31st March

For the most part a rather uneventful day salvaged only by a Glaucous Gull lingering offshore between Chesil and the Bill, and a Velvet Scoter through off the Bill. Grounded migrants were few and far between, whilst overhead passage was a little more conspicuous but entirely routine in its composition. The gull and scoter aside, the sea came up with 4 Arctic Skuas (3 off Chesil and a single off the Bill), a Yellow-legged Gull and a steady up-Channel movement of more than 300 Gannets

A mobile phone record shot of the Glaucous Gull bobbing around beside a fishing boat on the Shambles Bank this afternoon © Nick Stantiford:


Sea Eagles, Red Kites, Great Bustards, White Storks, Beavers...the litany of releases into the countryside gets longer by the year. Portland's alien chuck-out of choice has long been the gamebird, with any number of partridges and exotic pheasants liberated in tandem with successive releases of Common Pheasants - quite by whom and why has always been a mystery to us and, Common Pheasant aside, has been singularly unsuccessful if the point has been to establish feral populations of these curiosities. In fact, the evidence would suggest that for the individual birds release looks tantamount to a death sentence since few get seen for more than a day or two. Today's California Quail at Avalanche Road - a new species for the island alien list - looked great and sounded really interesting if nothing else but we don't rate its chances when Freddy Fox comes sniffing around tonight. © Mark Eggleton (stills) & Martin Cade (video)





30th March

Weather-wise, today lived up to expectations, even if those expectations for a clear blue sky and unbroken sunshine weren't what was required for a fall of migrants. The numbers were all overhead and, to a lesser extent, on the sea whilst the land was relatively barren, with no more than the lightest scatter of seasonable grounded migrants. Dawn had barely broken before visible passage got into full spring with a steady flow of Meadow Pipits and Linnets in particular arriving over the Bill: sample counts showed that each totalled well into four figures even if better accuracy wasn't possible on a day when the movement was occurring over a really broad front; the list of lower totals encompassed all that might have been expected - including the season's first Tree Pipit over Easton and Siskin over Chesil - although hirundines were conspicuously fewer than had been the case yesterday. The sea was well watched, with Chesil and the Bill returning similar-ish totals of up towards 200 Common Scoter, 50 Sandwich Terns and a dozen Red-throated Divers apiece; as usual, the variety at the two watchpoints was not at all similar: Chesil chipped in with 14 Teal, 9 Shoveler, 4 Shelducks and a Gadwall, whilst the Bill's contribution included 5 Little Gulls, 2 Gadwall, 2 Arctic Skuas, 2 commic terns, a Pintail and a Whimbrel

Two Red Admirals - the island's first since an isolated single in early February - were on the wing at the Bill.

Maybe a bit under-rated? - spring male White Wagtails are such crisp, smart looking birds © Martin Cade:




29th March

 A really nice early spring day with clement conditions and a hatful of movement afoot; in some ways it was also an odd day, with rich rewards numbers-wise in certain favoured spots whilst other areas were relatively quiet. Wheatear and Chiffchaff were very well represented, with some hundreds of both scattered about the island and clearly very actively on the move; Willow Warbler and Blackcap were both also numerous, with several Black Redstarts, 2 Redstarts and a Ring Ouzel amongst the quality unearthed on the ground. It was equally busy overhead, with a 35 minute sample count from West Cliffs during the afternoon of 87 Sand Martins, 51 Swallows and 44 Meadow Pipits being entirely representative of a strong passage that developed as the day went on; singles of Little Ringed Plover and Whimbrel over Chesil provided some quality overhead. Movement was a wee bit fitful on the sea but included 12 Red-throated Divers and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill and 2 Garganey and a Little Gull lingering off Chesil.

Chiffchaffs are still very much to the fore in the phyllosc stakes: the morning ringing session at the Obs saw them ahead of Willow Warbler by a 5:1 ratio © Nick Stantiford:

On a day when we were rather dispirited but hardly surprised to observe from our Twitter feed that an awful lot of folk's idea of having an interest in natural history involves hundreds of miles of criss-crossing southwest Britain between a Mockingbird, an American Herring Gull and a Walrus - all of which had been perfectly well documented by umpteen people before them - we were massively impressed (...and wholly gripped off since it involved an area that, more than half a lifetime ago, we used to watch on an almost daily basis) when we received word that Dave Chown had found a Desert Wheatear in an obscure backwater of Lodmoor. Apart from the fact that we nipped over to see it, you might wonder what connection this has with Portland but it wasn't lost on us that getting on for 30 years ago Dave's mindset was probably much the same as it was today when he headed over to Portland on a hunch that the weather conditions looked interesting and proceeded to stumble across Dorset's first Desert Wheatear at the Bill - a hit-rate of finding 50% of the county's Desert Wheatears, how good is that?! © Martin Cade:

28th March

With the wind whipping up to gale-force overnight, the morning was once again dedicated to the sea. The first two Arctic Skuas of the year were the highlight off the Bill with two Bonxies, 20 Red-throated Divers, 13 Manx Shearwaters and a Yellow-legged Gull as the supporting cast. Despite early signs on the land indicating a slow day for passage migrants (just four Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap were recorded in the Obs garden), things perked up later on with a Little Bunting in a private garden on the island, the first Ring Ouzel of the year passing through a private garden at Southwell, 15 Chiffchaffs and two Black Redstarts also aggregating in that area and encouraging signs further up the island including 18 Wheatears and four Sand Martins passing through Fancy's Farm.

The first Arctic Skua of the spring was a stunning dark-phase individual, surfing the wind past the Bill © Pete Saunders...


...whilst the season's first Ring Ouzel was an equally stunning male that pitched up briefly in a private garden at Southwell that also hosted one of two Black Redstarts in the area © Nick Stantiford:



The coup de gr√Ęs garden-wise, was dealt by another island resident who did really well to not only spot but also obtain record-photos of a very furtive Little Bunting that visited their garden today:


27th March

In a surprisingly buffeting westerly passerine migration remained at a very low ebb and even the sea couldn't salvage much in the way of respectability for the day. As a telling example of just how quiet it's become on the land not a single new bird was mist-netted at the Obs in several hours of trying during the morning, with the wider island only a little more rewarding: the 4 Black Redstarts and 3 Firecrests scattered about the south of the island were all long term lingerers, whilst new arrivals included low single figure totals of Wheatear, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler on the ground and a couple of single Swallows through overhead. Nine Red-throated Divers and a lone Sandwich Tern through off the Bill were as good as it got on the sea.

The lack of migrants at least allows close attention to be given to those that are about, amongst which they don't get much better looking than the fine male Wheatears © Geoff Orton:

26th March

As the wind picked up overnight, our attentions switched from hopes for land-based migrants to the sea. The onshore wind produced a constant stream of Kittiwakes totalling more than 600 (a welcome sight given their recent scarcity on our breeding cliffs). As the morning wore on, the first glimmers of Manx Shearwater migration emerged with 12 birds shearing the increasingly towering waves. A lone Bonxie, four Eiders, 12 Common Scoter and 12 Red-throated Divers managed to sneak through before the large rain-fueled weather front came through in the mid-morning. Once the rain had passed, feeding flocks of gulls and terns appeared off both the Bill and Chesil featuring a selection of Mediterranean, Common and a single Little Gull with three Sandwich Terns off the Bill and 15 Little Gulls off Chesil. The land was under watched so two Wheatears and a single Black Redstart were all that we could muster. 

The sea was definitely the focus today, especially for those brave enough to weather the conditions at the Bill tip... © Debby Saunders (Eiders, Kittiwakes, Common Scoter and Wheatear) © Pete Saunders (Bonxie):





25th March

The beginnings of a break down in the weather saw several bands of showers pass through and, aside from a small arrival of Wheatears on the land and another pulse of Red-throated Divers on the sea, migrants were in short supply. Wheatears totalled 20 at the Bill - the first double figure arrival of the season there - but other passerines were few and far between, with 5 Black Redstarts and 2 Firecrests at the Bill all lingerers rather than new arrivals. A total of 39 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill represented a good return from the sea but, as on the land, there was little else of note on the move: steady passages of Gannets, Kittiwakes and Common Gulls kept interest going but 4 Eider were the only other noteworthy migrants.

24th March

Thoughts that yesterday's upturn in sea passage would prove to be the precursor to a stronger pulse of movement today proved to be well wide of the mark, with no more than a dribble of routine early season offerings off both the Bill and Chesil; 20 Red-throated Divers passing the former was a worthwhile total, but the back-ups consisted of little more than 2 Sandwich Terns and singles of Manx Shearwater and Great Skua, with a Yellow-legged Gull amongst lower totals of a similar selection off Chesil. The land fared no better, with the dreary skies of dawn dropping little more than a handful of phylloscs and 3 Wheatears at the Bill/Southwell; 4 Black Redstarts, 2 Firecrests and a Merlin were also lingering there, with another 3 Black Redstarts on offer at Reap Lane.

Two of the four Black Redstarts at Southwell © Pete Saunders:


The arriving Chiffchaffs are finding provisioning themselves a lot easier now that Alexanders are coming into flower and attracting plenty of bugs © Pete Saunders:

23rd March

A welcome little taster of what'll hopefully come our way by way of sea passage in the next few weeks provided today's principal interest. Passage was never heavy but with a freshening onshore breeze looked to be taking place whenever the sea was checked throughout the day, with totals at the Bill that included 102 Common Scoter, 34 Common Gulls, 32 Red-throated Divers, 11 Little Gulls, 8 Teal, 6 Wigeon, 3 Mediterranean Gulls, 2 Shoveler, 2 Canada Geese and singles of Manx Shearwater, Sandwich Tern and Puffin. Beyond a surprise 4 new Firecrests at Culverwell (there was also another lingerer at the Obs) passerines were only very thinly spread: 5 Black Redstarts were also at the Bill, where Chiffchaffs only just scraped into double figures, Wheatears numbered a still measly 6 and a single Swallow passed through overhead. A Merlin at Reap Lane was the only report of note from the land.

A few new Black Redstarts have been popping up in recent days: there were five at the Bill today of which only one was a winterer - this was one of three on the East Cliffs up towards Southwell © Pete Saunders:
 

This escaped falcon wearing jesses and a bell was first seen along West Cliffs yesterday afternoon and was knocking around at the Bill for a while this morning; it seems to most resemble a Lanner but has some anomalous features so we're guessing it's a hybrid of some sort © Martin Cade:




22nd March

The flurry of incoming migrants in the early dawn was swiftly ended by the clearing of the skies shortly after sunrise. The first few patrols of the Bill revealed a flurry of 100 or so Chiffchaffs and the first Willow Warbler for the Obs for the year. The Phylloscs quickly filtered away off the island - 55 Chiffchaffs were counted soon afterwards at Portland Castle - leaving crystal clear blue skies and just a handful of Goldcrests and Firecrests lingering at the Bill. The sea produced little of note, but a steady trickle of Red-throated Divers and Common Scoters were enough to keep us watching for most of the morning. 

The first Small White of the year was on the wing at the Bill.

There is nothing more thrilling than seeing migrants coming in off the sea and settling in places not necessarily associated with them. Yesterday the East Cliff quarries were hopping with freshly arrived Chiffchaffs © Erin Taylor:


Wheatear numbers remain really low: this was one of just four at the Bill today where there hasn't yet been anything approaching a double figure total this spring © Geoff Orton:

21st March

A lovely still and overcast dawn looked to have plenty of migrant promise and straight away delivered a good pulse of Redwings arriving in from the south: 160, along with 13 attendant Fieldfares, passed over the Bill with counts of several dozen at other sites throughout the island. Grounded arrivals took a little longer to materialise but duly around 100 Chiffchaffs, together with 15 Blackcaps and singles of Woodcock, Goldcrest, Firecrest and Bullfinch, showed up at the Bill and a similar selection in lower numbers were logged elsewhere. After the early rush visible passage largely fizzled out save for a steady trickle of alba wagtails that included 4 confirmed Whites. Seven Red-throated Divers and 4 Shoveler passing the Bill provided the best of the sea interest.

20th March

Better variety today even if numbers - at least, Meadow Pipits aside - were nothing to shout about. The cloud cover that had rolled in by dawn maybe came a little too late to drop migrants in quantity, with 30 Chiffchaffs at the Bill and double figure totals at several other sites making up the bulk of what was grounded; Wheatear was the again the poor relation, with no more than 10 in total from the whole island, whilst ones and twos of other grounded arrival included a couple of Fieldfares. With clear skies on the other side of the Channel Meadow Pipits arrived strongly as the morning wore on, with some hundreds through over the Bill; a Short-eared Owl also arrived over the Bill, with a Bullfinch over Ferrybridge another decent vismig sighting. Sea passage was varied rather than heavy, with 7 Red-throated Divers, 2 Gadwall and singles of Black-throated and Great Northern Diver, Red-breasted Merganser and Great Skua through off the Bill. Other odds and ends of note included the Merlin still at the Bill and a Great Spotted Woodpecker there that turned out once it was mist-netted to be a youngster originally ringed there last autumn.

19th March

Despite the forecast for similar conditions to those that precipitated yesterdays fall, today dawned with clearer skies resulting in a much quieter day for birds. Highlights on the passerine front included singles of Firecrest at both Culverwell and Southwell, a Bullfinch at the Obs and two Black Redstarts along the East Cliffs. Rails once again dominated the non-passerine highlights with the lingering Moorhen in Culverwell and a Water Rail in the garden. In a reminder that we're still in March, the Merlin that has overwintered on the island put in another show, as well as the lingering five Purple Sandpipers.


18th March

Seemingly propitious fall conditions - a heavy cloud cover and a light offshore breeze - delivered the first good arrival of the spring although such was the speed with which the migrants touched down and then moved straight off that it necessitated an early start to fully appreciate just how many had made landfall. Chiffchaffs made up the bulk of the numbers on the ground, with 300 through at the Bill and a good spread elsewhere; amongst the also-rans, 23 Redwings and 10 Blackbirds pitched in briefly at the Bill, whilst the tally of oddities around the south of the island included 5 White Wagtails, 3 new Black Redstarts, 3 Firecrests, a Merlin, a Fieldfare and a Corn Bunting. If there was a loser in the numbers stakes it was most certainly Wheatear: a grand total of just one was all that could be found at the Bill where many dozens might have been expected given the prevailing conditions; no more than half a dozen were reported throughout the rest of the island. As the morning went on Meadow Pipits in particular were arriving in off the sea in quantity but coverage of visible passage was patchy at best and no meaningful totals been received thus far; a curiosity amongst the other visible migrants were another 9 Ravens arriving from the south at the Bill - the third such event so far this spring.

17th March

Passage gathered a bit of momentum today with a good spread of grounded Chiffchaffs and a strong movement of Meadow Pipits providing the sort of numbers that had begun to seem a little overdue and will hopefully become routine in the next few weeks. The Chiffchaff tally included 50 at the Bill and 10 at Portland Castle, whilst regular sample counts put the Meadow Pipit passage at around the 500 mark through the morning; variety on the ground included 17 Redwings, 2 White Wagtails, a Blackcap and a Firecrest, whilst a handful of Sand Martins enlivened the flow of pipits and wagtails overhead. A scatter of 3 Black Redstarts and a Merlin as likely involved winterers as new arrivals, with the singles of Moorhen and Water Rail at the Bill also involving apparent off-passage lingerers. Common Gulls continued to trickle westwards and an Iceland Gull headed north off West Cliffs but the sea was otherwise rather slow.

Water Rails are a less than annual catch in the Obs mist-nets so one today was a nice surprise. Ringing evidence has shown us that even relatively insignificant boggy patches or ponds such as those at Culverwell and the Obs garden have hosted the same individuals in successive winters; today's bird was unringed and seems more likely to have been a migrant rather an overlooked winterer © Martin Cade/Erin Taylor:


We had another surprise in the mist-nets today when this ringed Chiffchaff turned up. The ring number seemed somehow familiar and on further investigation it turned out that the bird had been originally ringed here exactly four years ago on 17th March 2017. We do have the occasional pair of Chiffchaffs attempt to breed at the Bill but this individual had never been recaught until today so seems pretty certain to be a passing migrant rather than an incoming breeder. Here at Portland the recapture of a migrant in a subsequent year is a really unusual event - it's only happened ten or so times in more than sixty years! © Martin Cade:

16th March

Last night's Obs nocmig recording brought into sharp focus just how frustrating migration watching can be: with 108 Redwings calls logged at a steady rate between  mid-evening and dawn (including plenty still passing even as the dawn chorus had got into full swing) there might have been the expectation of a small arrival of birds at dawn but, sadly, literally not a single Redwing and not really a great deal else had made landfall. Grounded migrants that did make the log included 5 Chiffchaffs and a Goldcrest, whilst visible passage was a little more conspicuous and included 70 Meadow Pipits, 30 Linnets, 15 alba wagtails, 4 Great Tits, 4 Carrion Crows, a Sand Martin and a White Wagtail over the Bill and a Sparrowhawk over Portland Harbour. Gull passage was still ongoing and included 145 Common Gulls through off the Bill; another 7 Red-throated Divers also passed by there.

Common Gull passage has been conspicuous in recent days: movement has been most obvious at the Bill but no doubt many of the birds settled at Ferrybridge are also migrants taking a break © Pete Saunders:


Sadly, the settled gulls at Ferrybridge have not yet included the Laughing Gull that was at Lodmoor again today © Pete Saunders:

15th March

Gradually improving weather conditions were welcome but came too late to save the day migrant-wise, with little more than 5 Chiffchaffs, a White Wagtail and a Wheatear grounded at the Bill where a handful of Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails were arriving overhead. There was more movement at sea, with 205 Common Gulls, 57 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 7 Red-throated Divers and 4 Mediterranean Gulls through off the Bill. Long terms lingerers included singles of Merlin, Moorhen and Black Redstart at the Bill.

14th March

A gradual improvement in the weather saw the strength of the wind finally begin to drop just a little, with a surprise Snow Bunting at Ferrybridge the pick of the day's discoveries. A Swallow through at Southwell and a Sandwich Tern settled at Ferrybridge - both first sightings of the spring - were hopefully a taster for what really ought to be a more conspicuous arrival of migrants in the coming days than what's been on offer in the last week or so; as an example of the current meagre fare, a single Chiffchaff at the Bill was today's only other grounded arrival! Portland Harbour provided something of a step back into winter, with 3 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Great Northern Divers and singles of Black-throated Diver, Red-necked Grebe, Slavonian Grebe and Common Scoter amongst the waterfowl selection revealed during the WEBS count. Other odds and ends making the list included 2 migrant Carrion Crows in off the sea at the Bill and 2 Purple Sandpipers and a Black Redstart still about on the land there.

Snow Buntings have become really infrequent visitors to the island in their formerly more regular autumn season, whilst spring records have always been far less than annual © Joe Stockwell...


...and a little bit of context © Martin Cade:

13th March

A howlingly windy day that saw sea spray flinging up over the West Cliffs was perhaps an unexpected day for another Wheatear to appear on the Bill Common and a Willow Warbler in Southwell, only the second bird-day of the year for both species. Even the sea proved slow watching with just a handful of the usual suspects: six Red-throated Divers and two Common Scoters. The harbour numbers have dwindled but three Black-necked Grebes and a Great Northern Diver remain. 

It is remarkable to think that a bird that weighs about the same as your average light bulb can arrive in weather that would trouble a large fishing vessel © Erin Taylor:

And finally, a bit of entertainment from Weymouth. Having spent far too long in our younger years looking at gulls in the area we're always keen to get amongst whatever oddities in that line turn up these days, with a particular desire being trying to get to grips with them in the Weymouth Bay gull roost. We were first introduced to the roost by David Fisher way back in the mid-1970s; in that era it was an at times dauntingly enormous roost that topped out at 25-30000 birds, amongst which the challenge was to find the tiny handful of Mediterranean Gulls present - how times have changed! We'd never seen a Laughing Gull in the roost so have spent the last three evenings grossing out on the individual first seen mid-week at Abbotsbury that's presumbly now feeding inland and flighting in to the Bay at the end of the day. On Thursday evening Brett Spencer did really well to spot it in a very distant part of the roost in semi-darkness but it afforded the sort of views that would have been utterly inconclusive were it not for the knowledge that there was a Laughing Gull around. Yesterday and again this evening it was altogether more satisfactory - the more so for each time being able to find it rather than having it pointed out. We've been particularly fascinated to see what a right little chameleon it is - changing from being fantastically striking in overcast light to being surprisingly easy to pass over if the sun's out. This little compilation of massively zoomed video clips of it at huge range gives a flavour: in the first it's completely overcast, the sun's out in the next series and in the last sequence the sun's set but it's still relatively cloudless overhead © Martin Cade:

12th March

With the day's squally showers holding off until nearly teatime - although they did come thick and fast after that - it was only the stiff westerly wind that got in the way of half-decent conditions today. A briefly seen but very convincingly described Long-tailed Skua off Chesil would have been a major surprise for the time of year were it not for the reports of others turning up in far-flung parts of the country - the explanation for quite how a multiple arrival of them reached these shores will make for interesting reading. An Iceland Gull also passed by off Chesil but the day's other reports consisted of just 4 Red-throated Divers and a handful of Lesser Black-back and Common Gulls passing through off the Bill, the 2 Eider still settled offshore, the Merlin still lingering and a light trickle of Meadow Pipits arriving in off the sea through the morning.

This rather fine male Sparrowhawk has been a regular visitor to gardens at Southwell for several years © Pete Saunders:

11th March

Yesterday's change in the weather reached a crescendo with a really wild, window-rattling night and a day of frequent torrential hail and rain squalls. Despite the conditions there were a few birds on the move: a trickle of incoming Meadow Pipits that must have been very grateful to have made landfall if they'd encountered any of the downpours out to sea, whilst offshore 17 Brent Geese, 2 Red-throated Divers and a trickle of Common and Lesser Black-backed Gulls battled past; another 150 Brent Geese left to the east from Ferrybridge.

10th March

A profound weather upheaval saw wind, rain and reduced visibility the order of the day. The day's only sighting of note came from the briefest of clearances when a Manx Shearwater could just about be made out as it passed the Bill.

9th March

In line with the recent government announcement concerning the Roadmap out of lockdown we're pleased to announce that our self-contained Cottage will reopen for overnight stays from Monday 12th April, and our Lighthouse and Annexe accommodation will reopen on Monday 21st June. Do please note that these dates are the earliest possible that we're currently permitted to reopen and they may change in the light of further government announcements.

Our car-park and toilet facilities in the Annexe will be open throughout the spring but, in order to comply with continuing restrictions on indoor gatherings, the lounge and other facilities within the Lighthouse must remain strictly out of bounds to all visitors until 21st June. May we also remind visitors to the patio to please continue to adhere to social distancing guidelines still in place.

With unrestricted indoor gatherings possible after 21st June we plan to hold this year's AGM as a physical meeting at PBO at 4pm on Saturday 3rd July.


Clear, warm and sunny: it was an ideal day for continuing prepping the garden for the oncoming season if not to expect much in the way of fresh migrants - in fact the only obviously new arrivals on the ground at the Bill were a handful of Chiffchaffs and a lone Goldcrest; the long, long staying Merlin and Black Redstart were also still there. Overhead passage was sadly lacking, save for a small arrival of corvids in from the south. The sea was quiet with just the loitering two Eiders and seven passing Red-throated Divers

Leucism in the Portland Carrion Crows seems to present most commonly as striking wing panels © Pete Saunders

8th March

Two little morsels of migrant interest in the form of singles of Firecrest and Bullfinch - both firsts for the season and both very typical of a lovely still and clear early spring morning - saved the day at the Bill where a lone Chiffchaff was the only other new arrival worth a mention. The Merlin was still knocking about there, with 31 Common Scoter and 2 Eider still settled offshore and 2 Red-throated Divers through on the sea. A Black Redstart at Portland Castle was the only other report worth a mention.

The Bill Merlin © Pete Saunders:


Large Tortoiseshells continue to show on the warmer days - this one was at Church Ope Cove today © Martin Adlam Port and Wey:


Sad to relate, as far as we know today's Firecrest was the first one seen on the island this year. We've never been any the wiser as to what it was that triggered the extraordinary and record-breaking fall of 150 Firecrests on 15th October 2017 but that event seems to have begun an inexorable decline that's seen the species reach getting on for semi-scarcity status at Portland, culminating in last year's Bill bird-day total and Obs ringing tally both being among the lowest ever and this winter's complete absence being, as far as we can remember, pretty well unprecedented © Martin Cade/Erin Taylor:


And to finish with a bit of interest from over the water in Weymouth. It's Bittern departing season so we took a punt on nipping over to Lodmoor at dusk to see if there was any action on that front; what transpired wasn't a visual spectacle since by the time one became audible overhead it had got so dark that we couldn't even see the bird but that didn't detract in any way from the event:

7th March

Very migrant-unfriendly conditions today, with a sharp frost following the crystal clear night and fair weather for the bulk of the day. Four Chiffchaffs were about all that could be mustered by way of conventional fare at the Bill where the two surprises came in the form of singles of Water Rail and Moorhen; 6 Long-tailed Tits there were presumably local strays, with the overwintering Merlin and Black Redstart also both putting in appearances. Offshore, the 2 Eider were still on station and 17 Common Scoter and 10 Red-throated Divers passed by. Elsewhere, a total of 12 Ravens in two flocks heading north over Blacknor seemed unlikely to be local birds.

This is the season and the conditions for Long-tailed Tits to get moving around the island; this one was at Southwell yesterday, but two flocks have got right out as far as the Obs in recent days © Debby Saunders:

6th March

Today's blue skies and crisp wind saw little movement on the ground, but overhead passage perked up and there was just a hint of the beginnings of some spring wildfowl passage. A trickle of Meadow Pipits heading up the West Cliffs were joined by a White Wagtail and a few unspecified alba wagtails. The sea was busier with what was presumably the Weymouth Iceland Gull following a fishing boat along East Cliffs, the 2 Eiders still offshore and 3 Shoveler, 77 Common Scoter and 3 Red-throated Divers passing through. Land-based interest was limited to the lingering winter birds with the now local Merlin around the Bill and a Black Redstart there.

5th March

A drop in temperature overnight meant a return to wintry, brisk conditions. The north-easterly wind brought a stark reminder that, despite yesterdays flurry of early migrants, it's not spring yet. Sightings at the Bill consisted of two Common Scoter and a single Red-throated Diver on the sea, whilst the land was reduced to a smattering of Chiffchaffs in the only warm spot on the island (the dung piles in the Top Fields) and a new Black Redstart at Reap Lane. Lingering over-winterers included five Purple Sandpipers first at Chesil Cove and later at the Bill, and a roaming flock of seven Long-tailed Tits in the Obs garden. 

Made for the cold... the Bill Purple Sandpipers © Geoff Orton:


4th March

No gripes from anyone today - just some mild perplexment that a repeat of conditions that produced next to nothing yesterday should today come up with a really nice little first fall of the spring. Chiffchaffs made up the bulk of the numbers and were noticeably moving straight through everywhere, with sample totals of at least 41 at Portland Castle and 30 at the Bill; also new were 3 Wheatears at the Bill, a handful of Goldcrests both there and at Portland Castle, a Willow Warbler at Portland Castle, a presumed migrant Blackcap at the Bill and 4 Wigeon and 3 Shovelers at Ferrybridge. In pleasantly quiet conditions quite a few winterers also popped up including Black Redstarts at the Bill, Blacknor and Portland Castle, and 6 Purple Sandpipers and the Merlin at the Bill. Although the arrival of the wildfowl at Ferrybridge suggested there might have been some sea movement afoot the only reports from the Bill were of 5 Eider and 2 Red-throated Divers passing by.

We had a fair bit of catching up to do but today's little migrant medley got us right back up to speed; Wheatear © Sarah Hodgson...


...Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and Wigeon & Shoveler © Debby Saunders:




And a couple of the winterers were showing nicely; Black Redstart © Pete Saunders...


...and Merlin © Geoff Orton:

3rd March

What do we know about migration? - not a lot on the evidence of today's happenings. After a murky and at times drizzly night we were expecting a nice little flurry of the likes of Redwings and 'crests, with maybe the odd few summer migrants thrown in for good measure. A rapid listen through the night's nocmig recording as dawn broke soon put us straight on that delusion as literally not a single passerine had been recorded over the Obs and it wasn't long before the virtual absence of new arrivals was confirmed both by sight and in the nets. Eventually, single Chiffchaffs - the first of the season - showed up at Reap Lane and the Obs, whilst the nets provided some evidence of a handful of under the radar arrivals like Robins having snuck in, but overall the migrant situation was pretty dreadful. The only other report of any note was of 2 Red-breasted Mergansers through off the Bill.

Our day will eventually come but, thus far, summer migrants have given Portland a wide berth so it was nice to at last see a new Chiffchaff busying itself around the Obs garden © Martin Cade:

2nd March

Very little to report again today, with most would-be fieldworkers put off by the positively icy northeasterly still blowing strongly at dawn. A Shoveler in Portland Harbour was easily the bird of the day with a Merlin at the Bill the only other sighting worth a mention.

1st March

In the face a keen and really chilly northeasterly and under a drab sky most recognisable forms of enthusiasm dwindled away in an instant at dawn. After a few hours - and on the cusp of brighter skies materialising - a tiny trickle of incoming Meadow Pipits did develop with a few alba wagtails tagging along; a few dozen pipits were logged from a distance but it looked likely that a concerted watch on West Cliffs would have been rewarded with the first three figure passage of the spring. It otherwise looked to be very quiet everywhere with a Black Redstart at the Bill and a Red-throated Diver passing by offshore all that could be mustered.

We remarked a while ago on the relative paucity of young Mediterranean Gulls this winter and the same comment could be applied to Black-headed Gulls, with last year's youngsters making up a considerably smaller proportion than usual of the winter numbers at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:


This Blackcap in a Southwell garden today was the first seen at that particular spot since December but, in the light of a little experience we had last week, we'd caution against taking that as believing it might be a new arrival: with a lot of other indoor and outdoor jobs to get on with at the Obs this winter we'd not even made a ringing attempt there between 8th December and the tail end of last week when one of the first birds trapped turned out to be a Blackcap that had been first ringed on 23rd October and was retrapped once more in late November; we've had the feeders stocked all winter, there have been apples skewered to the bushes throughout but never once have we seen this bird visiting the provisions provided nor had we any suspicion of it being around during the nigh on three months when there were no sightings of it! © Nick Stantiford:

We get the impression that Adders are much scarcer these days than they were a few decades ago but they can still be found in a few favoured spots - this one was making the most of the warm sunshine on Saturday © Andy Mitchell: