December 2013



   Great Northern Diver - Portland Harbour, December 2013 © Jon Mercer

  31st December

Portland Harbour continued to provide all the highlights, with the Brunnich's Guillemot and Black Guillemot still in residence and totals of 18 Black-necked Grebes, 15 Great Northern Divers, 7 Slavonian Grebes, 3 Red-necked Grebes and singles of Long-tailed Duck and Velvet Scoter amongst the impressive back-up tally. Seawatching at the Bill came up with 10 Red-throated Divers, 8 Common Scoter and a Great Skua.

30th December

The soggy and windswept conditions of dawn did eventually give way to brighter skies although it remained blustery throughout. The Brunnich's Guillemot and Black Guillemot remained in Portland Harbour, but the only other news concerned 7 Common Scoter and a Red-throated Diver through off the Bill.




   Black Guillemot - Portland Harbour, 29th December 2013 © Pete Saunders

  29th December

No change at Portland Harbour today, where the Brunnich's Guillemot and Black Guillemot remained on station and the variety/numbers of divers, grebes and seaduck were much as yesterday. Seawatching improved a little at the Bill, where 36 Red-throated Divers, 8 Common Scoter, 2 Eider, a Black-throated Diver and a Balearic Shearwater passed through; a wintering Reed Bunting also showed up at the Bill, where last night there had been a slightly unseasonable movement of Redwings passing overhead.

Also of interest in relation to the ongoing presence of the Brunnich's Guillemot, we have now gleaned the facts surrounding the sighting of it several days before it was properly identified: it was first seen briefly on 19th December when it popped up in front of the observer and then vanished in the vicinity of the yacht marina; although the salient features were seen their significance wasn't realised (the observer has confirmed it's certainly the same bird) and the sighting wasn't followed up. One that could so easily have got away!

28th December

Portland Harbour was again the place to be, with the Brunnich's Guillemot still about all day and a back-up cast that included, amongst others, the Black Guillemot, 16 Black-necked Grebes, 12 Great Northern Divers, 6 Slavonian Grebes, 3 Black-throated Divers, 2 Red-necked Grebes and singles of Eider and Long-tailed Duck; nearby the Iceland Gull paid a brief visit to Chesil Beach (where questions about its identity cropped up again but remained unresolved). The day's other reports included 3 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill and 19 Red-throated Divers through on the sea there.







   Iceland Gull and Kittiwake - Ferrybridge, 27th December 2013 © Pete Saunders

...not surprisingly, the Iceland Gull initially caused confusion as it dwarfed some nearby Herring Gulls; however, despite its seemingly exceptional size it did look in other respects to be 'just' a scaled-up Iceland and lacked the nasty look of a Glaucous. Later, we did get some really pretty poor video of it at a distance off Chesil, where again it looked to lack the heavy structure of a Glaucous:


  27th December

The Brunnich's Guillemot remained in Portland Harbour and attracted a good crowd all day; the Black Guillemot was also still there, along with at least 4 Black-throated Divers and 3 Great Northern Diver. Nearby, a white-winged gull initially at Ferrybridge and later lingering off Chesil Beach caused some confusion before being identified as an Iceland Gull, a Kittiwake also dropped in at Ferrybridge, whilst seawatching at the Bill came up with 2 Red-throated Divers and 2 Great Skuas.




   Brunnich's Guillemot - Osprey Quay, 26th December 2013 © Debby Saunders (top) and Pete Saunders (bottom)

  26th December

Our Christmas present arrived a day late but it was certainly worth waiting for: a Brunnich's Guillemot - a new bird for Portland and Dorset - was discovered early in the morning at Osprey Quay, where it remained all day (and we later learnt that it had been seen briefly there 'several days ago' but its identity not established at the time). The Black Guillemot and a selection of divers and grebes also remained in the harbour, whilst 15 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill.

25th December

As expected, only limited coverage today. The Black Guillemot, 2 Black-throated Divers, a Great Northern Diver and a Slavonian Grebe remained in Portland Harbour, 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese were at Ferrybridge and a lone Red-throated Diver passed through off the Bill.  



   Black-throated Diver - Portland Harbour, 24th December 2013 © Pete Saunders

  24th December

Still blustery and showery but at least the sun was out for a good part of the day. Divers continued to feature, with 5 Black-throateds and 2 Great Northerns again in Portland Harbour and 10 Red-throateds through off the Bill. The only other reports concerned 3 Pale-bellied Brent Geese at Ferrybridge and singles of Black-necked Grebe and Slavonian Grebe in Portland Harbour.



   Black-throated Divers - Portland Harbour, 23rd December 2013 © Debby Saunders

  23rd December

We certainly weren't alone in having another day of shocking conditions, with constant driving rain and the wind gusting well beyond gale force, so perhaps the surprise of the day was that there was anything seen at all. A concerted seawatch session at the Bill after a Cory's Shearwater was seen heading our way from Weymouth Bay came up with a single Great Skua and a conspicuous passage of at least 120 Fulmars. Elsewhere the relatively sheltered waters of Portland Harbour came up with the Black Guillemot, 2 Great Northern Divers and, reflecting the decent run of records off the Bill just lately, a noteworthy total of 5 Black-throated Divers.




Black Guillemot - Portland Harbour, 22nd December 2013 © Pete Saunders

...far better images than we managed yesterday that, since they show it's a first-winter, put to bed suggestions that it's a returning individual from previous winters. Also from today a bit of scene-setting video:


  22nd December

The Portland Harbour Black Guillemot stole the show again today and, in much improved conditions, afforded considerably better views than yesterday; 16 Black-necked Grebes, 5 Great Northern Divers and singles of Black-throated Diver, Slavonian Grebe, Eider and Long-tailed Duck were also logged in the harbour. A routine selection at the Bill included 16 Brent Geese and 3 Red-throated Divers through on the sea and 5 Purple Sandpipers settled along East Cliffs.



   Black Guillemot - Portland Harbour, 21st December 2013 © Martin Cade

...had it not been quite so near dusk, as well as pouring with rain and blowing a gale, it might just have been possible to capture a slightly more meaningful image - one in which it didn't look quite so like a buoy bobbing in the distance as it does here.

  21st December

Given the day's truly awful weather conditions - almost constant rain driven through on a south-westerly gale - a Black Guillemot was an excellent discovery in Portland Harbour, where it lingered off Portland Castle through the afternoon; 2 Slavonian Grebes, a Great Northern Diver and an Eider were also in the harbour. The day's only other report was of a single Red-throated Diver through off the Bill.



   Slavonian Grebe - Ferrybridge, 20th December 2013 © Pete Saunders

  20th December

On another increasingly blustery day a Sooty Shearwater passing through off the Bill was an unseasonable highlight; 17 Brent Geese and 4 Red-throated Divers also passed by on the sea. The day's other reports included a Slavonian Grebe at Ferrybridge, a Chiffchaff at Southwell and a Purple Sandpiper at the Bill.



A reminder that the next In Focus field event at the Obs takes place between 10am and 4pm tomorrow, Saturday 21st December. 




   Great Northern Diver - Ferrybridge, 19th December 2013 © Pete Saunders

  19th December

A Spoonbill was an unexpected dawn fly-over at Ferrybridge, whilst a Merlin in Top Fields was also good for mid-winter. However it was the sea that again came up with all the numbers, including 22 Red-throated Divers, 2 Black-throated Divers and a Great Northern Diver through off the Bill and another Great Northern Diver overhead at Ferrybridge; also off the Bill, numbers of some of the commoner seabirds are beginning to increase with, for example, auks passing at getting on for 4000/hour during the morning.

18th December

Yesterday was indeed just a brief respite in the onslaught of wind and rain that returned with a vengeance today. The only reports were of 8 Red-throated Divers and a Black-throated Diver through off the Bill, and 11 Bar-tailed Godwits, 10 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and one of the Black Brants at Ferrybridge.

17th December

An at least brief lull in the wet and windy conditions of the last few days allowed for a fair bit of fieldwork. Divers in particular made the most of the quieter conditions, with 78 Red-throateds, 2 Black-throateds and 2 Great Northerns through off the Bill and another couple of Red-throateds through over Ferrybridge; wildfowl were also on the move, with 14 Wigeon and 10 Pintail over Ferrybridge and 8 Brent Geese and 7 Common Scoter through off the Bill. A Chiffchaff was a surprise newcomer at the Bill, with another individual at Southwell; a Black Redstart was still present at the Bill, whilst 1860 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 2 Black Brants and a Redshank were at Ferrybridge. 

16th December

The day's only redeeming feature was that the rain that set in yesterday eventually fizzled out towards midday (although had returned before nightfall). The only reports were of 2 Black-throated Divers and a Black-headed Gull through off the Bill and singles of Pale-bellied Brent Goose and Shelduck amongst the brents at Ferrybridge.

15th December

A really grim day with rain from before dawn until well after dark. Seawatching from the shelter of the Obs revealed a noticeable increase in passing auks, along with 13 Red-throated Divers, a Black-throated Diver and a Great Skua; the only other reports were of a Redwing over the Obs and a Chiffchaff at Southwell.




  Pale-bellied Brent Geese and Red-breasted Merganser - Ferrybridge, 14th December 2013 © Pete Saunders

  14th December

On a mild and breezy day there still wasn't a lot going on. The dawn goose-fest at Ferrybridge came up with 1200 Dark-bellied Brents, 2 Pale-bellied Brents and a Black Brant, a Great Northern Diver was in Portland Harbour, a Ringed Plover flew over at the Bill and a lone Red-throated Diver passed by on the sea there.

13th December

Although there was precious little incentive to go out for long on what was the first rainy day for some time it did nonetheless look to be pretty deadly everywhere. The only reports were of a Red-throated Diver through off the Bill and 16 Black-necked Grebes and an Eider in Portland Harbour.



Badger - Portland Bill, 12th December 2013

...a camera-trap image from the small hours of this morning in the Obs garden. Having noticed lots of little diggings on the footpaths in the garden we were aware there was likely to be a Badger about but, as in the last two winters, it required a camera-trap to actually confirm that fact. Amongst the miscellany of foxes, rabbits, blackbirds etc also captured on camera in various parts of the garden in recent days the wintering Water Rail cropped up once:


  12th December

If anything it's getting milder by the day although bird interest remains minimal. Today's sightings included a Black Redstart at the Bill, a Firecrest at Delhi Lane and a lone Red-throated Diver though off the Bill.

11th December

The day's only reports were of a Snipe over at the Bill, a Redwing at Avalanche Road and 15 Red-throated Divers through on the sea at the Bill.

10th December

Despite the breeze remaining in the south it didn't feel so pleasant today under frequently drearier skies. A flush of Little Egrets - 2 singles and 4 together - was unexpected at the Bill, where 8 Common Scoter and 8 Red-throated Divers passed through on the sea and a Black Redstart was about on the land. The Long-tailed Duck, 16 Black-necked Grebes and singles of Eider and Common Scoter remained in Portland Harbour.

9th December

A lovely mild, sunny day but pretty hopeless on the bird front. At the Bill 17 Red-throated Divers and 9 Common Scoter passed through on the sea, the wintering Firecrest was at the Obs and a Little Egret flew over.

8th December

Subtle changes in the weather look to be occurring, with it feeling appreciably milder as the breeze has shifted into the south-west. Bird-wise, the only obvious new arrival was a Long-tailed Duck in Portland Harbour, although 2 Great Skuas and a Great Crested Grebe through off the Bill were also of note. Routine fare included 24 Common Scoter and 6 Red-throated Divers also passing the Bill, 3 Chiffchaffs and a Firecrest at Pennsylvania Castle, 4 Grey Plovers over Ferrybridge and 16 Black-necked Grebes and singles of Eider, Common Scoter and Grey Plover in Portland Harbour.

7th December

Quiet conditions and rather quiet birding again. The only new arrival of note at the Bill was a solitary Lapwing; a lingering Chiffchaff was also there, whilst 6 Red-throated Divers, a Brent Goose and a Bar-tailed Godwit passed through on the sea. Elsewhere a Firecrest remained at Pennsylvania Castle, singles of Great Northern Diver, Goldeneye and Grey Plover were at Ferrybridge and 14 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Slavonian Grebes, an Eider and a Common Scoter were in Portland Harbour.




  Goldeneye - Ferrybridge, 6th December 2013 © Pete Saunders

  6th December

A lovely bright sunny day with no more than a breeze to contend with - sadly the birds didn't respond in any worthwhile fashion: singles of Red-throated Diver and Red-breasted Merganser passed through off the Bill, 16 Black-necked Grebes and a Red-necked Grebe were in Portland Harbour and a Goldeneye was at Ferrybridge.




  Bar-tailed Godwits and Black Brant - Ferrybridge, 5th December 2013 © Pete Saunders

  5th December

A windy day came as a shock to the system and discouraged serious fieldwork. Two Balearic Shearwaters, along with a Red-throated Diver, through off the Bill weren't too much of a surprise these days; also there, singles of Little Egret and Firecrest were of note and it was good to see some southbound passage still in progress, with 180 Goldfinches and a Merlin heading through during the morning. Elsewhere there were 11 Bar-tailed Godwits and a Black Brant at Ferrybridge.

4th December

Yesterday's relative excesses weren't maintained, with an altogether more paltry tally to show for today's efforts. All the report's came from the Bill where 75 Goldfinches and a Brambling were on the move overhead, a few new Blackbirds were in evidence on the ground, 1 of the wintering Purple Sandpipers showed up and 5 Velvet Scoters, a Red-throated Diver and a Black-throated Diver passed through on the sea.




  Black-necked Grebes and Yellow-browed Warbler - Portland Harbour and Avalanche Road, 3rd December 2013 © Will Bown (Black-necked Grebes) and Martin Cade (Yellow-browed Warbler)

...the relatively benign conditions just lately have seen to it that many of the sheltered spots around the centre of the island are still quite leafy - we haven't given up on there being something better to be found than Goldcrests:


  3rd December

Despite precious little change in the weather there was quite an upturn in the quality of the birding, with much more making the list than would usually be the case in early December. A Yellow-browed Warbler was an unexpected arrival at Avalanche Road, whilst 150 Starlings, 9 Redwings, 9 Fieldfares, 5 Lapwings, a Grey Wagtail and a Blackcap were all new at the Bill; a Firecrest there was the established winterer as doubtless were some of the scatter of Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests around the centre of the island. Seawatching at the Bill came up with 6 Shoveler, 3 Red-throated Divers, 2 Balearic Shearwaters, a Gadwall and a Great Skua, whilst 9 Black-necked Grebes and a Red-necked Grebe were in Portland Harbour.

2nd December

Still just about enough at the Bill to keep interest going. Four Fieldfares, 2 Chiffchaffs, a Lapwing and a Snipe were new on the land, whilst 16 Common Scoter, 6 Red-throated Divers, 2 Wigeon and singles of Velvet Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser and Great Skua passed through on the sea.


  1st December

The arrival of the new month saw a little bit more on offer, with overcast skies dropping a trickle of new thrushes in particular. A Mistle Thrush at Blacknor was of note amongst the handful of new Blackbirds, Redwings and Fieldfares; other newcomers at the Bill included 250 Starlings arriving in off the sea and a grounded Chiffchaff, whilst a lone Black Redstart was still about there. Seawatching at the Bill produced 9 Brent Geese, 3 Red-throated Divers and singles of Pintail and Great Skua.