February 2014

28th February
The only changes of note on a disappointingly chilly day were the appearance of 12 new Stonechats at the Bill and a Manx Shearwater through on the sea there. Yesterday's Chesil Cove Iceland Gull was again in situ, 18 Black-necked Grebes were still in Portland Harbour and a Red-throated Diver passed by off the Bill.
   Iceland Gulls and Great Skua - Chesil Cove and Ferrybridge, 27th February 2014 © Joe Stockwell Yet another birding blog (top Iceland Gull - Chesil Cove), Keith Pritchard Birding Portland UK (middle Iceland Gull - Chesil Cove) and Pete Saunders (bottom Iceland Gull - Ferrybridge, and Great Skua)

27th February
Chesil Beach and Ferrybridge were again the spots to spend time today, with 2 Iceland Gulls doing the rounds and a Great Skua popping up from time to time; a Common Buzzard heading south over Ferrybridge was also of note. Elsewhere, the 2 Black Guillemots were still in Portland Harbour and 4 Red-throated Divers passed by off the Bill.
   Scaup - Ferrybridge, 26th February 2014 © Joe Stockwell Yet another birding blog
...and thanks to Ken Dolbear for a nice little selection of early spring bugs from the Obs garden today - from top to bottom, Green Shieldbug, Gorse Shieldbug and Hairy Shieldbug:

26th February
In terms of Portland rarity value today's highlight was certainly a Scaup which was discovered amongst the mergansers at Ferrybridge; nearby, a Great Skua was again on Chesil Beach, whilst Portland Harbour came up with 19 Black-necked Grebes, 6 Slavonian Grebes, 5 Great Northern Divers, 4 Red-necked Grebes and the 2 Black Guillemots. At the Bill a Merlin was the only new arrival of particular note, although a Sparrowhawk heading north at height was a presumed migrant, 3 Purple Sandpipers lingered on and 2 Red-throated Divers, a Black-throated Diver and a Great Northern Diver passed by on the sea. Migrants elsewhere included the first visible passage of Meadow Pipits, with 5 north along the West Cliffs at Blacknor.
25th February
A likely new Glaucous Gull that headed north off East Cliffs at the Bill was the bird of the day, but there were again signs of spring passage getting going: new Lesser Black-backed Gulls are beginning to appear everywhere, 3 Black-headed Gulls and a Mediterranean Gull moved up-Channel off the Bill and a Grey Heron heading north up West Cliffs there. Making up the list, a Great Skua dropped in briefly at Ferrybridge, the 2 Black Guillemots were still in Portland Harbour, 2 Great Northern Divers were at Chesil Cove and 4 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill.
24th February
With a nice mild airflow still established today looked quite promising, but in the event migrant activity was limited to a handful of incoming Lesser Black-backed Gulls; a decent count of 14 Ravens together over Blacknor might also have included some newcomers. Events were otherwise much as in recent days, with the 2 Black Guillemots still in Portland Harbour, at least 1 Purple Sandpiper still at the Bill and 7 Red-throated Divers, 3 Common Scoter and 2 Red-breasted Mergansers through on the sea there.
   Glaucous Gull - Chesil Cove, 23rd February 2014 © Joe Stockwell Yet another birding blog

23rd February
Today's gull offering concerned a Glaucous Gull that spent a little while off Chesil Cove early in the morning. Two exceptionally early Manx Shearwaters provided the best of the sea interest off the Bill, where 6 Common Scoter, 5 Red-throated Divers and a Great Northern Diver also passed by amongst a conspicuous westward passage of other common seabirds. Five Purple Sandpipers remained at the Bill, the 2 Black Guillemots were still in Portland Harbour and the Short-eared Owl popped up again at Ferrybridge, whilst yet another Puffin was found among the quantities of dead seabirds continuing to wash ashore on Chesil Beach.
Iceland Gull - Portland Bill and Ferrybridge, 22nd February 2014 © Ted Pressey (top - off the Bill) and Pete Saunders (bottom - at Ferrybridge)
...the little patch of ?oil on the primaries of the right wing looks to confirm that the two sightings refer to the same individual.

22nd February
Good gulls are stealing the show just at the moment, with today's offering being an Iceland Gull that flew west past the Bill early in the morning and then passed through at Ferrybridge during the afternoon. The rest of the day's interest consisted of 8 Red-throated Divers and 2 Common Scoter through off the Bill, 2 more Puffins amongst a selection of dead seabirds washed up on Chesil and 3 Red-necked Grebes and the 2 Black Guillemots still in Portland Harbour.
   Great Skuas and Glaucous Gull - Ferrybridge, 21st February 2014 © Pete Saunders (top Bonxie and Glaucous Gull) and Debby Saunders (lower Bonxie)

21st February
Ferrybridge was the place to sit and wait today, with 2 Great Skuas and a Glaucous Gull passing through at various times. A Chiffchaff - an early migrant? - was new at the Bill, where 3 Red-throated Divers and 2 Great Crested Grebes passed through on the sea and 3 of the wintering Purple Sandpipers were about.
   Guillemot - Ferrybridge, 20th February 2014 © Debby Saunders
...although the weather has quietened right down, weakened auks - quite a few, like this one on the saltmarsh at Ferrybridge, turning up in unlikely spots  - continue to feature in some quantity.

20th February
A Glaucous Gull through Chesil Cove in the morning was perhaps most likely a newcomer rather than one of the previous individuals reappearing. The rest of the day's events were more mundane, with a Red-throated Diver through off the Bill and singles of Mallard and Black Guillemot (along with relatively low numbers of divers and grebes) in Portland Harbour.
   putative Kumlien's Gull - Portland Bill, 19th February 2014 © Martin Cade
...although first called - on a brief view into bright light - as an Iceland Gull, it was soon apparent when it reappeared a few minutes later in flatter light that the outer primaries were shaded darker and the tail was extensively dark; sadly, from the documentation point of view, these 500+m record shots are as good as it gets. Over the years, we've seen plenty of Iceland Gulls fly past the Bill in similar circumstances but have never got an impression other than of them having creamy/white, semi-translucent outer primaries and, at most, the faintest of tail-bands.
Also today, this Hummingbird Hawk-moth found flying in a garage at Southwell was the first immigrant moth recorded this year, even if it does seem most likely to be a hibernating 'left-over' from last year (photo © Paul Baker The Bagsy Blog):

19th February
Although a Firecrest was a decent discovery at Suckthumb Quarry, it was again the sea that got most attention: tantalisingly brief/distant views of what looked likely to be a Kumlien's Gull provided the main interest off the Bill, where a conspicuous westward passage of Common Gulls, a few Mediterranean Gulls on the move and 20 more Red-throated Divers were also of note. Four Purple Sandpipers remained at the Bill and the 2 Black Guillemots were also still in Portland Harbour.
   dead Puffins - Chesil Cove, 17th February 2014 © Tom Gale
...two of yesterday's three dead Puffins; a look at the Cove today revealed a fair few more sorry-looking auks bobbing about just offshore - many no doubt destined to end up coming ashore before long.

18th February
Fairer conditions made a quick return and prompted a nice little flurry of movement on the sea, with 14 Red-throated Divers, 4 Little Gulls, 2 Wigeon and a Great Skua through off the Bill and singles of Red-throated Diver, Great Skua and Little Gull through off Chesil Cove. Yesterday's settled Great Skua was also still about for a while at the Bill, a Skylark arrived in from the south there, a Great Northern Diver was settled off Chesil Cove and the 2 Black Guillemots were still in Portland Harbour.
   Great Skuas and Mediterranean Gull - Portland Bill, Chesil Cove and Ferrybridge, 17th February 2014 © Martin Cade (top Bonxie - the Bill), Tom Gale (middle Bonxie - Chesil Cove), Pete Saunders (bottom Bonxie - Ferrybridge) and James Gale (Med Gull)
...and a bit of scene-setting video of the Bill Great Skua:

17th February
The weather quickly returned to form with dreary skies, showers and a fresh southerly throughout the day. Wrecked seabirds continued to feature, with grounded Great Skuas at the Bill and Chesil Cove, together with further passing singles off the Bill and at Ferrybridge; 3 more Puffins were amongst a varied haul of dead birds at Chesil Cove, whilst the constant trickle of Kittiwakes passing the Bill included a good many right along the shoreline or some even cutting across the land. A Long-tailed Duck was a new arrival off Chesil Cove, whilst other sightings of note included 2 Red-throated Divers and a Little Gull through off the Bill and the 2 Black Guillemots still in Portland Harbour.
   Great Northern Diver and Shag - Portland Harbour and Ferrybridge, 16th February 2014 © Simon Johnson (Great Northern Diver) and Andrew Maynard (Shag)

16th February
Today was the perfect antidote to our recent weather travails: unbroken sunshine, barely a breeze, warm...need we go on. Bird-wise, 3 Yellowhammers and a Golden Plover heading north at the Bill provided a hint of spring round the corner, but there were few other changes: 6 Red-throated Divers, 2 Little Gulls, a Black-throated Diver and a Great Skua passed through off the Bill, 4 Purple Sandpipers and a Black Redstart were still about on the land there and the 2 Black Guillemots - together with the usual suite of divers and grebes - were still in Portland Harbour.
The first Small Tortoiseshell of the year was on the wing at the Obs.
   Leach's Petrel - Portland Harbour, 15th February 2014 © Dave Foot
...and another bit of storm action at the Bill:
Also from today at Portland Harbour, Red-necked and Black-necked Grebe (© Pete Saunders):
...and one of the Black Guillemots (© Keith Pritchard Birding Portland UK):
...and the Ferrybridge Short-eared Owl (© Brett Spencer Brett's Goosey Ganderings):
We've also been meaning to re-visit last week's White-billed Diver. We were quite surprised not to receive more comments on this bird as, to us, it really didn't seem that straightforward and we'd pondered for ages over the identification before uploading the photos: having been jammy enough to have seen a fly-by White-billed Diver in the past we had particular trouble reconciling the apparently dark neck of the Ferrybridge bird with our fading memory of the Bill bird that looked arrestingly pale-headed/necked as it flew by; that said, we were keen on the shape/colour of the bill, whilst the apparent pale shafts to the flight feathers looked to be the clinching feature. A few days ago Dan Brown kindly got in touch to query the identification; the gist of Dan's comments were as follows:
I'm pretty sure this is a pale GND. I appreciate that the bill looks pale but many do have very clean bills and this bird show a dark outer cutting edge and a thin dark culmen as well which WBD should never show. I would imagine that the dark culmen is more extensive but the angle prohibits checking it. The apparent pale primary shafts are actually sheen on the outer web, again GNDs frequently look like this and a WBD should have very obvious white shafts. I also think there is too much contrast between the underwing coverts and flight feathers. These are generally paler in WBD. And lastly the eye looks too large and not beady. I may of course be wrong as I didn't see the bird in the field but for me this a GND.
We got back to Dan expressing our view that pale shafts were clearly visible on the outermost primaries, even if it was hard to make out whether it was the shafts or the outer webs of each feather that were pale on the rest of the flight-feathers. Dan replied as follows:
Have looked at the pictures again and especially at the shafts and you are right the pale streaks change from outer to inner primaries. In the outers they do indeed appear to be pale shafts whilst in the inner primaries the pale panel appears to be the whole inner web. The outer shafts are still no where near as pale as they need to be and there some good example of GNDs showing this e.g.:
http://www.birdguides.com/picture?f=414713 esp this with an obvious pale outer primary shaft but paler inner webs to inner primaries. If you look at the colour of the legs and compare it with how a white shaft should look it is still no where near pale enough.
As a reminder, here are the important bits of the Ferrybridge bird (© Pete Saunders):
...and, out of interest, here's a photo of the recent Brixham White-billed Diver for comparison (© Mark Darlaston):
...and here it is wing-flapping: https://www.birdguides.com/iris/pictures.asp?v=1&f=419627 
...finally, a fly-by Great Northern Diver at the Bill from our archive (© Martin Cade):
If we have to be honest, we're struggling to see that the Ferrybridge bird has a dark culmen - or at least, it's no darker than that shown by the Brixham bird. The matter of the primary shafts is clearly crucial and we're still pondering on that subject - bearing in mind that the photos are heavily cropped and were taken in dreadful light (we're pretty sure it was pouring with raining at the time), are they not a wee bit too obvious and still don't rule out White-billed?
Many thanks to Dan for taking the trouble to comment so fully and for searching out some interesting reference photos.

15th February
The ferocity of the overnight storm was enough to drive an unseasonable Leach's Petrel into Portland Harbour, as well as wrecking at least 2 more Puffins at Chesil Cove; 5 Bonxies also passed through at the Cove, with a Little Gull and likely Arctic Skua through off the Bill. A Short-eared Owl was at Ferrybridge, the 2 Black Guillemots were still in Portland Harbour and the diver and grebe tally there included 17 Black-necked Grebes, 13 Great Northern Divers, 10 Slavonian Grebes, 6 Black-throated Divers and a Red-necked Grebe.
14th February
The only memorable events today concerned the weather - again: a morning of constant driving rain gave way to a slightly clearer afternoon before violently strong winds set in during the evening. The birding was certainly best forgotten: a Black Redstart was at Reap Lane and at least one of the Black Guillemots was still in Portland Harbour, but very little meaningful fieldwork was possible anywhere.
  Black Guillemot, Black Redstart, 'Atlantic' Cormorant, littoralis? Rock Pipit and Slavonian Grebe - Portland Harbour and Portland Bill, 13th February 2014 © Pete Saunders (Black Guillemot and Slavonian Grebe), David Rashley (Cormorant) and Joe Stockwell Yet another birding blog (Black Redstart and Rock Pipit)

13th February
In improved conditions there were one or two minor surprises, notably the appearance of a second Black Redstart at the Bill, where the Purple Sandpiper flock increased to 8. The day's other events were much as might be expected: 8 Red-throated Divers, 2 Common Scoter and a Great Skua passed by off the Bill, 11 Bar-tailed Godwits, 2 Slavonian Grebes and a Little Gull were at Ferrybridge and the 2 Black Guillemots were in Portland Harbour, where the diver and grebe totals included 21 Black-necked Grebes and a Red-necked Grebe.
   Glaucous Gull - Ferrybridge, 12th February 2014 © Pete Saunders
...and a bit of video from the sharp end of the storm at the Bill: 

12th February
Another day, another pretty ferocious storm. A Glaucous Gull was a nice early highlight at Ferrybridge before the rain set in and washed out the middle of the day. A sudden pulse of 3 Great Skuas through off the Bill marked the arrival of the clearance in mid-afternoon, after which a Little Gull through Ferrybridge, a dying/dead Puffin off the Bill and a host of Kittiwakes everywhere (including unlikely locations such as Barleycrates Lane) were the pick of the sightings. The 2 Black Guillemots were also still in Portland Harbour.
11th February
Today's dose of wind and rain was a short-lived affair that didn't last beyond mid-morning, with decent conditions for the rest of the day. The only newcomers of any note were a few Shelducks and Curlews: 6 Shelducks dropped in briefly at Ferrybridge and another 3 passed through off the Bill, whilst 13 Curlews at Ferrybridge was a higher count than usual. Elsewhere, the 2 Black Guillemots were still in Portland Harbour and a Little Gull passed though off Chesil Cove.
  Black Guillemot - Portland Harbour, 10th February 2014 © Pete Saunders

10th February
In altogether quieter conditions there were only a handful of reports. Plenty more auks, including at least 2 more Puffins, were washed up dead on Chesil Beach, whilst live sightings included the 2 Black Guillemots and a scatter of divers and grebes in Portland Harbour and 2 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill.
   Black Guillemots, Great Northern Diver and Continental Cormorant - Portland Castle, 9th February 2014 © Brett Spencer Brett's Goosey Ganderings

9th February
The calm after the storm certainly wasn't that benign, for although the sun was a more or less constant feature it remained very windy until well after dark. Wrecked seabirds again featured, with plenty of exhausted Kittiwakes sitting it out offshore and a Puffin amongst a miscellany of sickly, oiled and dead auks ashore on Chesil. The 2 Black Guillemots finally teamed up off Portland Castle, with at least 1 Sandwich Tern and a good total of 15 Great Northern Divers amongst the other reports from Portland Harbour. Elsewhere, the Glaucous Gull was settled briefly on Chesil, a Great Skua dropped in equally briefly at Ferrybridge and a Red-throated Diver passed through off the Bill.
   Little Gulls - Ferrybridge, 8th February 2014 © Brett Spencer Brett's Goosey Ganderings

8th February
The continuing stormy weather saw to it that it was again the sea that got pretty well all the attention. The sheer relentlessness of the wind looks to be getting to Kittiwakes in particular, with totals of well into the hundreds at both the Bill and Chesil Cove, as well as at least a three figure total through Ferrybridge; Little Gulls amongst them included at least 4 at Ferrybridge, 2 at Chesil Cove and a single off the Bill. Another wrecked Puffin (which was seemingly eventually killed by gulls) at Chesil Cove was of considerable interest, whilst further additions to the mix included Sandwich Terns at Chesil Cove and Portland Harbour, a Red-throated Diver through off the Bill and the Black Guillemot lingering on off Portland Castle.
  Slavonian Grebe and Razorbill - Portland Harbour, 7th February 2014 © Joe Stockwell Yet another birding blog
...and thanks to Pete Saunders for a slightly different angle on yesterday's White-billed Diver:

7th February
On a much brighter day pretty well all attention was given to Portland Harbour, where a second Black Guillemot (a flightier bird out towards the middle the harbour that was additional to the long-stayer off Portland Castle) was the pick of the new arrivals; other totals from there included 21 Black-necked Grebes, 10 Great Northern Divers, 8 Slavonian Grebes, 7 Black-throated Divers, 3 Red-necked Grebes and singles of Kittiwake and Sandwich Tern.
White-billed Diver - over Ferrybridge, 6th February 2014 © Pete Saunders
...our first reaction on receiving the top photo of a 'Great Northern Diver' was to think that it was surely a White-billed Diver: the bill shape looks OK and the bill doesn't appear to have a dark tip, the beady black eye stands out against the pale face etc, but then we realised it had really quite dark sides to the neck which maybe wasn't so good; the clinching feature looks to be the pale shafts to the flight feathers which, unless they're some sort of weird illusion, are diagnostic of White-billed.

6th February
The days are starting to vie with one another in some sort of miserableness stakes right now, with yesterday's violent storm being replaced by today's dawn 'til dusk rain. Fortunately there were still a few birds to be seen, with the identity of the best - what looks to be Portland's second record of a White-billed Diver that flew over Ferrybridge during the morning - only being realised on examination of a photograph during the evening; the adult Glaucous Gull off the Bill at dawn, an increase to 11 in the Great Northern Divers tally in Portland Harbour and Little Gulls at the Bill (a passing single), Ferrybridge and Chesil Cove (4 at each) were also of particular note. The Sandwich Tern and Black Guillemot remained in Portland Harbour, 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and a Sanderling were at Ferrybridge and 3 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill.
Slavonian Grebe and Kittiwake - Portland Harbour and Ferrybridge, 5th February 2014 © Pete Saunders
...and a great scene-setting video from Chesil Cove and Chiswell © Sean Foote The Portland Naturalist:
...events were considerably less dramatic at the Bill but there was still a good sea running there:

5th February
The storm that was brewing yesterday evening turned increasingly violent and, at least between Chesil Cove and Ferrybridge, caused general chaos. With the exception of another Puffin that passed through off the Bill and the adult Glaucous Gull that appeared in Chesil Cove, the birds were probably much as might have been expected: 9 Great Skuas passed through Chesil Cove, 3 Little Gulls went through Ferrybridge and 3 Red-throated Divers and 2 Little Gulls passed the Bill; Kittiwakes and Fulmars in particular were numerous offshore, with a trickle of the former also passing through at Ferrybridge.. The only other report of note was of the Black Guillemot still in Portland Harbour.
4th February
Not a sniff of a let-up in the stormy weather today, in fact by the evening the wind sounded to be stronger at the Obs than it has been at any time so far this winter. A Manx Shearwater through off Chesil Cove was, like the Puffin at the same site over the weekend, a very good mid-winter record; 6 more Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill, with another single settled at Chesil Cove. Portland Harbour was again busy, with totals that included 350 Red-breasted Mergansers (the highest count this winter), 7 Great Northern Divers, 5 Black-throated Divers, a Mallard and the Black Guillemot.
3rd February
With a south-easterly freshening all day ahead of the next weather front there were few opportunities for anything other than seawatching. Odds and ends of movement offshore included 12 each of Brent Goose and Teal through off Chesil Cove and a 'Blue' Fulmar and 6 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill. The Black Guillemot and 6 Black-throated Divers remained in Portland Harbour.
  Black-necked Grebes and Bar-tailed Godits & Mediterranean Gulls - Ferrybridge, 2nd February 2014 © Brett Spencer Brett's Goosey Ganderings (Black-necked Grebes) and Debby Saunders (Bar-tailed Godwits and Mediterranean Gulls)

2nd February
Considerably more pleasant conditions than those we put up with yesterday allowed for wider coverage today. The Puffin was still in Chesil Cove at dawn, but sea interest otherwise consisted of just 2 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill; an adult Glaucous Gull over Chesil Beach at Ferrybridge was presumably the long-stayer making another excursion into the Portland recording area. Portland Harbour totals included 19 Black-necked Grebes, 16 Slavonian Grebes, 7 Black-throated Divers, 2 Red-necked Grebes, the Eider and the Black Guillemot, whilst on the land singles of Purple Sandpiper and Black Redstart were again at the Bill.
  Little Gull - Ferrybridge, 1st February 2014 © Pete Saunders

1st February
With the wind having increased to well into gale force it was another day for staring at the sea. A Puffin that appeared several times in Chesil Cove was a real surprise (although reported rather frequently over the years by visiting watchers, particularly off the Bill, we're actually aware of very few - if any? - multi-observer, mid-winter records of a live Puffin at Portland before this). Two Little Gulls also lingered in the Cove, with 2 Red-throated Divers passing through, whilst 29 Kittiwakes, 3 Sandwich Terns and a Little Gull passed through Ferrybridge (and the Bar-tailed Godwit tally there increased to 12); seawatching at the Bill came up with just singles of Red-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver. The only other reports came from Portland Harbour, where the Black Guillemot and a variety of divers and grebes were still present.