30th April

For the most part it was back down to earth with a bump today with the migrant tap reduced to little more than a drip; however, the 2 Golden Orioles remained in Top Fields and a/the Hoopoe seen at the Bill in almost identically subliminal circumstances to yesterday did introduce some quality to proceedings. There were pockets of action on the migrant front - for instance, Pennsylvania Castle was described as laden with Willow Warblers - but in most areas exposed to the full force of the raw northerly it was almost lifeless in comparison with yesterday's excesses: among the new arrivals at the Bill only Redstart, Wheatear, Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff managed double figure totals on the ground, with 2 Black Redstarts and singles of Hobby, Turtle Dove, Firecrest (the long stayer resurfacing again) providing the only additional quality there; another Hobby also passed through at Blacknor.

Same time, same place, same circumstances as yesterday; it's hard to believe that the two Hoopoe sightings don't relate to the same individual but if that is the case then it's proving to be a remarkably elusive bird that vanishes into oblivion after flashing through the Crown Estate Field soon after dawn © Martin Cade:

Redstart and Chiffchaff at the Bill today © Simon Kidner:

29th April

This spring's migrant avalanche had got so delayed that it was probably always going to be a really big one when it did strike and today's conditions - heavily overcast with a brisk, cold northeasterly - were just the catalyst needed. The movement through was both rapid and on a very broad front but from point counts and the ringing efforts at the Obs it would seem that (probably conservative) estimates for the Bill area were something of the order of 2000 Willow Warblers, 750 Swallows, 300 Wheatears, 200 each of Blackcap, Whitethroat and Garden Warbler, 60 Redstarts, 50 each of Yellow Wagtail and Chiffchaff, 40 Spotted Flycatchers, 30 Tree Pipits, 25 each of Swift and Whinchat, 20 Reed Warblers, 15 each of Sedge Warbler and Pied Flycatcher, 5 Lesser Whitethroats, 4 Grasshopper Warblers, 2 each of Short-eared Owl, Golden Oriole and Siskin and singles of Merlin and Hoopoe; with most of these birds patently moving rapidly northward it seems pointless mentioning the often excellent totals of a similar range of birds elsewhere since there must have been huge duplication, but singles of Hoopoe and Golden Oriole in the Grove area were the only scarcities reported. Although conditions were far from ideal for the sea there were a few odds and ends on the move off the Bill, including 80 Bar-tailed Godwits, 41 Common Scoter, 40 commic terns, 7 Great Northern Divers, 2 Red-throated Divers and singles of Great Skua, Pomarine Skua and Arctic Skua.

A few nice little videos that really give a feel for the events of the day © Dave Foot:

...and another one of the Golden Orioles © Martin Cade:

And some stills: Pied Flycatcher, Whinchat and Greenland Wheatear © Pete Saunders (Pied Fly), Debby Saunders (Whinchat) and Nick Hopper (Greenland Wheatear):

28th April

Dreary skies and little more than a waft of a northerly breeze saw another quite nice little arrival today. Scarcities consisted of nothing more than a Woodlark and the first Turtle Dove of the spring at the north of the island but the flurry of more routine fare at the Bill included 100 Willow Warblers, 40 Blackcaps and 30 each of Wheatear and Garden Warbler, with 2 Pied Flycatchers amongst the list of less common migrants. The seawatchers had to work hard to get any reward at the Bill where 2 Great Northern Divers and singles of Great Skua and Arctic Skua were the best on offer.

A Tree Pipit lurking at Easton this afternoon © Martin Cade:

27th April

With bands of rain a constant nuisance birding was never easy today but the stir-up in the weather that had seen the breeze freshen up from the east and heavy cloud roll in overnight downed a nice selection of migrants for the first time in a week. A Golden Oriole at Easton provided the best of the quality, whilst Swallows featured in their highest numbers so far this spring (including 800 arriving over Chesil in 20 minutes between rain bands during the morning) and 150 Willow Warblers and 40 Blackcaps at the Bill marked a return to expected numbers after the famine of recent days. There were few surprises amongst the arrivals but the first 2 Spotted Flycatchers of the spring, 3 Pied Flycatchers and a Hobby were at the Bill, a Cuckoo pitched up at Easton, another Pied Flycatcher was at Blacknor, a Hobby passed through on Chesil and 16 Bar-tailed Godwits dropped in at Ferrybridge. It seemed as though the rain in the Channel was putting the block on a lot of offshore sea passage, with 5 Great Skuas, a Great Northern Diver and a Pomarine Skua - along with another strong feeding movement of 1000 Manx Shearwaters - the best of it at the Bill, but a nice selection of closer to shore movers off Chesil included the first 2 Roseate Terns of the year, 38 Little Terns and an Arctic Skua.

Pied Flycatcher and Whinchat at Southwell and Bar-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge © Debby Saunders (Pied Fly and Barwits) and Pete Saunders (Whinchat):

26th April

With a brisk westerly still well established nocturnal migrants were again extremely thin on the ground, with the relatively good passage of hirundines during the daytime hours suggesting that perhaps a lot of birds are passing over at night without stopping - a brisk headwind or a profound change in the weather is much in demand! Swallows topped 500 at the Bill where Willow Warbler and Wheatear struggled into double figures on the ground and a passing Merlin and the long-staying Firecrest were the only very minor highlights amongst a meagre back up cast. The sea was hardly any better, with 6 Great Skuas and singles of Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver passing through off the Bill.

25th April


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

Not that the conditions looked in any way suitable to have expected much to have happened, but this week's turn of events with migrants getting fewer by the day - just as they might have been expected to be reaching their seasonal peak numbers - has been dispiriting for those taking the trouble to be out looking. The single figure totals of the most routine species on offer at the Bill aren't really worth a mention, but singles of Merlin, Hobby, White Wagtail and Firecrest did provide a modicum of interest there. In the brisk and freshening westerly the sea came up with a little more including c1500 Manx Shearwaters, 12 Great Skuas, 2 each of Red-throated Diver and Pomarine Skua, and a single Arctic Skua.

Another one of yesterday's Cuckoo at Southwell © Nick Stantiford:

24th April

Still largely hopeless for common migrants today but one or two morsels of quality gave the list a hint of respectability. A Hoopoe - no doubt the bird seen briefly a couple of days ago - popped up equally briefly again at Southwell where a Cuckoo was the pick of the day's new arrivals; 3 Whinchats, 2 each of White Wagtail and Redstart, and singles of Common Sandpiper, Yellow Wagtail, Lesser Whitethroat and Firecrest were the best of the arrivals at the Bill where 35 Wheatears and 25 Willow Warblers were the only worthwhile common migrant totals. The spring's first Pomarine Skua was the highlight off the Bill where 7 Great Skuas and 6 Arctic Skuas also passed through.

Today's Cuckoo at Southwell © Nick Stantiford:

23rd April

Another very low key day, with migrant numbers showing few signs of picking up. Wheatears were more conspicuous, with 75 at the Bill alone, and Swallows were arriving in their highest numbers so far this spring (maybe 500 through in the day as a whole) but there were only just into double figures totals of both Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler there and 2 Common Sandpipers and singles of White Wagtail, Redstart and Pied Flycatcher were the best of the less frequents; elsewhere, singles of Yellow Wagtail and Black Redstart were at Reap Lane. A trickle on the sea included 4 Red-throated Divers, 2 Great Skuas and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill.

It's looking like the majority of Wheatears coming through now are big Greenland/Iceland breeders - this one was trapped today in the Crown Estate Field © Martin Cade:

Recent nocturnal recording efforts have been as unproductive as the daytime watching. Nick Hopper was with us at the weekend but both nights were disappointing poor: a Moorhen, a Bar-tailed Godwit, two flocks of Dunlin and 2 Robins on 19th/20th April and three parties of Common Scoter (distant so probably over the sea), a Whimbrel, two flocks of Bar-tailed Godwits and a Grey Plover on 20th/21st April

22nd April

What a difference a year makes: on this date last year 412 birds were ringed at the Obs (...and the previous day 300 had been ringed), today's total there was just 9! Yesterday's thunderstorms had continued to rumble through into the early hours and offered the possibility of migrants being grounded but in the event they'd more likely kept things from moving in the first place, with only single figure totals of even the commonest species in evidence at the Bill at daybreak; a Hoopoe briefly at Southwell was presumed to be a new arrival rather than a lingerer re-emerging but the only other oddity making the list was a Wood Warbler in Top Fields. The sea tantalised rather than excited, with 7 Great Skuas, 5 Arctic Skuas, 4 Little Gulls and 2 Velvet Scoter off the Bill and 59 Whimbrel, 5 Arctic Skuas, 4 Bar-tailed Godwits, 3 Red-throated Divers and 2 Grey Plover off Chesil hinted at there being plenty on the move had poor visibility not restricted opportunities for long periods during the morning in particular. 

The trouble with this time of year is trying to spirit up enough hours out of each day to get all the interesting jobs done and we've run out time again in our attempt to catch up in particular with most of the recordings from recent days; the one we did get round to sorting was the ater Coal Tit at the Bill lighthouse a couple of days ago; sadly, as had been the case with the birds at the Obs a couple of days previously, we contrived to miss most of the best song - although in the case of Coal Tit it does seem to be the calls that are the more interesting:

21st April

Today's parting of the thunderstorms as they approached the island was a thing of some marvel and ensured that the island stayed dry as intense rain fell frequently just a few miles away. Sadly, this good fortune didn't extend to the day's migrant happenings with it relatively quiet everywhere: variety wasn't too bad but the totals at the Bill of, for example, 50 Willow Warblers and 40 Wheatears on the ground and 300 Swallows through overhead were hardly impressive for the last third of April; 6 Yellow Wagtails, 4 Redstarts, 3 Firecrests, 2 each of White Wagtail, Lesser Whitethroat and Redpoll, and singles of Merlin, Tree Pipit, Whinchat and Bullfinch were the best of the less frequent migrants there, whilst singles of Wood Warbler at Southwell and Weston were the highlights elsewhere. With the breeze remaining frustratingly just north of east the sea was never busy although a Sabine's Gull reported from the Bill would have been a nice highlight had it shown for more than its single observer; the pick of the more mundane fare were 6 Red-throated Divers, 3 Arctic Skuas and a Great Northern Diver through off the Bill and 3 Red-breasted Mergansers and 2 Canada Geese through off Chesil.

Another dispersing Pine Beauty was the only moth of note from overnight trapping.

Before a couple of photos from today we'll go back to yesterday for a recording of the Mealy Redpoll; we've run out of time both yesterday and again tonight to be able to discuss this and the ater Coal Tit's vocalisations, so more on them later:

Willow Warbler and Wheatear were today's most conspicuous migrants on the ground © Nick Hopper:

20th April

Another gloriously hot and sunny day with the bonus of an unexpected flurry of migrants. Wheatears staged a strong arrival with at least 150 at the Bill, where 120 Willow Warblers and 30 Chiffchaffs made up the bulk of the rest of the numbers on the ground and Swallows - along with the first 2 Swifts of the spring - were moving through steadily overhead; 8 Whinchats, 5 Redstarts, 3 each of Yellow Wagtail, Lesser Whitethroat, Redpoll (including a Mealy Redpoll) and Bullfinch, 2 each of Tree Pipit and Siskin and singles of Pied Flycatcher and Continental Coal Tit were among the less common migrants featuring there, with singles of Marsh Harrier, Black Redstart and Pied Flycatcher of note at other sites around the centre of the island. Two Mute Swans and singles of Red-throated Diver, Great Skua and Arctic Skua were as good as it got on the sea at the Bill.

A single Clouded Yellow was at the Bill, whilst Holly Blue and Wall Brown were both on the wing for the first time this year.

Singles of Diamond-back Moth and Dark Sword Grass at the Obs and Silver Y at the Grove made up the night's immigrant moth tally, with a Pine Beauty at the Obs a good local record.

As we've mentioned before, having seen all manner of intermediate birds we've never been great fans of splitting the redpolls but today's frosty adult male Mealy-type was as obvious as they come and as far removed as they come from the dowdy Lesser-types that make up the majority of birds trapped at Portland © Martin Cade (in-hand side) and Nick Hopper (in-hand front and in-field):

The ater Coal Tit was seen in particularly bizarre circumstances: whilst watching Wheatears in the Bill Quarry we became aware of the vaguely Yellow-browed Warbler-like calls of what we took to be a Continental Coal Tit high overhead. Assuming that it was an overflying migrant we looked up to try and locate it and discovered it was on the very top of the Bill lighthouse from where it parachuted down - by now in song - onto the chimneys of the lighthouse cottages; it continued to alternate between these two perches, sometimes also landing on the window ledges of the lighthouse tower and still calling and singing, for a couple of minutes before making off north © Martin Cade:

Redstart, Pied Flycatcher and Clouded Yellow from today © Mark Eggleton:

Lulls in the flow of visible migrants moving along West Cliffs can always be spent keeping your hand in at flight photography © Nick Hopper:

19th April

It seems churlish to find fault with what's been reported to be the warmest April day for 70 years but the glorious conditions did migrant-seekers few favours, with most of what might have pitched up on island most likely passing high overhead without stopping during the hours of darkness; whether this was the case will never be known although the peculiar dearth of visible passage in seemingly perfect conditions during the daylight hours perhaps hinted at there being a bit of a migration blockage elsewhere. The only oddity of the day was the lingering Hoopoe that was mobile in a wide area to the north of the Grove. A minor flurry of routine migrants at dawn included 30 each of Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff at the Bill, where yesterday's 2 ater Coal Tits remained overnight but very quickly moved on and 2 Firecrests and a Bullfinch were the best of the new arrivals; interest elsewhere came in the form of a Grasshopper Warbler at Barleycrates Lane, 2 Canada Geese and a Great Spotted Woodpecker at the Grove and a Brambling at Blacknor. Sea passage was never conspicuous but included 5 Red-throated Divers and 4 Arctic Skuas through off the Bill.

Orange-tip and Green-veined White butterflies were both on the wing for the first time this year.

A seemingly endless procession of dog-walkers tempted out by the warmth of the evening saw to it that the Grove Hoopoe was extremely skittish and mobile - affording only a couple of brief settled views © Martin Cade:

18th April

Although the ongoing upturn in the weather was certainly inspiring, there was nothing particularly inspiring about the quality of the day's birding - at least not until a pair of Continental Coal Tits dropped in unexpectedly at the Obs during the afternoon. The Hoopoe lingered for another day at the Bill and a second individual popped up at the Grove but otherwise quality on the migrant front was limited to the year's first Cuckoo over Ferrybridge; there was a small improvement in overall numbers at the Bill where 3 Lesser Whitethroats, 2 Black Redstarts and singles of Yellow Wagtail and Firecrest were of interest, with a Ring Ouzel at Barleycrates Lane the best elsewhere. Much had been expected of the sea in a light southeasterly but in the event numbers there were hardly impressive with 58 Whimbrel, 56 commic terns, 31 Common Scoter, 12 Sandwich Terns, 4 Red-throated Divers, 3 Great Skuas and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill, 3 Great Skuas, 3 Arctic Terns, a Red-throated Diver and an Arctic Skua off Chesil and a lone Mute Swan logged at various times off Blacknor, the Bill and Chesil.

Speckled Wood at Culverwell and Clouded Yellow at Church Ope Cove were both first records for the year.

The vast majority of Portland Coal Tit records relate to individuals of the Continental form ater that's a tolerably frequent autumn stray - usually in small influxes every few years; spring records of this form are far rarer, with today's pair the first since March 2007 © Martin Cade:

Vagrant Coal Tits at Portland are often quite vocal and these birds - presumably since they were a pair - were giving all sorts of calls as they moved around together; before their capture the male did sing very briefly but due to our crass ineptness we failed to recognise it/record it and when a Great Tit flew out of the same trees dismissed the mystery song as something freakish from that bird's repertoire!

It was a glorious day of unbroken warm sunshine from dawn 'til dusk - rather too nice to have expected any sort of arrival of migrants but very welcome in the context of this year's cool, late spring © Emily Cade:

17th April

Although the Hoopoe remained at the Bill the land was otherwise a very distant second best to the sea today: the big swell running at the Bill hinted at the presence of a deep depression and its associated brisk southerly winds to the west of Britain and seabirds were certainly feeling the effects, with a steady passage past both Chesil and the Bill. Bill totals included 365 Common Scoter, 103 commic terns, 37 Whimbrel, 27 Great Skuas, 26 Sandwich Terns, 17 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 14 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 8 Arctic Skuas, 4 Red-throated Divers and singles of Shelduck, Gadwall, Velvet Scoter and Eider, as well as good but unquantified numbers of Manx Shearwaters (movement was again taking place in both directions but certainly involved a well into four figures total); higher totals of some species off Chesil included 41 Whimbrel and 31 Great Skuas. The land got plenty of coverage but, the Hoopoe aside, came up with nothing better than lingering singles of Short-eared Owl and Firecrest amongst the woefully low numbers of commoner migrants at the Bill.

A selection from today's seawatching at the Bill: Gadwall and Common Scoters © Ted Pressey (top photo) and Keith Pritchard (lower photo)...

...Arctic Terns, Dark-bellied Brent Geese and Eider © Keith Pritchard...

...and Arctic Skua, Whimbrel and Manx Shearwater © Martin Cade:

16th April

A day of oddities and sea passage rather than quantities on the land. In an onshore breeze and fair conditions until late in the afternoon when it clouded up the Hoopoe lingered on at the Bill, a Hawfinch passed over there, the Green Woodpecker stopped in at several spots whilst undertaking yet another lap of the island and an unseasonable Sooty Shearwater lingered for a while off the Bill. The very thin scatter of routine migrants at the Bill included the season's first Garden Warbler and singles of Golden Plover, Ring Ouzel, Black Redstart and Firecrest. Seawatch tallies were dominated by an unquantified total - well into the hundreds - of Manx Shearwaters milling or heading in either direction off the Bill; later a more concerted eastbound movement developed that included 150 through off Chesil. Gulls were also on the move, with 163 Kittiwakes and 76 Common Gulls through off the Bill during the morning and a movement - to roost? - of mainly Herring Gulls off Chesil during the evening that included an Iceland Gull; other sea totals from the day included 11 Eider, 8 Whimbrel, 8 Great Skuas, 6 Red-throated Divers and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill and 10 Eider settled off Chesil.

The official record has it that Sooty Shearwater has been recorded in every month of the year off the Bill although we wouldn't mind betting that a straw poll of informed observers in the modern era would have revealed more than a little scepticism about the veracity of the single records for the months of March, April and May, all of which date from the 1960s and 70s and none of which have photo-documentation. Well, April can now be knocked off the list of dodgy months © Ted Pressey (top photo) and Joe Stockwell (lower photo):

Moving gulls were a feature offshore throughout the day, with a good passage of Kittiwakes and Common Gulls off the Bill © Joe Stockwell...

...and an Iceland Gull through off Chesil © Martin Cade:

One of the Great Skuas passing the Bill © Joe Stockwell:

Once again, the Green Woodpecker was the island rarity of the day on the land © Martin Cade:

15th April

A day when the relative lack of numbers on the ground was more than compensated for by a couple of oddities and a steady sea passage. One of yesterday's Hoopoe was still about in the Obs/hut fields area and a Hawfinch was a nice new arrival at the Obs; numbers were well short of yesterdays, with 50 each of Blackcap and Chiffchaff making up the bulk of the total at the Bill, where 5 Redstarts and singles of Tree Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, Ring Ouzel, Firecrest, Pied Flycatcher, Redpoll and Bullfinch were all of note; elsewhere, the 'Eastern' Lesser Whitethroat remained at Southwell, another Ring Ouzel was at Barleycrates Lane and a Wood Warbler was at Blacknor. The sea got plenty of attention until mid-afternoon (we presume from reports from elsewhere that plenty of Manx Shearwaters were missed after this), with the Bill returning totals of 600 Manx Shearwaters, 346 Common Scoter, 23 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 20 each of Sandwich Tern and commic Tern, 10 Red-throated Divers, 8 Arctic Skuas, 6 Great Skuas, 3 Whimbrel, 2 Teal and a Bar-tailed Godwit; Chesil chipped in the more of the same, together with additions that included 7 Little Gulls and 3 Little Terns.

The Hoopoe looked good in the field but it really was one of those birds that looked even more amazing in the hand where it was possible to fully appreciate its spectacular plumage © Geoff Orton:

It was a good performer in the field where it spent much of the day on the lawns amongst the beach huts © Peter Moore petermooreblog (still) and Martin Cade (video):

Hawfinches can be remarkably furtive: today's bird was seen briefly twice in the Obs garden soon after dawn but was assumed to have then slipped away unnoticed - 10 hours later it turned up completely out of the blue in a mist-net! © Martin Cade: