31st January

The only good thing about today was that getting it out of the way gets us one day nearer to spring: this January's been a month that won't live long in the memory and today's offerings under frequently drizzly skies were appropriately meagre. Twelve Teal off Chesil Cove tied in with yesterday's half dozen in Portland Harbour to perhaps hint at some early waterfowl movement, but otherwise there was no change: 13 Goosanders were in Portland Harbour, the Greylag Goose remained at Reap Lane and 5 Red-throated Divers and a Black-headed Gull passed through off the Bill.

Some of the Goosanders off Portland Castle © Pete Saunders:

30th January

With fog and/or rain continuing to dominate proceedings there was only one brief window of opportunity for fieldwork today. That came up with the Greylag Goose still at Reap Lane, 6 Purple Sandpipers, a Grey Heron and a Black Redstart still at the Bill and 12 Goosanders, 6 Teal and 2 Eider in Portland Harbour.

29th January

A shocker of a day with heavy rain setting in during the morning and lasting until well after dark. The only reports were of the Greylag Goose still at Reap Lane and 2 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill.

28th January

In fairer conditions a handful of cold weather refugees lingered on including the Greylag Goose at Reap Lane, a Jack Snipe at Southwell and a few Lapwings (17 scattered about Reap Lane/Barleycrates Lane and 9 west off the Bill). Five Purple Sandpipers and a Black Redstart were still at the Bill, 3 Red-throated Divers passed by on the sea there and 440 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 12 Goosanders, 4 Pale-bellied Brents and 3 Eider were at Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour.

The Greylag Goose lingered on at Reap Lane © Abi Jacobs (still) and Martin Cade (video):

Fulmars are well ensconced patrolling the cliffs © Abi Jacobs: 

Short-eared Owls haven't been putting on such a good show in recent evenings: Pete Saunders reports that there was just one about this evening and mentions that he hasn't seen them make a single kill in his last four visits to watch them © Pete Saunders:

One of the Ferrybridge Pale-bellied Brents continues to court a Dark-bellied Brent but by the looks of it had some competition today © Pete Saunders:

We haven't been bothering with the moth-traps in the recent cooler weather but an early Early Grey was a notable find on the Obs front door this morning - our first dates for this species aren't usually until well into March although there was a freakishly ahead of time record of one a couple of winters ago on 30th November 2014 © Martin Cade:

27th January

No sooner had the chillier conditions got a response from some birds then today it turned noticeably milder with rain arriving during the afternoon. The Greylag Goose showed up again over Reap Lane, whilst singles of Lapwing, Golden Plover and Jack Snipe were still about at the Bill. The other happenings were all to be expected: 11 Purple Sandpipers and a Black Redstart still at the Bill, 12 Stock Doves at Sweethill (the highest count at this site so far this winter) and 490 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 12 Goosanders, 7 Curlew, 5 Pale-bellied Brents and a Bar-tailed Godwit at Ferrybridge.

Amongst the goings-on at Ferrybridge it was interesting to see one of the Pale-bellied Brents going through the motions of pairing up with a Dark-bellied Brent © Debby Saunders (the brents, GCGrebe and RbMerganser) and Pete Saunders (Kingfisher):

26th January

Maybe not surprisingly considering out chilly the air's got with a stiff southeasterly blowing off the Continent, today came up with a nice little pulse of cold weather movement: 5 Golden Plovers and singles of Lapwing, Snipe and Redwing showed up at the Bill, 4 Lapwings headed over Southwell, 10 Fieldfares, 8 Redwings, 6 Lapwings and singles of Greylag Goose and Golden Plover were at Barleycrates Lane, 37 Lapwings headed north over Priory Corner and a Teal passed through Portland Harbour. A rather comprehensive list of regulars included 7 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Black Redstarts at the Bill, 5 Common Scoter and 3 Red-throated Divers through on the sea there, 2 more Black Redstarts at Weston/Blacknor, 205 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 3 Pale-bellied Brents, 60 Dunlin, 17 Bar-tailed Godwits and 16 Ringed Plover at Ferrybridge and 2 Goosanders in Portland Harbour.

The 3 Pale-bellied Brent Geese at Ferrybridge this morning © Pete Saunders:

25th January

A mainly fog-free day allowed for more coverage but the day's only reports were of 3 Gadwall and a Black-throated Diver through off the Bill and 2 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Mute Swan and an Eider at Ferrybridge.

24th January

With much of the island fogged out for most of the day there was nothing of note to report on the bird front.

It was certainly a day of freaky conditions: with only the most gentle of easterly breezes fog blanketed the island but dissipated after spilling over West Cliffs © Pete Graydon:

...towards evening there was a gradual clearance eastwards © Martin Cade

...viewed from Purbeck at dusk the top of the island looked to floating above a sea of fog © Jol Mitchell:

23rd January

Quiet weather was again the order of the day but it came in two sorts, with a lovely sunny morning giving way to an afternoon of cold, blanket fog. Yesterday's - or another? - Jack Snipe in a different spot at the Bill was the best of the day's sightings; a lone Long-tailed Tit was a surprise arrival at the Obs but otherwise there was little change, with 3 Purple Sandpipers, a Black Redstart and a Reed Bunting at the Bill, 3 Red-throated Divers through on the sea there, 8 Redwings at Suckthumb and a Goosander at Ferrybridge.
Also some news that we've gleaned from recent visitors to the Obs of a few other random local oddities: a Treecreeper - presumably the individual seen before Christmas at Pennsylvania Castle - has visited a garden at Wakeham twice in recent weeks, whilst single Blackcaps have been seen in gardens at Southwell and Weston in recent days.

Although we've encountered roaming parties of Long-tailed Tits rather often around the centre of the island this winter they're very rare visitors to the Bill at this season © Martin Cade:

And thanks to Duncan Walbridge for passing us a photo of yesterday's Marsh Harrier over Weston:

22nd January

In welcome contrast to yesterday's unpleasant conditions today offered glorious sunshine and, with the wind having abated, a modicum of warmth. A Marsh Harrier over Weston was a good mid-winter sighting, whilst a couple more cold weather refugees showed up: a Jack Snipe at the Bill and a Snipe at Broadcroft. Regulars included 12 Goosanders at Ferrybridge, 6 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill and 3 Red-throated Divers through on the sea there.

Short-eared Owl © Andy Mitchell:

21st January

A truly grim dreary and cold day did at least provide a few morsels of interest, notably a Siberian Chiffchaff at Blacknor and some very minor signs of a few birds moving in response to the cold: at least 7 Lapwings dropped in at the Bill where the first Reed Bunting for more than a month also showed up. Routine fare there included 6 Purple Sandpipers, a Grey Heron and a Black Redstart, with 18 Common Scoter and 4 Red-throated Divers through on the sea; elsewhere, 2 Eider were still in Portland Harbour.

The Short-eared Owls continue to entertain © Abi Jacobs:

20th January

A raw easterly featured again and kept sightings to a minimum: 4 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill and 13 Goosanders were at Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour.

One of the Southwell Barn Owls and some of the Ferrybridge Goosanders © Pete Saunders:

19th January

A reminder that there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm this Saturday, 21st January.

Clear and sunny again today although with an unwelcome edge in the form of a brisk and cutting easterly. The only reports were from the Bill where 11 Common Scoter, 7 Red-throated Divers, 2 Great Northern Divers and a Brent Goose passed by on the sea and 9 Purple Sandpipers were about on the shore.

The Purple Sandpipers didn't make the dizzy heights of yesterday's 12, but those that were about today were showing nicely; incidentally, this little group are set to feature on next week's BBC Winterwatch (if we remember rightly they'll be on next Tuesday) © Pete Saunders (the flock) and Debby Saunders (the single):

Short-eared Owls are still about at the Bill although presently there doesn't seem to be as many in residence as there were at the turn of the year © Pete Saunders:

18th January

The return of nice crisp, clear conditions brought out plenty of birders but there were only routine winter rewards: 21 Red-throated Divers and a Common Scoter passed through off the Bill, 12 Purple Sandpipers (the highest total there this winter) were about there and 12 Black-necked Grebes and a lone Goosander were in Portland Harbour.

17th January

The quiet, dreary conditions that have become established got divers moving in their highest numbers so far this winter, with 58 Red-throateds and 3 Great Northerns through off the Bill; 16 Common Scoter and 2 Brent Geese also passed by there, with 10 Purple Sandpipers, a Grey Heron and a Black Redstart providing interest on the land. The only other reports were of 9 of the Goosanders back in Portland Harbour where 2 Eider were still present.

Southwell remains a happy hunting ground for the local Barn Owls © Pete Saunders:

16th January

Much better coverage today although in the drab, mild conditions it revealed little more than the regulars. Seawatching at the Bill came up with c4000 auks (again more than 90% were Razorbills), 16 Red-throated Divers, 8 Common Scoter and a Black-throated Diver, with the Purple Sandpiper tally on the shore back up to 8. One of the Black Redstarts was still at the Bill, with 2 again at Chesil Cove, whilst winterers elsewhere on the land included 10 Redwings at Avalanche Road and 2 Goldcrests and a Chiffchaff at Pennsylvania Castle. At least 13 Black-necked Grebes and an Eider were in Portland Harbour.
Late news for yesterday of 16 Black-necked Grebes, 3 Eider, 2 Teal, a Shelduck and a Common Scoter in Portland Harbour.

15th January

Even though it was an uninspiringly dreary day it's hard to believe there wasn't more seen around the island on a winter Sunday than the odds and ends logged by a few seawatchers at the Bill, where 28 Common Scoter and 19 Red-throated Divers passed through.

14th January

Considering it was a weekend there were startlingly few reports today: 23 Common Scoter passed through off the Bill and 12 Bar-tailed Godwits and a Pale-bellied Brent Goose were at Ferrybridge.

The Pale-bellied Brent and some of the Barwits at Ferrybridge and one of the two Barn Owls that were on patrol at Southwell © Pete Saunders:

13th January

The blasting, cold northerly introduced in the wake of yesterday's weather front produced a real surprise in the form of a Swallow at Smallmouth; we're not entirely sure that it actually entered island airspace but, since it'd constitute Portland's first ever January record, we'll give it the benefit of the doubt until we hear otherwise. Not surprisingly, coverage was a bit limited, with the only other reports being of 2 Common Scoter, a Red-throated Diver and a Great Skua off the Bill, 3 Purple Sandpipers on the shore there and 2 Eider in Portland Harbour.

During the course of various jobs in the Obs garden today we disturbed three different moth species, of which the most interesting from a national perspective was a Mallow Groundling Platyedra subcinerea. Although a pretty common moth at Portland it seems to be designated as Nationally Scarce B and looks to be restricted more or less to the south of a line from Dorset to East Anglia; as a late summer emerger that overwinters as an adult before appearing again in the spring it isn't unexpected to find one now (although judging by our moth-trap records it doesn't usually get seen at this time of year unless it's chivvied from cover like today's specimen was) © Martin Cade:

12th January

Weather-wise, a shocker of a day with the drizzle of dawn giving way to heavy rain and, as it turned progressively colder towards dusk, sleet. Birding-wise, things weren't so bleak with a decent little list accumulated during the first couple of hours of the morning when a Manx Shearwater off the Bill was an unseasonable highlight. The sea was particularly busy, with the offshore feeding flock attracting c5000 auks (seemingly nearly all Razorbills) and c400 Kittiwakes amongst others; 8 Common Scoter and 7 Red-throated Divers also passed through there, whilst 4 Purple Sandpipers, a Grey Heron and a Black Redstart were about on the land. The Ferrybridge tally included 450 Dark-bellied Brents, 120 Dunlin, 15 Bar-tailed Godwits, 3 Curlew and singles of Black Brant and Eider.

As usual, the 'proper' seabirds were way too far offshore to get much value on with a camera but the Turnstones and Purple Sands did zip by a little closer © Martin Cade:

11th January

A blasting northwesterly reduced coverage and the only reports from the Bill were of 6 Brent Geese and 6 Common Scoters through on the sea and 4 Purple Sandpipers on the land. Visitors mentioned umpteenth-hand reports of the likes of a Black Brant again at Ferrybridge.

You can see why the Barn Owl(s) like it at Southwell © Pete Saunders:

10th January

With so much eastbound brent passage having taken place along the Channel over the last month or so it's a surprise that there are any winterers left, but the 2 Black Brants put in their first appearance of the year amongst 640 Dark-bellied Brents at Ferrybridge; 2 of the Eiders was also still about there. Although there was still a lot of seabirds gathered off the Bill they only had a lone Great Skua in attendance today; 10 Red-throated Divers passed by there and 5 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Water Rails were about on the land.

The Eiders were putting on a good show at Ferrybridge where it turned out to be another 'Spot the Brants' day © Pete Saunders:

9th January

A really pretty grim day with rain and an ever-freshening westerly setting in far sooner than forecasts had suggested. Seawatching was just about the only worthwhile option at the Bill: singles of Great Skua and Pomarine Skua were again in attendance around the feeding flock and 6 Red-throated Divers and a Brent Goose passed by. The day's only other report was of a Black Redstart still at the Bill.

Our seawatch at the Bill was interrupted by this Little Egret scuttling about on the wave cut platform between the obelisk and Pulpit Rock; we're guessing its prey is some sort of blenny - a look in one book suggested perhaps a Montagu's Blenny © Martin Cade:

8th January

The sea came up with the best of the quality today, with 2 Great Skuas, a Pomarine Skua and at least 1 Arctic Skua lingering off the Bill; 2 Red-throated Divers also passed through there. The only other reports were of 7 Purple Sandpipers and a Black Redstart at the Bill, a Chiffchaff at Southwell and 3 Eider in Portland Harbour.

Grey Heron, Shag and Black-necked Grebes at Portland Harbour on a sunnier day last week © Nick Stantiford:

7th January

Plenty of coverage today what with it being the weekend and there being a Dorset bird race taking place that saw a steady stream of folk dashing about the area. At the Bill there was a minor skua-fest offshore, with at least 2 Great Skuas, a Pomarine Skua and another Arctic/Pomarine Skua lingering for periods during the morning; 10 Common Scoter and 2 Red-throated Divers also passed through there and 9 Purple Sandpipers were again about on the shore at the Bill tip. The only other reports were of 12 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Eider and a Great Northern Diver in Portland Harbour.

In the dreary and at times damp conditions the top of the island was cloaked in cloud for much of the day © Allan Reese:

Although we've been seeing them - or more often hearing them - after dark at the Bill pretty well every night this was the first Barn Owl that's shown up at dusk at Southwell so far this year © Debby Saunders:

The skuas off the Bill were for the most part too distant for meaningful photos but a Red-throated Diver did come just about close enough © Martin Cade:

6th January

A milder, drabber and eventually drizzly day with a minor flourish of sightings, amongst which 4 Wigeon over Ferrybridge and 2 Shelducks and a Great Skua past the Bill were all additions to the year list; a Siberian Chiffchaff at Barleycrates Lane was also new even if it seems most likely to be December's Avalanche bird setting up home somewhere else (we keep thinking that one of these days the Hume's Warbler will pop up again somewhere else but we haven't been able to find it so far). A Bar-tailed Godwit through off the Bill was an odd sighting for this time of year but the rest of the day's tally was pretty routine: 24 Common Scoter and 15 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill, 10 Purple Sandpipers, a Little Egret, a Water Rail and a Black Redstart settled at the Bill, a Chiffchaff at Southwell (one of 4 different birds there in the last three weeks), 25 Redwings at Avalanche, single Black Redstarts (or perhaps more likely the same individual - a male in each case) at Reap Lane and Barleycrates Lane, 3 Eider in Portland Harbour and 122 Brent Geese at Ferrybridge.

The Portland Harbour Eiders © Pete Saunders:

5th January

There's been some cracking weather in recent weeks and today was another lovely sunny day. The sea was much quieter, with just 7 Common Scoter, 5 Red-throated Divers and a Grey Heron through off the Bill; 10 Purple Sandpipers on the shore at the Bill constituted the highest count of them there so far this winter, whilst the regulation wintering Black Redstart was still about. Another of the regular wintering Black Redstarts was also at Chesil Cove where it was joined by a second individual; the only other report from the day was of 17 Redwings at Avalanche Road.

4th January

Today's diminishing level of coverage was hardly unexpected but a nearly three figure of moving Common Scoter off the Bill was decidedly out of the ordinary: 94 headed through off the Bill in dribs and drabs throughout the morning; a steady but unquantified (other than it exceeded 1000 per hour) movement of auks was in progress, together with 2 Red-throated Divers and a single Great Northern Diver. The land there came up with 7 Purple Sandpipers and a Grey Heron, whilst 12 Black-necked Grebes, a Great Northern Diver, a Canada Goose and an Eider and a roost gathering of more than 500 Mediterranean Gulls were in Portland Harbour.

A Kingfisher and part of the impressively huge roost of Mediterranean Gulls at Portland Harbour this evening © Joe Stockwell:

3rd January

Another lovely sunny day albeit with a pretty cutting breeze springing up during the afternoon. Very wide coverage unearthed few surprises but a good many of the established winterers put in appearances. Ten Common Scoter, 7 Eiders, 5 Brent Geese, 2 Red-throated Divers and a Great Northern Diver passed through off the Bill where 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Purple Sandpipers and a Redwing were knocking about on the land. Odds and ends on the land elsewhere included Goldcrests at Pennsylvania Castle (2) and Easton and another Black Redstart at Chesil Cove, whilst the day's Portland Harbour selection included 11 each of Black-necked Grebe and Goosander, 3 Eider and a Great Northern Diver.

One of the recent Short-eared Owls © Pete Saunders:

As regular visitors to the island will be aware, due to repeated instances of poor behaviour by birders and photographers - notably of the birds being deliberately flushed from their daytime roost sites - we've taken a conscious decision not to provide daily updates here or on Twitter of the presence or otherwise of wintering Short-eared Owls. These birds are about and we've got no desire to deprive responsible visitors of the opportunity to see them; however, if you are looking out for them please stick strictly to the footpaths or established dog-walking tracks - there's always going to be someone who feels he has to wander off into a private field but it really isn't necessary:

The birds are rarely seen before late afternoon but during the last hour or so of fine days they've often been showing nicely. The viewing of them has become a bit of a circus so don't be surprised if you have to fight your way through the long lenses to get a view:

2nd January

A complete turn-about in the weather saw a chilly breeze and sunny skies replace yesterday's cloud and rain. A selection of what have become the winter regulars included 7 Turnstones and 4 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill, 3 Brent Geese through on the sea there, a Chiffchaff at Blacknor and 11 Goosanders, 2 Black-necked Grebes, a Great Northern Diver and an Eider in Portland Harbour.

1st January

An uninspiring dreary, breezy and ultimately washed-out start to the new year. Bird interest hadn't changed much and consisted of 5 Common Scoter and 4 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill, a wintering Black Redstart still in the Bill Quarry, 262 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 138 Dunlin, 4 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and a Goosander at Ferrybridge and 7 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Eider and a Great Northern Diver in Portland Harbour.

Eider in Portland Harbour and Pale-bellied Brents at Ferrybridge © Joe Stockwell:

Amongst an otherwise routine catch of moths at the Obs the tiny micro, Bramble False-feather Scheckensteinia festaliella, was a surprise; it's a reasonably frequently caught species here but certainly not in mid-winter: the books give the flight period as March to September, to which we can add past Portland records from as early as February and as late as October but this is our first in January © Martin Cade:

Finally, thanks to Debby Saunders for sending us through the details of some Mediterranean Gull colour-ring readings that she'd made yesterday at Ferrybridge (the co-ordinators of this project really are to be commended for sending through so quickly the life histories of birds that get reported to them); these are too numerous to show in full but as usual they make fascinating reading. We'll single out 3T74 © Debby Saunders:

This bird was first ringed as an adult at Antwerp, Belgium, on 16th May 2006 (presumably breeding there?) since when it's been resighted 104 times; these resightings are too mumerous to repeat in full so we've only left in here the first and last dates that the bird was seen in a particular area. Assuming it's still breeding in Belgium (it's never actually been seen there since) then it ups and leaves there straight after the breeding season and heads right off to southwest Ireland for the late summer/early winter. In our long ago days of looking at the Weymouth gulls when Meds were far scarcer than they are now we used to see evidence of a mid-winter influx of them which seems to be further evidenced here with sightings of this individual at Radipole in early February and now Ferrybridge in late December - is this early 'spring' passage? After the stop-offs in this area it next shows up in Hampshire/Sussex during the spring - maybe it's even breeding there these days? All great stuff and we just wish we could get data of this quality from the little passerines that we dabble around with for most of the year: