January 2013



Guillemots - Chesil Beach, 31st January 2013 © Martin Cade

...after yesterday's events we were expecting to find auks ashore again today but weren't prepared for the sight at Chesil Beach in particular where birds were visible as far as the eye could see up towards Ferrybridge - locals who'd walked this stretch were reporting 'hundreds' of Guillemots above the high tide line. At first glance it's easy to overlook that the birds are in trouble since the contaminant is quite clear, but on close inspection their matted feathers are obvious and when they're handled it's soon apparent that the substance is amazingly sticky (one or twos birds that we picked up actually had pebbles stuck to them).




The RSPCA and other volunteers were putting in sterling service rescuing birds in sometimes really tricky circumstances:




  31st January

Not a lot of time for proper birding today but amongst the sightings received were the Snow Bunting still at Ferrybridge, 8 Slavonian Grebes, 4 Common Scoters, 3 Great Northern Divers, 3 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Velvet Scoters and a Black-throated Diver in Portland Harbour and 30 Fieldfares, 5 Purple Sandpipers and a Redwing at the Bill.



Guillemot - Portland Bill, 30th January 2013 © Martin Cade

...this unfortunate individual was one of several dozen auks ashore at Chesil Cove and the Bill today, all contaminated with an unidentified glue-like substance.   

    30th January

An improvement in the weather but precious little change in the quality of the birding: 2 Purple Sandpipers and a Black Redstart were at the Bill where 2 Red-throated Divers also passed through on the sea, a Chiffchaff was at Suckthumb Quarry and the Snow Bunting was still at Ferrybridge.

29th January

With wind, drizzle and reduced visibility the order of the day birding opportunities didn't get beyond difficult or, more often, quite impossible. The only reports were of the Snow Bunting at Ferrybridge, a Snipe at Hamm Beach and 2 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill.

28th January

A few hours seawatching at the Bill before the promised rain set in produced a resurgence in auk numbers - back up to a minimum of 25000 and likely quite a lot more than that - as well as 6 Red-throated Divers, 5 Teal, a Great Crested Grebe and a Red-breasted Merganser passing by; the few thrushes still about on the land there weren't properly counted. Elsewhere a Great Northern Diver and an Eider were in Portland Harbour and lone Pale-bellied Brent Goose was at Ferrybridge.

27th January

Precious little news today. The only reports received were of a Mistle Thrush still at the Bill (it looked like the majority of other displaced thrushes have now departed) and 4 Red-throated Divers through on the sea there.

26th January

Better weather and better coverage although, with the notable exception of 2 Long-tailed Ducks in Portland Harbour, not a great deal discovered that was new. Portland Harbour also came up the now standard list of 15 Black-necked Grebes, 5 Slavonian Grebes, 4 Common Scoter, 2 Velvet Scoter and singles of Black-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver and Eider, whilst nearby another Great Northern Diver and a Pale-bellied Brent Goose - along the the long-staying Snow Bunting - were at Ferrybridge. Thrushes still dominated on the ground at the Bill where 2 Mistle Thrushes were the best of the bunch amongst the three-figure totals of Redwings and Fieldfares; 5 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Black Redstarts and 2 Chiffchaffs were still present, along with 4 Lapwings and singles of Great Spotted Woodpecker, Siskin and Reed Bunting, whilst 9 Red-throated Divers passed through on the sea.

25th January

A freshening and surprisingly chilly southerly wind dented the enthusiasm for fieldwork today. That said, there was some decent coverage of the thrush flocks around the centre and south of the island that came up with totals of around 700 Redwings, 500 Fieldfares and a Mistle Thrush lingering on in these areas. The only other reports were of 2 Grey Plovers and 2 Golden Plovers at Ferrybridge and 5 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill.

24th January

On a much nicer bright day the only obvious change was a gradual reduction in numbers of cold weather birds about the island. The Woodlark remained at the Bill and there were single Mistle Thrushes there and at Weston, but Redwing, Fieldfare and Song Thrush were the only species making three figure totals. A single Red-throated Diver passed through off the Bill, whilst elsewhere a Black Redstart was at Weston, the Snow Bunting remained at Ferrybridge and 4 Common Scoter, 2 Velvet Scoter, a Red-throated Diver and a Goldeneye were at Portland Harbour/Ferrybridge.

23rd January

Dreary, drizzly and still feeling chilly in a brisk easterly. Thrushes were still conspicuous everywhere with Redwing, Song Thrush and Fieldfare all in the low hundreds at the Bill, but plover numbers continue to dwindle with just 70 Lapwings and hardly any Golden Plovers left at the Bill. The Linnet flocks of a couple of days also looked to have moved on, as have a fair proportion of the displaced Skylarks. The Woodlark remained at the Bill, where further oddities on the ground included 7 Teal and 2 Snipe, elsewhere there was a Mistle Thrush at Weston. Seawatching at the Bill came up with 11 Shelducks, 8 Red-throated Divers and a Teal.






Lapwing, Redwing, Golden Plover and Dunlin - Portland Bill, 21st/22nd January 2013 © Pete Saunders (Lapwing and Redwing) and Martin Cade (Golden Plover and Dunlin)

...it's looking like the current cold spell hasn't been a great hardship to the immigrants that made it to Portland, indeed the sodden ground which has given the birdwatchers so much grief for so long has remained largely unfrozen and presented pretty good feeding opportunities: the little bit of trapping that we undertook yesterday in the Crown Estate Field revealed that the thrushes there (as well as the local Wrens, Dunnocks, Robins etc) were in seemingly good condition and not the least bit underweight.

  22nd January

An extraordinarily miserable - and for the most part unbirdable - day of blasting easterlies and almost constant rain. An early check of the Bill area revealed the continuing presence of some hundreds of Skylarks, Redwings and Fieldfares but it looked as though Lapwing and Golden Plover numbers had dropped to just a few dozen each; a Curlew was also at the Bill and a Siskin was a new arrival at Easton. The only other reports were of seawaching at the Bill, where a Great Skua was lingering offshore and a lone Red-throated Diver passed by.



Woodlark - Portland Bill, 21st January 2013 © Martin Cade

...and, since we guess it's quite unusual to catch an adult Woodlark anywhere (this was the first ringed at PBO, and seemingly only the 11th ringed at any of the UK bird observatories), here's a closer look at the wing and tail patterns:




And a few more photos from the the area; Fieldfare and Mistle Thrush at Southwell © Pete Saunders:



...and Red-breasted Mergansers at Portland Harbour © Keith Pritchard Birding Portland UK


  21st January

A day when it was a positive pleasure to be out birding: cold weather immigrants were still plentiful everywhere, whilst in flat calm conditions it didn't feel nearly as chilly as the just above zero temperature might have indicated. This has been a somewhat atypical cold spell, for although the usual suspects have appeared in quantity there's been precious little displacement of the likes of wildfowl, Snipe, Woodcock, Meadow Pipits and Corn Buntings, all of which would usually be expected to put in a decent showing. Today saw a conspicuous arrival of Linnets - at the Bill up to around 400 from the 25 or so that have been there hitherto - but the numbers of most other species had dropped a little. The Woodlark was still at the Bill, where 2 Mistle Thrushes and singles of Curlew, Dunlin and Siskin provided further interest, whilst elsewhere another Mistle Thrush was at Southwell.






Jack Snipe and Woodcock - Portland Bill and Southwell, 20th January 2013 © Martin Cade (Jack Snipe) and Martin Van Tol (Woodcock)

  20th January

Colder today with the temperature hovering just below zero all day at the Obs. Cold weather refugees were much more uniformly distributed than yesterday, with thrushes in particular far better represented everywhere. The south and west sides of the island were well covered and returned grounded totals of somewhere in the region of 2000 Redwings, 1000 Skylarks, 700 each of Fieldfare and Song Thrush, 300 Golden Plovers and 200 Lapwings; additionally, movement overhead included more than 1000 Lapwings heading north early in the morning. Oddities dotted about included 10 Snipe, 3 Mistle Thrushes, 2 Woodcocks, a Jack Snipe, a Dunlin and a Woodlark. Further variety was provided by many of the winterers that were still about: 7 Purple Sandpipers and a Black Redstart were at the Bill, the Snow Bunting was again at Ferrybridge and the 2 Velvet Scoters were still amongst the miscellany of waterfowl in Portland Harbour.


Potential visitors to the Obs please note that we have recently introduced a very favourable new tariff for off-season accommodation in the Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage; visit our Noticeboard page for further details.




  Woodlark - Portland Bill, 19th January 2013 © Martin Cade

...unfortunately it was dull as ditchwater today which made the bird difficult enough to photograph when it was stationary, let alone when it was flying:



  19th January

Although the current cold spell has yet to produce spectacular numbers around the island - presumably there's still plenty of unfrozen ground inland - there was more than enough to provide for an enjoyable day's birding at the Bill, where routine fare included estimates (overhead and grounded combined) of 500 Skylarks, 400 Redwings, 350 Golden Plovers, 300 Lapwings, 200 Song Thrushes, 150 Fieldfares, 15 Black-headed Gulls and 8 Snipe; oddities there included the likes of 2 Woodcocks, a Jack Snipe, a Woodlark and a Yellowhammer. The centre of island came up with comparable totals of the commoner species, but the north end looked to be rather quieter; elsewhere, the only reports were of the likes of the Ferrybridge Snow Bunting and the Portland Harbour Velvet Scoters still in situ. The only reports from the sea were of 3 Red-throated Divers and a Brent Goose through off the Bill.

18th January

A day that saw Portland right on the cusp of rain turning to snow: the south of the island remained doggedly green, albeit feeling pretty unpleasant in persistent rain or sleet and a bitter south-easterly, whereas the higher north was transformed, at least for a few hours, into a winter wonderland. It seemed that enough of the mainland coastal fringe remained snow-free that most avian refugees had no need to flee as far as Portland. Golden Plovers and Skylarks did make it to the island in some numbers, reaching day totals of c350 and c650 respectively; amongst these totals notable counts included 300 Golden Plovers south over Ferrybridge, 180 Skylarks over Weston and 210 Skylarks grounded at the Bill. Lapwings and thrushes hardly featured, with 34 Lapwings grounded at Reap Lane and 14 Redwings in a garden at Southwell the highest counts of each, whilst other variety was also disappointingly limited, consisting as it did of little more than a lone Snipe at the Bill.

17th January

On a day when most of the discussion concerned whether or not it'll snow tomorrow the only birds likely to have been moving in response to the weather were 7 Wigeon that passed through off the Bill; yesterday's Knot was also still present there. Otherwise there was little change, with 7 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill, auks passing the Bill at not far short of 500/minute for long periods during the morning, 2 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Black Redstarts on the land there, the Snow Bunting still at Ferrybridge and the 2 Velvet Scoters, 4 Common Scoters, an Eider and the usual selection of divers and grebes in Portland Harbour.



  Knot - Portland Bill, 16th January 2013 © Martin Cade

  16th January

Although a rather keen easterly breeze was always a feature the conditions were relatively benign so it was a surprise that there were a few more cold weather arrivals: a Knot at the Bill was of particular note, whilst 7 Lapwings, 2 Redwings and a Dunlin also showed up there. More mundane fare included 4 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill and long-stayers such as the Snow Bunting at Ferrybridge, 2 Velvet Scoters and a Black-throated Diver in Portland Harbour and 3 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill.





   Grey Heron and Pale-bellied & Dark-bellied Brent Geese - Southwell and Ferrybridge, January 2013 © Pete Saunders 

...although it's seen by no means every day, what's assumed to be the same lone Grey Heron has been appearing regularly at Southwell since last September.

  15th January

Three Golden Plovers at the Windmills looked to be the only refugees making a cautionary departure to the coast in response to an overnight dusting of snow on the mainland. In otherwise unbroken sunshine the only other report of interest concerned the Firecrest still at Pennsylvania Castle.



Wood Pigeon - Portland Bill, 14th January 2013 © Keith Pritchard Birding Portland UK

  14th January

A miserable, wet morning at the Bill produced 15 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers and singles of Black-throated Diver, Brent Goose and Teal through on the sea; the wintering Black Redstart was also still present on the land there. Elsewhere, the Portland Harbour tally included 20 Black-necked Grebes, 4 Slavonian Grebes, 3 Common Scoter, 2 Velvet Scoter, a Black-throated Diver and a Great Northern Diver.

13th January

Despite it having turned conspicuously chillier overnight there was precious little change in the birding. Three Brent Geese and 2 Shelducks through off the Bill were the only additions to an otherwise typical list of 6 Common Scoter and 3 Red-throated Divers passing by, and 10000 or more auks amongst the throngs of common seabirds feeding offshore; the 2 Purple Sandpipers and single Black Redstart were also still about on the land there. Elsewhere the Snow Bunting was still at Ferrybridge and a variety of routine divers and grebes still in Portland Harbour.

12th January

A shocker of a morning saw a constant succession of pulses of heavy rain arrive in off the Channel, with the quieter conditions that arrived during the afternoon coming too late to allow for much coverage. The only reports were of 8 Common Scoter and a Red-throated Diver through off the Bill. 

11th January

On a lovely mild and sunny day the land was disappointingly quiet, with nothing of note beyond the wintering singles of Black Redstart at the Bill and Snow Bunting at Ferrybridge. For the most part the sea was also uneventful and largely devoid of the good numbers of routine fare that have been such a feature since before Christmas; the year's first Balearic Shearwater was a decent highlight off the Bill, but 4 passing Red-throated Divers were the only other birds of note there.



A reminder that the next In Focus field event at the Obs takes place between 10am and 4pm tomorrow, Saturday 12th January. 






   leucistic Herring Gull - Portland Bill, January 2013 © Martin Cade

...this rather anaemic-looking, presumably slightly leucistic individual has been knocking around at the Bill for several days.

  10th January

An unexpectedly pleasant calm and mild morning allowed for a fair bit of coverage before steady rain set in during the afternoon. Another 4 Red-throated Divers and a Great Northern Diver passed through off the Bill, where winterers on the land included 25 Song Thrushes, 2 Water Rails and singles of Barn Owl, Redwing, Black Redstart and Chiffchaff. Portland Harbour returned totals of 24 Black-necked Grebes, 9 Slavonian Grebes, 3 Great Northern Divers, 2 Velvet Scoters and an Eider, whilst nearby there were 5 Little Grebes and 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese at Ferrybridge.




   Long-tailed Tit and Slavonian Grebe - Southwell and Portland Harbour, 9th January 2013 © Pete Saunders (Long-tailed Tit) and Will Bown (Slavonian Grebe)

  9th January

Auk numbers off the Bill have been very impressive since before Christmas and a new peak was reached this morning when sample counts indicated there was some way in excess of 25000 offshore; 8 Wigeon, 6 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers and 2 Black-headed Gulls also passed through there. A Fieldfare was new on the land at the Bill, the Black Redstart was still there and elsewhere the likes of the Ferrybridge Snow Bunting and Portland Harbour Velvet Scoters, divers and grebes were also all still about.




   Red-throated Divers - Portland Bill, January 2013 © Martin Cade

  8th January

The sea continues to provide most of the interest at the Bill where an Iceland Gull - most likely yesterday's bird - flew north along East Cliffs during the morning; the year's first Great Skua and 7 more Red-throated Divers also passed by. There was no change on the land there, with the 2 Purple Sandpipers and single Black Redstart remaining in situ. Elsewhere, the Snow Bunting was still at Ferrybridge and 15 Black-necked Grebes, 4 Slavonian Grebes, 3 Common Scoters, 2 Great Northern Divers, 2 Velvet Scoters, a Red-throated Diver and an Eider were in Portland Harbour.



   Iceland Gull - Portland Bill, 7th January 2013 © Martin Cade

...and thanks to Steve Gantlett Birding World for a couple of photos of just a few of the Mediterranean Gulls at Ferrybridge yesterday:

  7th January

Inevitably much less coverage today than over the last fortnight. An Iceland Gull that drifted slowly south above East Cliffs at the Bill during the morning was a noteworthy newcomer; the only other reports were of 5 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill and the Snow Bunting still at Ferrybridge.





   Velvet Scoters, Snow Bunting and Kestrel - Portland Harbour, Ferrybridge and Portland Bill, January 2013 © Joe Stockwell This Isn't Portland Birding...(Velvet Scoter), Pete Saunders (Snow Bunting) and Keith Pritchard Birding Portland UK (Kestrel)

  6th January

Sightings of the sun have been at a premium just lately and today carried on the quiet, dreary and mild theme. Bird-wise, the only changes were the appearance of 4 Siskins at the Bill and the re-appearance of the 2 Velvet Scoters in Portland Harbour. The Snow Bunting remained at Ferrybridge, 20 Black-necked Grebes, 3 Common Scoter, 2 each of Great Northern Diver and Slavonian Grebe, and the single Eider were in Portland Harbour, a Black Redstart was still at the Bill and 29 Common Scoter, 10 Red-throated Divers and a Great Northern Diver passed through on the sea at the Bill.

The supply of immigrant moths fizzled out, with none caught in any of the 7 moth-traps operated last night in various gardens around the island.





   Slavonian Grebe, Firecrest and Small Mottled Willow - Portland Harbour, Pennsylvania Castle and Portland Bill, 5th January 2013 © Joe Stockwell This Isn't Portland Birding...(Slavonian Grebe) and Martin Cade (Firecrest and Small Mottled Willow)

  5th January

On another dreary and at times even quite damp day singles of Merlin and Fieldfare at the Bill were among the few obviously new arrivals; also of note was a new record total of 816 Mediterranean Gulls at Portland Harbour/Ferrybridge. Two Velvet Scoters through off the Bill looked likely to have been the Portland Harbour birds which weren't seen today, whilst amongst the regulars there were 16 more Red-throated Divers also through off the Bill, 2 Purple Sandpipers and a Black Redstart at the Bill and singles of Blackcap and Firecrest at Pennsylvania Castle.

A Small Mottled Willow caught overnight in the Obs garden moth-traps continued the recent run of immigrants; resident macros have been few and far between in the traps: Winter Moths are being caught in small numbers every night, but the year's first Mottled Grey was the only other species caught last night at the Obs.



   Purple Sandpipers - Portland Bill, 4th January 2013 © Steve Gantlett Birding World

  4th January

Samey, quiet, overcast conditions and samey birding today. A Shoveler was an unexpected arrival in Portland Harbour, whilst the discovery at Pennsylvania Castle of wintering singles of Blackcap, Goldcrest and Firecrest (along with a Great Spotted Woodpecker) was noteworthy, as were 4 Rooks near the Windmills; 2 wintering Purple Sandpipers were still at the Bill and Chiffchaffs were about at the Obs (2), Easton and the Sailing Academy (another Great Spotted Woodpecker was also at Easton). Otherwise there was little change from recent days: 10 more Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill, the Snow Bunting was still at Ferrybridge and the 2 Velvet Scoter, along the usual scatter of divers, grebes and other wildfowl, were still in Portland Harbour.

Singles of Rusty-dot Pearl and Dark Sword Grass provided the overnight immigrant interest in the Obs garden moth-traps; a lone Silver Y was also found during the day at Fortuneswell.





Barn Owl - Southwell, 2nd January 2013 © Pete Saunders

  3rd January

More of the same today, with 9 Red-throated Divers and a Great Northern Diver through off the Bill, 2 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Chiffchaffs and a Black Redstart on the land there, the Snow Bunting still at Ferrybridge and the 2 Velvet Scoters (along with the usual divers and grebes) still in Portland Harbour.

Another 2 Rush Veneers caught overnight at the Obs saw immigrants interest continue in the moth-traps.




Great Black-backed Gull and Mediterranean Gull - Portland Bill and Ferrybridge, December 2012 © Keith Pritchard Birding Portland UK 

  2nd January

Mild, overcast and - fingers crossed that it's staying this way - dry today. Divers continued to feature off the Bill, where 32 Red-throateds, a Black-throated and a Great Northern passed by during the morning; also there, auk numbers increased, with sample counts indicating in the order of 20000 offshore at dawn, whilst 2 Curlews headed away to the south and 4 Water Rails, 2 Barn Owls and 2 Chiffchaffs were about on the land. The Snow Bunting remained at Ferrybridge and 9 Black-necked Grebes, 8 Great Northern Divers, 7 Slavonian Grebes, 3 Common Scoter, 2 Velvet Scoter and an Eider were in Portland Harbour.

A lone Dark Sword Grass provided some more immigrant interest in the Obs garden moth-traps.






   Slavonian Grebe, Snow Bunting, Black Redstart and Great Northern Diver - Portland Harbour and Ferrybridge, 1st January 2013 © Will Bown (Slavonian Grebe), Nick Hopper A Hard Day at the Office (Snow Bunting) and Brett Spencer Brett's Goosey Ganderings (Black Redstart and Great Northern Diver)

  1st January

A very welcome completely dry start to the new year. Bird-wise there was precious little change with most of the winterers remaining in situ: at least 10000 auks made up the bulk of the numbers off the Bill, where 17 Red-throated Divers, a Great Northern Diver and a Little Gull also passed by on the sea, the 9 Common Scoter were still settled offshore and odds and ends on the land included 3 Turnstones, a Purple Sandpiper and a Black Redstart; elsewhere, a Chiffchaff was at Easton, the Snow Bunting was still at Ferrybridge and 13 Black-necked Grebes, 7 Slavonian Grebes, 4 Great Northern Divers, 3 Common Scoter, 2 Velvet Scoters, a Black-throated Diver, a Red-necked Grebe and a Gannet were in Portland Harbour.

The year's immigrant moth tally got off the mark with a single Rush Veneer caught overnight in the Obs garden traps.


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.