31st March

March fizzled out on the migrant front, with more seemingly perfect fall conditions - a drizzly dawn after a clear night - not delivering the goods. There was ever so slightly more about than in recent days but for the Bill at this time of year an arrival of a few dozen phylloscs and maybe just into double figures of Wheatears is way off the mark; the long-staying Iceland Gull did put in an appearance over the Obs shortly after dawn to provide a morsel of quality. Quite why visible passage has hardly featured at all in recent days remains a mystery. With so few distractions on the land the sea got plenty of attention and returned totals of 56 Common Scoter, 11 Red-throated Divers, 8 Sandwich Terns, 7 Velvet Scoter and singles of Black-throated Diver, Great Skua, Arctic Skua and Common Tern through off the Bill.

Butterfly interest included the Bill's first Red Admiral of the year, whilst 4 Dark Sword Grass and a single Silver Y constituted the immigrant moth tally at the Obs.

A bit of today's sea action - Gannets, Velvet Scoters, Great Skua and Kittiwake © Keith Pritchard:

We got a bit of a shock during the afternoon when we came across this quite startling-looking Chiffchaff in a net at the Obs; we're always vaguely on the look out for things that could just be Iberian Chiffchaffs and on cursory inspection this bird looked to tick a lot of boxes: yellow supercilium, bright green upperparts (maybe not as mossy as the famous Verne Common songster of 1999 that we did inspect in the hand, but certainly a good bit brighter than is perhaps conveyed in the somewhat sun-bleached snap below), pale based lower mandible, white belly, yellow under-tail coverts, amber legs etc - basically it looked a whole lot like a Willow Warbler but had the structure of a Chiffchaff:

By coincidence, earlier in the day we'd only just been discussing Iberian Chiffchaffs with Grahame Walbridge, who'd alerted us to a recent paper in Ardeola that evidently discredits the published discriminant methods hitherto used to distinguish the species from Common Chiffchaff. Structurally, today's bird wasn't noticeably different from Common Chiffchaff - eg 2nd = 8th - and since with a wing of 57mm it was a fair bet it was a female it was unlikely it was going to sing for us (frustratingly, it also didn't call on release). It'll be interesting to see what the genes tell us about this one © Martin Cade:

30th March

Maybe it's just that there aren't the birds about these days, but what looked to be pretty spot-on conditions spectacularly failed to deliver migrants in any quantity today: we're only one day off the date on which we had our highest ever catch of migrants at the Obs just a few years ago - 615 on 31st March 2012 - but today delivered just 4 new birds from a whole morning of trying! The light southerlies and party overcast sky certainly looked OK, but Wheatear and Chiffchaff only managed 20 apiece at the Bill and a couple of Firecrests further up-island were the only very minor oddities; the Hume's Warbler was still about at Thumb Lane, as were 6 Purple Sandpipers and a Short-eared Owl at the Bill. The sea saved the day to some extent, with 79 Common Scoter, 10 Sandwich Terns, 7 Red-throated Divers and 2 each of Great Skua and Arctic Skua through off the Bill; the Iceland Gull also did a round of the island: after being first spotted settled at Barleycrates Lane it later lingered for a while off the Bill and then showed up again at Portland Port.

Immigrant insect interest was limited to just 2 Painted Ladys at the Bill.

Arctic Skua and Iceland Gull off the Bill this morning © Keith Pritchard:

...and a Painted Lady that pitched up on the Obs patio © Martin Cade:

29th March

The high hopes accorded today proved to be well wide of the mark, with sea passage much less conspicuous than yesterday and the migrant tally on the land reduced to a level that would have been disappointing in mid-month, let alone where we are now on the cusp of April. The sea came up with what numbers there were, with 80 Common Scoter, 14 Sandwich Terns, 12 Red-throated Divers, 4 Great Skuas and a Red-breasted Merganser through off the Bill; also over the sea, an Iceland Gull was lingering during the afternoon either side of the harbour breakwater at Portland Port. The overcast skies and southwesterly breeze that followed a pulse of overnight rain looked quite promising for the land but the paltry total of just 4 Wheatears logged at the Bill were evidence enough of how the birds thought otherwise; a late afternoon pulse of phylloscs pushed Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler totals in the Bill/Southwell area to 40 and 15 respectively but there was little else of note in the passerine line; 2 Purple Sandpipers and at least 1 Short-eared Owl were also still about at the Bill.

Insect interest came in the form of a presumed Vagrant Emperor dragonfly at the Bill: with no other dragonflies on the wing at the moment and Vagrant Emperors currently appearing elsewhere in southwest England, it seems most unlikely that the dragonfly watched hawking along low cliffs near the Bill tip during a brief bright spell during the afternoon would have been anything other than this species; sadly, the significance of the sighting wasn't appreciated at the time so the insect wasn't scrutinised in detail and later searches for it in much drearier conditions drew a blank.

A single Rush Veneer was again the only immigrant moth caught overnight at the Obs.

Bird-wise, the day's only real oddity - the Iceland Gull at Portland Port - permitted only very long range views from the cliff top above East Weare © Roger Hewitt:

Skuas - including this Bonxie passing the Bill this morning - have been quite well represented for so early in the seawatching season over the last couple of days © Keith Pritchard:

Routine fare posing for the cameras included a Common Buzzard over Southwell © Pete Saunders:

...and Sparrowhawk, Purple Sandpiper and Little Owl at the Bill © Paul Hopwood:

28th March

Yesterday's vanguard of sea passage did indeed prove to be the start of better things, with far more on the move in today's gentle southwesterly; sadly, passerines didn't find these conditions to their liking and it was unexpectedly quiet both on the ground and overhead. The lion's share of the sea passage was logged at the Bill, where 357 Common Scoter, 84 Common Gulls, 15 Sandwich Terns, 14 Red-throated Divers, 9 Velvet Scoter, 8 Arctic Skuas, 4 Mediterranean Gulls and singles of Curlew, Great Skua and Yellow-legged Gull passed through and the first Puffin of the year visited the auk colony; Chesil got much less coverage but 6 of the Velvet Scoter were logged from there as well. On the ground, 3 Twite that dropped in and appeared to be settled around Fancy's Farm would have been a real crowd-puller but couldn't be found in later searches. Visible passage was reduced to a mere trickle in comparison with recent days, whilst grounded arrivals at the Bill amounted to just single figure totals of the routine early spring fare, amongst which a lingering Firecrest was about the best on offer; winterers still about included the Hume's Warbler at Thumb Lane and 4 Purple Sandpipers and a Short-eared Owl at the Bill.

A lone Rush Veneer was the only immigrant moth trapped overnight at the Obs; additionally, a March Moth was a good local record at Weston.

The sea was well worth attention for a few hours after dawn when the Velvet Scoters and Arctic Skuas were the pick of the passage © Keith Pritchard:

...we've never been quite sure why it is that on average Red-throated Divers on spring passage pass far closer to the Bill than they do when they're toing and froing in mid-winter © Martin Cade:

This March Moth from Duncan Walbridge's garden at Weston was easily the highlight from overnight mothing; it seems from the records as though this is a species that's been lost from Portland after seemingly being a transitory resident: there were no reports of it during the Victorian era (when the island was very well recorded), but we have Obs records stretching right back to 1959, with it being trapped frequently enough during the 1980s (the last was on 31st March 1987) that it was surely resident at that time. Since the female is wingless it seems hardly possible that the species colonised the island of its own accord during the first half of the 20th century - perhaps it was accidentally introduced on imported vegetation by the early Obs pioneers? © Martin Cade:

27th March

A bit of all-round interest today with the wind edging slightly more towards straight easterly which perked up interest on the sea; under clear skies visible passage continued unabated but it remained relatively low-key on the ground. With the conditions having been frustratingly not quite right for a few days the subtle change saw the sea given more attention today: 74 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers and singles of Teal and Shoveler were the pick off the Bill, whilst 90 Black-headed Gulls, 11 Velvet Scoter, 4 Shoveler, 2 Brent Geese and singles of Red-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver were the best off Chesil. Visible passage was not quite as heavy as had been the case yesterday but variety is increasing, with a sample half-hour count at the Bill coming up with 180 Meadow Pipits, 85 Linnets, 12 Goldfinches, 9 Sand Martins and 7 Swallows. Chiffchaffs again dominated on the ground, although even the Bill area only managed a total of 50 or so; the best of the quality came in the form of single Firecrests at the Obs and Thumb Lane, a Black Redstart at Southwell and 3 Short-eared Owls still about at the Bill.

Morning seawatching at the Bill came up with what we hope is the vanguard of this spring's Common Scoter passage © Keith Pritchard:

...it's always nice when a flock has other wildfowl tagging along - in this case a Teal © Keith Pritchard:

This Black Redstart was a slightly unexpected garden visitor at Southwell © Debby Saunders:

26th March

Unbroken sunshine and a brisk northeasterly were again the order of the day and it was only numbers that changed on the bird front. Visible passage was considerably stronger than yesterday, with Meadow Pipits on the move in quantity from early morning until well into the afternoon - a sample count of 620 north in 40 minutes along West Cliffs at the Bill looked to be entirely representative of long periods of the passage which surely numbered up around 5000 in total; hirundines, Linnets and Goldfinches were also tagging along in higher numbers than have hitherto been the case. It was again far too fair to have expected much of an arrival on the ground, with the 40 or so Chiffchaffs almost monopolising the tally at the Bill; 3 Grey Plovers and a Black-tailed Godwit were new at Ferrybridge, whilst the Hume's Warbler lingered on at Thumb Lane to provide a bit of quality elsewhere. With the wind remaining firmly offshore sea interest was confined to 12 Common Scoter and a Red-breasted Merganser through off the Bill.

A single Painted Lady was logged at the Bill where the first Comma of the year was also on the wing.

Black-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover were welcome additions to what had, just lately, been the diminishing wader variety at Ferrybridge © Debby Saunders:

25th March

The most glorious sunshine of the year to date was tempered, at least for the best of the morning, by the continuing brisk northeasterly. In a couple of weeks time such conditions would likely have been just right for a bountiful fair weather fall but this early in the season the bounty was on the lean side of limited: Meadow Pipits trickled through overhead and Chiffchaffs made up the bulk of the thin spread on the ground, whilst quality consisted of little more than 2 White Wagtails at the Bill and a Ring Ouzel at Thumb Lane. The Hume's Warbler again showed very intermittently at Thumb Lane, with the day's only other reports being of 22 Common Scoter and a Red-throated Diver through off the Bill.

The first Small White butterfly of the year was on the wing at Weston.

24th March

Plenty of fall ingredients in the air today with overcast skies, bouts of drizzly rain moving northwest across the Channel and a brisk northeasterly wind. The main response was overhead, where Meadow Pipits were arriving plentifully on a broad front throughout the morning, with a sample three hour count at Blacknor coming up with 1500 north; the same watch also produced 46 Linnets, 25 phylloscs, 8 Chaffinches, 6 alba wagtails, 2 House Martins, a Marsh Harrier, a Ring Ouzel and a Goldcrest heading through, whilst additional species elsewhere included the likes of several Sand Martins, a Sparrowhawk, a Swallow and a White Wagtail through at the Bill and a Redshank through over Reap Lane. For the most part it was unexpectedly quieter on the ground: Ring Ouzels were represented by 5 at the Bill and 1 at Thumb Lane, and 3 Redwings and a Fieldfare were of note at the Bill but, for example, the totals of grounded Wheatears and Chiffchaffs there barely reached 40 apiece. Aside from the migrants, the wintering Hume's Warbler put in a couple of appearances at Thumb Lane. The only sea reports were of 3 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill and 3 Eider and a Slavonian Grebe lingering on at Ferrybridge and Portland Harbour respectively.

The Bill Ring Ouzels looked to be moving through pretty sharpish and the tentative day-total of 5 might even have included some duplication; this one pitched in for a short while in the Strips © Martin Cade:

23rd March

Weather-wise, a bit of a grim day with drizzly rain coming and going throughout; this, in combination with a shift in wind direction to brisk north-easterly, promised a few new arrivals and while no delivering anything in numbers came up with some variety. A good 25 Chiffchaffs moved through quickly at the Bill, where 2 each of WheatearBlack Redstart, Blackcap and Goldcrest were grounded and singles of Redshank, Short-eared Owl and Swallow passed over amongst the steady trickle of incoming Lesser Black-backed Gulls, alba wagtails and Meadow Pipits. The only reports from elsewhere were of 28 Ringed Plovers, 5 Dunlin, a Redshank and a Sandwich Tern at Ferrybridge, where an overflying Buzzard was an oddity.

A lone Silver Y was the only immigrant that made it into the Obs garden moth-traps overnight.

22nd March

Overnight rain dropped a small arrival of mainly Chiffchaffs but with the eventual clearance not reaching the island until mid-morning they were difficult to get amongst before most had moved on. At least 25 Chiffchaffs - along with 7 Wheatears, 2 Black Redstarts, a Golden Plover and a Blackcap (as well as several lingering Short-eared Owls) - were logged at the Bill, whilst 3 Blackcaps and 2 Willow Warblers at Thumb Lane were amongst the sprinkle elsewhere; the Hume's Warbler also remained at Thumb Lane. Seawatching at the Bill came up with 18 Common Scoter, 4 Sandwich Terns and 2 Red-throated Divers, whilst a Great Northern Diver passed over Ferrybridge and 8 Sandwich Terns, 2 Eider and a Black-necked Grebe were in Portland Harbour.

The Great Northern Diver and one of the Sandwich Terns from Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour this morning © Pete Saunders:

A Peacock butterfly at the Obs making the most the lovely warm, sunny afternoon that followed the wet early morning © Ken Dolbear:

21st March

With blustery westerlies still the order of the day passage didn't pick up at all today. Wheatear and Chiffchaff remained rooted on 10 each at the Bill, where there was also a single Blackcap, a very light passage of incoming Meadow Pipits and 8 Red-throated Divers and 5 Common Scoter through on the sea. The only other report was of the Hume's Warbler still at Thumb Lane. Roll on spring...

20th March

We can only hope that the equinox marks a transition to more favourable conditions: today's dreary skies and almost gale force westerly that preceded a short spell of rain had at least cleared through by evening, although far too late to perk up the day's meagre sightings list. Migrant-wise, there was a little more around, with both Wheatear and Chiffchaff just scraping into double figures at the Bill, but interest on the land mainly revolved around the continuing presence of the likes of the Hume's Warbler at Thumb Lane and 1 or more Short-eared Owls at the Bill. The sea was never busy, but 3 Sandwich Terns, 2 each of Red-throated Diver and Black-throated Diver and a single Teal made it worth a look off the Bill.

19th March

Only the smallest of improvements in the migrant situation today, with none reaching double figure totals at the Bill, but an Iceland Gull was a new/reappearing oddity at Barleycrates Lane; nearby, the Hume's Warbler also remained at Thumb Lane. In a constantly blustery westerly most of the day's other reports came from the sea, with 200 Kittiwakes, 11 Common Scoter, 5 Red-throated Divers, a Great Skua and a Sandwich Tern through off the Bill; a further 8 Common Scoter were settled in Portland Harbour, where 2 Eider and a Slavonian Grebe were also still present. The rarities aside, a Bullfinch at the Bill was the only noteworthy arrival on the land.

The immigrant moth tally at the Obs consisted of singles of Rush Veneer, Dark Sword Grass and Turnip.

Although there have been plenty enough Iceland Gulls around the country to imagine that today's individual was new in, it also bears a more than passing resemblance to the bird/birds seen at the Bill in late February/early March © Martin Cade (video) and Pete Saunders (still):

18th March

A day that won't be remembered in a hurry. In a brisk westerly only Wheatear just about managed to reach a double figure total at the Bill, with the other routine migrants either absent or reduced to low single figure totals. Five Sandwich Terns through off the Bill were the first of the season there, with 7 Red-throated Divers the only other sightings of note on the sea. The only other report was of the Hume's Warbler still at Thumb Lane.

17th March

The chilly but fair conditions of dawn didn't last and it wasn't long before signs of the forecast downturn in the weather were apparent, with a buffeting westerly well established by dusk. Wheatears replaced Chiffchaffs as the conspicuous migrants of the day: more than 50 were grounded at the Bill early in the morning, with more dropping in as the day went on, whilst other counts included 21 at Ferrybridge. Chiffchaffs were about but reduced to fewer than 40 at the Bill, with other migrant interest there consisting of little more than singles of White Wagtail, Blackcap and Goldcrest; 3 Black Redstarts were also still about there and 4 Red-throated Divers passed through on the sea. The only report of note was of an Eider at Ferrybridge.

Moth numbers were again rather reduced, with 3 Rush Veneer, 2 each of Diamond-back Moth and Dark Sword Grass, and a lone Turnip the only immigrants at the Obs.

16th March

An entertaining day saw murkiness overhead drop another good arrival of Chiffchaffs - amongst which there were also several early firsts for the year - whilst overhead Meadow Pipits were arriving in quantity for the first time this spring. With meaningful coverage limited to a handful of observers it was only the Bill area that was well worked; Chiffchaffs got to around the 200 mark on the ground, whilst overflying Meadow Pipits likely got into four figures although with many flocks audible but not visible in the fog it was impossible to be more accurate. The back-up cast was varied and included 20 Wheatears, 4 Swallows and singles of Golden Plover, Curlew, Short-eared Owl, Ring Ouzel, Fieldfare, Redwing, Black Redstart, Willow Warbler and Yellowhammer; elsewhere, a Yellow Wagtail overhead at Blacknor was only one day off equalling Portland's earliest record, whilst the Hume's Warbler was still at Thumb Lane.

After yesterday's excesses, moth numbers were lower overnight with immigrants consisting of 7 Diamond-back Moth, 3 Rush Veneer and 2 Dark Sword Grass at the Obs and the year's first Silver Y at the Grove.

Although there have been some earlier field records we think that this morning's Willow Warbler is the earliest ever trapped and ringed at the Obs © Martin Cade:

Although youngsters are trapped relatively often it's much more unusual for us to handle a full adult male Sparrowhawk; since it wasn't already ringed it'll be a fair bet that it isn't a local bird either © Martin Cade:

15th March

A reminder that there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm this Saturday, 18th March.

Yesterday's quiet, heavily overcast conditions persisted and dropped slightly better numbers of migrants. Numbers-wise, Chiffchaffs dominated at the Bill where a good proportion of the 50 or so logged dropped in through the afternoon; 5 Wheatears, 3 Redwings, 2 Blackcaps and singles of Merlin, Redshank and Goldcrest were also new in, whilst 2 Black Redstarts, a Short-eared Owl and a Bullfinch were still about. Sea passage was almost non-existent, with singles of Common Scoter and Great Skua the only things worth a mention off the Bill.

The mild, still conditions resulted in some good catches of moths, with the 43 individuals in one trap at the Grove an exceptional total for early spring (many typical early year species such as the Orthosias are far from numerous at Portland); migrant interest consisted of 12 Diamond-back Moth, 6 Rush Veneer and 3 Dark Sword Grass at the Obs and 3 Diamond-back Moth at the Grove.

This Redshank was one of the better newcomers of the day at the Bill © Roger Hewitt:

The nice male Black Redstart was still about at the Bill Quarry © Roger Hewitt...

...where marauding Sparrowhawks have become a regular feature just recently © Keith Pritchard:

14th March

What looked to be very promising conditions at dawn fell far short of delivering either quantity or quality today. Under the overcast skies that lingered all day none of the routine early migrants managed anything like a double figure total at the Bill, where the best of the interest came in the form of a light incoming passage of Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits, Redwings and Chaffinches; a lone Grey Wagtail overhead was the first of the year there. Three Long-tailed Tits were still about at the Bill and a Bullfinch also looked likely to be a lingerer, whilst 15 Common Scoter, 3 Red-throated Divers and 2 Black-headed Gulls through on the sea were the only other sightings worth a mention.

With fewer than 50 new birds ringed so far this year (...we haven't really made much of an effort until recent days) it's been a bit of a surprise to have already handled two 'controls' ringed away from Portland; we don't yet know the origins of the Chiffchaff trapped amongst the three figure fall on Sunday, but the ring sequence of yesterday's Goldfinch was familiar: it was one of Ian Dodd's birds from Littlesea, Weymouth, where it was ringed on 1st October last year (we've had quite a few exchanges of Goldfinches to and from Ian's ringing sites beside the Fleet) © Martin Cade:

13th March

A brilliantly moonlit night and crystal clear dawn didn't bode well on the numbers front and it was certainly much quieter than yesterday. At the Bill both Wheatear and Chiffchaff just about managed double figure totals, with 3 Long-tailed Tits and singles of Redwing and Black Redstart the best of the rest on the ground there; alba wagtails, Meadow Pipits and Chaffinches also trickled overhead there. A similar light scatter elsewhere included 2 White Wagtails at Suckthumb and 150 Mediterranean Gulls still at Ferrybridge. The sea was pretty quiet in the light offshore breeze, with 7 Mediterranean Gulls, 5 Brent Geese, 5 Common Scoter and a Red-throated Diver the best off the Bill.

The clear night was much poorer for moths, with immigrant interest consisting of just 3 Diamond-back Moth, a Dark Sword Grass and a Turnip at the Obs and a Rush Veneer at the Grove.

We're guessing this ringed Long-tailed Tit at the Pulpit Bushes this morning is one of the three individuals that we ringed at the Obs in late January/early February; they've made several other visits to the Bill since then so must be just a little bit interested - perhaps our first ever Bill breeding attempt is in the offing? © Keith Pritchard:

The male Wheatears are looking great at the moment © Mike Hetherington (top - at the Sailing Academy) and Keith Pritchard (bottom - at the Bill):

12th March

A day of some nice variety, with early rain dropping the first small fall of the spring amongst which Chiffchaffs reached a three figure total at the Bill. Migrant interest otherwise included 20 Wheatears, 3 Black Redstarts, 2 Redwings and 2 Blackcaps at the Bill, 4 Red-throated Divers and a Great Skua through off the Bill, another Blackcap and plenty more Chiffchaffs around Southwell, 2 Black Redstarts and a Lapwing at Blacknor and a Yellow-legged Gull at Ferrybridge. Other interest included the Hume's Warbler still at Thumb Lane, 190 Dunlin, 34 Oystercatchers and 16 Bar-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge, 3 Black-necked Grebes in Portland Harbour and 2 pairs of Canada Geese settled on the harbour breakwaters.

The lepidoptera highlight was the first island record of Small Eggar caught overnight at the Obs; another arrival of immigrants included a Painted Lady watched coming in off the sea the Bill, 7 Diamond-back Moths, 3 Rush Veneer and a Red Sword-grass caught overnight at the Obs and 2 Dark Sword Grass and a Rush Veneer caught overnight at the Grove.

These days Canada Geese aren't quite the novelty island oddity that they once were and it looks like these two pairs are going to be following in the footsteps of a pair that bred on the harbour breakwaters once before (in 2011) © Nick Stantiford:

The last few wintering Black-necked Grebes are still about and getting into quite decent plumage before departing © Nick Stantiford:

Not surprisingly, a good many of the day's Chiffchaffs were 'pollened' around the face © Keith Pritchard (top - on the shore at the Bill tip) and Martin Cade (bottom - in the Obs garden):

In our junior mothing days Small Eggar was a rather sought-after local special in coastal west Dorset but it recent years it seems to have spread into the Weymouth area and we'd had it marked down as a pretty likely future addition to the Portland list; if the females are as seemingly lethargic as some of the other female eggars then Chesil Beach/Ferrybridge might prove to be an insurmountable barrier to future colonisation but clearly males like last night's specimen are capable of reaching the island © Martin Cade:

Diamond-back Moths and Rush Veneers are no big deal later in the season but they're quite high value species in early spring © Martin Cade: