21st April

With aegean blue skies and a crisp north-easterly wind, the day started slowly with little evidence of much of an arrival of common migrants. However, the old adage relates that 'the rarity always travels alone' and so it proved with the mid-morning discovery of a Woodchat Shrike at the bottom of the Slopes. Other migrants were rather overshadowed by the occurrence of the shrike, but the first Tree Sparrow of the year headed north up the West Cliffs along with four Swifts and Swallows moving at c75 per hour, whilst the Bill's first Common Sandpiper of the year showed up on East Cliffs; singles of Short-eared Owl and Cuckoo were also seen coming in off the sea at the Bill and the same or another Cuckoo was later heard singing above Portland Castle.

The only non-avian news was the first Wall butterfly of the year on the wing at the Bill.

The Woodchat was a good performer and, by virtue of the fact that it was both singing and possessed old (juvenile feathers, so chocolate-brown instead of glossy black) secondaries and primary coverts, rather easily aged/sexed as a first-summer male © Martin Cade:

 ...and it was also a voracious predator: along with the customary bees and beetles it took this vole that it impaled and periodically revisited to feast upon! © Erin Taylor:

Keen-eyed observers will have noticed - as Grahame Walbridge very quickly pointed out in the field - that the bird had pretty extensive white primary patches and noticeable white bases to many of the tail feathers - features that brought to mind the possibility of the eastern form, niloticus. These features are further hinted at in some of the other photos of the bird that we've seen or been sent © Pete Saunders

Without examining the bird in the hand we're struggling to see the precise extent of white in these key areas but, having scrutinised lots of online images, we're getting the feel that a true niloticus ought to be showing in particular more white in the base of the central tail feathers than is visible here. In may be that this bird falls within the variation of 'standard' senator Woodchat but, bearing in mind the easterly winds that have been so prevalent lately, it's tempting to speculate whether it mightn't be a senator from further east (these, apparently, have a larger primary patch and more white in the tail base).