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): 

29th November

PBO membership standing orders
As Obs members will be aware, earlier this year our charitable status changed when we became a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO); as part of this change we were required to open a new current bank account. We are in the process of closing our old bank account and request that members who have a membership subscription standing order in our favour transfer this to the new account. 
For those with online banking facilities this transfer may be readily accomplished via your banking app - our new account details are: 
Account name Portland Bird Observatory; Sort code 09-01-29; Account No. 19754723
Those without online arrangements will require a new standing order form that can be requested from the Obs or downloaded here  - this form should be filled in and returned to us for forwarding to your bank or sent direct to your bank. 
Apologies for the inconvenience and many thanks for your help with this important matter.

28th November

The final day of the season before the assistant warden heads off North to cooler climes and the Warden does the sensible thing and migrates South for a while saw little in the way of bird action. In fact, out list at the Bill consisted of just three birds: two Redwings and a Goldcrest. Thankfully we were spared by a Black Redstart at Reap Lane and by the Ferrybridge totals of one Goosander, a pair of Pale-bellied Brent Geese and a Bar-tailed Godwit

Last night saw the best nights 'mothing' for some time. The moths appeared in good numbers, presumably due to the relative warmth and calmness of the early parts of last night, and totals included: 37 Diamond-back Moths, 5 Rusty Dot Pearls, 3 Silver Y's, 2 Dark Sword Grasses, a pair of Turnips and a pair of White Specks

27th November

Well that's nearly all folks, the end of the season is nigh and the weather was obviously feeling it too with torrential rain and gale force winds forcing us all inside. A frankly eerie drop in wind in the evening led to our daily tallies reaching four species for the obs area: a pair of Fieldfares, a pair of Redwings, 5 Goldcrests and a female Blackcap; whilst the harbour was harbouring the drake Goosander, the lingering Little Gull and a Wigeon.

Last nights immigrant moths consisted of 6 Diamond-back moths and a White-speck. Fingers crossed that the relaxed winds and relative warmth hold out long enough to catch something good for our last night for a while. 

26th November

In unexpectedly benign conditions - the gentle north-easterly had lost all its raw edge of recent days - there was enough about to keep interest going all day. With the sky clearing as the morning went on few of the new arrivals dropped in for long but overhead there was quite a trickle of thrushes and finches heading through into the breeze; singles of Blackcap and Goldcrest were also new at the Obs, with another 2 Blackcaps featuring at Southwell. Further miscellaneous oddities included singles of Little Egret and Merlin at the Bill, a Great Northern Diver settled offshore there, a Black Redstart at Church Ope and 2 Slavonian Grebes in Portland Harbour.

Last night's immigrant moths: 2 each of Diamond-back Moth and Rusty-dot Pearl at the Obs.

Fieldfares are rather notorious for rarely dropping much lower than the tops of the tallest trees at the Obs so this one - seemingly an adult male - was a nice surprise in the mist-nets today © Martin Cade: 

Although we've received plenty of notifications of birds we've ringed being discovered elsewhere, this year has been one of the poorest we can remember for 'controls' in our nets so two foreign ringed birds - a Chiffchaff from France and a Blackbird from Holland - in the last few days have been very welcome © Martin Cade:  

25th November

With the rain having finally relented some time in the early hours of the morning there was a little more life about than yesterday. The Bill saw a small movement of thrushes with double figures of Song Thrushes and Redwings plus a pair of Fieldfares in the Top Fields. The finches also put in a good display with the Serin being resighted and a Brambling among the Chaffinch flock. Wader-wise the flock of lingering Lapwings were still in the East Cliffs fields accompanied by a Jack Snipe in the huts. The sea was also back on form with a very late Manx Shearwater, a lone Velvet Scoter, 5 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers and a selection of gulls.

The Little Gull (that one us may or may not have forgotten to report yesterday-sorry!) was back at the Harbour accompanied by a Slavonian Grebe, 4 Black-necked Grebes and a fly-over Curlew. Ferrybridge was also productive with a drake Goosander, 150 Dunlin, 1 Bar-tailed Godwit, 2 Redshank and a Sandwich Tern.

The adult Little Gull arrived below Portland Castle at 0710 this morning with just enough light to produce some pretty impressive pictures © Debby Saunders: 

The long staying drake Goosander at Ferrybridge © Debby Saunders: 

24th November

A grey day of continuously drizzly showers saw the poorest species list for quite some time. None of yesterdays rarities (confirmed or otherwise) were relocated and, save for the usual flocks of finches within the Crown Estate Fields, the South end of the island was largely quiet. 17 Redwings, 5 Song Thrushes, a pair of Brambling, 3 Blackcaps, a Goldcrest and a Chiffchaff were all we had to offer.

Ferrybridge had slightly more success with 2 Pale-bellied Brents, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Redshank, 160 Dunlin and the Merlin.

Thankfully Pete and Debby are diligent in their Ferrybridge vigils, otherwise our days totals would have looked awfully sad © Pete Saunders: 

The unrelenting moisture didn't deter the Ferrybridge Merlin © Pete Saunders:

23rd November

A day of mixed feelings with as many birds giving us the slip as were clinched. The first bird of the morning proved to be the highlight as a Serin left the garden roost with the usual Goldfinches. This set the tone for a very 'finchy' day with a total of seven species including good numbers of Chaffinches, Goldfinches, and Linnets; plus small numbers of Greenfinches, Bramblings, a Siskin and the Serin. There was also a noticeable increase in House Sparrows with multiple flocks making the island total in the triple figures. Other passerines trickled through including double figures of Redwings and a couple of Song Thrushes. The real gut-wrencher came from a missed opportunity of a Richard's Pipit with two possible sightings never being fully confirmed. The sea was quiet with counts of just 4 Red-throated Divers, 3 Common Scoter and the first 3 returning Fulmars since their late summer departure. Elsewhere on the island, Ferrybridge produced 4 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and a Merlin (presumably a loitering individual following the pipits and larks).

So often a straightforward Portland banker, Serin had been surprise omission from the year list before today - sadly, our photographic efforts were sufficiently inept that it'd take a combination of half-a-dozen frames to be able to see the whole bird © Martin Cade:

22nd November


A reminder that there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm this Saturday, 24th November.

 A very quiet day compared to the past week with just a handful of Redwings, Song Thrushes, Siskins, Chaffinches and Blackcaps on the passerine front. The non-passerines provided some light relief with a Merlin past the Bill, a Woodcock in Culverwell, three Purple Sandpipers on the rocks and a fly-over Golden Plover. The sea was quieter than usual with just a small selection consisting of 9 Common Scoter, a flock of 25 Mediterranean Gulls, 4 Common Gulls and topped with a strong passage of Auks with approximately 1000/hour. 

Ferrybridge saw little change from yesterday with 1175 Dark-bellied and 5 Pale-bellied Brents, the usual Black Brant and a Grey Plover

21st November

Swift, sharp showers interspersed with clear skies and a cool wind didn't quite drop the late rarity we were hoping for, but a good variety of species across the recording area kept the day interesting. The sea saw a big reduction in numbers with just 29 Common Scoter, 6 Red-breasted Mergansers, 1 Great Crested Grebe, 5 Wigeon and 2 Brent Geese. The highlight from the garden came from a French controlled Chiffchaff, a lone Siskin and a small influx of Robins.

Ferrybridge was back on form today with 1175 Brent Geese (plus 8 pale-bellied), 7 Little Grebes, a Goosander, a Bar-tailed Godwit, 3 Curlew. 136 Dunlin, a lone Merlin and a Black Redstart.

Given its pedigree in conditions similar to those we have been experiencing over the last few day the harbour was a tad disappointing, although it still produced a good bird for Portland in the form of a Pochard plus: a fly-over Golden Plover, 2 Common Scoters, a Red-throated Diver, a Great Northern Diver and several Black-necked Grebes.

As the numbers of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks have increased in the salt marsh at Ferrybridge it was inevitable that an opportunist would follow and, thankfully for us, it was this showy Merlin © Pete Saunders:

A small influx of presumably incoming Blackcaps featured amongst the day's new arrivals - these two were at Southwell and another three were at the Obs © Debby Saunders:

20th November

Another day for the sea watchers with strong cold winds hampering the coverage of the land. The Bill produced a couple of nice highlights including 4 Velvet Scoters in amongst the 48 Common Scoters, 11 Eiders (of which 4 were stonking males), 3 Teal, 2 Wigeon, 12 Black-headed Gulls, 4 Red-throated Divers, and a male Red-breasted Merganser. A furtive Long-eared Owl roosting in the Obs garden was the highlight from the land; 3 new Goldcrests also showed up there, with further variety in the form of 7 Redwings, a Lapwing, 2 Redshanks, 4 Turnstones and a Brambling at the Bill and a Black Redstart at Reap Lane.

Ferrybridge saw a small increase in waders with 5 Curlew, a lone Lapwing, a pair of Bar-tailed Godwits and 22 Oystercatchers; one of the Black Brants also showed up there along with a Goosander, 3 Pale-bellied Brents and a large flock of 13 Shelducks.

We're well aware from previous experience that Long-eared Owls are past masters at escaping detection in the Obs garden and today's bird was only given away by the fuss it elicited from the local Magpies and Jackdaws once they'd discovered it. After a couple of fleeting flight views it was lost for several hours before we completely fluked it after peering into an umpteenth hole in a hedge and finding it staring right back at us at point blank range © Martin Cade:

We're not sure what the highest ever count of Shelducks at Ferrybridge has been but today's 13 must run it pretty close if it's any higher © Pete Saunders:

Record shots from the Obs lounge were the order of the day with the scarcer wildfowl - these Eider settled off East Cliffs were the second group of the day, whilst the Velvet Scoters passed by along with what proved to be the best movement of Common Scoters of the month to date © Martin Cade: 

19th November

A relatively uneventful day with a very strong, brisk North-east wind that put pay to much of the recent movement we have been witnessing. A late entry from the Harbour dramatically increased the day's intrigue value with 8 Egyptian Geese passing overhead adding to our fewer than five previous records since 1961. Without the passing Egyptian Geese the day's tallies would have looked rather sad with sea totals reaching just 9 Common Scoter, 57 Black-headed Gulls, 7 Red-throated Divers and 250 Lesser Black-backed Gulls. The land produced little in the way of variety or numbers with the most exciting record being 10 Lapwing in the field below Culverwell. 

Ferrybridge proved quiet for waders although saw a dramatic increase of geese compared with the last few days with totals reaching 1200 Dark-bellied Brents, 3 Pale-bellied Brents and a single Black Brant being joined by a lone Goosander

The drake Goosander and confiding Guillemot from Ferrybridge this morning © Debby Saunders (top and bottom) and Pete Saunders (middle): 

18th November

As the wind swung round into the North-east we started to feel a chill reminiscent of the early spring. Yet again the majority of the sightings were sea-based but a couple of highlights in the form of five fly-over Great Bustards at Ferrybridge (presumably from the Salisbury programme), and a 'ringtail' Hen Harrier in off the sea added some excitement on the land. On the sea it was the first day for double figures of Red-breasted Mergansers, three Shelducks, a Great Northern Diver, three Red-throated Divers, five Brent Geese, a pair of Wigeon and four Pintail.

Elsewhere, a Black Redstart was at Fancy's Close, Ferrybridge came up with 94 Dunlin, 20 Ringed Plovers, 18 Turnstone and 4 Shelducks, and 12 Black-necked Grebes and a Great Northern Diver were in Portland Harbour. 

The drove of Great Bustards over Ferrybridge are presumed to be of slightly less than wild origins but what a sight to behold anyway © Joe Stockwell:

After a pretty dreadful showing in what would be their customary autumn passage period back in October, November has come up with several decent little flurries of new Goldcrests - many have been frequenting Tree Mallows now that most of the Sycamore leaves have dropped © Debby Saunders: