31st December

A low-key end to the year in the continuing quiet, dreary conditions. The only reports were of 5 Red-throated Divers and 2 Common Scoter through off the Bill, 5 Redwings at the Bill and a Chiffchaff at Pennsylvania Castle.

The mothing year ended with 2 Diamond-back Moths trapped overnight at the Obs.

30th December

A largely more of the same selection today: 7 Red-throated Divers and a Great Northern Diver through off the Bill, the Grey Heron still there, 3 Chiffchaffs, 2 Goldcrests and a Black Redstart at Pennsylvania Castle/Church Ope Cove, 5 Goldcrests at Foundry Close, 140 Goldfinches at Blacknor and 21 Black-necked Grebes and a Black-throated Diver in Portland Harbour.

29th December

Drearier but still mild today. It was less rewarding on the bird front, with 4 Red-throated Divers, 2 Wigeon and 2 Common Scoter through off the Bill, singles of Black Redstart at both the Bill and Osprey Quay, 3 Goldcrests at Pennsylvania Castle, a Chiffchaff at Wakeham and 18 Black-necked Grebes and 3 Great Northern Divers in Portland Harbour.

A flurry of immigrant moths saw 4 Diamond-back Moth, 2 Silver Y and a Rusty-dot Pearl trapped overnight at the Obs; another single Silver Y was trapped at the Grove.

28th December


A reminder that there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm tomorrow, Saturday 29th December.

It was again a lovely day to be out birding - calm, mild and, at least until midday, bright - and there was a decent little array of sightings. The sea was well covered and returned totals of 19 Red-throated Divers, 5 Common Scoter, 3 Brent Geese and a Great Northern Diver through off the Bill; auk numbers there have been less than impressive so far this winter, with a sample count this morning coming up with just shy of 1000 in an hour (a total that would be just 5 or 10 minutes worth in many recent winters). Three Redwings at the Obs were overnight arrivals that left as soon as dawn broke, whilst other odds and ends from the land included 4 Purple Sandpipers, 4 Turnstones, 3 Short-eared Owls and the Grey Heron at the Bill, 3 Chiffchaffs at Pennsylvania Castle, 2 Goldcrests at Avalanche Road, a Firecrest at Thumb Lane and a Black Redstart at Blacknor. Elsewhere, 21 Black-necked Grebes and a Great Northern Diver were in Portland Harbour.
Late news for the last couple of days: at least 3 Short-eared Owls in the afternoons at the Bill and a Blackcap visiting feeders in a private garden at Southwell.

We haven't had any current moth news to report for a few days (no immigrants have been trapped since before Christmas), but indoors our bred stock of Radford's Flame Shoulders have been emerging. Since we were going to be out of circulation for more than a fortnight during December we hadn't really intended trying to breed any through but such was the quantity of eggs obtained from some of last autumn's wild-caught specimens whilst they were briefly confined in tubes that we kept a few just to see how they'd do. In the event they fed up so voraciously that they'd all pupated in a little less than a month and we ended up having to chill the pupae so they didn't emerge whilst we were away. A variety of foodplants have been tried by folk who'd had some of our eggs or obtained some of their own; given a selection of choices, our larvae took readily to Bristly Oxtongue and went right through very successfully on this alone. The fully fed larvae were much of a muchness, with just some minor variation in colour tone - these two photographed specimens were perhaps towards the pale end - and in the strength of the black and white lateral lines: 

The bred moths were, as might be expected, rather more beautifully richly-coloured and crisply marked than the majority of wild-caught specimens. Since we released literally hundreds of unwanted eggs and tiny larvae it'll be interesting to see if there's evidence next year of a summer brood of wild-caught specimens (the literature is in places a little ambiguous but seems to suggest that the species is usually bivoltine) - to date our moth-trap captures have only been of late season moths and we still have the feel for them all being primary immigrants© Martin Cade:

27th December

A lovely crisp, calm and sunny day but not too much to report: 5 Red-throated Divers and 3 Common Scoter passed through off the Bill, the wintering Grey Heron was still there, 2 Chiffchaffs and a Goldcrest were at Southwell and the Black Redstart and a Chiffchaff were at Church Ope Cove/Pennslyvania Castle.
Late news for yesterday evening: a/the Tawny Owl was calling for some time at Fortuneswell.

As it was a nice day we decided on a whim to have a look for Freddy Alway's Dusky Warbler over on the mainland at East Fleet Farm. What would have been a pleasant excursion was slightly spoilt by the very unfriendly land-owner who took exception to the bird's presence (amongst other things he claimed to have shot it several weeks ago!), our presence and our parking beside his private road but, that aside, the bird did oblige of sorts.

It was quite readily heard whenever it was in the vicinity...

...but, with no access off the road, getting decent views of it was not so straightforward © Martin Cade: 

26th December

After being sorely missed the sun finally put in an appearance today as the breeze dropped to barely more than a waft of easterly. Another 10 Red-throated Divers, together with 3 Eider, 3 Black-headed Gulls and a Black-throated Diver, passed through off the Bill, at least 1 of the Short-eared Owls was still about on the land there, singles of Black Redstart, Chiffchaff and Firecrest were still at Church Ope Cove/Pennsylvania Castle and 600 Mediterranean Gulls were at Ferrybridge.
Late news for yesterday: 5 Redwings at the Bill and a Great Skua through on the sea there.

25th December

Despite a not unexpected reduction in coverage - together with some pretty depressingly miserable foggy and often drizzly conditions - there was a surprising amount to report today: 8 Red-throated Divers and 2 Velvet Scoters passed through off the Bill, 2 wintering Chiffchaffs were still at Southwell and another 2 Chiffchaffs and a Firecrest were still about at Pennsylvania Castle, the garden pond frequenting Little Egret was a surprise visitor to rooftops at the Grove, 4 Goosanders and a Great Northern Diver were at Ferrybridge and several Great Northern Divers and Black-necked Grebes were in Portland Harbour.

Although they hadn't shown up for more than a fortnight it seems like the Goosanders have never been too far away as they made a fleeting fly-by visit Ferrybridge this morning © Pete Saunders: 

A Christmas afternoon boat trip around Portland Harbour was enlivened by having the long-staying Bottle-nosed Dolphin in almost constant attendance© Martin Adlam Port and Wey Blog

24th December

The return of an easterly breeze saw the temperature take a bit of a dip but did nothing to clear the unrelentingly gloomy skies of recent days. A flurry of Red-throated Divers offshore - 17 passed the Bill through the morning - most likely involved birds relocating to the more sheltered waters of Lyme Bay; 4 Common Scoter also passed by there. The only other reports from a day of minimal coverage were of the Grey Heron and a Short-eared Owl still at the Bill and the Black Redstart still at Church Ope Cove.

23rd December

A few passing Redwings audible overnight at the Obs - 34 calls were logged in the hour between midnight and 1am before the onset of rain curtailed the movement - were the precursors to a small arrival around the island during the hours of daylight that included 9 at Southwell, 5 at Reap Lane and 11 at Blacknor. The first skua of the month - a single Great Skua through off the Bill - was a welcome sight on the sea, with 6 Common Scoter, 4 Red-throated Divers and a Black-throated Diver also through off there and 5 Great Northern Divers, 4 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Slavonian Grebes and a Black-throated Diver in Portland Harbour. On the land single Black Redstarts were at Church Ope Cove and Blacknor and 2 Goldcrests and a Chiffchaff were at the Grove.

22nd December

There were a couple of minor surprises at the Bill in the form of an unseasonable Woodlark overhead and another flock of 35 tardy Goldfinches leaving to the south, whilst more routine fare there included 7 Red-throated Divers and 2 Brent Geese through on the sea and 2 Short-eared Owls knocking about on the land. The only other report was of one of the wintering Black Redstarts on show at Church Ope Cove.

A lone Rusty-dot Pearl provided a hint of immigrant interest in the Obs moth-traps.

21st December

It might have been the shortest day of the year but there were more than enough hours of daylight to ascertain that nothing much had changed on the bird front, with the only worthwhile reports of 2 Chiffchaffs and a Firecrest at Pennsylvania Castle, a Black Redstart at Church Ope Cove and at least one of the Short-eared Owls still at the Bill.

20th December

Despite today's blustery conditions there were a few birds on offer around the island, with the relative shelter of the Pennsylvania Castle/Glen Caravan Park/Church Ope area coming up with a creditable 5 Chiffchaffs, 2 Black Redstarts and a Firecrest; further single Black Redstarts were at Reap Lane and Blacknor. Two flocks of Goldfinches - totalling just 12 - leaving out to sea at the Bill were presumably tardy migrants, whilst 2 Red-throated Divers passed by on the sea there and the wintering Grey Heron was knocking about in the Strips.

The long-staying Grey Heron at the Bill looks to be in second-winter plumage and is presumably the same individual (...it certainly has the same peculiar habits of plodding around/feeding in the dry fields) as the youngster that spent several months there last winter © Martin Cade: 

19th December

A day to forget in a hurry, with the only reports of 8 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill and 430 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 170 Dunlin and 2 Pale-bellied Brents at Ferrybridge.

18th December

A shocker of a day with heavy and persistent rain settling in soon after dawn in tandem with a gale force southerly wind. The day sheet was entirely empty!

The lack of reports from today gives us a chance to catch up with a few photos from the period we were off the air during the first fortnight of the month. The highlight was undoubtedly an exceptionally showy Little Bunting in the rather unlikely situation of a pebbly lane at Chiswell between 8th and 11th December © Pete Saunders:  

Of local interest, this Little Egret spent a good part of the fortnight frequenting - increasingly successfully by the look of it! - garden ponds at Southwell © Nick Stantiford:  

A Merlin that popped up on several occasions at Ferrybridge was a decent mid-winter record © Pete Saunders:  

Winter regulars included Black-necked Grebes and Great Northern Divers in Portland Harbour © Pete Saunders (Black-necked Grebes) and Debby Saunders (Great Northern Diver):  

17th December

Our winter break couldn't come to an end soon enough for one blog visitor who'd sent us an indignant message expressing the view that is was unacceptable that a publicly-funded Observatory couldn't produce a website update for a fortnight (...some of the insults slung at us really do beggar belief!). For this gentleman and our more understanding visitors we're back in business. On what sounds as though it was, at least for the morning, a nicer day than most have been during our absence there was a relatively routine selection on offer around the island: 3 Short-eared Owls, 2 Goldcrests, a Snipe and a Chiffchaff were at the Bill where 12 Red-throated Divers also passed through on the sea; elsewhere, 5 Black Redstarts were scattered between Chesil Cove and Portland Castle and 13 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Great Northern Divers and a Slavonian Grebe were in Portland Harbour.

Immigrant moth interest was limited to a single Diamond-back Moth trapped overnight at the Obs.

A freshening breeze and dreary skies were hardly the desired conditions to have a check on how many Short-eared Owls were still about at the Bill but at least three were making the best of it late in the afternoon © Martin Cade: 

Earlier we'd nipped in to Radipole to have a quick look at the Penduline Tit that had surfaced for the first time since it was discovered last Friday © Steve Gantlett cleybirds (still) and Martin Cade (video):