30th April

Yesterday's resurgence in passage wasn't sustained and it was quieter everywhere today. At the Bill Wheatear, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler each topped the 50 mark, whilst Whitethroat reached about the same level mainly by virtue of there being so many already back on breeding territories; amongst the lowly single figure totals a late Black Redstart was of note there, with a Grasshopper Warbler at Reap Lane being the best on offer elsewhere. Overhead passage was rather subdued but did include the first 3 Swifts at the Bill since the early single there over a fortnight ago. For long periods during the morning seawatching was hampered by fog lingering close offshore but eventually totals of 43 Common Scoter, 18 Whimbrel, 6 Arctic Skuas and singles of Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver and Great Skua made the log at the Bill.

Whimbrel, Sedge Warbler and Wheatear - Portland Bill, 30th April 2014 © Martin Cade (Whimbrel)  © Joe Stockwell (Sedge Warbler and Wheatear)

29th April

Although hindsight makes sages of us all, it certainly isn't being wise after the event when we say that today's happenings were far from unexpected: a few days of relative quiet at the peak of a migration season would be expected to end with a decent fall once conditions allowed - and so it came to pass. An almost calm and heavily overcast dawn was quickly followed by a couple of hours of steady rain when routine migrants dropped in quantity. Willow Warblers were very much to the fore, with a good 700 or more at the Bill alone, but variety was maybe a little disappointing, and real quality entirely absent. Although most of the expected fare was represented, none of the other commonest species managed three figure totals at the Bill, whilst some the best of the less numerous totals from the centre and south of the island were 30 Whinchats, 6 Yellow Wagtails, 5 Tree Pipits, 2 Merlins, 2 Golden Plovers, 2 Wood Warblers, 2 Pied Flycatchers and singles of Grey Heron, Iceland Gull (the long-stayer), Ring Ouzel, Grasshopper Warbler and Redpoll. A Garganey settled off Chesil was a notable highlight from the sea, from where 100 commic terns, 18 Whimbrel, a Little Ringed Plover and an Iceland Gull were also of note at Chesil, and 3 Great Skuas, a Red-throated Diver and a Great Northern Diver the best off the Bill.

Whimbrel and Pied Flycatcher - Ferrybridge and Portland Bill, 29th April 2014 © Pete Saunders
...and today's in-hand offerings - a Whinchat (an adult male, in contrast to yesterday's first-summer male) © Joe Stockwell Yet another birding blog and a Greenland Wheatear © Martin Cade

28th April

A decent day that saw the entertaining enough spread of grounded migrants bolstered by the presence of several oddities; the fact that the day's events were played out in fair weather was also welcome after a weekend of quite unsettled conditions. With very little coverage reported from elsewhere most of the day's reports came from the Bill, where a Woodlark was an unseasonable arrival in off the sea, a Siberian Chiffchaff was trapped and ringed at the Obs and a Hoopoe pitched up in Top Fields; the Iceland Gull also remained and was joined briefly by at least 1 Yellow-legged Gull. Routine arrivals included 100 Willow Warblers, 35 Blackcaps, 25 Garden Warblers, 20 Wheatears, 12 Yellow Wagtails, a tardy Brambling and single figure totals of many of the other expected mid-spring migrants. The predominantly offshore breeze did the seawatchers no favours, and 2 Arctic Skuas and a single Great Northern Diver were the best of their sightings.

Hoopoe - Portland Bill, 28th April 2014 © Brett Spencer Brett's Goosey Ganderings 

...and a bit of video of the Hoopoe and Woodlark:



Although the Obs garden mist-nets have been ticking over quite well with routine fare so far this spring - this month's total, for example, crept past 1300 today - oddities have been conspicuously absent, so this hitherto unseen Siberian Chiffchaff was a welcome turn-up in a net this morning:

And to round off, this Whinchat was an in-hand first for the season (photos © Martin Cade:

27th April

With a low pressure area centred close by there was little prospect of either getting away with a dry day or expecting many nocturnal migrants to have been aloft in really unsettled conditions overnight. The easterly bias to the wind direction did at least hold out some promise for the seawatchers, but their disappointingly scant returns included nothing better than a trickle of Manx Shearwaters and commic terns, together with 4 Great Skuas and singles of Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver and Black Tern, through off the Bill and 4 Great Skuas and 3 Arctic Skuas passing Chesil; the Iceland Gull also remained at the Bill, whilst a Black Guillemot was an intriguing find close to one of the Portland Harbour breakwaters. The land struggled with both numbers and variety, with 4 Whimbrel, 3 Yellow Wagtails, 3 Whinchats, 2 Tree Pipits and a Sedge Warbler the best on offer around the Bill; elsewhere there was a Lesser Whitethroat at Reap Lane and a Redshank at Ferrybridge, where the White Wagtail also remained.

Little Tern, Whinchat and White Wagtail - Ferrybridge and Portland Bill, 27th April 2014 © Pete Saunders (Little Tern and White Wagtail) and Joe Stockwell Yet another birding blog (Whinchat)

26th April

With wind and rain having blown in overnight it was day for seawatching, although - disappointingly for the considerable influx of weekend visitors - expectations considerably outweighed rewards. Day-totals at the Bill included 300 commic terns (with Arctics considered to be very well represented), 100 Manx Shearwaters, 34 Bar-tailed Godwits, 29 Whimbrel, 16 Sandwich Terns, 9 Arctic Skuas, 8 Great Skuas, 5 Red-throated Divers, 2 Gadwall, 2 Little Terns and singles of Black-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver and Little Gull; shorter watches at Chesil came up with 47 Whimbrel, 14 Little Terns, 3 Great Skuas, 2 Arctic Skuas, a Little Gull and an Iceland Gull. Coverage of the land was pretty hard work in the wind, but 4 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Redstarts, a Grasshopper Warbler and a Garden Warbler at the Bill, another Grasshopper Warbler at Weston, a Hobby at East Weare and a White Wagtail at Ferrybridge all provided interest amongst the thin spread of more routine fare.

Whimbrels - Portland Bill, 26th April 2014 © Joe Stockwell Yet another birding blog

25th April

Despite the not too distant threat of rain at dawn there was only a rather modest flurry of common migrants on the ground, amongst which it was of minor note that Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler chipped in with 50 apiece, the former having been hitherto maybe under-represented this spring; nothing else managed a double figure on the ground there, although further interest came in the form of the continued presence of the Iceland Gull, whilst elsewhere the first 2 Spotted Flycatchers of the spring were at Southwell and singles of Little Ringed Plover and Curlew Sandpiper at Ferrybridge. Two Hobbys through at the Bill were the pick of the overhead passage, which at times included a steadier flow of Swallows than might have been expected given the conditions. Sea passage was relatively subdued although did include 12 Whimbrel, 6 Arctic Skuas, a Red-throated Diver and a Little Tern through off the Bill and 4 Arctic Skuas through off Chesil; a single Greenshank was amongst a variety of waders on the move over Ferrybridge.

Little Ringed Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Garden Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher - Ferrybridge and Southwell © Brett Spencer Brett's Goosey Ganderings (Little Ringed Plover) and Pete Saunders (Curlew Sandpiper, Garden Warbler & Spotted Flycatcher)

24th April

Although decent enough birds in their own right, it's probably fair to say that a late April date coming up with a Short-eared Owl at Barleycrates Lane, a Green Sandpiper on the Portland Marina breakwater and a Little Ringed Plover at Ferrybridge as the highlights won't live long in the memory. After yesterday's little hiatus there was at least a small arrival of new migrants on the ground, with 100 Willow Warblers, 50 Wheatears, 10 Blackcaps and 10 Chiffchaffs providing the numbers at the Bill; visible passage was poorly recorded but hirundines were certainly passing over in quantity, with 12 Yellow Wagtail, 3 Tree Pipits and a Hobby all adding to the mix over the Bill. Sea passage was never really strong enough to grab the attention, but totals of 19 Whimbrel, 10 Great Skuas, 5 Arctic Skuas, 7 Bar-tailed Godwits and a Red-throated Diver from the Bill and 100 Bar-tailed Godwits, 20 Whimbrel and an Arctic Skua from Chesil were all of note; the Iceland Gull also lingered on for another day at the Bill.

Little Ringed Plover - Ferrybridge, 24th April 2014 © Martin Cade

...the phone came to the rescue again when we got caught out without our 'proper' recording equipment and the plover turned out to be quite noisy:

23rd April

It was a case of all change today with attention switching firmly from land to sea, and even then it took a bit of good fortune/perseverance to pick up the rewards: to the disappointment of observers arriving to tap into a bit of yesterday's action there was next to nothing by way of grounded migrants, whilst the best of the sea passage defied conventional wisdom by occurring when least expected during the most persistent of the day's rain. The passerine migrant tally was so paltry in comparison with recent days that it really doesn't merit a mention, however the sea came up the goods, particularly through the middle of the day when a rain front spanning the Channel drove a series of skuas close to the Bill. The pick of the days numbers were 130 commic terns, 42 Great Skuas, 8 Arctic Skuas, 3 Red-throated Divers, 3 Black-throated Divers, 2 Pomarine Skuas and a Little Tern past the Bill and 190 commic terns, 65 Whimbrel, 33 Bar-tailed Godwits, 5 Great Skuas, 4 Little Gulls and singles of Red-throated Divers, Arctic Skua and Pomarine Skua through at Chesil; additionally, a Little Gull passed through at Ferrybridge and an Iceland Gull - looking likely to be the lingerer that's been missing for a few days - patrolling along East Cliffs at the Bill for several hours.

Click the above image to enlarge

Iceland Gull, Arctic Skua and Great Skuas - Portland Bill, 23rd April 2014 © Martin Cade (Iceland Gull and top two skuas) and Joe Stockwell (bottom two skuas)

...and a bit of video that gives something of a flavour of the skua passage off the Bill:

22nd April

Just a reminder that the next In Focus field event at the Obs takes place between 10am and 4pm tomorrow, Wednesday 23rd April.

After a pretty productive last fortnight or so it came as no surprise when some very promising-looking conditions at dawn - complete cloud cover and heavy rain as close as Dorchester - came up with another good fall of routine migrants. Although variety was excellent it was the totals of 400 of both Wheatear and Willow Warbler that made up the bulk of the numbers at the Bill, where Yellow Wagtail, Tree Pipit, Redstart, Whinchat, Garden Warbler, Blackcap and Whitethroat all chipped in with counts in the 10-50 range, and single figure totals included 2 Ring Ouzels, 2 Pied Flycatchers and a Nightingale; plenty more of the same elsewhere included 2 Hobbys over Suckthumb Quarry. Sea passage only really got going once the early north-westerly breeze shifted back into the south-west, with totals of 97 Common Scoter, 19 Great Skuas, 6 Red-throated Divers, 5 Arctic Skuas and a Great Northern Diver eventually making the log at the Bill. Wader numbers continued to increase and included 145 Dunlin at Ferrybridge.

Blackcap, Whinchat, Willow Warbler, Ring Ouzel and Pied Flycatcher - Portland Bill and Suckthumb Quarry, 22nd April 2014 © Martin Cade (Blackcap, Whinchat and Willow Warbler), Pete Saunders (Ring Ouzel) and Brett Spencer Brett's Goosey Ganderings (Pied Flycatcher)

...also, just for a bit of fun/experimentation, whilst bumbling around birding this morning we tinkered with sound-recording with a smartphone (we had tried it once before a couple of years ago after stumbling upon a noisy Yellow-browed Warbler but on that occasion the result was acceptable but hardly inspiring) and were surprised at how decent the results were as long as you take a bit of care in keeping out of the wind; have a listen to a couple of the migrants in song:

And thanks to Joe for some photos (© Joe Stockwell Yet another birding blogand a bit of extra detail from his mist-netting at the Obs today; Grasshopper Warbler:

With Redstarts being quite a prominent feature in our nets over the last couple of days, the double capture this morning allowed us to compare both a 1st Summer male (top two photos) and an Adult male (bottom two photos) together

21st April

What had been a decent enough day took an extraordinary turn during the afternoon when scrutiny of photographs of what at the time had been thought to be a distant Hen Harrier that flew north off West Cliffs at Barleycrates Lane during the morning revealed the bird's true identity as a Northern Harrier - a first for Portland and Dorset. Routine passage had been dominated by overhead movement of hirundines, with Swallows passing at rates of up to around 500/hour at times; with only occasional sample counts to go on it was difficult to get a handle on the full extent of visible passage, but examples such as the total of 11 Yellow Wagtails north in an hour on West Cliffs gave an indication of what was being missed through coverage being less than adequate. Grounded migrants were fairly well represented, without there being the numbers of some recent days: Willow Warbler struggled to get above 50 at the Bill, but totals of the likes of 11 Redstarts and 6 Garden Warblers there and 73 Dunlin and 2 Sanderling at Ferrybridge showed there were certainly birds to be seen. It looked from the weather charts as though up-Channel sea passage may have been blocked by poor conditions to our west, and early indications were that there was precious little on the move; however, a lot of watching did eventually come up with totals that included 9 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 5 Great Skuas, 4 Red-throated Divers, 2 Arctic Skuas and a Great Northern Diver through off the Bill and 10 Little Gulls and singles of Red-throated Diver and Great Skua through off Chesil.

Northern Harrier - off Barleycrates Lane, 21st April 2014 © Peter Moore Peter Moore's Birding Blog

...check out Peter's as always beautifully-written blog for fuller details and some more photographs.
And many thanks to Peter Moore (Tree Pipit), Pete Saunders (Whitethroat) and Debby Saunders (Willow Warbler and Garden Warbler) for today's rather lovely selection of migrant photos:

20th April

With some suggesting the forecast change in the weather might bring a deluge of migrants along with a deluge of rain there was a certain air of expectation that quickly dissipated once dawn revealed a leaden sky, brisk north-easterly and few new arrivals. Fortunately, later events showed the gloomy prognosis to be somewhat premature, with the first appearance this year of a Serin - a Portland staple that's been under-represented of late - being especially welcome. The heavy rain did indeed materialise and whilst always hampering the quest for further interest, did drop a few latecomers - notably 2 Garden Warblers and singles of Merlin, Tree Pipit, Ring Ouzel, Redstart, Sedge Warbler and Pied Flycatcher - amongst the spread of 70 Willow Warblers and 20 Blackcaps evident around the Bill area. A lone Black-throated Diver was the only sighting of note on the sea at the Bill.

Serin - Portland Bill, 20th April 2014  © Martin Cade
...and thanks to Debby Saunders for these two Blackcaps from Southwell yesterday:


19th April

Another clear but conspicuously chilly dawn brought another decent little arrival of migrants, with the Observatory garden being today's favoured location. Whilst numbers were a fair bit lower than those logged yesterday there was still plenty enough to keep bank holiday weekend visitors entertained, with totals from the Bill area that included 200 Willow Warblers, 40 Blackcaps, 30 Chiffchaffs, 25 Wheatears, 8 Redstarts, 5 Yellow Wagtails and singles of Common Buzzard (an incoming migrant), Common Sandpiper, Whinchat, Garden Warbler, Wood Warbler and Pied Flycatcher; another 3 Pied Flycatchers, along with a single Ring Ouzel, were the best of the scarcer migrants elsewhere, whilst the mix of 52 Ringed Plovers and Dunlin at Ferrybridge were welcome evidence of wader passage picking up. The shift in wind direction towards the east hadn't gone quite far enough to perk up sea passage, with 59 Common Scoter, 21 Whimbrel, 17 Dunlin, 9 Sandwich Terns, 4 Red-throated Divers, a Red-breasted Merganser and an Arctic Skua the only rewards from watches at the Bill.

A reminder that the next In Focus field event at the Obs takes place between 10am and 4pm next Wednesday, 23rd April.

Blackcap, Pied Flycatcher, Whinchat, Willow Warbler and Wood Warbler - Portland Bill and Portland Castle, 19th April 2014 © Tony Hovell Tony Hovell's Wildlife (Blackcap and Willow Warbler), Brett Spencer Brett's Goosey Ganderings (Pied Flycatcher), Pete Saunders (Whinchat) and Martin Cade (Wood Warbler)

...apologies to all those photographers who so kindly pass us their images if we're not able to use all of them on the site - today, for example, we received a fantastic selection of 24 images from a variety of photographers who were out and about around the island; it's not that we don't want to use them, but just that sometimes we simply don't have enough time to get them all edited, captioned and uploaded before acute sleep deprivation gets the better of us. We are extremely grateful for all these offerings that greatly enhance the site and we hope that visitors will follow the links to the photographer's own blogs/websites to see more of their work.

18th April

In a repeat of events earlier in the week a brisk headwind downed a decent arrival of new migrants out of a clear blue sky - many of the newcomers were grounded only briefly and, in contrast with the fall at the beginning of the week, there was a far from uniform presence across the island, with the Bill and Reap Lane/Barleycrates Lane being today's favoured spots. The Bill got the lion's share of the coverage and returned - in the circumstances probably conservative - totals of 300 Willow Warblers, 150 Blackcaps, 100 Wheatears, 50 Whitethroats, 10 each of Redstart and Chiffchaff, 4 each of Tree Pipit, Whinchat and Grasshopper Warbler, 3 Whimbrel, 2 each of Sedge Warbler  and Lesser Whitethroat, and singles of Blue-headed Wagtail, Pied Flycatcher and Bullfinch; additions to the tally elsewhere included a Ring Ouzel at Barleycrates Lane and a Cuckoo at Tout Quarry. Overhead passage wasn't well censused but incoming hirundines were certainly conspicuous throughout the day. The spring's first Black Tern at Chesil Cove was easily the best of the sightings from the sea, with watches at the Bill coming up with nothing better than 3 Red-throated Divers, 3 Shelducks and a Great Northern Diver.

Migrant medley, Grasshopper Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and Whitethroat - Portland Bill, 18th April 2014 © Joe Stockwell Yet another birding blog (medley & Grasshopper Warbler) and Martin Cade (Lesser Whitethroat & Whitethroat)