22nd September

Whatever it was that we were supposed to have done to drum up some scarce interest made no difference again today and, the lingering Rosy Starling aside, the island remained resolutely free of oddities; that said, with heavy cloud cover having completely changed the character of the day there was always a positive vibe that hinted at something being about to come out of the woodwork. Grounded migrants were rather less conspicuous than they had been under sunnier skies but the evidence from the mist-nets suggested there was certainly a fair bit about, with Chiffchaff and Blackcap both up around the 50 mark at the Bill; out in the open, Stonechats were visibly a lot more numerous than of late as the first wave of autumn migrants showed up. Overhead passage was subdued although did feature a good showing from alba wagtails - most by the look of it now Pieds. A second Little Stint joined the long-stayer at Ferrybridge where the Grey Plover also lingered on.

Wheatear and the Little Stints at Ferrybridge this morning © Pete Saunders:




Moth-wise, the current couple of nights have been talked up as likely to be favourable for a bit of moth immigration as the hot spell finally breaks down. Last night did indeed see a modest increase in numbers, amongst which this Blair's Mocha was a nice capture at the Obs; although seemingly becoming established here and there close to the South Coast this former quality rarity is still a very infrequent arrival at Portland - this was only our tenth record © Martin Cade:


Also in the moth line, this wonderfully cryptic Wormwood larva was a nice find further up the island - the moth itself is a tolerably regular visitor to traps throughout the island but the larvae are altogether more of a challenge to spot © Tim Norriss:

21st September

What's not to like about a gloriously warm and sunny mid-autumn day with plenty to look at both overhead and on the ground?. The only really perplexing issue remains the almost complete lack of scarce migrants: where are all the Wrynecks, Ortolans, Yellow-browed Warblers and the like - is there just not enough people looking (coverage isn't exactly fulsome at the moment) or is there something going on with the conditions that we're not cottoning on to? After a few quiet days on the ground there was a much better spread of Chiffchaffs in particular, with most areas of cover harbouring plenty of Blackcaps as well; variety was otherwise rather limited but did included single Firecrests at the Bill and Southwell, a Great Spotted Woodpecker at the Bill, the Rosy Starling still at Haylands, the Little Stint still at Ferrybridge and the autumn's first arrival of Common Gulls (6 at Ferrybridge and another off the Bill). Far greater numbers overhead included four figure totals of Swallow and Meadow Pipit at the Bill, with 17 Redpolls and singles of Osprey, Merlin and a distressingly interesting-looking ringtail harrier providing the quality there. A worthwhile total of 35 Balearic Shearwaters passed by off the Bill.

Last week's hirundine gatherings consisted largely of House Martins, but today they hardly featured as Swallows and to a lesser extent Sand Martins came to the fore © Martin Cade:

Firecrest at Southwell © Pete Saunders...


...and Stonechat and Linnet at the Bill © Roy Norris:


20th September

 A more of the same day in the continuing brisk easterly. Overhead passage continued to be dominated by hirundines and Meadow Pipits although, at the Bill at least, counts didn't get beyond the hundreds today; Siskins totalled 80 there but, apart from 3 Redpolls and a Short-eared Owl there and a Crossbill over Cheyne, there was precious little that was in any way unexpected. Grounded migrants certainly weren't numerous but a few sheltered patches of cover held double figure totals of both Blackcap and Chiffchaff; single Firecrests at Southwell and Suckthumb and a Grey Plover at Ferrybridge were the best of the less regulars and the Rosy Starling remained at Weston. Sea passage included 24 Wigeon and 20 Dark-bellied Brent Geese through off the Bill.

There looks to have been a mini arrival of Grey Plovers around the area over the weekend, with new arrivals logged at Lodmoor as well as this bird at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

We were intrigued to see this one legged Dunlin going about its business at Ferrybridge - despite its obvious problems it appeared to be in good condition and was certainly feeding well © Martin Cade:


Moth interest has been ticking over even if numbers and variety have taken a bit of a hit in the prevailing windy conditions. Easterly winds do tend to be pretty good for bringing us interesting dispersers and last night's catch at the Obs included several notable captures: a Box-tree Moth was a first for the Obs (there are still fewer than ten island records of this adventive that's become the arch enemy of topiary in the Home Counties), whilst singles of Heath Rustic, Oak Hook-tip and Horse Chestnut were all less than annual visitors to the island © Martin Cade:




19th September

 A mixed bag of a day as we saw a continuation of yesterdays strong north-easterly winds and intermittent cloud cover. A downturn in the hirundine passage we've been experiencing was oddly countered by an increase in raptors including Hobby and Merlin. Waterfowl and waders continued to dominate the unusual records as we saw our first Wigeon past the Bill as well as a lone Pintail and two each of Teal and Eider. Golden Plovers delighted those who got to the Bill Common in the early morning along with a probable Curlew Sandpiper. A reduction in Chiffchaff numbers left the land feeling much quieter than in recent days but the arrival of four Spotted Flycatchers, three each of Firecrest and Goldcrest, a single Redstart added some much appreciated variety. In terms of rarity, the best we could do was a single Turtle Dove and the lingering Rosy Starling. Overhead, Siskins remained the common denominator and we finally saw a piece of the Lapland Bunting action that the rest of the UK has been experiencing. 

Just some of the wader selection from today as well as further signs of Firecrest movement: Golden Plover and Curlew Sandpiper © Pete Saunders, mixed wader flock and Firecrest © Debby Saunders




18th September

Despite the wind picking up over night and heading firmly into the north-east, the blocking force of the rest of the UK proved too strong for any of the eastern rarities to show their faces this soon. The change also put an end to the Siskin passage of late with just 31 birds recorded over the obs. The west cliffs were once again alive with hirundines and other autumnal migrants as 1250 House Martins, 750 Swallows, 275 Meadow Pipits, nine alba Wagtails and low single figures of Yellow and Grey Wagtail passed in the morning hours. Notable events included the arrival and grounding of some choice passage waders including four Dunlin at sea, singles of Lapwing and Golden Plover and three Snipe up the West Cliffs. On the deck the situation remained similar to yesterday around the Bill with around 30 apiece of Chiffchaff and Wheatear but very little else. Away from the Obs, the lingering juvenile Rosy Starling at Haylands and a Redstart at Suckthumb quarry were the only notable additions to the species list. 

The Bill Quarry is sparsely vegetated, but at times when birds are moving, even the heavily wilted stems will do... © Erin Taylor:


Despite being a common bird throughout the country, Lapwings remain a beautiful novelty on the deck on Portland © Erin Taylor:

17th September

The ripping easterly that sprung up during the hours of darkness precipitated another mass movement of hirundines in the first couple of hours after dawn, when a good 6000 House Martins and 2000 Swallows passed through on a broad front across the island; pretty well everything else that might be expected to be on the move overhead at this time of year also featured although not even the likes of Meadow Pipit got close to approaching the hirundine totals. On the ground, a Rosy Starling discovered at Weston may or may not have been the bird(s) variously reported between Easton and the Bill in the last fortnight. Despite the unhelpful conditions commoner migrants were noticeably more numerous than they have been for a few days; numbers were surely an underestimate but totals of 70 Wheatears and 40 Chiffchaffs at the Bill suggested there'd been a decent overnight arrival. Ferrybridge remained well worth attention, with 6 Black-tailed Godwits, 3 Teal, 3 Knot, a Ruff and the long-staying Little Stint worthwhile additions to the list of more mundane fare. Five Teal also passed by on the sea at the Bill.

Local residents that spoke to birders looking for the Rosy Starling reported that there's been a sandy-coloured Starling visiting gardens and rooftops in the Pound Piece/Haylands area for a few days so it seems possible that today's bird is the same as the one photographed a fortnight ago by a local resident at Easton and, assuming a degree of wanderlust, perhaps even the bird that paid a brief visit to the Bill a few days ago © Duncan Walbridge (top) and Martin Cade (bottom):

Other odds and ends from today included the Little Stint © Mike Trew...


...and Teal, Yellow Wagtail and Peregrine © Pete Saunders:




And another little bit of hirundine action: in far more benign conditions that were experienced today, Swallows were on the move through Ferrybridge yesterday evening © John Dadds:


There have been great wader photography opportunities at Ferrybridge just lately, with many requiring no more than a little bit of patience and the latterday equivalent of a Box Brownie © John Dadds (the scene) and Luke Dadds (the Dunlin):


16th September

We're sure we've used this phrase before but sometimes quantity really does have a quality of its own, and seeing the Crown Field flooded with nearly 2000 House Martins, both swooping low over our heads and pitching in the crops, was a sight to behold today. The weather followed an almost identical pattern to the past few days with a comfortable start giving way to a scorchingly hot afternoon and evening. With the now usual flocks of Yellow Wagtails, Siskins and Swallows disappearing as the clouds lifted, it was down to the House Martins to provide the entertainment, spiraling round the top of the tower before descending into the Crown Fields. A smattering of late migrants added some much needed variety to the land with a noticeable increase in Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff along with two apiece of Redstart, Whinchat and Spotted Flycatcher around the Obs. These findings were replicated across the island with a further three Spotted Flycatchers in Southwell and a curve ball in the form of a Ring-necked Parakeet behind Bumpers Lane. Ferrybridge saw the lingering Little Stint remain for a tenth day in a row.

House Martin days used to be routine mid-autumn events at the Bill but have become pretty infrequent in recent years. In the golden age of mass ringing of hirundines at the Obs in the mid-1980s up to 1600 House Martins were trapped in an autumn, but these days a whole season will pass without a single one bothering the data inputter; we made a bit of an effort for them today and quickly netted 40 or so but just as quickly as they'd materialised so they evaporated - we're going to need an awful lot of days like today before that 1600 record is threatened © Simon Colenutt The  Deskbound Birder (still) and Martin Cade (video): 




House Martins also featured for a while at Ferrybridge, where 500 or more gathered over the Fleet © Pete Saunders:


The Little Stint lingered on for another day at Ferrybridge and Spotted Flycatchers staged a mini resurgence after being largely absent for a week or more © Pete Saunders:


15th September

It really is remarkable how a thin layer of cloud can alter our fortunes. Despite the general make-up of the species list remaining the same, with the majority of the birds seen being fly-overs, it was much easier to pick out the flocks of Siskins, Swallows and wagtails with the glaring grey backdrop. The cloud cover also forced the birds lower allowing for better counting and better catching. Despite the improved conditions, the best rarity we could muster was the first Turtle Dove of the autumn (and only the third of the year at the Bill). The most notable increase came from the Swallows where the mornings count of 650 was dwarfed by an evening passage along the East Cliffs well into four figures. This impressive display was narrowly followed by the arrival of Meadow Pipits that fell just short of the 1000; Yellow Wagtails also put in a more thrilling performance with the morning's flocks amounting to 80 birds. In terms of grounded migrants, the state of play remained much the same with a sprinkling of new arrivals including 3 Sedge Warblers and a single Goldcrest, along with a handful of mixed Phylloscs. The sea could not be described as busy, but 54 Balearic Shearwaters throughout the morning were joined by the first Eider of the autumn. Elsewhere on the island, a Firecrest was new at the Grove and Ferrybridge maintained its recent run of form by doubling the Little Stint count to two and adding a single Curlew Sandpiper; there was also a good hirundine passage here with 1200 Swallows and 150 House Martins through during the course of the morning.

Despite astonishing warmth - the temperature rose sharply through the evening and was still above 21ÂșC at midnight - overnight moth interest was rather lower key than might have been hoped. A redeeming feature was a continuation of the recent run of Convolvulus Hawkmoths, with another 2 trapped at the Obs. Our autumn total to date of 25 is beginning to get well above the recent average although is still well short of the record annual total of 136 in 2003 © Martin Cade:


14th September

The grounded migrant famine continued but a fresh easterly saw to it that there was some compensation in the form of a steady passage of visible migrants today. The highlight was a Honey Buzzard over the Bill that looked intent on departing before having abrupt second thoughts and heading back towards the mainland. A good push of Swallows over the Bill totalled a minimum of 3000 through the morning, with 500 Meadow Pipits and smaller totals of a good selection of other hirundines, pipits, wagtail and finches also logged; the first few moving Skylarks of the season and singles of Merlin and Sparrowhawk were the best of the oddities tagging along. It really was pitifully quiet on the ground with 7 White Wagtails at the Bill and another 4 at Ferrybridge, a Grasshopper Warbler at Southwell and singles of Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper at Ferrybridge providing the only interest amongst some seriously low totals of what ought at this juncture to be numerous 'common' migrants. Sea interest came in the form of 27 Balearic Shearwaters through off the Bill. Late news was also received of a juvenile Rosy Starling seen near the Obs at midday yesterday.

Another pulse of Large White butterfly immigration included a sample count of 79 in 10 minutes moving north up the West Cliffs at the Bill.


Today's Honey Buzzard was no easier to get to grips with than any of the others this year - it appeared from the north over Top Fields but chickened out of making a Channel crossing and hightailed it back towards the mainland © Martin Cade:


It seems like it's a pretty good autumn for Curlew Sandpipers around the country but, thus far at least, this area hasn't been favoured and today's brief visitor to Ferrybridge was only the third that's dropped in there this season © Pete Saunders



Yesterday's Rosy Starling looked to be a very obliging bird but, sadly, it couldn't be found today © Matt Minnis:

13th September

With the wind going slack over night and forecast to swing towards the south-east, an ounce of renewed hope was once again quashed by the limited appearance of grounded migrants. Overhead passage continued in some force with Meadow Pipits clocking over 300, Swallows well in excess of 150 and Siskins at 68 (although the true count was most likely much higher with many flocks audible but not visible). Heading down the scale, Grey Wagtails were once again present in good numbers with 20 individuals over the Obs, accompanied by a small passage of Chaffinches and Blackcaps (both counts reaching 10). Amongst the swirling hirundines, a tardy Swift provided some acrobatic entertainment and the first two Purple Sandpipers of the autumn were at the Bill. Away from the Obs, the Ferrybridge highlight continued to be the loitering Little Stint, joined by a lone Bar-tailed Godwit and several of the other usual suspects.

Bluefin Tuna were again seen several times off the Bill during the morning.

Hot on the heels of the colour-ringed Dunlin we mentioned a few days, today there was another colour-ringed wader at Ferrybridge - this time a Ringed Plover. Debby Saunders tracked down the ringing details very quickly and it turns out this bird was marked on 20th August at Makkevika, Giske, More & Romsdal, Norway (the location is about a quarter of the way up the western coast of Norway, just a little way north of the latitude of the Faroe Islands). These colour-ring sightings are great and really bring home to you what an amazing crossroads even a tiny little patch of sandflats like Ferrybridge is: just off the top of our head we can remember colour-ringed Ringed Plovers there in recent autumns that were marked at breeding sites in Arctic Canada (two individuals), the Baltic coast of Sweden and now the Atlantic coast of Norway © Debby Saunders

12th September

It was a 50:50 chance whether todays wind was going to continue along the same vein as the past week or if the pressure would shift and we would get a marginally more interesting wind. As it was we had to settle for a continuation of the westerly weather and despite the brisk, cloudy start the skies soon cleared and the birds disappeared into the ether. A slow day was dominated by Meadow Pipit passage, peaking at 77 birds, followed by Siskins at 26 and Wheatears at 17 individuals. The sea also remained quiet save for the small influx of Auks, including both Razorbills and Guillemots,  amounting to 83 birds throughout the morning. Elsewhere on the island, Ferrybridge produced both a Little Stint and a Curlew Sandpiper amongst the slowly dwindling usual waders. 

The lingering Little Stint from this morning ©Pete Saunders: 


11th September

What had seemed like a carbon-copy day destined to maintain the rest of this week's pattern of pulses of visible passage but precious little on the ground, today suddenly veered off into the rarity realms at midday with the discovery of a Western Bonelli's Warbler in private gardens at Southwell. Hitherto, Meadow Pipits had been the morning's feature, with a flurry of 300 or more through the Bill in quick time after dawn; 300 House Martins, 250 Swallows, 72 Yellow Wagtails and 47 Siskins also passed by along with lower totals of a selection of other wagtails, pipits and finches. The season's first Goldcrest dropped in at the Bill but grounded migrants were otherwise only very thinly spread and included nothing of particular note beyond the lingering Little Stint at Ferrybridge.

A sizeable group of Bluefin Tuna lingered off the Bill for a while during the morning.

Seven of Portland's eight Western Bonelli's Warblers have occurred in autumn with previous arrival dates in this season spanning extremes of 10th August and 9th September, so today's bird becomes the latest ever © Pete Saunders:



It was a really busy bird, constantly on the move and always twitching/flicking its tail and wings © Martin Cade:


You get the impression from some reports these days that it's barely worth seeing a silent bonelli's warbler: the two species can be so similar in plumage that unless a call's heard the record's never going to get anywhere. Fortunately, today's bird was extremely vocal and could be instantly clinched as being a Western...



...as a reminder of just how utterly different the commonest call of an Eastern is here are a few calls from the bird at Avalanche Road in 2009:



To our ears the usual call of a Western Bonelli's isn't that unlike some Willow Warbler calls and maybe the issue in getting to clinch an otherwise quiet Bonelli's sp is making sure you don't inadvertently hear a background Willow Warbler and so assume you're on a Western Bonelli's. Today's bird was calling so much that there was no doubt where the call was coming from and on a sonogram the individual call-notes can be seen to be bang on the nail for Western Bonelli's:



By something of a coincidence, yesterday we had a copy of Identifier Les Oiseaux Migrateurs Par Le Son arrive; by way of advertising what looks to be a great resource (rather than infringing the author's copyright!) here's a scan from there of the sonograms of typical Willow and Western Bonelli's calls:

10th September

More of the same but in some ways quite different today: with the wind having picked up and swung into the east visible passage was very prominent but, instead of leaving to the south as in recent days, the procession of migrants was in off the sea or heading east just offshore. As a taste of things to come in the next few weeks Meadow Pipits and Swallows took centre stage, with minimum totals of 725 and 650 respectively at the Bill; also there, Siskins totalled 75 and many of the other usual suspects for mid-September were well represented, with singles of Snipe and Swift of note. The land was patchily populated with new arrivals: Wheatears were moving through in fair numbers everywhere but warblers in particular were fewer than might have been expected; an Ortolan Bunting at Kingbarrow Quarry and a Little Stint at Ferrybridge were the only scarcities reported. The season's first Great Northern Diver passed by off the Bill where 6 Balearic Shearwaters were also logged.

Capturing some of the essence of migration in still photographs is rarely straightforward - we know only too well because we're always trying - but we liked these two from Southwell today © Pete Saunders:



Hummingbird Hawkmoths are a daily feature just at the moment © Pete Saunders:

9th September

A day that started with unremarkable numbers of migrants ended with a little flourish to once again prove that packing up the nets early is ill advised in September. The forecasted overnight cloud cover never materialized, therefore the early morning was once again characterized by high-flying migrants that proved increasingly difficult to see. Wagtails stole the show at first with 43 Grey and 50 Yellow, overshadowing the relatively poor showing of 52 Siskin. Ringing was relatively slow with just a smattering of grounded migrants (most of whom avoided the nets with unerring ease), including singles of Spotted and Pied Flycatcher and the first date this season with equal numbers of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs. The afternoon provided the days highlight with only the eleventh Kingfisher trapped in the garden. Elsewhere on the island, a Dartford Warbler was at Nicodemus' Knob.

If we get a Kingfisher at the Bill - and these days that isn't even an annual event - it's usually in late August/early September so one today wasn't a huge surprise; what was much more noteworthy was that today's bird was trapped in the Obs garden - the last time that happened was 18 years ago! This tendency to move towards the coast for the winter generates one of the explanations as to why the German name for Kingfisher is Eisvogel - literally, ice-bird - since the lakes and streams in the mountains freeze and the birds are forced to move towards the coast; a rather more prosaic interpretation is that they are 'ice' coloured or shiny - Eisan - but we like the first explanation better © Martin Cade:


Ferrybridge is always good for generating sightings of colour-ringed waders and we've just received the details back on this Dunlin that's been about there for the last few days. It was first spotted on 2nd September and was still present there yesterday; Tony Cross has kindly let us know that it's one of his birds that was ringed on 24th August at Llanrhystud, just south of Aberystwyth in west Wales. Tony tells us it's likely to be of the race schinzii that breeeds in Scotland, Norway, Iceland and southern Greenland and will be heading for winter quarters in West Africa; after they leave Britain there have been a series of sightings of birds from this project in Spain, Portugal, Mauritania, Senegal and The Gambia © Roy Norris:


In the light of the forecast of overcast skies Nick Hopper deployed his nocmig kit at the Bill again last night. Sadly, the sky remained resolutely clear so numbers were on the low side but there was a nice highlight in the form of another Ortolan Bunting:



The night's tally otherwise consisted of just Tree Pipit 14, Robin 8, Pied Flycatcher and Spotted Flycatcher 3 each and singles of Dunlin, Common Sandpiper and Yellow Wagtail.

8th September

A very mixed bag in terms of migration: after the dissipation of some morning cloud that had seen Siskin passage pushed down to visible height it was left to raptors to salvage interest out of an otherwise quiet day. The Siskin passage that has characterized the start of September continued, with 260 through at the Bill; hirundines and wagtails, however, were much reduced. Despite the Obs garden holding a smattering of migrants including both common phylloscsBlackcapsWhitethroats and a Pied Flycatcher the majority proved when re-trapped to have lingered from previous days. Away from the Obs, the clear skies and slack wind were perfect conditions for raptors: a morning Goshawk kicked off proceedings over Easton, swiftly followed by 2 Hobbys down the West Cliffs; the late afternoon was graced by an Osprey over Ferrybridge and the north of the island, whilst an unidentified harrier over Easton was the one that got away.

The lingering Pied Flycatcher was a popular performer at the Obs © Martin Cade:

7th September

A further reminder for PBO members: this year's Annual General Meeting will take place as a virtual meeting at 7pm this Saturday, 12th September 2020; an agenda for the meeting and details of how to attend can be viewed by clicking on the link HERE; supporting documents available to view/download: Accounts for 2019 and Minutes of the 2nd AGM

Clear skies were again to the detriment of an sort of arrival of grounded migrants but did provide ideal conditions for visible passage, albeit at such a height that a fair number of birds could be heard but not seen. Hirundines staged quite an exodus during the first couple of hours after dawn when 450 Swallows passed through over the Bill; Siskins, too, were well represented with a minimum of 120 through (a bare minimum total since they in particular were often audible but above visual range), along with 100 Yellow Wagtails, 22 Grey Wagtails and 13 Tree Pipits. Oddities on the move included 2 Little Egrets, a Hobby and a Short-eared Owl. It was substantially quieter on the ground, where a total of 51 Wheatears at the Bill represented one of the only double figure totals of any of the commoner migrants; 3 Pied Flycatchers there were as good as it got for less frequent species.

With grounded passerines still at a premium it's a wader again today! This beautifully warm-plumaged Bar-tailed Godwit was a new arrival at Ferrybridge yesterday evening and was still strutting its stuff there this morning © Roy Norris (settled) and Pete Saunders (flying):



They might have become almost routine in parts of southern England but, not surprisingly as they're  mainly a denizen of the woods, Clifden Nonpareil remains a quality rare for us at Portland - this one trapped overnight at the Obs is only the second recorded on the island © Martin Cade: