30th November

A cold but mainly sunny end to the month brought a surprise in the form of 3 Great Bustards doing a lap of the island: first seen over Chesil Cove they later looked to have arrived in off the sea at the Bill from where they headed back off up the island and were last seen leaving to the north over Portland Harbour. A new Black Brant at Ferrybridge was also unexpected but there was a disappointing response to the cold from more routine fare, with a Snipe over the Bill and 3 Fieldfares at Southwell the only obvious newcomers. Auk numbers have built up very quickly this winter with upwards of 100/minute through off the Bill for long periods during the morning. Winterers making the list included 2 Chiffchaffs and singles of Water Rail, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Goldcrest and Firecrest at the Bill/Southwell, singles of Black Redstart and Firecrest at Church Ope Cove, 2 Goosanders in Portland Harbour and 6 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, a Bar-tailed Godwit and a Redshank at Ferrybridge.

It's been a while since any wandering Salisbury Plain Great Bustards have reached the island and although clearly completely devalued by being introductions they are nonetheless a pretty spectacular sight when they're in full flight overhead © Pete Saunders (top photo - over Chesil Cove) and Martin Cade (middle and lower photos - over the Bill):

The Church Ope Black Redstart © Martin Adlam: 

...and one of the Southwell Fieldfares © Debby Saunders 

11th November

Please note that there are unlikely to be any regular updates to the blog between now and 29th November; news, photos etc can still be emailed while we're away and if we get an internet connection we'll try and post occasional updates. The Obs will be open to day vistors on most mornings during this period and if you've got an expensive Christmas present in mind there's one event taking place later in the month to tempt you:

A reminder that there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm on Saturday, 25th November.

10th November

A very uneventful day with pre-dawn rain grounding next to nothing. A light trickle of Chaffinches and Goldfinches were still on the move at the Bill and 425 Starlings headed north over Blacknor but a single Redwing looked to be one of the only newcomers on the ground at the Bill. A lingering Bullfinch was still at the Obs and Firecrests were still about at several sites.

9th November

Overhead passage was again the order of the day, with the weak weather front that passed over in the late hours of the night producing neither rainfall nor grounded migrants. Passing Chaffinches and Goldfinches both topped 200 at the Bill, where 100 Linnets, 40 Bramblings, 19 each of Redwing and Redpoll, 16 Siskins, 7 Greenfinches, 3 Hawfinches (one of these - or another? - also passed over at Southwell), 2 Swallows, a Golden Plover and a Mistle Thrush made up the rest of the morning's tally. What relatively little there was on the ground at the Bill included 4 each of Chiffchaff and Firecrest (2 of the former and 1 of the latter were new arrivals), 3 Snipe, 2 Bullfinches and a Blackcap. Reports from elsewhere included a Ring Ouzel at Penn's Weare, 2 Hawfinches at Easton, 2 Black Redstarts at Chesil Cove and 2 Mute Swans and a Pale-bellied Brent Goose at Ferrybridge.

Another White-speck, along with singles of Rusty-dot Pearl and Pearly Underwing, constituted the overnight immigrant moth interest at the Obs.

Hawfinches keep showing up and Joe Stockwell managed another nice recording of one of them over the Obs this morning:

Long-tailed Tits also remain a feature, with this group in a garden at Southwell © Debby Saunders:

8th November

A nice day and some nice late autumn birding with a decent pulse of finches and other typical early November migrants trickling through into the light northerly breeze. Totals from the Bill included 100 Chaffinches, 60 Starlings, 33 Redpolls, 27 Bramblings, 12 Long-tailed Tits, 12 Reed Buntings, 10 Redwings and 10 Siskins, with 2 each of Greylag Goose, Merlin, Woodcock, Bullfinch and Hawfinch, and singles of Lapwing and Black Redstart amongst the lower totals. Scrutiny elsewhere came up with a Siberian Chiffchaff at Portland Castle, a few Firecrests lingering on a several sites and 2 Black Redstarts at Church Ope Cove. The only reports from the water were of 8 Black-necked Grebes in Portland Harbour and singles of Red-throated Diver and Great Skua through off the Bill.

A lone White-speck was the only immigrant moth trapped overnight at the Obs.

November's a great month of miscellaneous oddities, with this morning's Greylag Geese moments after a Hawfinch being rather typical © Martin Cade:

Despite what for the most part has been a very mild late autumn it's been noticeable that lingering summer migrants have been in short supply. Swallows are often sufficiently numerous here in early November that we've even trapped and ringed multiples of them on occasions; this year though they've been conspicuously few and far between, with this bird being one of just five logged today © Joe Stockwell:

In remarking yesterday about the infrequency with which Snipe are photographed at Portland we were reminded of an intriguing one that we trapped and ringed here many years ago - 31st July 2000 to be precise (this bird was in the pre-digital era of slide film and it took us quite a time to lay our hands on the slides today and then to take some ropey camera photos of the slides!). The bird was intriguing because it was a 16 tail-feathered Common Snipe; they usually have just 14 tail feathers - with Wilson's usually having 16 - but apparently the numbers do vary:

Although this was before the era when Wilson's Snipe was a vogue species we must have been vaguely aware of some of the features to look out for as we took the trouble to also photograph the upper and underwing patterns which seem to confirm that it was a Common Snipe, although it's quite interesting that, for example, at least one of the secondary tips has a rather narrow white rim to it on the underside © Martin Cade:

7th November

The return of wind and later rain saw plenty of attention given to the sea, with 31 Common Scoter, 4 Eider, 2 Brent Geese and singles of Red-throated Diver, Velvet Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser and Great Skua logged at the Bill. It was dry enough through the morning to be able to give the land a few looks but it appeared as though there had been few new arrivals, with 3 Redwings and singles of Fieldfare, Firecrest and Brambling at the Bill, 4 Bramblings and 2 Chiffchaffs at Southwell, a Black Redstart at Chesil Cove and 45 Oystercatchers, 6 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and singles of Snipe and Bar-tailed Godwit at Ferrybridge.

Several of the Southwell Bramblings remained in residence today © Pete Saunders:

It's not very often that anyone gets an opportunity to photograph a Snipe at Portland - at least not in anything other than a bitter cold spell - so this one at Ferrybridge was a minor novelty © Pete Saunders:

We've always had the impression that apparent northern aalge Guillemots are pretty uncommon off the Bill - the mass of wintering birds offshore usually look to comprise almost exclusively paler southern birds - but this 'black as the ace of spades' individual with pretty strong flank streaking stood out like a sore thumb this afternoon and looks to be an individual of distant origin © Martin Cade:

And finally we forgot yesterday to post Joe Stockwell's nice little recording of the dawn soundscape at the Obs when Bramblings were featuring well amongst the other finches:

6th November

A day of variety if not numbers, with the chief prize being Portland's first record of Mandarin Duck - a pair flying west past the Bill during the morning. With the first touch of frost of the season on the ground at dawn a fall of migrants hadn't looked to be on the cards but 17 Long-tailed Tits, 2 Bullfinches and singles of Merlin, Ring Ouzel and Yellowhammer were of note amongst the light scatter of new arrivals at the Bill; 3 Firecrests were still there, whilst elsewhere 5 Bramblings were settled at Southwell and a Black Redstart was still at Blacknor It was busier overhead, with 220 Wood Pigeons, 120 Chaffinches, 37 Skylarks, 32 Bramblings, 18 Redpolls, 10 Siskins, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Hawfinch through at the Bill, Singles of Great Northern Diver, Black-throated Diver and Pale-bellied Brent Goose passed through off the Bill.

Yesterday's remarks about expecting the unexpected in November proved to be rather prophetic, with the last of the faintly likely 'plastic' Category C species on the British List that hadn't yet made it onto the Portland list showing up in precisely the circumstances that had been envisaged, when this pair of Mandarin Ducks flew past the Bill during the morning. Fortunately, the attentiveness of their lone observer - who wasn't even actually seawatching at the time - ensured that there's a nice photographic record of the event to rub salt into the wounds of two well-known Portland listers who could easily have seen them had they not at that moment been otherwise engaged in earnest tittle-tattle on the Obs patio © Joe Stockwell:

Properly settled Bramblings aren't a frequent sight at Portland so this little group at Southwell were a nice surprise © Debby Saunders:

Merlin and Purple Sandpiper at the Bill this morning © Joe Stockwell:

5th November

It wasn't so long ago that we'd have had June and November firmly inked in as the months to expect the unexpected but both have lost their lustre a little in recent years, with today struggling to chip in with anything expected let alone something more exciting. The routine Chaffinches and Goldfinches aside, finches were in conspicuously short supply with a lone Hawfinch over Blacknor and just 4 each of Brambling and Redpoll over the Bill the best on offer. A new Firecrest turned up at the Obs but 2 Black Redstarts and a single Purple Sandpiper were the only other birds of note at the Bill; elsewhere, another Black Redstart at Blacknor, 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits and a Grey Plover at Ferrybridge and a single Great Northern Diver in Portland Harbour made up the day's tally.

4th November

Not quite the day that had been hoped for: overnight rain heralded a change from the quiet, mild conditions of recent days to a cooler, blustery airstream but dropped far fewer late migrants than had looked to be on the cards. The north of the island was favoured with what numbers there were: 2 Hawfinches left to the north from Verne Common and 3 Ring Ouzels were at Penn's Weare, whilst 70 Redwings made up the bulk of a flurry of thrushes and finches at High Angle Battery. Another Hawfinch passed over the Bill, where a Short-eared Owl arrived in off the sea and 2 Wheatears and a Merlin were of note amongst the small numbers of routine migrants. There was still a scatter of Firecrests everywhere and a single Black Redstart was at Reap Lane. Two Great Skuas and an Arctic Skua passed through off the Bill.

The first Gem for a while and another Cosmopolitan were of note amongst a small overnight catch of immigrant moths at the Obs.

3rd November

Portland largely escaped the fog that looked to be blanketing the mainland but the hole of clear sky over the island didn't look to be large enough to entice many late migrants to get moving. A new Yellow-browed Warbler dropped in at the Obs but the numbers of most of the commoner migrants were less than impressive, with 17 Siskins, 15 Brambling, 12 Reed Buntings, 8 Redpoll, 6 Fieldfare, 2 Mistle Thrushes and singles of Golden Plover, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Bullfinch providing the best of the other interest at the Bill; elsewhere a Black Redstart was at Blacknor. The Black Brant was again amongst the brents at Ferrybridge.

Singles of Vestal and Delicate were the only immigrant moths of note at the Obs.

The Yellow-browed Warbler at the Obs © Martin Cade: 

The Black Brant showed up again this morning at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders (still) and Debby Saunders (video): 

2nd November

Once early fog had burnt off today was as nice a November day as it's possible to get, with a millpond calm sea and shirt-sleeves warmth. Sadly, the weather mix wasn't up to much when it came to producing birds: a few new Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests dropped in and another light trickle of finches and a few thrushes passed over but there were was precious little by way of a surprise. The numbers were again overhead, with 26 Siskins, 24 Redpolls, 14 Bramblings, 5 Little Egrets, 3 Fieldfares and a Golden Plover the best over the Bill, where at least 4 Chiffchaffs, 3 Blackcaps and 2 Goldcrests were new and 4 Firecrests lingered on. Ferrybridge totals included 1900 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 5 Pale-bellied Brents and a Sanderling.

Butterflies featured well in the warm sunshine: Red Admirals were relatively numerous everywhere and Clouded Yellow, Green-veined White, Large White, Speckled Wood and Small Tortoiseshell were all logged at the Bill.

The immigrant moth tally at the Obs consisted of 12 Rusty-dot Pearl, 2 Silver Y and a Cosmopolitan.

One of several Clouded Yellows on the wing at the Bill today © Geoff Orton: 

1st November

Mild, quiet conditions were the order of the day and late migrants continued to trickle through. Although a few flocks of incoming Starlings passed through - totalling 350 at the Bill - it was really finches that featured best at the Bill, where 60 Siskins, 14 Bramblings, 12 Redpolls and 2 Bullfinches were amongst the steady little movement of Chaffinches; 15 Reed Buntings, 2 Fieldfares and singles of Woodlark, Mistle Thrush and Yellowhammer also passed through but the commoner thrushes were hardly represented at all. At least 2 new Firecrests joined the double-figure total of lingerers still present there but it otherwise looked as though warblers and 'crests were fewer everywhere than has been the case lately. The only other up-island reports were of single Yellow-browed Warblers at Broadcroft Quarry and Pennsylvania  Castle, and 2 Hawfinches at Coombefield Quarry.

A Vagrant Emperor was watched for a short while at Wallsend but couldn't be found during later searches.

Eleven Rusty-dot Pearl and a Cosmopolitan were the only immigrant moths trapped overnight at the Obs; elsewhere, a Radford's Flame Shoulder was caught at Blacknor.

It's been a shame that the current crop of Vagrant Emperors have been less than obliging, with most of the sightings being very brief and few permitting even a record photo - today's individual at Wallsend maintained that pattern © Joe Stockwell:

Late butterflies were a feature today, with a Small Copper at Wallsend © Joe Stockwell: 

...and a Green-veined White in the Crown Estate Field © Martin Cade: 

Firecrests continue to entertain, with new individuals still turning up - this one was in the Obs garden at dawn © Martin King:

For looks at this time of year it's hard to beat some of the male finches; Brambling and Siskin were both trapped and ringed at the Obs today © Martin Cade: