Black Redstart at the Bill lighthouse, 6 Common Scoter were settled off the Bill and 2 Red-throated Divers and a Great Northern Diver passed through off the Bill.

16th December

Better coverage than in recent days revealed the continuing presence of the Snow Bunting at Ferrybridge, as well as turning up 2 new Velvet Scoters in Portland Harbour; the harbour also came up with 12 Black-necked Grebes, 7 Great Northern Divers, a Slavonian Grebe and a Black-throated Diver, as well as a Short-eared Owl overhead and a Black Redstart still at Portland Castle. The Brambling remained at the Bill, where 3 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers and a Black-throated Diver passed through on the sea.

15th December

Somewhat improved conditions at least allowed for more fieldwork but rewards were scant: 28 Brent Geese, 2 Great Northern Divers, 2 Common Scoter and a Great Crested Grebe passed through off the Bill, a Brambling was visiting the feeders in the Obs garden and a Short-eared Owl was again at Ferrybridge.

14th December

The return of wind and rain certainly wasn't welcome and did nothing for the quality of birding: the day's only reports were of 3 Common Scoter through off the Bill and a wintering Black Redstart still present there.





   Red-throated Divers and Redwing - Portland Bill and Southwell, 12th December 2012 © Pete Saunders

  13th December

Thus far, this winter's Waxwings haven't been stayers and this proved to be the case again today with another singleton at Grosvenor Road. The day's reports from the Bill included singles of Red-throated Diver, Velvet Scoter and Common Scoter through on the sea and 2 Snipe and new singles of Chiffchaff and Siskin on the land, whilst elsewhere there were single Black Redstarts at Blacknor and Haylands.

12th December

Chilly again today in a fresher south-easterly. Red-throated Divers continued to feature off the Bill, where 35 passed by during the morning; 7 Common Scoter, 4 Black-headed Gulls and a lone Shoveler also passed through on the sea, whilst singles of Short-eared Owl and Siskin at the Bill, a Grey Heron over Easton and a Black Redstart at Blacknor were the pick of the bunch on the land.



   Fulmar - Grove Cliffs, 10th December 2012 © Keith Pritchard

  11th December

Another fair, albeit at times pretty chilly, day. New arrivals continued to show up, with another 28 Starlings arriving from the south at the Bill, where singles of Lapwing, Blackcap, Brambling and Siskin also dropped in; the same or another Brambling was at Southwell, whilst winterers included singles of Purple Sandpiper and Black Redstart at the Bill, 2 Chiffchaffs at Southwell and a Black Redstart at Blacknor. Another 21 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill, but 2 Eider were the only other worthwhile sea sightings from there.




   Great Bustard - Portland Bill, 10th December 2012 © Martin Cade

...Portland's fourth record of one of the reintroduced birds from Salisbury Plain. We were pretty sure it wasn't wing-tagged and Andrew Taylor, from the Great Bustard Project, has got in touch with news that this year's released birds have all been leg-ringed rather than wing-tagged (Andrew also reports that 5 young birds, which were first released in September, left the release area on Saturday); although clearly 'plastic' it was still a pretty amazing sight as it powered around overhead! Since the reintroduced birds come from a migratory population it shouldn't be a surprise that they're such strong flyers but, if you're only used to seeing bustards strutting about on the Spanish steppes, it does seem odd to see how apparently content they are with making flights miles out over the sea:



  10th December

The anticyclonic days just lately have been quite productive for so late in the season and today proved to be no exception. A Great Bustard that showed up over the Bill was the best of the bunch, but 25 Redwings, 4 incoming Starlings, 3 Water Rails, 3 Chiffchaffs, 3 Siskins, 2 Fieldfares, a Short-eared Owl, an overflying Snow Bunting and a Reed Bunting on the land and 12 Red-throated Divers through on the sea also made the list there.

9th December

A much more miserable breezy, overcast and occasionally damp day saw very few observers in the field. The Snow Bunting remained at Ferrybridge, whilst the Bill came up with 8 Red-throated Divers through on the sea and singles of Barn Owl, Short-eared Owl and Chiffchaff on the land.

A lone Rusty-dot Pearl provided some minor immigrant interest in the Obs garden moth-traps; Black Rustic and Beaded Chestnut were the only resident species caught.



   Little Egret - Portland Bill, 8th December 2012 © Martin Cade

...on a tiny pool of flood water on the Slopes.

  8th December

A welcome calm and quite mild day produced a veritable rash of sightings. Two Waxwings that pitched up briefly on some small berry bushes at Weston were the best of the reports, whilst further quality was provided by the Snow Bunting still at Ferrybridge and, at a local level, 2 Gadwall that spent a while settled on the sea off the Bill. The day's list for the Bill also included 10 Redwings, 3 Snipe, 2 Siskins and singles of Little Egret, Short-eared Owl, Fieldfare, Chiffchaff, Redpoll and Reed Bunting on the land, 10 Common Scoter settled offshore and 11 Red-throated Divers and 4 Wigeon through on the sea. Elsewhere there were 2 Black Redstarts at Weston and 18 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Eider, a Great Northern Diver and a Slavonian Grebe in Portland Harbour.



   Snow Bunting - Ferrybridge, 7th December 2012 © Martin Cade

  7th December

A blasting, cold north-westerly spoilt what would otherwise have been a pretty decent sunny day. The Ferrybridge Snow Bunting was again present at times today, with a Short-eared Owl also showing up there during the afternoon; nearby, there were still 17 Black-necked Grebes, a Slavonian Grebe and an Eider in Portland Harbour. The only other reports were of 3 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill and a Barn Owl at Southwell (we haven't been bothering to mention the presumably resident Barn Owls just recently, but there have been quite regular dusk sightings at the Bill in recent weeks, whilst a few days ago another was seen at dusk at the Grove).

6th December

Last weekend's Snow Bunting showed up again quite briefly at Ferrybridge but the only other news came from the Bill where 10 Common Scoter were settled offshore and 14 Red-throated Divers and a Great Northern Diver passed by on the sea.

A small party of Bottle-nosed Dolphins lingered off the Bill either side of midday.



   Black Redstart - Osprey Quay, 3rd December 2012 © Pete Saunders

  5th December

Fair conditions but relatively few rewards today. Two Fieldfares were new arrivals at the Bill, where the likes of 25 Song Thrushes, 5 Redwings, 3 Water Rails, a Black Redstart and a Chiffchaff were still about; also there, 2 Red-throated Divers, a Red-necked Grebe and a Pale-bellied Brent Goose passed through on the sea. Portland Harbour again produced 16 Black-necked Grebes, a Red-necked Grebe and an Eider.

4th December

The fact that the promised showers held off was the only redeeming feature on a day of chilly, blustery north-westerlies. Portland Harbour again came up with 16 Black-necked Grebes and singles of Red-necked Grebe, Slavonian Grebe and Eider, 10 Common Scoter passed through off the Bill and a trickle of small flocks of Goldfinches leaving to the south over the Bill eventually totalled 120 birds.




   Radford's Flame Shoulder - Portland Bill, 3rd December 2012 © Martin Cade

  3rd December

On a day when a complete change in the weather had seen bird interest fizzle out it was fortunate that the Obs garden moth-traps came up with the goods: a brief window of opportunity last night saw the the arrival of milder air which brought with it Portland's third - and latest - Radford's Flame Shoulder (the previous records were on 12th November 2001 and 12th November 2004); no other immigrants were caught but Beaded Chestnut, Black Rustic and Angle Shades were resident macros still on the wing.

Bird-wise, bar the continuing presence of singles of Blackcap and Chiffchaff at the Obs, the only reports on a very blustery day were of 34 Common Scoter, 3 Red-throated Divers and a Red-breasted Merganser through on the sea off the Bill and a Black Redstart at Osprey Quay.



   Snow Bunting - Ferrybridge, 2nd December 2012 © Daz Trent

  2nd December

The recent spell of decent weather lasted for most of another day, with the forecast rain just beginning to set in at dusk. Although the supply of commoner migrants continued to dwindle there was a quality discovery in the form of a Snow Bunting that showed up at Ferrybridge; nearby, Portland Harbour was still worth attention, with the Black Guillemot, 16 Black-necked Grebes, 5 Great Northern Divers and singles of Red-necked Grebe, Slavonian Grebe and Eider all still in situ. Many of the birds at the Bill looked to be lingering on from recent days: singles of Brambling and Siskin overhead were certainly new, but the light scatter of thrushes, 4 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Snipe, 2 Water Rails, 2 Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap were all either winterers or likely long-stayers; 2 Red-throated Divers and singles of Great Northern Diver, Brent Goose and Eider also passed through on the sea there.




   Long-tailed Duck - Portland Harbour, 1st December 2012 © Martin Cade

...and thanks to Andy Martin for a photo of this Waxwing that was temporarily in care after falling down the chimney of Andy's house this evening; fortunately it looked to be none the worse for its experience and was quickly released:


  1st December

Despite the weather remaining more or less the same, at least until the afternoon when a good deal more cloud rolled in, there were disappointingly few new arrivals today. A Waxwing that showed up in unexpected circumstances after dark at St Georges Estate Road - see above - was a nice highlight, but newcomers at the Bill consisted of little more than a handful of routine thrushes and finches, along with 2 Snipe and singles of Blackcap and Chiffchaff on the ground and 3 Goosanders that passed overhead; elsewhere there was a Black Redstart at Reap Lane and a Yellowhammer at Barleycrates Lane. The Black-necked Grebe tally in Portland Harbour increased to an impressive 21, whilst 4 Great Northern Divers and singles of Red-necked Grebe, Long-tailed Duck and Eider were also still there; 3 more Eider were settled off the Bill, where 8 Common Scoter, a Great Northern Diver and another single Eider passed by.