31st October

A shift in wind direction toward the east saw another major pulse of Goldcrests move through the island today, with some pretty extensive coverage suggesting the round-island total would have comfortably exceeded 500. The first wave through at the Bill at dawn was accompanied by a Pallas's Warbler that was trapped and ringed at the Obs; it lingered for a little while and later in the day what was presumably the same ringed individual popped up again at the Craft Centre. Goldcrest was overwhelmingly the most abundant of the grounded arrivals - constituting, for example, two-thirds of the day's ringing total at the Obs, whilst thrushes in particular remained conspicuous absentees everywhere; the scarcer migrant list was much as in recent days, with 14 Black Redstarts, 12 Firecrests, 3 Short-eared Owls, 2 each of Woodlark, Dartford Warbler and Yellow-browed Warbler, and singles of Moorhen, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Continental Coal Tit and Corn Bunting garnered from the island as a whole. Under largely clear skies it was a surprise that visible passage was so fitful, with a seemingly representative sample 70 minute count on West Cliffs at the Bill coming up with 136 Wood Pigeons, 89 Starlings, 83 Linnets, 76 Goldfinches, 49 alba wagtails, 22 Meadow Pipits, 16 Chaffinches, 12 Skylarks, 3 Bramblings, 2 each of Siskin and Reed Bunting, and a single Song Thrush.

The overnight immigrant moth tally at the Obs consisted of 15 Rusty-dot Pearl, 8 Rush Veneer, 6 Silver Y and singles of Vestal, Dark Sword Grass, Delicate, Small Mottled Willow and Scarce Bordered Straw.

Pallas's Warbler, Black Redstart, Continental Coal Tit, Yellow-browed Warbler and Moorhen - Portland Bill, Southwell, Easton and Portland Castle, 31st October 2015 © Martin Cade (Pallas's W) and Chris Patrick (all other photos)

30th October

Another seemingly promising day that looked to be fizzling out uneventfully was salvaged in fine fashion during the afternoon when a Little Bunting was discovered beside the Coastguard Cottages at the Bill; unfortunately it quickly headed off and hadn't been found again by dusk. The Pumping Station Quarry Pallas's Warbler looked to have moved on but also during the afternoon it or another was evidently located, together with a Yellow-browed Warbler, at Southwell School. Continental Coal Tits featured again, with 1 - a lingerer? - at Verne Hill Road and 3 at Wakeham, whilst another likely Siberian Chiffchaff showed up at Southwell; 3 Short-eared Owls, 2 Dartford Warblers, 2 Black Redstarts, a Merlin and a Woodcock were at the Bill, with 3 more Black Redstarts at Blacknor, another Merlin at Chesil Cove and the late Redstart still at Reap Lane. The commoner migrant situation was relatively unchanged although overall numbers were a little lower: Goldcrests still dominated, whilst both Redwing and Blackcap showed small increases. The sea was again a huge disappointment, with a Teal and a Great Skua through off Chesil Cove and likely the same Teal also through off the Bill.

Several hours of quiet conditions early in the night allowed for a better catch of immigrant moths, with 12 Rush Veneers, 6 Silver Y, 4 Rusty-dot Pearl, 3 Clancy's Rustic, 2 each of Pearly Underwing, Delicate and Scarce Bordered Straw, and singles of Diamond-back Moth and Spindle Knot-horn at the Obs.


Little Bunting, Woodcock, Scarce Bordered Straw and Spindle Knot-horn - Portland Bill, 30th October 2015 © Ben Porter benporterphotography (Little Bunting and the moths) and Martin Cade (Woodcock)

29th October

No day with a Pallas's Warbler on the list - the Pumping Station Quarry bird was present all day - could be described as disappointing, but there was a feeling that there perhaps ought to have been more in the way of new arrivals after the wind and rain of dawn cleared through to leave pretty benign conditions for the rest of the day. The Pallas's aside, the day's tally was a somewhat impoverished version of yesterdays: ringing evidence indicated that a good many of the birds were lingerers, with the likes of a Coal Tit at the Obs, 5 Short-eared Owls at the Bill, the late Redstart at Portland Castle and a spread of into double figures of both Black Redstart and Firecrest all making the log; another Redstart also showed up at Reap Lane. The strong wind did little for the sea, with 2 Great Northern Divers and a Balearic Shearwater the best on offer at the Bill.

Moth numbers dwindled, with a Scarce Bordered Straw the best of the few immigrants at the Obs.

Kestrel, Goldcrest and Firecrest - Portland Bill, 29th October 2015 © Ben Porter benporterphotography

28th October

Another decent day that was capped off during the afternoon with the discovery of a Pallas's Warbler in the Pumping Station Quarry at Southwell - hardly a surprise given the circumstances but very welcome nonetheless. The list of back-ups was again varied and included a Yellow-browed Warbler at the Grove and Continental Coal Tits at Portland Castle, the Grove and the Obs, along with 4 Short-eared Owls at the Bill, a Great Spotted Woodpecker at Pennsylvania Castle, Woodlarks over the Bill (5) and the Grove, a Ring Ouzel at the Grove, Dartford Warblers at the Bill (at least 2) and the Grove, a Corn Bunting at the Bill and totals of at least 16 Firecrests and 9 Black Redstarts scattered about the island. Goldcrests again made up the bulk of the numbers on the ground, with upwards of 250 logged at the sites that were covered, whilst most of the other expected late autumn migrants featured in low numbers. Additions worth a mention included the Redstart still at Portland Castle, the first 2 Black-necked Grebes of the winter in Portland Harbour and a Great Northern Diver over the Bill.

Immigrant moth interest improved, with a tally from the Obs that included 14 Rusty-dot Pearl, 6 Silver Y, 5 Rush Veneer, 3 Clancy's Rustic, 2 each of Delicate and Scarce Bordered Straw, and singles of Vestal, Dark Sword Grass, Pearly Underwing and Grey Shoulder Knot.

Pallas's Warbler and Continental Coal Tit - Southwell and Portland Bill, 28th October 2015 © Ben Porter benporterphotography (Pallas's Warbler) and Martin Cade (Coal Tit)

...and a little snippet of the Corn Bunting calling from the top of a roadside tree at Culverwell:

Finally, a few more photos from Ben Porter's meanderings around the Bill - Kestrel, Short-eared Owl, Woodlark, Olive-tree Pearl and Delicate:

...and some Goldcrest action from Martin King:

27th October

Quantity rather than high quality again today with Goldcrest still overwhelmingly the feature species of the moment. What quality there was came in the form of scarce or infrequent migrants rather than rarities, with the best of the bunch being a Yellow-browed Warbler and a Continental Coal Tit at Tilleycombe, additional Continental Coal Tits at Portland Castle (2), Southwell and Pennsylvania Castle, a Siberian Chiffchaffs at Pennsylvania Castle and another likely one at the Obs and a Jack Snipe at Barleycrates Lane. Goldcrest dominated the migrant numbers although their distribution was oddly patchy, with very high totals at some sites - including 150 in the Pennsylvania Castle/Wakeham area - but far fewer at others. New Robins were also conspicuous, whilst island-wide totals of 16 Firecrests and 12 Black Redstarts were noteworthy and at least 2 Short-eared Owls lingered on at the Bill. Most other passage was relatively subdued, with thrushes in particular not as numerous as might be expected. Brent Geese continued to increase at Ferrybridge, with 1300 during the morning; 5 Wigeon also passed through there and a lone Red-breasted Merganser passed through off the Bill.

Despite the arrival of promising-feeling milder air mothing was spoilt by the strength of the wind, with the immigrant tally at the Obs consisting of 8 Silver Y, 2 each of Rusty-dot Pearl and Rush Veneer, and singles of Olive-tree Pearl, Delicate and White-speck.

Continental Coal Tit and putative Siberian Chiffchaff - Southwell and Portland Bill, 27th October 2015 © Debby Saunders (Coal Tit) and Martin Cade (tristis)

26th October

Apart from the fact that there wasn't a moment in the day when a blasting south-easterly wasn't doing its best to make birding as awkward as possible today had plenty going for it, with an interesting assortment of oddities mingled amongst the best island-wide arrival of Goldcrests for many years. Had it been possible to visit all the areas of cover it wouldn't have been a surprise if the Goldcrest tally hadn't got to around the 500 mark: everywhere that was visited was full of them and the evidence from the mist-nets suggested that there was a day-long throughput of new arrivals; a fair number of Firecrests were on the move as well, with up to 5 at several sites and 10 at Pennsylvania Castle. Rarity interest was limited to a presumably returning Black Brant at Ferrybridge, but scarce migrants included single Yellow-browed Warblers at Pennsylvania Castle and Portland Castle, a Continental Coal Tit at Portland Castle and a scatter of 8 Black Redstarts, 2 Ring Ouzels, a Merlin and a Bullfinch; there were also tardy singles of Redstart at Portland Castle and Whitethroat at the Bill. The usual high hopes for the sea came to nothing, with a single Arctic Skua the only worthwhile sighting at the Bill.

Goldcrest, Continental Coal Tit and Black Brant - Southwell, Portland Castle and Ferrybridge, 26th October 2015 © Debby Saunders (Goldcrest and Black Brant) and Chris Patrick (Continental Coal Tit)

This Redstart (thanks to Keith Pritchard for the photos) at Portland Castle caused a minor commotion during the day: although at first taken to be 'just' a Common Redstart, it was later - in the light of the presence of apparent white wing-panels - reported on some of the news services as a likely Ehrenberg's samamisicus Redstart:

Later scrutiny revealed that, amongst other features, the fine detail of the wing panel wasn't right for Ehrenberg's, and showed just how much the apparent extent/colour of the panels depended on viewing angle/light:

25th October

A nice enough late autumn day in lovely warm sunshine but hardly a sniff of quality amongst the day's birds. The oddities that did show included at least 4 Firecrests, 2 Short-eared Owls, 2 Dartford Warblers and a Bullfinch at the Bill, a Woodlark over Avalanche Road, 2 more Firecrests at Pennsylvania Castle and a Hen Harrier over High Angle Battery, whilst commoner migrants encompassed all that might be expected in smallish numbers on the ground and overhead everywhere and included late singles of Whinchat and Whitethroat at the Bill. The Dark-bellied Brent Goose total at Ferrybridge topped 1000 for the first time this winter, with a lone Pale-bellied Brent thrown in for good measure, whilst nearby a Great Northern Diver was off Chesil.

Butterlies still on the wing included both Clouded Yellow and Painted Lady at the Bill.

Moths haven't had a mention in recent updates, largely because there's been precious little of particular note; immigrants have included the odd Delicate and Scarce Bordered Straw amongst low numbers of Rusty-dot Pearl, Rush Veneer, Pearly Underwing and Silver Y, whilst the only dispersers of minor interest in recent nights have been singles of Grey Pine Carpet and Red-green Carpet at the Obs.

Pale-bellied Brent Goose and Grey Pine Carpet & Red-green Carpet - Ferrybridge and Portland Bill, 25th October 2015 © Debby Saunders (Pale-bellied Brent) and Martin Cade (the moths)

24th October

Fortunately it's still far too early to write off the autumn but sustained passage really has ground to a halt for the moment, with standard late autumn fare like the thrushes all but non-existent today. There was little in any numbers on the ground, with the most visible newcomers being a sprinkle more Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests everywhere; new Firecrests at the Obs (2) and Suckthumb Quarry, and a late Reed Warbler at the Obs were noteworthy, whilst at least 2 Short-eared Owls lingered on at the Bill and another passed over at Blacknor. Conditions were hardly favourable for much overhead passage but Starlings were still on the move with 300 arriving from the south at the Bill. In a fresh onshore wind there had been hopes that sea interest might perk up but, a Sooty Shearwater off the Bill aside, passage consisted of little more than a light trickle of Kittiwakes and auks.

23rd October

More about than yesterday but maybe not as much as might have been hoped after a calm, overcast dawn and a freshening southerly through the day. Yesterday's Pennsylvania Castle area Yellow-browed Warbler lingered on and provided the day's only scarcity interest, with 7 Short-eared Owls at the Bill and another 2 over Portland Harbour, and 2 Firecrests and a Merlin at the Bill among the more noteworthy of the rest of the day's tally. A steady little arrival of Goldcrests saw a good 50 pass through at the Bill but most other passage was fairly subdued, with nothing else in quantity on the ground and no great numbers overhead or on the sea; some of the best of the other totals came from a vis mig watch at Ferrybridge, where 290 alba wagtails, 283 Linnets, 132 Goldfinches and 68 Meadow Pipits made up the bulk of the numbers. The sea has been the poor relation for some time so signs of passage picking up ever so slightly were welcome, with 31 Common Scoter, 20 Black-headed Gulls and singles of Red-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver through off the Bill.

22nd October

It was a real struggle to get much reward from today, with the single figure ringing total at the Obs reflecting a pretty uniform dearth of migrants everywhere - north-westerlies really are rubbish at Portland! The few minor snippets of interest included 5 Crossbills overhead at Wakeham where a likely Siberian Chiffchaff was heard calling,  2 Firecrests at both Bumpers Lane and the Obs and singles of Merlin and Short-eared Owl at the Bill. Routine migrants consisted of just the thinnest spread of routine fare everywhere.

It's got to that time of year when we bid farewell to another assistant warden: it's probably fair to say that our visitors - members and non-members alike - have probably never had such an attentive and informative welcome than they've had this year with Glen Maddison on board; quite apart from being a hit with our guests, Glen's put in sterling service behind the scenes to ensure that 2015 has been another successful year at the Obs. Many thanks to Glen for all his efforts.

21st October

We were very saddened to hear today of the death of Norman Moore, the honorary president of Portland Bird Observatory; Norman's huge contribution to nature conservation in Britain is well known and we greatly appreciate the support that he gave over many years to our work at the observatory. We extend our sincere condolences to Norman's family on their sad loss.

A profound change in the weather with a blusterly westerly and rain throughout the morning made for difficult birding today. New arrivals did make landfall, as evidenced by the Yellow-browed Warblers pitching up at the Obs and Pennsylvania Castle, but commoner migrants were tricky to get amongst in the wind and rain, and didn't seem to be very plentiful, with 7 Short-eared Owls and a new Firecrest at the Bill and a late Willow Warbler at Southwell the best amongst the scatter of thrushes, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests around the south of the island. Despite the conditions another 200 Starlings arrived from the south at the Bill.

Also some late news on nocturnal passage during the night of 15th/16th October: Nick Hopper has just sent us through the totals from that night's recordings which comprised
526 Redwing calls, 413 Song Thrush calls, 4 Blackbirds, 3 Meadow Pipits, 2 Robins, a Fieldfare, a Water Rail and the usual miscellany of unidentified calls that Nick hasn't had time to sort out. For various reasons we've spent a fair bit of time wandering about after dark in recent nights and we've got the impression that just lately nocturnal passage has involved birds moving straight through (on murkier, drizzly nights you often get the feel for birds getting stuck overhead and simply whirring around in circles) so we'd hazard a guess that on this occasion Nick's totals refer to an absolute minimum number of individuals - goodness knows how many birds are really up there since, if diurnal passage is anything to go by, then a lot of the single calls likely refer to small flocks.

Yellow-browed Warbler - Portland Bill, 21st October 2015 © Martin Cade

20th October

With clear skies and warm sunshine the order of the day after a brief overcast start it was a surprise that common migrants trickled through in some numbers: Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests dominated, with totals of 100 and 40 respectively at the Bill and lots more of both elsewhere; a good spread of thrushes - including single Ring Ouzels at the Bill and Southwell, and a Mistle Thrush at the Bill - and Blackcaps made up the bulk of the rest of the numbers on the ground, with 2 Short-eared Owls, 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Dartford Warblers, a Firecrest and a Serin at the Bill, another Dartford Warbler at Barleycrates Lane and a Yellow-browed Warbler at Easton the best of the scarcer migrants. Overhead, the usual finches were prominent without being especially numerous, whilst for the second day running there were signs of some Wood Pigeon passage developing with more than 250 through at the Bill.

Ring Ouzel and Short-eared Owl, Fieldfare and Dartford Warbler - Southwell and Barleycrates Lane, 20th October 2015 © Nick Stantiford (Ouzel & SEOwl), Debby Saunders (Fieldfare) and Pete Saunders (Dartford W)

19th October

Portland's mini purple patch continued, with new arrivals today that included a Red-breasted Flycatcher and a Serin at the Obs and a Yellow-browed Warbler at Southwell; the Suckthumb Red-backed Shrike also lingered on, whilst the likes of 8 Crossbills over Blacknor and 2 Black Redstarts, a Ring Ouzel and a Corn Bunting at the Bill and a good spread of Short-eared Owls everywhere all added to the interest. It was also another decent day for commoner migrants, with the 80 Goldcrests, 50 Chiffchaffs and 40 Blackcaps grounded at the Bill being representative of the good spread of these and other late migrants throughout the island. Although overhead passage of thrushes and most finches was still no more than a light trickle, incoming Chaffinches did feature more strongly and there was the first northbound movement of Starlings of the autumn (including 200 through at the Bill).

Red-breasted Flycatcher, Serin and Yellow-browed Warbler - Portland Bill and Southwell, 19th October 2015 © Martin Cade (RbFly & Serin) and Pete Saunders (YbWarbler)
 And thanks to Paul and Michelle Gascoigne for this little video clip of their rescue of a Kestrel that had ended up in the sea off the Bill after a scrap with another Kestrel; the bird's currently recuperating at the Obs and doesn't appear to be any the worse for its ordeal!

18th October

A day that had begun quite unpromisingly eventually returned a good haul of both the common and the not so frequent, with a very elusive Olive-backed Pipit in the Foundry Close/Easton Fire Station area providing the icing on the cake. Unusually for Portland, the numbers of routine migrants didn't come as a dawn fall but rather as a sudden flurry well into the morning, with the eventual totals of 100 Chiffchaffs and 60 Goldcrests garnered at the Bill representing only a sample of what looked to be a pretty decent island-wide arrival; whilst these smaller migrants were numerous, the likes of thrushes and finches didn't feature in such quantity and there were few other totals worth a mention. Amongst the less frequent migrants, Short-eared Owls again stole the show with very likely more about at the Bill than the minimum of 7 total that'll go in the log; another single was at Ferrybridge. The Suckthumb Red-backed Shrike also reappeared, whilst 3 Firecrests, 2 each of Merlin and Dartford Warbler, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker made the list at the Bill, 2 Firecrests and singles of Short-eared Owl, Ring Ouzel and Dartford Warbler were scattered about the Southwell/Suckthumb Quarry/Barleycrates Lane area and another Firecrest was at Foundry Close.

Red-backed Shrike and Short-eared Owl - Suckthumb Quarry and Southwell, 18th October 2015 © Roger Hewitt (Red-backed Shrike) and Pete Saunders (Short-eared Owl)

17th October

It's becoming evident that we've perhaps had too much of a good thing with the current well-established spell of north-easterlies and a change or stir-up in the weather won't do any harm. That's not to say there wasn't any happening since there was a scatter of less frequent migrants about, but the numbers of routine fare have been diminishing by the day and rarities aren't featuring at all. The day's interest came in the form of at least 5 Short-eared Owls, 4 Firecrests, 3 Ring Ouzels, 1 or more Dartford Warblers, a Long-eared Owl and a Mistle Thrush at the Bill, 4 more Short-eared Owls around the north of the island and another Dartford Warbler at Suckthumb. Grounded commoner migrants included a thin spread of Wheatears, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests, whilst small numbers of thrushes and finches made up the bulk of what was on the move overhead. The autumn's first Great Northern Diver passed through over the Bill, but 4 Brent Geese were the only other birds of note on the sea there.

Wheatear - Portland Bill, 17th October 2015 © Roger Hewitt

...and, also from Roger, another angle on last week's Red-backed Shrike:

16th October

A wee bit disappointing today with a samey selection of relatively routine migrants showing up in what are becoming increasingly chilly and dreary conditions. The heavy cloud cover knocked overhead passage on the head with just a few dozen thrushes in total passing through at the Bill, where even the commoner finches were poorly represented. It was busy enough on the ground, with 50 Chiffchaffs, 25 Blackcaps and 15 Goldcrests at the Bill, where variety included at least 4 Short-eared Owls, 3 Ring Ouzels, 3 Firecrests and singles of Little Egret, Water Rail, Black Redstart and Yellow-browed Warbler; a similar selection elsewhere included 2 more Ring Ouzels and singles of Short-eared Owl, Black Redstart and Dartford Warbler. Although precious little attention was paid to the sea 28 Wigeon and 2 Balearic Shearwater did make the list at the Bill.

A small selection of immigrants in the moth-traps included a Scarce Bordered Straw at Sweethill and 5 Pearly Underwing, 3 Silver Y and 2 Rusty-dot Pearl at the Obs.

Firecrest - Southwell, 16th October 2015 © Nick Stantiford

15th October

A reminder that the next In Focus field event at the Obs takes place between 10am and 4pm this Saturday, 17th October 2015.
 A rarity clear-out today with even Yellow-browed Warbler an absentee, but plenty enough in the way of typical mid-October fare to keep the visitors entertained. By far the most conspicuous event of the day was a constant trickle of thrushes heading through into the brisk north-easterly: Redwings dominated with 500 over one watchpoint at Southwell, and likely more than 750 through over the island as a whole; at least 11 Fieldfares and 3 Ring Ouzels were mingled in at the Bill, but although Blackbirds and Song Thrushes were also on the move their numbers were relatively low. This diurnal passage had been a continuation of overnight events, since we later learnt from Nick Hopper that his recording equipment had logged 236 Redwings, 162 Song Thrushes and singles of Blackbird, Fieldfare and Dunnock between 19.15 and 23.00 (as usual, these totals refer to loggings of single calls rather than a number of individuals). Short-eared Owls were also a feature with a minimum of 7 at the Bill, whilst at least 5 Firecrests, 2 Water Rails, a Merlin and a Dartford Warbler were additional oddities there. Grounded migrants included 60 Chiffchaffs, 30 Blackcaps and 15 Goldcrests at the Bill but, thrushes aside, overhead passage wasn't really on a par with most recent days and largely consisted of Swallows and a miscellany of finches.

Redwing, Fieldfare and Short-eared Owl - Portland Bill and Southwell, 15th October 2015  © Martin Cade (Redwing head), Pete Saunders (Redwing flying) and Joe Stockwell (Fieldfare and Short-eared Owl)