28th February

Another abysmal day meant focus was on inside jobs for much of the day. As such the day list consisted of 150+ Brent Geese and c.100 Dunlin at Ferrybridge from one diligent birder in the field.

27th February

Sitting on the obs patio in the morning, one could have been tricked into thinking that it was going to be a gloriously pleasant day. The wind had swung round overnight into a stiff northerly breeze, but the morning coffee was spent in the shelter of the lighthouse in the first truly warm bit of sunshine for quite some time. Whilst basking, the now uncommon wheeze of a Greenfinch amongst the Goldfinch flock came to our attention, sadly this is the first record of the year at the Bill for a once ubiquitous species. The rest of the Bill remained relatively quiet with 11 Purple Sandpipers and a smattering of six Stonechats the only birds of note. The harbour produced singles of Great Northern and Black-throated Diver, three Common Scoter and six Black-necked Grebes.

26th February

A beautiful, sunny day saw several of the over-wintering Firecrests show up, with three at Church Ope and one in the Obs garden. A single Red-throated Diver past the Bill was the only other bird of note.

One of the wintering Ringed Plovers at Ferrybridge today © Roy Norris:

When we had a closer look at Roy's photo it became apparent that the bird was ringed above the knee (Ringed Plovers ringed in the UK must be ringed above the knee but we're not sure how many/which foreign schemes have the same requirement). Whilst there's a perfectly good reason why waders are ringed above the knee we were left wondering if any research has been done on the recovery rate of small waders ringed in this way: since a bird ringed above the knee would almost certainly have to be trapped again or found dead to generate a recovery (...or are the metal rings read in the field more often than we imagine?) we're guessing the recovery rate must be pretty low and surely far lower than for birds marked with inscribed plastic rings, colour rings or leg flags. Maybe the longevity of an above the knee ring evens out the equation but whatever the answer it was frustrating not to be able to generate a recovery from this sighting!

25th February

In the gaps between heavy rain showers the sun shone brightly and you could almost be tricked into thinking that spring was on its way. Further early passage at the Bill came in the form of a trickle of arriving Meadow Pipits and the first 2 Carrion Crows of the season in off the sea; 2 more Red-throated Divers also passed by on the sea. The harbour was also a little livelier with the return of the Red-necked Grebe as well as 5 Great Northern Divers, a Black-throated Diver, 5 Black-necked Grebes and 6 Common Scoter.

In addition to the avian hints of spring the moth-traps have also begun to liven up just a little, with early season fare at the Obs including this routine quartet - Mottled Grey, Common Quaker, Early Grey and Hebrew Character © Martin Cade

And finally, three little videos taken recently at the Bill by Chris Hull:

24th February

Yesterday evening saw an almost total drop in the overly persistent winds we have been experiencing and brought a welcome pulse of early passage, with a 2.5 hour noct-mig session producing 86 Redwing calls (along with single figure totals of Blackbird and Song Thrush), a flock of Oystercatchers and a Moorhen over the Obs; unfortunately the weather reverted back to its usual course by midnight and movement slowed down once more. The change back to rain and wind saw little more recorded today than a Black-throated Diver in the harbour.

23rd February

Consistency isn't always something to be appreciated when it comes to the weather but at least at the moment its means our days start with squalls of rains and strong wind that tapers out into clear, brisk afternoons. A nice surprise of the first Redwing of the year flushed in Culverwell was the highlight of an otherwise unremarkable day.

One lucky resident in Fortuneswell has had a brilliant male Black Redstart visiting his meal worms regularly since December © Trevor Felstead:

22nd February

With the wind having strengthened a notch or two overnight it was certainly against expectations when what were surely the first few passerine arrivals of the spring showed up: an aggregation of 8 Stonechats at Wakeham were certainly on cue time-wise and were at a spot where no more than ones and twos have been present all winter. Other than that, increased weekend coverage revealed just a few of the regulars, with 19 Common Scoter settled off the Bill and 5 Black-necked Grebes, 4 Common Scoter and 2 Great Northern Divers in Portland Harbour.

21st February

Yet another blustery day with little to add to the year list. 12 Purple Sandpipers were present on the ledges by the pulpit and a single Red-throated Diver was sighted during the morning seawatch.

20th February

A reminder that there's an InFocus field day at the Obs between 10am and 4pm this Saturday, 22nd February.

An impressively miserable morning melted away into a clear, albeit windy, afternoon. Once more, attention was paid primarily to the upkeep of the buildings and therefore the list from the Bill remained much the same as in recent days with 20 Common Scoter settled offshore and a lone Red-throated Diver through. The Harbour was still worth a look with 3 Black-necked Grebes, 5 Common Scoter, a Red-throated Diver and 2 Great Northern Divers visible in the testing conditions, whilst elsewhere singles of Goldcrest and Firecrest remained at Pennsylvania Castle.

Ravens are such a familiar sight at the Bill these days © Martin King:

19th February

A truly appreciated gap in the wind (for the foreseeable future if the forecast is to be believed), allowed for some fruitless searches for early migrants. The day tallies amounted to little more than in recent days with six Red-throated Divers, a single Brent Goose and 20 Common Scoter on the sea with the lingering Firecrest remaining in the garden.

18th February

The grim times continued with nothing much more than 5 Turnstones and a Grey Wagtail at the Bill and 3 Common Scoter and 2 Great Northern Divers in Portland Harbour to show for the few that took the trouble to struggle through today's wind and heavy showers.

17th February

The deluge of rain of the weekend might have subsided but it remained far too windy for most fieldwork and the day's only report was of 2 Firecrests still at Pennsylvania Castle.

16th February

Very little in the way of news today. A brief moment of excitement (before either of the staff had ventured out of their beds) was an unidentified Skua sp. but the rest of the seawatch proved to be unproductive.

15th February

As Storm Dennis approached, there was little more to do than watch the sea as it swam in and out of view in ever worsening drizzle. The highlight was a Bonxie, first seen heading east then back west, but additions thereafter were thin on the ground. The usual fare included three Red-throated Divers, 33 Common Scoter and three Mediterranean Gulls.

It was the sort of day that drives you to cleaning and decorating © Erin Taylor:

14th February

A substantial drop in the wind brought a few familiar faces back through our doors for the first time this season. The change also saw the return of the Obs Firecrest, as well as the first Eider past the Bill this year and a good passage of Common Gulls. The rest of the morning's seawatch proved to be very quiet with just one Red-throated Diver and 25 Common Scoter. Elsewhere, 2 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaffs were still at Southwell.

13th February

The winter winds howled on and the day's list looked suitably sad. Twelve Purple Sandpipers were present near the obelisk, along with a lone Turnstone. A Short-eared Owl cropped up at Southwell where the long-staying singles of Blackcap and Chiffchaff were still present. The north end of the island was equally poor with 150 Brent Geese, four Black-necked Grebes and a single Great Northern Diver at Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour.

12th February

The wind of recent days finally abated but what little fieldwork there was returned no surprises, with 25 Common Scoter still off the Bill, 4 Purple Sandpipers still on the shore there and single Firecrests still at the Obs and Pennsylvania Castle.

Every now and again a quirky little detail crops up amongst the often rather mundane/expected life histories and movements revealed from all the colour-ring readings of gulls in the area. We were particularly taken by the details relating to this Herring Gull that Debby Saunders kindly sent through to us: the bird was at Ferrybridge yesterday morning and it turns out that it was ringed in August 2010 after rehabilitation at the RSPCA Wildlife Centre at West Hatch; it had originally been found oiled at Weymouth Marina in July of that year and, until yesterday, there'd only been one subsequent sighting of it at Arlingham on the River Severn in December 2018 © Debby Saunders:

Based purely on how difficult it is to see a live animal on Portland (we only saw our first earlier this winter) we've always imagined that Badgers must be pretty uncommon here but the frequency with which road casualties crop up - this one was on the Bill Road this morning - maybe suggests otherwise © John Lucas

11th February

Another blustery but clear day saw a good passage of Fulmars early on, resulting in a count of 48 birds west. A Sandwich Tern, first sighted in the Radipole car park, made its way into the recording area by the early afternoon. The rest of the harbour contained a minimum of four Great Northern Divers, along with a single Black-necked Grebe. Passerines were slightly better represented than in recent days with two Firecrests in Penn's Wood and Five Long-tailed Tits, one Blackcap and one Chiffchaff in Southwell.

The Rosemary in Southwell seems to be a particular favourite of late... © Debby Saunders:

10th February

A pleasant break from the howling gales in the early morning was short-lived, and the wind returned again in the afternoon bringing squally showers and a drop in temperature. The harbour was the place to be during the brief calmer spell and 14 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Great Northern Divers as well as singles of Red-necked Grebe, Black-throated Diver and Common Scoter were recorded. Elsewhere, Penn Castle woods saw 3 Firecrests and the Bill Common Scoter flock reached 25.

With the winds as strong as they have been, the harbour's wildlife has been blown into unusually confiding areas. Today's intrepid birders were treated to some excellent views, not least the brilliant red eyes of one of our resident Black-necked Grebes © Pete Saunders:

9th February

With the onset of Storm Ciara over night there was little anyone could do in the way of birding. Besides the obvious (incredibly high wind speeds and driving rain) the visibility remained poor for most of the day. The only true pluviophiles proved to be the Fulmars with upwards of 20 birds circling and wheeling above the huge swell.

8th February

A glorious winter's day saw a flurry of activity, mostly centred at the northern end of the island, with Ferrybridge counts including 187 Dunlin, 250 Mediterranean Gulls and 60 Brent Geese. The harbour held singles of Great Northern Diver and Black-necked Grebe; while the Bill seawatch maintained its steady course with 10 Red-throated Divers and 24 Common Scoter.

The panoply of avian life at Ferrybridge brought in by the recent high tides made for quite a spectacle © Pete Saunders:  

At first glance thought likely to be a Caspian Gull, closer inspection of this bird at Ferrybridge showed it to be at best of uncertain parentage © Joe Stockwell:

7th February

A second day of suitable conditions saw another small pulse of early sea passage offshore, with 38 Black-headed Gulls, 19 Wigeon, 5 Red-throated Divers, 4 Common Scoter and 3 Shelduck through off Chesil and 20 Brent Geese, 10 Red-throated Divers, 9 Teal, 5 Shelduck and a Black-throated Diver through off the Bill. The only other report was of a solitary Great Northern Diver in Portland Harbour.

6th February

The day started overcast and breezy but by the afternoon the sun was shining in a clear-blue sky. Another quiet day for birds was spent giving some much needed attention to the pond (where else could the Citrine Wagtail turn up in the spring?). The morning's Bill sea watch provided little more than five Red-throated Divers and a small subset of the wintering Common Scoter flock. The harbour saw singles of Great Northern Diver and Eider, whilst the first Chesil seawatch of the spring came up with 3 Common Scoter and 2 Red-throated Divers.

The perfect time of year to spend a bit of quality time with some of our less appreciated avian life, the Dunlins of Ferrybridge © Roy Norris:

5th February

High pressure and a drop in the wind saw a beautiful, still but chilly day. The rate of Red-throated Diver passage remained much the same as the past few days but the addition of a Firecrest in the Obs garden made up for the slightly reduced Purple Sandpiper numbers. Elsewhere, 2 Blackcaps and 2 Chiffchaffs were at Southwell.

A couple of the wintering residents in the gardens of southwell… © Pete Saunders:

One of our regular contributors has decided to sell his trusty Canon 7D and 300F4, hopefully to a young and aspiring ornithologist, for the bargain price of £400. If you are interested please feel free to contact the obs on obs@btinternet.com and we'll send you in the right direction.

4th February

Portland Bill: Common Scoter 40, Purple Sandpiper 11, Red-throated Diver 5.
Portland Harbour: Red-breasted Merganser 128, Black-necked Grebe 17, Great Northern Diver 2, Black-throated Diver 1, Slavonian Grebe 1, Canada Goose 1.

3rd February

Portland Bill: Common Scoter 25, Red-throated Diver 4.
Pennsylvania Castle: Firecrest 4.

2nd February

Portland Bill: Common Scoter 40, Red-throated Diver 4, Black-headed Gull 4.

1st February

Portland Bill: Common Scoter 27.
Pennsylvania Castle: Firecrest 2, Blackcap 1.