31st October

Today we were rescued from writing a blog much the same as we have for most of the autumn by a wandering Rough-legged Buzzard that graced our shores (albeit briefly) this morning, before it shot off towards the Purbecks. A Black Brant, a Pale-bellied Brent Goose and a Long-tailed Duck at Ferrybridge, 3 Goosanders and a Common Scoter in Portland Harbour and 2 Ring Ouzels at Kingbarrow Quarry added some variety to the mix on an otherwise distinctly average day. There was also belated news of a Tawny Owl in Wakeham from the previous night. In terms of common migrants, we were thin on the ground once again with the exceptions of a good passage of Auks and Mediterranean Gulls at sea, 4 Purple Sandpipers around the Bill and a miniscule influx of Goldcrests.

It's a shame that none of the observers had a camera over their shoulder when the Rough-legged Buzzard first appeared overhead at the Obs - it had presumably just arrived in off the sea - since by the time these record-photos were taken after a mad dash to the top of the Obs driveway it was already hundreds of metres away and leaving rapidly to the north. A short while later it was picked up from Bill Hill heading off very high northeast over the centre of the island and we'd guess it would next have made landfall somewhere over the Purbecks. The only previous Portland record occurred during one of the largest influxes ever recorded in Britain when one flew in off the sea at the Bill on 22nd October 1974.© Martin Cade:

The Black Brant at Ferrybridge, possibly one of the returning 'winterers' first recorded in 2006 © Debby Saunders

Three of the four Purple Sandpipers today back in their classic spot to ride out the winter storms © Roger Hewitt: 

There was a time when Tawny Owls were resident on the island but as far as we're aware the last confirmed breeding record was at the Grove Stadium in 1989 since when the only reports have been of isolated calling birds - many unconfirmed and none of which appear to have lingered. Earlier this autumn we followed up reports from non-birders of a calling bird at St Peter's Church at the Grove but drew a blank so it was great to get a fully confirmed record from last night at Wakeham © Martin Adlam portandwey.blogspot:

30th October

What can we say about today that we haven't said about the majority of days this autumn? Clear skies led to another clear out of birds with movements of winter migrants limited to just 2 Red-throated Divers, 2 Pintail, 6 Lapwings, 100 Chaffinches, 4 Bramblings, and a Yellow-browed Warbler behind the Museum. Another Cetti's Warbler was located at the Avalanche Hump, its been a remarkably good year for the species on Portland with this being the 7th record.

The Short-eared Owls are often obliging, but its not every day that one decides to pitch up and perform for everyone on a post viewable from the Obs patio © Martin Cade:

29th October

Another bright, clear day saw little movement of birds save for those in the very early hours. A Water Rail in the garden was the first for the autumn, Bramblings made a return to double figures, a sixth Cetti's Warbler was located on the slope above Portland Castle, 2 Woodlarks were present around the Obs and Helen's Fields and there was a surprise reappearance of Friday's Barred Warbler at the Obs. The highlight of the day, however, came in the form of a Little Auk close in off the East Cliffs, no doubt pushed in by the strong North-easterlies we have been getting battered by over the past 48 hours.

Little Auks are notoriously storm driven and this bird was no exception being forced right into the coast by the strong winds we have been experiencing over the past few days © Geoff Orton:

The Ferrybridge Greenshanks © Pete Saunders... 

...and a Fieldfare at the Bill © Roger Hewitt:

28th October

Today saw the movements of birds that we had anticipated with the onslaught of yesterdays gale. A good passage of Brent Geese on the sea was accompanied by a very strong showing of thrushes including over 250 Redwings, 110 Blackbirds, 14 Fieldfares, 2 Mistle Thrushes and 2 Ring Ouzels. A selection of waterfowl and waders were also on the move over land and sea with 17 Common Scoter, 14 Teal, 7 Wigeon, 5 Pintail, 5 Lapwings and a Golden Plover. at the Bill and 2 Greenland White-fronted Geese over Ferrybridge. Chaffinches put in another good showing with over 500 recorded across the island, however Brambling numbers were down on recent days with just 4 for the day. Highlights came from a huge passage of Starlings up the west cliff with over 2000 birds, a Woodlark over the Crown Fields and a lone Firecrest at the Avalanche Hump.

We're struggling to discover any good reason as to why Greenland White-front shouldn't have at least as decent a claim to full specific status as some of the dodgy passerine 'splits' of the modern era but, be that as it may, there don't appear to have been any previous claims of this form at Portland so today's nicely documented fly-bys at Ferrybridge were an excellent first for the island © Edmund Mackrill:

A brilliant display from the Redwings around the Obs Garden today was obviously replicated in the gardens around Southwell © Debby Saunders:

27th October

In common with what we've experienced throughout this autumn today didn't live up to its billing, with the sudden blast of raw northerly not delivering the pulse of thrushes, finches and the like that ought to have been on the cards. Departing Wood Pigeons - including 650 over the Bill - made up the bulk of the numbers, with only Chaffinches even slightly well represented amongst the also rans. Despite a lot of searching, quality didn't beyond the level of 2 Yellow-browed Warblers at Avalanche Road, a Ring Ouzel nearby and singles of Green Woodpecker and Woodlark at the Bill.

One of the handful of Bramblings that dropped in during the morning © Roger Hewitt:

26th October


A reminder that there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm tomorrow, 27th October.

We're very pleased to be able to announce the successful acquisition of another small parcel of land close to the Observatory. The two strips purchased at auction today supplement our purchase back in the summer of another 4 acres of this field that included the Obs Quarry itself.

An unusual day both weather and bird-wise. Squalls of heavy rain and thick cloud were interceded by periods of clear skies and strong wind. There appeared, at first glance, to have been a mass exodus of birds with very little moving overhead early on. However, a Barred Warbler in the first net round proved that at least something had slipped through in the night. The rest of the day proved an anti-climax with very little in the way of late autumn migrants with other highlights including a Lapland Bunting along the East Cliffs, a pair of Firecrests in the Obs Garden, a Yellow-browed Warbler at Penn Castle and the loitering pair of Ring Ouzels at the Verne. Other common migrants were limited to single figures.

The Barred Warbler trapped and ringed at the Obs early this morning © Martin Cade/Erin Taylor:

Some more Short-eared Owl action from recent days © Debby Saunders (top) and Paul Ward (bottom):

One of today's Ring Ouzels at the Verne © Trevor Wilkinson:

Despite this week's shift to clearer and much chillier nights mothing remains surprising productive with a decent variety of immigrants still on the wing. Last night's haul at the Obs included the second Cosmopolitan of the week and the 20th Radford's Flame Shoulder of the autumn but for us the highlight was two Oak Rustics - this recent colonisation of the South Coast has largely passed Portland by with our first and only other record occurring two years ago © Martin Cade:

25th October

The first day with some real cloud cover, however brief, produced some of the migrants we have been patiently waiting for. The first Dartford Warbler for the autumn (and only the second for the year) was out on the slopes, a lone Corn Bunting was located within the Crown Estate Field with a second individual at Barleycrates Lane and 6 Cattle Egrets in off the sea were an excellent addition to the year totals. Today also saw our share of the recent movement of Crossbills with a day total of 8 across the island. Other birds of note included: a Red-throated Diver east past the Bill, two Ring Ouzels, 4 Mistle Thrushes, good numbers of both Fieldfares and Redwings, two Black Redstarts, a single Firecrest at the Obs, 3 Yellow-browed Warblers across the island, small numbers of Siskins and Redpolls and a Yellowhammer in the stubble fields.

A huge thank you to all our observers in the field today for sending us some cracking records as well as the pictures to accompany them. Corn Bunting and Dartford Warbler © Joe Stockwell, Great Spotted Woodpecker © Pete Saunders, Short-eared Owl/Sparrowhawk dog fight and Stonechat © Debby Saunders: 

And thanks to Joe for a couple of recordings from the morning - a flock of Crossbills over the Obs and a snippet of the dawn migrant finch soundscape there:

24th October

It's almost becoming tedious to report an unchanged weather situation but that was the case, with it so calm, sunny and warm by the afternoon that it felt a lot like being transported back to summer. Inevitably, the bulk of migrant numbers consisted of a short, sharp passage overhead shortly after dawn, when 8 Tree Sparrows were the pick of miscellany of seasonable fare over the Bill; with the exception of 20 Reed Buntings grounded totals there were insignificant but did include singles of Black Redstart and Firecrest. The day's oddities included a fly-by Tawny Pipit at the Bill - nearly the latest new arrival ever reported there - 3 Yellow-browed Warblers spread over the area to the north of the Grove, 2 Ring Ouzels still at the Verne and a Yellow-legged Gull at Ferrybridge.

Peregrine and Kestrel over the Bill © Martin King...

Yellow-legged Gull at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders... 

Little Owl at the Bill © Martin Cade... 

...and this evening's full moon at the Bill © Martin King: 

23rd October

An excellent day for Woodpigeons; the totals of which reached 510 visible migrants. Stock Doves were also moving through with 87 passing by. Redwings, Bramblings, Siskins, Goldfinches and Linnets were also conspicuous although less so than in recent days. Birds of note included a single flyover Golden Plover, three Black Redstarts around the Bill area, a Common Redstart at Fancy's Farm, 8 Goldcrests within the Obs garden and Huts, and a lone Yellow-browed Warbler at Penn Castle was tied for highlight of the day with a pair of Yellowhammers (including an excellent male). 

Nick Hopper put in another stint recording nocturnal migrants for us on two consecutive nights starting on the 18th/19th with: 242 Redwing calls, 126 Song Thrush calls, 23 Blackbird calls, Meadow Pipit (a rare night caller), 2 Goldcrest, 2 Golden Plover, Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, 2 Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Snipe, 2 Black-headed Gull and Grey Heron. There was a little bit more quality on 19th/20th with a Gadwall being a surprise bird; a brief snatch of Cetti's Warbler song (a first nocturnal record for Portland) and a late Tree Pipit were also of note. Also logged were Ring Ouzel, 4 Fieldfare, 10 Blackbird, 182 Redwing calls, 59 Song Thrush calls, 4 Goldcrest, 2 Skylark, 2 Redshank, Golden Plover, Lapwing, 2 Common Snipe, 2 Dunlin, 2 Oystercatcher and 2 Black-headed Gull

At first hearing the calls of the Gadwall sound a lot like someone with a duck caller - it would have had to have been a very good one though as even the sonogram matches!

Black Redstart and Wheatear at the Bill today © Martin King: 

Not the day we were hoping for bird-wise but a pretty spectacular sunset kept everyone at the obs smiling © Martin King (top and middle) and Paul Hopwood (bottom):

22nd October

Plenty more clear skies and sunshine to enjoy today but, as expected, migrants numbers were nothing to get excited about. New Yellow-browed Warblers dropped in at the Obs and Pennsylvania Castle, 3 Ring Ouzels were still at the Verne and 2 Black Redstarts and singles of Hobby, Firecrest, Tree Sparrow and Yellowhammer at the Bill were worth a mention. The assortment of commoner fare on the ground and overhead included most of what would be expected but with the exception of 25 Reed Buntings at the Bill numbers were well below average for late October.

The insect highlight was a Vagrant Emperor at Gore Quarry (near the junction of Weston Street and Southwell Street); a Red-veined Darter was at Coombefield and Clouded Yellows were still on the wing at many sites. Two more Radford's Flame Shoulders and a Vestal were the pick of a surprisingly good haul of immigrants from the Obs moth-traps.

The last few years have seen a remarkable surge in Vagrant Emperor records at Portland but, since the majority of reports have been of flying insects seen just briefly, it remains a really tricky species to actually get to grips with on the island; Joe deserves a lot of credit for following up yesterday's sighting and managing to find this settled specimen a few hundred metres away © Joe Stockwell:

Yellowhammer from the mist-nets in our Stewardship crops in the Crown Estate Field © Martin Cade:

The clear skies of recent days have afforded plenty of nice photo opportunities © Martin King:

21st October

With barely a sniff of a change in the conditions it was no surprise that the birding remained very samey, with 2 Yellow-browed Warblers at both the Obs and Southwell School, 2 Ring Ouzels at the Verne, singles of Black Redstart at the Bill and Blacknor, and singles of Firecrest and Yellowhammer at the Bill providing some pretty low-key highlights around the island. Grounded totals included 25 each of Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and Reed Bunting at the Bill, whilst 500 Wood Pigeons overhead there was as good as it got on the visible passage front.

A miscellaneous selection of other natural history interest included a Vagrant Emperor dragonfly and 4 Red-veined Darters seen in the Cheyne Weare/Church Ope Cove area during the afternoon, another 2 Radford's Flame Shoulders trapped overnight at the Obs and a Brown Long-eared Bat caught at dawn in a mist-net at the Obs.
*If Steven Guy happens to look in on the blog do please get in touch as we'd very much like to share your photos of the Vagrant Emperor here*

There was a time when bats were caught quite frequently in the Obs garden mist-nets but that certainly hasn't been the case for some years so it quite a novelty when this Brown Long-eared Bat was trapped there at dawn; we have several old records of this species having been caught at the Obs and it'll be interesting to see if the static bat detector deployed there provides evidence that they're resident or just strays/migrants © Martin Cade/Fergus Henderson:

20th October

It's not often that you get to moan that the weather was too nice during October but from the birding point of view that was likely the case today, with the cloudless sky and shirt-sleeves warmth hardly conducive to dropping migrants in quantity; that said, the trees were certainly busier with Chiffchaffs and 'crests than has been the case for a few days and the balmy conditions made it a pleasure to spend time working through them. The Chiffchaff tally from the centre and south of the island was well into three figures, whilst Goldcrests - that have hitherto been conspicuously thin on the ground throughout - reached an autumn peak to date of 30 at the Bill; other worthwhile totals included 15 Reed Buntings and 8 Long-tailed Tits at the Bill. Quality on the ground was sadly lacking, with Yellow-browed Warblers at Southwell School (2) and the Grove the best on offer; 4 Ring Ouzels were still scattered about the north of the island and 3 Black Redstarts were at the Bill/Southwell. Visible passage was a bit of an anti-climax - were they all too high or just taking a different route today? - with seasonable fare all represented but only sparsely at best.

The warmth of recent days has seen plenty of insects on the wing, amongst which today were at Red-veined Darter at the Verne and well into double figure totals of both Clouded Yellow and Painted Lady.

In places the purges of recent years on invasive cotoneaster maybe went a little too overboard and grubbed out swathes of the plant (whose berries are so loved by migrant thrushes) from traditional Ring Ouzel haunts; fortunately the inaccessible slopes of the Verne Citadel retain a fair bit of this pernicious alien and continue to be an ouzel hot-spot © Dave Foot:

The Obs after dark this evening © Martin King:

19th October

It looked today as though many of the migrants that had wanted to move on after the dreary start to the week did so at the first opportunity yesterday - today's even more glorious conditions tempted far fewer birds into the sky and certainly didn't prompt many to drop in. Visible passage was best recorded at the north of the island where 1222 Linnets topped an otherwise fairly undistinguished tally amongst which 90 Siskins were of most note; a Woodlark was the best on offer amongst the generally lower numbers logged over the Bill. It was never busy on the ground but interest came in the form of single Cetti's Warblers at the Bill and the north of the island, single Yellow-browed Warblers at Avalanche Road and Old Hill and totals of 7 Ring Ouzels, 4 Black Redstarts and 4 Firecrests dotted about.

18th October

A complete change in the weather saw crystal clear skies greet the expectant dawn risers and it was quickly apparent that, not unexpectedly, overhead passage would feature prominently. The usual late autumn suspects - Wood Pigeons, Skylarks, Swallows, Meadow Pipits and a variety of thrushes and finches - dominated and were at times tricky to full quantify since movement was taking place over such a broad front; cumulatively, the most numerous constituents amounted to a nearly five figure total, whilst quality was provided by a minimum of 3 Woodlarks and a Hawfinch. It was noticeably quieter on the ground than it had been on the drearier days earlier in the week but a/the Little Bunting was spotted briefly in Top Fields, a Yellow-browed Warbler was at Southwell, 4 Ring Ouzels, 3 Black Redstarts, 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a Firecrest and a Corn Bunting were scattered about and there was a decent late-ish total of 50 Wheatears at the Bill.

One of the Woodlarks over the Bill this morning © Martin Cade:

Just for a bit of fun we combined last night's 5 new Radford's Flame Shoulders from the Obs moth-traps (the highest ever single night total there) with the 5 we already had potted from previous nights for a double-figure assemblage photo - and to think that as recently as ten years ago the all-time British total had only just crept over 20 © Martin Cade:

17th October

A bit of a soggy one today with super fine rain that never failed to drench any birder who dared venture out into the field. Yesterday's Little Bunting was relocated in the Top Fields feeding away in the drizzle. The rain did not deter some of the commoner migrants with another strong showing from Chaffinches, Linnets, Goldfinches and Skylarks. It was another good day for Black Redstarts with two at the Bill and two near Portland Castle. A Firecrest at the obs and a Goldcrest in Culverwell were the only crests located throughout the day and a single Yellow-browed Warbler was at the Grove.

Despite being a relatively unmarked bird, the Little Bunting in the top fields was definitely the highlight of a very wet day ©Matt Ames:

At least in terms of scarcer immigrant variety/numbers last night was the best mothing night of the year to date, with singles of Maize Moth Spolodea recurvalis and Old World Webworm Hellula undalis the highlights at the Obs:

...we also managed to coax yesterday's Clifden Nonpareil into showing its prettier bits © Martin Cade: 

16th October

On the nicest birding day for some while the middle of the island was veritably hopping with birds, with 5 Yellow-browed Warblers and singles of Ring Ouzel, Siberian Chiffchaff, Firecrest and Hawfinch the pick amongst high counts of a wide variety of thrushes, warblers and finches. The Bill was something of the poor relation but did chip with the rarity of the day when a Little Bunting that appeared over the Crown Estate Field during the afternoon eventually dropped in and was duly trapped there; also at the Bill, 3 Bramblings overhead were the first of the autumn, 500 Swallows and 250 Skylarks were worthy visible passage totals and scarcities included 2 Black  Redstarts, 2 Ring Ouzels and a Yellow-browed Warbler.

Maybe not surprisingly, our crops in the Crown Estate Field have become something of a Little Bunting hotspot in recent years and today we were able to watch the effectiveness of Joe Stockwell's 'ticking bunting' sound-lure that we've employed there in recent late autumns (we knew it was effective because, apart from Little Buntings, we've had the good fortune to stumble across Pine Bunting and Rustic Bunting in nets beside it in the last couple of years!). We happened to be in the field doing a net round when we first heard today's bird calling high overhead and we watched as it did several circuits over the field before plunging into the maize not far from the lure; on this occasion it didn't fly straight into a net but it wasn't long before it made its way toward the lure and was trapped © Martin Cade:  

In much calmer conditions overnight mothing at the Obs was considerably more rewarding than of late, with 2 more Radford's Flame Shoulders the best of the scarcer immigrants. Our highlight though was the long, long overdue first Clifden Nonpareil for the island - not much more than a decade ago this would have been a noteworthy capture anywhere but such has been the remarkable change in their status that, latterly, Portland has been one of the few regularly trapped sites in Dorset not to have had a record © Martin Cade: