22nd September

A clear night interspersed with drizzly showers and the ever-longed for south-east wind meant expectations were high for the morning, however the persistent early morning rain meant that little was found until mid-morning. Early signs were positive with multiple Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs in the immediate vicinity closely followed by a Wryneck in the top fields, although it rapidly became clear that the bill was not the place to be and the rest of the island had more to share. Wakeham produced far more common migrants including Garden Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and three Goldcrests and over 50 Blackcaps were recorded at the north end. Although the 'big one' never appeared the sea was livelier than of late with one apiece of Great and Arctic Skuas, two Balearic Shearwaters and a handful of Common Scoter.

21st September

Scarcely any improvement today with the east wind continuing to rip across the island and hinder all attempts at meaningful birding on the land. The odd few sheltered spots harboured a handful of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, with a Firecrest at the Obs a lone morsel of quality. A Great Skua through off the Bill was the only seawatch report worth a mention.

20th September

A brutally strong easterly saw to it that the land was pretty well unbirdable anywhere away from the thickest of cover - and even these spots looked to have precious migrants seeking shelter. Overhead it was a different story with a spectacularly heavy passage of Swallows for a couple of hours after dawn - with the movement occurring over a quite broad front it was tricky to quantify but some sample counts hinted at a total of more than 5000 through at the Bill. The sea came up with 4 Sanderling and a Balearic Shearwater through off the Bill.

19th September

Back down to earth today with precious little of note despite the freshening breeze remaining firmly established. It was probably far too clear to have expected much in the way of grounded arrivals and the south of the island couldn't muster more than a thinnish sprinkle of routine fare amongst with 2 Grasshopper Warblers were about as good as it got. For a couple of hours after dawn it was again busy overhead with a Snipe and a Short-eared Owl of note amongst the steady if unspectacular flow of Meadow Pipits and hirundines. Two Balearic Shearwaters passed by on the sea at the Bill.

Today's clear, blue sky was again full of passing Meadow Pipits © Martin Cade:

18th September

Having been lulled into something of a false sense of security by the general lack of scarcities this year today's events proved to a rude and very welcome awakening. A Honey Buzzard that slipped away out to sea from the Bill soon after dawn got things off to a good start and it wasn't long before a heron flushed from beside a hedgerow at Barleycrates Lane was pinned down and confirmed as a Purple Heron; sadly, it quickly left and was seen just once more nearly an hour later in flight off Chesil Cove. It was then left to the Obs garden mist-nets to reveal the day's chief prize when in typically wholly unexpected circumstances late on a hot and otherwise birdless afternoon a Great Reed Warbler showed up; it was released into the Obs Quarry where it proved to be very furtive but did show on a couple of occasions before dusk. In very fair weather visible passage made up the bulk of the day's numbers, with a strong passage of Meadow Pipits and hirundines through after dawn and odds and ends such as singles of Merlin and Hobby tagging along; grounded migrants were fewer than yesterday but did include 2 Firecrests at Wakeham and a Dartford Warbler at Coombefield.

The Great Reed Warbler was just the second recorded at Portland - the first was 60 years ago on 15th May 1959 © Martin Cade:

The island's second Purple Heron was an altogether trickier bird: it was found settled in fields at Barleycrates Lane but soon left away over the West Cliffs; some while later it was watched heading first north and then south off Chesil Cove where this long-range record photo was snatched © Paul Gale:

Whilst clearly not an adult, the observers got an impression of greyness about the upperparts and suspected the bird might be a sub-adult. The circumstances of today's record immediately brought to mind the island's first record that concerned a juvenile at the Bill on 16th August 2006...

...that individual also settled in the fields and it too proved to be very skittish and quickly disappeared © Martin Cade:

17th September

A day with bags of movement but, sadly, nothing in the way of a scarcity that had looked to be on the cards after the fresh breeze had slid into the northeast. Although dawn was party overcast the sky soon cleared and Meadow Pipits and hirundines streamed through - there were certainly way into four figures total of each at the Bill where fair-sized grounded flocks of pipits also developed; further visible migrants of interest included the first noticeable numbers of Linnets along with singles of Hobby and Swift. The selection of the ground was varied rather than actually amounting to a good fall: all the usual mid-September migrants were represented, with Wheatear the most conspicuous everywhere and totalling 100 at the Bill alone; the lingering Firecrest and a very early Black Redstart were the best on offer at the Bill.

16th September

The persistent westerlies led to a pretty lacklustre day as the two stars of the past week appear to have moved on and other migrants were thin on the ground. Highlights were limited to a Redstart in the top fields, a pair of Goldcrests at the obs and a much reduced movement of pipits and wagtails. Hirundines continued to move but not in such great numbers as the past few days. Fingers crossed that the promised movement to north-easterly winds marks a change in our fortune.

15th September

A crystal clear night followed by an absolute scorcher of a day produced unsurprisingly little in the way of scarcities. The terrible two continued their stint at the opposite ends of the spectrum, the Wryneck being ultra-elusive and the Lapland Bunting dangerously unafraid (it nearly got run over by an uninitiated cyclist). Besides this, the early morning was spattered with flocks of high flying flocks of Meadow Pipits and diminished numbers of Yellow and White Wagtails were to be found on the deck around the Bill and east cliffs. Hirundines put in a decent passage although numbers were difficult to ascertain over such a broad front, the maximum count of a single flock of Swallows reached 700 above the top fields.

Moth interest still hasn't really picked up but last evening we did finally manage to secure a little bit of video of one of the Convolvulus Hawks that have been regular visitors to the Nicotiana flowers in our garden at the Grove - in previous years they've been pretty straightforward to video but this year they seem to be really skittish and have been zipping off the moment a torch is shone at them © Martin Cade:

Hummingbird Hawkmoths are still about in good quantity by day - this one was at Easton a couple of days ago © Ken Dolbear:

14th September

A glorious day that started off with a light breeze but abated to a flat calm evening was perfect for the first big passage day of September. An early morning vis-mig session that produced 1650 Meadow Pipits, a Hobby and a handful of wagtails was a foretaste of things to come. As a stream of Grey, Yellow, Pied, alba and White Wagtails joined the throng of Meadow (and the occasional Tree) Pipits it made for a truly spectacular days birding. Although that elusive mega never manifested the long-staying Lapland Bunting and Wryneck were joined by a Turtle Dove at Reap Lane and a brilliantly found Ortolan Bunting in the Top Fields. The background cast of the day included a Firecrest at the Obs, a Redstart in the Privet Hedge and a Tree Sparrow over the Crown Estate Field as well as a selection of common Phylloscs and Sylvias.

With birding for so many participants these days having become little more than trainspotting - a constant dash from one already perfectly well documented scarcity to the next - there's much to admire in Steve Hunting's almost Forrest Gump-like resolve to cover Portland as comprehensively as he can whenever he visits. Steve's reward today - long after the Wryneck and Lapland Bunting listers had scooted off to Lodmoor and Farlington without a thought for whatever else might be waiting to be found on the island - was this Ortolan in Top Fields. Maybe finding things for yourself isn't considered a big deal these days but that strikes us as pretty sad... © Steve Hunting (still) & Martin Cade (video):

The highlights from a reasonably quiet day at Ferrybridge included 8 Black-tailed Godwits, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits and 2 Knot © Debby Saunders (flight shot) & Pete Saunders (mixed feeding flock): 

13th September

With dawn providing plenty of the right ingredients - the fresh breeze had swung into the northeast, some drizzly showers were just fizzling out and it was still completely overcast - there was no shortage of expectation for today. In the event there was plenty of visible passage and at least a reasonable scatter of grounded migrants but scarcity interest was limited to the lingering Wryneck and Lapland Bunting at the Bill, a second Wryneck that showed up at Broadcroft and a fly-by Ortolan Bunting at Weston. Swallows and Meadow Pipits dominated the overhead passage with many hundreds of each through at the Bill, whilst the likes of 7 Whimbrel, a Merlin and an extremely early inbound Wood Pigeon were amongst the additional variety there. On the ground the usual suspects for mid-September - Wheatear, Blackcap and Chiffchaff - were most numerous, with 5 White Wagtails and singles of Yellow-legged Gull, Grasshopper Warbler and Firecrest some of the less frequent list-padders at the Bill; elsewhere, 19 Pale-bellied Brent Geese dropped in at Ferrybridge.

Not the earliest ever by some margin but certainly well ahead of average, this morning's Pale-bellied Brent Geese are part of what sounds to be a notably large early arrival around the southwest of England © Pete Saunders

12th September

With little change in the wind it was no surprise that our birding fortunes did not alter drastically. The remaining Lapland Bunting and Wryneck continued to delight and baffle respectively but new migrants were restricted to a Reed Warbler in Culverwell and a Redstart in the hut fields. The sea was more productive than of late with three Bonxies, 19 Balearic Shearwaters and 21 Brent Geese. Ferrybridge was quieter than usual with little more than a lone Bar-tailed Godwit, two Sanderlings and three Sandwich Terns.

The Lapland Bunting remains confiding, even showing off its ballet moves to its adoring fans © Debby Saunders:

With not quite enough in the way of new arrivals to keep us entertained on the island we snuck off to Lodmoor again to try for better views of the Long-billed Dowitcher that had first shown up there yesterday; beyond a couple of brief flight views it hadn't performed for us yesterday evening but today it was considerably more obliging © Martin Cade:

Moth-trapping has been uneventful enough as to have been scarcely worth a mention for a fortnight or more: routine immigrants have been frequent enough without there being much evidence of fresh arrivals during this period; to reinforce that point it looks very much like a home-bred generation has been making up the numbers for many species - this specimen from last night was one of several richly-coloured Small Marbleds caught just lately © Martin Cade

11th September

Another bleak and miserable day was brightened by the ever confiding Lapland Bunting that delighted all who went to see it by feeding openly on the footpath beneath the Lobster Pot. Less confiding was the loitering Wryneck that gave itself up just once before skulking back into the bushes (presumably the ants weren't playing ball in the howling westerlies). Other migrants were incredibly thin on the ground and little more than a single Whinchat, single figures of Wheatears and Blackcaps and the occasional Phyllosc were recorded throughout the day and across the island. The sea was quiet but, probably due to the constant sea-watch by those not wishing to expose themselves to the elements, a selection including Arctic Skua, Bonxie and Balearic Shearwater was amassed before dark.

Lapland Buntings have a reputation for being wonderfully tame, and this bird was no exception © Martin Cade...

...and © Brendan Sheils:

Initially the bunting spent time feeding along the shoreline before being pushed off by territorial Rock Pipits © Erin Taylor:

10th September

Really pleasant birding conditions saw plenty of variety uncovered today even if generally numbers were on the low side. A confiding Lapland Bunting was an increasingly infrequently recorded highlight at the Bill where the Wryneck remained and the likes of a Hobby and the season's first Short-eared Owl provided further interest. A Curlew Sandpiper at Ferrybridge was another autumn first, with 2 Greenshank a further bonus there. It was slow on the numbers front, particularly overhead where it was conspicuously quiet for Meadow Pipits and other expected mid-season fare.

We sometimes wonder if the Lapland Bunting occurrence pattern is as related to climate change as it is to other factors: once a pretty routine autumn bird at Portland, they've become infrequent enough as to be easily missable in most recent years. As is often the case with grounded individuals, today's bird was fantastically confiding © Malcom Tait & Kiera Chapman:

Curlew Sandpipers also haven't been straightforward to catch up with in recent autumns so today's Ferrybridge bird was a welcome sight © Pete Saunders:

One or two Bar-tailed Godwits are still a daily sight at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

A couple of commoner migrants from recent days - Wheatear © Pete Saunders...

...and Whinchat © Geoff Orton:

And a Small Copper from today © Geoff Orton:

9th September

A blip in the blue skies of late with the first torrential downpour for a while. In the small gap between storms a swift trip around the bill and surrounding areas produced: the lingering Wryneck, 11 Grey Wagtails, two Yellow Wagtails and 16 Blackcaps. Once the rain clouds closed in once more it was left to the sea to top up the list, Arctic Skuas were the most prevalent species with 6 west throughout the day but the highlight came in the form of a lone Sooty Shearwater. Ferrybridge was busy once more, highlights included a Little Stint, two Bar-tailed Godwits, a Redshank, and three Sanderlings

Although they have been avoiding the nets pretty successfully, Grey Wagtails have been a prominent feature of the avifauna over the past week © Nick Stantiford:

The Hummingbird Hawkmoths continue to come despite the changing forecast ©  Steve Copsey: 

8th September

A steady trickle of migrants today as the winds stayed in the North and continued to relax. An Ortolan Bunting that decided to show well, albeit always distantly, in the Crown Estate Field was undoubtedly the highlight of the day, closely followed by the lingering Wryneck that seems to be conquering its stage fright by showing throughout the day in the Obs Quarry. Common migrants were present in small numbers including four Spotted Flycatchers, three Sedge Warblers, three Reed Warblers, two Snipe, two Goldcrests (the first of the autumn) and singles of Whinchat and Redstart. The sea produced little of note but 2 Shovelers were new for the autumn and another 3 Balearic Shearwaters passed by. Ferrybridge held the first Common Gull of the autumn and a lone Yellow-legged Gull.

The Ortolan Bunting was always rather too far away for our cameras ©  Martin Cade:

The Obs Quarry Wryneck was definitely feeling more showy than in recent days © Susan Buckland:

We haven't been bothering much with gulls this autumn so the season's tally of Yellow-legged Gulls has been appreciably lower than in most recent years; however, this nicely white-headed Yellow-legged Gull stuck out like a sore thumb in the failing light of dusk at Ferrybridge and was worth getting wet feet to get a closer view of © Martin Cade:

Also there, this Common Gull was the first we'd seen since the spring - the first winter returnees aren't usually logged until early October so this was quite an early bird © Martin Cade:

7th September

A gentle northerly was very welcome indeed after a week of persistently gusty winds and the fact that it arrived in tandem with a mainly overcast sky even resulted in there being a decent little flurry of migrants. Nothing lingered long at the Bill but grounded totals there included 50 each of Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler, whilst overhead Meadow Pipits topped 250 with 40 Yellow Wagtails, 20 Tree Pipits and 15 Grey Wagtails providing some a bit of variety. The Wryneck remained at the Obs Quarry but quality on the land was otherwise limited to a passing Hobby at the Bill. The sea remained worth attention, with 35 Balearic Shearwaters, 5 Arctic Terns and 4 Arctic Skuas through off the Bill.

Spotted Flycatchers were quite well represented, with 10 or so scattered about at the Bill/Southwell - this one was in a garden at Southwell © Nick Stantiford:

6th September

As the autumn soldiers on the annual transition from early to late migrants is taking place, Meadow Pipits have begun to outnumber Tree Pipits (a three-figure count of the former was recorded for the first time this autumn) and Chiffchaffs are becoming the most conspicuous phyllosc. The sea was slightly busier than the past few days with eight Arctic and four Great Skuas throughout the day. Ferrybridge was once again the place to be with singles of Little Stint and Barwit, four Knot and 20 Sanderling.

Some of the wader selection at Ferrybridge ©Brendan Sheils:

5th September

The bitter wind that saw in the morning ameliorated slowly throughout the day leaving behind a sunny but cool afternoon. A Wryneck sighted early doors, near the obs quarry whet many an appetite for heading into the field, however the Wryneck in question appears to be the individual ringed here a week ago. The false start did mean that there were more observers in the field and as such day totals of commoner migrants were higher than in recent days. Wheatears were the most conspicuous migrant falling just short of a three figure count, the supporting cast was made up of single figures of Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, the fist signs of Chiffchaff migration and both flycatchers. The day had one final surprise in the evening with a the first Turtle Dove of the autumn passing south over Southwell at 6pm.

4th September

A pretty unremarkable day was notable only for its ever persistent wind. Passerine migrants were limited to a single Redstart in the huts, three Grey Wagtails and low double figures of Wheatears. The sea was also quiet and the only highlight was a lone Arctic Skua. Ferrybridge was relatively quiet but the pick of the crop were nine Sanderling, two Knot and a Bar-tailed Godwit.

Today's 'Barwit' and one of the two Knot at Ferrybridge today... ©Pete Saunders:

3rd September

Today's bright and blustery westerlies weren't at all migrant-friendly, with only Wheatear managing a double-figure total - and that just 30 - on the ground at the Bill and a pocket of 15 Blackcaps at Suckthumb Quarry the best elsewhere; a news services report of a Corncrake there couldn't be confirmed and nothing else of note could be unearthed. Some fitful passage at sea included 8 Balearic Shearwaters and 2 Arctic Skuas through off the Bill and 15 Sanderling and a Knot were amongst the waders at Ferrybridge.

Turnstone on East Cliffs today © Roy Norris:

2nd September

A much quieter day with a distinct bite to the wind to remind us that summer is nearly over. Despite the chill the sun continued to shine and the Painted Ladys continued to move in force. Passerine migrants were thinner on the ground than in recent days with highlights of just two a piece of  Redstart and Pied Flycatcher and double figures of Wheatears. The sea was much quieter too with singles of Arctic Skua, Balearic Shearwater and Sandwich Tern. Ferrybridge maintained its form for variety with Black-tailed Godwit again and four Mute Swans new for the autumn.

Ferrybridge rarely has a dull day at the moment and today was no exception with a fly-by Arctic Skua (...we're a bit concerned about the skua - it's in a weird plumage that we're not really familiar with at close range but it seems to have eg just two outer primaries with white shafts) and 5 Redshank © Debby Saunders (skua underside) & Pete Saunders (skua upperside and Redshank):

1st September

Completely clear skies and a dip in the strength of the wind appeared to offer little promise on the migrant front so it was quite a surprise when dawn revealed plenty of new arrivals. Pretty well all that was uncovered was expected fare, including 60 Yellow Wagtails, 40 Willow Warblers, 20 Blackcaps and 15 Sedge Warblers at the Bill, whilst 5 White Wagtails and singles of Little Ringed Plover, Grasshopper Warbler and Pied Flycatcher at the Bill, another Pied Flycatcher at Thumb Lane and 9 Knot and a Black-tailed Godwit at Ferrybridge were as good as it got for minor scarcities. The sea was much quieter than over the last couple of days: Manx Shearwaters were reduced to just 200 off the Bill, where 5 Balearic Shearwaters, a Great Skua and an Arctic Skua also passed through.

We've never given much credence to the supposed correlation between grounded migrant numbers and the phase of the moon but today did look to be one of those occasions when the lack of a moon offered itself as just about the only plausible explanation for there being migrants in numbers on the ground © Martin King:

31st August

Although abject on the migrant front today was saved by some more unexpected happenings on the sea. It was Manx Shearwaters that again made up all the numbers, with several pulses of many hundreds in quick time passing through off the Bill, with it looking like yesterday's total of c3000 may well have been reached again; Balearic Shearwaters featured a little more conspicuously, with at least 36 through, whilst further interest came in the form of singles of Sooty Shearwater and Arctic Skua. A Goshawk heading north at the Grove was a surprise but, common migrant-wise, it was a dreadful day with only Wheatear getting beyond a double figure total on the ground at the Bill.

As we mentioned last evening, Nick Hopper had a couple of good nocturnal recording sessions when he was staying with us last weekend; Tree Pipits dominated but the totals of Robin and Pied Flycatcher were also the best recorded to date - the combined totals for the nights of 24th/25th and 25th/26th were:

Tree Pipit calls 1122
Robin calls 161
Pied Flycatcher 47
Spotted Flycatcher 3
Yellow Wagtail 18
Little Ringed Plover
Green Sandpiper 4+
Greenshank 1
Turnstone 1
Redshank 5+
Common Sandpiper 6+
Knot 4 flocks
Dunlin 5 flocks
Ringed Plover 8 flocks
Common Tern 2 flocks
Grey Heron 2

30th August

Although dawn had seen more cloud in the sky than had been expected this soon cleared and the day was for the most part bright and breezy, as well as being really quite warm by the afternoon. The day's oddest event was an extraordinarily strong - but very short and sharp since it lasted for less than an hour - eastward movement of c3000 Manx Shearwaters off the Bill midway through the morning; the sea otherwise produced little more than 20 Balearic Shearwaters and a lone Great Skua. The land was the quietest it had been all week, with routine passage restricted to barely more than double figure totals of even the commonest migrants; 3 each of White Wagtail and Grasshopper Warbler was about as good as it got at the Bill, with a single Pied Flycatcher at Thumb Lane the only other worthwhile sighting. Finally, apologies to Nick Hopper who worked really hard to collate a report for us from a couple of really busy night's of nocturnal recording earlier this week; we've been so pushed for time since then that we still haven't been able to upload any of this to the blog - hopefully tomorrow!

We don't log/trap anything like the numbers of Grasshopper Warblers that are recorded at some spots along the south coast but by our standards this autumn has been a good one for the species: the three trapped today take our autumn ringing total to 17 which we think is the highest ever (our record annual total is only 21); since we don't target Grasshopper Warbler with, for example, pre-dawn sound lures it seems like there's been a much stronger than usual passage through the island this year © John Martin:

29th August


A reminder that there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm this Saturday, 31st August.

Just a brief update as we're a bit pushed for time this evening. A quieter day for numbers with the freshening southwesterly and clear skies that arrived in the wake of last evening's drizzly rain seeing many migrants - particularly the bulk of the Yellow Wagtails - move on. A Wryneck trapped in the Crown Estate Field was the best of the day's newcomers.

The fifth Passenger for Portland from the Obs traps was the pick of the night's moth catch.

The Wryneck © Martin Cade/Erin Taylor...

...and the Passenger © Martin Cade:

28th August

The surge in migration that materialised over the Bank Holiday weekend lost more momentum today but there was still plenty enough on offer around the island even if scarcities remained doggedly absent or undiscovered. Wheatear and Yellow Wagtail remained the most conspicuous species, with 100 or more of each at the Bill alone, whilst among the varied collection of back-ups in lower numbers 3 White Wagtails, a Green Sandpiper and a Firecrest at the Bill were of note. A trickle of passage at sea included 3 Balearic Shearwaters and singles of Arctic Skua and Yellow-legged Gull through off the Bill.

We find it hard to believe there isn't a Wryneck or two lurking somewhere on the island but some pretty conscientious legwork failed to uncover anything out of the ordinary today. We could add that a lot of fieldwork yesterday failed to turn up any sign of this very vocal and very mobile Budgerigar at any time other than for the few minutes it was present in the Obs garden - how did it escape attention for the rest of the day? We also received a message yesterday reporting 'the' flock of 20 released White Storks that had evidently been settled on Chesil Beach close to the island boundary for a considerable time last Saturday morning; although they were spotted later over Abbotsbury it seems their sojourn in the Weymouth area completely escaped the attention of any 'mainstream' birders - these sort of events really do make you wonder how much we're missing! © Martin Cade:

Although absolutely nothing to do with natural history, our highlight of today was the sight of this faintly sinister-looking B52 bomber right over the Obs just after dawn - having spent a chunk of our childhood goggle-eyed at TV footage of these things napalming Vietnam is was oddly surreal to finally see one 'in the flesh' and still in military service getting on for 50 years later © Martin Cade:

27th August

A slight anti-climax compared to recent days but there was still plenty of action to keep us on our toes all day. A mystery bird with an unidentified call finally materialised into the bird of the day- a rather smart blue and yellow Budgie in the obs garden. A close contender for the best bird was the first Firecrest of the autumn, a young male that blundered into a net in the early morning. With the exception of these two events the day tally was much as we'd expect given the past few days, Yellow Wagtails continued to be the most conspicuous migrant and Wheatears maintained a steady stream throughout the day. The flycatcher passage recommenced with a whole island count of 12 Pied Flycatchers and six Spotted Flycatchers. One Pied Flycatcher retrapped in the garden was ringed five days ago and has gained over 5g since its initial capture and now weighs a whopping 17.6g. Whinchats were down on yesterday but still reached a respectable 11 across the obs area, the decline was also noticeable in Tree Pipits where only 5 were trapped of a much reduced flock within the crown fields. Other singles included an Osprey fishing in the harbour, a fly-by Greenshank and a Reed Warbler in the crown fields.

There were plenty of nice migrant photo opportunities today; Wheatear and Whinchat © Tim Downton...

...Redstart © Debby Saunders...

...Yellow Wagtail and Spotted Flycatcher © Nick Stantiford:

And some of the locals were showing nicely - Little Owl and Stonechat © Tim Downton: