16th April

The cool airflow and crystal clear skies that have become the rule in recent weeks remained firmly established and put the block on routine migration, with numbers much reduced from the highs earlier in the week, The Wryneck lingered on at the Obs Quarry and several Ring Ouzels remained on station at Barleycrates Lane but the spring's first fly-by Serin provided the only new quality at the Bill. Given the conditions, visible passage was disappointingly pedestrian, whilst what few new commoner migrants that were about on the ground included nothing better than the odd single Whinchat, Redstart and White Wagtail here and there, along with the first Goldcrest for a few days. Sea passage was a similar almost non-event salvaged only by 9 Red-throated Divers, 2 Eider and a Black-throated Diver through off the Bill.

Whimbrel © Debby Saunders and Wheatear © Pete Saunders at Ferrybridge this morning:



This day-flying bat was of note at Southwell © Pete Saunders:

15th April

With the northerly wind picking up overnight, the morning brought with it a distinct chill and a noticeable reduction in migrants. We can't complain too much however: the Wryneck remained in the Obs Quarry switching between utterly furtive and surprisingly obliging; the early morning saw a Ring Ouzel pass by the Obs Garden, whilst the middle of the island continued its 'chat-fest' with three Whinchats, and singles of Black and Common Redstart, along with at least four more Ouzels. Four Whimbrel were amongst the few waders at Ferrybridge. Overhead passage was limited but included seven Yellow Wagtails. Sea passage never really gained much momentum, with two Arctic Skuas, a Gadwall and a Great Skua through off Chesil and two different Arctic Skuas and likely the same Great Skua off the Bill.

The Barleycrates Ring Ouzels have shown wonderfully for two weeks now © Debby Saunders:


There's nothing like the laughter of Whimbrels to remind you of a good spring morning © Debby Saunders


Our resident Merlin continues to entertain © Pete Saunders:

14th April

Today saw a repeat of yesterday's migrant bonanza with the welcome bonus of a little more variety that included a Wryneck in the Obs Quarry. Willow Warblers again far outnumbered everything else, totalling a good 400 at the Bill; Wheatears came a strong second with perhaps 200 scattered through a wider area of the south of the island where 6 Whinchats, 5 Redstarts, 3 Black Redstarts, 2 Common Sandpipers, 2 Yellow Wagtails and singles of Merlin, Tree Pipit and Ring Ouzel featured amongst the list fillers; a good selection of under the radar newcomers including several Song Thrushes, Dunnocks and Great Tits were also of note. Sea passage was for the most part pretty light: one or two white-winged gulls offshore between the Bill and Blacknor variously reported as Glaucous, Iceland or leucistic Herring from different viewpoints remain unidentified pending review of as yet unseen photographs; the season's first Little Tern passed over at Chesil but movement there and off the Bill included little more than a trickle of Common Scoter, Red-throated Divers, Whimbrel and a single Arctic Skua.

The first Orange-tip of the year was on the wing at the Bill.

A finder's record of the Wryneck © Roger Hewitt...


...and a bit of video © Martin Cade:


 You can never tire of spring Whinchats © Pete Saunders:

13th April

A ground frost and clear blue skies - the perfect conditions for a fall you say? Well perhaps not the most orthodox of conditions but birds never seem to do exactly what we expect. The slackening of the wind this morning lead to a flurry of movement at dawn with over 400 Willow Warblers passing through the Bill area, frequently bursting into song and fly-catching from every bush and branch. It was a reasonably short-lived fall in the Obs garden but it accompanied the first real wave of Wheatears with 111 around the Bill. Other passerine migrants were thin on the ground with singles of Garden Warbler, Redstart and House Martin the pick of the bunch. Watchers of the sea witnessed the first signs of Bar-tailed Godwit passage amounting to 75 through the morning, joined by five Whimbrel and a lone Arctic Skua. 

Elsewhere on the island, the first Sedge Warbler of the year was at Southwell School, while just two of the three Ring Ouzels remained at Barleycrates Lane with two Garden Warblers and 25 more Wheatears. Portland Castle was harbouring singles of male Pied Flycatcher and Redstart

The past week has seen a vast array of skies from gloomy grey to startling blue...© Erin Taylor:





12th April

A continuation of yesterday's unsettled weather resulted in a very similar day list, with the exception of a couple of classic spring waders: a Whimbrel at the Bill and a Common Sandpiper along the East Cliffs. Blackcaps continued to dominate on the passerine front, while a new Merlin, an immature male, was fresh in off the sea. The strong breeze brought with it a little more variety on the sea with an increased passage of Kittiwakes, Common Gulls and Sandwich Terns. As the rain finally descended (we can't avoid it all the time) it pushed down the high-flying Lesser Black-backed Gulls down to a viewable level, an often overlooked phenomenon. Elsewhere on the island, the three Ring Ouzels continued their stint at Barleycrates Lane, together with a smattering of Wheatears, Blackcaps and a single Whitethroat

11th April

An entirely unpredictable day saw sun, rain, snow and cloud descend in turns upon the island - always with the accompaniment of a chilly breeze. There was a noticeable increase in Blackcap numbers with over 50 across the island, whilst a Redstart appeared at Portland Castle and the three Ring Ouzels and lone Merlin continued their respective long stays. Overhead remained relatively quiet with just two Yellow Wagtails and a Siskin being bested by an afternoon Osprey. The sea was quiet and calm with just a Great Skua, four Manx Shearwaters and a handful of Common Scoter of note. 

The Portland Castle Redstart and the Bill Merlin © Pete Saunders:



10th April

Going to bed last night our heads were filled with the prospects of gentle northerlies and potential drizzle at dawn, and we were anticipating maybe the biggest fall of the year - of course what we hadn't counted on was the enormous bank of rain blocking the entirety of northern France. So it was a slightly disheartened search around the Bill for those few migrants who had made the Channel crossing before the weather system hit. As a result, new passerine migrants were thin on the ground with a smattering of the usual trinity of Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, plus a couple of Redstarts; the three long-staying Ring Ouzels also remained on station at Barleycrates Lane. Another Osprey, this one over Easton during the afternoon, provided the only interest overhead. The sea watching started well with 80 Common Scoter, nine Sandwich Terns, four Red-throated Divers and three Whimbrel before the Channel seemingly became impassible to them as well; another Whimbrel was the pick of a few waders at Ferrybridge. 

9th April

A similar start to yesterday with areas of the garden erupting into Willow Warbler song and furtive Blackcaps scrambling between Blackthorn bushes. The Bill area also saw the lingering singing Black Redstart and two high-flying Tree Pipits among others. However, it was Barleycrates Lane that provided the quality with the first Grasshopper Warbler and Garden Warbler of the year, the remaining three Ring Ouzels plus a supporting cast of Yellow Wagtail, Redstart and Common Whitethroat. Elsewhere, a total of 11 Buzzards over Easton represented a year peak and surely involved a good few non-local individuals. With the wind dropping down to a gentle, if chilling, breeze it was inevitable that the sea would be quieter with the beginnings of Pale-bellied Brent Goose movement - 16 through off the Bill - the best of the bunch along with: 140 Common Scoter, 22 Red-throated Divers, two Manx Shearwaters and a lone Puffin of note. The evening sea-watch provided an extra bit of excitement with an Osprey coming in low off the sea before reaching the cliffs and heading up high towards the mainland.

A stunning male Redstart at Southwell © Nick Stantiford

 The resident Southwell Long-tailed Tits have been feeding furiously in the gardens - surely there must be a breeding attempt close-by which would constitute our most southerly record © Nick Stantiford:


The Osprey was a very late in the day arrival that was watched powering in from the south inches off the sea before attracting the attention of the local gulls that forced it higher off West Cliffs © Martin Cade:

8th April

A return to form today with slightly milder conditions coming up some numbers on both land and sea. Variety was far off what can or even ought be on the cards by this stage of the spring but after a barren spell an arrival  that included 100 Willow Warbler at the Bill was very welcome; Swallows were also arriving in half decent numbers, whilst odds and ends of scarcer fare dotted about the island included 2 Ring Ouzels, 2 Pied Flycatchers and singles of Merlin, Yellow Wagtail, Black Redstart and Reed Bunting. The sea also fell short variety-wise but some steady passage routine passage included c800 Gannets, 229 Common Scoter, 20 Red-throated Divers, 27 Sandwich Terns and an Arctic Skua

The Pied Flycatcher at Portland Castle was an interesting individual: Debby's nice settled portrait shows a pretty standard-looking first-summer male...


...but Pete's flight photos reveal the true extent of the white across the primary bases that clearly extends out to primary 4, with even a ghosting of white on primary 3  (...it's rather clearer on the higher resolution photos we have in front of us than on these downsized versions). There doesn't look to be anything else untoward about the bird's plumage to suggest it's anything other than 'just' a Pied Flycatcher with an exceptional extent of white in this area © Debby and Pete Saunders.



7th April

In the absence of any upturn in common migrant numbers the 3 Ring Ouzels at Barleycrates Lane, the Black Redstart at Culverwell and the Merlin at the Bill again provided the best of the day's entertainment. Low single figure totals of Swallow, Wheatear, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler provided a less than compelling migration spectacle at the Bill , where 11 more Red-throated Divers passed by on the sea.

Two Blossom Underwings from the Obs garden moth-traps provided some unexpected evidence of moth dispersal.

The fact that the Barleycrtes Ring Ouzels have lingered for six days provides evidence enough that migration has pretty well ground to a halt for the time being © Pete Saunders:


Sandwich Terns haven't been moving in great quantity but low numbers of them are now a constant fixture at Ferrybridge and Portland Harbour © Pete Saunders:


With frost on the ground at dawn, moth dispersal was far from our thoughts so these two Blossom Underwings - the first recorded here for seven years - were a welcome catch at the Obs © Martin Cade:

6th April

Might we have expected a bit more out of today's chilly blast from the north? Maybe, since we've witnessed many a blistering fall from conditions akin to this in the past but perhaps it's just a tad too early in the season and there still isn't the momentum to migration to have brought enough birds into our vicinity. Whatever the whys and wherefores, today certainly didn't come up with the goods and both grounded arrivals and visible migrants were in really short supply: the 3 long-staying Ring Ouzels remained at Barleycrates Lane, the equally long-staying Black Redstart lingered on at Culverwell and the Merlin that's been around so many months that we can barely remember as far back as when it first arrived was still at the Bill, but there was precious little worth a mention amongst the single figure totals of newcomers. The stiff offshore blow was no doubt propitious for anyone fortunate enough to be peering out from a northern French headland but was an ill wind for our seawatchers, with just 2 Red-throated Divers logged off the Bill.

The Black Redstart at Culverwell © Geoff Orton:


...this cairii morph male seems to be holding a territory around one of the paddocks and was worth a visit just to hear it singing - a rare event at Portland © Martin Cade:

5th April

The migration tap's been barely more than dripping for a fortnight or more and today's chilly northwesterlies - that it had been hoped might drop improved numbers on the coast - failed to deliver much of an improvement. There were more new arrivals about but the numbers were far from a big deal for Portland in early April, with Willow Warbler just topping 50 at the Bill where they outnumbered Chiffchaffs for the first time this spring. Blackcap and Chiffchaff both chipped in lower totals, whilst the 25 Wheatears marked a small improvement in their fortunes; the 3 lingering Ring Ouzel at Barelycrates Lane provided by far the best of the quality. Swallows continued to trickle through overhead, whilst Red-throated Divers continued to dominate offshore with 34 more through off the Bill.

The Ring Ouzels have enabled a fair few visitors to salvage something from their first visit to the island this year © Pete Saunders:


The possibly ailing Brent Goose is still lingering on at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:


These Turnstones over Ferrybridge had all the look of passing migrants even if there's precious little other evidence of waders getting moving © Pete Saunders:

4th April

Precious little by way of new arrivals to report today, with the season's first Whitethroat the best of the day's discoveries at the Bill where Swallows did get going in some numbers through the middle of day but grounded migrants were again relatively few and far between; elsewhere, 2 Ring Ouzels, a Yellow Wagtail and a Redstart continued to entertain at Barleycrates Lane. Red-throated Divers again provided the bulk of the interest on the sea, with 19 more through off the Bill where 41 Common Scoter, 7 Sandwich Terns and a Great Skua also passed by.

3rd April

Quite a shocker today with heavy cloud cover extending across the Channel seemingly stopping migration dead, with precious few new arrivals on the ground and, even once the cloud cleared during the afternoon, visible passage reduced to the tiniest trickle. Three Ring Ouzels remained at Barleycrates Lane and a Merlin was again at the Bill but newcomers consisted of no more than low single figures totals of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. The sky of all but bereft of visible migrants, with a total of fewer than 10 hirundines logged all day! The fresh breeze was still too far round in an offshore direction to perk up sea passage, with 11 Red-throated Divers and 3 Sandwich Terns the best that could be managed at the Bill.

An image that perfectly conjures up a time and a place: a migrant Willow Warbler amongst blackthorn blossom on an April morning at Portland © Mark Eggleton


Also from yesterday, an image that shouldn't be conjuring up any thoughts of Portland: this is the escaped Mulga Parrot - ordinarily a native of Australia - that's been doing the rounds of the Weston area for a few days © Mark Eggleton:


2nd April

A chill wind didn't do much for numbers but some quality more than salvaged the day, with a Red-rumped Swallow lingering for a while over Barleycrates Lane/Weston Street the stand-out highlight. The same area was favoured for scarce migrants, hosting at least 3 Ring Ouzels, 2 Black Redstarts and 2 Redstarts; elsewhere, a Firecrest at the Bill, a Pied Flycatcher at Southwell and a Fieldfare at Verne Common provided further interest. Common migrants - mainly Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers - were filtering through in fair numbers on the ground but, despite the clear sky and brisk northeasterly, visible passage was a disappointing non-event. A steady passage of small flocks of Common Scoter fell just short of a three figure total off the Bill, where 14 Eider, 4 Red-throated Divers, a Great Northern Diver and a Mallard were the best of the rest.

Speckled Wood and Large White were on the wing for the first time this year.

Some nice finder's photos of Portland's earliest ever Red-rumped Swallow © Chris Griffin:



One of the Barleycrates Ring Ouzels © Andy Luckhurst:


One of three flocks of Eider that passed the Bill during the morning © Keith Pritchard:

1st April

A stiffer northeasterly breeze had become a feature overnight and remained so throughout the day, funneling most passage along the West Cliffs where Meadow Pipits were passing at 200 an hour at times along with a steady passage of alba wagtails, hirundines and finches; the spring's first Yellow Wagtail, 2 Snipe and a Siskin were all added bonuses overhead. It was much quieter on the ground where a Pied Flycatcher and Reed Bunting - both also firsts for the year - and a Firecrest were the pick amongst a thin spread of Wheatears, Blackcaps and phylloscs. Gannets again made up the bulk of the numbers offshore where the Glaucous Gull lingered off the Bill all day and a much reduced passage of migrants included 5 Red-throated Divers, 3 Mediterranean Gulls and 2 Sandwich Terns.

The first Pied Flycatcher of the year - always a pleasure to see and a little earlier than average: the first dates in the last decade have ranged between 31st March and 16th April © Martin Cade:


The Glaucous Gull passed back and forth off the Bill several times during the day © Pete Saunders:


Now that there's a little more fieldwork taking place we've begun to receive a few comments on apparent numbers of resident breeders. Two that thus far look to be a tad depleted are Kestrel and Skylark and it's difficult to see beyond apportioning significant blame on the ever increasing horsey-culture at the Bill - just lately a large chunk of the valley below Wallsend (home of several pairs of Skylarks as well as being a favoured feeding spot for Kestrels and the wintering Short-eared Owls) has been fenced for use as yet another horse paddock © Pete Saunders (Kestrel and Roy Norris (Skylark):



On the plus side, it's good to see Little Owls back in residence in the Obs Quarry, after presumably getting ousted from the QinetiQ compound (where they've bred for the last couple of years) by building maintenance taking place over there © Ian Gill (top) and Roy Norris (bottom):