3rd December

A day to forget in a hurry, with rain that set in overnight lingering until well into the afternoon and preventing any meaningful fieldwork on the land. Four Red-throated Divers through off the Bill and one of the lingering Eider still settled offshore were the day's only worthwhile reports.

2nd December

The grey geese that perhaps might have been expected given events elsewhere didn't materialise but one early-riser got a nice surprise when 2 Whooper Swans passed low overhead soon after dawn at Easton. Sadly, it was downhill all the way after that with the lovely calm conditions of the morning revealing precious little bar the expecteds or the regulars that included the Iceland Gull straying into Portland Harbour where the Red-necked Grebe was again the pick of the waterfowl selection, 3 Redwings, 3 Redpolls, 2 Black Redstarts, the Merlin and a new Chiffchaff at the Bill and 5 Red-throated Divers and 2 Eider off the Bill.

We're rather conscious that we rarely make enough of the many ringing recoveries that we receive, but today we were notified of one that's well worth a mention: a Firecrest ringed at PBO on 12th April 2018 that was controlled by a ringer in Poland on 26th August 2019 - the precise location being a coastal site a little east of Gdansk. From what we can make out this can't be too far from the northeastern-most limit of their breeding range and is certainly the furthest east that a British-ringed Firecrest has been recovered; in fact, it looks like there's only ever been one other movement of a ringed Firecrest to or from Poland.

1st December

A meagre tally of new arrivals today despite beautifully sunny and calm conditions for getting out looking. A Short-eared Owl arriving in off the sea, 4 Redwings and singles of Swallow, Fieldfare and Redpoll made up the additions at the Bill where long-stayers included 3 more Redpolls and singles of Merlin, Black Redstart, Chiffchaff and Goldcrest; 4 Red-throated Divers also passed through on the sea there. The only reports from elsewhere were of both Pallas's Warblers still in private gardens at Weston and a routine selection of divers, grebes and a couple of Black Redstarts in or beside Portland Harbour.

A Red Admiral was on the wing in Top Fields at the Bill.

30th November

The last day of the month saw the skies heading towards a wintry grey as the wind picked up a chill through the day. The birding at the Bill continued along its current form with the now regular selection of two each of Eider and Turnstone, a single Purple Sandpiper, the Obs garden Great Spotted Woodpecker and three Black Redstarts. Highlights elsewhere were limited to the stayers already in residence: one of the Pallas's Warbler at Weston, the Iceland Gull in the harbour and the Rosy Starling in Easton. 

29th November

On a day that had looked to be fizzling out quite uneventfully there were a couple of surprises during the afternoon when the 2 Pallas's Warblers reappeared in gardens at Weston after having escaped detection for a couple of days and a Cattle Egret flew past the Obs at dusk. New arrivals weren't at all numerous but did include a Short-eared Owl at the Bill, a Black-tailed Godwit at Ferrybridge and 10 Greylag Geese through overhead there. The Black Brant at Ferrybridge and Rosy Starling at Easton were the pick of the regulars that also included the Merlin and a Black Redstart at the Bill; another 2 Black Redstarts at Admiralty Quarry were an addition to the growing list of locations holding apparent wintering birds.

There are a lot of suitable secluded gardens in the Weston area that the Pallas's Warblers are presumably wandering about amongst © Duncan Walbridge:


Black-tailed Godwits are so much more regular at Ferrybridge these days than they used to be © Pete Saunders:


The Black Brant has been closely associating with - paired? - a Dark-bellied Brent whenever it's visited Ferrybridge this winter Pete Saunders:


28th November

 A distinctly end-of-year feeling to proceedings as far as the birding went, the weather on the other hand saw a return to the early autumn with a gentle warmth to the wind that made conditions wonderful to be out and about. Ducks continued to move through on the sea in small numbers with low single figures of Eiders, Shoveler and Teal. Lingering migrants included five Chiffchaffs around the Obs and the Rosy Starling in Easton. At the northern end of the island, the now expected assortment of divers were in the harbour along with six Black-necked Grebes, whilst the Iceland Gull again visited the outer breakwaters Across the road, the Black Brant returned to Ferrybridge along with four Bar-tailed Godwits and two Knot

27th November

A distinctly wintry feel to the bite in the wind (now more easterly than north-easterly) must have been very unwelcome for the 2 Swallows over the Obs and saw a big clear out on the land with little more than 2 Chiffchaffs and singles of Black RedstartBlackcap and Goldcrest remaining at the Bill. However, the cool weather did bring with it a small passage of wildfowl with 6 Wigeon, 5 Brent Geese, 3 Teal, 3 Tufted Ducks and a Velvet Scoter through off the Bill. Elsewhere on the island, the Rosy Starling continued its residence and the white-winged gull at the harbour finally gave itself up and was confirmed as an Iceland Gull

A surprise from this morning's wanderings came in the form of a fully moulted Grey Seal pup - an unusual sight on Portland, with the nearest pupping beaches no closer than the Channel Islands © Martin Cade:  


26th November

With the breeze having shifted into the northeast and a stubbornly lingering veil of heavy cloud overhead there was some expectation of a flourish of late passage today that for the most part proved to be no more than wishful thinking, even if two Pallas's Warblers that turned up in a private garden at Weston during the afternoon were more than adequate compensation. Routine migrant arrivals were conspicuously few, consisting of little more than a tardy Swallow and a handful of thrushes and finches; the Rosy Starling lingered on, as did the Merlin at the Bill and the odd Black Redstart here and there. A Velvet Scoter, 2 each of Wigeon and Pintail and singles of Red-throated and Black-throated Divers passed through off the Bill, the Eider were still settled offshore there, 8 Pale-bellied Brent Geese were at Ferrybridge and 2 Black Swans joined the customary selection of divers and grebes in Portland Harbour where the white-winged gull also showed again but remained for too distant for definitive identification.

One of the Pallas's Warblers at Weston - always great birds and even better they're in your own back garden © Duncan Walbridge:



Pale-bellied Brents at Ferrybridge © Debby Saunders:

25th November

 A much quieter day as the wind swung round into the north-west effectively ending the visible migration, with little to no finch passage. Lingering land-based migrants were limited to a handful of Chiffchaffs, three Lesser Redpolls and two Bramblings. Even the sea witnessed a downturn with only singles of Great Northern Diver and Bonxie of note. Away from the Bill, a white-winged gull caused a stir at the harbour, consistently maintaining too great a distance from the land to form a comprehensive ID. The highlight at Ferrybridge was a rather late Wheatear, while two Black Redstarts were hiding in the gardens of Southwell. 

24th November

Quality was to the fore today, with two of the only new arrivals being a Pallas's Warbler and a Serin - the former dropped in briefly at the Bunkhouse, whilst the latter was no more than a fly-by at the Obs; in purely local terms an even rarer visitor was a Corn Bunting - if we remember rightly it's only the second record this year - that also passed overhead at the Bill. The clear sky and freshening headwind looked to offer promise for a continuation of the recent decent spell for visible passage but, the rarities aside, almost nothing materlialised overhead; it was also quiet for new arrivals on the ground where most of what little made the list proved to be lingerers or winterers amongst which the Rosy Starling at Easton was the easily the highlight. Four Great Skuas were the pick of the seabirds off the Bill.

The Pallas's Warbler was only in view for a few seconds - it was very vocal and had likely just dropped in - and was lurking deep inside a privet hedge behind a chain-link fence. In the tangle of cover it was a struggle to resolve the bird with the naked eye or binoculars but this little montage of 'point, shoot and hope for the best' record shots show more than enough features for the ID to be clinched © Joe Stockwell


Great Northern Diver over Ferrybridge this morning © Pete Saunders:

An interesting little event a few days ago was the appearance of a late Yellow Wagtail at the Bill. When first heard flying over it gave every indication of being 'just' a Western Yellow Wagtail even if its appearance once it landed certainly set alarm bells ringing © Joe Stockwell (stills) and Martin Cade (video):


In dreadful conditions and through being extremely mobile it proved to be a really tricky bird to pin down but eventually decent sound recordings were obtained that confirmed it was indeed a Western Yellow Wagtail © Joe Stockwell:

23rd November

The morning once again kicked off with overhead passage of more than 1000 Wood Pigeons and 81 Chaffinches, with a tardy Swallow and single figure totals of Long-tailed TitsRedwings, BramblingsSiskins and Redpolls as worthy back-ups. It was relatively quiet on the ground bar a small influx of Black Redstarts that included at least seven south of Southwell; the Rosy Starling also remained at Easton. The sea was busier than in recent days with Common Gull passage surpassing 140 birds and Common Scoters also reaching a three figure total for the first time since early July; in terms of scarcer interest, a Long-tailed Duck west past the Bill was the first for the autumn, with 4 Pintail, a Great Skua and single figure totals of each of the three regular divers also of note. 

Overhead passage can be a mixed affair at this time of year, with today's eight Long-tailed Tits departing high out to sea quite likely a unique event in the history of vis-migging at the Bill © Joe Stockwell:



The almost daily pulses of visible migrants have been popular with the long-staying Merlin that's been on the prowl for potential victims most mornings just lately © Martin Cade:

22nd November

With the novelty of the wind almost entirely abating overnight there was some expectation for a good day - what was not expected was the near constant drizzle of rain so fine that the radar couldn't pick it up but anyone in the field succumbed to several good soakings. The arrival of a handful of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs proved not to be a sign of a widespread flurry of grounded migrants and the bulk of the day's interest was - despite the seemingly unfavourable conditions - overhead. Chaffinches and Goldfinches both reached near-200 totals at the Bill, where 2 Mistle Thrushes were the pick of a miscellaneous selection of lesser totals. Another steady passage of Kittiwakes off the Bill totalled 238; a Red-throated Diver also passed by and the 2 settled Eider lingered on. A winterier theme at Portland Harbour included 11 Great Northern Divers, 7 Black-necked Grebes and ones and twos of Red-necked Grebe and Red-throated and Black-throated Divers.

Chiffchaff at Southwell and Red-breasted Merganser in Portland Harbour © Pete Saunders:

21st November

Today's unrelenting gloom and and stiff southwesterly did nothing for the land but did see some movement on the sea, with 266 Kittiwakes, 34 Common Scoter, 2 Red-throated Divers and a Sooty Shearwater through off the Bill. There was little in evidence by way of new migrant arrivals but the Pallas's Warbler was still at the Obs, a scatter of presumably now wintering Black Redstarts, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests lingered on and the Rosy Starling was still at Easton; a Red-necked Grebe and a Black-throated Diver were also still amongst the regulars in Portland Harbour.

The Pallas's Warbler made just one appearance all day when it turned up again in a mist-net at the Obs © Martin Cade:

20th November

Despite a clear start to the day and a reasonably unthreatening rain radar, it was with some surprise that the day turned out to be almost unceasingly wet and miserable. This, however, did not stop a steady little overhead passage until the first heavier rain set in an hour or so after dawn, with more than 2000 Wood Pigeons and over 150 each of Chaffinch and Goldfinch over the Bill and 360 Jackdaws over Blacknor; surprises amongst this movement included singles of Goosander and Jack Snipe. An even greater surprise then dropped in at the Obs: a Pallas's Warbler appeared out of nowhere right beside the Obs patio before shortly afterwards turning up in a net just as the latter was about it be closed before the heaviest of the rain set in. The sea was also worth a look, with 3 Great Northern and singles of Red-throated and Black-throated Divers, along with Red-breasted Mergansers through off the Bill; 2 Eider were also still settled offshore and 6 Black-necked Grebes, 4 Great Northern Divers, 2 Black-throated Divers and a Red-necked Grebe were in Portland Harbour.

The Pallas's Warbler © Joe Stockwell:

19th November

A beautiful, autumnal day with clear blue skies and just enough bite in the wind to remind us that we're well on our way to December. As is traditional at this time of year the harbour was the place to be with different viewing positions offering slightly different selections of birds but totalling a minimum of six Great Northern Divers and three apiece of Black-necked Grebe and Black-throated Diver; the third of the common British divers could be found just across the road with a very confiding individual at Ferrybridge. Back at the Bill, the morning saw a decent overhead passage of Goldfinches and Woodpigeons whilst the gusting winds prevented any land-based treasures being found. 

The Ferrybridge Red-throated Diver didn't hang around at close range for too long © Joe Stockwell:



The Brent Geese are making the most of the reduced footfall to come out onto the grass © Roy Norris:


18th November

A day of meagre returns - or at least, meagre in the way of anything new and exciting. The Ferrybridge Black Brant provided some rarity value but the constant drizzle and freshening wind that marked the passage of a weather front introducing cooler air made the quest for new arrivals a largely futile exercise. A Little Gull did pass through at Ferrybridge and 3 Redwings, a Siskin and a handful of flocks of passing Goldfinches were logged at the Bill but otherwise interest consisted of just a few regulars: the Merlin at both the Bill and Southwell, 2 of the Eider still settled off the Bill with a lone Red-throated Diver also through on the sea, a Firecrest at Pennsylvania Castle, the Black-throated Diver still in Portland Harbour and a few lingering Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests here and there.

17th November

Dreary, mild and breezy conditions weren't conducive for a repeat of yesterday's finch passage and no more than a few small flocks of Goldfinches and a single Brambling were logged over the Bill. It was just as uneventful there on the ground, with a new Chiffchaff and odd lingerers including 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Goldcrests and a Blackcap of note; elsewhere, a Water Rail was new at Southwell, the Rosy Starling remained at Easton and a Yellow-browed Warbler at Pennsylvania Castle may or may not have been another lingerer resurfacing. As usual, it was busier on the water, with 1240 Mediterranean Gulls, 6 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and the Black Brant at Ferrybridge, a Red-throated Diver through there, singles of Red-throated and Black-throated Divers in Portland Harbour and 6 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill. 

Late news for yesterday: evidently, 3 Avocets dropped in at some time at Ferrybridge.

This morning's Red-throated Diver over Ferrybridge and a Great Northern Diver from there from a few days ago © Pete Saunders:


16th November

This morning saw the first day of significant finch passage over the Bill since the 3rd of the month with over 650 Chaffinches and 400 Goldfinches before midday, along with 18 Siskins, 17 Linnets and six Bramblings; a late pulse of 380 Wood Pigeons also headed over Portland Harbour whilst, in keeping with events this late autumn, a Merlin was seen chasing the finch flocks out to sea and back off the Bill. The sea itself was of some interest with a Red-necked Grebe adding to the local influx (a further two birds have been seen at Lodmoor today), the loitering four Eiders and three Red-throated Divers. At the northern end of the island, Ferrybridge saw the return of the Black Brant, as well as a visit from a Long-tailed Duck, whilst the harbour held eight Great Northern Divers, singles of Red-throated Diver and Black-necked Grebe and two Kingfishers

The coves and bays around the island have started playing host to regular Black Redstarts © Geoff Orton:


The gardens of Southwell are still providing food and shelter for some overwinters including Goldcrests and Grey Wagtails © Nick Stantiford



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15th November

With wind speeds gusting up to 78mph in the harbour, it was always going to be left to the sea to save the day. A Sooty Shearwater past the Bill was the ultimate highlight, with a supporting cast of four Eiders, two Red-throated Divers and a tardy Manx Shearwater. The land was unsurprisingly quiet save for a surprise reappearance of the Arctic Redpoll and its two companion Lesser Redpolls that were trapped at the Obs; a Golden Plover, a lingering Purple Sandpiper and the odd wind-blown Goldcrest  were otherwise all that could be mustered. The harbour is starting to show some class with a Velvet Scoter in with four Great Northern Divers

The Arctic Redpoll had shown so well in the field on the day of its initial discovery that it could rather easily be aged/sexed as an adult male - a fact that was fully confirmed in the hand today © Martin Cade:




Rather unusual companions at Ferrybridge: a juvenile Gannet © Debby Saunders...


...and three Bar-tailed Godwits © Pete Saunders

14th November

A wind swept, rain soaked day saw little in the way of fieldwork as we instead attended our Zoom-based trustees' meeting. The highlight of the rather miserable day was the return of the Black Brant to Ferrybridge along with two Pale-bellied and 180 Dark-bellied Brent Geese. At the salt-sprayed Bill avian life was hard to come by, but there was some evidence of overnight passage of Redwings and Fieldfares as a few lingerers remained through the morning. A Firecrest and a Great Spotted Woodpecker at Penn's Wood were the only other additions to an otherwise unremarkable day list. 

The Black Brant was showing well despite the inclement conditions © Debby Saunders



Yesterday's Ferrybridge Pintail © Debby Saunders

13th November

 A really rather typical November day in terms of birds was made remarkably pleasant by the continued warmth of the month. Bird-wise there were few highlights but the appearance of a Water Rail at Culverwell was a welcome sight given their scarcity this year. Around the Bill tip, the four Eiders continued their stint on the sea, while a lone Purple Sandpiper was feeding on the rocks and a single Black Redstart lurked in the quarry; elsewhere, at least four more Black Redstarts were dotted about the centre and north of the island. Overhead migration has become limited of late, but fifty Goldfinches, 15 Chaffinches, nine Siskins and three Bramblings made for a decent start to the morning at the Bill, 200 Wood Pigeons and 2 Crossbills passed over Easton and later two tardy Swallows passed over at Southwell. Elsewhere on the island, five Pale-bellied Brent Geese joined 410 of their Dark-bellied counterparts at Ferrybridge along with a single Pintail and three Bar-tailed Godwits

12th November

Even though we knew it was far too early to write off a Portland autumn there's been plenty of temptation in recent days to see all the signs of the season winding down - indeed, today's largely birdless dawn merely reinforced these feelings. However, in a dramatic rabbit out of the hat moment everything changed when a frosty-white redpoll swept into view over the Obs patio; quickly lured back to the garden, its identity could then be confirmed as the island's first Arctic Redpoll - always mobile and with 2 Lesser Redpolls in attendance, it remained about until mid-afternoon. The redpolls aside, two flocks of passing Wood Pigeons totalling 500 and a handful of lingering Black Redstarts and Goldcrests were all that could be mustered by way of migrant activity on/over the land and 4 lingering Eider were the best on offer offshore. Elsewhere on the island the Rosy Starling remained at Easton.

By common consensus the Arctic Redpoll was adjudged to be an exilipes, Coues's Arctic Redpoll. However, we wonder how plausible that really is: there's been a huge movement of redpolls on the East Coast this autumn but we don't recollect hearing of a single Coues's being reported amongst them - is it really very likely that there should have been at least one and probably two Coues's in Cornwall and now another in Dorset in recent days and yet there have been none in, for example, Norfolk or Yorkshire? Would it not be just as likely that these birds may have originated from Iceland where, seemingly, the pale 'Arctic Redpolls' look a lot like today's bird? © Nick Hopper (top still), Joe Stockwell (lower two stills) and Martin Cade (video):






11th November

With the impending storm heading this way, it felt very much like the autumn was coming to an end today. Wall to wall grey skies coupled with a steadily encroaching gale made for increasingly difficult birding conditions. The sea produced a trickle of interest with the now regular quartet of Eiders joined by two Velvet Scoters, two Red-throated Divers and three Great Skuas. The winter waders also seem to have settled into their cold-weather routines with both Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers present on the rocks below the Bill. Elsewhere on the island, the harbour continued its form with four Black-necked Grebes (also seemingly set for the winter) and four Great Northern Divers. The Rosy Starling remained in Easton, now showing the signs of its future glorious regalia. 

Ferrybridge was busy with 680 Mediterranean Gulls (at times flushed by the training helicopters), 47 Ringed Plovers, 38 Dunlin and a lone Sanderling © Pete Saunders

10th November

Somewhat of an anticlimax today, with seemingly very little change in conditions there appeared to have been a mass departure, most noticeably of Goldcrests. An increase in Black Redstarts was evident across the island with double figures reaches, however, other novel migrants were thin on the ground.  The highlights on the sea were a lone Velvet Scoter past the Bill with two Common Scoters, and four Eiders. Land-based highlights were hard to come by and we had to rely on the lingering delights of Yellow-browed Warblers (one each in Southwell and Church Ope Cove) and the ever faithful Rosy Starling in Easton.

Tree Mallow is invaluable at this time of year, providing a rich source of invertebrates for hungry migrants © Pete Saunders


Two of the Black Redstarts at the Bill © Joe Stockwell:


9th November

Quite a miscellany today with calm and mild conditions affording plenty of opportunities for exploration. Chief amongst the quality was the season's second Pallas's Warbler that showed up, together with a Yellow-browed Warbler and a Firecrest, at Pennsylvania Castle; another Yellow-browed Warbler remained at Southwell, the Rosy Starling remained at Easton (although it also wandered further afield to Blacknor for a while during the morning) and a Tree Sparrow was at the Bill. Migrant numbers were a little down on the highs of the weekend, with Goldcrests falling back to about the 100 mark and visible passage reduced to little more than a trickle, although by way of tardy summer visitors it did include a Swallow at the Bill and 2 House Martins at Penn's Weare. The now customary scatter of Black Redstarts, along with a Merlin, provided further interest on the land, a Great Skua passed by off the Bill and 9 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 2 Sanderling and a Knot were of note at Ferrybridge.

It's been a really good late autumn for Merlins, with this at times quite confiding bird a frequent sight at the Bill in recent days © Geoff Orton:



Ferrybridge can always be relied on to boost flagging numbers at this time of year, with a couple of late Sanderlings a noteworthy sight just at the moment © Debby Saunders (top) and Pete Saunders (bottom)...



...given an appropriate state of the tide, there's usually a few Pale-bellied Brents amongst the Dark-bellied Brent flock © Pete Saunders:


We'd have liked to have furnished visitors to the blog with a nice photograph of the Pallas's Warbler but, sadly, it was fabulously elusive and afforded little more than the occasional fleeting glimpse; the Yellow-browed Warbler was hardly more obliging as it lurked deep inside the dingiest of cover © Martin Cade: