31st October

On an atrociously wet and windy morning when the sea had been expected to get all the attention one brave soul persisting with the land stole the show by stumbling across the season's first Pallas's Warbler at Verne Hill Road. The sea did have its moments, with 300 Kittiwakes, 2 Eider, 2 Pomarine Skuas and a Great Skua through off the Bill and 64 Kittiwakes and 2 Little Gulls through at Ferrybridge, with the latter also coming up with a surprise Purple Sandpiper, 480 Mediterranean Gulls and 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese amongst more mundane fare. More coverage of the land in much improved albeit still very windy conditions during the afternoon revealed the Easton Rosy Starling, a Black Redstart at Blacknor, a Firecrest at Old Hill and 30 Redwings at Easton.

For anyone interested in the minutiae of plumage variation the two Little Gulls that passed through Ferrybridge during the morning were quite different; both were in first-winter plumage so would have been expected to completely retain their juvenile wings and tail, but one of the birds showed signs of some unexpected 'extra' moult in the mid-wing bar and tail band © Pete Saunders:

Ferrybridge is a good vantage point during stormy conditions when Kittiwakes are usually the most numerous of the smaller seabirds that avoid an arduous trip round the Bill by sneaking across Portland Harbour and heading away over Chesil © Pete Saunders:

30th October

A pleasant surprise this morning came in the reappearance of the Red-breasted Flycatcher ringed on Wednesday; given the inclement weather we hadn't had high hopes for this tiny migrant on the lookout for insects but the Obs garden has obviously offered just enough shelter from the howling gales and seemingly permanent drizzle. Other highlights were hard to come by, but the wintering Purple Sandpiper flock has upped to five and a lone Red-throated Diver was the only bird of note on the morning's sea watch. Away from the Bill, a Grey Phalarope was briefly at Ferrybridge with 245 Dark-bellied Brents and seven Pale-bellied Brent Geese; 3 Great Northern Divers were back in Portland Harbour, the Rosy Starling once again graced the rooftops of Easton, whilst a Firecrest was new at Avalanche Road and a Black Redstart appeared in Southwell. 

29th October

With passerine migration almost non-existent in the continuing wild weather all attention was given to the sea, with a passing Little Auk off the Bill the day's chief reward; dogged persistence eventually gave the rest of the list a veneer of respectability, with 300 Kittiwakes, 2 Great Northern Divers and singles of Red-throated Diver, Sooty Shearwater and Great Skua also logged. The only other reports were of singles of Blackcap and Chiffchaff at the Bill and 3 Bar-tailed Godwits and 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese at Ferrybridge.

28th October

With the weather repeating itself with alarming regularity, we were prepared to assume that tonight's blog would look very similar to the past few days. However, a slight reduction in the wind this morning allowed us to open a single (very sheltered) net, which turned up the Obs' third Red-breasted Flycatcher of the year. Given how elusive the summer bird was - even when we were able to hear it on a flat calm day- it would be easy to assume that the bird could have arrived before today. A smattering of more routine migrants between showers included a Merlin, a Redwing, three Blackcaps and good numbers of Chaffinches across the island. The sea saw the first returning Fulmar of the winter, three Bonxies and a Yellow-legged Gull. Ferrybridge saw a small increase in Brent Geese with 310 Dark-bellied and four Pale-bellied; the Rosy Starling also continued its lengthy residency at Easton. 

The Red-breasted Flycatcher was an entirely serendipitous capture in a net that had only been opened on the off chance of catching a Redwing that had been seen in the vicinity © Martin Cade:

There's been a great Gannet flock gathering off the Bill for the last week or so. At times at the weekend they were fantastically close inshore below the Obs such that the the air was filled with the din of their calling; they've usually been a bit further out since that time but as this little bit of video taken from the Obs patio doorway this morning shows they're still providing quite a spectacle © Martin Cade:

27th October

Quite often on Portland we watch the rain alarm threatening us with heavy showers and we watch smugly as the rain passes by us, straight onto Weymouth. Today was quite the opposite as the radar showed little to no rain whilst we were pelted with wind driven sheets that soaked through even the toughest of waterproofs. This left the day list for the obs area looking a little on the sad side, in fact three Fieldfares, two Redwings and singles of Merlin and Chiffchaff were about as much as we could muster. The sea only fared fractionally better with singles of Bonxie and Pintail of note. Away from the obs (in the relative shelter from the wind), large flocks of Long-tailed Tits were joined by a single Firecrest at Church Ope Cove, where the lingering Black Redstart also remained. In terms of long-stayers though, the Rosy Starling at Easton reached its 43rd day. 

Perhaps the strangest sighting of the day came in the form of a Golden Pheasant in a garden in Southwell, one of a plethora of escapees on Portland currently with a rogue flock of Grey Partridges also on the loose © Pete Saunders:

26th October

With turbulent, Atlantic conditions seemingly now firmly established and prospects for the land looking pretty bleak it was nice to begin the day with some stronger than expected visible passage: Goldfinches and Chaffinches dominated, with a sample one hour count at the Bill revealing totals of 359 and 140 apiece; additional variety was limited but did include an attendant Merlin, whilst a lone Brambling was the pick of a few laggards later in the day. The returns from the ground were indeed sparse, with singles of Snipe, Wheatear and Reed Bunting among the very few new arrivals at the Bill; the long-staying Rosy Starling at Easton and 2 Black Redstarts at Blacknor provided interest elsewhere. Two Great Northern Divers and 2 Great Skuas passed through off the Bill, with another sickly Great Skua grounded at Ferrybridge; one of the Black Brants also pitched up at Ferrybridge, whilst 3 Mute Swans were nearby at Smallmouth.

The Ferrybridge Great Skua did make it far as Chesil Cove at least once but it was always looking distressed and was eventually picked up and taken into care © Angela Thomas:

Winter fare on the shoreline at the Bill included a Purple Sandpiper along with the ubiquitous Rock Pipits © Roy Norris:

25th October

A brighter day but still blustery today. An extensive sea watch at the Bill provided little more than singles of Bonxie and Red-throated Diver of note. The land was hauntingly quiet with two Merlins finding only flocks of Linnets to hunt through as visible passage ground to a halt. The lingering Rosy Starling at Easton and a Black Redstart at Church Ope Cove were all that could be mustered away from the Bill. 

24th October

 An absolute wash-out of a day saw the wind picking up through the morning to a gusting gale-force south westerly by the afternoon. The slow build-up meant that the sea didn't really get going until the worst of the weather had set in. The morning's Chesil Cove vigil saw good numbers of common species, but by the afternoon off the Bill a smattering of Shearwaters and Skuas included seven Sooty Shearwaters, three each of Balearic and Manx Shearwater and five Bonxies. The land remained woefully quiet (although partially through lack of attention), with a lone Yellow-browed Warbler at Old Hill the best of the bunch. 

23rd October

Another day of clear skies interrupted by unexpected, torrential showers. Much like yesterday, there was a steady passage of common overhead migrants including: 259 Linnets, 206 Goldfinches, 50 alba Wagtails and 17 Chaffinches. This selection also included three Bramblings, two Siskins and a Redpoll. On the deck, a Yellow-legged Gull in the flock below Culverwell was the main highlight with just a smattering of Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps as a supporting cast. Elsewhere on the island, Ring Ouzels, Yellow-browed Warblers, Black Redstarts and the loitering Rosy Starling were the best we could muster. 

22nd October

After the past couple of weeks of a feeling of anticipation (even if few rarities ever materialised), today was somewhat of a come-down. The heavy rain shower after dawn should have provided some grounded migrants, but it became abundantly clear that the overnight conditions had hampered any night-time movements. A steady trickle of Goldfinches, Chaffinches and alba wagtails emerged in the mid-morning, along with single figures of Siskins, Fieldfares and six Redwings. The highlight of the day came with a scan through the stubble fields where a flock of 175 Skylarks were joined by a single WoodlarkBlack Redstarts continued to put in a small showing with seven throughout the Obs area, 4 at the Grove and 2 at Blacknor. Away from the Obs, the Rosy Starling continued its long-stay, at least one Merlin made its rounds around the centre and south of the island, a Siberian Lesser Whitethroat emerged at Thumb Lane, and three Ring Ouzels were at Fancy's Farm. As the Sycamore continue to lose their leaves the remaining and arriving 'crests and warblers become more evident with a smattering of Firecrests and Yellow-browed Warblers across the island. 

Merlins continue to be a regular feature © Ralph Todd:

A couple of the Redwings in recent days have stood out from the rest - notably through being distinctly swarthier and bigger (both with wing-lengths in the upper 120s) - and seem likely to have been Icelandic coburni birds; this one was trapped at the Obs this morning © Martin Cade:

21st October

As the looming band of rain over France made its ominous way towards us over night, the small mercy was that the wind dropped to next to nothing. Early signs were not good as the Goldcrests that clung tightly to the undersides of the remaining Sycamore leaves all sported shiny new rings from the past few days. Heading out into the persistent damp revealed the hut bushes busy with Blackbirds, Redwings and Goldfinches. The huts further provided the hunting ground for a smattering of Black Redstarts and a single Brambling with the Chaffinches. The downpour also provided the backdrop for a frustratingly brief view of a Swift species that was watched for just seconds until it disappeared at low level behind the Coastguard Cottages but never re-emerged. As a break in the rain came at around 11am, so too did the day's highlight as an Olive-backed Pipit was flushed out of the hut fields; it dived into the Obs garden but shortly afterwards flew out again and headed off strongly northwestward. Away from the Obs, a selection of Black Redstarts appeared across the island, along with the long-staying Rosy Starling at Easton, the recently arrived Black Brant at Ferrybridge and a Great White Egret that flew over Weston.

The presence of lingering Goldcrests and the absence of many new arrivals in the common migrant line should have brought to our minds one of those pearls of wisdom from the much-missed Mr Cleeves who so often reminded us that 'The Big One always travels alone'...

...the Olive-backed Pipit was certainly solitary but, sadly, it was also a lousy performer - not that that greatly mattered when it called this well for us:

20th October

A slow start to the morning as the wind that picked up overnight had swung fully into the south west. The slightly disappointing dawn seawatch was interrupted in incongruous fashion by a Glossy Ibis heading over the Obs patio which then looped back amongst the gull flock before heading off to Lodmoor - it proved to be the forerunner of an influx into Dorset, with perhaps as many as 8 logged today. More conventional highlights on the sea included 5 Balearic Shearwaters and singles of Bonxie and Great Northern Diver. The land was much quieter than previous days but a Woodcock flushed out of the Obs garden was the first for the autumn and two Firecrests accompanied the single figures of Goldcrests at the Bill. Elsewhere, the Rosy Starling lingered on at Easton, just 2 Yellow-browed Warblers remained at Old Hill and 2 Knot were new arrivals at Ferrybridge.

Glossy Ibis doesn't spring to mind as a particularly likely Portland rarity but today's is actually the fourth for the island: singles have dropped in briefly or flown over on two occasions at Ferrybridge and another single flew over the Bill in October 2013 © Martin Cade:

Enthusiasm for gulling has dwindled a little just lately but this Yellow-legged Gull spotted amongst the East Cliff gulls shows there are things dropping in if anyone takes the trouble to look © Joe Stockwell:

Small raptors have been very conspicuous just lately with multiple sightings of both Merlins and Sparrowhawks on most days © Joe Stockwell:

19th October

In an ever-freshening southerly birding wasn't a doddle but for those that stuck with it there was a lot of variety on offer today, with a scarcity list that included the long-staying Rosy Starling at Easton, the first showing at Ferrybridge this season of one of the Fleet Black Brants, 34 Crossbills (in three parties overhead), 8 Black Redstarts, 4 Yellow-browed Warblers, 3 Ring Ouzels, 2 Firecrests and singles of Balearic Shearwater, Merlin, Short-eared Owl and Great Spotted Woodpecker. Most commoner migrants were less numerous on the ground than they'd been yesterday although there did seem to be an improved spread everywhere of various 'under the radar' species like Wrens, Robins and Stonechats.

The Yellow-browed Warbler near Bowers Quarry © Simon Wood:

The Ferrybridge Black Brant © Andrew Slade:

One of the day's Crossbills © Joe Stockwell:

Purple Sandpiper at the Bill © Roy Norris:

One of our favourite birds of the day was this nice young male Brambling trapped at the Obs © Martin Cade:

18th October

Knowing that yesterday's Great Grey Shrike had gone to ground at dusk (and with a band of rain sitting in the Channel), it seemed likely that the bird had gone to roost locally. This prediction was proved correct as the gloomy dawn was brightened when the bird was trapped in the Obs garden. The nets continued to produce through the morning as another eastern type Lesser Whitethroat emerged in the Crown Field and was trapped shortly afterwards. The final highlight in the nets came when one of the three Dartford Warblers was trapped. Away from the nets, today saw the first real influx of Goldcrests with over 70 recorded in the Obs area, bringing with them two Firecrests and a single Yellow-browed Warbler  Today also saw the first significant arrival of Black Redstarts with a minimum of eight birds around the Bill, as well as potentially the last Redstart of the year in the Obs garden. Ring Ouzels put in another good display with the West Weares group up to six, and two in Top Fields. The now usual supposrting cast of Chaffinches, Redwings and Song Thrushes also included a single figure totals of Redpoll and Brambling. A strong westbound movement of nearly 1000 auks provided the main interest on the sea.

Maybe not all that surprisingly bearing in mind the tally of island records is only just into double figures, today's Great Grey Shrike was the first trapped and ringed here © Martin Cade (top) and Joe Stockwell:

Always a wee bit overshadowed by the ever-increasing Yellow-browed Warblers, Siberian Lesser Whitethroat has lately overtaken Pallas's Warbler to become the second most frequent eastern rarity at Portland - today's bird was a new arrival in the Crown Estate Field © Martin Cade:

After a lean season last autumn this year's seen a resurgence in Dartford Warbler numbers © Martin Cade:

At least two of the newly arrived Black Redstarts were stonking males © Joe Stockwell (top) and Erin Taylor (bottom):

17th October

Another day that had plenty of promise but ultimately only really delivered a Great Grey Shrike that unhelpfully proved to be both mobile and elusive. The heavy cloud cover at dawn and close proximity of some rain during the afternoon did drop a few new arrivals - Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs in particular increased everywhere - but there were only paltry numbers of the likes of thrushes that might have been expected to be better represented; scarcer migrants included 5 Yellow-browed Warblers, 3 Ring Ouzels, 2 Merlins, and singles of Short-eared Owl, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Black Redstart and Dartford Warbler. Three Teal, 2 Red-breasted Mergansers and singles of Balearic ShearwaterWigeon and Arctic Skua were of note on the sea at the Bill.

The Great Grey Shrike was a really tricky bird to get to grips with: these photos were snatched moments after it was discovered when it made a fleeting visit to a private garden at Southwell; it was only seen once more when it popped up equally briefly in the Crown Estate Field an hour later © Nick Stantiford:

16th October

A reminder that we'll be hosting an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10 am and 4pm this Sunday, 18th October

With a heavy cloud cover overhead dawn promised birds aplenty but failed to deliver, with overhead passage reduced to little more than a trickle and ground migrants far from plentiful. The day was somewhat saved by a fair spread of less frequent migrants that included 8 Ring Ouzels (including 5 at West Weare), 7 Yellow-browed Warblers (including 3 at Old Hill), 6 Crossbills, 4 Merlins, 2 Short-eared Owls, 2 Firecrests and a Lapland Bunting; the Rosy Starling also remained in situ at Easton and a Cattle Egret flying over Ferrybridge was a surprise oddity. If numbers were lower than expected then at least common migrants variety was up to par, with most of the typical late autumn fare represented: Redpolls staged a good showing overhead that included 53 over the Bill but visible passage was otherwise rather pedestrian; few if any of the meagre grounded totals were worthy of a mention. After their good showing earlier in the week Kittiwake passage resumed, with 135 through off the Bill where a passing Arctic Skua was also of note. 

After being absent for the best part of the year Clouded Yellows have been featuring daily in quite good numbers just lately - these two were at Church Ope Cove this afternoon © James Phillips

15th October

Despite the crystal clear skies, the favorable wind continued to produce a steady stream of passage migrants that continued well into the afternoon. The most notable increase was in thrushes with pulses of Redwings, Fieldfares and Song Thrushes heading in off the sea, and exploding out of every fruit covered bush across the island. Perhaps the most impressive showing came from the Blackbirds, but finches also put in a good display with 47 Redpolls overhead the second highest day count of the year. In amongst the triple-figure droves of Chaffinches came 16 Bramblings, 39 Siskins and four Crossbills. Although the mega never materialised, some points of interest included a Lapland Bunting in off the West Cliffs, a Jack Snipe flushed off the centre track and the first Black Redstart of the autumn at Barleycrates Lane. The now expected Yellow-browed Warblers were in place once again as well as four Ring Ouzels on the West Weares and two Dartford Warblers by the Business Park. 

In non-avian news, the first Vagrant Emperor of the year was spotted dashing around the Crown Field.  

Even the less favourable perches were taken around the Bill, with Blackcaps making use of the shelter in Burdock, Chiffchaffs flycatching off the Golden Samphire and the Redpolls making use of the brittle Alexanders remains © Erin Taylor:

The overhead passage this morning was spectacular © Joe Stockwell:

14th October

Movement was the order of the day today, with a rain front sitting not too far out in the Channel seemingly deflecting a steady passage of Swallows, Meadow Pipits, thrushes, finches and the like toward the island; in a stiff northeasterly and under relatively clear skies over the island itself most birds headed straight through northward. Passage was on a broad front so was tricky to keep abreast of but sample counts at several strategic spots suggested day-totals from the Bill were of the order of 800 Chaffinches, 700 Meadow Pipits, 500 apiece of Swallow, Starling and Linnet, and 250 Redwings; the good spread of further variety included 13 Crossbills, 9 Lapwings, 3 Merlins and 2 Snipe. At least 5 Yellow-browed Warblers were scattered about but birding on the ground was hard work in the wind and, aside from a freaky Great White Egret that pitched into a bone-dry horse paddock at Wakeham, 3 Ring Ouzels, a Short-eared Owl and a Dartford Warbler in the relative shelter of West Weare were the best that could be unearthed. In an offshore wind 14 Brent Geese and 6 Wigeon off the Bill were the best mustered from the sea

13th October

After yesterday's flush of scarcities today was quite an odd day with the best arrival of Yellow-browed Warblers to date - at least 12 were discovered scattered through the usual hotspots for this now entirely expected migrant - but far less by way of routine late autumn fare than might have been hoped. A selection of oddities uncovered or still about included the Red-breasted Flycatcher and a/the Siberian Lesser Whitethroat at the Bill, single Dartford Warblers at the Bill and East Weare and a Long-eared Owl at the Grove, whilst there were a series of frustrating heard-only fly-overs that escaped being clinched. Siskins continued to feature overhead with another 95 through over the Bill, but commoner migrants were for the most part inexplicably few and far between on the ground with, for example, just one Redwing at the Bill on a day after many tens of thousands had been on the move not all that far away - migration can be really strange! With the breeze having switched back to the northwest sea interest was limited to a few hundred auks and 2 Balearic Shearwaters through off the Bill.

Yellow-browed Warblers were all over the place today © Nick Hopper...

...and they were still coming out of the woodwork at dusk: this one popped up literally after sunset at the Grove - once it dropped into thick cover it was barely resolvable with the naked eye but cameras are so good these days that with a massive iso setting it was still possible to get a perfectly acceptable record shot © Martin Cade:

The Red-breasted Flycatcher led folk a merry dance today: it was first retrapped at dawn at Culverwell but then variously turned up in the Strips, in the middle of the Crown Estate Field, at the Obs and at the Privet Hedge - we're struggling to think of a passerine that's ever done anything like that before! © Martin Cade:

12th October

Being connoisseurs of lacklustre conditions the recent mediocrity inflicted on us has hardly come as a surprise; today, though, was a different kettle of fish and for some while had looked to be the day that might come up with the goods. A gentle southwesterly and decent cloud cover ahead of an oncoming weather front made for easy birding and it wasn't long before a Red-breasted Flycatcher showed up in the Obs mist-nets; in quick time, a Rustic Bunting was latched on to as it made its way northward over the Slopes, before the action switched back to the Obs where a Radde's Warbler found its way into the nets just before the onset of the rain. In the circumstances, back-ups to further burnish proceedings were hardly required but a great little seawatch ticked over all day, a nice pulse of visible passage was evident before the rain and the likes of 4 Yellow-browed Warblers (2 at the Obs and singles at Avalanche Road and the Grove) were on hand to provide further entertainment. The seawatch totals included 1000 auks, 800 Gannets, 600 Kittiwakes, 86 Common Scoter, 11 Arctic Skuas, 4 Wigeon, 4 Pintail, 4 Teal, 2 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Red-breasted Mergansers, 2 Great Skuas and a Pomarine Skua, whilst the vismig tally included 178 Siskins, 14 Crossbills, a Grey Plover and a Woodlark. The scarcities aside, the land was the poor relation with relatively low numbers of grounded migrants amongst which singles of Ring Ouzel and Mistle Thrush (at the Bill and Blacknor respectively) were of note. 

Portland's twelfth Radde's Warbler © Joe Stockwell...

...and the Red-breasted Flycatcher © Martin Cade:

Sadly, the Rustic Bunting was not nearly so obliging © Joe Stockwell:

Grey Plover and Woodlark were amongst the vismig oddities over the Bill © Joe Stockwell:

11th October

A much more satisfactory day with plenty of signs of a genuine resurgence in passage today. In island terms, a Whooper Swan passing the Bill was the day's highlight but 3 new Yellow-browed Warblers at the Obs (with further presumed lingerers also at Avalanche Road and Wakeham) were welcome evidence of the trickle-down of migrants from points northward finally reaching this part of the world in numbers greater than the odd scattered singles; a new Great Spotted Woodpecker at the Bill, some more Crossbills (a single over the Bill and 8 over Easton) together with the long-staying Rosy Starling were additional morsels of quality. Oddities aside, at least in the places there was more to get amongst by way of common migrants, including 30 each of Chiffchaff and Blackcap grounded at the Bill, a tiny pulse of new thrushes including the first 8 Fieldfares of the season through at Wakeham, 2 Merlins and a Short-eared Owl at the Bill, a good selection of tardy migrants including several Willow Warblers, a Sand Martin, a Tree Pipit and a Whinchat, a modest overhead passage that included 100 Chaffinches and 80 Siskins at the Bill and odds and ends including a Balearic Shearwater through off the Bill.

The Whooper Swan was a really nice highlight: only the seventh island record, the first for ten years and the earliest ever autumn record © Joe Stockwell:

The second Merlin trapped this autumn but only the third ever © Martin Cade:

Although far more frequent these days than they once were, Great Spotted Woodpeckers still aren't regular enough that we've got blasé about them © Joe Stockwell:

It's looking like the little group of between four and six Bar-tailed Godwits have settled in for the winter at Ferrybridge © Roy Norris: