31st July

Here marks the last post of July, and we were thinking an early night was on the cards with a short post detailing the rather uninspiring list of todays sightings, that thought was curtailed with the realization that yet again, July has come up with without doubt the most spectacular bird so far this year. Just a brief look back at the last 15 years reveals July's rich heritage for star birds...
Syke's Warbler 1st July 1999 © Martin Cade
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler 4th July 2000 © Martin cade
So this year with no more than a cursory glance through the telescope, July has again etched itself into the history books with yet another exceedingly rare bird...
Black-browed Albatross - off Portland Bill, 5th July 2014 © Martin Cade
Although for us it was truly spectacular, especially for the second observer who'd just arrived from a night out! for others it was one of those stomach churning moments upon reading the log they wish they'd not woken up and it was all just a dream.
unfortunately to end July 2014 we can only report a small number of migrants, Willow Warblers only just crept over 30 today, their numbers considerably lower than the few days previous and singles of Redstart, Wheatear and Long-tailed Tit made the log at the Bill. 15 Common Scoter, 2 Yellow-legged Gulls, and singles of Whimbrel and Mediterranean Gull past through on the sea.
Overnight moth migration slumped again and interest was limited to one each of Dog's Tooth and Webb's Wainscot, A Dark-barred Twin-spot Carpet was trapped at Southwell the previous night.
Dog's Tooth and Webb's Wainscot - Portland Bill 31 July 2014 © Joe Stockwell

30th July

With clear skies from dawn until dusk, it was hardly surprising that things remained in a similar fashion, although a stiff North-westerly continues to hamper our ringing effort in the Crown Estate field. The days reports were confined to the bill where 100 Willow Warblers, 11 Wheatears, 10 Sedge Warblers, 5 Whitethroat, 3 Song Thrushes and one of Spotted and Pied Flycatcher. The sea remained quiet with just 7 Common Scoter, 2 Manx Shearwater and Singles of Redshank, Balearic Shearwater and Commic Tern. 90 Dunlin, 48 Ringed Plover, 2 Turnstone, a Whimbrel, a Common Sandpiper and Common Gull were at Ferrybridge.

The Obs Moth Traps were very busy again, Rusty Dot Pearl was well represented with 102, along with 2 Dark Spinach and Marbled Yellow Pearl Evergestis Extimalis. However it was the traps further up island that stole the show. The Islands second record of Pearl-band Grass Veneer Catoptria margaritella was trapped at Southwell and the third island record of Lesser-spotted pinion at reap lane. Painted Lady and Clouded Yellow are regularly putting in an appearance at the bill this week with 4 individuals of the latter seen today.


Lesser-spotted pinion - Reap Lane, Painted Lady - The Bill and Pearl-band Grass Veneer Catoptria margaritella - Southwell © Joe Stockwell (Lesser-spotted Pinion and Painted lady) and Debby Saunders (Catoptria margaritella)

29th July

With the weather set fair it's difficult to not sound like a broken record, but this recent run of weather has been fabulous. Even with clear skies overnight we're still managing to amass a good total of migrants, Sedge Warblers were at their highest number so far this autumn with at least 30 birds scattered around the bill, Willow Warblers again trickled through and over 100 were logged by lunch, Other noteworthy birds at the bill were, 25 Swallows, 14 Swift, 8 Wheatear, 6 Sand Martin and singles of Pied Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher and a Grey Heron flew south. The sea by comparison was quieter with 9 Manx Shearwaters, 4 Balearics, 2 Mediterranean Gull, 2 Common Tern and a Sanderling. Ferrybridge wader numbers remained relatively similar to the previous couple of days, 3 Juvenile Peregrines however were the first seen on the wing this year. The Obs garden moth traps were seemingly bursting at the seems this morning, with Four Spotted being exceptionally well represented again with 20 in 7 traps, Rusty Dot Pearl Udea Ferrugalis more than tripled from the previous night to 63, there were also 22 Diamond Back Plutella Xylostella, 12 Marbled Piercer Cydia Splendana 10 Dark Sword Grass, 2 Vagrant Piecer Cydia amplana, 2 Dark Spinach and 1 each of Southern Wainscot and Small Rufus.


Sedge Warbler from yesterday and Peregrine Southwell and Ferrybridge ©Pete Saunders 


28th July

At this time of year it's pretty easy to get ahead of ourselves, wishing away the rest of summer for those bumper days of Wheatears and Whinchats or thinking will we trap a Melodious or Aquatic Warbler this week. Indications this morning that there had been another small arrival overnight with Willow and Sedge Warblers being particularly vocal in the Obs garden at dawn, so spirits were pretty high, unfortunately under relatively clear skies they departed pretty quickly. Totals returned at the Bill were lower than the previous few days but it was a very pleasant census nonetheless, Willow Warblers were the most numerous again at around 60 along with 6 Wheatear, 5 Sedge Warbler, 3 Yellow Wagtails, a Grey Heron and the first returning Redstart. 2 Balearics were seen past the bill along with 9 Meditteranian Gulls, 7 Common Scoter, 5 Black-headed Gulls, 4 Manx Shearwater and a Commic Tern. Ferrybridge numbers remained the same with 64 Dunlin. 29 Ringed Plover, 14 Sanderling, 6 Common Tern, 4 Turnstone, 2 Redshank, and singles of Curlew and Whimbrel.

The overnight moth catch was greatly reduced with a stiff north-westerly setting in early evening, however it still resulted in singles of Marbled Yellow Pearl Evergestis Extimalis, Four-spotted Footman, Gem, Dark Spinach and Maidens Blush.


Firethorn Leaf Miner Phyllonorycter leucographella, Pebble Hook-tip, Willow Warbler, Grey Heron and Chalk Hill Blue (from the weekend). Reap Lane (Firethorn Leaf Miner), High Angle Battery and Portland Bill ©Joe Stockwell and ©James Phillips (Chalk Hill Blue)

27th July

Today was the day for a respite in the recent heat wave, although 4:30 this morning still felt more pleasant than mid afternoon! Willow Warblers continued to be a feature at the bill with 125 or so through by late afternoon. Around 25 new Sedge Warblers again were present but hard to detect, had it not been for the crop ringing they'd have remained unrecorded. Other notable species making the log today were 18 Sand Martin, 6 Wheatear, 2 House Martin, 2 Tree Pipits and Singles of Grasshopper Warbler, Garden Warbler and Robin. Today also dawned with far less heat haze and the sea watchers were able to return with totals of 30 Common Scoter, 14 Commic Tern, 14 Balearic Shearwaters, 7 Manx Shearwaters, 2 Turnstone and 2 Mediterranean Gull and one each of Black Headed and Yellow-legged Gull. Ferrybridge wader numbers continued to fluctuate thorough the day with a Curlew Sandpiper giving a few observers the run around, other birds included 87 Dunlin, 32 Ringed Plover, 14 Sanderling, 4 Oystercatcher and a single each of Little Ringed Plover, Whimbrel, Turnstone and Redshank. A Red-necked Grebe was present again in the harbour.

Overnight moth immigration was somewhat renewed the chief highlight being an Olive, representing only the 2nd or 3rd record for Portland, unfortunately it met it's demise before we could even get a photo. Other noteworthy captures included yet another Splendid Brocade 7 Four-spotted Footman , 2 Wormwood Sharks, Gem, Dark Spinach, Water Veneer, Small Rufus, Maidens Blush and Marbled Yellow Pearl Evergestis Extimalis.


Marbled Yellow Pearl Evergestis Extimalis - Portland Bill © Joe Stockwell and Sandwich Tern - Ferrybridge © Tony Hovell Tony Hovell Birds
And a Little scene setting at Ferrybridge this afternoon whilst looking for the Curlew Sandpiper, we never cease to be amazed...

26th July

With the Welsh islands enjoying small falls of Willow Warblers, it was only a matter of time before we got our share of the action, after a small amount of legwork and ringing the days total slowly crept over the 50 mark. They didn't come alone however with 20 Sedge Warbler and singles of Tree Pipit, Wheatear, Yellow Wagtail, Grasshopper Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher and Pied Flycatcher also logged at the bill. Temperatures were still hovering between 23 and 24 degrees so Sea watching was limited to early morning where 35 Common Scoter, 2 Yellow-legged Gull, 2 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Black-headed Gull and one each of Whimbrel and Purple Sandpiper flew through off the Bill. At Ferrybridge 4 Redshank, one each of Curlew and Whimbrel were present early morning and an adult Curlew Sandpiper dropped in late afternoon with 10 Sanderling and a single Red Knot.

While the usual writer of these notes is enjoys a weeks well earned holiday our moth write-ups probably won't be quite as fulsome as they have been of late, though we'll do our best to keep up to date with reports and photos of the goodies. Last nights catch was no different to the previous days with plenty of variety, the best came in the form of a Dingy Mocha at the Obs and Birch Mocha at Southwell. Chocolate Tip, Dark Spinach, Tree Lichen Beauty and Maidens Blush were a nice supporting cast from the observatory garden, again 4 Spotted continued to be a feature in the Obs traps with another 18 caught overnight.

Pied Flycatcher and Chocolate Tip © Joe Stockwell and Dingy Mocha (bottom) © Martin Cade - Portland Bill 

25th July

With the mercury creeping another degree higher at its peak than yesterday birding was again hard work at times. That said, there were new arrivals to be seen, with at the Bill the likes of a steady passage of Swifts and hirundines overhead, 15 Black-headed Gulls, a Golden Plover and a Whimbrel also over and 7 Willow Warblers, 5 Sedge Warblers, 2 Garden Warblers and singles of Common Sandpiper, Yellow-legged Gull and Lesser Whitethroat on the ground; elsewhere a Pied Flycatcher was at Southwell. A Common Gull was an unseasonable visitor to Ferrybridge, where 80 Dunlin and singles of Little Ringed PloverRedshank and Green Sandpiper were amongst the wader selection.

Overnight moth-trapping remained very busy, with another varied selection of dispersers making the list; the best of these at the Obs were 2 Vagrant Piecer Cydia amplana and singles of Reed Smudge Orthotelia sparganella, Yellow Pearl Mecyna flavalis, Marbled Yellow Pearl Evergestis extimalis, Chequered Pearl Evergestis pallidata and Dark Spinach. A notable feature of the last couple of night's mothing has been the unprecedented numbers of Four-spotted caught in the Obs traps, with totals of 27 yesterday and 18 today.

Common Gull and Green Sandpiper - Ferrybridge, 25th July 2014 © Pete Saunders
...and a couple more birds from yesterday at the Bill from Joe Stockwell - Yellow-legged Gull and Turnstones:

Finally, we've been almost overwhelmed with moths this week: the static traps have been fantastically busy and the weather conditions have been so good that we've been unable to resist getting out and sampling other sites with the portable kit. The local specials and migrants have been far too numerous to be able to cover in full here, but among the nice things on the wing Painted Neb Eulamprotes wilkella, at what's seemingly its only Dorset site at Ferrybridge, has been amongst the prettiest (photo © Joe Stockwell):

24th July

With the temperature topping 25° (higher than anything we recorded during last year's 'hot' summer) it goes without saying that fieldwork was largely confined to the two ends of the day. The strength of the north-easterly also restricted netting opportunities so the migrant tally of the Bill consisted of little more than a light passage of Swifts and hirundines overhead, 5 Turnstones, 4 Wheatears, a Yellow Wagtail and a Willow Warbler on the ground and 31 Common Scoter, 4 Sanderling, 3 Redshanks, 2 Dunlin, a Balearic Shearwater and a Ringed Plover through offshore. Overhead passage at Ferrybridge included 91 Swallows, 9 Sand Martins and 3 Little Ringed Plovers, whilst 40 Dunlin, a Sanderling and a Redshank were grounded there. The only additional report was of an unseasonable Red-necked Grebe in Portland Harbour.

Portland's first Beautiful Yellow Underwing caught at Sweethill was the overnight moth highlight; the varied catch of immigrants/strays at the Obs included 122 Diamond-back Moth, 3 Vagrant Piecer Cydia amplana, a Splendid Brocade and a Tree-lichen Beauty, whilst another 3 Vagrant Piecer were amongst the catch during a light-trapping excursion to Ferrybridge.

Beautiful Yellow Underwing and Redshank - Sweethill and Ferrybridge, 24th July 2014 © Debby Saunders (Beautiful Yellow Underwing) and Pete Saunders (Redshank)

23rd July

A reminder that the next In Focus field event at the Obs takes place between 10am and 4pm this Saturday, 26th July.

Early departing migrants continued to make the most of the clear skies and settled conditions, with hirundines in particular coasting over Ferrybridge - where 125 Swallows and 100 Sand Martins were logged in quick time early in the morning - in quantity, a Yellow Wagtail over Southwell and 2 Sanderling and a Dunlin over the Bill were also of interest. On the ground the best of the bunch at the Bill were 3 Willow Warblers, 2 Wheatears, a Black Redstart and a Sedge Warbler, whilst Ferrybridge totals included 202 Mediterranean Gulls, 42 Dunlin, 3 Sanderling, a Whimbrel and a Black-tailed Godwit. Saewatching at the Bill came up with 33 Common Scoter, 7 Oystercatchers and a Balearic Shearwater.

Moth and butterfly news to follow later


Black-tailed Godwit and Mediterranean Gull - Ferrybridge, 23rd July © Pete Saunders

22nd July

With the heat continuing to build serious fieldwork was limited to the first few hours of the morning when there were plenty more signs of autumn passage gathering ground. The migrant tally at the Bill included 25 Sand Martins, a few more Swifts and Swallows, 2 Yellow Wagtails, a Hobby and a Dunlin through overhead and 5 Wheatears, 5 Willow Warblers, 2 Grasshopper Warblers and singles of Little Ringed Plover, Sedge Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher on the ground. Elsewhere a Black Redstart was a surprise arrival at Blacknor and 2 Sanderling, 2 Redshanks, a Whimbrel and a Black-tailed Godwit were at Ferrybridge; the Hooded Crow was also still at the Grove. Up to 100 Manx Shearwaters were lingering off the Bill where 30 Common Scoter and 2 Balearic Shearwaters passed by.

Two Clouded Yellows at the Bill were the first for some while. The moth-traps came up with signs of renewed immigration, including of particular note a Vestal and a Black Arches at Sweethill and 2 Splendid Brocades, a Saltmarsh Grass-veneer, a Sand Dart and a Tree-lichen Beauty at the Obs; more routine fare at the latter included 8 Dark Sword Grass, 5 Rusty-dot Pearl and singles of Small China-mark, Buff Footman, Four-spotted Footman and Silver Y.

Clay Crest Eucosma pupillana - Ferrybridge, 21st July 2014 © Martin Cade
...a decent moth anywhere in Britain, Portland has long been the only Dorset locality for this species. As recently as 20 years ago we used to see it tolerably often in the Obs moth-traps as well as encounter it relatively frequently amongst patches of the foodplant, Wormwood, around the centre and north of the island; however, in recent years development and the relentless 'tidying' of what many people regard as wasteground has led to a marked decline in Wormwood and increasingly infrequent records of the moth. Dave Gibbs kindly alerted us to his discovery of both at the weekend at Ferrybridge and the specimen featured above was readily chivvied from the plant there yesterday evening.
As an interesting contrast with the decline of pupillana, we were amazed at how abundant Long-winged Coneheads were in the tall grass beside the Beach Road at Ferrybridge:
...we're not quite sure when this species - which has undergone a remarkable recent range expansion in southern England and is now found throughout the island from Ferrybridge to the Bill - first arrived at Portland but it's something like 20 years ago; last evening many sweeps of the net through the grass came up with double-figure totals of this bush-cricket which must now have a population numbering in the many thousands in that area.

21st July

A return to normality after the manic moth weekend with the main feature of the day - quite apart from it being so enjoyable to be out in such pleasantly warm, sunny conditions - being a nice selection of autumn migrants for what's still really quite early in the season. Swifts and hirundines accounted for the numbers with, for example, 150 Swallows, 66 Sand Martins and 46 Swifts through at the Bill during the course of the morning; the first 4 Willow Warblers of the autumn also showed up there, whilst other interest came in the form of 5 Black-headed Gulls, 4 Redshanks, 3 Wheatears and singles of Dunlin, Greenshank, Turnstone and Yellow Wagtail on/overhead on the land and 131 Manx Shearwaters, 26 Common Scoter, 2 Sandwich Terns and singles of Balearic Shearwater, Yellow-legged Gull and Great Skua through on the sea. Ferrybridge came up with 98 Mediterranean Gulls, 71 Dunlin, 5 Sanderling and a Common Sandpiper.

Despite the wealth of interesting moths that have shown up just recently, 'conventional' lepidoptera immigration hasn't featured to any great extent in recent weeks, and today continued that trend: Red Admirals were about but certainly not in large numbers, whilst Painted Ladys were limited to a couple of singles and there was just a solitary Hummingbird Hawk-moth in the Obs garden.

The night's mothing produced few surprises beyond an Antler Moth at Weston; the tally of immigrants/strays at the Obs included 38 Diamond-back Moth, 12 Marbled Piercer, 2 Rusty-dot Pearl and singles of Leek Moth, Pebble Hook-tip, True Lover's Knot and Red Admiral butterfly.

Wainscot Neb Monochroa palustrella, Marjoram Crest Acompsia schmidtiellus and Clay Crest Helcystogramma lutatella - Portland Bill, The Grove and Freshwater Bay, 19th and 21st July 2014 © Martin Cade
...having a rich and varied selection of presently knackered photographic equipment has somewhat restricted the possibilities when it comes to furnishing the site with bird photos, so we'll stick to the moths for another day. Although we struggle with a fair few of the gelechids, they are nonetheless a family that seem worth spending some time on, with several pretty interesting species recorded from Portland. Wainscot Neb is a local species restricted mainly to south-east England; there looks to be few Dorset records other than the ?three presumed vagrants that have been recorded over the years from the Obs traps. Marjoram Crest is only a little more widespread, both in Britain and Dorset; within the island we've only ever recorded it from the north-east quarter: it's a tolerably regular visitor to our garden trap at the Grove, to where it presumably wanders from the likes of Nicodemus Knob and Broadcroft Quarry BC reserve which are the only other sites where we've light-trapped it. Clay Crest is rarer still, being only recorded in Britain from Portland - and then only right on the extreme coastal fringe between Freshwater Bay and Church Ope Cove - and a few spots on Purbeck.

20th July

Although not in the same league as yesterday's events, it was again the mothing that stole the show with the island's first Clouded Magpie and the fifth Splendid Brocade of the weekend the highlights of an excursion to Pennsylvania Castle either side of midnight, and a Sub-angled Wave - another first for Portland - the best of the overnight catch at the Obs. Diamond-back Moth and Marbled Piercer again provided all the numbers - including 131 and 50 respectively at the Obs - and, like yesterday, longer-distance immigrants were very sparsely spread through the overnight catches; however there was a fine variety of infrequently-caught strays that included a Pale Water-veneer Donacaula forficella at Sweethill and 2 more Saltmarsh Grass-veneers and singles of Vagrant Piercer and Barred Red at the Obs.

The daylight hours did provide a little bit of bird action, with the first autumn reports of Wheatear (2) and Tree Pipit of particular interest at the Bill; also there 16 Cormorants left to the south, singles of Greenshank and Whimbrel passed over, a Common Sandpiper was grounded and 71 Manx Shearwaters, 14 Common Scoter, 6 Balearic Shearwaters, a Mallard and an Arctic Skua passed through on the sea. Elsewhere, 2 Greenshanks were the pick of the waders at Ferrybridge and the Hooded Crow was again at Admiralty Quarry.

Clouded Magpie, Splendid Brocade and Sub-angled Wave - Pennsylvania Castle and Portland Bill, 20th July 2014 © Martin Cade

19th July

Moth interest far surpassed the quality of the birding today, with the overnight thunderstorms that rolled across the Channel dumping a fantastic variety of waifs and strays around the island. The highlight was the first mainland UK specimen of Southern Grass Emerald caught at the Coastguard Cottages at the Bill; Portland's fourth Scarce Marsh Pearl Psammotis pulveralis was also caught at the Coastguards, whilst highlights from the Obs traps included Portland's second Dark Crimson Underwing and 4 Splendid Brocades. The bumper tally of back-up non-local species at the Obs - since long-distance immigrants were poorly represented, most of them presumably having originated in France - was as varied as we can ever remember from Portland and included high counts of 201 Marbled Piercer Cydia splendana and 197 Diamond-back Moth, along with a Wainscot Neb Monochroa palustrella (c3rd Portland record), a Saltmarsh Grass-veneer (first Portland record away from Ferrybridge) and a Chevron (ca4th Portland record); a full species list to follow later.

The day's birding paled in comparison, although interest was provided by the long-staying Hooded Crow still at Admiralty Quarry, 3 Common Sandpipers and singles of Dunlin, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Grasshopper Warbler at the Bill, 54 Common Scoter, 3 Balearic Shearwaters and a Little Egret through on the sea there and 82 Dunlin, 5 Whimbrel, 4 Sanderling, a Redshank and a Black-tailed Godwit at Ferrybridge.

Southern Grass Emerald, Scarce Marsh Pearl Psammotis pulveralisDark Crimson Underwing and Vagrant Piercer Cydia amplana - Portland Bill, 19th July 2014 © Martin Cade (Southern Grass Emerald & Dark Crimson Underwing), Robert Payne (Scarce Marsh Pearl) and Joe Stockwell (Vagrant Piercer)

18th July

The overnight stir-up in the weather had downed a variety of waders by dawn, when there were single Little Ringed Plovers at the Bill and Ferrybridge and an additional 6 Whimbrel, 5 Sanderling and 2 each of Redshank and Greenshank at Ferrybridge. The heavily overcast skies of the morning also dropped what visible passage there was to a countable height, with 140 Swifts, 31 Sand Martins, 6 Black-headed Gulls, 2 Lapwings and a Whimbrel through at the Bill and 70 Swallows and 6 Sand Martins through over Ferrybridge. The day's other reports concerned seawatching, that came up with 32 Common Scoter, 5 Manx Shearwaters, 2 Sandwich Terns and singles of Balearic Shearwater, Arctic Skua and Mediterranean Gull through/lingering off the Bill and 22 Sandwich Terns, 13 Common Terns and an Arctic Skua through at Ferrybridge.

Little Ringed Plovers, Arctic Skua and Chalkhill Blue - Portland Bill, Ferrybridge and nr Rufus Castle © Keith Pritchard (Little Ringed Plover - top), Pete Saunders (Little Ringed Plover - lower, and Arctic Skua) and Ken Dolbear (Chalkhill Blues)
...and a bit of video of the Bill Little Ringed Plover:

...and a couple of flight calls from it:

17th July

The forecast break-down in the weather didn't make itself felt until the evening when the heat and sunshine of the afternoon gave way to gathering cloud and eventually light rain as darkness fell. With the likes of returning Sedge Warblers and Willow Warblers doubtless only days away there was some expectation in the air, although in the event the day's happenings were much as in the last week or so. Common Scoter dominated on the sea, with 172 through off the Bill, where 7 Manx Shearwaters, 6 Balearic Shearwaters, 6 Sandwich Terns, 3 Black-headed Gulls and a Whimbrel also passed by. Passage overhead included a trickle of Sand Martins through at both Ferrybridge and the Bill. The only other report was of the Hooded Crow still at Admiralty Quarry.

As a postscript to our musings on the age of yesterday's Common Tern we received a message on the subject today from Tony Tree in Port Alfred, South Africa: 'I have many years of tern ringing and research in S Africa under my belt and can confidently say that your pics of a Common Tern are of a 2nd summer (3cy) bird showing the three series moult that may be found in that age group. Further, it is also showing sufficient red on its culmen to be older than 1st summer'.

The last couple of nights has seen a slight improvement in the variety of immigrants and wanderers in the moth-traps, even if numbers remain very low. Last night's tally at the Obs included 2 each of Diamond-back Moth and Buff Footman, and singles of Mottled Marble, Rush Veneer, Four-spotted Footman, Dark Sword Grass, True Lover's Knot and Double-lobed; elsewhere, another Southern Wainscot was caught at the Grove.

forester sp - Tout Quarry,  17th July 2014 © Andy Collins
...many thanks to Andy for allowing us to use his snatched record-shot of a forester that he came across this afternoon at Tout; we don't have enough experience of them to hazard a guess as to which of this tricky trio it is from this single image, but the chances are it's likely to be 'The' Forester which was discovered for the first time on Portland in July 2012 not too far away from Tout in King Barrow Quarry.