31st August

Grey, damp and miserable for a good part of the day but oddly interesting nonetheless with anticipation of things maybe just about to happen - they never really did! - on land and sea. It was too wet through most of the morning for any serious birding but some sea passage developed during the afternoon that included 42 Balearic Shearwaters, 3 Arctic Skuas and singles of Storm Petrel and Great Skua off the Bill. The land didn't get thorough coverage but 2 Grasshopper Warblers and a Pied Flycatcher at the Bill and 24 Turnstones, 4 Black-tailed Godwits, 3 Knot, 2 Sanderling, 2 Redshanks and a Whimbrel at Ferrybridge were among the rewards for those that tried.

This afternoon's Black-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

And back to last Sunday morning - 27th August - for more on the Marsh Warbler. Dawn was just breaking very spectacularly when Mark Cutts hot-footed back from Culverwell with one of his first captures of the day...

...to our eyes we were utterly underwhelmed when we took this acro from the bag - in the really warm light it looked rufousy and Reed Warbler was the obvious answer; however, everyone else who saw it was instantly more impressed and all were seeing olive tones that our eyes were clearly not perceiving. Mark had already taken some measurements that looked to be pro-Marsh Warbler and our checking just confirmed this - wing length 69mm, notch on the 2nd primary 8mm; additionally, the primary projection was noticeable long, the 2nd primary notch fell more or less level with the 7th primary, the bill was short and deep, the toes were short and strong-looking, the legs were yellowish, there was a creamy-yellow wash to the underparts...everything really did look to be backing up an ID as Marsh.

Inevitably, one or two contour feathers were dislodged during the measuring/photographing process and these'll no doubt eventually furnish us with chapter and verse on the bird's genes but for the time being what an interesting bird that during a busy session we could quite easily have passed off at first glance as a Reed before the wing length alone would have halted us in our tracks! Assuming the feathers don't tell a different story, this was our first August Marsh Warbler - likely the time of year when they're most difficult. Spring adults should be relatively straightforward and our experience of later autumn birds - we've been fortunate enough to handle/see literally thousands in Kenya where they pass through during November/December - is that they're usually much more obviously olive-toned by that time. Here are a few in-field Marsh Warblers from Kenya last November (the second bird is a first-winter and the third an adult; the other two are most likely also adults but there's not quite enough detail visible to be absolutely sure) © Martin Cade:

30th August

Fair weather and a gentle northeasterly encouraged a good deal more fieldwork than of late but the rewards were pretty scant, with grounded passerine migrants only thinly spread and overhead passage surprisingly limited. Three Spotted Flycatchers and singles of White Wagtail, Whinchat, Grasshopper Warbler and Pied Flycatcher amongst the 50 Wheatears, 25 Willow Warblers and lower totals of other routine migrants were as interesting as it got on the ground at the Bill, where 24 Yellow Wagtails, 14 Tree Pipits, 8 Grey Wagtails, 2 Siskins and a Merlin passed overhead. Sea interest dwindled, with 52 Manx Shearwaters, 23 Balearic Shearwaters and 4 Arctic Skuas the best off the Bill.

The trees at the Eight Kings Quarry are a bit of a flycatcher hotspot at the moment - this Pied was there this morning © Pete Saunders

There hasn't been much happening by way of migration spectacles in air just lately but a burgeoning flock of Starlings - numbering more than 450 today - have been putting on a good show at the Bill...

...where the inevitable Sparrowhawks have been attracted © Pete Saunders:

Knot and Turnstone at Ferrybridge this morning © Pete Saunders (Knot) and Roy Norris (Turnstone):

Grasshopper Warbler and Whinchat provided some interest from the mist-nets today © Martin Cade:

Good news received today from Nick Stantiford was that the Barn Owls in his box at Southwell have for the second year in succession successfully fledged two young © Nick Stantiford:

29th August

Portland Bill 
Manx Shearwater c50etc
Balearic Shearwater c250etc
(additionally, c500 unidentified - too distant - Manx/Balearic Shearwaters)
Grey Heron 1
Cattle Egret 1
Ringed Plover 1
Whimbrel 1
Arctic Skua 3w
Swift 3
Yellow Wagtail 200s
White Wagtail 2
Grey Wagtail 6
Tree Pipit 19
Wheatear 50
Grasshopper Warbler 1
Sedge Warbler 3
Reed Warbler 1
Blackcap 3
Willow Warbler 30 
Chiffchaff 2
Pied Flycatcher 2

Pied Flycatcher 1
Spotted Flycatcher 1

Shepherd's Dinner
Little Egret 1

Sanderling 2
Turnstone 17

Spotted Flycatcher at Eight Kings Quarry © Pete Saunders:

28th August

A bit of action on all fronts today, with a gradual easing in the strength of the wind being helpful all round. Yellow Wagtail topped the common migrant totals, with 190 through south over the Bill and a scatter of lower numbers settled with livestock; Wheatear and Willow Warbler both got to over 60 on the ground there, with 3 Pied Flycatchers, a White Wagtail and a Firecrest amongst the single figure totals that provided some variety; the first Merlin of the season was also overhead at Ferrybridge. The wader situation was largely unchanged, with 5 Sanderling and a Common Sandpiper the best of the Ferrybridge selection and a Whimbrel still lingering at the Bill. Shearwaters dominated the sea totals, with 75 Manx and 58 Balearics through at the Bill, where 94 Kittiwakes, 13 Common Scoter, 3 Little Egrets and 2 Arctic Skuas also passed by.

The more or less on cue first Merlin of the autumn was causing havoc at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

Some of the Sandwich Terns that are still passing through at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

27th August

Numbers remained hard to come by on a breezier than expected day although compensation came with a Marsh Warbler turning up in the mist-nets at Culverwell at dawn. Sadly, this early excitement wasn't the harbinger of good things to come as common migrant tally remained stubbornly low: there were a trickle of Yellow Wagtails and Tree Pipits overhead but on the ground only Wheatear and Whitethroat managed double figure totals at the Bill, where 2 departing Ospreys overhead and singles of Pied Flycatcher and Firecrest on the ground were the only worthwhile oddities; elsewhere, a Serin at Coombefield was a real oddity for this time of year (...we're not sure that there are any previous records for the month of August). The sea continued to tick over although conspicuously less busily than yesterday, with 101 Kittiwakes, 80 Manx Shearwaters, 19 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Arctic Skuas and a Yellow-legged Gull the best of the totals from the Bill. The morning's Ferrybridge wader tally included 140 Ringed Plover, 19 Turnstones, 3 Sanderlings and singles of Whimbrel, Redshank and Common Sandpiper.

We're running late this evening so we'll have to save the extra details on the Marsh Warbler until tomorrow; in the meanwhile a few phone photos of it:

26th August

The sea had to save the day again today with the briskish westerly breeze doing just enough to make up for what, perhaps not surprisingly, the clear overnight sky didn't deliver on the ground. One of the earlier in the week Melodious Warblers was a surprise recapture in the Obs garden mist-nets but the likes of 10 Tree Pipits, 2 Pied Flycatchers and singles of Redshank, Snipe and Common Sandpiper hardly provided much quality amongst the tiny numbers of commoner migrants kicking about at the Bill. A little bit of turn over amongst the Ferrybridge waders included the arrival of  17 Knot and 7 Sanderlings. Offshore, the Balearic Shearwater tally reached 78, with 190 Kittiwakes, 15 Common Scoter, 10 Manx Shearwaters and singles of Teal and Arctic Skua the best of rest from the sea.

Our evening Ferrybridge wader session provided one of those little events that make you wonder what you miss there at this time of year when there's so much active migration afoot: we became aware of Knot calls from high above us as we were scanning the mud and looked up to see 17 of them descending out of a clear, blue sky...

...they pitched in and fed voraciously for a short while...

...but within minutes were away off over Chesil into the setting sun. Where will they be by this time tomorrow? © Martin Cade:

Spotted Flycatchers are nice easy birds to age at this time of year, not only in the hand as we're fortunate enough to see them but also in the field. Although they have a really freaky moult regime this shouldn't get in the way of the fact that in autumn adults are looking very plain relative to the youngsters that have, amongst other things, a striking spotty wing-bar and spots on the tips of the uppertail coverts. Here are examples of the two age classes from our mist-nets this week © Martin Cade:

And to end, a couple of interesting 'you don't usually see it like this' views of Portland from earlier this week © Rob Sawyer:

25th August

Migration's progressed in some odd ways so far this autumn with today seeing that pattern continue, particularly when 1380 Kittiwakes shot through off the Bill in just 90 minutes at dawn; other movers on the sea there included 275 Manx Shearwaters, 18 Common Scoter, 16 Balearic Shearwaters, 4 Arctic Skuas and 3 Yellow-legged Gulls. Passerine passage - at least what we're seeing of it on the ground - still hasn't got any really sustained momentum to it but today was a tad more rewarding than many days just lately, with 70 Willow Warblers grounded at the Bill, where 50 Yellow Wagtails and 35 Tree Pipits were among the over-flyers. Variety around and about included singles of Wood Sandpiper and Firecrest at the Bill, singles of Spotted and Pied Flycatcher at Sweethill, 8 Spotted and a Pied Flycatcher at Coombefield and a Hobby over Ferrybridge. Ferrybridge was also still busy with waders including 180 Ringed Plovers, 16 Turnstones and 2 Knot.

24th August

Despite seemingly interesting conditions - a little pre-dawn damp, the threat of rain never far off through the morning and eventually some heavy, thundery downpours either side of midday - the land was pretty abject, with 25 Yellow Wagtails, 10 Tree Pipits, 2 Yellow-legged Gulls, 2 Redstarts and singles of Spotted and Pied Flycatchers representing the best of what arrival there was at the Bill; a Firecrest also lingered on there with a second individual - a new arrival - at Southwell. Now and again it looked like hirundines might get going overhead but the ever present threat of storms offshore likely put paid to their thoughts of a Channel crossing. Wader variety increased and included 9 Knot, 4 Sanderling and singles of Whimbrel, Redshank and Greenshank at Ferrybridge and 6 Whimbrel and a Redshank at the Bill. The day's surprise performer was the sea - and that despite almost millpond-calm conditions - with 550 Kittiwakes, 79 Balearic Shearwaters, 46 commic terns, 25 Arctic Skuas, 17 Manx Shearwaters and 12 Sandwich Terns through off the Bill; 250 Kittiwakes and 4 Arctic Skuas lingering off Chesil during the evening may have been some of the birds involved in this movement.

This morning's very confiding Whimbrel on the Portland Harbour shore © Pete Saunders:

And now to some news that's already been communicated to attendees of our AGM and other regular visitors to the Obs but is probably not widely known to other more occasional visitors to the island. Last year we completed the purchase of two more tranches of land at the Bill, namely the Privet Hedge Strip and the far westernmost strips in the Obs Quarry Field (these are marked in red on the map below; the green areas are those that we already owned and the blue strips are those that we rent from other landowners). This latest purchase was made possible by a very kind donation from Trish and Dave Budgen in memory of Trish's brother, Rob Tuck, who had been a regular visitor to the Obs before sadly passing away in 2021. Although this purchase came too late for the land to be included within our current Countryside Stewardship agreement we're managing the strips in a similar way: the Privet Hedge Strip was planted this spring with bird-friendly sacrificial arable crops, whilst the strips in the Obs Quarry Field will be left as flower-rich limestone grassland. 

As a thanks to Trish and Dave for their generosity the Observatory commissioned a stone memorial bench that last week was installed atop the hill on the edge of the Privet Hedge Strip; the bench itself is a magnificent three tonne piece of shelly Portland stone, whilst the commanding view from it right across the Bill is equally magnificent © Martin Cade:

23rd August

Plenty of variety if not - Swallows excepted - that much by way of numbers today. The Swallows - many hundreds were on the move over Ferrybridge and at the Bill - were making the most of a clear sky and lovely warm sunshine to move ahead of a change in the weather pattern that looked to be manifesting itself late in the day as dark clouds built up only a little way out in the Channel; also on the move overhead were several Sparrowhawks, with 1 through at Ferrybridge and 3 through over the Bill. Grounded nocturnal migrants weren't so plentiful but did include an early first Firecrest of the autumn, 3 Pied Flycatchers, 2 Whinchats and singles of Common Sandpiper, Redstart and Grasshopper Warbler dotted about the centre and south of the island amongst a fair spread of more routine fare. At Ferrybridge, Ringed Plovers again dominated the wader tally, reaching 212. The sea was more poorly covered than of late, with 4 Arctic Skuas the best of what was detected in short watches from the Bill.

Wader numbers are impressive at Ferrybridge at the moment © Pete Saunders:

One of the day's Pied Flycatchers - this one was at Sweethill © Debby Saunders:

Migrant moths have been oddly low in both numbers and variety in recent nights; not that it's been that duff what with several Porter's Rustics and the like logged but these aren't really the sort of things that we make a big deal about reporting in a hurry these days. Excitement levels changed this morning though when this Rest Harrow showed up in one of the Obs traps - for sure the first record for Portland and possibly even the first for Dorset; confined as a resident in Britain to the far southeast corner, the odd presumed immigrant specimens do turn up a little further afield from time to time so it was something we'd always hoped would one day pitch up at Portland © Martin Cade:

22nd August

Not great change in the weather and, at least when it came to the day's highlight, no great change in the birding with 2 Melodious Warblers at Culverwell - a new arrival together with yesterday's bird retrapped - providing the quality. With the exception of Ringed Plovers that continued to hover around the 200 mark at Ferrybridge, commoner migrants remained inexplicably thinly spread: most that might be expected did make the log but numbers were low and variety didn't beyond the level of the likes of 15 Tree Pipits, 9 Yellow Wagtails, a Greenshank, a Garden Warbler and a Pied Flycatcher at the Bill, a Redstart at Barleycrates Lane and 5 Common Sandpipers and a Greenshank at Ferrybridge. After yesterday's mini rush Balearic Shearwaters were reduced to a trickle of just 17 through off the Bill, where 98 Kittiwakes and a Little Gull represented the best of the rest.

If yesterday's Melodious Warbler was a bit of a dazzler, today's newcomer took subdued to another level with the yellow wash to the underparts reduced to the most subtle of skims © Martin Cade:

Both Common Sandpiper and Greenshank have been well-represented just lately and that momentum was maintained at Ferrybridge this morning © Pete Saunders:

Visitors to our social media feeds will have noticed that we recently joined the burgeoning Motus wildlife tracking network - check out the Motus website for an overview of  this international collaborative project. A big thanks to Alan Shuttleworth and Fiona Mathews who very kindly undertook the far from straightforward installation of the receiving antennae and associated paraphernalia and the commissioning of the system © Martin Cade:

21st August

At least until well into the afternoon a more heavily overcast day than expected - conditions that might have been expected to produce a good drop of migrants; sadly, today wasn't that sort of day although its blushes were more than spared by the year's first Melodious Warbler turning up in a mist-net at the Obs, the highest count to date of Balearic Shearwaters over the sea and a Honey Buzzard through overhead at the Bill. Migrant numbers left a lot to be desired, with still no more than a thin spread of Wheatears, Sedge Warblers, Whitethroats and Willow Warblers at the Bill, amongst which the likes of 15 mainly overflying Tree Pipits, 4 Grey Herons, 3 Yellow Wagtails, a Greenshank, a Blackcap and a Spotted Flycatcher were hardly the sort of variety to excite. Offshore, the surge of 61 Balearic Shearwaters was a highpoint and very welcome after their woeful showing so far this summer/autumn; Arctic Skuas continued their strong showing with 8 more through and Lesser Black-backed Gulls continued to trickle away to the south but sea movement was otherwise rather limited. Twelve Whimbrel were the pick of the day's waders at Ferrybridge.

Autumn Melodious Warblers - particularly youngsters that are the almost exclusive rule at this time of year - are often rather subdued in saturation but today's bird was having none of that and was heading towards as bright as a spring adult...

...although causing many a quandary in the field, the in-hand separation from Icterine Warbler is a lot more straightforward: wing length alone separates all but the tiniest proportion (today's bird with a wing length of 64mm was way, way short of anything possible for an Icterine Warbler) but there are always simple visible features that can be checked at a glance like the number of primary emarginations (three on this Melodious but only two on an Icterine) © Martin Cade: