31st October

Despite it being considerably clearer overnight than during the previous two nights another wave of passage of thrushes in particular was audible throughout the hours of darkness (see below); at dawn it was quickly obvious that most of these migrants had moved straight through without stopping and it was left to a few diurnal movers to provide the bulk of the numbers, with the likes of 650 Skylarks, 600 Wood Pigeons and 23 Reed Buntings over the Bill and 1200 Starlings over Portland Harbour. On the ground the surprise of the day came in the form of a Pallas's Warbler that popped up during the morning in the Obs garden, although in terms of local quality 2 Bearded Tits at Wakeham ran it a close second; 5 Black Redstarts, 2 Short-eared Owls, a Merlin, a Firecrest and a Corn Bunting also made the list at the Bill, single Great Spotted Woodpeckers were at Southwell and Wakeham and the Black Guillemot was still in Portland Harbour; commoner migrants weren't at all plentiful anywhere.

Bearing in mind reports from elsewhere, Portland remained something of the poor relation when it came to immigrant moths. Another Ni Moth - this time at Weston - was the overnight highlight, but numbers and variety were otherwise rather disappointing; the Obs traps came up with 38 Rusty-dot Pearl, 4 each of Rush Veneer and Silver Y, 3 each of Olive-tree Pearl and Delicate, 2 Vestal and singles of Hummingbird Hawk-moth and Pearly Underwing.

Pallas's Warbler - Portland Bill, 31st October 2014 © Martin Cade
...as seems to be usual, this individual called only rather infrequently but after pointing a microphone at it for an awfully long time we did eventually get a short recording of a couple of quite different sounding calls:
 And as we alluded to above, last night there was another tremendous nocturnal passage of mainly thrushes underway over the Bill. Fortunately, Nick Hopper was on hand with his recording equipment and although he's only had time to analyse a small part of the sound file the early results are fascinating. As an example, between 23.00 and 01.00 the tally of call-captures included 1247 Song Thrushes, 590 Redwings, 84 Blackbirds, 9 Robins, 5 Skylarks, 4 Snipe and 2 Dunlin; clearly it's impossible to know quite how many individuals were involved but our feeling after spending some time outdoors listening was that, unlike the previous two nights when we had a sense that birds were swirling around overhead in the fog, last night's passage in far clearer conditions involved birds that were passing straight through. Among the less-familiar calls there were a series of one or more Ring Ouzels (in this example with Song Thrushes and Redwings in the background):

30th October

In much nicer birding conditions there was improved coverage which revealed fair variety even if numbers were still no great shakes. The day's species list was much as might be expected for late October, with Black Redstarts well represented - including 8 at both the Bill and Weston and another single at Reap Lane - along with 44 Siskins, 6 Reed Buntings, 4 Bramblings, 3 Merlins, 2 Short-eared Owls, 2 Firecrests and singles of Woodlark, Ring Ouzel and Corn Bunting at the Bill, a Yellow-browed Warbler at Avalanche Road and the Black Guillemot still off Portland Castle; a much more modest spread of commoner fare included no numbers worth highlighting. Seawatching the Bill produced singles of Great Skua, Arctic Skua and Pomarine Skua.

The night's immigrant moths included 44 Rusty-dot Pearl, 7 Silver Y, 4 Diamond-back Moth, 2 Rush Veneer and singles of Olive-tree Pearl, Hummingbird Hawk-moth, Cosmopolitan, Scarce Bordered Straw and Red Admiral butterfly at the Obs; with a similar variety and numbers in many of the other garden traps around the island.

Corn Bunting and Common Buzzard - Portland Bill, 30th October 2014 © Martin Cade
The Common Buzzard was only the second ringed on the island; due to the efforts of one of our visiting ringers later in the day a second individual was also trapped and ringed.

29th October

After a night of first fog and later heavy rain when migrants - particularly Redwings and Robins - could be heard overhead in quantity there were high expectations at dawn; sadly the rain lingered on far longer than forecast and it wasn't until midday that any serious fieldwork was possible. Although it was apparent even in the rain that many of the nocturnal migrants had managed to avoid landfall there were still a fair few new arrivals about, which included 10 Black Redstarts, 3 Fieldfares, a Ring Ouzel and a Firecrest amongst the thinnish spread of Redwings, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs at the Bill; several of the Chiffchaffs there and elsewhere were clearly cold-coloured and one or two might have clinched as Siberian Chiffchaffs if the conditions hadn't have been so dismal. Elsewhere, 4 Pochards over Ferrybridge were of note.

Overnight moth-trapping intercepted much improved numbers/variety of immigrants, with 90 Rusty-dot Pearl, 5 Diamond-back Moth, 4 Silver Y, 2 each of Rush Veneer and Delicate, and singles of Hummingbird Hawk-moth and Scarce Bordered Straw at the Obs; a Ni Moth at the Grove and 5 Olive-tree Pearl, a Gem and a Scarce Bordered Straw at Duncecroft Quarry were the best of a similar selection at other sites.

Pochard and Ni Moth - Ferrybridge and Portland Bill, 29th October 2014 © Pete Saunders (Pochard) and Martin Cade (Ni Moth)

Also many thanks to Dr Martin Collinson for getting in touch with the results from our two September Lesser Whitethroat feather samples that we hoped he'd have time to have a look at. If we'd have had to put money on it we'd have guessed that both would have turned out to be Siberian Lesser Whitethroats but although the mtDNA revealed that the bird first trapped at the Obs on 22nd September that subsequently settled in the Obs Quarry until 2nd October was indeed a blythi, the individual trapped on 13th September was 'just' a nominate curruca. With this knowledge it's worth having another look at the in-hand photographs of these birds (© Martin Cade):

Sadly we didn't take these images under any sort of standardised conditions so it's very difficult to interpret the subtleties of plumage tones and the like, save to say that in life both birds looked to be noticeably brown-backed/naped. As hoped, the amount of white on the outer tail feathers was considerably greater on the blythi, which also showed more than a suggestion of a ghosting of paleness about the tip of the penultimate feather. Of much more concern, at least from the point of view of future random captures of similar looking birds, was the fact that the wing structure of both was more of less identical, with both having the short 2nd primary usually considered characteristic of blythi; the conspicuously longer primary projection of the blythi was also against expectations. A selection of field photos of the blythi are on Steve Smith's blog and Brett Spencer's blog.

28th October

The day's most unexpected sightings were of shorts and t-shirts replacing the winter garb as the temperature continued to soar. Two new Yellow-browed Warblers at the Obs aside the conditions weren't great for any sort of arrival on the ground but there were again numbers overhead, with 900 Wood Pigeons, 170 Stock Doves and a good variety of other routine fare over Southwell and 200 Skylarks, 4 Merlins and 4 Woodlarks among a similar selection over the Bill. A bitsy sort of list of back-ups included a Black Redstart and the lingering Reed Warbler at the Bill, a Short-eared Owl and a Ring Ouzel at Southwell, another Black Redstart at Blacknor, 3 Firecrests at the Verne and the Black Guillemot still off Portland Castle.

Clouded Yellows and Painted Ladys were again reported in small numbers throughout the island, whilst a Hummingbird Hawk-moth showed up at the Bill. Immigrant moth activity continued to tick over at a low level, with 24 Rusty-dot Pearl, 4 Pearly Underwing, 2 Silver Y and singles of Diamond-back Moth, Rush Veneer and Delicate caught overnight at the Obs.

Black Guillemot - Portland Harbour, 28th October 2014 © Pete Saunders

27th October

Another incursion of very mild air made for pleasant birding and, with persistence, some decent rewards today; the list of oddities was more varied than of late but once again didn't reflect a general increase in numbers, for it remained quiet on the ground. Long-stayers still on view included the Black Guillemot off Portland Castle and the Yellow-browed Warbler at Avalanche Road, another Yellow-browed Warbler - together with a presumed Siberian Chiffchaff - was at Tilleycombe and a likely 'eastern' Lesser Whitethroat at the former Weston Craft Centre, whilst late in the day a Red-breasted Flycatcher popped up briefly in a private garden at Weston; a Dartford Warbler trapped and ringed in the Crown Estate Field and a Long-tailed Skua through on the sea were the day's best offerings at the Bill. Grounded arrivals were only very thinly spread, with little worth remarking on bar a Firecrest and the lingering Reed Warbler at the Bill, a Great Spotted Woodpecker at Pennsylvania Castle and 2 Black Redstarts at Castletown. It was busier overhead where there was initial southbound passage at the Bill, where a sample count came up with 570 Goldfinches, 350 Linnets, 70 Chaffinches, 29 alba wagtails, 2 Siskins and a Merlin, before some later passage in the opposite direction included several sizeable groups of Jackdaws. Ferrybridge goose numbers continued to increase, with 2260 Dark-bellied Brents counted today; the lingering Common Tern also remained there and 32 Common Scoter, 2 Arctic Skuas, a Great Skua and a Pomarine Skua passed though off the Bill.

Whilst no more numerous than on other recent sunny days, Red Admirals, Painted Ladys and Clouded Yellows were all on the wing in small numbers at the Bill. Overnight moth-trapping revealed a small increase in immigrant numbers, with 19 Rusty-dot Pearl, 2 each of Pearly Underwing and Silver Y, and singles of Diamond-back Moth, Rush Veneer, Olive-tree Pearl, Delicate and Flame Brocade at the Obs.

Common Tern - Ferrybridge, 27th October 2104 © Pete Saunders

26th October

Despite an almost uniform absence of new arrivals of interest on the land the day did end up with a list that included a small selection of minor highlights. The long-stayers provided the backbone of quality, with the Yellow-browed Warbler lingering on at Avalanche Road and both the Black Guillemot off Portland Castle and the Black Brant at Ferrybridge looking settled for the duration; 2 Velvet Scoter that pitched in briefly at Ferrybridge were unexpected, whilst 7 Pale-bellied Brents and 2 Teal were also of note there. At the Bill the sea saved what would otherwise have been a pretty dire day, with 73 Common Scoter, 10 Arctic Skuas, 2 Red-throated Divers and singles of Sooty Shearwater, Brent Goose, Great Skua and Pomarine Skua through; another Pomarine Skua passed through off Chesil Cove. Although the putative Siberian Chiffchaff (see below) turned up in a mist-net again at the Obs, the fact that a Pheasant - the first for a couple of years - was the highlight on the land at the Bill spoke volumes for the dearth of quality and quantity there.

Singles of Delicate and Scarce Bordered Straw at the Obs and another Delicate at the Grove were easily the best of an otherwise poor selection of immigrant moths from overnight trapping efforts.

Black Brant, Teal and Velvet Scoters - Ferrybridge, 26th October 2014 © Pete Saunders

And a couple of little recordings of interest from the day. The putative Siberian Chiffchaff first trapped three days ago turned up in a net again at the Obs; in the hand it at last uttered a few calls which, with the best will in the world, sounded absolutely nothing like a tristis - it'll be fascinating to see what a few feathers tell us about this one!:

...and something that at least sounded like it should do - whilst having a half-hearted look for yesterday's Lesser Whitethroat at Avalanche Road we were treated to a sudden burst of calling from the unseen Yellow-browed Warbler there:

25th October

A for the most part heavily overcast day that could have been thought to have looked pretty promising for a drop of late migrants - alas the reality was that it remained extremely quiet for most of the seasonable fare such as thrushes that still aren't appearing in any numbers at all. Quantity-wise, it was finches that were most prominent, with a steady passage of Goldfinches and Linnets in particular that were each numbered 500-1000 per hour south at the Bill at times through the morning; 50 Starlings travelling in the opposite direction were no doubt a sign of things to come, whilst the lesser totals there included 35 Greenfinches, 20 Reed Buntings, 3 Bramblings, 2 Siskins and a Merlin. On the ground the Yellow-browed Warbler remained at Avalanche Road and there was further interest in the form of an unspecified Lesser Whitethroat there, a late Yellow Wagtail at the Bill, a Great Spotted Woodpecker at Wakeham and 6 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and a Common Tern at Ferrybridge, but routine species were present in really pitiful numbers everywhere. Sea passage dwindled, with 3 Brent Geese, 2 each of Velvet Scoter, Arctic Skua and Pomarine Skua, and a single Great Skua the best logged at the Bill.

Immigrant moths at the Obs included 4 Rusty-dot Pearl, 2 each of Pearly Underwing and Flame Brocade and a single Silver Y.

Pale-bellied Brent Geese - Ferrybridge, 25th October 2014 © Debby Saunders

24th October

The forecast rain through the morning came to nothing and most attention was given to the sea, where yesterday evening's sea passage off the Bill continued; coverage of pretty well the whole day came up with totals that included 50 Arctic Skuas, 16 Common Scoter, 9 Pomarine Skuas, 6 Brent Geese, 3 Great Skuas and a Sooty Shearwater. With precious little evidence of new arrivals most of the interest on the land concerned lingerers, with singles of Merlin, Short-eared Owl, Reed Warbler and Siberian Chiffchaff at the Bill, a Tree Pipit and the Yellow-browed Warbler at Avalanche Road, a Ring Ouzel at Cheyne and 1260 Dark-bellied Brent Geese and 250 Mediterranean Gulls at Ferrybridge.

At least 2 Painted Ladys at the Obs were thought to be new arrivals, whilst several Clouded Yellows were also still on the wing. Six Rusty-dot Pearl and a Silver Y were the only immigrant moths caught overnight at the Obs.

23rd October

After an extremely unpromising - and seemingly deadly quiet - damp and breezy dawn things could only look up and, due in no small measure to the sea perking up noticeably towards the end of the day, so it came to pass. The day's highlight actually came from the land, where a Siberian Chiffchaff was one of the few new arrivals trapped and ringed at the Obs; also dotted about were singles of Merlin, Short-eared Owl, Ring Ouzel and Reed Warbler at the Bill, a Snipe at Watery Lane, the long-staying Hooded Crow at the Grove and 3 Sandwich Terns, another Merlin and a Yellow-legged Gull at Ferrybridge. After what's been a prolonged quiet spell on the sea it came as no surprise when morning watches at the Bill came up with just 53 Common Scoter, 3 Great Skuas and a Red-breasted Merganser; however, late in the afternoon it became clear that Kittiwakes were starting to move and they proved to be the precursor to a decent little movement that saw 270 Kittiwakes, 27 Arctic Skuas, 6 Pomarine Skuas, 2 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 more Great Skuas, a Sooty Shearwater and another Red-breasted Merganser logged before dusk. Two Great Northern Divers also passed over Ferrybridge during the morning.

Sandwich Tern and Siberian Chiffchaff - Ferrybridge and Portland Bill, 23rd October 2014 © Pete Saunders (Sandwich Tern) and Martin Cade (Siberian Chiffchaff)
...although not heard to call, the Siberian Chiffchaff looks to be a decent enough candidate on plumage alone.

22nd October

In rather more clement conditions than yesterday there was a decent little showing overhead, with the first substantial Wood Pigeon movement of the autumn a particular feature. Visible passage was sampled most thoroughly at the Bill, where 1250 Wood Pigeons, 400 Linnets, 280 Goldfinches, 140 Jackdaws, 78 Chaffinches, 50 Stock Doves and 50 Greenfinches provided the bulk of the numbers in the first 3 hours of the morning; 9 Bramblings and a Woodlark were amongst the lower totals of a range of other expected fare there, whilst a Short-eared Owl was the best over Ferrybridge. Action didn't pick up nearly so well on the ground, where new arrivals were generally few and far between; 20 Reed Buntings were of note at the Bill, with 2 Ring Ouzels at Penn's Weare and singles of Yellow-browed Warbler and Firecrest at Avalanche Road and Great Spotted Woodpecker at Portland Castle providing interest elsewhere; odds and ends on the tardy side included a Reed Warbler at the Bill and a Garden Warbler at Suckthumb Quarry. Finally, 2 Wigeon and a Black-tailed Godwit were of interest at Ferrybridge.

Black-tailed Godwit and Wigeon - Ferrybridge, 22nd October 2014 © Pete Saunders

21st October

The dregs of Hurricane Gonzalo did nothing to improve the quality of the birding today, with a blasting north-westerly ensuring that much of the land was unbirdable and there was little or no proper sea passage. Two Ring Ouzels were found in the relative shelter of Penn's Weare but there was little else of note on the land bar a single Merlin and a steady but unquantified southbound passage of finches and a few hirundines at the Bill. Although there were plenty of routine seabirds feeding off the Bill, which attracted the attentions of 2 Great Skuas and 2 Arctic Skuas, the only passage concerned 2 Balearic Shearwaters and a single Great Northern Diver through. The Black Brant and Pale-bellied Brent were amongst the brent flock at Ferrybridge, where 2 Kittiwakes also passed through.

An unsurprisingly poor overnight catch of immigrant moths included 7 Rusty-dot Pearl and singles of Delicate and Silver Y at the Obs.

Kittiwake - Ferrybridge, 21st October 2014 © Pete Saunders

20th October

Our wait for the trickle down of even a small proportion of the wealth of migrants that have arrived this month on the East Coast is proving to be pretty tedious - inland Southern England must be well and truly weighed down because they haven't got here yet! Apart from the inevitable build up of wintering Dark-bellied Brent Geese at Ferrybridge - 1100 were there today, together with a returning Black Brant and a Pale-bellied Brent - today's numbers were all overhead, with a sample 40 minute count at the Bill coming up with 370 Linnets, 220 Goldfinches, 180 Meadow Pipits, 40 alba wagtails, 11 Skylarks and 7 Greenfinches (Meadow Pipits have been passing at this level for some days and are a sure sign of how late some things are running; note also the total absence of thrushes); 2 Merlins and a Short-eared Owl also passed through at other times. In most respects it was hopeless on the ground, with pitiful numbers of even the most routine fare such as Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests; there was a noteworthy total of 20 Reed Buntings at the Bill where a Great Spotted Woodpecker also showed up; elsewhere a Yellow-browed Warbler remained at Avalanche Road and a Ring Ouzel was at East Weare. Bar the ever-present Black Guillemot off Portland Castle the only report from the sea was of 2 Balearic Shearwaters through off the Bill.

Black Brant - Ferrybridge, 20th October 2014 © Pete Saunders

19th October

For the most part just scant rewards on a day when the constantly strengthening wind made for very difficult birding. The Red-breasted Flycatcher remained at the Obs where it was sufficiently elusive as to only get seen a couple of times all day, whilst a new Yellow-browed Warbler there was equally troublesome and was missed by most observers; elsewhere, 1 of the Yellow-browed Warblers remained at Avalanche Road and the Black Guillemot was still off Portland Castle. Although Linnets in particular were moving south overhead in decent numbers - estimated at close to 1000 an hour for a time at the Bill - and other visible migrants included 24 Golden Plovers over the Bill, there was little evidence in an upturn in numbers on the ground, where most expected migrants were in very short supply indeed. The strength of the wind did little for seawatching at the Bill where 3 Arctic Skuas and a Pomarine Skua were easily the best of a poor selection.

Moth immigration remained at a low ebb, with 24 Rusty-dot Pearl, 2 Olive-tree Pearl and singles of Diamond-back Moth and Delicate all that could be mustered from the Obs traps.

It says a lot about the quality of the day when at this stage of the autumn we haven't got a single decent photograph to illustrate the day's proceedings. We didn't do much better with our only sound recording from the day which, if nothing else, shows how difficult it is to record anything in trees when there's a near-gale blowing. This Yellow-browed Warbler at the Obs had surely just dropped in when we made this recording of it late in the morning: although invisible in a dense holm oak clump it called constantly for several minutes before suddenly shutting up and, as far as we know, never being heard to utter another sound!

18th October

Another day of variety rather than numbers. Despite a fair bit of rain in the late hours of the night there was no sign of any worthwhile increase in common migrants and it was left to the scarcities and lingerers to provide most of the day's interest: an extremely elusive Red-breasted Flycatcher in the Obs garden was thought most likely to be the individual of the day before yesterday although the views were sufficiently subliminal that it wasn't possible to establish whether it was ringed or not; the Rose-coloured Starling also became troublesome to catch up with, with just one sighting at Reap Lane all day, but the Black Guillemot off Portland Castle was more straightforward and showed for all comers. Less frequent migrants included 2 Merlins, 2 Short-eared Owls and a Firecrest at the Bill, where a Swift - thought to be a Common Swift - was reported at dusk and 2 Red-breasted Mergansers and singles of Balearic Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater and Arctic Skua passed through on the sea.

Moth-wise, the night was a shocker with wind and rain halting most activity; 6 Rusty-dot Pearl were the only immigrants caught in the Obs traps.

Grey Wagtail consuming Common Darter dragonfly - Southwell, 18th October 2104 © Pete Saunders

17th October

For the most part there were slim pickings to be had on another mild and increasingly windy day, with new arrivals on the ground almost non-existent. Fortunately for the visitors the Yellow-browed Warblers at Avalanche Road (2) and Pennsylvania Castle/Wakeham, the Rose-coloured Starling at Reap Lane, the Hooded Crow at the Grove and the Black Guillemot off Portland Castle were all still about, whilst there was again some head-scratching to be had over an assortment of oddly-plumaged Lesser Black-backed Gull. Commoner migrants were very much the poor relation, with dreadful numbers of many species that really ought to be quite numerous at this stage of the autumn; minor interest came in the form of 6 Siskins, 2 Reed Warblers, 2 Bramblings and a Merlin at the Bill, 2 Arctic Skuas through on the sea there, another Merlin at Reap Lane and a Short-eared Owl at the Grove, whilst visible passage included a steady movement of up to 500 Linnets per hour over the Bill during the morning.

Singles of Olive-tree Pearl and Scarce Bordered Straw were the pick of the overnight immigrant moth catch at the Obs, where 28 Rusty-dot Pearl, 2 Silver Y and a Rush Veneer made up the rest of the tally.

Yellow-browed Warbler - Avalanche Road, 17th October 2104 © Duncan Walbridge

And continuing the seagull saga, today saw several reports of interesting-looking Lesser Black-backed Gulls. We were somewhat incredulous when we came across another Baltic Gull-lookalike at the same time and in exactly the same spot as yesterday's bird(s) (photos © Martin Cade):

Like yesterday's individual (it might not be apparent on these images but the two individuals do have several clear differences) this one appears to be in more or less complete summer plumage and shows no visible signs of having begun the post-breeding moult. To us it seems mightily implausible that you'd get two (or three if yesterday's juvenile were also one) Baltic Gulls at the Bill on consecutive days and we do wonder if a more likely explanation could be something along the lines of these birds being intermedius Lesser Black-backs from the far north of their range which are relatively long-distance migrants and thus might have a moult strategy more akin to Baltic Gull. Many thanks to Ian Lewington for having a look through these images with us and for sharing his thoughts.

16th October

Still no great quantity of migrants but plenty of variety today. All three long-stayers - the Rose-coloured Starling, the Hooded Crow and the Black Guillemot - remained on station, with a miscellany of new arrival that included a Red-breasted Flycatcher that dropped in briefly at the Obs, 2 Ring Ouzels and singles of Jack Snipe, WoodlarkDartford Warbler, Firecrest and Lapland Bunting also at the Bill and Yellow-browed Warblers at Avalanche Road (2) and Wakeham. With very mild conditions once again the order of the day it probably shouldn't have been a surprise that several rather tardy summer migrants made the list, including 2 Reed Warblers and singles of Sand Martin, Grasshopper Warbler and Whitethroat at the Bill, and singles of Willow Warbler and Pied Flycatcher at Southwell.

Despite the overnight arrival of mild air there was no upturn in immigrant moth numbers, with 27 Rusty-dot Pearl and singles of Diamond-back Moth, Rush Veneer and Delicate constituting the tally at the Obs.

Red-breasted Flycatcher - Portland Bill, 16th October 2104 © Martin Cade
...this individual was a lot more vocal than last week's bird, with the plaintive 'creaky hinge' call given almost as often as the more familiar rattle:


Also today, as we were driving home in the evening we noticed what looked to be a summer-plumaged 'dark' Lesser Black-backed Gull settled with other gulls in the field below Culverwell; on stopping it was quickly apparent that the juvenile with it was also a pretty interesting-looking individual and there was just enough time to grab a few record shots before the whole flock flew off:

On reviewing the photographs this evening it looks like the adult hasn't even started its post-breeding moult which is presumably as good an indication as you're going to get that it's a Baltic Gull (and it does look quite like one in all other respects). Over the years we've seen and photographed quite a few juveniles that look more or less like this evening's individual so we'd be hesitant with suggesting this was also be a Baltic Gull, but since it looked as though the two birds were together and, plumage-wise, it looks to be OK then there must be a fair chance it is one (photos © Martin Cade)

15th October

A reminder that the next In Focus field event at the Obs takes place between 10am and 4pm this Saturday, 18th October.

Another day of rather trying conditions with the breeze always a little too strong and much of the afternoon rained off. Whilst common migrants really weren't a feature on the ground or overhead, there was just enough to make it worth keep looking, with 11 Ring Ouzels (9 at the Bill and 2 at Chesil Cove) and 2 Firecrests (both at Wakeham) the best of the less regular fare. The sea got a lot of attention but the rewards barely made it worth the effort, with 24 Common Scoter, 3 Great Skuas, 2 Teal and a Balearic Shearwater the only worthwhile sightings at the Bill.

Moth immigrants were a little more numerous, with 78 Rusty-dot Pearl, 5 Delicate, 2 Diamond-back Moth, a Pearly Underwing and a Silver Y constituting the tally at the Obs.

14th October

In much improved conditions - at least from the birding point of view - today came up with a much improved species list that was topped off with 2 Common Cranes that were spotted heading high and purposefully south off the east side of the island and were eventually lost to view off the Bill having hardly deviated from their track toward France. Two seemingly new Yellow-browed Warblers popped up around Southwell, 2 or 3 Dartford Warblers were at the Bill and the Rose-coloured Starling at Reap Lane, the Hooded Crow at the Grove and the Black Guillemot off Portland Castle were all still present. Routine migrants weren't as plentiful as might have been hoped, with October staples such as thrushes and finches remaining stubbornly thin on the ground. Numbers-wise, Stonechat and Wren were the day's feature birds, with 30 of the former dotted about the Bill and the total of 13 of the latter trapped and ringed at the Obs/Crown Estate Field constituting what must be one of the higher day totals of recent years for a species that's been in the doldrums for a long time; there were few surprises amongst the rest of the list, but 3 Little Egrets, 2 Merlins and 2 Firecrests at the Bill, a Black Redstart at Reap Lane, another Merlin at Portland Heights and a Great Spotted Woodpecker at Portland Castle were all of note. A lone Balearic Shearwater passing the Bill was the only seabird of interest.

Immigrant moth interest was again fairly minimal, with 2 each of Diamond-back Moth, Rusty-dot Pearl and Silver Y, and a single Pearly Underwing (as well as a presumably local Flame Brocade) all there was on offer at the Obs.


Rose-coloured Starling, Yellow-browed Warbler and Dartford Warbler - Reap Lane, Sweethill and Portland Bill, 14th October 2014 © Dave Smith (Rosy Starling), Pete Saunders (Yellow-browed Warbler) and Martin Cade (Dartford Warbler)

13th October

Whilst rarely quite as grim as the forecast had indicated conditions were something of a trial today, with more of less constant drizzly rain seeing to it that birding wasn't a doddle; if that was the downside then there was more than adequate compensation in there being a good scatter of new arrivals to get amongst. Whilst the first small drop of Redwings - including 13 at the Bill - was a welcome and very overdue sign of things to come, the main feature of the day - an arrival of at least 150 Wheatears at the Bill - was something of a blast from the past and very unexpected at this stage of the autumn. Few other newcomers were plentiful but the feel for there being a steady throughput of Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and the like always lent an air of expectation to proceedings at the Bill, where oddities included a Dartford Warbler (we think the first for getting on for three years), 5 Kestrels and a Marsh Harrier arriving in off the sea and singles of Lapwing, Snipe and Redshank. Seawatching there came up with 44 Common Scoter, 13 Brent Geese and 2 Arctic Skuas. List padders elsewhere included the Rose-coloured Starling still at Reap Lane and singles of Merlin and Yellow-legged Gull at Ferrybridge.

Not surprisingly, the quality of the overnight moth catch declined conspicuously, with 7 Rusty-dot Pearl and a Rush Veneer the only immigrants at the Obs.

Dartford Warbler, Stonechat and Yellow-legged Gull - Portland Bill and Ferrybridge, 13th October 2014 © Martin Cade (Dartford W and Stonechat), Pete Saunders (YLGull settled) and Debby Saunders (YLGull flying)
The conditions certainly caught out a few migrants, with the fall of Wheatears being particularly unexpected; when we had a walk along East Cliffs at midday quite a few were still arriving in off the sea and pitching straight onto the clifftop looking pretty bedraggled:

...the high proportion of adult males was a sure sign of how tough the going was:

Blackbirds and Song Thrushes were still passing through well into the afternoon (additional photos all © Martin Cade):