September 2013



 Turtle Dove - Southwell, 30th September 2013 © Pete Saunders

...and, for a bit of fun, last night we tried to get to grips with photographing a lighthouse attraction at the Bill; at first we were too gripped by the excitement of the sounds of the wealth of birds lured in by the beams to attempt any photography, but a later half-hearted effort with the camera at least showed it is possible to capture something of the compelling spectacle of migrants momentarily illuminated as gleaming pin-pricks in the darkness; hopefully, more of this later in the autumn (photo © Martin Cade):


. 30th September

A decent fall of migrants had been long overdue and with overnight portents all positive - lots of nocturnal travellers visible in the beams of the Bill lighthouse and a real variety of calls heard overhead both there and at the Obs - there was no shortage of expectation at dawn. In the half-light the sound of the first Yellow-browed Warbler of the autumn was a welcome scene-setter at the Obs and it was quickly apparent that there was a good arrival everywhere. The centre and south of the island got the lion's share of the coverage and returned totals that included minima of 400 Chiffchaffs, 300 Blackcaps, 120 Wheatears, 100 Song Thrushes, 50 Yellow Wagtails, 35 Stonechats, 30 Whitethroats and 20 each of Grey Wagtail, Tree Pipit, Redwing and Garden Warbler. The back up cast included lesser totals of most of what would be expected, although curiously both the 'crests were conspicuous absentees; the pick of the less regular species were the Common Rosefinch that remained at the Obs, 3 Turtle Doves at Southwell/Weston and singles of Green Sandpiper and Lapland Bunting over the Bill.





 Merlin, Sandwich Tern and Common Rosefinch - Ferrybridge and Portland Bill, 29th September 2013 © Peter Moore petermooreblog (Merlin), Ken Dolbear (Sandwich Tern) and Jill Rendell (Common Rosefinch)

  29th September

In steadily improving conditions the Common Rosefinch from a couple of days ago resurfaced and showed intermittently along the eastern edge of the Obs garden. With grounded migrants still in short supply (the day's ringing total at the Obs didn't even get into double figures) it was left to the migrants on the move overhead to provide a lot of the day's interest, with the likes of 3 more Hobbys, 2 Merlins, a late Swift and a Lapland Bunting over the Bill amongst the strong passage of alba wagtails, Meadow Pipits, hirundines and Linnets. The land did get a look in with, among others, the autumn's first Short-eared Owl at the Bill and a Great Spotted Woodpecker at Southwell, whilst odds and ends through on the sea included 23 Wigeon, 4 Teal, 3 Balearic Shearwaters and a Black-throated Diver through off the Bill.



 Bar-tailed Godwit - Ferrybridge, 28th September 2013 © Paul Baker The Bagsy Blog

. 28th September

After a night that saw thunder and lightning added to the recent mixed bag of weather dawn revealed precious little by way of new arrivals - a situation that changed little as the day went on. The first couple of Redwings of the autumn were of note at the Bill, where a Water Rail was the only other minor highlight amongst the thin spread of grounded migrants; elsewhere a Turtle Dove at Southwell was noteworthy. Passage overhead was a good deal more conspicuous although the quality didn't get much better than 4 Black-tailed Godwits, 2 Merlins, 2 Hobbys and a Lapland Bunting over the Bill and 2 more Hobbys over the centre of the island. The fresh easterly again produced a miscellany on the sea that included 11 Wigeon, 3 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Ringed Plovers and singles of Teal, Grey Plover, Knot, Arctic Skua and Pomarine Skua through off the Bill.



 Common Rosefinch - Portland Bill, 27th September 2013 © Martin Cade

. 27th September

With the wind having been in the east most of the week it's been a surprise to have experienced such a variety of local weather, with everything in recent days from hot sunshine, thick fog, high humidity, downpours and now a raging, near-gale blasting along the Channel. Despite there being a wealth of passage going on overhead, with Meadow Pipits and hirundines streaming in off the sea for the first few hours of the morning, a very welcome Common Rosefinch that turned up in a mist-net at the Obs was one of the few indications that there were new arrivals on the ground; other interest overhead came in the form of 6 Hobbys, 2 Snipe, a Merlin, a Golden Plover and a Lapland Bunting through over various sites. A miscellany from the sea included 4 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Brent Geese and singles of Teal, Wigeon, Eider and Grey Plover through off the Bill.

26th September

With the conditions turning decidedly miserable - increasingly windy and frequently showery - the birding hovered only a little above the abject. Very minor quality came in the form of 2 Hobbys and a Firecrest at the Bill, a Turtle Dove at Reap Lane and a Great Spotted Woodpecker again at Pennsylvania Castle, whilst there were no significant numbers worth a mention. The first 2 Brent Geese of the autumn passed through off the Bill, along with 2 Balearic Shearwaters and a Great Skua.

25th September

With an easterly wind and muggy conditions still firmly established expectations were certainly high but the quality remained beyond the horizon. The day's interest came not in the form of great quantity but in the presence of arrivals that ushered in a new phase of autumn: at the Bill 2 Firecrests and a Brambling were both firsts for the season, as was a Great Spotted Woodpecker at Pennsylvania Castle, whilst conspicuous influxes of the likes of Stonechats were equally welcome. Although it remained relatively quiet on the ground, Meadow Pipits were still on the move overhead in good strength, whilst scarcer migrants included 8 White Wagtails, 4 Golden Plover, a Merlin, a Hobby and a Grasshopper Warbler at the Bill, where another Balearic Shearwater passed through on the sea.





 Melodious Warbler - Portland Bill, 24th September 2013 © Joe Stockwell Yet another birding blog (top & middle) and Nick Hopper The Sound Approach (bottom)

  24th September

The Melodious Warbler remained on station in the Bill Quarry and proved to be something of a salvation on what was otherwise another uneventful day, with routine passage - hirundines and Meadow Pipits excepted - barely registering. On an intermittently foggy morning Swallows and Meadow Pipits were again moving through in quantity everywhere, but at the Bill only Wheatear, Blackcap and Chiffchaff made it into double figures on the ground; the list of even minor oddities was very short but did include the likes of singles of Golden Plover and Yellow-legged Gull at the Bill, where 13 Balearic Shearwaters passed by on the sea.



 Melodious Warbler - Portland Bill, 23rd September 2013 © Brett Spencer Brett's Goosey Ganderings  

...and a little bit of video of it (as usual, for best effect up the quality setting to 1080 HD):


. 23rd September

Just when it looked like the day's action quotient was dropping to a very low level so another welcome scarcity was pulled from the bag: a Melodious Warbler - likely recently arrived - was discovered during the afternoon in the Bill Quarry where it remained until dusk. Earlier a series of sightings of a mobile Lapland Bunting at the Bill had provided some compensation for the continuing dearth of grounded migrants, whilst the heavily overcast skies saw hirundine and Meadow Pipit numbers diminish considerably. An increase into double figures of White Wagtails was of note at the Bill, where there was little else particularly out of the ordinary.

22nd September

A day when - rather perversely - it seemed that there were migrants everywhere but closer inspection revealed it was in fact much quieter than might be hoped in late September. The illusion of abundance was created by the enormous numbers of hirundines - particularly Swallows - that seemed to be everywhere, both passing through in quantity as well as lingering and taking advantage of a widespread hatch of flying ants; passage was estimated at 5000/hour south over the north of the island, whilst 5-10000 were lingering for long periods of the day over the Bill area. Meadow Pipits were also abundant both overhead and on the ground but variety and numbers were otherwise disappointingly limited, with the heavy cloud cover of the overnight hours likely restricting opportunities for nocturnal migrants. A Barred Warbler that showed up late in the afternoon in the vicinity of the Pulpit Pub at the Bill was easily the rarity highlight, whilst other oddities included 3 White Wagtails and singles of Merlin, Hobby, Turtle Dove and Grasshopper Warbler at the Bill, 3 Balearic Shearwaters through on the sea there and singles of Hobby and Green Woodpecker at Penn's Weare.

21st September

Hopes that the heavy cloud cover that rolled in overnight might do the trick were dashed at daybreak when it was quickly apparent that new arrivals were few and far between. With the exception of the ubiquitous Meadow Pipits, few if any of the expected species managed a double figure total at the Bill where only a Merlin and the first Reed Bunting of the autumn were of any particular note on the ground and there was little beyond a light movement of wagtails and pipits overhead; 93 Common Scoter and a Red-throated Diver were the only seabirds of interest there. 


Just a reminder that the next In Focus field event at the Obs takes place between 10am and 4pm tomorrow, Sunday 22nd September. 

  20th September

Very much a return to summer, with what looked to be substantial amounts of cloud holding off just to the west of the island for most of the day. Although there was plenty of migrant activity it largely concerned visible passage overhead, with the clear skies and nearly full moon of the nightime hours seeing to it that grounded arrivals were not plentiful. Amongst the plethora of hirundines, Meadow Pipits and other routine fare there was interest overhead at the Bill in the form of the likes of 11 Tree Pipits, 4 Snipe, 4 Siskins, 3 Tree Sparrows and singles of Merlin and Spotted Redshank. On the ground there mid-autumn species such as Dunnocks and Robins were becoming more conspicuous, whilst odds and ends of interest included 2 White Wagtails, the first Goldcrest of the autumn and a late Whimbrel. Sea interest off the Bill was provided by 10 Balearic Shearwaters, a Red-throated Diver and a Great Skua, whilst elsewhere an Arctic Tern was in Portland Harbour.



 Grey Wagtail - Southwell, 19th September 2013 © Nick Stantiford

...and a little video clip of some of the day's Balearic Shearwaters:


. 19th September

With the end of the current unsettled spell evidently now in sight today's quite brief spell of wind and rain through the middle of day didn't seem like too much of an inconvenience, indeed it likely triggered the main event of the day which was a rapid movement of 150 Balearic Shearwaters heading west off the Bill once the rain stopped; the quality of the seawatching was otherwise less than riveting although did include 82 Common Scoter, 3 Great Skuas, a Teal and an Arctic Skua also through at various times off the Bill, along with a stray Gannet lingering in Portland Harbour. The land certainly wasn't awash with new arrivals although the first one or two Lapland Buntings of the autumn were overhead and later briefly grounded at the Bill and singles of Snipe and Common Sandpiper were of note on the Portland Harbour shore.



 Grey Phalarope - Osprey Quay, 18th September 2013 © Cameron Roy

...thanks to Tim Balmer for sending through this record-shot taken with a mobile phone; we don't recollect seeing quite such a dark, juvenile-plumaged bird as this before - previous storm-driven youngsters at this time of year have progressed a good deal further with their post-juvenile moult.

. 18th September

In much improved conditions the day's highlight - a Grey Phalarope found grounded at Osprey Quay during the morning - wasn't altogether unexpected considering the recent stormy conditions; further interest came in the form of an Osprey over Blacknor and 61 Balearic Shearwaters through off the Bill. In terms of commoner migrants it was a day when visible passage featured more conspicuously than did grounded arrivals: another strong passage of Swallows leaving from the Bill included over 1000 in an hour early in the morning, whilst Meadow Pipits were prominent heading north along West Cliffs where 2300 passed through during the day; 2 Merlins and 2 Siskins also headed north there, with one of the same or another Merlin also over the Bill. On the ground there was little of note amongst the thin spread of common migrants, whilst a Red-throated Diver through off the Bill was an addition from the seawatchers.

17th September

The morning saw an unexpected lull in the wind and rain, both of which returned with a vengeance during the afternoon. Despite hopes to the contrary, it seems as though the current wild conditions haven't driven the likes of Sooty Shearwaters into Portland waters and the quality of the seawatching remained very low, with just 11 Balearic Shearwaters, 5 Great Skuas, 3 Common Scoter, 2 commic terns and the first Red-throated Diver of the autumn to show for a lot of effort at the Bill. The morning saw a steady passage of well into four figures of Swallows leaving from the Bill and there were certainly grounded migrants about although nothing of particular note was found amongst them.

Accommodation availability: due to the cancellation of a group booking we now have several rooms free at the Obs from Friday 27th September to Thursday 3rd October incl; this period had been booked up for several months so we've likely had to turn away plenty of prospective visitors - if anyone's keen on staying during what ought to be a pretty bird-filled period do get in touch. Further update: the weekend nights - Friday 27th/Saturday 28th - have now filled to capacity but there's still space from Sunday 29th onwards.

16th September

The blasting north-westerly and frequent showers that followed yesterday's weather front reduced the birding to a very mundane level: a steady passage of departing hirundines was evident for much of the day, but grounded migrants - which were difficult enough to get to grips with in the wind - looked to be very thinly spread; seawatching came up with just 5 Balearic Shearwaters through off the Bill.

15th September

The arrival of the first real Atlantic storm of the autumn had been well forecast and much anticipated by the seawatchers; sadly for them the passage of the initial wind and rain delivered far less than expected: at the Bill there were reports of 4 Sooty Shearwaters, together with minor interest in the form of 7 Balearic Shearwaters, 4 Arctic Skuas, 3 Dunlin, 3 Black Terns, 2 Manx Shearwaters, 2 Teal and singles of Shoveler and Little Gull. The day had actually begun very pleasantly and although grounded migrants weren't especially conspicuous the steady visible passage over the Bill included the first four figure total of Meadow Pipits ot the autumn; singles of Merlin and Siskin also passed through there.

14th September

A much better day with a decent little fall at the Bill, where in a light northerly breeze the constant arrival of birds in off the sea through the morning took on a feel more akin to April than September. On the ground there Wheatear, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff all got well into three figures, with a good spread of most of the other expected migrants; it was also busy overhead where Meadow Pipits dominated and the likes of Yellow Wagtail, Grey Wagtail and Tree Pipit were well represented. Oddities were conspicuously absent, with the long-staying Nightingale at the Obs Quarry being easily the pick of the bunch. Balearic Shearwaters have been a weekly cycle just lately with, somewhat bizarrely, Saturday mornings being their time: today's tally at the Bill got to 106 before the movement fizzled out.

13th September

It looked as though migrants didn't get moving in any quantity on a murky, damp night, with only a pretty paltry selection of new arrivals to show for the day's fieldwork. Apart from the Wryneck that remained at Southwell a Turtle Dove was the best on offer at the Bill, where numbers and variety certainly weren't a feature on the ground or overhead. The sea salvaged a little interest, with 4 Arctic Skuas, 3 each of Balearic Shearwater and Teal, and 2 Great Skuas through off the Bill.

12th September

In often dreary and increasingly muggy conditions there were birds about but in most cases the numbers were none too impressive. That said, there were some nice highlights in the form of a Long-tailed Skua through off the Bill, a brief Corncrake at Culverwell and the Wryneck that remained at Southwell. The sea was always worth a look, with more than a hint of passage underway despite the mainly offshore breeze: in addition to the Long-tailed Skua, 86 Common Scoter, 8 Oystercatchers, 7 Arctic Skuas (along with 2 more unidentified skuas, one of which looked a good bet for another Long-tailed), 3 Balearic Shearwaters, a Teal and singles of both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits passed through off the Bill. The land came up with most of the species that would be expected but precious little by way of noteworthy totals; the long-staying Nightingale, a Hobby and a Greenshank were about the best on offer at the Bill.



 Wryneck - Southwell, 11th September 2013 © Brett Spencer Brett's Goosey Ganderings  

. 11th September

A distinct upturn in fortunes today with a good spread of common migrants and a few morsels of quality, notably a Wryneck at Southwell, an Icterine Warbler at Verne Common, 2 Tree Sparrows over the Bill and the re-emergence of the Obs Quarry Nightingale. At the Bill a spell of relatively clear skies soon after dawn brought with it signs that Meadow Pipit passage was really getting going overhead, with a decent mix of Tree Pipits, wagtails and the like tagging along. On the ground a good mix of chats, warblers and flycatchers was evident everywhere, with Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs in particular beginning to come to the fore; oddities included singles of both Merlin and Hobby at the Bill. The offshore breeze didn't work in the seawatchers favour, but 11 Balearic Shearwaters and an Arctic Skua did make the log at the Bill.

10th September

Better weather and slightly improved numbers of migrants today. At the Bill, both Yellow Wagtail and Wheatear chipped in with totals just making triple figures but, apart from the first signs of Meadow Pipit passage, there were few highlights on the land beyond 5 White Wagtails, a Merlin and a Nightingale; seawatching there returned a total of 43 Balearic Shearwaters but precious little else.



 Bar-tailed Godwit - Ferrybridge, 9th September 2013 © Joe Stockwell Yet another birding blog

. 9th September

A day probably best quickly forgotten: with the fresh south-easterly of dawn blowing through frequent drizzly showers there was every reason to hope for more than a few new arrivals but events soon dispelled this misplaced optimism. At the Bill few if any of the commoner migrants reached a double figure total, with the likes of 9 Bar-tailed Godwits, the Cuckoo, a White Wagtail and a Nightingale (a new individual and not, as we erroneously reported elsewhere, the long-stayer) providing most of what little interest there was on the land; seawatching there came up with 12 Balearic Shearwaters and singles of Great Skua and Arctic Skua. That at least some passage was taking place was evident at Ferrybridge, where an increase in waders included 170 Ringed Plovers, 4 Bar-tailed Godwits, 3 Sanderling and 2 Knot.





 Swallow and Yellow Wagtails - Portland Bill, August/September 2013 © James Phillips (Swallow) and Tony Hovell The Travelling Naturalist (Yellow Wagtails)

. 8th September

Precious little to shout about today, with the departure of yesterday's scarcities, coupled with some fairly grim conditions, conspiring to come to come up one of the poorest days for a while. Routine migrants were very sparsely spread and difficult to get to grips with in spells of thundery rain during the morning and a freshening wind during the afternoon; the Nightingle was still present at the Obs Quarry but at the Bill there was otherwise precious little else in the way of either numbers or quality beyond 16 Balearic Shearwaters and an Arctic Skua through on the sea. Elsewhere singles of Knot and Little Stint were at Ferrybrudge, where an lone Pintail also passed overhead.

Finally, if anyone's in the market for a change of optics/camera equipment Vaughan Ashby is selling some nice kit - check out the details on our Noticeboard page.





   Ortolan Bunting, Nightingale and Wryneck - Portland Bill, 7th September 2013 © Carl Day carldayphotography (Ortolan Bunting), Brett Spencer Brett's Goosey Ganderings (Nightingale) and James Phillips (Wryneck)

...and a fairly ropey little video clip of the Ortolan:


....and a flight shot (© Martin Cade):


  7th September

The fresh westerly breeze at dawn didn't put in mind an arrival of interesting newcomers but, perhaps as much due to the increased weekend coverage, a list of some substance was gradually accrued: the Nightingale remained at the Bill, with another discovered at Suckthumb Quarry, several sightings of Ortolan Buntings eventually included one at the Bill that settled for more than a few seconds, and 2 new Wrynecks and a Corncrake showed up at the Bill; additionally, there was another decent movement of 81 Balearic Shearwaters through off the Bill. In contrast to the glut of quality, routine migrants were poorly represented: the list included most of what might be expected but numbers were nothing special and at the Bill it was left to the likes of 2 Grasshopper Warblers and singles of Hobby, Cuckoo and Pied Flycatcher to provide interest.





 Redstart and Cuckoo - Portland Bill, 6th September 2013 © Brett Spencer Brett's Goosey Ganderings (Redstart) and Martin Cade (Cuckoo)

. 6th September

At dawn it seems as though the dreary skies and first overnight rainfall for a while hadn't done us any favours but as the morning went on a good many new arrivals surfaced or dropped in to provide some of the best migrant counts of recent weeks. The Bill area got plenty of coverage and returned totals that included 100 Yellow Wagtails, 75 Willow Warblers, 30 Whinchats, 25 Wheatears, 18 Spotted Flycatchers, 15 Sedge Warblers, 12 Tree Pipits, 10 Redstarts and single figure totals of most of the other expected species. An elusive Ortolan Bunting that showed briefly three times in the vicinity of the Higher Light provided the best of the rarity interest, whilst an Osprey that left high to the south and the long-staying Nightingale were both welcome extras. The only sea interest concerned 8 Balearic Shearwaters through off the Bill.

5th September

Still hot and relatively migrant-less with the notable exception of 4 Ortolan Buntings that made a literally flying visit to Top Fields during the morning; the Nightingale was still present at the Bill but the only other slightly out of the ordinary sighting there concerned an overflying Green Sandpiper. In the fair, warm conditions common migrants weren't grounded in any quantity at all but visible passage included 18 Grey Wagtails over the Bill.



 Jersey Tiger - Tout Quarry, 2nd September 2013 © Christine & Mark Turner

. 4th September

For the most part a nice enough day although fog blown in on a freshening easterly was a minor hinerance both early and late and was likely a factor in there being far fewer new arrivals than might have been hoped given the wind direction. The long-staying Nightingale remained at the Obs Quarry but among the rather meagre spread of other migrants at the Bill there was precious little better than 3 White Wagtails and 2 Pied Flycatchers; 2 Balearic Shearwaters, a Pomarine Skua and an Arctic Skua passed through on the sea there. The only other reports of note were of singles of Little Stint and Yellow-legged Gull at Ferrybridge.



 Icterine Warbler - Portland Bill, 3rd September 2013 © Martin Cade

. 3rd September

After last week's events on the East Coast it was only a matter of time before another oddity tricked down to Portland so today's Icterine Warbler trapped and ringed at the Obs probably wasn't all that much of a surprise. It was otherwise the poorest day for a while for numbers, with precious little dropping out of the continuing clear skies and limited enthusiasm for prolonged fieldwork in the unseasonably high temperatures. Lingerers included the Nightingale at the Bill and the Little Stint at Ferrybridge but there was little else of particular note save for 10 passing Balearic Shearwaters off the Bill.

2nd September

Another uninspiring tally of migrants today, with little evidence of change save for a general drop in numbers. Among the light scatter of the likes of Yellow Wagtail and Willow Warblers at the Bill the only real interest came in the form of 8 White Wagtails and a Cuckoo. Other sites fared just as poorly, with Ferrybridge coming up with little of note beyond the long-staying Little Stint and the first Merlin of the autumn.

1st September

A new month but no overall change in what has become a long spell of basically settled conditions with just the occasional shift in wind direction. Sadly, the identity of the day's highlight - Portland's third Semipalmated Sandpiper that was present at Ferrybridge for several hours until early afternoon at least - was only established from photographs after the event. Interest was otherwise limited to the Nightingale that remained at the Obs Quarry and the fair spread of routine fare everywhere. At the Bill pretty well everything that might be expected was represented, with the likes of 10 White Wagtails, 4 Pied Flycatchers, 3 Lesser Whitethroats, a Redshank, a Snipe, a Cuckoo and a Grasshopper Warbler being of particular note; elsewhere 2 Little Stints were at Ferrybridge.