30th September

A welcome increase in the volume of passage today although quality remained hard to come by. Grounded migrants were more conspicuous than of late but it was overhead passage that made up the bulk of the day's numbers, with a sample hour after dawn at the Bill returning totals of 1200 Meadow Pipits, 170 Linnets, 148 alba wagtails, 67 Siskins, 38 Chaffinches, 30 Dunnocks and 25 Skylarks, with 2 departing Kestrels and a Merlin amongst the tag-alongs. Grounded Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were more numerous everywhere - although still far short of what might be hoped/expected at this time - but quality was very limited, with a lone Firecrest at the Bill and a Curlew Sandpiper at Ferrybridge hardly constituting a worthy return for plenty of effort. Offshore, 5 Arctic Skuas and 4 Balearic Shearwaters passed by at the Bill.

Our association with the Old World Webworm Hellula undalis goes back a long time since our first was at the Obs on the night of 30th September/1st October 1990, a period when there was some pretty amazing migration afoot: we only used to run one moth-trap at that time and on that morning it hosted the undalis - Barry Goater's then recently published pyralid guide only mentioned one previous British record - and a Dark Mottled Willow which was also the second for Britain; the Scarce Light Plume Crombrugghia laetus also in the trap was only about the tenth for Britain (and a couple of Crimson Speckleds were chivvied up from field edges on the same day - we'll always remember Bernard Skinner turning up the next day and telling us that: 'there'll be tens of thousands in Britain today', but he was crest-fallen by the end of the day after he'd failed to chivvy up one for himself!). Anyway, in the meanwhile we've trashed the planet to such an extent that these days undalis is almost to be expected during episodes of migration and our two from the Obs moth-traps this morning - that are the third and fourth on the island in the last few days - seem almost insignificant as we wait for the appearance of far more juicy rarities that we never even knew existed in 1990 © Martin Cade:

29th September

Frankly, pitiful today. In much improved conditions there was plenty of fieldwork and fair showings of the expected Meadow Pipits, alba wagtail and Siskins overhead and Wheatears, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs on the ground but quality was lacking everywhere. At the Bill, 3 Redpolls overhead and a grounded Black Redstart were the first there this autumn, singles of Merlin and Grasshopper Warbler also made the list there, whilst singles of Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper were at Ferrybridge.

Beggars can't be choosers and we're always more than happy to poach photos of some of the Weymouth highlights, particularly as they're unlikely to get an airing elsewhere. Visitors from Hampshire, Richard Levitt and Tracey Viney, got lucky at Lodmoor this afternoon when they stumbled across first a Turtle Dove and then an extremely unlikely September Whooper Swan - we can't recollect a Whooper Swan in September anywhere in Dorset before this © Richard Levitt & Tracey Viney:

28th September

Although Storm Agnes turned out to be a peripheral event it did stir things up enough that today's migrant selection was a little more varied than has been the case recently. A petrel wrecked in Chesil Cove at dawn was not fully clinched before it was killed by gulls but Leach's was suspected; the sea also produced 21 Balearic Shearwaters and 14 Arctic Skuas through off the Bill. A small increase in grounded migrants included singles of Siberian Lesser Whitethroat, Grasshopper Warbler and Firecrest at the Bill, a Redstart at Verne Common, a Pied Flycatcher at Tilleycombe and 5 Knot and 5 Sanderlings at Ferrybridge. Overhead passage again included strong southbound movements of 1250 Meadow Pipits, 500 Swallows and 278 Great Black-backed Gulls at the Bill.

Today wasn't a good day for the oddities that made it here from far-flung points: the likely Leach's Petrel at Chesil Cove was killed by gulls and the Siberian Lesser Whitethroat at the Bill was killed by a Kestrel © Martin Cade:

27th September

The impeding passing of Storm Agnes brought with it an ever-freshening southerly but, for long periods at least, far less cloud than might have been expected and overhead passage was the day's main feature. Swallows were streaming through both at Ferrybridge and the Bill, with a sample count at the latter of 2750 in 90 minutes giving a good indication of the volume of movement at its peak; Meadow Pipits were also on the move in quantity but they looked to be taking a subtly different track that didn't lend itself to straightforward counting, whilst the morning's other prominent mover was Great Black-backed Gull, with 288 south at the Bill. After a largely clear, moonlit night grounded migrants weren't a feature, with no more than odds and ends of expected fare everywhere. The island's waters weren't graced with even a fraction of the seabirds logged further west: the tally at the Bill of 22 Balearic Shearwaters, 3 Arctic Skuas and a Grey Phalarope was, with the exception of the latter, barely worth a mention.

26th September

Both pre- and post-dawn rain failed to make any noticeable difference to our fortunes and it remained quiet on all fronts. A handful more grounded arrivals saw 35 Wheatears make up the loin's share, the first three-figure tally of Linnets and a lone Merlin were the pick of overhead passage and 28 Balearic Shearwaters and singles of Sooty Shearwater and Arctic Skua passed by on the sea. 

25th September

 A very underwhelming day, with passage on all fronts at a low ebb. The sea provided the day's two highlights with a Long-tailed Skua through at Chesil Cove and a Cory's Shearwater through off the Bill, but routine movement there was hardly up to scratch with just 229 Great Black-backed Gulls (with another 107 settled ashore), 30 Balearic Shearwaters and a Little Gull of additional note off the Bill. On a bright and breeze morning visible passage was unaccountably poor, with Meadow Pipits reduced to the low hundreds and the likes of Siskins to a few dozen. The land was well scrutinized but was also disappointing: Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs weren't at all numerous and there were no noteworthy finds amongst the ones and twos of other migrants uncovered.

24th September

Today might have marked the beginning of the downhill slide into winter but you'd have been forgiven for overlooking that unpleasant detail as dawn broke considerable milder - albeit also considerably windier - than the last few. The immediately recapture of yesterday's Red-eyed Vireo was not altogether unexpected, although less welcome for those tardy observers wishing to catch up with it was its subsequent disappearance into the ether. It was the strength of the southerly wind that was to prove the provider of a lot of day's other interest, with a steady seawatch developing that included 90 Balearic Shearwaters, 12 Sooty Shearwaters, 5 Manx Shearwaters, 5 Arctic Skuas and singles of Cory's Shearwater and Great Skua through off the Bill. A roaming Cattle Egret that was noticed over both Easton and Southwell was an unexpected oddity, whilst a Grey Phalarope that dropped in briefly at Ferrybridge was an on-cue first for the autumn. Neither grounded nor overflying migrants were much of a feature, with a Firecrest at Pennsylvania Castle and 2 Curlew Sandpipers at Ferrybridge easily the best of the day's more routine new arrivals.

Equinoctial gales might be a bit of a meteorological myth but windy spells at this time of year do usually produce the first wrecked Grey Phalaropes of the season; they're nearly always youngsters like today's bird at Ferrybridge that are presumably more susceptible to being affected but also on the move later than adults (...is that actually right? - it's just that a lot of the photos we see of them elsewhere in August/early September seem to involve adults):

In comparison with some other places Curlew Sandpipers seem to be a little under-represented amongst the Ferrybridge waders so far this month:

You can bet your bottom dollar it won't be a Cory's that's the closest shearwater of the day at the Bill photos © Paul Matson:

23rd September

Portland's day always comes around and today's excitement came in the form of the island's third Red-eyed Vireo that was trapped at Culverwell - seemingly so far the furthest east that something from the current displacement of North American passerines has reached. In far too fair conditions routine migrants weren't at all numerous on the ground, with only a thin spread of Wheatears, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs everywhere and little of particular note beyond singles of Knot and Firecrest at the Bill. Far more was on the move overhead, although even there totals of the likes of c1000 Meadow Pipits, 66 Siskins and 26 Chaffinches were far from big league as we near the last week of September. Another good movement of Balearic Shearwaters saw 201 pass the Bill where the first Great Northern Diver of the season was also logged.

Some detail on the vireo © Martin Cade...

...and we had no idea there were so many birdwatchers about today © Jodie Henderson:

22nd September

Lots of passage afoot today as migrants made the most of clear skies and a northwesterly breeze to head off towards winter quarters. Overhead passage dominated, with 2500 Meadow Pipits, 500 Swallows (hirundines were actually oddly under-represented, with far fewer logged than would be expected at this juncture), 100 Siskins and lower totals of a good range of tag-alongs leaving to the south. It was quieter on the ground but with a bit of perseverance a decently varied tally of expected fare was accumulated that included well into three-figure totals of Blackcap and Chiffchaff along with the likes of 7 Bar-tailed Godwits, 4 Spotted Flycatchers, 3 Knot, 2 Redstarts and singles of Golden Plover, Little Stint, White Wagtail, Whinchat, Garden Warbler and Pied Flycatcher (along with a likely Grey Phalarope reported by non-birders from Chesil). Another resurgence in Balearic Shearwaters saw 142 pass the Bill, where 293 auks was easily their highest total of the autumn to date and a single Red-throated Diver was a first for the season.

21st September

Gallows humour aplenty today as the best efforts of a few stalwarts uncovered not a sniff of an American passerine despite a veritable torrent of their congeners in other parts - our day's been before and it'll come again. What did unfold for those out on the hunt was a decent enough day with most routine mid-September migrants represented overhead and on the ground. Passing Meadow Pipits got well into four figures at the Bill, where 141 Siskins, singles of Hobby and Merlin, and the first Reed Bunting of the season were of note amongst the wide variety of other overhead movers. Blackcaps dominated on the ground, where the lingering Barred Warbler again showed occasionally in the Obs Quarry but there was little else beyond the routine; the middle and north of the island was busier, with singles of Turtle Dove and Pied Flycatcher of note at Coombefield. In benign conditions and after yesterday's excesses the sea was always going to disappoint so a passing Sabine's Gull off the Bill - along with just 18 Balearic Shearwaters - was a surprise.

Wheatear and Whitethroat amongst the day's migrants at the Bill © Joe Stockwell:

20th September

A day that was one of a peculiar mix of joy and deep frustration. There was elation for the listers, some of whom scored two county ticks from the morning's short, sharp seawatch, but there was also no shortage of pondering on what might have been: the island's waters were clearly right on the cusp of a much more significant seabird event, whilst the torrents of rain that fell from mid-morning until after dark almost entirely scuppered chances for getting out on the hunt for the American passerine that could so easily have been out there. The morning's sea happenings were verging on a 'blink and you missed it' event, with 220 Balearic Shearwaters, 6 Cory's Shearwaters, 3 Arctic Skuas, 2 each of Great Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater and Great Skua, and singles of Storm Petrel and Sabine's Gull through in remarkably quick time from dawn before movement all but stopped dead; another 3 Balearic Shearwaters also passed through at Chesil Cove. Scant coverage of the land revealed little more amongst a few Blackcaps and phylloscs than 4 Goldcrests, a Pied Flycatcher and a Siskin at Pennsylvania Castle and another Goldcrest at Tillycombe.

The first...

...and second Great Shearwaters of the morning...

...and one of the two Sooty Shearwaters © Joe Stockwell:

19th September

The stir-up in the weather associated with the remains of Hurricane Lee manifested itself in pretty unpleasant conditions throughout, with seawatching occupying the majority of the day. Three Cory's Shearwaters through off the Bill and another through at Chesil Cove were the chief rewards, with at least one Long-tailed Skua (and another couple of likely candidates) a further bonus off the Bill. Routine passage wasn't rip-roaring, with c270 Kittiwakes, 74 Balearic Shearwaters, 14 Arctic Skuas, 12 Manx Shearwaters, 7 Sandwich Terns and a Great Skua through off the Bill. The only other reports were from Ferrybridge where 5 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Little Stint, a Knot and a Greenshank were amongst the waders and a Merlin passed through.

The day's Arctic Skuas afforded a range of viewing opportunities...

...but the Great Skua and the majority of the Balearic Shearwaters weren't really so obliging...

...whilst the Cory's Shearwaters were, as usual, rather camera-shy to say the least:

We'd like to furnish viewers with some nice video of a Bill Cory's but since we can't we'll have to fall back on this random (or maybe not so random?) selection of Pendeen Cory's that obliged during the course of our family summer holiday in Cornwall back in August - the weather was terrible for a summer holiday but great for a couple of nice seawatches. Out of interest, the closest of these birds are at c800 metres range, whilst the more distant ones must be at a fair bit over a kilometre away:

And finally a little bit of amusing ineptness on our part. Just last week we maligned having so little time for any birding after teatime and by the time we managed to get to Ferrybridge this evening it was already semi-dark as well as drizzling heavily. During a scan through the waders we came upon a ghostly-pale Tringa standing motionless in the furthest corner of the sandflats; it immediately looked arrestingly interesting and, unaccountably (...although in our defense we're pretty sure we've never seen a settled Greenshank there on an evening visit), we decided without a thought or critical appraisal it'd be a yellowlegs species that'd just dropped in totally knackered after a non-stop flight from Canada. The rapidly failing light dictated a run back to the car for a camera and then a run along the edge of the beach to get a closer view. Was it worth all this and a good soaking for a perfectly typical Greenshank - no, probably not! © Martin Cade:

18th September

With a few days of wilder weather in prospect interest in the land dwindled and most attention was given to the sea, with 78 Balearic Shearwaters, 17 Arctic Skuas, 2 Manx Shearwaters, 2 Sooty Shearwaters and singles of Great Skua and Long-tailed Skua the chief rewards from the Bill. The Barred Warbler maintained an occasional presence in the Obs Quarry, with double figure totals of Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear and Chiffchaff providing the bulk of the grounded migrant tally at the Bill. Elsewhere, a Merlin was at Ferrybridge where the wader selection included 5 Bar-tailed Godwits, 2 Sanderling and singles of Knot and Little Stint.

17th September

Variety with the weather and variety on the bird front today. The weather was all over the place, with electric storms, torrential rain, bright sunshine and steaming humidity all featuring at times and all in their own way messing up birding opportunities. A Cory's Shearwater off the Bill was the day's birding highlight, with that coming out of seawatching sessions that otherwise didn't produce much more than 31 Balearic Shearwaters. The land was only a little more productive with an elusive Barred Warbler at the Obs Quarry - likely to be a reappearance of the bird trapped last week although the views were never prolonged enough to establish that fact for sure - the pick of a thin but varied selection of more expected fare on the ground; overhead, singles of Lapwing and Ruff were oddities at the Bill, with the latter also pitching up at Ferrybridge where a Little Stint was also a brief visitor.

After flying overhead at the Bill, the Ruff later appeared looking rather incongruous on the sandflats at Ferrybridge © Martin Cade:

16th September

Not a great deal to shout about again today: for the duration, Portland remained right on the edge of a band of rain to the west - a scenario that on another occasion might have delivered but today provided little to excite. Overhead passage did pick up again, with a steady flow of Meadow Pipits and hirundines - many well out over the sea - heading east into the breeze; singles of Osprey and Kestrel also left to the south, the customary array of other mid-autumn pipits, wagtails and the like were represented in small numbers and 16 Black-headed Gulls were of note after their almost absence just lately. It was uneventful on the ground, with no surprises amongst the thin scatter of passerines on the land and just 5 each of Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit with the otherwise routine waders at Ferrybridge. A resurgence in Balearic Shearwaters off the Bill - 207 before the movement abruptly halted - saw the sea given a fair bit of attention, with 4 Arctic Skuas and singles of Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Mallard and Teal noteworthy additions to the tally.

Carrying on from yesterday's musing on Whitethroats, today we trapped another nice adult that further illustrated their pale - in this case verging on orange - iris:

Adults are quite odd in as much they very often arrest/suspend moult in the secondaries (and occasional in other feather tracts as well) during their otherwise complete post-breeding moult; today's bird - a male by the look of it - has left the penultimate inner secondary unmoulted:

Here's another adult - likely a female - that's moulted all of its flight feathers but looks to have left some of the lesser coverts unmoulted. Incidentally, compare the tertials of these birds with those of the Kenyan bird - a rubicola? - we posted yesterday; as far as we know there aren't any accepted records of 'eastern' Whitethroats for Britain but any of the forms could surely occur and a vagrant with tertials anything like this ought to stand out like a sore thumb:

We're not great fans of giving too much weigh to feather shape as an ageing criteria - give us an unambiguous plumage difference any time! Feather shape is often a useful back-up feature but it seems to be one of those things that the more you look the more you find exceptions to what ought to be the rule - today's Whitethroat featured above had just the right colour pattern to its tail feathers but the outer ones at least were oddly pointed...

...and quite unlike the broad, round-ended shape expected in a text-book adult like this one from earlier in the week:

And for comparison here are a couple of tails of youngsters from this week © Martin Cade:

15th September

Any promise engendered by a few decent enough days evaporated today - perhaps unexpectedly given the waft of easterly breeze - as passage at the Bill dwindled right away on all fronts. The likes of singles of Redstart, Whinchat, Reed Warbler and Goldcrest amongst a thin spread of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were well short of what might have excited on the ground and for long periods the sky was all but bereft of movement, with an eventual 100 each of Swallow and Meadow Pipit an order of magnitude shy of what ought to be making the log in mid-September. Five Balearic Shearwaters and 2 Arctic Skuas passed by on the sea.

Our photos of yesterday's Barred Warbler that showed the fantastic difference in iris colour between adults and youngsters reminded us that we'd been tinkering around during the last couple of weeks with a few ageing photos for Common Whitethroat. Given good light, the iris colour of their two age classes is surprisingly different - although of course there are differences and differences and things are a bit more subtle in Whitethroat than in Barred Warbler! Here are a couple of youngsters...

...that have a much darker iris than adults - the first of these adults is a likely female from Portland this week and the second is an adult male (quite likely of the race icterops) from Kenya last November:

Even in the field the paler iris of an adult should be reasonably obvious - this is another from Kenya (maybe of the race rubicola?) last November © Martin Cade:

14th September

Whilst not quite in the blink and you miss it league today was one of those days when you needed to out and about during the first couple of hours after dawn or all you got for your trouble was sunburn. The mainly clear sky didn't promise to have delivered much on the ground and what was about filtered away pretty sharpish; fortunately, the odds and ends that did drop included a nice highlight in the form of a Barred Warbler trapped in the Crown Estate Field. Its back-up cast wasn't of particular quality but did include enough Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs that the trees and scrub were full of activity for a while. Far greater numbers rushed through overhead, with 1300 Meadow Pipits, 650 Swallows, 130 Siskins, 91 House Martins, 44 Yellow Wagtails, 16 Tree Pipits, 16 Chaffinches and 10 Grey Wagtails through in very quick time over the Bill; amongst their travelling companions were an Osprey and the first signs this autumn of both Skylarks and Dunnocks beginning to get going. The sea didn't get going at all, with just 14 Balearic Shearwaters and 3 Arctic Skuas the best off the Bill.

The closer you look the more you find going on with a Barred Warbler's plumage - a subtly smart bird...

...although if you think today's youngster looked good then check out what an adult looks like in autumn - this is one from Kenya last November © Martin Cade:

13th September

A huge improvement today saw migration at last regain some momentum with a good little drop of particularly Chiffchaffs on the ground and a strong overhead passage that included the first four-figure total of Meadow Pipits; a Wryneck at the Bill also provided some long-overdue scarcity interest. An arrival on the ground was obvious as dawn broke but it proved to be a slow-burner, with the peak in numbers of Chiffchaffs - including about 100 at the Bill - not coming until much later in the morning; 40 Wheatears, 30 each of Yellow Wagtail, Blackcap and Willow Warbler, 20 Whitethroats and single figure totals of Whinchat, Grasshopper Warbler, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher provided the variety there, with a Lesser Whitethroat and a Pied Flycatcher at Coombefield/Thumb Lane and 15 Knot, 2 Golden Plovers and 2 Curlew Sandpipers at Ferrybridge of interest elsewhere. Overhead passage wasn't really sustained, but 1000 Meadow Pipits, 600 Swallows, 62 House Martins, 54 Siskins and a few other odds and ends passed through in quick time at the Bill. In a slack northeasterly the sea was uneventful, with 17 Balearic Shearwaters and a Teal the best off the Bill.

Quite how Portland hadn't been graced with a Wryneck so far this autumn was beyond us but that did to lead to this bird being much appreciated © Gavin Haig Not Quite Scilly (top) and John Martin (bottom)