31st October

A gloriously mild, sunny day but probably a bit too pleasant to have expected migrants to have dropped in any quantity. A Siberian Lesser Whitethroat that showed up at Reap Lane was certainly different to the lingering Obs garden individual that was still present; the lingering at Serin that showed up once at the Bill Quarry provided the only other rarity interest. Late passage was concentrated overhead, where Wood Pigeons and Chaffinches in particular were conspicuous (including 500 Wood Pigeons over the Bill); Redpolls also reached a double figure total for the first time this autumn at the Bill. It was quieter on the ground where a lone Ring Ouzel was the best on offer at the Bill.

Immigrant moth interest continued to tick over, with totals from the Obs traps of 35 Rusty-dot Pearl, 18 Rush Veneer, 13 Diamond-back Moth, 3 Silver Y and a White-speck.

30th October

A clearer day with a more conspicuous easterly breeze was quieter all round until mid-afternoon when a Daurian Shrike was discovered at Verne Common; sadly, it proved frustratingly difficult to pin down and was seen only once more before dusk. The Dusky Warbler remained in a private garden at Southwell and the Serin from nine days ago made a surprise reappearance around the Bill, but oddity-wise the only others reports were of the Siberian Lesser Whitethroat still at the Obs and a single Yellow-browed Warbler at the Craft Centre. Among the less regular migrants Black Redstarts were scattered everywhere (far from comprehensive coverage came up with more than 25) and 2 Merlins and singles of Little Egret, Woodlark, Mistle Thrush and Firecrest were at the Bill. The common migrant tally included 840 Starlings north over Blacknor but little else of particular note amongst the thinnish spread of expected fare. 

The cooler, breezier conditions saw moth numbers take a dip: the 14th Radford's Flame Shoulder of the autumn was a notable capture at the Obs, but the immigrant tally there otherwise consisted of just 59 Rusty-dot Pearl, 17 Rush Veneer, 5 Silver Y, 3 each of Diamond-back Moth and Pearly Underwing, and singles of Dark Sword Grass, Pearly Underwing and Clancy's Rustic.

Many thanks to Bruce Park for allowing up to grab a quick back of the camera record photo of the shrike to post here - with any luck it'll appear again but if it doesn't we'll try and nick Bruce's original photos later in the week. Although initially put out as a generic 'Isabelline' Shrike, we can't see this being anything other than a first-winter Daurian Shrike:

29th October

Another excellent day around the island with a nice spread of oddities for the weekend visitors to get amongst. A Red-throated Pipit would have been the highlight for most but sadly it passed straight through along West Cliffs at the Bill; however, there was instant compensation when a Little Bunting was netted in the Crown Estate Field, even it this too was hardly obliging once released. Singles of Siberian Chiffchaff and Siberian Lesser Whitethroat showed up near Church Ope Cove and at the Obs respectively, whilst 6 more Yellow-browed Warblers were dotted about the centre and south of the island; the Dusky Warbler also showed up again in a private garden at Southwell. A varied list of next tier less regulars included 4 Woodlarks over the centre of the island, a minimum of 20 Black Redstarts at the Bill with plenty more elsewhere, the Turtle Dove still at Southwell, a Ring Ouzel at the Bill and at least 3 Firecrests scattered about. Commoner migrants weren't exactly plentiful on the ground although most of the expected species were represented, but there was plenty of action overhead where thrushes and Chaffinches in particular were moving through in some quantity (many very high up and nearly escaping attention but for their calls).

The moth-traps were very busy, with the immigrant tally at the Obs consisting of 253 Rusty-dot Pearl, 106 Rush Veneer, 13 Diamond-back Moth, 4 Pearly Underwing, 3 Silver Y, 2 Dark Sword Grass, an Olive-tree Pearl and a Vagrant China-mark Diasemiopsis ramburialis

The trickle down of oddities that arrived in the country on the back of the long run of easterlies earlier this month continued unabated, with Little Bunting, Siberian Lesser Whitethroat and Yellow-browed Warblers (this one at Southwell © Nick Stantiford) among today's haul:

The Southwell Dusky Warbler was also about again today © Debby Saunders...

...the Turtle Dove lingered on and there were plenty of Black Redstart about © Tony Hovell:

The quiet, mild weather of the last few nights has resulted in very good moths catches; a Vagrant China-mark was the best of the immigrants at the Obs:

Perhaps surprisingly, today's Little Bunting was only the sixth ever ringed at PBO - and it's probably not being too unkind to say that it was a rather scratchy-looking individual: in particular it looked as though the feathers of the white eye-ring had some sort of affliction, with many having been lost around both eyes:

It was reasonably straightforward to age as a first-winter: there was a rather obvious moult discontinuity in the greater coverts even if that's barely visible in our inept attempt at photographing the wing...

...and the tail feathers were nicely pointed:

The tail pattern of the presumed Siberian Lesser Whitethroat wasn't the best we've seen, but probably passable nonetheless:

28th October

Quiet, heavily overcast anticyclonic conditions look to be becoming the order of the day and there was another small arrival of mainly expected late migrants. A Serin that showed up at the Obs was the best of the newcomers, with further interest provided 2 Yellow-browed Warblers at both Church Ope Cove and the Grove Cliffs, the Black Brant again at Ferrybridge, a Lapland Bunting north over Blacknor, the Turtle Dove still at Reap Lane, a Hen Harrier west offshore at the Bill (perhaps the recent lingerer departing?), 2 Merlins, a Woodcock and a Firecrest at the Bill and a spread of well into double figures of Black Redstarts. Routine passage was rather subdued both on the ground and overhead: many of the expected migrants were represented but there were no really significant counts worth a mention. Among the settled winterers there was a decent total of more than 1800 Dark-bellied Brent Geese at Ferrybridge, where the presumably also now wintering Bar-tailed Godwit total again topped 20.

The fresh breeze that sprung up yesterday afternoon and continued well into the night spoilt overnight mothing, with a noticeable drop in immigrant numbers; totals from the Obs traps included 47 Rusty-dot Pearl, 25 Rush Veneer, 6 Diamond-back Moth, 2 White-speck, a Pearly Underwing and a Silver Y.

Today's male Serin was an altogether finer specimen than last week's dowdy female...

...and we seem to be seeing all the expected features in, for example, the great coverts and the tail to be very confident that it's a bird of the year.

27th October

There was something of an after the Lord Mayor's banquet feel about proceedings today, with nothing to match the excitement of the last couple of days. The presumably returning Black Brant (that was first reported getting on for three weeks ago further up the Fleet) paid its first visit of the winter to Ferrybridge, the Hen Harrier was again at the Bill and the Turtle Dove remained at Reap Lane but the only newcomers of any significance were a brief Yellow-browed Warbler at the Obs, a lone Bearded Tit flying north over the Bill and a Coal Tit at Wakeham; among the less common migrants there were at least 7 Black Redstarts, a Merlin and a Firecrest at the Bill. Routine passage included a fair bit of overhead movement, for example 200 Chaffinches over the Bill in quick time after dawn, but on the ground it was relatively quiet everywhere.

A party of around a dozen Bottle-nosed Dolphins lingered off the Bill all day.

The return of favourable mild air has seen immigrant moth interest perk up; a Blair's Mocha at Reap Lane was the overnight highlight, with totals of routine fare from the Obs of 96 Rusty-dot Pearl, 87 Rush Veneer, 8 Diamond-back Moth, 3 Silver Y, 2 Small Purple Flat-body Agonopterix purpurea (a rare visitor to the Bill that has only occurred during spells of immigration), 2 Dark Sword Grass, a Gem and a White-speck.

The Black Brant at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

Grey Plover at Ferrybridge, Black Redstart at the Bill and a colour-ringed juvenile Peregrine at the Bill © Peter Moore petermooreblog:

...we haven't got a clue where the Peregrine originates from but we're sure someone will let us know pretty soon; the characters on the ring aren't clear on this low resolution crop but Peter suggests that they're 23.

Despite being a relatively frequent immigrant Blair's Mocha seems usually to pass us by - the all-time island total is only just in double figures so last night's raggedy specimen at Reap Lane is actually quite notable:

...and whilst having the camera out to do the mocha we thought it wouldn't do any harm to get a better photo of one of several of our recent Radford's Flame Shoulders before they were released: quite apart from there being quite a demand from folk wanted to twitch them, we'd held on to a few of these apparent males on the off chance of catching a female to maybe secure a pairing:

Following our comments a couple of days ago on Red-flanked Bluetail ageing it was interesting to today receive a message on the subject from Stephen Menzie who concurs with our conclusion that the Portland bird was an adult. Stephen was fortunate enough to handle what looks to be a somewhat bluer than usual first-winter Bluetail at Falsterbo a couple of autumns ago:

This individual is straightforward enough to age on the greater coverts alone: the three new inner feathers contrast nicely with the seven retained juvenile pale-tipped outer feathers; also notice how, for instance, this individual has typically narrower and far less blue primary coverts than the Portland bird. With regard to our bird, Stephen remarked on the apparent striking contrast between the tertials and the secondaries/primaries but pointed out that on close inspection there is some blue visible on the innermost two secondaries - in his opinion a feature that a first-winter would never show. On the basis of the evidence of these two individuals we'd venture that tail feather shape is a pretty ropey ageing feature - to our eyes it looks as though it would be little more than a toss-up deciding which tail accorded closer to each age class.

26th October

Although the island list didn't advance today, many of the regular Portland birders did manage a second island lifer in two days when a Pine Bunting showed up in the Crown Estate Field; found trapped in a mist-net after it had been attracted to a 'rare bunting' sound lure, the bird sadly didn't oblige with subsequent field views. The arrival of a Dusky Warbler that lurked in the bowels of a private garden at Southwell maybe wasn't quite so unexpected but provided a nice back-up for the bunting; both the Hen Harrier at the Bill and the Turtle Dove at Reap Lane remained for another day, with the latter site also luring in a Lapland Bunting, 4 Bearded Tits headed north over Blacknor and single Yellow-browed Warblers were at Avalanche Hump and Victoria Place. Commoner migrants weren't such a feature of the day but amongst the relatively thin spread of standard fare there were a scatter of at least 12 Black Redstarts and 4 Firecrests.

Overnight mothing came up with a notable prize in the form of Portland's third Scar Bank Gem at the Obs; although immigrant numbers increased variety was otherwise rather limited, with 130 Rush Veneer, 83 Rusty-dot Pearl, 8 Diamond-back Moth, 2 White-speck and a single Gem constituting the remainder of the tally at the Obs.

Two birds from well east of the Urals and a moth from the Afrotropics (...OK, perhaps at this time of year the latter is maybe just from southern Iberia but that doesn't sound nearly so exciting) - Pine Bunting, Dusky Warbler and Scar Bank Gem © Martin Cade (Pine Bunting and Scar Bank Gem) and Debby Saunders (Dusky Warbler):

These days, there's always a strong demand for photo opportunities © Martin King

As far as we can see the bunting showed all the features you'd expect to be able to confidently age/sex it as a first-winter female:

Having heard mention that some calls of Pine Bunting might sound a little different to those of Yellowhammer we were keen to attempt to sound record the bird on release; in the event it didn't really perform and now that Yellowhammer is approaching semi-rarity status on Portland we just don't know their calls intimately enough to know whether there's anything in this tiny snippet that might be useful - basically, it sounded a lot like a Yellowhammer to our ears!

When we downloaded the Pine Bunting photos from our phone we realised that we'd taken some decent shots of yesterday's Bluetail that we'd quite forgotten about; the intensity of the blue on this bird varied ever such a lot with the viewing angle, the light and even how close you were to the bird; to our eyes these phone shots correspond closely to how it looked in the field - it really was a pretty crippling-looking bird:

And to end on something completely different, many thanks to Martin King for some photos from yesterday - West Cliffs and Southwell Business Park at last light and the Obs after dark:

25th October

This year's been very kind when it comes to unblocking Portland bogeys: spring dealt us perhaps the most long-standing of all when the Great Spotted Cuckoo showed up, whilst the Red-eyed Vireo a couple of weeks ago allowed us to claw back a species that had been inaccessible on its only other island appearance; today came up with what's surely the most long-overdue autumn rare - a Red-flanked Bluetail that conveniently dropped into a net at the Obs. It would have been a pretty decent day without the bluetail: in lovely, sunny and mild conditions common migrants that had been dropped by heavy rain overnight were present in both quantity and variety - Robin and Goldcrest topped 50 apiece at the Bill and thrushes were conspicuous everywhere - whilst oddities included 5 Yellow-browed Warblers, the long-staying Hen Harrier, 2 Bearded Tits (singles at the Bill and Broadcroft) and a showy Turtle Dove (at Reap Lane for its second day); scarcer migrants included 4 Black Redstarts, 3 Firecrests, 2 each of Merlin and Yellowhammer, and a late Garden Warbler at the Bill and singles of Woodcock and Short-eared Owl at Avalanche.

A small influx of immigrant moths included 2 more Radford's Flame Shoulder - this time at Sweethill; the tally at the Obs included 57 Rusty-dot Pearl, 51 Rush Veneer, 29 Diamond-back Moth, 2 Dark Sword Grass and singles of Olive-tree Pearl, Vestal, Pearly Underwing, Delicate, White-speck and Silver Y.

Red-flanked Bluetail and viewers © Nick Hopper (in hand) and Martin King (the crowd)

The Reap Lane Turtle Dove showed really nicely © Mark Eggleton (still) and Martin Cade (video):

...as did this Ring Ouzel in the hut fields at the Bill © Roger Hewitt:

At first glance we were amazed by how blue the Bluetail was and assumed it had to be an adult male; however, close examination soon revealed what appeared to be a single 'non-blue' edged outer greater covert - what we presumed to be a juvenile feather - on each wing which, together with the brownish-rimmed tertials and pointed tail feathers, suggested it was a bird of the year. Further research though seems to indicate that in terms of, for example, head pattern and blueness, it's way outside the normal range of first-winter plumage (there doesn't seem to be any evidence of post juvenile moult ever being extensive enough to account for a plumage pattern like this) so we're guessing that it has to be an older bird after all.

24th October

There's no doubt that wet weather was overdue but to have an almost complete washout was disappointing when it looked as though today had plenty of potential. Early rounds of the Bill area came up with a fair spread of grounded migrants amongst which thrushes were particularly conspicuous; the lingering Hen Harrier, together with 10 Lapwings, 2 Snipe, a Merlin, a Black Redstart and a late Whitethroat all provided interest there, whilst a late Turtle Dove put in an appearance at Reap Lane. A Pallas's Warbler was discovered at Avalanche Road as soon as other areas begun to get some attention but this coincided with the rain setting in and spoiling further attempts at meaningful fieldwork elsewhere, although a late clearance did allow for the discovery of a rather incongruous Spoonbill grounded amongst gulls at the Bill.

Not quite what you expect to find when you're heading home for tea and stop to have a quick check through the gulls below Culverwell: