12th May

A day of brisky westerlies and clear skies that for the most part wasn't up to much on the bird front. A reappearance of yesterday's Sooty Shearwater and a lingering likely Glaucous Gull provided interest offshore that also included another 8 passing Great Northern Divers, 2 Arctic Skuas and a Pomarine Skua. Thirty Wheatears accounted for the bulk of grounded migrants at the Bill where there were also 5 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Blackcaps and a Reed Warbler; a Caspian Gull also spent a while following the plough at the Bill during the afternoon. Overhead, hirundine numbers picked up to a more conspicuous trickle than in recent days, a tardy Tree Pipit passed over and 11 Sanderling, 2 Ringed Plovers and a Dunlin arrived from the south at the Bill.

The only grounded migrant featuring in any numbers in recent days has been Greenland Wheatear...

...whilst alongside them our resident male 'ordinary' Wheatear has been singing away defending his territory in the Bill Quarry © Martin Cade (in field Greenlands and video) and Paul Hopwood (in hand Greenland)

Wheatears are of particular interest to us because they're the only summer migrant for which we have even the faintest idea of their numbers in the pre-birdwatching era. Wheatears - Snalters or Snorters as they were known in these bygone times - were once trapped for the table at Portland, with Richard Pulteney recording that one man caught 7800 in the year 1794 alone. A lovely John Upham print from the 1800s throws some light on this practice, with the the caption reading: THE VILLAGE OF WESTON IN THE ISLE OF PORTLAND Showing the manner in which Wheatears are caught by the Shepherd Boys, in Traps formed of piled Stones (into which they fly when the sun is clouded,) and sold to travellers visiting the Island; other sources record that on entered one of the stone piles a Wheatear would be snared by means of a horse hair noose. To put this single person's haul of 7800 Wheatears in a year in perspective, these days our annual total of Wheatears logged in the Bill recording area from the combined efforts of a multitude of fieldworkers doesn't even approach that level (last year it was 3913), whilst our ringers haven't managed to catch more than 69 in one year!