30th September

Overnight gusts that increased towards dawn, and the threat of mid-morning rain meant fieldwork was limited to the few stalwarts that were willing to watch the sea through buffeted telescopes. The result of that effort was the first signs of truly autumnal passage on the sea with nine Sooty Shearwaters in amongst the 10 Balearic Shearwaters. Skuas also began moving in earnest with three species recorded throughout the morning: a single juvenile Pomarine Skua, three Bonxies and six Arctics. The supporting cast was made up of all the common fare plus a strong showing of Kittiwakes topping 200 birds and a lone Tufted Duck. Passerine migrants were very thin on the ground at the Bill with just a Reed Bunting, Yellow Wagtail and a smattering of Hirundines. Away from the Bill, in some of the more sheltered areas of the island, singles of Firecrest and Goldcrest were accompanying a handful of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps around Church Ope and Bumpers Lane. 

The long-staying Ferrybridge Little Stint © Simon Craft:

29th September

It's come to our attention that many members and other visitors to the Bill are unaware of a planning application for a proposed change of land use in part of the Top Fields at the Bill - specifically, this relates to the establishment of semi-permanent glamping and camping facilities on what is currently classified as agricultural land; PBO has made a formal representation since this proposal concerns fields very close to Helen's Fields that we own and manage for nature conservation purposes. In cases like this, we tend to take the view that too many frivolous expressions of either support or objection can be counter productive; however, well-argued observations from regular visitors to the area in question should carry weight with the planning authorities and ought to be made. If you feel strongly about this issue do please make a representation. The application can be viewed at: 


The application reference WP/20/00507/FUL should be entered in the search box at the bottom of the page.

Members and visitors might also be interested in a proposal to redevelop the Pulpit Inn at the Bill; PBO currently has no formal position on this matter that's still at the Public Consultation stage although we have noted that the proposals include a concerning level of development of the open grassland to the north of the pub buildings (...who on earth dreamt up 'Hobbit Houses' and would for one moment have thought they were appropriate in this location!). The consultation document that includes a facility to comment can be viewed at:  https://publications.thepulpit.co.uk/pulpit/the-pulpit?pid=MTA108510

Despite a continuation of yesterday's cloud coupling with a drop in the wind, the migrant passage did not continue as expected. The overnight winds must have taken more of a toll than anticipated meaning that passerine migrants were on the low side until the clouds departed and the hirundine passage of last week resumed once more. Overhead passage was much reduced with a noticeable absence of Siskins, but as the sun came out Sand Martins, House Martins and Swallows gathered in impressive numbers over the Crown Fields. With the morning cloud cover providing good visibility on the sea, the Balearic Shearwater tally fell just short of triple figures, and the winter ducks continued to arrive with seven Wigeon and 50 Common Scoter. Highlights on the land were restricted to a slightly tardy Whinchat, a single Yellow Wagtail and the reappearance of yesterdays eastern Lesser Whitethroat. Elsewhere on the island, the Little Stint continued its marathon performance and a slightly unseasonable Treecreeper was found at the Grove church. 

The balmy conditions of the afternoon looked likely to produce a hirundine bonanza but, aside from a fair-sized gathering of House Martins at the Grove, things didn't pan out as expected and only relatively small numbers of birds lingered at the Bill © Roy Norris:

The afternoon sun also brought out a host of butterflies with plentiful whites on the wing as well as the final generation of Common Blues and a good showing of Clouded Yellows (the latter of which have been sparse this year) © Geoff Orton:

28th September

Seemingly propitious conditions - the wind had dropped to just a gentle northwesterly breeze - provided a unexpectedly eclectic selection of migration happenings today. A fall of Chiffchaffs included a good 150 at the Bill alone, with the autumn's first Yellow-browed Warbler found amongst them at the Grove; variety on the ground was otherwise rather limited but did include a presumed Siberian Lesser Whitethroat at the Obs, a Ring Ouzel at the Grove, 2 late-ish Pied Flycatchers at the Bill and fair numbers of Stonechats and other seasonal fare everywhere. Lingerers on the deck also included the Rosy Starling between Weston and Easton and the 2 Little Stints and single Curlew Sandpiper at Ferrybridge. Overhead passage looked to be taking place over a broad front and wasn't easy to get amongst, but included 249 alba wagtails, 58 Chaffinches, 47 Siskins and 2 Merlins over the Bill along with 2 Great White Egrets over Southwell. It was the sea that proved to the day's secret weapon in terms of boosting the day list: a surprise pulse of Balearic Shearwaters totalled 119 through off the Bill, with 140 Kittiwakes, 7 Wigeon, 5 Arctic Skuas, 2 Great Skuas, a Wigeon and an Arctic Tern also logged there.

Bluefin Tunas were seen on and off throughout the morning off the Bill.

The season's first Yellow-browed Warbler wasn't making an exhibition of itself © Duncan Walbridge:

In recent years, pretty well every Lesser Whitethroat from late September onwards that's had its identity checked in the lab has turned out to be a Siberian blythi bird and there doesn't look to be any reason why today's individual wouldn't continue that pattern © Martin Cade:

The long-staying Rosy Starling made it into one of the local birder's gardens today © Mark Litjens:

27th September

 A definite drop in temperature this morning as the north-westerly winds howled through a watery sun. The bitter edge was lost before midday however, and the finch movements got going. Siskins continued to dominate but a second day of double figures for Redpolls added some welcome variety. The meagre highlight of the day was the appearance of the first three Redwings of the autumn (exactly a week earlier than last years first autumn bird at Ferrybridge). A further selection of oddities included singles of Grey and Golden Plover, Merlin, Tree Pipit and Yellow Wagtail. Away from the obs, the Little Stint continued its extended...stint at Ferrybridge joined once again by a single Curlew Sandpiper, two Bar-tailed Godwits and an early morning Merlin

26th September

Visible passage was again the order of the day under a crystal-clear sky with a brisk northerly blowing throughout. Strategically placed observers dipped in right across the island and duplication no doubt occurred but peak totals for the first couple of hours of daylight included 940 Meadow Pipits, 162 Siskins and 33 Redpolls; amongst a wide variety of lower totals, quality came in the from of 2 Crossbills over the Bill, a Hobby over Church Ope, a Woodlark over the Grove and a Lapland Bunting over High Angle Battery. It was much quieter on the ground, with a Ring Ouzel at High Angle Battery and a Firecrest at the Bill all that could be mustered by way of quality amongst the new arrivals; the 2 Little Stints also remained at Ferrybridge. The only sea news concerned 3 Balearic Shearwaters and a Pintail through off the Bill; a Wigeon also dropped in briefly at Ferrybridge.

The least expected bird in the nets today was this young female Merlin that was trapped deep inside the Obs garden; only later did we notice that there was a dead Meadow Pipit right under the net so the bird lost its elevenses in the course of allowing us the rare treat of handling this species - it's only the second one ever ringed at the Obs. We've got an oddly chequered history with in-hand Merlins: the first bird handled here - back in the early 1990s - was literally picked up off a fence post and turned out to be blind in one eye; it ended up seeing out its years at the Hawk Conservancy where it evidently paired up with another injured bird (which if we remember rightly - although this does sound slightly far-fetched! - had only one wing) and bred successfully for several years on the trot with the young being released back into the wild. Our second bird - and the first that was fit and healthy enough to be ringed - was, like today's bird, also netted in the Obs garden and ended up generating us a recovery because it was found dead elsewhere on the island several months later © Martin Cade:

A prolific winterer only a little way up the Fleet but always a good bird for the island - today's Wigeon at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

It won't be long before Sanderling no longer features on the day list but this one was lingering on at Ferrybridge before it heads off for Africa © Roy Norris:

25th September

Splendid isolation focuses your mind in peculiar ways, even to the realisation earlier this year that there's a strong correlation between good drying weather and there being no birds about - today, with its three loads of washing done and nothing better than a fly-by Lapland Bunting logged (...and that wasn't even seen!) did nothing more than confirm this hitherto overlooked nugget of wisdom. In an at times raging northerly and under completely clear skies it really wasn't a surprise that most of what was logged was passing overhead: the Lapland Bunting aside, the totals from the Bill included 350 Meadow Pipits, 190 alba wagtails, 58 Siskins, 11 Redpolls, 10 Chaffinches and 2 Golden Plovers. Persistence on the ground did eventually reveal a thin spread of the usual suspects, along with a few lingering waders at Ferrybridge that included 2 Little Stints. A single Balearic Shearwater passed through off the Bill.

There was a lovely warm glow to the dawn light: Bar-tailed Godwit, Little Stint and Sandwich Tern at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

And a couple more of from last week: Purple Sandpiper and Sparrowhawk at the Bill © Anthony Cheke:

24th September

Well, the summer couldn't last forever, and todays displays of howling westerlies and intermittent showers gave sudden flashbacks to last years washout of an October. The birds were a tad thin on the ground but a Pomarine Skua past the Bill on the morning sea watch added a touch of variety to what would have been a rather uneventful day. Away from the obs, a wind driven Grey Phalarope arrived at the Cove, whilst the pair of Little Stints remained at Ferrybridge with two Bar-tailed Godwits and singles of Sanderling and Grey Plover. The centre of the island appeared a relatively bird-free zone until the flock of Long-tailed Tits passed through accompanied by good numbers of Chiffchaffs, three Goldcrests and a Firecrest

23rd September

The Equinox certainly introduced an autumnal feel to today's proceedings: dreary skies, frequent squally showers, a freshening wind and a 10° drop in the temperature were all as unwelcome as the low quality of the day's birding. Although fieldwork on the land was distinctly challenging it was obvious that common migrant numbers had dwindled right away, both on the ground and overhead: a Lapland Bunting over Top Fields was the only noteworthy new arrival amongst a very underwhelming selection of commoner migrants; the Rosy Starling also remained at Haylands and one of the Little Stints was still at Ferrybridge. More action was expected from the sea, but in the event 7 Balearic Shearwaters and a lone Arctic Skua were all that could be mustered at the Bill.

Spotted Flycatcher and Magpies at Sweethill and Whimbrel and Little Stint at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

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: