5th May

Our migration hiatus initiated by Monday's stormy weather continued, with a light scatter of grounded Wheatears, a modest increase in waders and a trickle of incoming Swifts overhead accounting for the bulk of the day's numbers. Two passing Great Northern Divers - one of which was over Top Fields - were all that could be mustered by way of seabirds in the brisk northwesterly.

Although 'European' Wheatear numbers were exceptional low for us this spring, there's been a strong passage of Greenland/Iceland-bound birds in the last few weeks © Martin Cade:

With such low temperatures the rule in recent weeks butterfly emergence dates might have been expected to be set back (...moth emergence dates certainly have been) but, perhaps tempted out by the frequent sunshine that's at least warmed up sheltered spots, this seems not to have been the case. Adonis Blue was the on the wing for the first time today © Andy Luckhurst...

...whilst first dates for Small Copper and Dingy Skipper were also logged today © Erin Taylor:

4th May

Beryl Clafton © Royal Manor Theatre

It's with great sadness that we announce the death of Beryl Clafton. Beryl's association with PBO dates back to the very earliest days of ornithological exploration at Portland in the early 1950s when she would travel by motorcycle from Bournemouth with her then boyfriend, Frank - who she would go on to marry in 1954, to assist with the establishment of a seasonal migration monitoring station at the Bill. After a spell on Bardsey Island after Frank's appointment as warden of the Bird Observatory there in 1961, Beryl settled at Portland - where she would live for the rest of her life - in 1963 when Frank was appointed warden of PBO. Beryl undertook a significant role in managing the domestic arrangements at the then fledgling observatory, often involving catering for guests, until Frank's resignation in 1974. In later life Beryl ran a gallery at Wakeham and served with distinction in a variety of roles for the Royal Manor Theatre Company, even winning the award for best producer at the All England Theatre Festival in 2004. Beryl remained a staunch supporter of PBO and was an almost daily visitor - walking her dog in even the foulest winter weather - until shortly before her death. 

Beryl chivvying birds towards a heligoland trap in the Obs garden in May 1966...


...and holding Britain's first Desert Warbler in December 1970 photos © the late Frank Clafton:


With the wind swinging round to the north-west and increasing in speed overnight, it was with low hopes that we began our birding efforts today. The land lived up to expectations: two presumed long-staying Ring Ouzels at the Verne were the pick of the bunch; with a Hobby and Little Egret in off at the Bill and a Spotted Flycatcher at Avalanche Hump the supporting cast. The sea was disappointing with the offshore wind doing its job to ensure that anything passing was miles out to sea. Two Pomarine Skuas, four Arctics and a Bonxie were the highlights at the Bill, whilst Chesil Cove saw a single Black-throated Diver and a selection of common waders. Among the 50 Manx Shearwaters at the Bill was the second Balearic of the year. Ferrybridge has become its usual consistent self with good numbers of Dunlin, Sanderling and Ringed Plovers as well as two Bar-tailed Godwits, five Turnstones and 22 Common Terns

The Ferrybridge Sanderlings are transitioning from their understated monochromatic winter-wear to their rufous summer tones © Pete Saunders


3rd May

If the forecast was to be believed we really only had this morning to enjoy any land-based migration before the storm reached us. This was just how events played out with the wind gaining speed steadily through the morning, reaching well into gale-force by the evening.  The highlight on the land was a male Serin that came in calling and displayed beautifully at the top of the 'Brambling tree' in the Obs garden before disappearing. The sea was, of course, the focus of the day and a slow start was interrupted by a mid-morning Pomarine Skua and a Wood Sandpiper in past the obelisk. Things picked up from there and a flock of Eiders and a Velvet Scoter followed, as well as a small selection of Great Northern and Red-throated Divers, and 5 Great, 3 Arctic and another Pomarine Skua. As the day wore on, a movement of Manx Shearwaters developed with 500 through off the Bill and the first Balearic Shearwater of the year spotted amongst them off Chesil Cove. Waders were less conspicuous but three Whimbrel, 15 Knot, seven Dunlin and a Sanderling were added to the days totals. 

As with so many Portland Serin records, today's male was picked up first on call and dropped straight into the 'Brambling tree' (the large, solitary sycamore to the right of the Obs patio) before ranging more widely around the Obs garden:

The expected skua-fest was not a feature off the Bill where this Arctic was one of a day total of the three species combined that only just scraped into double figures:


The first big storm of the spring might have been expected to produce a stronger movement of Manx Shearwaters than the 500 logged at the Bill photos © Martin Cade:

2nd May

Another day of quiet contentment with lots of variety but small numbers of birds. The highlight of the day was a drake Garganey seen drifting on the sea past the Bill, accompanied by a lone Puffin. The Turtle Dove resumed its position at Reap Lane along with singles of Pied Flycatcher and Redstart. Overhead, Yellow Wagtails continued to move with c.30 throughout the day, including those in the fields around Barleycrates Lane. Garden Warblers and Whinchats put in a good show with the island total reaching double figures. The sea was quiet but those stalwarts who stuck it out were treated to views of seven Eiders, two Great Skuas, one Arctic Skua. Ferrybridge continued its form with 107 Dunlin and three Sanderling on the exposed shore. 

The non-avian highlight of the day was a procession of Clouded Yellows heading up the West Cliffs around Blacknor. 

Garden Warblers are the epitome of understated beauty © Roger Hewitt:


The first fledgling Stonechats of the year were out at the Bill, clacking in their resplendent speckles © Roger Hewitt:

With almost nothing entertaining us on an evening seawatch at the Bill we took a punt on getting to Abbotsbury before dusk after news had broken of a Whiskered Tern having appeared there. The tiresome walk over the shingle from the beach car park to the tank teeth obviously put off other prospective viewers because to our surprise we had the bird to ourselves as it showed blisteringly well in the last remnants of daylight © Martin Cade:

1st May

A lazy start to the morning turned out to be for the best as numbers have dwindled significantly since mid-week. This does not, however, mean that there were not birds out there to be found. The species du jour was Turtle Dove with one at Reap Lane and later the same or another visiting a garden pond at Sweethill. The variety of the past few days remained, with a good spread of grounded Willow Warblers and another strong throughput of Swallows, together with single figure tallies of White and Yellow WagtailPied and Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat, Redstart, Black Redstart, Sedge Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler. Grounded waders included 112 Dunlin, 11 Bar-tailed Godwits, 3 Sanderling, 2 Grey Plovers and a Whimbrel at Ferrybridge.

Visitors to the blog might have noticed we rather obsess over Bar-tailed Godwits at this time of year: there's something quite gripping about the sight of a succession of distant smoky flocks of them passing up-Channel way off the Bill and the back story that some of them might be making a three day direct flight from Mauritania to Holland is something that's always caught our imagination. Thanks to keen eyes and sharp lenses we can also now marvel at the fact that at least some of them have come from even further than Mauritania: this colour-ringed and flagged bird at Ferrybridge on 23rd April was originally marked at the Bijachos Archipelago in Guinea-Bissau on 25th November 2019 as part of a continuing study into their feeding ecology both there on the wintering grounds and at the staging point on the Wadden Sea © Peter Coe (top) and Debby Saunders (bottom): 



The colour-rings on a second individual at Ferrybridge a couple of days later enabled it to be identified as a bird from the same project but unfortunately it had lost the flag that would have allowed individual identification and hence date of marking © Pete Saunders:


Today's Turtle Dove at Sweethill © Debby Saunders


Reap Lane and Barleycrates Lane have been favoured migrant hotspots this spring with Black and Common Redstarts (including this paradoxus male Black Redstart) featuring there on an almost daily daily basis just lately © Pete Saunders


30th April

If a good day list is your thing then Portland's been coming up with the goods this week, with some very fulsome tallies to be had as spring migration reaches its peak. Today's nice quiet conditions saw the island miss the rash of heavy showers that bubbled up just on across the mainland and provided ample opportunity to get amongst an almost complete suite of routine fare. Wheatear and Willow Warbler both topped the 100 mark at the Bill where Swallows were streaming in at times and certainly reached well into four figures in total; there were all-island double totals of the likes of Yellow Wagtail (including a Blue-headed Wagtail), Redstart and Whinchat, whilst 5 Pied Flycatchers and singles of Hobby, Merlin and Black Redstart, along with a late Redwing, were all on offer. Waders at Ferrybridge included 2 Grey Plovers and a notable increase to 95 Dunlin. The sea remained hard work but 3 Arctic Skuas, 2 Red-throated Divers and a Pomarine Skua were logged at the Bill.

There was plenty to get amongst today: Pied Flycatchers © Nick Bond (settled) and Pete Saunders (flying)...



...Redstart and Lesser Whitethroat © Paul Swann, Garden Warbler © Pete Saunders and Blue-headed Wagtail © Nick Bond...





...Grey Plovers and Dunlin © Pete Saunders:



And for anyone suffering burn-out after all the migrant-hunting there was the chance to end the day watching the altogether more soothing activities of the pair of Black-winged Stilts that had pitched up at Lodmoor this morning © Martin Cade:

29th April

The day after a fall can often feel a little flat, but despite the clear blue skies and chilling breeze there were still a good number of birds to be found - and of excellent variety. The nets produced another great total of 147 between the garden and Culverwell of 15 species. Today was the first day that Blackcaps outnumbered Willow Warblers, and unusually for us, 10 Reed Warblers were trapped in the garden. Around the Obs area four each of Redstart, Whinchat and Spotted Flycatcher added to the Pied Flycatcher at the Obs and a Grasshopper Warbler at Culverwell. The most unusual sighting, however, was a Bonxie that decided to take a shortcut and was sighted crossing the land at the Bill heading north towards Southwell. Away from the Bill, a Turtle Dove was in a Southwell garden and a Cuckoo was seen leaving the island at the Verne, but the highlight was a confiding Wood Warbler in the trees at Avalanche Hump. 

The Avalanche Wood Warbler put on an impressive display © Joe Stockwell:


Nothing better than walking along a fence line and seeing a bright red (orange) tail flashing ahead of you © Joe Stockwell:


The Bill has been good for waders during these spring tides with Dunlin, Turnstone and Common Sandpiper to add to the passage Whimbrel © Geoff Orton:

28th April

A lot of time at Bird Observatories is spent speculating about the weather for the week ahead - often our predictions are wildly inaccurate but as today approached the forecast looked increasingly promising. Waking up this morning the air was thick with the petrichor of the first rain in over a month, the wind was stronger than forecast but this aided in moving the rain to allow the nets to open and the fieldworkers to get out into what turned out to be a pretty spectacular field. Despite a slow start in the nets at the Obs, the first bird trapped at Culverwell was a Turtle Dove (it's 10 years since the last one was trapped). Things picked up from there as the Willow Warblers began pouring through the garden and surrounding area. Lesser Whitethroats fell just short of double figures in the nets and Blackcaps just short of 50 by the end of the day. 

Meanwhile, the watchers on the West Cliffs witnessed a similar spectacle with Whitethroats filling every bramble bush and Willow Warblers occupying every available Alexanders plant. Overhead passage was truly impressive with over 200 spring plumage Yellow Wagtails accompanied by 48 Tree Pipits and a plethora of common migrants. Mixed in with all of the above were double figure counts of Redstarts, Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers. The morning session came to a close as the rain clouds gathered once more and the heavens opened. 

However, it does not do to give up on a fall on Portland and once the rain had cleared after an hour and half it would begin again. This time Blackcaps, Garden Warblers and Whitethroats were the commoner species. A Cuckoo apiece in the Top Fields and Suckthumb began to sing, and three Turtle Doves were added to the day's tally. Spotted Flycatchers became more prevalent with three trapped and three elsewhere. Additional Pied Flycatchers were added to the list bringing the island total to six, as well as five reeling Grasshopper Warblers and a Wood Warbler. Swallows were recorded moving continuously, even through the toughest of rain storms, and across such a broad front that only estimates of 1000's of birds could be assumed. Along with the other Hirundines the Swallow passage attracted a minimum of four Hobbys. The second wave also included the movement of at least 120 Wheatears and just short of 20 Whinchats. A thoroughly impressive day. 

A selection of the key players involved in a day that delighted all of those present © Debby Saunders (Pied Flycatchers, Sedge Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat and Willow Warbler), © Joe Stockwell (Cuckoo, Turtle Dove and Yellow Wagtail): 








27th April

The arrival of much more bird-able, quiet conditions prompted a welcome flurry of new passerine arrivals on the ground and saw a strong visible passage develop as the morning wore on; the sea provided most of what might be expected in late April but numbers - particularly of passing waders - were much reduced from the highs of the last week. Warblers accounted for the bulk of the grounded numbers, with Willow Warblers just about reaching the 100 mark at the Bill, whilst chats were noticeably fewer than they had been through the middle of the month; variety included a Sanderling, a Black Redstart and a Spotted Flycatcher at the Bill, a Black Redstart at Southwell and 2 Pied Flycatchers, a Black Redstart, a Ring Ouzel and a Spotted Flycatcher dotted around the north of the island. Visible passage peaked during the early afternoon when Swallows were passing at a rate of 10 or more per minute at the Bill; variety on this front included a Little Ringed Plover over the Bill and a Goshawk off West Cliffs. The trickle offshore included 11 Red-throated Divers, 4 Arctic Skuas, 3 Little Gulls and singles of Great Northern Diver, Great Skua and Pomarine Skua through off the Bill.

The first Wall Brown of the year was on the wing at Verne Common.

Whinchat at New Ground © Pete Saunders and Whimbrel at Ferrybridge © Mike Trew:


26th April

Be careful what you wish for... as the wind eased round into the north east and cloud built up across the channel visible passage all but disappeared. The recently productive West Cliffs were rendered hauntingly quiet. However, it was not all bad news as Swifts appeared to be strong enough to fight the imperfect conditions for our first double figure day of the year. The few birds that made it to the Bill included a new Redstart in the hut fields, a Garden Warbler at the Obs and a handful of Yellow Wagtails and Tree Pipits; elsehwhere, the best of the bunch were two Ring Ouzels at the Verne Moat and 180 Bar-tailed Godwits and a Greenshank at Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour. Of the 36 Wheatears present, our first potential breeder of the year was in song at the Bill. As the day wore on, the wind dropped to a gentle breeze making the evening sea watch much more pleasant. The evening watch saw the resumption of Bar-tailed Godwit passage with 250 past the Bill, as well as 19 Whimbrel and an Arctic Skua to add to the morning's duo of Pomarine Skuas

Bottomcombe is traditionally the first place on the island to see Small Blues emerge and, despite the recent temperatures, this year is no exception © Ken Dolbear:


As the evenings have got lighter, our recent garden colonists have become much more confiding © Steve Hunting

25th April

The unrelenting blasting easterly remained firmly established but, with a bit of searching or perseverance, there were migrants about or on the move and the day's tally eventually had some respectability about it. Wheatear was the most numerous passerine migrant by some margin on the ground, with more than 100 at the Bill alone; Willow Warbler aside, few other species made a double figure total but 7 Whinchats was a worthwhile tally at the Bill where lingering singles of Redstart and Pied Flycatcher were also still about. Downed waders included 78 Bar-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge. Visible passage was considerably more conspicuous, particuarly along West Cliffs where 13 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Hobbys and a Snipe were the best of it amongst the steady procession of Swifts, hirundines, Meadow Pipits and finches. The sea started very slowly before perking up in the late afternoon/evening, with final totals that included 140 Bar-tailed Godwits, 123 Manx Shearwaters, 5 Arctic Skuas, a Great Northern Diver and a Great Skua off the Bill and 214 Bar-tailed Godwits and 3 Arctic Skuas off Chesil; 3 Little Gulls also passed over at Ferrybridge.

The majority of Gannets as immature as this one remain way south so the odd ones that do venture northwards stand out like a sore thumb amongst the mainly adults and sub-adults in Portland waters at this time of year - this one was off Chesil and the Bill this morning © Pete Saunders:


Two of the Little Gulls over Ferrybridge this morning © Pete Saunders:


The waders on the move over Chesil later in the day were becoming increasing stratospheric as the evening wore on and we wouldn't mind betting we missed a fair few that were just too high to notice - Whimbrels, Bar-tailed Godwits & Grey Plovers and c110 Bar-tailed Godwits (with a couple of smaller waders - maybe Knot?) © Martin Cade



24th April

As the days of gusting easterlies have progressed, passage up the west side of the island has increased;  this came to a head today as watchers on the cliffs and at Chesil Cove were treated to some classic spring vis-mig oddities: highlights from Chesil were a Serin and Cuckoo in over the beach, while the West Cliffs saw an incoming Marsh Harrier and Hobby. Both sites had triple figures of Swallows and Sand Martins, as well as a trickle of Swifts and House Martins. Yellow Wagtails were conspicuous on both the land and overhead with 32 recorded across the island. Other passerine migrants were much thinner on the ground and were represented by singles of Pied Flycatcher and Redstart in the Obs garden and a Sedge Warbler along the clifftops.

The sea was eventful once again with the day's highlights two Pomarine Skuas, 17 Arctic Skuas and two Black-throated Divers. Waders continued to move in slightly smaller overall numbers but greater variety with both Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwits falling just short of 200; the Grey Plover tally included 14 at Chesil where 16 Redshanks was also a notable total. The evening watch witnessed another movement of Little Gulls with 20 through off Chesil.                                                                   

The few migrants that have managed to battle through the wind were skulking deep within the bushes © Steve Hunting:


The first Swifts of the year are always a welcome sight © Joe Stockwell:


The passage at Chesil Cove and Ferrybridge continued to be spectacular © Joe Stockwell (Grey Plover, wader flocks & Gannets) and © Pete Saunders (Greenshank):