31st May

Portland Bill
Sanderling 1e, Mediterranean Gull 9etc, Swallow 1n, Wheatear 1, Chiffchaff 2, Spotted Flycatcher 4.

30th May

Portland Bill 
Manx Shearwater 4e, Common Scoter 22e, Mediterranean Gull 10 etc, Sandwich Tern 3e 2w, Reed Warbler 1.

29th May

Portland Bill
Balearic Shearwater 1w, Common Scoter 42e, Arctic Skua 3w, Mediterranean Gull 2 etc, Reed Warbler 3, Blackcap 1, Chiffchaff 1.

We're always being asked about Puffins at the Bill and the answer is always that they are still returning to the auk colony every year but these days there are so few that you usually need a lot of patience to actually see one. This year there have been up to three individuals seen from time to time; most sightings have been of fly-bys but today's bird was bobbing about on the sea below the colony © Steve Copsey:

With seemingly rather little about at the Bill this morning it wasn't a difficult decision to jack in for a while and nip off to see the Gull-billed Tern that Brett Spencer had just discovered at RSPB Radipole Lake © Steve Copsey (still) and Martin Cade (video):

28th May

Portland Bill 
Manx Shearwater 100etc, Common Scoter 113e, Sparrowhawk 1, Dunlin 2w, Little Gull 1e, Black-headed Gull 1e 1n,  Swift 5n, Wheatear 7, Whinchat 2, Reed Warbler 4, Spotted Flycatcher 2.

Suckthumb Quarry
Reed Warbler 1.

27th May

Portland Bill
Manx Shearwater 10etc, Balearic Shearwater 1etc, Little Egret 5n, Common Scoter 6e 3w, Sparrowhawk 1, Sanderling 3w, Arctic Skua 1e, Yellow Wagtail 1n, Wheatear 2, Chiffchaff 1.

Sanderling 2e.

With immigrant interest having somewhat fizzled out the moth catches haven't been particularly interesting over the last few nights. However, this morning this tiny tortrix was spotted settled on the perspex top of one of the traps (it was so small that the Blackbirds must have overlooked it in their dawn raids); it was unfamiliar to us but did ring some bells because things rather like it have been featuring online in recent weeks: the use of pheromone lures has shown that the Ash-bark Piercer Pammene suspectana is not the great rarity it was believed to be but rather a relatively widespread inhabitant of the English countryside (including a few recent records from Dorset) - our moth certainly looked a lot like it so we sought the opinion of Phil Sterling who kindly confirmed that it was either this or the very similar Blotched Piercer P. albuginana. Both these species would be new for Portland so, whatever the eventual ID outcome is, it's a nice if rather serendipitous 'non-pheromone' find © Martin Cade:

26th May

Portland Bill
diver sp 1w, Manx Shearwater c100etc, Sooty Shearwater 1 flew east twice during the day but no sign of it lingering within visible range, Whimbrel 1e, Great Skua 1e, Arctic Skua 2e, Little Gull 1w, Glaucous Gull 1etc, Swallow 23n, Sand Martin 1n, Reed Warbler 1, Serin 1 briefly at the Obs.

Portland Port
Bee-eater 1 heard calling overhead.

Dunlin 16, Sanderling 25.

It was pleasing to finally get a decent view of a/the Glaucous Gull after suspecting one nearly a month ago that had to be let go after look-alike singles of both Glaucous and Iceland turned up in Weymouth in subsequent days and then missing out on the long range views of the bird a fortnight ago that showed well at West Bexington the next day. Today's bird first appeared as a distant white-winged gull amongst the offshore gull flock before later coming ashore and settling for a short while in the East Cliff fields below Culverwell where its identity was immediately apparent:

We strongly suspect all these records relate to the same individual; the bird on 27th and 28th April immediately looked enormous even if that bulk maybe isn't conveyed in our very long-range photos of it but these do show, for example, the conspicuously blotchy underparts that were also apparent on the photos of the West Bexington bird on 13th May and were very obvious on today's bird (the local Iceland Gull was in similar plumage but had far less mottling about its underparts) © Martin Cade:

25th May

Portland Bill
Manx Shearwater c400etc, Balearic Shearwater 1w, Sooty Shearwater 1e, Storm Petrel 1e, Merlin 1n, Arctic Skua 1e, Spotted Flycatcher 1.

Dunlin 21, Sanderling 23.

Although Manx Shearwaters have been daily offshore for many weeks their numbers have for the most part been on the low side; as often happens, today's stiffer blow brought with it a conspicuous arrival of birds coming in from the west during the afternoon although most of these had moved on or dispersed further offshore by the evening © Martin Cade

We've been keeping an eye out for nectaring Striped Hawkmoths around the Obs patio since the beginning of their current influx and were finally rewarded this evening © Martin Cade:

24th May

Portland Bill
Grey Heron 2w, Black-headed Gull 1etc, Bee-eater 1w over the Obs at 09:00, Spotted Flycatcher 1.

The weirdest arrival of the day was this escaped Goldfinch (it was ringed with avicultural rings); we're told that in the cage-bird trade these pale birds are known as Siberian Goldfinches which seems rather appropriate for this ghostly-pale individual © Martin Cade:

Today's Bee-eater passed by so rapidly that you'd have needed a camera literally up at your eye as it called for the first time to have got a meaningful image of it - we spent so long running about bellowing for other birders that we knew were in the vicinity that our only binocular view of it was as a vanishing speck! However, even without the odd single rares that are the rule at this time of year there are plenty of nice local residents to get amongst - this Barn Owl was on the roadside at Southwell at dusk...

...whilst the offshore gull flock continues to be a fantastic spectacle even if it hasn't attracted anything better than the Sooty Shearwater so far this summer © Martin Cade:

Clear air in Dorset today, this is Portland Bill taken from Hardy's Monument, a distance of 12.5 miles (20km). Lighthouse clearly visible as is the Stopery to the left. A section of the Fleet, with Rifle range, is visible in the foreground. @PortlandBirdObs pic.twitter.com/9M5LEY01v5

23rd May

Portland Bill
Grounded migrants: Wheatear 2, Reed Warbler 2, Willow Warbler 1, Chiffchaff 1.
Visible passage: Grey Heron 1.
Sea passage: Common Scoter 7w, Mediterranean Gull 1e.

Common Rosefinch 1 male briefly in song at 08:00 but not no sign subsequently.

Red Kite 19 (largest flock ever recorded at Portland).

Dunlin 25, Sanderling 25.

22nd May

Portland Bill
Grounded migrants: Wheatear 3, Turtle Dove 1, Spotted Flycatcher 1.
Visible passage: Swift 3, Grey Heron 1, Yellow Wagtail 1.
Sea passage: Common Scoter 5e, Mediterranean Gull 1e 1w, Black-headed Gull 1e, Arctic Skua 1e.

21st May

Portland Bill
Grounded migrants: Wheatear 3, Spotted Flycatcher 3, Turtle Dove 1, Willow Warbler 1.
Sea passage: Manx Shearwater c20etc, Common Scoter 10e, Arctic Skua 3e, Sooty Shearwater 1etc, Black-headed Gull 1e.

Spotted Flycatcher 1.

Grove Stadium
Turtle Dove 1.

Sanderling 14, Dunlin 12, Whimbrel 1.

20th May

A morning of rain assisted our needy cause today, dropping first a Cuckoo at Pennsylvania Castle and a handful of routine late arrivals at the Bill, before 2 Golden Orioles made brief appearances in the Grove Stadium area later in the afternoon. The morning had also seen a reappearance of the Sooty Shearwater off the Bill where, additionally, 22 Common Scoter and an Arctic Skua passed by.

The Sooty Shearwater was again frustratingly distant during its latest visit to the Bill where it first joined the gull melee over the tide race before striking off purposefully westward © Martin Cade:

And thanks to John Martin for a couple of photos from his visit to Portland this week. The Red Kite over the Bill on the 17th...

...and one of the few Small Tortoiseshells reported so far this year - this one was at Tout Quarry on 18th © John Martin:

19th May

Premier League we may have been back in the heady days of late April but fast forward a month and proceedings feel a lot like being stuck in a League Two relegation battle - with today's abject performance suggesting we're nailed on for a drop into the Noddy leagues. Ten or so hours of mist-netting at the Obs for no birds, the grounded migrant total for the Bill area in low single figures and the sandflats at Ferrybridge entirely bereft of migrant waders - the litany of underperformers was almost squad-wide, with only the sea putting up any sort of fight: 4 Arctic Skuas and a Great Northern Diver were nice tardy migrants and a Balearic Shearwater was still lingering offshore but the oddest movement of the day concerned 28 Black-headed Gulls, along with 3 Common Gulls and 2 Mediterranean Gulls, passing by.

It's often under-appreciated by visitors just how scarce Black-headed Gulls are at the Bill: being more inshore/inland birds they're rarely present amongst feeding gulls offshore, whilst most migrants take the short-cut over Chesil Beach and Portland Harbour; this year, just 13 migrants were logged passing the Bill during April and, up until today, 31 had passed during May - quite why 28 should suddenly pass by today in a steady procession of small groups in utterly benign conditions defied obvious explanation but was one of those silly little things that keeps you looking and pondering © Martin Cade:

18th May


A reminder that there's an InFocus field day at the Obs between 10am and 4pm this Sunday, 22nd May.

The topsy-turvy conditions of recent days continued with a fierce and extremely noisy swell - presumably generated by a distant Atlantic depression - dominating proceedings on what was otherwise for the most part a day of benign warm and clear skies until heavy showers rolled in again from the south during the evening. Migrant-wise, events were hardly compelling with singles of Hobby and Jay the pick of the limited selection on the ground and overhead at the Bill; waders were also inexplicably largely absent, with no more than 3 Dunlin and 2 Bar-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge. A lingering Balearic Shearwater off the Bill was likely/hopefully an indication of things to come through the summer months, whilst 4 passing Arctic Skuas provided the day's only signs of the last knockings of spring sea passage (the majority of the day's 35 Common Scoter were heading west which suggested the joys of an imminent breeding season wasn't really on their minds).

At a national level, the recent episode of moth immigration has been extremely interesting: the likes of the Striped Hawkmoth and Cosmopolitan that graced the Obs moth-traps this morning (along with the season's first Rush Veneer and Delicate) weren't a huge surprise since these are the sort of scarcities that turn up in May given appropriate conditions, but hearing of the likes of Vagrant China-mark Diasemiopsis ramburialis and Vestal - both usually summer or autumn moths in Britain - being trapped elsewhere suggests that this is a more varied event that could just be the portent of a rewarding immigrant season © Martin Cade:

17th May

Odds and ends out of the continuing somewhat disturbed conditions today included a fly-over Red Kite and a briefly grounded Turtle Dove at the Bill. The thinnest of scatters of commoner migrants included 16 Wheatears, 2 Whimbrel, 2 Chiffchaffs and singles at Yellow Wagtail, Tree Pipit, Redstart  and Willow Warbler at the Bill and another 4 Whimbrel at Church Ope Cove. Two Arctic and a lone Great Skua were the best from the sea at the Bill.

Immigrant moth numbers and variety remained - disappointingly! - on a par with yesterday but Painted Lady and Red Admiral were both a little more numerous today © Martin Cade:

16th May

After a spectacularly turbulent night that saw a series of electric storms rumble in off the Channel the damp and surprisingly breezy dawn looked to hold some promise as a series of new arrivals burst into song at the Obs: the singles of Redstart, Sedge Warbler, Garden Warbler and Willow Warbler logged in this manner were soon joined on the day-sheet by several Spotted Flycatchers, with several Wheatears and a Reed Warbler soon reported by the first arriving fieldworkers. Sadly, it was more or less downhill all the way after this propitious start, with a Jay that dropped in briefly at the Obs during the afternoon by far the best from the subsequent rounds. The sea continued to be worth at least some attention, with 2 Arctic Skuas and singles of Great Northern Diver and Great Skua through off the Bill.  

Ordinarily, Portland would have been expected to fare well lepidoptera-wise out of the prevailing conditions but it seems most of the night's immigrant interest occurred in southwest England and Wales, with the Obs moth-traps accumulating totals of no more than 44 Rusty-dot Pearls and 18 Diamond-back Moths. By day, odd ones and twos of Painted Lady were recorded throughout the island.

One of the day's double-figure total of Spotted Flycatchers at the Bill © Martin Cade:

15th May

Occasional heavy showers overnight; thundery showers arriving from the south through the day peaking after dusk; fresh easterly all day gradually easing down towards dusk.

Portland Bill
Grounded migrants: Willow Warbler 12, Spotted Flycatcher 6, Wheatear 3, Nightjar 1, Whinchat 1, Sedge Warbler 1.
Visible passage: Trickle of incoming Swifts, Swallows and House Martins, Grey Heron 1n, White Wagtail 1n.
Sea passage: Common Scoter 170e, commic terns 31e, Sandwich Tern 6e, Arctic Skua 4e 1w, Great Northern Diver 4w, Shelduck 4e, Little Tern 4etc, Whimbrel 3e, Red-throated Diver 1w, Common Gull 1e.

Sanderling 18, Dunlin 14, Bar-tailed Godwit 4, Grey Plover 1, Knot 1.

14th May

A mid-May date for World Migratory Bird Day is never going to be in our favour and so it came to pass today, with migratory activity restricted to a steady trickle of hirundines overhead and the thinnest of scatters of tardy arrivals on the ground - in the day's warm sunshine and gentle breeze this spectacle was rather more soporific than awe-inspiring. Both Wheatear and Spotted Flycatcher managed double-figure totals around the south of the island where there was nothing of particular note amongst the odd singletons that constituted the remainder of the grounded tally. Offshore, 4 more Great Northern Divers passed through off the Bill.

13th May

Brisk westerlies don't usually do us many favours so it was quite a surprise when the shout went up this morning for a Bee-eater at the Obs - fortunately it obliged by quickly dropping onto nearby wires for a few minutes but thereafter proved trickier and was seen just briefly twice more before vanishing in the vicinity of Southwell; almost as surprising was the reappearance - for the third day on the trot - of the Sooty Shearwater off the Bill but it too couldn't be found later. Despite the unpromising conditions migrant interest perked up a little, with 20 each of Wheatear and Spotted Flycatcher scattered about the Bill/Southwell, where 3 Redstarts and a Blue-headed Wagtail provided further interest on the ground and a steady throughput of Swallows and House Martins was evident all day; waders included 20 Sanderling at Ferrybridge. The Sooty Shearwater aside, sea interest was limited to 3 Great Northern Divers and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill.

The Blue-headed Wagtail at the Bill © Martin Cade:

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!

11th May

Today's results would have looked sad indeed without a spirited contribution from the sea - even if those rewards required a good deal of effort to eke out. With rain always threatening but holding off until late in the morning there was ample time available to tap into an impressive passage of 12 Great Northern Divers through off the Bill. Skuas continued to trickle by, with 3 Arctics and a Pomarine through, whilst a Little Gull was a very belated first of the season there; the highlight however was an unseasonable Sooty Shearwater heading west just as the rain set in. A very poor showing from the land included the customary post-rain increase in waders, with 40 Dunlin, 17 Sanderling, 7 Bar-tailed Godwits and 3 Whimbrel at Ferrybridge, but precious little evidence of passerine arrivals: Wheatear, with 7 at the Bill and a scatter elsewhere, was the only migrant managing a total of more than one! A light trickle of Swifts, including 29 inbound at the Bill, provided the only evidence of overhead passage.

There are few more impressive seawatch sights at Portland than a throttle-down, Iceland-bound Great Northern Diver all but skimming the top of the Obelisk as it rounds the Bill...

...this year's meagre Pomarine Skua tally advances by another one...

...and Little Gull finally gets on the Bill year-list...

..the chief prize of the morning watch at the Bill though was this Sooty Shearwater - May records here are extremely few and far between and we're not at all sure how many of the old ones would stand up to modern scrutiny. At first glance it was an entirely typical Sooty in all respects and gave no indication that it might, for example, be something more exciting like a Short-tailed Shearwater that's suddenly been elevated to the league of faint possibilities these days - it was only when we inspected the photographs and realised that it was in very obvious flight-feather moult that some alarm bells rung as we'd imagined a Sooty shouldn't be in this state in early May. It seems from the literature that moult of this extent in adults ought only to be visible further into the summer when the birds should to be in the mid- or northeast Atlantic; on that basis perhaps the most likely explanation is that it's a non-breeding youngster (you'd expect them to beginning moulting considerably earlier than breeding adults) that's swilling around in the wrong part of the Atlantic © Martin Cade:

And for today's bit of moving action we've got one of the Great Northern Divers passing the Bill. You really don't appreciate just how fast these birds are flying until you try to keep up with them in the viewfinder - this little clip is slowed up to half speed © Martin Cade:

10th May

The sea salvaged some respectability today in an altogether more promising brisk southwestly, that saw 6 each of Pomarine and Arctic Skua, 4 Great Northern Divers and a Red-throated Diver logged at Chesil/the Bill; closer scrutiny of the large numbers of gulls continuing to assemble off the Bill also revealed 3 Yellow-legged Gulls in their midst. The overcast sky and spitsy rain at dawn offered hope for the land, but this came to nothing with little more than odd singles of routine fare grounded at the Bill; overhead passage was more conspicuous with a steady if always rather light passage of incoming Swifts and hirundines at the Bill.

After yesterday's damp squib of a Pom Day today was a little more rewarding: these three fine specimens passed Chesil Cove and only a few minutes later were spotted flying high over the Bill lighthouse © Jodie Henderson:

This altogether less impressive dark morph individual was sufficiently small, slight and subtle that, had it not been for the photographs clearly showing the spoony tail - a feature that wasn't at all apparent in the field - it was within a hair's breadth of being passed off as an Arctic Skua - Tim Cleeves' fabled Black Wanger it certainly wasn't © Martin Cade:

For the first time in a while small gulls were a feature of the day's seawatches at the Bill, with multiples of both Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls passing © Martin Cade:

Little Egrets have long been oddly frequent at this time of year - why aren't they off breeding somewhere? © Martin Cade:

And if mostly squintingly distant views of seabirds in shoddy conditions aren't your sort of thing you can always rely on the Ferrybridge Little Terns to entertain at point blank range - we counted nearly 80 there this evening so the colony must be up to nearly full complement © Ken King:

I finally got to the Bill flock this morning. A few Yellow-legged Gulls as hoped. Here is a 2cy / 1st summer. (Legs look short as it's stood in a dip.) Pics of some 3cys also, coming up later. pic.twitter.com/XpgKoebDzV

9th May

A day that'll be chiefly memorable for all the wrong reasons as, far from the first time ever, the sight of cutlery in motion was denied our attentive stalwarts as 'Pom Day' passed them by: with the breeze far too easterly rather than onshore the waves of Pomarine Skuas moving up-Channel weren't inclined to hug the shore until they were well past our vision and no more than a paltry three laggards were detected during multiple sessions at the Bill and Chesil. Notwithstanding this crushing let-down, the land was so quiet that seawatching did have some merits and among the rewards were 178 commic terns, 11 Black Terns, 5 Arctic Skuas, 4 Eider, 2 Great Northern Divers, the first Balearic Shearwater of the year and a Yellow-legged Gull. Another Turtle Dove at the Bill was a noteworthy sighting on the land but new arrivals were otherwise few and far between, with 2 Pied Flycatchers at Avalanche Road and 5 Whinchats and a Redstart at the Bill the pick of the less frequents.

So infrequently have we managed to feature images of Black Tern on the blog (...is it just once ever - an autumn bird at Ferrybridge a few years ago?) - and of course in the absence of the elusive Poms - that we may as well gross out with these lingerers that joined some feeding commic terns off the Bill early this afternoon © Martin Cade:

8th May

With the breeze back firmly in the east there were hopes for the day and these were quickly realised with the discovery of a Woodchat Shrike at the Bill - initially in the Obs Quarry field it soon made its way up into the Strips where it remained for the rest of the day. More was expected of the sea in the seemingly propitious conditions but it once again proved hard work to garner a respectable tally: 5 Arctic Skuas and singles of Red-throated, Black-throated and Great Northern Divers were the pick from Chesil where a varied selection of small numbers of waders and terns also passed, whilst 2 Shoveler and a Pomarine Skua were additions amongst an otherwise samey selection from the Bill. The shrike aside, the grounded migrant selection included a Cuckoo and a Turtle Dove at the Bill where there was a decent miscellany of late arrivals albeit none bar Willow Warbler (60ish) in any numbers. Visible passage flattered to deceive: the likes of small numbers of overflying Swifts and Spotted Flycatchers offered promise but hirundines in particular weren't at all numerous.

The Woodchat Shrike...

...Even at a glance the bird looked pale enough that it was assumed it'd be in first-summer plumage but that fact was confirmed by, amongst other features, the presence of a chunk of old, faded juvenile feathers in the inner primaries and outer secondaries. Sex-wise, the amount of paler feathers in the forehead and ear-coverts would suggest it's a female © Martin Cade:

Episodes of spring moth immigration seem in recent memory to have become as rare as the proverbial rocking horse manure: is it really already eleven years ago that right at this time we logged singles of Patton's Tiger and Powdered Grass-veneer Thisanotia chrysonuchella at the Obs on consecutive nights? - has there even been a noteworthy spring immigration since then? This spring has provided precious few moth highlights but you can usually rely on a waft of easterly to perk up interest and so it proved this morning with a Pine Beauty - a far less than annual stray from the heathlands - making into the Obs moth-traps © Martin Cade:

7th May

A quite varied selection of late migrants on offer today, with many grounding only briefly - if at all - in the warm sunshine and gentle northerly. Wheatears easily outnumbered everything else put together on the ground, including 120 at the Bill alone, but among the lean-ish spread of other arrivals a Cuckoo at the Bill and 2 Little Ringed Plovers at Ferrybridge were of particular note. Overhead passage wasn't in any way full-on but a Hen Harrier passed through at the Bill where even the likes of several of the Spotted Flycatchers headed straight through. Two each of Great Northern Diver and Arctic Skua, and singles of Red-throated Diver and Eider were the pick of the returns from the sea at the Bill.

6th May

The death throes of spring or a temporary blip? - today's rather abject performance from the ground, the sky and the sea was disappointing although, as we near the end of the season for numbers of common migrants, not altogether surprising on another calm, clear day. The grounded passerine situation was particularly dreadful with only Wheatear returning a double-figure total (including 40 at the Bill) and most late spring migrants not represented at all, whilst the sunny sky overhead shouldn't have been so devoid of hirundines as it was; 2 Gadwalls over Ferrybridge and an unseasonable Grey Wagtail over the Bill were the only slightly out of the ordinary sightings. The sea was again comprehensively watched - maybe simply in expectation of what ought to be passing on this date - but passage proved to be painfully slow, with 119 Common Scoter, 2 Black-throated Divers and singles of Great Northern Diver and Pomarine Skua the tally from the Bill.

With any luck a lot of the typically late migrants - the likes of Sanderling, Pomarine Skua and Swift - are just running late; 3 Sanderlings was a very poor total at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

5th May

A lovely clear, sunny day to get out birding but much too nice to expect much in the way of an arrival of migrants. Although variety remained on a par with recent days numbers took a tumble, with 50 Willow Warblers, 40 Wheatears, 15 Blackcaps, 8 Whinchats and 6 Reed Warbler making up the bulk of the grounded tally at the Bill; odds pockets of birds elsewhere saw 10 or more Spotted Flycatchers logged around the centre of the island, where singles of Grasshopper Warbler at Wakeham and Pied Flycatcher at Reap Lane where species that didn't make the list at the Bill. Waders at Ferrybridge included 22 Bar-tailed Godwits and 9 Sanderling. Overhead passage was again rather light but did include a Serin over Blacknor. Singles of Great Northern Diver and Great Skua passed by off the Bill.

The off-passage Whimbrel showed nicely in the morning sun at Ferrybridge © Debby Saunders:

The summer gull flock that's been such a feature of the last few years at the Bill gathered even earlier this year and has already been well established for several weeks. Although in its present incarnation a relatively recent feature it does hark back to events in the 1960s and 70s when there was usually a large feeding flock of Gannets and gulls offshore during the summer months. The current flock is certainly quite a spectacle and with a favourable gentle onshore breeze is audible throughout the island! © Martin Cade:

4th May

A flat calm, bright dawn after a clear night didn't bode well so the variety quickly encountered was a welcome surprise even if numbers fell short of what's been on offer so often just lately. An overflying Serin was the chief prize at the Bill, where amongst the 75 Willow Warblers and 50 Wheatears there were small numbers of nearly everything else that might be expected in early May - a Grasshopper Warbler and one of the very few Goldcrests this spring were perhaps the pick of this back-up selection. Waders featured again in fair numbers, including 65 Dunlin, 35 Bar-tailed Godwits, 3 Sanderling, 2 Whimbrel and a Common Sandpiper at Ferrybridge. Visible passage included a few pulses of Swallows but numbers weren't what might have been expected given the conditions. The fact that not a single skua was logged - that can't have happened very often on this date - spoke volumes for the continuing dire sea situation, with 60 Common Scoter, 4 Red-throated Divers and 2 Great Northern Divers an inconsequential return from the Bill.

The Serin passing over the Obs garden this morning:

We don't fully understand where our migrant Goldcrests hail from but the ringing recoveries suggest at least as far north and east as Scandinavia and Poland; what we're particularly uncertain of is the degree to which birds from nearer to home pass through on passage. What we can say with certainty is that wherever they come from either they're doing extremely badly or they've had a sudden and profound change in their migratory habits: for us to have only trapped and ringed two last autumn and two this spring puts these seasons on a par with 1963 when, in the aftermath of the savage '62-'63 winter that presumably killed off a large percentage of these migrants in their western European wintering areas, none were ringed (our usual annual ringing total runs well into the hundreds). What's the explanation? - frankly, we haven't got a clue: surely recent European winters haven't been harsh enough to decimate these migratory populations to this degree but equally it seems improbable that there's been a sudden shift in the bird's winter quarters such that they no longer impinge on us on passage; maybe European winters have actually got so mild that many are staying closer to their natal areas and far fewer are getting over to this part of the world in the first place? © Martin Cade:

3rd May

A ticking over day rather than one dripping with migrants but more than entertaining enough with plenty of variety to get amongst. Totals of the likes of 10 Reed Warblers, 8 Garden Warblers, 7 Yellow Wagtails, 6 Whinchats, 3 Hobbys, 2 Ring Ouzels and a Pied Flycatcher amongst the good spread of more routine arrivals around the south of the island were complemented by increased wader activity, including totals of 97 Dunlin, 45 Bar-tailed Godwits, 13 Turnstones, 2 Sanderlings and a Redshank at Ferrybridge. The millpond-calm sea was again well-watched but 3 Arctic Skuas, 2 Red-throated Divers, 2 Great Skuas and a Mute Swan were the only rewards at the Bill.

A Sika Deer on Chesil near the Ferrybridge car park was, to out knowledge, only the second recorded on land at Portland (a third record concerns one spotted swimming in the harbour off Sandsfoot Castle!). A group of c50 Common Dolphins were off the Bill.

The Bar-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge proved popular © Roy Norris (top) and Pete Saunders (bottom)

Needs must if you're knackered but as refuelling stops en route to the Waddenzee go this lonesome Barwit drew the short straw with its rocky cliff-top at the Bill © Martin Cade:

Pied Flycatcher at Southwell © Pete Saunders:

2nd May

After yesterday's disappointing washout, this morning's dreary skies after a night of further occasional drizzly rain were altogether more fruitful, dropping a nicely varied and numerous selection of later season arrivals. Everything expected was well-represented on the ground, including notable totals of 300 Willow Warblers, 150 Wheatears, 35 Garden Warblers and 20 Whinchats at the Bill, whilst amongst the less regulars 2 Ring Ouzels and singles of Cuckoo, Black Redstart and Pied Flycatcher dotted about the island were of interest. As might have been expected, wader numbers also picked up with 83 Dunlin, 40 Bar-tailed Godwits and 11 Whimbrel among the mix at Ferrybridge. The sea remained the poor relation with plenty of watching coming up with just 3 Red-throated Divers, 3 Arctic Skuas and singles of Gadwall, Great Skua and Pomarine Skua though off the Bill.

Some of today's migrant activity: Garden Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher © Debby Saunders...

...Common Scoters © Peter Moore petermooreblog...

...Whinchat © Paul Hopwood...

...and Turnstone, Greenland/Iceland Wheatear and Continental Song Thrush © Martin Cade:

An Arctic Skua this evening doing what Arctic Skuas do - being nasty pieces of work...

...and the Turnstone not doing Turnstones do but looking great all the same © Martin Cade