28th April

A day that was frustrating and elating in equal measures: the band of heavy rain that trudged its way slowly across the south of England for most of the morning seemed like a bad omen; however, Portland is not the sort of place to write off, no matter how inclement the weather, and as the rain turned to drizzle late in the morning the first Wood Warbler of the day emerged from the Sycamores in the garden. Heading out from the Obs in the mist and damp, the first Spotted Flycatchers of the season at the Bill were feeding at the end of the drive, the Crown Field was alive with Whinchats, Redstarts and (quite amazingly) a minimum of three Hobbys. The fields above the East Cliffs were full of summer plumage Yellow Wagtails (including at least one flava) and a pair of Tree Pipits. Due to the reduction in man-power from Covid, the Alexanders along the roadsides have not yet been cut back and as such were teaming with Phylloscs, Whitethroats, Garden Warblers and the odd Sedge Warbler. Heading towards the edge of the Obs recording area, the 8 Kings Quarry was hiding the second Wood Warbler of the day and the Water Works Quarry was busy with Lesser Whitethroats as well as the usual fare. The low cloud also prompted some novel wader movements with three Greenshank heading north as well as three flocks of Ringed Plovers amounting to 41 birds, 17 Turnstone and 18 Dunlin as well as the usual Whimbrels, three Common Sandpipers and 12 Purple Sandpipers. Two further pulses of rain temporarily dampened spirits but both prompted renewed flurries of migrants that saw the rocks along the shore at the Bill tip littered with bedraggled Whitethroats and Willow Warblers well into the evening.

Elsewhere on the island, the third Wood Warbler of the day was at Southwell School; a Cuckoo was singing above Penn Castle Woods and a fourth Hobby was hunting above Old Hill. One intrepid cyclist headed to Ferrybridge and reported a similar phenomenon to what was being witnessed at the Bill, with waders and passerines aplenty dropping out of the leaden sky; totals of 159 Dunlin, 84 Ringed Plovers, 18 Whimbrel, 15 Sanderling, 9 Bar-tailed Godwits, 2 Redshank and a Knot, along with 28 Yellow Wagtails, 20 Wheatears and a Whinchat were logged there in quick time during the afternoon.

There was plenty to get amongst at the Bill... © Martin Cade:

...and at Ferrybridge © Joe Stockwell

We get the feel that Badgers are doing quite well on Portland at the moment - this is one of two that have been visiting a garden at Sweethill for the last few nights © Pete Saunders:

There's been an interesting little conundrum afoot in recent days at the north of the island. At the weekend Andy Luckhurst discovered what he considered might be a singing Iberian Chiffchaff at Old Hill; the bird's song was certainly arresting even if its appearance left something to be desired and there were immediate suspicions that calls heard didn't make the grade for a 'true' Iberian Chiffchaff. News was circulated privately to those likely to be able to walk or cycle to the site but later a visitor from Weymouth broadcast the news more widely after apparently confirming the identification.

To our eyes, the bird's appearance was far from compelling: when seen well, the plumage tones were relatively subdued and lacked strong greens and yellows where you'd liked to have seen them, the eye-ring was rather conspicuous and the legs looked to be very dark if not black - basically it looked a lot like very many Common Chiffchaffs we handle at the Obs and fell far short of the brightness of, for example, the 1999 Verne Common Iberian Chiffchaff. During the couple of hours we spent with the bird the song sounded remarkably invariable even if later listening to the recordings made and checking the sonograms actually revealed a fair bit of subtle variety in the song phrases; as an example, here are nine song phrases edited together from a 3 minute sequence when the bird's singing more of less constantly:

We have heard that at least one observer has reported hearing 'chiff-chaffs' amongst the song phrases but that wasn't the case during our observations. For us, the most damning feature seems to be the call: although it doesn't routinely call very often our recordings are consistent in capturing notes that are more or less identical to those of Common Chiffchaff and certainly wholly unlike the 'usual' seemingly diagnostic downwardly inflected call of Iberian Chiffchaff: