31st July

An uneventful end to the month with passerine migration reduced to a trickle in the aftermath of yesterday's stormy conditions. Odds and ends grounded at the Bill included 5 Willow Warblers and 4 Sedge Warblers, whilst the Ferrybridge wader tally was almost unchanged on 48 Dunlin, 30 Ringed Plover, 7 Sanderling and a Whimbrel. A resoundingly hopeless seawatch at the Bill saw little more than a single Balearic Shearwater logged.

The inexorable spread across England of the Roesel's Bush-cricket has been a remarkable event of the last three decades. First recorded in Dorset at Hengistbury Head in 2005, there followed a rapid spread westward, mainly along the Stour and Frome river valleys; north Portland was reached a few years ago but we hadn't heard of any sightings at the Bill until this summer when individuals have been photographed in Top Fields. The first arrival at the Obs - it was actually found indoors in the lounge - occurred this last week © Martin Cade:

30th July

Although there have been very occasional exceptions - like this - as a rule unseasonable storms at this time of year aren't very rewarding at Portland. Storm Evert's contribution was par for the course and consisted of just 50 Manx and 2 Balearic Shearwaters through off the Bill. The only other reports were of a slightly improved wader selection at Ferrybridge: 47 Dunlin, 13 Ringed Plovers, 6 Sanderling, a Knot, a Curlew and a Whimbrel.

Many thanks to John Dadds for sending us through a very disappointing update on the situation with the Little Terns at Ferrybridge: The Little Terns have all gone now. There were around 50 breeding pairs again this year. Just under 100 eggs hatched but probably a single Kestrel took all but three of them so just three fledglings this year which is the worst year since 2009 when no breeding took place. A total of 83 individual terns with colour-rings were identified during the course of the season of which three were 'outsiders': one from Gronant, north Wales, and two from Ireland © John Dadds

29th July

A rather uneventful day with passerine migrants restricted to 3 Sedge Warblers, a Wheatear and a Grasshopper Warbler at the Bill, singles of Grey Wagtail and Willow Warbler in the centre of the island and a handful of hirundines overhead. Six Shelducks, a Yellow-legged Gull, a Balearic Shearwater and an Arctic Skua passed by amongst the routine fare off the Bill and 28 Dunlin, 21 Ringed Plovers and a lone Sanderling made up the wader tally at Ferrybridge. 

28th July

A cooler, breezier day saw little change in the day's species list, however the gusts did encourage a little more movement on the sea with 13 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Arctic Skuas and 2 Yellow-legged Gulls the best of the bunch; routine gull passage also continued with Lesser Black-backed Gulls beginning to get more conspicuous among the now ubiquitous Mediterranean Gulls. The land was windswept and quiet but a slack handful of Willow Warblers, Sedge Warblers, Blackcaps and a fly-over Yellow Wagtail made up the migrant tallies for the day. Ferrybridge continued its recent form with singles of Whimbrel and Sanderling, 14 Ringed Plovers and 24 Dunlin

With moult only just getting underway the Kestrels are looking far from their best but that clearly isn't hampering their hunting abilities © Debby Saunders

The early pioneers at Portland would have thought it utterly inconceivable that the day would come when Mediterranean Gulls were the second most numerous gull off the Bill © Martin Cade:

And a few more moth highlights from recent nights. Small Metal-mark Prochoreutis myllerana at the Obs on 27th was yet another addition to the island list...

...whilst other national or local scarcities have included a Vagrant China-mark Diasemiopsis ramburialis and Lappet at the Obs on 25th ...

...a Yellow Pearl Mecyna flavalis at the Obs on 26th...

...and a Splendid Brocade at the Grove on 27th © Martin Cade:

27th July

The heavy rain showers that inundated even the lighthouse tower's deep windows last night continued through most of the early morning bringing thick fog and a chilling damp to proceedings. Once the fret had cleared through it was business as usual (if a little cooler than of late) and the nets were once again busy with the signs of early autumn. Once the sea was visible, it was a case of quality over quantity with two Arctic Skuas giving chase to the passing gull flocks and singles of Yellow-legged Gull and Balearic Shearwater. Ferrybridge showed a little more variety again with: six Dunlin, three apiece of Curlew, Turnstone and Ringed Plover and two Redshank

26th July

With a gentle breeze and a clear blue sky, it was an idyllic day to be wandering around the garden and Crown Estate Field. The birds have truly begun their journeys back south with the treetops full of lemon-coloured juvenile Willow Warblers and the brief glimpses of striped young Sedge Warblers in the crops. Overhead passage of Swallows and Sand Martins continued through the afternoon along with two southward-bound Yellow Wagtails. Waders have begun to put in more of a show with a single Whimbrel off the Bill and three Black-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge. 

The signs of autumn continued at Ferrybridge with three Black-tailed Godwits dropping in this afternoon ©Pete Saunders (in flight) and Debby Saunders (settled): 

Yesterday we touched briefly on what had been the best moth catch of the year to date. The Rose Plume was the stand out highlight but the supporting cast was numerous and varied, amongst which singles of Diamond-spot Pearl Loxostege sticticalis and Bordered Ermel Ethmia bipunctuella were of particular note; both are sporadic residents in parts of southern England but are no more than very infrequent immigrants at Portland © Martin Cade:

25th July

A warm, humid and overcast night with very little wind saw the first real influx of migrant moths of the summer. Along too came a steady trickle of migrant birds. The Crown Field once again proved invaluable with Grasshopper, Reed and Sedge Warblers all emerging from the crops, while the most noteworthy bird from the garden was a juvenile Cuckoo. The afternoon saw witness to a passage of hirundines and Swifts including 345 Swallows in 40 minutes. The sea appeared relatively quiet from the land with 26 Balearic Shearwaters, an Arctic Skua and a single Curlew of note, however, a Sooty Shearwater was sighted in Portland waters from an afternoon boat trip. 

The juvenile Cuckoo spent the day in the Obs garden before eventually stumbling into a net © Erin Taylor:

Last night's moth catch was full of exciting immigrants of which the best was Portland's first - and Dorset's second - Rose Plume Cnaemidophorus rhododactyla - more on this and the rest of the catch tomorrow © Martin Cade:

24th July

The aftermath of a night of thunder, lightning and heavy rainfall disrupted early coverage although conditions did improve very rapidly. There were a few new Willow Warblers in evidence at the Bill but most of the new arrivals were waders at Ferrybridge, where the tally included 78 Dunlin, 2 Common Sandpipers, and singles of Sanderling, Whimbrel and Black-tailed Godwit. Limited coverage of the sea saw 2 Balearic Shearwaters and 2 presumably non-local Puffins logged at the Bill.

This morning's Black-tailed Godwit at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

The near gale force easterly associated with last night's thunderstorms knocked back moth numbers but there were still a few dispersers in the traps, of which the best were singles of Pine Hawkmoth and Oak Hook-tip at the Grove: with six singles already this summer it's looking likely to be the best year ever for the former; the latter in a more widespread moth across mainland Dorset but only a very infrequent visitor to Portland - we're guessing it's larval food-plants are mainly deciduous oaks and it doesn't usually take to the evergreen Holm Oak of which there's a fair bit on Portland © Martin Cade:

23rd July

With an ever freshening breeze seeing to it that birds weren't especially easy to get amongst it was left to overhead passage and the sea to provide the best of the numbers today, with the likes of 100 Sand Martins through over the Bill certainly suggesting that better coverage might have been rewarding. Two Sedge Warblers and a Blackcap were new on the ground at the Bill, where the sea produced 50 Mediterranean Gulls, 11 Mallards, 5 Sanderling, 4 Dunlin, a Teal and a Yellow-legged Gull.

Astro-photography seems to be a boom interest these days and one of our guests, Robert Harvey, has kindly sent us through a couple of lovely examples from his recent stay at the Obs © Robert Harvey Natural World Photography:

Such is the interest in them these days that we keep getting told off for not reporting frequently enough on the moth happenings - this hasn't been a conscious omission and most often there just hasn't been enough time available to get round to it. The recent hot weather has been great for moth dispersal, with a hatful of infrequently-recorded species logged around the island. One of last night's specials was the Sandhill Knot-horn Anerastia lotella which, as its name might imply, is resident in Dorset only in the sand dunes at Studland and Hengistbury Head; however, it must have some propensity to wander since we've now recorded it quite a few times over the years at the Obs © Martin Cade:

22nd July

Subtle changes afoot with a fresher northeasterly breeze blowing all day that took the edge off the continuing heat for all but the still stifling middle of the day. Melodious Warbler's always been a likely first oddity of the autumn at this time of year and, despite the seemingly unpropitious-looking conditions, one duly appeared beside the Bunkhouse late in the afternoon. Routine migrants on the ground were limited to low single figure totals of Sedge and Willow Warblers, with 2 Yellow Wagtails and a few Sand Martins overhead. A varied selection through on the sea included a strong pulse of 170 Mediterranean Gulls, along with 50 Common Scoter, 31 Black-headed Gulls, 4 Dunlin, 4 Sanderling, 2 Black-tailed Godwits, 2 Yellow-legged Gulls, a Great Skua and a tardy Puffin. The wader selection at Ferrybridge included 20 Dunlin, 2 Sanderlings, a Knot and a Redshank.

With the winds not exactly favourable for helping it over the Channel this afternoon's Melodious Warbler was an unexpected and also rather serendipitous discovery by an observer following up a report of several fritillary butterflies in the vicinity; the butterflies didn't oblige but for a few minutes the Melodious Warbler - that had all the look of a bird that had just dropped in high up on West Cliffs - showed quite well © Martin Cade:

Since Common Tern ageing has been shown to be pretty tricky we're guessing this bird at Ferrybridge this morning can only be recorded as being in non-breeding plumage although the apparent freshness of the primaries presumably indicates it's more likely a first- or second-summer (we're presuming the apparent secondary bar - if there were one it would have to be a first-summer as these would be juvenile feathers - is just a photo illusion since it's only really showing on one wing and, besides, it doesn't look as though these feathers are unduly worn) © Pete Saunders:

21st July

Samey scorching conditions and a samey selection of birds today. At the Bill, passerine migrants consisted of 5 Willow Warblers, 2 Grasshopper Warblers and 2 Sedge Warblers on the ground and a trickle of Sand Martins overhead; 2 Whimbrel, a Ringed Plover and a Dunlin also passed over, whilst the sea selection included 25 Mediterranean Gulls, 23 Common Scoter, 2 Yellow-legged Gulls and a Balearic Shearwater. Elsewhere, 90 Common Terns, 30 Dunlin and a Knot were at Ferrybridge.

20th July

A blessedly cooler start to the morning melted away to a hot, sticky afternoon. The nets produced the only avian oddity in the form of a juvenile Whinchat; other passerine migrants were limited to a Grasshopper Warbler in the Crown Estate Field, a Willow Warbler in the Obs garden and overhead passage of a small number of Swallows, Sand Martins and a lone Siskin. The sea became hazy far too soon, but initial signs of wader passage included a single Curlew, four Whimbrel and five Sanderlings; the rest of the sea watch consisted of four Yellow-legged Gulls, one Balearic Shearwater and a handful of the other regulars.

19th July

Having been stupefied by the ongoing heat into too casual an approach to the day's prospects it came as quite a surprise when the tardy start to fieldwork at the Bill quickly revealed the likes of 4 Willow Warblers and 2 Grasshopper Warblers grounded, an overflying Spotted Redshank and the beginnings of a steady passage of Swallows and Sand Martins; waders too showed up with 39 Dunlin and 4 Sanderlings at Ferrybridge, whilst 58 Common Scoter, 2 Yellow-legged Gulls, a Great Skua and the summering Red-throated Diver provided interest on the sea at the Bill. Activity dwindled as the heat built but 2 showy Roseate Terns that dropped in at Ferrybridge were a nice later highlight.

The Ferrybridge Roseate Terns put on a good show © Debby Saunders...

...and © Pete Saunders:

18th July

Another day with it way too hot for fieldwork to be anything other than cursory and way too clear and settled to expect anything in the way of grounded early migrants produced a surprise in the form of a Quail flushed up from beside the footbridge at Ferrybridge. At least a single Balearic Shearwater remained off the Bill where 20 Common Scoter also passed by, whilst a paltry wader tally at Ferrybridge included 6 Sanderling and 5 Dunlin.

Juvenile Common Terns - presumably from Lodmoor and/or Abbotsbury - are showing up in increasing numbers at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

There have been lots of visitors on the lookout for Large Tortoiseshells in recent days but, thus far, none have been reported although there has been plenty to see in the butterfly line with the likes of Grayling and Silver-studded Blue both about in numbers around the north of the island © Roy Norris:

Amongst the overnight moth catch the third Bedstraw Hawkmoth of the summer was an nice highlight © Martin Cade:

17th July

Minimal coverage on a bakingly hot day today. A passing Brent Goose was an unexpected highlight from the sea at the Bill where 10 Common Scoter, 3 Shelducks and a Balearic Shearwater also passed by. Elsewhere, a Roseate Tern again dropped in at Ferrybridge where a Common Sandpiper added to the wader variety, whilst on the passerine front a Siskin passed over at Blacknor.

There's lots of moth interest to report from recent days including several more first records for island but we're going to have to summarize all of this when we've got some more time in the next few days; in the meanwhile a Light Crimson Underwing - Portland's second record - was a nice catch last night at the Obs © Martin Cade:

16th July


A reminder that there's an InFocus field day at the Obs between 10am and 4pm this Sunday, 18th July.

Sorry but there haven't been enough hours in the day to get everything done today and we've run out of time to post a fuller update; a Roseate Tern at Ferrybridge and 3 Balearic Shearwaters off the Bill were the best of the day's sightings.

This morning's Roaeate Tern at Ferrybridge © Bob Ford:

15th July

A rise in temperatures saw a speck of autumnal excitement as the first bird out of the Obs nets was a Willow Warbler, shortly followed by a Sedge Warbler in the Crown Estate Field, whilst a steady stream of Sand Martins passed overhead. This streak did not continue and the rest of the day progressed with the usual July curiosities including two Yellow-legged Gulls, three each of Balearic Shearwater and Arctic Skua as well as ten Mediterranean Gulls.  

After making an appearance in the Obs two days ago the sixth sighting of Banded Demoiselle for Portland showed well in Southwell © Pete Saunders

14th July

On an increasing warm day the land's contribution was a good miscellany rather than any numbers, with 2 Green Sandpipers and singles of Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grey Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail and Siskin at the Bill and 4 Sanderling and a Knot at Ferrybridge. Sea interest was much as in recent days, with 49 Common Scoter, 4 Yellow-legged Gulls, 3 Balearic Shearwaters, 3 Arctic Skuas and a Great Skua the best of the bunch off the Bill.

We're not sure that the recent dearth of waders at Ferrybridge is necessarily a bad thing - might it just be that there have been fewer failures on the breeding grounds? - but a Knot and a few Sanderling provided some welcome interest there today © Martin Cade:

13th July

A welcome improvement in the weather brought about a welcome increase in interest today. The autumn's first departing Grasshopper Warbler was an on cue arrival at the Bill where a light passage of Swifts and Sand Martins - along with a single Yellow Wagtail - also developed overhead. It was the sea though that provided all of the morning's numbers that included 400 Manx Shearwaters, 10 Common Scoter, 10 Mediterranean Gulls, 4 Yellow-legged Gulls, 3 Whimbrel, 3 Sandwich Terns, 2 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Arctic Skuas, a/the Red-throated Diver and a Great Skua.

This Banded Demoiselle was a surprise visitor to the Obs garden today; although occurring across on the mainland in appropriate habitat as close as at Radipole, Portland records seemingly number fewer than five in total © Martin Cade:

12th July

Weather interruptions were again a feature today and the only reports from the Bill were of a few Common Scoter and Manx Shearwaters passing or lingering offshore, at least 2 Yellow-legged Gulls coming and going from the gull flock and singles of Blackcap and Chiffchaff at the Obs.

11th July

Any expectation of quality on a damp and dreary mid-July day with almost no coverage was rather akin to the fanciful notion that England's football team might actually win a penalty shoot-out. Three Balearic Shearwaters and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill were of note, but the day's only other reports were of 38 Common Scoter and 2 Whimbrel also through on the sea and 2 Sand Martins through overhead. 

10th July

Another bizarrely unsettled day began with a heavy downpour that lasted for most of the morning, before drifting away to reveal a scorching hot, clear afternoon. With most of the morning spent attending to inside jobs, it was down to the sea to provide much of the variety with the feeding gull flock joined by both Manx and Balearic Shearwaters, as well as the third unseasonable Red-throated Diver sighting in a week. Ferrybridge has been remarkably quiet of late and today was no exception with two Whimbrel joining the measly flock of four Dunlin

9th July

A real end of summer feel to the birding saw a flurry of immature birds in the various trapping sites, including a third Lesser Whitethroat in two days at Culverwell, indicating that the local breeders are beginning to wander further afield. Visible migration was kicking into action with 36 Sand Martins overhead, whilst overnight our nocmig recordings revealed a strong passage of Common Sandpipers. A switch round on the sea saw the majority of the day's shearwaters being Manx with just two Balearics logged. A juvenile Yellow-legged Gull off the Bill and an arrival of 40 Black-headed Gulls at Ferrybridge added to the feel that things are beginning to wind down on the breeding front and autumn passage is gathering momentum. 

8th July

The sea again provided most of the day's interest, with 19 Balearic Shearwaters passing the Bill through the morning; 52 west-bound Common Scoter were an indication of their autumn passage getting going, whilst another Yellow-legged Gull also passed by and 3 Sand Martins and a Grey Heron left to the south. 

The sight of one of the rarer hawkmoths in a moth-trap is always something to set the pulse racing; today it was the turn of a Bedstraw Hawk - the 17th recorded at Portland - to wake us up with quite a start during our hitherto uneventful round of the traps © Martin Cade:

7th July

A continuation of yesterday's passage with Balearic Shearwaters topping 50 birds and just 27 accompanying Manx Shearwaters. The sea's only other highlight was two juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls among the dwindling numbers of feeding Gulls. The land was windswept and quiet once more with just a slack handful of Sand Martins the only visible passage migrants. 

The Peregrines have had a good year with both pairs at the south end of the island producing three fledglings © Pete Saunders

With little in the way of passage moths it was down to the locals to entertain us including the first Barred Rivulet of the year © Erin Taylor:

6th July

Overnight wind and rain brought a distinctly autumnal feel to proceedings with the swell around the Bill making the sea state more akin to September than July. The upside of the wind was an upturn in sea passage with nine Balearic Shearwaters in with the 230 passing Manx Shearwaters off the Bill; the first day-time Storm Petrel of the season there was also of note. Ferrybridge also scored with the mixed tern flock attracting two Roseate Terns that quickly moved off into Portland Harbour. However, the highlight of the day was a highly likely Alpine Swift seen briefly over High Angle Battery during the afternoon.

5th July

A warm and clear start to the day slowly deteriorated with the wind picking up by lunch time and bringing in the rain from the Western Approaches. The species list remained pretty consistent with previous days save for a small upturn in Balearic Shearwaters with three individuals drifting back and forth at the Bill; another sighting of a Red-throated Diver - presumably the same individual that also passed by a couple of days ago - was also notewothy. On the land, migrants remained elusive but the breeding birds are out in force with the Starling and Linnet flocks topping 300 and 150 respectively. 

 Small Tortoiseshell at the Bill today: an increasingly rare sight on Portland, in fact Large Tortoiseshells have been far more frequently seen in the past few years © Erin Taylor:

4th July

Some more unsettled weather with the wind whipping up through the day saw very little in the way of passerine migrants. The day was saved by a steady passage on the sea in the evening featuring over 100 Manx Shearwaters, a single Balearic Shearwater and a smattering of Common and Sandwich Terns. The morning seawatch had added only a single Bonxie to the total. 

The non-avian highlight of the day was the second Black-tailed Skimmer of recent days on one of the Obs garden ponds © Erin Taylor... 

...the first was on the same pond on 1st July © Martin Cade...

...Black-tailed Skimmers colonised these ponds for a few years during the 1990s when they were at times really abundant but the colony gradually fizzled out and since that time the species has only been a very infrequent stray to Portland.

3rd July

With part of the day lost due to meeting commitments coverage was reduced today and further suffered with the onset of some drizzly outbreaks during the morning. Another new Chiffchaff showed up at the Bill but most of the interest there was provided by the sea: at least 2 Balearic Shearwaters were lingering offshore and a few Manx Shearwaters, Common Scoter and Sandwich Terns passed by but much more of a surprise was an unseasonable Red-throated Diver

A Swallow enjoying the sunshine that did eventually break through during the afternoon © Martin King:

2nd July

Summer scarcities haven't exactly been coming thick and fast so a Serin that showed up for a while this morning in and around the Obs garden was a welcome if somewhat more routine than hoped oddity. New arrivals were otherwise limited to 3 Sand Martins, 2 Little Egrets, a Yellow-legged Gull, a Yellow Wagtail and a Chiffchaff at or overhead at the Bill, where 300 Manx Shearwaters were lingering or passing offshore.

This morning's Serin © Martin Cade:

Thanks to the diligent fieldwork of Will Langdon we had a chance this week to reacquaint ourselves with something that ought to be one of Portland's most iconic natural inhabitants but, by virtue of its tiny size and obscure habits, is hardly known outside a small circle of keen lepidopterists: for a long time Richardson's Case-bearer Eudarcia richardsoni was known only from Portland - where it was first discovered new to science in the late 1800s - and a site near Swanage, although latterly it has also been found at a couple of spots in central Europe. The larval cases of the moth aren't too hard to find on the underside of rocks on the scree slopes below the east and west sides of the island where they eek out an existence feeding on lichens through the autumn and winter; however, seeing the adults isn't at all straightforward: we've found them in the past flitting about in evening sunshine amongst fair-sized chasms between huge boulders at the base of the scree slopes but Will's sightings this week were of individuals over the scree slopes themselves right on or soon after dusk when they were illuminated by torch-light © Martin Cade:

...We can well imagine that this species might have escaped detection altogether were it not for the skills and tenacity of Nelson Richardson, in whose honour the species is named. Richardson was one of the great Victorian-era micro-lepidopterists who, together with his wife Helen, discovered the majority of the indigenous specialities of the island in just a few years of fieldwork during the 1890s. If that weren't enough he even managed to excavate and also have named in his honour a new species of dinosaur that he discovered near his home in Weymouth - they were certainly all-rounders in those days!