31st May

The beginning of the end of the recent dry and increasingly warm spell saw the Great Spotted Cuckoo linger on (today largely at Reap Lane) and a handful of new arrivals show up. Swifts trickled in off the sea all morning, with more than 100 through at the Bill, whilst 2 Sand Martins, 2 Yellow Wagtails, a Grey Heron and a Tree Pipit were also of note overhead there. On the ground, the Common Cuckoo stayed for another day at the Bill, where newcomers included 2 Willow Warblers and 2 Spotted Flycatchers; the migrant wader tally at Ferrybridge consisted of 8 Sanderling and 6 Dunlin.

30th May

Precious little change in either the weather or the birding, with the Great Spotted Cuckoo (which was mostly at the Bill today) still the star attraction. The odd few late migrants continued to show up, with a new Black Redstart and the lingering Cuckoo the best on offer at the Bill where 3 Chiffchaffs, 2 Reed Warblers and singles of Sand Martin (amongst a trickle of Swifts, Swallows and House Martins), Willow Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher made up the rest of the tally. Routine fare through on the sea there included a few Manx Shearwaters, 5 Common Scoter and 4 Sandwich Terns; a settled Puffin off Pulpit Rock was also of note (there still haven't been any reports of more than a single individual this spring, and this bird - if it is always the same individual - is seen by no means daily).

Orange-tip and Blue-tailed Damselfly - Bottomcombe and Easton, 30th May 2016 © Ken Dolbear

29th May

Warm and sunny again today with a fresh northerly breeze a feature throughout. It was another two cuckoo day, with the Great Spotted Cuckoo again roaming between Reap Lane and the Strips, and a Common Cuckoo showing up at the Bill; the day's other new arrivals consisted of 2 Spotted Flycatchers grounded at the Bill, a Hobby through there and a light but steady arrival of Swallows, House Martins and c100 Swifts. The only report from the sea was of 33 Common Scoter through off the Bill.

The overnight immigrant moth tally wasn't worth mentioning but singles of Tawny-barred Angle and Spruce Carpet at the Obs did provide a little evidence of dispersal from the mainland.

Kestrel and House Martin - Portland Bill and Southwell, May 2016 Simon Craft (Kestrel) and Martin King (House Martin)

28th May

Although the fog that rolled in yesterday evening soon cleared after dawn to reveal a day of lovely warm sunshine it likely prevented most overflying night migrants having any idea they could have made landfall as there were few routine new arrivals. The Great Spotted Cuckoo continued to entertain from time to time and 2 Serins that made a series of short visits to the Obs either side of midday were welcome, but new arrivals at the Bill otherwise consisted of 3 Reed Warblers, 3 Chiffchaffs and a Yellow Wagtail, with a Common Cuckoo at Reap Lane the only addition elsewhere.

Although immigrant moth numbers didn't match those of yesterday a Pearly Underwing at the Grove was of note, as were 2 Red Admiral butterflies caught overnight in the Obs traps.

Serin - Portland Bill, 28th May 2016 © Martin Cade

27th May

The Great Spotted Cuckoo got stuck into its third week in residence and, by maintaining its habit of holing up unseen for long periods, again caused as much pain as it did pleasure. An early evening Honey Buzzard in off the sea at the Bill was a nice first for the year, whilst the day's tally of common migrants there was full of variety even if the numbers were nothing to shout about. Hirundines and Swifts trickled through overhead but on the ground only Reed Warbler (5), Chiffchaff (3) and Yellow Wagtail (2) were in anything other than singles; the ones list included Grey Heron, Turnstone, Grey Wagtail, Wheatear, Blackcap, Garden Warbler and Willow Warbler. Seawatching at the Bill came up with no more than 9 Common Scoter and 4 Canada Geese.

A small arrival of common immigrant moths saw combined totals of 4 each of Diamond-back Moth and Silver Y, and 2 Rusty-dot Pearl logged at three sites at the Bill, Reap Lane and Weston.

26th May

It was pretty hard work to get much reward from today, with few new arrivals and the Great Spotted Cuckoo proving harder to find than at any time during its stay (it wasn't first spotted until late in the afternoon). A continuing trickle of passing hirundines aside, 2 Chiffchaffs, a Willow Warbler and a Spotted Flycatcher were the only obvious new arrivals at the Bill; 3 commic terns and 2 Common Scoter were also all that could be mustered from the sea there. Elsewhere there were 5 Sanderling, a Grey Plover and a Wheatear at Ferrybridge.

Small Heath butterfly was on the wing for the first time this year at several sites.

Great Spotted Cuckoo and Ravens - Reap Lane and West Cliffs, 25th and 24th May 2016 © Paul Ward (GSCuckoo) and Sean Foote (Ravens)

25th May

A reminder that there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm this Saturday, 28th May.

A keen easterly breeze that finally died right away towards evening kept it feeling surprisingly cool for a sunny late May day. Bird-wise, the Great Spotted Cuckoo was more cooperative than in recent days and entertained all-comers for the best part of the day at Reap Lane. Some movement was still afoot on all fronts, with a Long-tailed Skua - along with 53 Common Scoter, 6 commic terns, 4 Sanderling, a Great Northern Diver and a Dunlin - through off the Bill the best of the day's crop. Visible passage continued, with Swifts featuring more conspicuously than of late amongst the pulses of Swallows and House Martins: the total of 50 through at the Bill wouldn't ordinarily be anything to shout about but reflects the dreadful numbers logged there so far this spring. There was nothing in quantity on the ground, but 11 Dunlin and 9 Sanderling at Ferrybridge and 3 Chiffchaffs, 2 Spotted Flycatchers, and singles of Reed Warbler, Blackcap, Willow Warbler and an extremely late Goldcrest at the Bill were all of note.

Gannet - Portland Bill, 25th May 2016 © Lorne Bissell

...a couple of images perfectly illustrating the hazards of marine litter for wildlife; this hapless Gannet was bobbing about quite close off Pulpit Rock this afternoon - we can only hope that it drifts into Chesil Cove and comes ashore where there'd be a chance it could be caught and the offending item removed.

And a couple of Obs garden butterflies from yesterday; Holly Blues look to be having a good year, with plenty flittering about the hedges at the moment (photo © Ken Dolbear):

..and Red Admiral numbers seem to have consolidated, with plenty around since they arrived earlier in the month (photo © Joe Stockwell joe-stockwell.blogspot):

24th May

Although the Great Spotted Cuckoo attracted all the attention of the visitors there were still enough migrants about to make it well worth covering as much ground as possible. The Bill area came up with totals of 6 Spotted Flycatchers, 3 each of Yellow Wagtail, Reed Warbler and Blackcap, 2 each of Whimbrel and Chiffchaff, and singles of Marsh Harrier, Ringed Plover, Curlew and Wheatear; elsewhere another Hobby passed through at Blacknor and 3 Sanderling were at Ferrybridge. Although precious little systematic attention was given to the sea 3 Arctic Skuas were noticed passing through at various times off the Bill.

Marsh Harrier and Great Spotted Cuckoo - Portland Bill, 24th May 2016 © Martin Cade (Marsh Harrier) and Steve Gantlett cleybirds (Great Spotted Cuckoo)

23rd May

The Great Spotted Cuckoo gave folk the run-around again today but did eventually give itself up to the majority of the still steady stream of admirers it's attracting. Another minor flurry of late migrants at the Bill included 10 Spotted Flycatchers, 7 Reed Warblers, 2 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Chiffchaffs and a Wheatear on the ground and a light passage of Swallows and House Martins overhead; a lone Hobby also passed through at Blacknor. A Balearic Shearwater through off the Bill was the only bird of note on the sea.

22nd May

The Great Spotted Cuckoo has been proving trickier to catch up with in recent days, but it continued to surface in a seemingly ever more unpredictable fashion anywhere between the Obs and Reap Lane. Another little arrival of tardy migrants included 5 Chiffchaffs, 3 Reed Warblers, 2 Spotted Flycatchers and singles of Turtle Dove, Yellow Wagtail, Whitethroat, Blackcap and Siskin at the Bill, whilst odds and ends still on the move out to sea there included 9 Common Scoter, 3 each of Arctic Skua and Great Skua, and a single Great Northern Diver.

Turtle Dove - Portland Bill, 22nd May 2016 © Martin Cade

And when we downloaded this Turtle Dove sequence we realised there was quite a bit of video we hadn't even got round to looking at of the Great Spotted Cuckoo on its first visit to the Obs garden last Sunday so we've edited together a bit of that as a little memory of the event:

...as this was an Obs garden tick we thought that for a bit of fun we ought to tot up the all-time 'in and from' the Obs list. There are a few records from before our time that we're not sure about - we'll have to check with old-stagers like Beryl Clafton and Grahame Walbridge to ascertain whether the likes of Rough-legged Buzzard and Upland Sandpiper were actually seen from the Obs - and we haven't included a few dodgy 'imports/relocateds' such as Scops Owl and Desert Warbler, but it seems like the total's currently on at least 304. We can't think where in the UK there'd be a garden with a total to match that but we're sure someone will let us know pretty sharpish if there is.

21st May

Any day with a Great Spotted Cuckoo residing on the island shouldn't be written off, but it has to be said that there were few other reasons for cheer with drizzle and low cloud a nuisance throughout the morning and bucketing rain preventing any meaningful fieldwork during the afternoon. The cuckoo aside, land observations consisted of just 2 Chiffchaffs, a Reed Warbler and a Spotted Flycatcher at the Bill, whilst seawatching came up with a trickle of Manx Shearwaters, 5 Arctic Skuas, 2 Great Skuas and a Little Egret through off the Bill and a Great Northern Diver through off Chesil.

Skylark - Portland Bill, 20th May 2016 © Simon Craft

Also today, courtesy of Dr Martin Collinson at the University of Aberdeen, we received confirmation that this chiffchaff trapped at the Obs on 26th April was indeed a Siberian Chiffchaff (to be completely accurate, since it was the mtDNA from a feather sample that was analysed, its mother was a Siberian Chiffchaff); as we mentioned at the time, there was nothing in the plumage, moult or wing formula to suggest it wasn't a Siberian Chiffchaff, but since it wasn't heard to call it was good to get confirmation in another way that we weren't barking up the wrong tree:

20th May

The Great Spotted Cuckoo entered its second week in residence, today largely remaining at Reap Lane although late in the day it did wander as far as Top Fields. New arrivals at the Bill consisted of just 3 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Wheatears, a Turtle Dove and a Chiffchaff on the ground and a light passage of mainly Swallows overhead, whilst another Turtle Dove lingered for a second day at Southwell. The sea was well-watched but didn't come up with much more than 2 Great Northern Divers and singles of Arctic Skua and Great Skua through off the Bill.

Great Spotted Cuckoo - Reap Lane, 20th May 2016 © Mike Trew

And a bit of catching up with photos we've been sent in the last few days. We'd forgotten to mention a few new for the year butterflies that are now on the wing, amongst which have been Dingy Skipper and Common Blue; Ken Dolbear kindly sent through photos of both from Bottomcombe (on 15th and 14th May respectively):

These two Sanderling were settled on the rocks at the Bill on 15th May (photo from Ann & Noel Hand):

...and the Ravens have been a real nuisance at the Bill auk colony where they've been filching Guillemot eggs for the last fortnight (photo from James Phillips on 15th May):

19th May

On a fine, warm morning the Great Spotted Cuckoo was still about to be enjoyed (although in poorer conditions it wasn't reported during the afternoon) and hirundines continued to pass through in quantity - a sample count on West Cliffs suggested Swallows were moving at 550 per hour. However, grounded migrants were again very thinly spread, with no more than one or two each of Wheatear, Whinchat, Sedge Warbler, Garden Warbler, Blackcap and Chiffchaff at the Bill; another Sedge Warbler was also at Barleycrates Lane. With the exception of a few milling Manx Shearwaters, seawatching at the Bill produced just 3 Great Northern Divers and a tardy Common Gull.

Little Owl - Portland Bill, 19th May 2016 © Dave Butcher

Also some news from last week that we thought it prudent not to publicise at the time of a singing Wryneck on the island. Although not a regular birder, the finder had tracked down and identified the bird having first been alerted to its presence by a persistent and unfamiliar call. On visiting the site later in the day and initially being greeted by silence we were astonished when, in response to a last resort burst from a sound-lure, the bird flew straight into the top of the nearest tall tree and proceeded to sing loudly for several minutes! It was evidently still present and singing frequently the next morning but hasn't been heard or seen since so was presumably just a passing migrant that thought it would try its luck for a couple of days.

18th May

A change in the weather, with rain arriving before dawn and coming and going through the morning and early afternoon, was enough to prevent the Great Spotted Cuckoo from moving on and also pushed in a few seabirds: Chesil had a nice highlight in the form of a Long-tailed Skua that crossed the beach and headed away over Portland Harbour, whilst more routine fare included 50 commic terns, 3 Arctic Skuas, 2 Great Skuas and singles of Great Northern Diver and Pomarine Skua through there and 200 Manx Shearwaters, 4 each of Great Northern Diver and Great Skua, and singles of Red-throated Diver, Arctic Skua and Pomarine Skua through off the Bill. The conditions looked to satisfactory for some arrivals on the land, but in the event a lone Spotted Flycatcher was the only obvious new arrival on the ground at the Bill, elsewhere, a Turtle Dove showed up at Southwell. Swallows were still passing through in small numbers and a Hobby headed through at Verne Common.

17th May

The Great Spotted Cuckoo remained for another day and, in the almost complete absence of new grounded arrivals, provided pretty well all the interest on the land: Swallows were again passing through in unquantified but patently decent numbers and a Short-eared Owl lingered on at the Bill, but several Chiffchaffs and a Spotted Flycatcher at the Bill, and 11 Oystercatchers and 2 Sanderling amongst a handful of commoner waders at Ferrybridge were conspicuous for being just about the only newcomers on the ground. With the wind freshening ahead of the forecast arrival of a weather front sea passage picked up a little, with 100 Manx Shearwaters, 57 Common Scoter, 4 Pomarine Skuas and 2 Arctic Skuas through off the Bill.

16th May

The Great Spotted Cuckoo continued to entertain although it gave its would-be observers quite a run around at times today by constantly moving between the Obs garden and Reap Lane (...has there ever been a Portland rarity that's been as mobile as this?). In wall-to-wall sunshine most of the day's migrant numbers concerned visible passage, with Swallows moving along West Cliffs at up to 600 per hour; 3 Hobbys and a Cuckoo also passed through, whilst during the evening an Osprey drifted out from the mainland and headed away to the west over the north of the island. It was quieter on the ground with, for example, Bill totals that included 10 each of Chiffchaff and Spotted Flycatcher, 6 Blackcaps, 4 Wheatears, 2 each of Reed Warbler and Willow Warbler, and singles of Short-eared Owl and Garden Warbler.

Short-eared Owl - Portland Bill, 16th May 2016 © Martin Cade

Finally, it's got to that time of year when there are too many hours of daylight/too many things to do and not enough hours of darkness in which to recoup sufficient sleep to function properly(!); we're well aware we've accumulated quite a backlog of photographs from recent days that we've been sent but haven't had enough time to deal with so apologies to all concerned - we'll try and catch up as the week goes on.

15th May

The Great Spotted Cuckoo remained around all day but developed unexpected wanderlust: after forsaking what had become its favoured haunt at Reap Lane it first headed off to Top Fields, then the Strips before finally settling for the afternoon in and around the Obs garden. With clear skies and, at least by the afternoon, warm sunshine the order of the day hirundines were on the move in decent numbers but grounded migrants were in short supply, with 2 each of Whimbrel, Short-eared Owl and Garden Warbler, and singles of Cuckoo, Redstart and Black Redstart easily the best on offer at the Bill. Along with the hirundines, singles of Hobby and Little Egret were of note overhead at the Bill, whilst 29 Common Scoter and 4 Great Northern Divers passed through on the sea there.

Great Spotted Cuckoo, Short-eared Owl and Peregrine - Portland Bill, 15th May 2016 © Keith Pritchard (GSCuckoo flying), Nick Hopper (GSCuckoo settled and SEOwl) and Andy Mitchell (Peregine)

...having the Great Spotted Cuckoo zooming around the Obs garden at often point blank range was a truly memorable experience, made all the exciting as it had become far more vocal than had been the case when it was at Reap Lane:

14th May

The Great Spotted Cuckoo remained at Reap Lane and stole the show again today; however, a Serin that showed up from time to time through the morning at the Obs was a decent bonus for many, a Bee-eater that was heard but remained unseen over Bumpers Lane was a nice surprise for its lone observer and there were enough common migrants about to provide interest for the fieldworkers. Grounded migrants weren't exactly plentiful but the arrival of newcomers throughout the morning was constant enough to hint at there always being something good just around the corner; 25 Blackcaps, 20 Spotted Flycatchers and 10 each of Sedge Warbler and Chiffchaff made up the bulk of the numbers at the Bill, where a good range of other species were in low single figure totals; a Hobby passed through at Reap Lane, whilst 2 Short-eared Owls, a Curlew and a Siskin were all somewhat out of season at the Bill.

After one or two quite indifferent visits just lately we were very pleased to hear today from Nick Hopper that the first night of his last attempt at nocturnal sound recording - last Tuesday/Wednesday 10th/11th - coincided with some decent passage. Nick reports that the most noteworthy bird was a Moorhen; waders comprised 2 flocks of Purple Sandpipers, 7 Common Sandpiper, a Bar-tailed Godwit, at least 10 flocks of Whimbrel, 7 flocks of Ringed Plover, 11 flocks of Dunlins and 2 Turnstones, whilst there were also 3 parties of Arctic Tern, 4 parties of Common Tern and a Sandwich Tern. Further noteworthy loggings included a Grey Heron, 4 Pied Flycatchers, 3 Spotted Flycatchers and 2 Tree Pipit. 

A few mixed wader flocks with quite a few birds giving other types of social calls as well as the more recognised flight calls made for some lengthy analysis!  Some like this Dunlin even did a bit of singing:

Oddest bird is what surely is a Guillemot calling!  The call was recorded twice in 10 mins then once more an hour later. The sonogram is a very good fit; it didn't come close and this is the loudest of the calls:

13th May

We're beginning to get keen on Friday the 13ths: back in the dim and distant past the Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler was a Friday the 13th bird and today this supposedly inauspicious date struck again with the island's very long overdue first Great Spotted Cuckoo; although initially seen and identified at Wallsend at the Bill, it was then realised that the bird had been the source of distinctive but unidentified calls heard not long before on the bottom end of the Slopes; after attracting a first flurry of viewers at the Bill the bird became more mobile and moved to Reap Lane where it settled and remained for the rest of the day. In an at first quite brisk north-easterly there were a scatter of other new arrivals in evidence around the centre and south of the island: Chiffchaffs and Spotted Flycatchers were the most numerous at the Bill, reaching 20 and 10 respectively, but amongst a fairly varied back-up list 7 Yellow Wagtails, 3 Siskins, 2 White Wagtails, a Knot, a Pied Flycatcher, a fly-by Serin and a Yellowhammer were of note at the Bill and a Hobby passed through at Blacknor. Odds and ends of interest on the sea included 2 Great Northern Divers, 2 Red-breasted Mergansers and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill and a Black Tern through off Chesil.

Immigrant moth interest included 10 Diamond-back Moth, 5 Silver Y, a Rusty-dot Pearl and a Small China-mark caught overnight at the Obs.

Great Spotted Cuckoo - Portland Bill and Reap Lane, 13th May 2016 © Keith Pritchard settled upper, Duncan Walbridge settled lower, Mark Eggleton flight upper, Joe Stockwell joe-stockwell.blogspot flight lower and Martin Cade video

12th May

For the most part today's offerings amounted to no more than a poor man's version of yesterday, although two fortunate observers did score with a decent oddity when a Short-toed Lark pitched up briefly on the Slopes at the Bill. The thin spread of grounded migrants at the Bill included a fair bit of variety even if only Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Spotted Flycatcher made double figure totals; singles of Knot, Short-eared Owl, Black Redstart and Wood Warbler were the best of the less frequent species there, whilst singles of Hobby and Cuckoo were at Southwell and there were decent totals of 150 Dunlin and 29 Sanderling on offer at Ferrybridge.

Wood Warbler - Portland Bill, 12th May 2016 © Martin Cade

And a few late photos for yesterday; a couple of field shots of the Western Bonelli's Warbler from Duncan Walbridge upper and Mark Eggleton lower:

...a White Wagtail at the Bill (MC): 

...and from Nick Stantiford the rather unseasonable Grey Wagtail at Southwell: