30th April

A day doesn't start much better than with an urgent message from Chesil to get on the next flock of Common Scoter; even without the tip-off, the apparent Black Scoter mingled amongst the Commons that soon came into view off the Bill was sufficiently arresting that it was unlikely to have been missed. The Bill remained worth a watch throughout the day with 153 Common Scoter, 76 Bar-tailed Godwits, 5 Arctic Skuas, 3 Pomarine Skuas and all three divers amongst the miscellany logged. The land continued to produce variety over numbers with the second Turtle Dove of the spring, the highest Swift count of the season at 28, the male Serin again at Southwell (and later the Top Fields), the Hooded Crow on another fly-round, 11 Yellow Wagtails and singles of Cuckoo and Ring Ouzel amongst the more routine fare; after something of a hiatus over the last fortnight, Swallows were also arriving in numbers once again.

A nice male Ring Ouzel was a surprise this far into the spring © Martin King (top) and Geoff Orton (bottom):

One of the pale phase Arctic Skuas close in past the Bill © Martin Cade:

Although they aren't always mentioned on the blog, a few of the Bill Purple Sandpipers are still about and are getting into decent summer plumage © Martin Cade:

Little Owl and Skylark were amongst the local posers today © Martin King:

29th April

On this date exactly one year ago Portland saw the best fall of 2018 with 541 birds trapped throughout the day. It just goes to show that birds don't work like clockwork as today saw less than a tenth of this total ringed. However, the day was not without its highlights with a Buzzard being one of the 40 birds trapped. Outside the garden a Jay in off the sea provided us with the sixth Corvid species of the year (fingers crossed for the elusive Chough!) Other news included another male Serin in Southwell, four Swifts (only the fourth record of the year), three Whinchats, two Grasshopper Warblers, 2 Spotted Flycatchers, a Common Sandpiper and yesterdays Golden Plover. The sea was marginally more productive than yesterday with 114 Bar-tailed Godwits, 13 Whimbrel, 3 Great Northern Divers, a Black-throated Diver and a Great Skua through off the Bill and 75 Bar-tailed Godwits, 26 Whimbrel, 4 Pomarine Skuas and an Arctic Skua through at Chesil.

The Jay was an early arrival by Portland standards (most of our spring records are in May) and the first since 2017 © Martin Cade: 

28th April

A day of quality over quantity with plenty of excitement. The morning started with the resighting and retrapping of Thursday's Melodious Warbler at Culverwell. This was shortly followed by a fly-by Laughing Gull reported from the Obs sea-watch whilst the rest of us were hunting down a mystery wader reported the previous evening. The afore mentioned wader gave itself up almost immediately as a beautiful 'sum-plum' Golden Plover. In quick succession a Hooded Crow was discovered in amongst the Carrion Crows at the Coastguards and promptly moved to the East Cliff fields. The final highlight of the day came from the alert of a Kentish Plover at Ferrybridge that disappeared at times but reappeared to give good views feeding amongst the Ringed Plovers, Bar-Tailed Godwits and Dunlin. The supporting cast across the island was not to be scoffed at with two Cuckoos, a fly-over Turtle Dove, a singing Wood Warbler at Church Ope Cove, a passing Swift and single figures of Garden Warblers, Tree Pipit and the common migrants. The mornings sea-watch was quiet with the exception of the highest Pomerine Skua count of the spring seeing seven birds passing by, including a flock of four.

Kentish Plover © Martin Cade:

Hooded Crow © Mike Lockyear (settled) Joe Stockwell (over the crops) and Martin Cade (flying past the lightouse):

Golden Plover © Mike Lockyear:

27th April

Unseasonable Storm Hannah that had gather momentum overnight reached a peak around dawn but proved to be a damp squib from the birding point of view and certainly an ill wind for fragile leaves and the like that sustained plenty of damage throughout the island. A Melodious Warbler that showed briefly in Helen's Fields may have been the individual from a couple of days ago but the presence or otherwise of a ring wasn't established before it went to ground. High hopes for the sea were quickly dashed: despite the trying conditions it was soon apparent that there was little on the move, with 14 Arctic Skuas, 4 Great Skuas and a Pomarine Skua through off the Bill and 2 each of Arctic Skua and Pomarine Skua and a lone Great Skua off Chesil; elsewhere, a westward movement of 75 Common Terns through Ferrybridge was unexpected. The land was hard work and largely unrewarding: a Hobby passed through at the Bill and a lone Pied Flycatcher was the best of the handful of grounded migrants there.

A few skuas - including this Arctic Skua off Chesil - were about all that could be mustered from the sea today © Steve Gantlett cleybirds:

26th April

Another day of scraping the barrel migrant-wise was only saved by a showy male Serin in the Obs/hut fields area. Twenty Wheatears and singles of  Yellow Wagtail, Tree Pipit and Pied Flycatcher were the pick of the few common migrants at the Bill, with 21 Bar-tailed Godwits and 3 Whimbrel on offer at Ferrybridge. The sea was also quiet with 4 Arctic Skuas, 3 Red-throated Divers and singles of Pomarine Skua and Great Skua through off the Bill; a different Pomarine Skua and 2 Black-throated Diver were additions from Chesil.

Continuing our yellow theme, the male Serin showed nicely at times © Martin Cade:

25th April

What appeared to be a day ready to be consigned to the annals of history as a complete write-off migrant-wise was turned around in an instant with a late afternoon Melodious Warbler trapped at the Obs. The land was otherwise extremely quiet, with 3 Lesser Whitethroats, 2 White Wagtails and a lone Redstart about as good as it got at the Bill.. The sea was, thankfully, a little more eventful with Chesil picking up the lion's share of the numbers that included 15 Great Skuas, 7 Arctic Skuas, 6 Red-throated Divers and 2 Pomarine Skuas; many of these birds headed away east over Portland Harbour but a few made it out to the Bill where 2 Black-throated Divers were an addition to the tally.

The afternoon's Melodious Warbler brought a splash of colour to proceedings © Martin Cade:

If the show hadn't been stolen by a certain warbler, there is little more impressive than a breeding-plumaged Black-throated Diver © Martin Cade... 

...several breeding-plumaged Red-throated Divers also featured during today's seawatches © Martin Cade

...along with a few Great Skuas © Pete Saunders (top - over Ferrybridge) and Martin Cade (bottom - off the Bill):

The oddest bird on the sea was this presumably leucistic Common Scoter that was sufficiently striking that it was noticed and remarked upon by watchers at both Burton Bradstock and Chesil; these photos were taken a little later when it rounded the Bill © Martin Cade:

This resting flock of Bar-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge seemed unphased by their beautiful companion © Debby Saunders:

24th April

The at times torrential showers that dominated the morning eventually ameliorated to reveal a warm but breezy day with a handful of interesting migrants. The highlights came immediately after the rain when Wood Warblers showed up at the Obs and Culverwell, and a Cuckoo was in song at Avalanche Road; the accompanying miscellany at the Bill included 2 Lesser Whitethroats, singles of Ring Ouzel and Firecrest, the lingering Tree Sparrows, the lingering Moorhens and a smattering of commoner migrants, whilst elsewhere there was a Pied Flycatcher at Southwell. The sea was quieter than in recent days, with 250 Manx Shearwaters, 21 Bar-tailed Godwits, 6 Great Skuas, 2 Arctic Skuas and a Mute Swan the best on offer at the Bill.

The Cuckoo in song at Avalanche Road - an infrequently heard sound at Portland these days:

Two Wood Warblers graced the Bill today - this one was at the Obs © Martin Cade...

...and the other at Culverwell © Steve Gantlett cleybirds

The day's only Pied Flycatcher was at a regular hotspot for them at Southwell © Debby Saunders:

A few off-passage Whimbrel have been featuring in recent days - this one was at the Bill today © Steve Gantlett cleybirds:

It's looking like a lot of Whitethroats have arrived straight in at their breeding territories, with singing males - many already accompanied by females - popping up all over the island before there has been much of a push of migrants through at the Bill (just 14 have been ringed so far this season at the Obs) © Chris Patrick:

23rd April

Another deathly quiet day as far as land-based migrants were concerned and the sea, once again, rescued what would have been a pretty dismal 24 hours. The biggest news of the day in terms of island rarities came from the revelation that the Moorhen that has been hauled up in Culverwell for some time now has found itself a pair! Other highlights as far as the land went at the Bill were restricted to the lingering pair of Tree Sparrows, lone Little Egret up the West Cliffs, 8 Yellow Wagtails, a Sedge Warbler and single figures of Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Wheatear. Elsewhere a Merlin passed through at Chesil and a singing Lesser Whitethroat was at Suckthumb Quarry. The sea was more rewarding with 2 Pomarine Skuas, 11 Arctic Skuas, a lone Great Skua, 211 Bar-tailed Godwits and three Arctic Terns off the Bill and 380 Bar-tailed Godwits, 33 Whimbrel, an Arctic Skua and a Great Skua off Chesil.

Belated bird news of note concerned a Kingfisher seen yesterday at the Bill.

In non-avian news, the first Broad-bodied Chaser of the year emerged from the Obs pond (they have been threatening to do so for a week now); the first Large Red Damselflies of the year were on the wing there yesterday.

A hint of immigrant moth activity getting going came in the form of 2 Rusty-dot Pearl, a Diamond-back Moth and a Silver Y trapped overnight at the Obs and another Diamond-back Moth trapped at Weston.

A slow-mo clip of one of this morning's Pom Skuas passing the Bill...

...and a look-alike, breast-banded Arctic Skua from the same seawatch © Martin Cade:

The long, long staying Short-eared Owls at the Bill have become such old news these days that many birders don't even bother to mention them to us any more; however, some of them are still about - we jammed into this one settled beside the Bill Road this evening © Martin Cade:

22nd April

With the land failing to deliver any sort of arrival of common migrants it was left to the sea to provide most of today's entertainment and, with the northeasterly breeze gradually veering toward the southeast, it was always worth attention. Bar-tailed Godwits were on the move in good numbers, with 745 through off Chesil and 218 through off the Bill and the first Pomarine Skuas of the spring - 2 off the Bill and a single off Chesil - were a further welcome highlight. Chesil's list also included 3 Arctic Skuas, a Great Skua and a Black-tailed Godwit amongst a typically varied selection, whilst 6 Great Skuas, 5 Little Gulls, 4 Arctic Skuas, 3 Great Northern Divers and a Black-throated Diver were worthwhile additions from the Bill. The land had its moments but, at least from the point of view of quality, they necessitated being in the right spot at the right moment since neither the Hoopoe in flight near Southwell nor the Red-rumped Swallow through along West Cliffs at Bowers Quarry obliged for more than their single observers. Migrant-wise, yesterday's Tree Sparrow was joined by a second individual at the Bill, 2 Barnacle Geese overflew there and a Brambling also dropped in briefly; elsewhere, a Great Spotted Woodpecker dropped in at Southwell, a Short-eared Owl passed over at the Grove and 2 Pied Flycatchers were at Old Hill.

Last stop Mauritania, next stop Holland - a few of this morning's Bar-tailed Godwits over Chesil © Pete Saunders:

The 2 Barnacle Geese over the Bill © Martin Cade:

Although it's been here for a month or so (in fact there's a possibility it overwintered since there was one in the same area last November) it was only today that the Moorhen finally showed itself out in the open for more than a split second © Martin Cade

With no reports for several weeks it could be that the Great Spotted Woodpecker at Southwell was a new arrival rather than a winterer emerging from hiding © Debby Saunders:

Although circumstantial evidence suggests that the species is quite likely a resident on the underworked east side of the island (the first record was of two trapped together at Cheyne Weare in what looked to be pretty unsuitable conditions for dispersal), last night's Water Carpet was a first for the Obs and only the third record in total for Portland © Martin Cade:

The Brindled Beauty at Reap Lane was also a nice capture, there having been only three previous island records © Martin Cade:

21st April

The continuing blazing sunshine and unseasonable warmth was very pleasant but, for the most part, it did less for the quality of the birding than it had during the last few days. The notable exception was a Hoopoe that showed briefly at the Bill early in the morning but migrant numbers took quite a tumble and the sea was none too productive. Most of the expected routine migrants made appearances on the day list but none was at all numerous and, the Hoopoe aside, yesterday's Tree Sparrow making a reappearance was about as good as things got both on the land and overhead. Two Great Skuas and an Arctic Skua were the best of the passing seabirds at the Bill.

This morning's Hoopoe at the Bill © Nevil Fowler:

Right on cue, the Ferrybridge Little Terns are beginning to show up for another breeding season © Pete Saunders:

At the end of the evening we dropped in at Radipole to follow up earlier reports of a singing Savi's Warbler there. Apart from being successful this proved to be an unexpectedly entertaining half-hour what with one of our companions having sufficiently compromised auditory abilities that he was, at least for a while, quite unable to hear it and so year-tick it, whilst the other was sufficiently drunk that we had to taxi him to the site to enable him to county-tick it - you couldn't make up a storyline like this! Anyway, despite being rather distant and entirely out of view the Savi's started singing quite well as dusk fell:

It provided a nice comparison with the many migrant Grasshopper Warblers that have been bursting into song around Portland in recent days - Erin made this phone recording of one in Top Fields yesterday:

Although usually described as having a reeling song - and thus inviting confusion with Grasshopper Warbler - to our ears a Savi's sounds a lot more like it's buzzing. Not only is it noticeably lower pitched but the individual notes are so run together as to be barely separable from one another - by the look of our comparison sonogram below it seems that the Savi's was churning out 48 notes/second, whereas the Grasshopper Warbler was only managing 25:

20th April

Another warm day with light winds providing a good arrival of migrants. The bill was busy early morning and continued to attract birds through the day. Ringers were kept busy with a total of 135 new birds trapped. Highlights from the nets were a Tree Sparrow seen earlier in the hut fields, the first Spotted Flycatcher of the year, a Reed Warbler and 2 Pied Flycatchers with a further 5 individuals clocked around the Bill. Other notable tallies included 25+ Redstarts (the highest total of the year so far), 11 Whinchats, 45 Wheatears, 3 Yellow Wagtails, 4 Tree Pipits, 2 Sedge Warblers, 2 Grasshopper Warblers, 2 Bullfinches north as well as singles of Siskin and Redpoll.

There were comparatively fewer birds on the move at sea with counts comprising of a Bonxie, 11 Red-throated Divers, 29 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Whimbrel, a Curlew, 18 Common Scoters, 9 Sandwich Terns and a Puffin.

There was an obvious presence of migrants across the island and noteworthy sightings elsewhere included a Corn Bunting over Blacknor, the first Wood Warbler and joint-first Spotted Flycatcher of the spring at Portland Castle and a surprise Grasshopper Warbler reeling in the Tesco carpark.

The Portland Castle Wood Warbler showed well all day feeding in the foliage © Roger Hewitt:

Unfortunately the Tree Sparrow ringed at the Obs today was not one of the hoped-for returning youngsters from last year's successful breeding season © Gavin Woodbridge:

Butterflies have been noticeably numerous in the current mini heat-wave with Wall Brown beginning to appear in numbers - this one was at the Grove © Chris Patrick:

19th April

One night off the full moon, a crystal clear sky and precious little by way of a headwind - hardly the recipe for any sort of drop of migrants but such are the vagaries of migration-watching that you never really know how each day's going to pan out. Today's Bank Holiday visitors were treated to a really pretty decent arrival of newcomers amongst which Willow Warbler and Blackcap (their south of the island totals were 250 and 120 respectively) were still strongly to the fore. However, variety has been improving by the day, with Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and Sedge Warbler all firsts for the season today; other interest around the south included 100 Wheatears, 75 Whitethroats, 22 Redstarts, 15 Whinchats, 11 Yellow Wagtails, 10 White Wagtails, 10 Tree Pipits, 5 Pied Flycatchers, 4 Grasshopper Warblers, 2 Serins (fly-overs at the Obs and Reap Lane) and singles of Hobby, Short-eared Owl and Ring Ouzel. The sea was a tad disappointing: 30 Little Gulls through off the Bill was a potentially good sign but the back-ups consisted of not much more than 6 Red-throated Divers, 3 Arctic Skuas, a Black-throated Diver and a Great Skua, with terns in particular almost completely absent.

Whinchats always look great at this time of year © Geoff Orton:

What with all the holidaymakers about making the most of the glorious conditions we're guessing that today must have been a pretty traumatic day for our singing Wheatear in the Bill Quarry (...presumably last year's bird back for another go) - it's hard to imagine there'd be a more disturbed potential breeding site than this anywhere in the UK! © Martin Cade:

Nick Hopper kindly sent us through a report on two more nocturnal recording sessions last week (15th/16th and 16th/17th April). Both nights produced a selection of seasonable waders, whilst further variety during the second night came in the form of singles of Swallow and Linnet (both rarely recorded at night during this project), 3 Tree Pipits, a Pied Flycatcher and this Coot:

18th April


A reminder that there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm this Saturday, 20th April.

There was relief that the fog that had enveloped the south of the island for the best part of yesterday cleared completely early in the night and it didn't take long before the day's chief highlight was unearthed - a Serin that showed on and off for the rest of the day at Reap Lane; a second individual also passed straight through along West Cliffs during a vis mig watch at Wallsend. Indeed, it was visible passage that provided a good proportion of the day's numbers, with a steady flow of hirundines, Meadow Pipits and finches on the move for the best part of the day (sample counts suggested Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Goldfinch and Linnet likely all topped four figure totals); 12 Tree Pipits, 7 White Wagtails, 6 Yellow Wagtails, a Hobby, Brambling and Siskin were further snippets of interest on the move. A nice little fall-out on the ground included a good 250 Willow Warblers around the south of the island, where 4 Whinchats and singles of Redwing, Grasshopper Warbler, Reed Warbler and Pied Flycatcher were of note amongst the also-ran totals. The sea was never busy but 6 Velvet Scoter through off Chesil and 6 Artic Skuas through off the Bill were of note.

The Reap Lane Serin showed quite nicely at times © Debby Saunders:

And a couple of Blackcaps from yesterday © Debby Saunders: