30th April

Popular opinion today had it a band of rain lingering right across the Channel to the west of Portland would likely act as a block and the day's seabirds would be the few already to its east. It certainly seemed as though that scenario played out so the watchers who were out in force were fortunate that several skuas were amongst what little was on the move offshore, with 15 Arctics and 3 Pomarines through off the Bill and Chesil; Manx Shearwaters, Gannets and Kittiwakes were reasonably represented but sea passage was otherwise pretty limited, with 4 Sanderling, 3 Red-throated Divers and a Yellow-legged Gull amongst others through off the Bill and 33 Arctic Terns, 8 Whimbrel, 7 Sanderling, 3 Red-throated Divers, 3 Gadwall and 2 Great Northern Divers the best off Chesil. Grounded arrivals remained few and far between, with singles of Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Whinchat and Pied Flycatcher easily the best on offer around the Bill. An Osprey arriving from the south at the Bill was of note and a Merlin was also overhead there but visible passage of the likes of hirundines didn't really get going at all.

There were contrasting fortunes with the morning's Pom Skuas off the Bill: the first was a shocker in horrible harsh light against a dark sea and keeping so low that we believe the guys watching from the Obelisk missed it altogether (it subsequently headed back west before returning an hour later)..

...however, the next two were fantastic - giving absolutely blistering views as they rounded the Bill tip at close range and in nice flat light © Martin Cade:

The Chesil watchers were treated to a compelling show by a group of Arctic Skuas that lingered offshore...

...whilst 3 Gadwall through and nice views of Arctic Terns right overhead there were a treat © Joe Stockwell:

Kittiwakes have been really abundant in recent days with some strong up-Channel passage and also plenty of apparent lingerers around the Bill tip...

...it was interesting to see the varying level of wear in the first-summer birds - some are seemingly fresh as a daisy...

...whilst others are already massively worn with shattered flight feathers, something we've seen and probably remarked on in the past - do they come from different wintering areas or what's the explanation? © Martin Cade:

And talking of gulls, Common Gulls are now getting towards the end of their long winter away from the breeding grounds but there are still a few - nearly all immature to some degree or other - passing by © Martin Cade:

By way of non-seabirds today was a bit of a flop but this Osprey arriving in off the sea at the Bill was nice and only the second of the spring © Martin Cade...

...and after hours of mist-nets being open for virtually no reward a random Pied Flycatcher suddenly popped up in the Obs garden - you can never write off the unexpected at this time of year © Steve Hunting:

29th April

Quite pleasantly warm for the first time in days but ultimately rather disappointing on all fronts today. The sea had promised most but more or less all-day coverage at the Bill was rewarded with not all that much more than a few skuas - 6 Greats, 5 Arctics and a Pomarine that we've been told about but perhaps some more to add from observers we haven't heard from. Manx Shearwaters were a constant presence offshore and reached at least the 300 mark, whilst 225 Kittiwakes, 57 Sandwich Terns and 4 Red-throated Divers were among the totals from the first few hours of the day; of local interest was the sight of 2 Puffins together at times - the first time that's happened this year. The land was again a bit of a dead loss: there was a good spread of 50 Wheatears at the Bill but no more than ones and twos of most other grounded migrants; Swallows looked to be getting going in some quantity for a period during the morning but their passage also fizzled out. Elsewhere, the Ferrybridge Little Tern tally got into three figures for the first time this season, 2 Sanderling were amongst the wader mix there and a Great Northern Diver passed overhead.


A supremely obliging Whimbrel at Portland Bill this evening. #ukbirding

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— Gavin Haig (@notquitescilly.bsky.social) Apr 29, 2024 at 21:57


Portland Bill highlights to 10:00... 2 Arctic Skuas, 5 Bonxies, 4 RTD, 8 Barwits, 29 C Scoter and a Puffin. Poms no doubt imminent. 😊 #ukbirding

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— Gavin Haig (@notquitescilly.bsky.social) Apr 29, 2024 at 10:43

28th April

Whilst not entirely eviscerated of migrants the island seemed very barren today in comparison with the riches on offer just lately (the day's ringing total of just 7 birds looked paltry indeed when compared with the daily average of 125 over the last week). None of this should have come as any surprise after a night that had seen rain set in before dusk and drag on until a fair while after dawn; migrants obviously weren't moving in any quantity and much of what was about, including 3 Ring Ouzels at the Verne Moat and singles of Common Sandpiper, Short-eared Owl, Redstart, Whinchat, Grasshopper Warbler and Sedge Warbler at the Bill, were just as likely lingerers as new arrivals. What arrivals there were materialised through the day, when Swallows got moving in quantity - probably 500 or more through over the island as a whole - and the Dunlin tally at Ferrybridge shot up to 75. The offshore breeze of dawn backed and freshened conspicuously as the day went on which saw sea interest pick up, with an eventual tally of 300 Manx Shearwaters, 7 Red-throated Divers, 3 Red-breasted Mergansers, 3 Arctic Skuas and a Great Skua through off the Bill.

As anyone who's seawatched regularly at the Bill will know the light there on a bright evening is terrible as you're looking straight into the sun - this was a shame today since that was when the best of the day's movement was taking place. A Bonxie was nice, particularly since they remain so few and far between - this month's total still hasn't reached last April's paltry tally of 13 which doesn't bode well for a speedy recovery in numbers after the catastrophe wrought by avian flu...

...also severely under-strength are Manx Shearwaters that seem to have eschewed Portland waters both last year and this - the 300 this evening was easily the highest total logged so far this spring but an order of magnitude fewer than would usually be expected on an evening of brisk southwesterlies in April.

Red-throated Diver passage has usually begun to fizzle out by now but they're still on the move in quite fair numbers this year © Martin Cade:

Short-eared Owl at the Bill this evening © Liz & Steve Hunting:

Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel at Ferrybridge this morning © Pete Saunders:

27th April

Wow, what a ripping day - not that that was altogether surprising given the combination of clear, cold air that followed the passing of an overnight rain band but certainly a 'Portland at its best' spring arrival to remember. Compiling some meaningful day-totals for the island as a whole wasn't the easiest task since there was a conspicuous and rapid throughput of birds from the Bill to points northward so duplication was an issue; however, likely conservative summations include 350 Wheatears (nearly all northwestern birds), 250 Willow Warblers, 180 Whitethroats, 160 Blackcaps, 30 Chiffchaffs, 28 Redstarts, 23 Sedge Warblers, 22 Whinchats, 20 Yellow Wagtails, 15 Grasshopper Warblers, 11 Garden Warblers, 10 Lesser Whitethroats, 9 Reed Warblers, 6 Pied Flycatchers, 5 Ring Ouzels and singles of Turtle Dove, Tree Pipit, Black Redstart, GoldcrestSpotted Flycatcher and Redpoll; visible passage was sadly neglected but Swallows were in the mid-hundreds, Sand and House Martins certainly well into three figures and Swifts in the low dozens. So fantastically gripping was today's Dungeness seawatch that it's almost embarrassing to mention our paltry efforts, but 400 Gannets (their highest total of the spring to date), 205 commic terns, 180 Bar-tailed Godwits, 47 Sandwich Terns, 20 Arctic Terns, 5 Arctic Skuas and singles of Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver and Pomarine Skua were a fair little tally for here.

The sound of the day was the reeling of Grasshopper Warblers - they were everywhere at the Bill even if the majority, like this one at the Higher Light, remained buried deep in cover even at point blank range © Martin Cade:

There isn't a more reliable site on the island for Ring Ouzels than the slopes above the Verne Moat which ought to serve as a reminder to the local conservation authorities that there are two sides to every story: from the flora and invertebrate point of view there's good reasoning behind ridding the island of invasive, non-native Cotoneaster but, on the other side of the coin, this same plant provides vital provisioning for migrant thrushes; bird-wise, the fact that some of the mats of Cotoneaster on the Verne Citadel have escaped conservation management is certainly a blessing © Martin Cade:

And a few more of the day's migrants: Pied Flycatcher, Redstart and Whitethroat © Debby Saunders...

...and Turtle Dove © Martin Cade:

26th April

Are most of the Willow Warblers entering the country vectored through Portland at the moment? - we're certainly getting the impression we've been very favoured and today's third 100+ ringing tally of them this week further cemented that feeling. The Willow Warbler tally for the Bill area as a whole was up around the 300 mark but, as has been the case as this week's gone on, migrant variety was otherwise a wee bit limited, with only the three diurnal hirundines - each of which numbered into the low hundreds - chipping in respectable totals. Two more single Cuckoos - at the Bill and Thumb Lane - continued their good run this week, 9 Yellow Wagtails was a decent total from the Bill and a Hobby passed through at Ferrybridge, but the odd ones and twos of other less common migrants wasn't at all impressive. Offshore, Sandwich Terns remained conspicuous with 55 through off the Bill, but 55 Common Scoter, 4 Whimbrel, 2 each of Red-throated Diver and Arctic Skua, and a lone Great Northern Diver also through there amounted to a tally well shy of expectations in an easterly in late April. Wader passage remained stalled, with just 17 Bar-tailed Godwits and 5 Whimbrel at Ferrybridge.

25th April

It only took a subtle change in the weather to give an altogether more positive feel to today's proceedings, with a brisk northwesterly at dawn dropping a good 400 or more Willow Warblers at the Bill. Although most patches of cover were hopping with Willow Warblers (they totalled 178 of the 199 birds ringed at the Obs and Culverwell) it was a peculiar feature of the day that variety was otherwise quite limited, with the thin spread of Wheatears, Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs at the Bill having just 5 Whinchats, 2 Cuckoos and singles of Redstart, Grasshopper Warbler, Reed Warbler and Garden Warbler in their midst. Overhead passage was fitful, with Swallows arriving in small pulses rather than a concerted rush, and 3 Yellow Wagtails and 2 Tree Pipits the best of the other diurnal movers. The sea continued to be the poor relation, with a late afternoon freshening and backing of the wind producing little more than 50 Manx Shearwaters passing the Bill; morning watches there had come up with 34 Sandwich Terns, 8 Whimbrel, 7 Red-throated Divers, 4 Eider and singles of Great Northern Diver and Great Skua.

Having daily, multiple Cuckoos about the island just lately has been quite a novelty...

...as has having them audible - this male burst into song just outside the Obs garden this morning:

Talking of novelty sounds, we lead a very sheltered life these days and at migration times rarely leave the Portland/Weymouth area so some sounds that are routine for the travelling year-lister are all but unknown to us. We can't even remember the last time we heard a Tree Pipit sing and, if it weren't for the fact that one today called just as it dropped into a tree in the Obs garden, we probably wouldn't have had the faintest idea what it was when it then proceeded to burst into song. Has a Tree Pipit ever sung on migration at Portland before this? - we can't recollect ever having heard one:

24th April

Samey conditions - even those that were initially propitious, migrant-wise - eventually see numbers fizzle out as birds get the hang of what's going on and today's pleasantly quiet, semi-overcast conditions were a good deal less rewarding than they'd been in the last few days. Diurnal migrants featured strongly (no doubt their nocturnal counterparts had also been on the move in quantity but had the sense not to stop) with Swallows way up into four figures and House Martins surging through in by far their best numbers to date; Sand Martins and Swifts were well-represented and a lone Hobby also passed through. It was a different story on the ground where rewards were pretty scant: singles of Pied and Spotted Flycatchers at Wakeham, a Short-eared Owl and a Garden Warbler at Southwell and a Grasshopper Warbler at the Bill were about as good as it got amongst the low totals of regulars. The continuing offshore breeze did the seawatchers no favours, with 145 Kittiwakes, 36 Sandwich Terns, 33 Whimbrel, 18 Black-headed Gulls, 10 Bar-tailed Godwits, 2 Great Northern Divers and a lone Great Skua the best of the morning loggings at the Bill. Elsewhere, 24 Bar-tailed Godwits and a Whimbrel were at Ferrybridge.

Some of this morning's Bar-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

They're so often seen on seawatches at this time of year that anyone would be forgiven for thinking that Bar-tailed Godwits are only diurnal migrants but big chunks of their prodigious migratory flights take place at night and we often get nocmig loggings of them in spring - here's a flock over the Obs before dawn a couple of nights ago:

Another wader getting into nice plumage now is Purple Sandpiper - the few left at the Bill are well advanced with their pre-breeding moult © Paul Chandler Cholsey Wildlife :

It was a pleasant surprise when the first Pied Flycatcher trapped in the Obs garden this spring (last Saturday, 21st) was found to be already wearing a ring...

...and we've since heard back that it was ringed as a nestling last summer at Lake Vyrnwy in north Wales...

We're not sure why we'd blithely imagine that most of the Pied Flycatchers passing through Portland are coming and going from breeding sites in Wales but that's actually far from the truth since, although many do, there are also exchanges with Dartmoor, Exmoor, southwest Scotland, northern England and even Norway. The map below shows all of PBO's ringing exchanges for Pied Flycatcher (it's an interactive map so clicking on the points reveals the ringing details)...


23rd April

Another decent enough day with overcast skies at dawn dropping a succession of mainly routine migrants at the Bill and a clearance through the middle of the day seeing Swallows get going again in very good quantity. The fall-out of nocturnal migrants was very much concentrated around the south of the island, particularly around the Obs, and involved a good 200 Willow Warblers (they accounted for all but 20 of the day's ringing tally of 94 birds at the Obs). Variety on the deck wasn't on a par with recent days but did include 2 each of Grasshopper Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Garden Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat, and singles of Cuckoo, Pied Flycatcher and Brambling at the Bill. Swallows dominated overhead with sample counts, notably of 130 through at Blacknor in just 15 minutes, suggesting that the day-total was well into four figures; other overhead movers included 2 each of Yellow Wagtail and Tree Pipit, and singles of Hen Harrier and Hobby. The waft of a northerly breeze might have been advantageous on the land but was pretty hopeless for the sea: another 206 Kittiwakes through off the Bill was a surprise, but for this date 45 Whimbrel, 10 Bar-tailed Godwits, 3 Red-throated Divers, 2 Great Northern Divers, 2 Arctic Terns and an Arctic Skua was a lean back-up tally there. Ferrybridge didn't fare much better, with 57 Bar-tailed Godwits ( 20 grounded and another 37 heading east) the best on offer.

Another raptor that nearly snuck by unseen: despite being not far off directly overhead as it passed high over the Obs if it hadn't been for a few alarm calls from the local gulls this Hen Harrier would almost certainly have been missed © Martin Cade:

One that was hard to miss was this late Brambling - only the second of the year on the island and the first at the Bill: it was so noisy once it pitched into the trees outside the ringing hut that only a profoundly deaf person could have overlooked it © Martin Cade:

And talking of things that were hard to miss - by sound even if not by sight - this Garden Warbler was giving it some stick in the Obs garden this morning:

22nd April

For a day that was half rained off and by most conventional metrics had been written off by an hour after dawn (...and that after dawn itself had looked to offer so much promise) today actually ended up mediumly rewarding, with the season now so advanced that even the apparent duds have plenty of variety about them. What fall there was out of the heavily overcast, quiet conditions of dawn consisted largely of Blackcaps and Willow Warblers - 30 and 60 respectively at the Bill, but there was a fair little mix of fellow travellers that included the season's first Reed Warbler, 5 Sedge Warblers, 3 Whinchats, 2 each of Grasshopper Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat and singles of Cuckoo, Redwing and Garden Warbler at the Bill, where 2 new Blackbirds were also unexpected for this date. Hirundines got moving in strength a while into the morning and continued to do so even after the onset of the rain - better coverage and/or less reluctance to get wet for our needy cause looked as though it would have returned by far their highest totals to date. For the second day in succession Barwit day looked to be in the offing, with 205 through in quick time off the Bill and a few more grounded and overhead at Ferrybridge but, just like yesterday, passage wasn't sustained. The sea was otherwise a little busier than of late, with 199 Kittiwakes, 35 Sandwich Terns, 34 Whimbrel, 7 Red-throated Divers, 6 Knot, 5 Arctic Skuas, 3 Great Northern Divers and 2 Eider amongst others through off the Bill.

Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwits on the move over Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

21st April

The magical northeasterlies persisted and whilst they didn't precipitate anything approaching a huge fall there was plenty to see throughout the island, with easily the best variety on offer so far this spring. Willow Warblers were hugely dominant, with 300 at the Bill alone, but Wheatears also put in a respectable showing with 100 at the Bill and seemingly a higher total than that from points northward. Erratic coverage and possible duplication aside, scarcer migrants around and about included 15 Redstarts, 15 Whinchats, 6 Ring Ouzels, 4 Grasshopper Warblers, 4 Pied Flycatchers and 3 Cuckoos. Although the ground got most of the day's attention there was plenty of action overhead, with several Swifts and a Hobby amongst the steady passage of hirundines on the move under a cloudless sky. For a while after dawn it looked like Barwit day was on the cards, with 160 Bar-tailed Godwits through off the Bill along with 7 Red-throated Divers, 3 Arctic Skuas and singles of Black-throated and Great Northern Divers but the passage faded as quickly as it had begun (...or perhaps just moved further out beyond our vision?). Ferrybridge bumped up the day's variety with, amongst others, 18 Whimbrel, 7 Canada Geese, 3 Shelducks and 2 Mute Swans

A few odds and ends from around the island: Ring Ouzel © Duncan Walbridge...

...Whinchat © Martin Cade

...Sedge Warbler and Little Terns © Debby Saunders...

...and something we overlooked yesterday - in fact in a local context quite a gripping photo! - the five Gadwall at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

In between wading through a mini avalanche of Willow Warblers our interest from the Obs mist-nets today concerned female Redstarts. Every once in a while we catch really bright birds like this one that have a ghosting of a black throat - if you part the throat feathers there really is a lot of black underlying the paler tips...

...contrast that individual with the 'normal' female below. We've always struggled to convince ourselves that birds like this are unequivocally females and not exceedingly poorly marked young males (in fact we usually record them in the ringing log as unsexed) but they do conform to, for example, Svensson's statement that, "Very exceptionally females looking like males occur. These have breast rather rich orange-buff, and forehead with a little white concealed, but it is extremely rare that they have all chin- and throat-feathers based blackish (Usually only a part of throat has dark grey bases to feathers.)" © Martin Cade:

And finally something that took our fancy from last night's Obs nocmig recording: a flock of Whimbrel very close overhead an hour or so before dawn - we record plenty of nocturnal Whimbrel at this time of year but the majority sound like they're passing along East Cliffs or out over the sea and they're rarely as close as this flock obviously were:

20th April

Spring northeasterlies have attained almost magical status here in recent times so their forecast arrival - for pretty well the first time this season - had been hotly anticipated. Whilst the reality was a fair bit removed from the hype it was actually a half-decent day with, at least by way of passerines and visible migrants, easily the best variety of the spring to date; the sea was a different kettle of fish with, aside from Great Northern Divers, passage remaining exceptionally lame for this time. Amongst the few dozen or so of routine Blackcaps and Willow Warblers, migrant totals from around the island included 75 Wheatears, 8 Redstarts, 7 Whinchats, 5 Lesser Whitethroats, 2 Yellow Wagtails and singles of Redwing, Fieldfare, Black Redstart, Grasshopper Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Pied Flycatcher. Overhead, Hobby and Swift (2) were both firsts for the spring, a Short-eared Owl bombed about and 2 Yellow Wagtails and a Tree Pipit were logged amongst the heaviest hirundine passage of the season to date. A varied selection at Ferrybridge included 18 Dunlin, 11 Shelducks, 5 Gadwall (another first for the year) and 3 Mute Swans, whilst across the causeway in Portland Harbour an oddly wintery selection included 5 Great Northern Divers, 2 Razorbills and a Guillemot. The recent dismal run of seawatching continued, with 6 Great Northern Divers, 3 Red-throated Divers and 3 Canada Geese as good as it got off the Bill.

We're not sure whether it's that we've given away most Lesser Whitethroats in recent years to other ringers or, more likely, our faculties are just dimming, but we'd forgotten just how different the tails of the different age classes of Lesser Whitethroats are at this time of year. The last few days have given us several opportunities for close looks at them and this morning provided nice examples in successive birds. This is the tail of a first-summer bird (one of last year's youngsters)...

...whereas this is an adult tail (it'd look even better if the bird hadn't c**pped all over one side of the tail in the bird-bag!):

The somewhat sullied and less crisply marked outer feathers of the youngster contrast with the much more cleanly white adult outer feathers, whilst the penultimate feathers of the youngster completely lack white tips; notice also the central tail feathers of the young bird that are completely shattered in contrast to the well-kept adult feathers (the feathers of young birds are poorer quality than those of adults so wear out that bit more quickly). Whilst we can unequivocally age a bird with a tail like our upper example as one of last year's youngsters we can't actually be certain that a bird with a tail like the lower example has to be an adult: some youngsters apparently moult some or all of their tail feathers in their post-juvenile moult and end up with a tail pattern like this, as would also be the case if the feathers were lost accidentally.

19th April

A resurgence in the northwest wind was unwelcome but that and a heavy cloud cover at dawn that came and went throughout the morning did the trick in knocking down a decent little flurry of grounded migrants today. There were few surprises, with 120 Willow Warblers, 75 Blackcaps, 35 Wheatears and 20 Chiffchaffs making up the bulk of the tally at the Bill, where 5 Redstarts, 2 Grasshopper Warblers, a Cuckoo and a Whinchat provided some nice variety; elsewhere, singles of Garden Warbler and Pied Flycatcher were an addition to the mix at Sweethill. Visible passage didn't really get going until the sky cleared towards midday but Swallows featured conspicuously thereafter and a lone Siskin was amongst the tag-alongs. There almost worthwhile reports from the sea and Ferrybridge couldn't chip in with much more than 2 Shelducks and 2 Whimbrel.

The Sweethill Pied Flycatcher © Debby Saunders:

18th April

With it way too clear overnight - and far less windy than during the last couple of days - migration no doubt picked up far overhead but there was no chance a big arrival of birds on the ground. The day's oddest events concerned Subalpine Warblers: the previously lingering bird at Wallsend was apparently reported once early in the morning but couldn't be found again despite plenty of searching; of potentially much more interest though, a second individual popped up briefly in front of one observer in the Obs garden before promptly vanishing into the ether. Among the thin spread of more routine arrivals uncovered at the Bill Willow Warblers were most numerous - managing a 30 tally - but more interest came in the form of 6 Lesser Whitethroats, the first Garden Warbler of the season and the lingering likely Icelandic Redwing; diurnal migrants featured in higher numbers and included a steady arrival of hirundines, 60 Wood Pigeons, 2 Jackdaws and a Merlin. What breeze there was remained offshore and consigned the sea to less than full coverage, with 3 Red-throated Divers and a lone Puffin the pick of the Bill sightings. The day's Ferrybridge totals included 11 Shelduck and 5 Whimbrel.

On an otherwise quiet day six Lesser Whitethroats was an excellent day-total at the Bill © Verity Hill:

With only one day-total in double figures, Whimbrel haven't really got going at all yet this spring © Debby Saunders

Now that there are multiple Cirl Buntings about the island - including two that are clearly paired-up -  we won't be reporting on them again until after the breeding season; however, Portland's a busy place at this time of year and word of their presence will no doubt spread as it clearly did today. Please give them a wide berth and don't linger near them - despite us posting a request to this effect this morning, we were dismayed to discover that by the afternoon a gaggle of photographers had already congregated beside a spot that a pair were regularly returning to. Cirl Bunting is afforded Schedule 1 protection and, should a breeding attempt materialise as seems highly likely, we'll have no hesitation in reporting miscreants to the authorities.