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): 

23rd April

A continuation of yesterday's bitter easterlies resulted in a pretty comprehensive clearout on the land but there was more than adequate compensation in the form of both numbers and variety overhead and on the sea. Grounded migrants were really thinly spread and those that were about weren't giving themselves up very easily in the blasting wind, with a Ring Ouzel at Suckthumb, 3 Common Sandpipers at the Bill and 46 Bar-tailed Godwits and 6 Sanderling at Ferrybridge the best on offer. Some good pulses of visible passage were evident along West Cliffs, where several Swifts, 2 Merlins, a Short-eared Owl and a Siskin passed through along with the routine hirundines, pipits and finches. The sea got plenty of attention with eventual joint Chesil/Bill totals that included 291 Whimbrel (252 of these at Chesil), 89 Little Gulls (all but 3 at Chesil), 79 Bar-tailed Godwits, 22 Grey Plovers, 13 Arctic Skuas, 12 Sanderling, 9 Red-throated Divers and singles of Great Skua and Pomarine Skua

There were a few birds about on the ground but it took perseverance to get amongst them; Yellow Wagtail © Erin Taylor and Blackcap © Martin Cade at the Bill:

The grounded Bar-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge were looking great © Pete Saunders:

Apart from the really good tally of Whimbrel over Chesil the day's sea highlight was a quick-fire movement of 86 Little Gulls there during the evening - this wasn't the sort of event that would appeal to anyone wanting to gross out on views or secure a frame-filling photo but was entirely gripping nonetheless with decent-sized parties of birds scooting through high over the beach and heading away over Portland Harbour © Martin Cade

The most bizarre event of our Chesil watch begun to unfold once we'd got onto a peculiar-looking beige duck seemingly arriving from far out to sea; in the shoddy evening light plumage details were hard to discern even as it neared the shore and we were completely perplexed as to what it was. Once at the shoreline it dodged past the fishing rods of various bemused-looking anglers...

...and proceeded to crash down onto the beach barely 50 metres away from us...

...where it's true identity was revealed - it wasn't the sun-bleached vagrant seaduck that we'd begun to envisage but a crushingly more prosaic heinz 57 domestic duck! © Martin Cade:

22nd April

As the wind whipped itself into a frenzy overnight and remaining firmly in the east, it was no surprise that much of the focus of the day turned to the sea. A veritable wader-fest greeted our eyes with ten species across the island. Bar-tailed Godwits were the undoubted highlight with 520 past the Bill throughout the day and 780 past or over Chesil during early and late watches there. Whimbrels held the next highest spot with 71 past Chesil and 41 off the Bill. Bringing up the rear were 12 Grey Plovers and single figures of Ringed Plover, Knot, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Dunlin, Common Sandpiper and Curlew. Other sea-based highlights included five Little Gulls, six Arctic Skuas and 265 Manx Shearwaters off the Bill. With the wind tearing through most of the suitable habitat, land-based migrants were thin on the ground but two firsts for the year came in the form of a Hobby and two Swifts through along West Cliffs; a Garden Warbler at the Obs was also the first trapped for the year. 

The godwit-fest continued at Chesil...

...with an overland Little Gull another nice sight there © Joe Stockwell:

Although most of the godwits continuing their arduous journey onward, a few stopped to refuel at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders

The Little Terns are increasing in number at Ferrybridge, and beginning to show off to their admirers © Debby Saunders