31st May

It finally feels like summer is in the air and although the dazzling sun and clear blue skies are not ideal for grounding migrants, they are greatly appreciated after the last few months of cold. Both recent shrikes appeared to have done a bunk but a couple of new additions included a Rosy Starling in a private garden in Easton and a very brief visit to the Obs garden by a calling Serin. The rest of the land was reasonably quiet but the supporting cast did include a summer plumage Golden Plover and a single Hobby heading up the West Cliffs and a Reed Warbler in the garden. The sea witnessed a splash of excitement with a Black-throated Diver, a pair of Gadwall and a single Little Egret in off. The afternoon was spent attempting to manage the unruly Obs garden that has begun to shoot forth at an alarming rate in the recent warm weather. 

Since it's coincided with new arrivals today in Cornwall, Scilly, West Wales and Guernsey we're guessing the Easton Rosy Starling is also a new arrival rather than a surprise reappearance of the overwintering bird that was last seen in late February:

A return of just nine apiece of Sanderling and Ringed Plover, four Dunlin and a pair of Shelduck was as good as might be expected at Ferrybridge on a blazingly sunny day © Pete Saunders:

30th May

Another day, another shrike: today's scarcity offering in the build up to the best of the spring rarities was a Red-backed Shrike that spent the morning beside Culverwell before moving further up into Top Fields. That aside it was hard work getting much out of the day with precious little common migrant-wise and singles of Great Northern Diver and Arctic Skua the only sea interest.

Two shrikes in two days - very nice! © Martin Cade:

29th May

We were preparing to write a blog about how, despite an overall lack of birds, it was an absolutely glorious day full of sunshine and a gentle sea breeze. Although it definitely was that, the day was improved immeasurably by the news of a Woodchat Shrike at Nicodemus Knob (a column of rock left from the quarry used to create the breakwaters of the harbour). The supporting cast on the land included a Grasshopper Warbler at Tout Quarry, a singing Reed Warbler at the Higher Light and a Hobby through north at the Bill. The sea was quiet at the Bill but a single Pomarine Skua more than made up for that. Elsewhere, the miscellany at Ferrybridge included 8 Sanderling, 6 Canada Geese and a Redshank.

The area between Fancy's Farm and the Borstal appears perfect for shrikes although, until today, we don't recollect that there's ever been one there. Fortunately, a passing member of the public was attentive enough to not only notice the Woodchat but also work out what it was and pass us the news - many thanks Jennifer Elkin! © Andy Luckhurst (settled stills), Pete Saunders (flight still) and Martin Cade (video):

The Ferrybridge resident Little Terns have settled in nicely and the nearby breakwater Canada Goose population is clearly on the rise © Pete Saunders

28th May

Today's easterlies - the first for quite a while and coming at just the time we'd like them to - had a good deal of anticipation invested in them and as such can only really be deemed a bit of a flop: a Nightingale in fitful song at the Bill was a nice mini highlight but hardly big league, whilst common migrants were more sparsely spread than they had been in seemingly far less suitably overcast conditions earlier in the week, with just a few Swifts and hirundines, 2 Ringed Plover, 2 Dunlin and 2 Spotted Flycatchers at the Bill and singles of Reed Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher further up the island; 9 Sanderling were the only noteworthy waders at Ferrybridge. Another 56 Common Scoter, 2 Whimbrel, 2 Arctic Skuas and a Red-throated Diver passed by off the Bill and 2 Great Northern Divers headed overhead at Ferrybridge.

Several of this week's Great Northern Divers - like this one over Ferrybridge this morning - have been presumed immatures in sub-optimal plumage © Pete Saunders:

27th May

It's been a long time coming but it finally begun to feel warm today and there was certainly expectation in the air as the breeze dropped away and slowly edged towards the south. The quality of the birding in this first taste of summer was nothing to shout about but there was just enough on land and sea for a fair little day-list to be accumulated. Five Eider, singles of Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, a lone Pomarine Skua and a surprise package in the form of 167 Common Scoter (...a higher total than on many days when they should have been on the move earlier in the spring) was a reasonable return from seemingly unsuitable conditions on the sea. Swallows were still trickling in off the sea all day, whilst 9 Spotted Flycatchers scattered about Southwell hinted at there also having been a small arrival of grounded migrants even if Bill fieldwork didn't pick up much more than 2 each of Reed Warbler and Blackcap, and singles of Turnstone, Tree Pipit and Yellow Wagtail

Three of the five Eider that maintained this spring's great run of records © Debby Saunders:

26th May

A drop in the wind and a glimmer of sunshine peaking out from the clouds made for a fractionally warmer day than of late (although still not up to normal May standards). A very small smattering of additional migrants included six Spotted Flycatchers at the Bill- plus one at Suckthumb Quarry - two Willow Warblers at the Obs and Southwell, and singles of Blackcap and Sedge Warbler at Culverwell with the added bonus of a late passage of Swallows. A rather disappointing sea-watch brought little in the way of variety but a consistent trickle of Manx Shearwaters meant observers were still watching when a lone Great Northern Diver passed by and solitary resident Puffin did a fly-past.

Wheatear AFD7939 was ringed as a fledgling in the Bill Quarry on 17th June 2019. His mum was ringed as a fledgling the previous year also in the Bill Quarry, and his father is also his grandfather - he now has a territory with an unringed female in attendance along the east cliffs © Erin Taylor:

Double, double toil and trouble... the Cheyne Raven chicks are roaming and wreaking havoc with the local crows © Erin Taylor

Some of this morning's Manx Shearwaters © Paul Ward:

25th May

Strong winds and an afternoon of thick cloud and downpours meant that, once again, the day list was left sadly lacking. The highlight of the day was a wind driven Storm Petrel past the Bill - a surprisingly rare sight this year given the weather conditions. The sea became almost impossible to see by the evening so totals remained low at two Arctic Skuas, six Common Scoter and 50 Manx Shearwaters. The land was equally quiet with a singing Sedge Warbler in the early morning the only oddity, along with three Spotted Flycatchers and four apiece of Wheatear and House Martin

24th May

A blustery and frequently damp day saw another struggling day list. Only the strongest fliers made it through, with an inbound Little Egret and a few Swifts and House Martins overhead and 2 Wheatears and a single Spotted Flycatcher on the ground. The sea produced a steady westbound trickle of Manx Shearwaters and Kittiwakes - including a worthwhile 175 of a latter in four hours during the morning - along with 3 more Great Northern Divers, 2 Arctic Skuas and a single Pomarine Skua. Wader numbers - including 51 Sanderlings - increased at little at Ferrybridge.

We haven't read up on the extent to which Little Terns are known to move between breeding colonies but we were fascinated and surprised in equal measure to hear from the Chesil Little Tern Project that IX2 that was first marked as a chick at Portrane Beach, County Dublin in July 2018 was resighted at Ferrybridge last Saturday, 22nd May; evidently the bird's two siblings returned to Portrane Beach last summer but this is the first resighting of IX2 since it was marked. It seems very late for the bird to be a migrant still en route to Ireland so it'll be interesting to see if it's found to be breeding at Ferrybridge © John Dadds/Chesil Little Tern Project...

...and the bird when it was first ringed as a chick © Portrane Little Tern Project:

23rd May

Without doubt a day of two halves, with a fair morning giving way to an afternoon and evening of gale force winds and at times torrential rain. Four skua seawatches are rare events indeed at the Bill so the singles of Long-tailed and Pomarine and two each of Arctic and Great there were undoubtedly the day's highlight; 3 more Great Northern Divers and a steady movement of Manx Shearwaters provided further interest on the sea, whilst Swifts and hirundines continued to trickle in overhead and 2 Spotted Flycatchers were amongst the few arrivals on the ground. Waders at Ferrybridge included 8 Turnstones, 7 Bar-tailed Godwits and 7 Dunlin.

22nd May

A lot of what potential today had was likely scuppered by the persistence of the rainfall that accompanied the overnight drop in the strength of the wind. There were certainly a few new arrivals on offer once the rain finally eased towards mid-morning, with a steady little overhead passage of hirundines, a couple of Yellow Wagtails and a Hobby suggesting that conditions on the other side of the Channel were more favourable. Limited coverage on the ground produced a scatter of Wheatears, Chiffchaffs and Spotted Flycatchers around the south of the island and 25 Sanderling and 10 Dunlin at Ferrybridge. Odds and ends on the sea included a constant trickle of Manx Shearwaters, 45 Common Scoter, 3 Great Northern Divers and an Arctic Skua off the Bill and another 4 Great Northern Divers over Ferrybridge.

There's been a good passage of Great Northern Divers this spring, with 68 through off the Bill this month alone (the record spring total is 79). We'd guess that just as many as get logged passing the Bill also pass over Chesil but largely escape notice - four took this short cut today © Pete Saunders:

21st May

The wild conditions that blew in yesterday afternoon not only reached a crescendo during the hours of darkness but maintained that crescendo for the best part of the day - it really didn't feel a lot like May. In days of yore, a summer gale like this would have produced at least a three-figure total of Storm Petrels but, sadly, those days are long gone and a lot of effort today came up with just a measly singleton at Chesil Cove; 6 Arctic Skuas and a few Manx Shearwaters were almost the sum total of whatever else could be mustered from there and the Bill. A big improvement in wader numbers saw 90 Sanderling and 45 Dunlin logged at Ferrybridge.

The good-sized wader flock was a welcome sight at Ferrybridge...

...but a party of 3 Arctic Skuas - presumably the same group that had earlier been off Chesil - stole the show there © Debby Saunders:

20th May

Just as forecast, some really wild weather blew in today that scuppered most passerine hopes and was hardly richly rewarding on the sea. A couple of hours of relatively clement conditions after dawn revealed a handful of new arrivals on the land amongst which were a Whinchat at the Bill and 9 Sanderling at Ferrybridge. The stormy conditions that followed saw Manx Shearwaters milling around in three figure numbers off the Bill but movers were limited to 4 Arctic Skuas at Chesil Cove, 2 Great Northern Divers off the Bill, a few Common Scoter and increasing numbers of Kittiwakes.

Whimbrel at Ferrybridge this morning © Pete Saunders:

With a full blown gale blowing by the end of the afternoon there was a really wild sea running off the Bill and Chesil Cove...

...We have no idea what's going on with Kittiwakes right now: there have been some really high numbers lingering off the Bill for a fortnight or more, whilst this evening big packs of several dozen at a time (oddly, a high proportion of them looked to be full adults) were passing through off Chesil - an event a lot more like something out of mid-winter as opposed to mid-May; we were rather intrigued to see that most of the first-summer birds in these flocks looked to be in sparklingly good condition whereas most of the first-summers lingering off the Bill just lately have been shabby, sun-bleached, heavily-worn birds - have they been wintering in completely different parts of the Atlantic? © Martin Cade:

It's been a distressingly recurring theme this spring but the tedium of a non-event seawatch at the Bill was such that we felt the need to pop over to Lodmoor at lunchtime to get a rarity fix - this time the action being provided by a Bonaparte's Gull © Pete Saunders (still) and Martin Cade (video):

19th May

Overnight rain gave way to a pleasant sunny day but also dropped at nice little late flurry of migrants today. The surprise package after their pitifully poor showing in recent days were waders, with 23 Sanderling, 13 Turnstones, 7 Dunlin and a Ringed Plover arriving from the south at the Bill and later 50 Sanderling and 35 Dunlin settled at Ferrybridge. Overhead, 250 Swallows, 50 Swifts, 30 House Martins, 4 Little Egrets and 2 Redpolls also arrived from the south at the Bill, whilst typical late season arrivals on the ground included 25 Spotted Flycatchers, 20 Wheatears and low single figure totals of Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat, Blackcap and Willow Warbler; minor oddities included 2 White Wagtails, a Blue-headed Wagtail and a Pied Flycatcher at the Bill. Great Northern Divers continued to trickle by offshore, with 5 past the Bill and another over Ferrybridge, but 50 Manx Shearwaters and a Great Skua were otherwise the best of it on the sea.

Spotted Flycatcher (at Portland Castle © Pete Saunders) and Wheatear (at Ferrybridge © Debby Saunders) made up the bulk of today's passerine migrant numbers on the ground...

...although both were outscored by a seasonable pulse of Arctic-bound Sanderling - this one at Ferrybridge © Debby Saunders:

Less frequent migrants at the Bill included this Blue-headed Wagtail...

...and a tardy Pied Flycatcher © Martin Cade:

18th May

The continued westerly winds and clear blue skies saw to it that our migrant tally remained woefully low. The only passerine migrants still making an appearance were a smattering of Wheatears across the Bill, five Spotted Flycatchers and a late arrival of Swallows (a steady passage of 70 across a broad front were probably an underestimate) and House Martins. The sea was uncharacteristically quiet with just two Arctic Skua and a single Great Northern Diver of note off the Bill. 

Although we make it sound a bit devoid of life at times, there are always the local breeders to keep us happy - not everyone has Razorbills on their doorstep or regular passage Wheatears © Pete Saunders...

...and we've lost count of the number of folk who've told us in recent weeks that things like Fulmars - bread-and-butter birds for us - are the first they've seen for over a year © Martin Cade:

17th May

With spring passage of common migrants now at the scraping the barrel stage we could do with some wafting southerlies or easterlies to perk things up quality-wise - today's brisk westerly certainly wasn't what was required. Spotted Flycatchers can usually be relied upon to provide some last-gasp numbers, with at least 10 logged around the south of the island today, but the odd singles of routine fare provided the only other late migrant interest on the land. The sea was hardly more productive, with 4 Great Northern Divers and singles of Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver and Great Skua the best of it at the Bill.

16th May

The quietest day for over a month saw sporadic heavy showers and permanently overcast skies. Just two birds were trapped in the nets through the whole morning - a Sedge Warbler and a Spotted Flycatcher. The land was quiet and windswept with little more than a lone Wheatear and low single figures of Spotted Flycatchers. The sea was disappointingly devoid of avian life with two Arctic Skuas, four Great Northern Divers and low double figures of Manx Shearwater and Common Scoter. Even Ferrybridge was a little on the low side, although a Grey Plover - with the eight Sanderling and four Dunlin - added some much needed variety. 

15th May

Higher expectations than yield today with more seen on the land in the first hour after the dawn rain ended than in the rest of the day combined. The highlight was a brief sighting of a new Serin, this one appearing to be a female that streaked off as quickly as it arrived. Otherwise, it was down to a smattering of Yellow WagtailsGarden Warblers, Spotted Flycatchers and Lesser Whitethroats, along with 2 more Hobbys overhead, to keep us entertained during the fieldwork. The sea was relatively quiet until late morning when a small flurry saw three Arctic Skuas and a single Pomarine Skua pass in quick succession; a lot of watching at other times produced just 79 Common Scoter, 4 Great Northern Divers and a Great Skua.

It's been a pretty mediocre spring for skuas but a few nice photo opportunities have presented themselves, including today's Pomarine and one of the Arctics © Matthew Barfield matthewbarfield.com:

After a lull through late April and early May, Common Scoter passage has picked up a little in recent days © Pete Saunders:

14th May

A reminder that there's an InFocus field day at the Obs between 10am and 4pm this Sunday, 16th May.

April at Portland is known for big numbers and possible falls, while May has the anticipation of quality over quantity - and so the past few days have proved. Today was no different with a good spread of migrants but very low numbers. The highlight was the first Golden Oriole of the spring which offered typically fleeting views to those lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. The supporting cast involved a Turtle Dove at Southwell, a singing Cuckoo in Easton and two Hobby in off at the Bill. The nets ticked over slowly but 11 species were trapped including: Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher and Garden Warbler along with the usual suspects. The sea was quiet but an early morning Pomarine Skua and a lingering Puffin brought some variety along with singles of Red-throated and Great Northern Diver

Seeing birds arrive onto the cliffs at the Bill has to be one of the highlights of living at a migration hot-spot, as this young Hobby proved © Erin Taylor:

Having had two years of bone-dry springs, it's encouraging to see our first Glow Worm of the year. Perhaps there will be a few more molluscs around for them this year © Erin Taylor:      

13th May

With the island ringed by a band of heavy rain that lingered throughout the day we were lucky to escape during daylight hours with no more than the showery last remnants of an overnight downpour that petered out soon after dawn; we were also fortunate that a more than respectable number of migrants had managed to penetrate the rain and make landfall. The most welcome of these was the first Nightingale of the season that dropped in at Culverwell; the most surprising were an arrival of 50 Chiffchaffs at the Bill - an extraordinary total for so late in the season and on a day when there was just a low single figure total of Willow Warblers. Dunlin, Turnstone, Wheatear, Whitethroat and Spotted Flycatcher all chipped in with double figure totals at the Bill, where 2 Hobbys, a Merlin and a Redpoll - along with the Chough that was still present during the morning at least - were the best of the rest there, with 2 Cuckoos at the north of the island of note elsewhere. Three Great Northern Divers and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill were among the few moving seabirds to manage to get through the rain. 

The Nightingale - sadly, not even an annual visitor to the Bill these days © Martin Cade...

and a few snatches of it singing in the rain at dawn © Mark Cutts:

At the other end of the day we got oddly excited about coming across a singing Cuckoo at Easton; at least four of this spring's birds have been heard to break into fitful song but this also isn't a frequent event at Portland these days © Martin Cade:

12th May

While the Chough continued to steal the show as bird of the day during the morning that position was usurped during the afternoon by an Alpine Swift that was discovered over Castletown; the Chough was considerably more mobile and at times trickier to catch up with than it had been yesterday, ranging at least as far north as Weston, whilst the Alpine Swift proved to be a short-stayer that moved on ahead of heavy rain setting in; 2 Serins at Castletown were a nice bonus scarcity for the finder of the Alpine Swift. With the land almost bereft of new arrivals - not a single bird was trapped at the Obs in nearly six hours of trying - it was left to the sea to provide the rest of the day's interest, with 4 Great Northern Divers, 3 Pomarine Skuas and an Arctic Skua logged at the Bill.

Beggars can't be choosers and although it would have been nice to have admired the Alpine Swift at length against the beautiful blue sky of the morning we were happy enough with a few minutes worth of it in less than ideal conditions before it promptly vanished ahead of the rain that set in during the afternoon © Martin Cade:

The Chough mightn't have been so obliging on the ground as it was yesterday but it certainly wasn't shy about revealing its whereabouts when it was overhead © Pete Saunders:

11th May

With the wind having dropped overnight and the sun rising into a clear blue sky, our idyllic dawn on the Obs patio was interrupted by a sudden 'chiach'. The joking responses of "haha, sounds like a Chough", turned into more frantic calls of "CHOUGH", as the round winged corvid flapped into view. A quick dash to Culverwell saw the bird settled and in classic form with its head raking through the horse dung in the fields below. The bird remained flighty throughout the day but returned frequently to both the fields below Culverwell and the exposed soil on the East Cliffs. This undoubted highlight of the day was seconded by the return of the flightly male Serin to the garden (there can't have been many places today that heard the distinct call of a Chough overlaid by the trill of a Serin). Away from the excitement, the Bill was quiet with just a smattering of common migrants including: eight Yellow Wagtails, three Lesser Whitethroats, and singles of Garden Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher. The sea ticked over once again with three Pomarine Skuas, five Arctic Skuas, two Bonxies and nine Great Northern Divers through off the Bill and three each of Pomarine and Arctic Skua lingering off Chesil Cove during the evening.

It's been 20 years and 5 days since the last Chough set foot on Portland. The four individuals that turned up during that spring of 2001 coincided with the foot-and-mouth outbreak of that year when access to the coastal fringe at the Bill was restricted; most views of those birds were necessarily distant and very few worthwhile images were taken - that was not the case today! © Debby Saunders...

...© Sarah Hodgson...

...and © Svetlana Ashby:

Through the middle of the day it moved from the horse/sheep paddocks below Culverwell to the East Cliffs where it spent a long time digging and displacing stones on the crumbling clifftop © Geoff Orton:

A bit of video to set the scene...

...as usual with Choughs, it was very vocal © Martin Cade:

Among today's extras, a Hobby at the Bill...

...and six Eider through on the sea that are surely the same group that seems to stuck in some sort of nightmarish never-ending circuit of the island © Pete Saunders: