19th March

What proved to be lovely conditions for a Mother's Day drive to Portland for a Cream Tea weren't ever likely to be much cop for those travelling to the island hoping to tap into some early migrants and so it came to pass that today's sunny skies were the undoing of the birders. Two Red Kites did get aloft and strayed all the way out to the Bill but the migrant tally there otherwise consisted of little more than 23 Wheatears, 10 Chiffchaffs and 3 Firecrests on the ground and 2 Sand Martins and a few pipits and wagtails passing overhead; what we must have missed after it all passed overhead without stopping during the hours of darkness was hinted at by the decent tally of 166 Redwing calls logged overnight by the Obs nocmig recorder. Three Red-throated Divers and a lone Manx Shearwater were all that the seawatchers could muster off the Bill.

Once a highly sought-after rare migrant at Portland, Red Kite has been massively devalued by the dumping of umpteen of them all over Britain but it actually remains surprisingly infrequent on the island, with most of the wanderings of the introduced population being confined to the mainland © Martin Cade:

Small White was on the wing for the first time this year © Martin Cade...

...whilst after their being reduced to considerable infrequency in recent years it's nice that two of the few butterflies seen in recent days have been Small Tortoiseshells © Steve Mansfield:

18th March

A reduced post tonight via the phone app whilst we try and fix a desktop computer issue. 
An underwhelming day that saw the migration momentum of the latter half of the week evaporate despite not too shoddy-looking conditions: a murky dawn followed some overnight rain and by mid-morning  really warm sunshine had broken through. The migrant tally dipped conspicuously with no more than a handful of Wheatears and Chiffchaffs in evidence and nothing much better than 4 Long-tailed Tits, 2 each of Water Rail, Black Redstart and Firecrest, and the lingering Hooded Crow hybrid by way of scarcities at the Bill. Visible migrants hardly featured although an Osprey north at the Bill got a mention on the national news services (if anyone knows the details of this sighting please let us know). Seawatching was hampered by reduced visibility with a passing Teal the only oddity off the Bill. The only other reports concerned an early Whimbrel and the the 4 lingering Eider in Portland Harbour.

17th March

The continuing waft of southerlies did us no harm again today with the first decent push of Chiffchaffs bringing forth a well into three figure total for the island as a whole; Wheatears were also well represented, with 50 spread around the Bill, whilst amongst the lesser numbers at least 3 Firecrests were new today. Five passing Garganey were a first for the year off the Bill where the first sign of concerted up-Channel passage of Common Scoter saw 43 logged.

The first Small Tortoiseshell of the year was on the wing at Church Ope Cove and a lone Dark Sword Grass provided some migrant interest in the Obs moth-traps.

Hawthorn leaves bursting, pollened Chiffchaffs fresh in, a blue sky - everything's good © Martin Cade:

16th March

Plenty of positives again today, with the southerly airflow seeing migrants arrive in decent numbers throughout the south of the island. The constituent parts were much as they should in mid-March, with Wheatear, Stonechat and Chiffchaff accumulating totals of c50, 38 and c20 respectively between the Bill and Weston; Goldcrest and Blackcap were both firsts for the season, with at least 4 of the former and a single of the latter dotted about, whilst the 3 Firecrests logged included 2 new arrivals at Southwell. It was a bit too murky for visible passage to really get going but alba wagtails in particular looked/sounded to be trickling through all day. The sea was again disappointing, with little more than 7 Red-throated Divers, 5 Curlew, 2 Brent Geese and a Grey Plover through off the Bill along with a very light passage of routine gulls.

Tiny but perfectly formed - it's always good to see Goldcrests on the move © Martin Cade:

A good proportion of the Red-throated Divers were in nice summer plumage but the only one that came within camera range for us still wasn't fully coloured-up...

...the Curlews obliged by passing right underneath us at the Bill © Martin Cade:

15th March

The Alpine Swifts still weren't flying for us but in most other respects the outlook suddenly looked a lot rosier as a little flurry of early migrants hinted at passage at last gathering some momentum. Wheatear was the feature bird of the day with a good 50 at the Bill and a likely three figure total for the island as a whole; an overflying Iceland Gull provided some overdue quality at the Bill, where 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Firecrests and a handful of Chiffchaffs were scattered on the ground. Visible passage was far from heavy but did include amongst the trickle of Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails singles of Skylark, Sand Martin and Brambling at the Bill and a Bullfinch at Easton. Despite a promising waft of southeastly the sea was the poor relation with little more than 10 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill; additionally, several Sandwich Terns were dotted about Portland Harbour and Ferrybridge, and the 4 Eider were still in residence at the former.

14th March

Today's dreamy expectation: skeins of Alpine Swifts coursing through overhead; today's brutal reality: singles of Wheatear, Chiffchaff and Firecrest. The season's first Wheatear was much appreciated but the pitifully inadequate selection of back-ups included just the Firecrest of note on the ground, whilst the clear, sunny sky overhead was seemingly bereft of action - where were all the Meadow Pipits, alba wagtails, Linnets and the like that should have been taking advantage of the huge improvement in conditions? The Hooded Crow hybrid was still on show at the Bill, single Black Redstarts were still about the Bill and Southwell, and the 4 Eider were still in Portland Harbour.

After ten months of seeing scabbily-plumaged birds or none at all the sight of a spring male Wheatear is certainly something for sore eyes © Phil Cheeseman:

13th March

A sea day - not that the fierce gale that blew in overnight actually delivered much for those that took the trouble to look. Gull passage continued with 100 Black-headed Gulls through off Chesil and trickles of Kittiwakes, Common Gulls and Lesser Black-backs everywhere. Additionally, single Manx Shearwaters passed by off the Bill and Chesil, a Sandwich Tern was in Chesil Cove, 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese were over Ferrybridge and Portland Harbour, and 5 Golden Plovers passed the Bill. The land was far too blown out to permit any meaningful migrant hunting.

Kittiwake and Pale-bellied Brent Geese through at Ferrybridge this morning © Joe Stockwell:

12th March

An uptick in the air temperature prompted some migrant movement today, with a fair bit of gull passage offshore, a handful of new arrivals on the ground and, particularly as the morning wore on, visible passage getting going overhead. Gulls provided the bulk of the numbers, with 193 Kittiwakes, 126 Common Gulls, 10 Mediterranean Gulls, 8 Lesser Black-backs and 4 Black-headed Gulls through of the Bill and 186 Common Gulls, 35 Black-headed Gulls and 7 Lesser Black-backs through off Chesil; also on the sea, 155 Gannets, 7 Red-throated Divers and singles of Manx Shearwater and Curlew were additions off the Bill. Grounded arrivals weren't at all plentiful but did include the first Firecrest of the season at the Bill. As might be expected, Meadow Pipits made up the numbers overhead with 48 dribbling in over the Bill but amongst the miscellany of also-rans a Greylag Goose over the Bill and Chesil, and a Woodlark over the Bill were both firsts for the year. The lingering Hooded Crow hybrid was again at the Bill, whilst winterers making the day's tally included 4 Eider and 3 Black-necked Grebes in Portland Harbour and 230 Dunlin and 3 Bar-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge.

The Greylag Goose over Chesil: never a regular visitor to these parts and at this juncture just possibly of more distant origin than the majority of plastic waterfowl forever doing the rounds of the hinterland © Joe Stockwell

Regular readers of the blog will know we hold Black-headed Gulls in high regard: at the Bill they're scarce enough to never be taken for granted, whilst migrating flocks like these zipping through off Chesil are something we still get excited about seeing © Joe Stockwell:

The Bill Hooded Crow: written off as a duff hybrid but actually a pretty smart bird and nice to have about amongst the run-of-the mill corvids © Martin Cade:

11th March

Our very needy cause wasn't aided by some pretty grim conditions today as swirling drizzle and reduced visibility put off all but the keenest fieldworkers. A Caspian Gull through amongst a small movement of routine gulls off Chesil was a fitting reward for the stalwarts who persevered at that most inhospitable of watchpoints. Elsewhere, 2 Gannets were in Portland Harbour, the Ferrybridge wader totals included 257 Dunlin, 14 Ringed Plovers, 3 Bar-tailed Godwits and a Knot, 20 Common Scoter were still settled off the Bill and the wintering singles of Grey Heron and Black Redstart remained at the Bill and Portland Marina respectively.

10th March

We can only say it how it was: the Hooded Crow hybrid was back at the Bill after its sojourn at Barleycrates Lane, a Redwing dropped in at the Obs and a Black Redstart showed up again at Easton. Rubbish really!

9th March

The arrival of milder air might have been expected to be accompanied by frequent rain and reduced visibility and so it proved, with few opportunities for serious searches for new arrivals. The first Chiffchaff of the season was a welcome newcomer at the Obs but the usually quickly curtailed attempts at  tapping into other movement on land and sea drew a blank.

8th March

Topsy-turvy weather conditions saw the island miss out on snow that set in a few dozens of miles inland but it still felt raw in a stiff easterly at dawn; however, within hours it was mill-pond calm and the temperature had shot up to not far off double figures. In between the day's frequent showers there was some surprisingly rewarding migrant-watching to be had at the Bill, with Lesser Black-backed Gulls - 58 in total - trickling in from the south all day; also in from the south were 50 Wood Pigeons, 26 Meadow Pipits and a Pied Wagtail. The sea returned totals of 25 Brent Geese, 6 Red-throated Divers, 5 Mediterranean Gulls, 3 Black-headed Gulls and a lone Great Crested Grebe. Grounded migrants hardly featured, with a lone Redwing the only arrival at the Bill; elsewhere, a Hooded Crow at Weston was presumably the bird seen at the Bill for the last few days and a Bullfinch at Verne Common was the first reported on the island this year.

7th March

Barring an interlude of light rain either side of midday today's relatively quiet conditions saw a little bit of movement overhead and on the sea. Offshore, the first passing Sandwich Tern of the spring was the pick of a selection that otherwise included 115 Kittiwakes, 13 Red-throated Divers, 9 arriving Lesser Black-backed Gulls and 2 Mediterranean Gulls. Passerines arriving from the south included 7 Meadow Pipits, 3 alba wagtails, 3 Carrion Crows and a Siskin. It remained pretty deadly on the ground at the Bill, with a lone Redwing of note along with the continuing Hooded Crow hybrid and a few of the regular winterers. Elsewhere a Black Redstart was at Fortuneswell and 2 Black-necked Grebes remained in Portland Harbour.

6th March

A shift to a brisk westerly saw a handful of visible migrants logged - including single figure totals of Lesser Black-backed Gull, Meadow Pipit and Carrion Crow arriving in from the south at the Bill - but grounded arrivals looked to be non-existent today. All 8 passing Red-throated Divers off the Bill looked to be purposeful migrants but precious little else was on the move on the sea. Other than that the Hooded Crow hybrid remained at the Bill.

5th March

More of the same on a second successive very still and heavily overcast day. New arrivals at the Bill consisted of 30 Wood Pigeons arriving in off the sea and 2 Redwings and singles of Golden Plover and Snipe on the ground; 2 Red-throated and a single Great Northern Diver passed by on the sea. The Hooded Crow hybrid was also still about at the Bill, whilst in Portland Harbour 5 Black-necked Grebes and 4 Eider lingered on.

4th March

Although depressingly grey skies and the lack of any warmth in the air tried their damnedest to spoil proceedings there was a faintly interest little miscellany of sightings at the Bill today. The Hooded Crow was again on show (...although better views of some important areas of its plumage seemed to indicate it is indeed a hybrid), singles of Lapwing and Woodcock were new on the ground and the first sign of Meadow Pipit passage - 16 arriving in off the sea - was evident. A Cetti's Warbler at Culverwell was presumed to be the non-singing individual last recorded there back in December, the Black Redstart was still about and 2 Red-throated Divers passed by on the sea. Elsewhere, a Chiffchaff was new at Southwell and 11 Redwings headed north at Blacknor.

3rd March

Hardly a deluge of interest today but a Hooded Crow that showed up at the Bill was a surprise and a Firecrest at Suckthumb Quarry was an on-cue migrant arrival (...assuming it was an arrival and not a previously un-noticed winterer - has anyone actually birded Suckthumb since last November?). A few new thrushes were also in evidence, with 7 Redwings at Suckthumb and another single at the Bill, whilst Blackbirds certainly looked to be more numerous than they have been lately. The sea came up with the usual 30 Common Scoter along with 4 passing Red-throated Divers

A Hummingbird Hawkmoth was on the wing at Ferrybridge.

At first glance the Hooded Crow looked to be a pretty clean-looking bird...

...but closer inspection of some of the photographs does suggest that the under tail coverts aren't as clean as they should be: they're unhelpfully hidden or shaded most of the time but it looks as though there are the odd darker blotches present that arouse suspicion that the bird isn't entirely pure; better views/clearer photographs of this area would be helpful. 

The flight photographs show all sorts going on by way of pigment and/or growth bar issues that suggest it's the same individual as one present in January and February in east Devon. Many thanks to Mike Langman for sharing his thoughts on this bird © Martin Cade:

2nd March

Poor rewards again from a day that turned out to be surprisingly pleasant after the chilly breeze of the morning had abated. The migrant tally consisted of just 3 more Redwings at the Bill, where 2 more Red-throated Divers passed on the sea. A steady succession of photographers and birders brought out by the sunny skies of the afternoon continued to tap into a variety of winterers and residents at the Bill that still included 8 Purple Sandpipers and a Black Redstart.

1st March

Although hardly worthy of note for this date there was a tiny bit more about today than of late, with 3 Redwings and a Lapwing new on the ground at the Bill where a Pied Wagtail arrived in off the sea; at the Obs the first mist-netting session of the spring also revealed the presence of newcomers in the form of 2 Great Tits and a Robin. Offshore, the Common Scoter remained in residence and 4 Red-throated Divers passed by.

28th February

One of these days spring's going to come - unfortunately it wasn't today as February ended as uneventfully as it's progressed throughout. The day's only reports were of one of the Black Redstarts still at the Bill, the c30 Common Scoter still settled offshore and a single Red-throated Diver passing by; elsewhere, a Chiffchaff was at Weston.

27th February

Just a handful of winterers making up today's dismal return: 40 Common Scoter settled off the Bill and singles of Black Redstart and Chiffchaff still about on the land. 

26th February

Nothing of note today. There still looked to be a few extra Stonechats about but other than it was just regulation winterers on show including single Black Redstarts at the Bill and Southwell, a Cetti's Warbler at Verne Common and 5 Black-necked Grebes in Portland Harbour.

25th February

With the weather apparently firmly stuck in a samey, chilly vein for the foreseeable future the prospects aren't looking great and if today's pitiful selection is anything to go by there's going to be very little to report until it turns milder. The Stonechat tally at the Bill remained in double figures but the only other sighting of even minor interest was the continuing Knot at Ferrybridge.

24th February

A little bit of movement today saw a few extra thrushes and Stonechats logged at the Bill but numbers and variety remains very low. A Water Rail at the Obs was the first seen there this year but was just as likely a very furtive winterer than a newcomer; a Firecrest also showed up at Pennsylvania Castle for the first time in a while. A Red-throated Diver through off the Bill, singles of Black Redstart and Chiffchaff were also still about there, another Black Redstart at Church Ope Cove and 4 Black-necked Grebes still in Portland Harbour accounted for the rest of the day's interest.

A Hummingbird Hawkmoth was on the wing at Church Ope Cove.

Passerine passage remains very slow but Stonechats are continuing to trickle through with a couple of small concentrations at the Bill today taking their total there into double figures for the first time this spring © Martin Cade:

Of no interest to anyone away from the Bill, this Rook dropped onto the Obs bird table from time to time today - a similar visit by two birds last spring was the first time we'd ever seen a Rook on the bird table! © Martin Cade:

23rd February

A grey day and increasingly cool in a brisk northeasterly breeze. Odds and ends of interest included 5 Red-throated Divers and 3 Brent Geese through off the Bill, singles of Grey Heron, Purple Sandpiper and Chiffchaff on the land at the Bill, another or the same Grey Heron at the Grove and c2000 Mediterranean Gulls, 9 Curlews and a Knot at Ferrybridge.

Although never remotely numerous in these parts in the winter months, random single Knot do pop up quite often at Ferrybridge © Martin Cade:

22nd February

Overnight rain was a novelty after more than a month of mainly dry weather and it introduced a noticeably cooler but bright northwesterly airflow. A rash of newcomers - several of which were firsts for the year - saw 2 Canada Goose and a Teal pass through off the Bill, a Red Kite appear overhead at Easton and the Grove, and a Shoveler drop in at Ferrybridge but new passerines weren't in evidence at all. Five more Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill, whilst winterers still on show included a Black Redstart and a Chiffchaff at the Bill and 400 Brent Geese at Ferrybridge.

Never a regular settled bird in our recording area, this Shoveler was an incongruous sight at the end of the day amongst the mergansers at Ferrybridge © Martin Cade:

21st February

A nice still, overcast day but minimal bird interest. Six Black-headed Gulls and 3 Red-throated Divers constituted the only obvious movers off the Bill, where there was no change on the land save for the apparent absence of the singing Cetti's Warbler that had taken an awfully long time to realise that there really weren't any of its kind within earshot. Seventy Brent Geese and the 4 Eider at Portland Harbour were the only reports from elsewhere.

20th February

Not the easiest day for looking with misty low cloud more or less throughout and occasional mizzle blowing in the breeze, but there were a few new Stonechats in evidence today which was very welcome. Otherwise there were just a few regulars about, including 2 Black Redstarts at the Bill and 9 Black-necked Grebes and an Eider in Portland Harbour.

What with war, contagion, Tory corruption and similar concerns it's not that we haven't had other things to dwell on over the last couple of years but one matter that had occasionally nagged was pondering on just what that Lesser Whitethroat in June 2019 was. As a reminder, this was part of the blog post for 4th June of that year:

How do you identify a Siberian Lesser Whitethroat in the spring/summer? We'd been immediately struck in the field by how brown-backed today's new arrival at the Obs had looked and made a bit of effort to cajole it into a net to get a better understanding of its features © Nick Hopper...

...it did indeed turn out to be appreciably sandy-brown on the upperparts and had what seemed to be a rather poorly defined mask. The tail possessed a peculiar mixture of old and new feathers that could be taken to suggest that the bird was a first-summer although we weren't completely convinced that the old feathers were actually juvenile © Martin Cade:

Anyway, back to the present and now we have an answer - thanks as ever to Professor Martin Collinson and his team at the University of Aberdeen who were clearing a backlog of older samples and recently got round to our dislodged feather from this bird - that it was a blythi Siberian Lesser Whitethroat. Martin informs us that this is only his lab's third genetically confirmed spring blythi - the other two were both from Bardsey Bird Observatory, the first in 2016 and the other just last year in May 2022. Here's another in-hand photo, together with a selection from the few times it afforded any sort of views in the field. It was singing pretty constantly but annoyingly/ineptly we can't at the moment lay our hands on the recordings that seem to have vanished into the bowels of one or other external hard-drive in our office © Martin Cade:

19th February

It was perhaps a tad too breezy anywhere that wasn't really sheltered to take full advantage of today's beautifully sunny weather but some random early spring oddities included the year's first Siskin overhead at the Obs and 2 Mute Swans that dallied about on the sea off West Cliffs before later flying over Portland Harbour; a likely Goshawk overhead at Easton would have been of a lot more interest but sadly it couldn't be completely clinched on the views it permitted. Other than that everything was entirely routine, with the likes of the Cetti's Warbler still singing at the Bill, one of the Black Redstarts still there and further singles at Easton and Chesil Cove, 3 Eider and 2 Black-necked Grebes still in Portland Harbour and 270 Dunlin still at Ferrybridge.

The first Peacock butterfly of the year was on the wing at Penn's Weare.

Today's weekend exploration took us back to Penn's Weare where the cliffs - a veritable poor man's Les Baux when viewed from right down on the shoreline - yet again didn't host a Wallcreeper, the impenetrable scrub didn't echo with the calls of a Dusky Warbler and the boulder beaches didn't have a grip-back wintering Pied Wheatear hopping about on them. This undercliff really does look so good but we always seem to be utterly unrewarded there! © Martin Cade:

18th February

A shocker: the only entries on the day-sheet were the Cetti's Warbler still singing at the Obs and the 40 or so Common Scoter still settled off the Bill.

17th February

In the face of uninspiring blustery westerlies and having plenty of other things to get on with interest in fieldwork dwindled and the only reports were of the 40 Common Scoter off the Bill, a Red-throated Diver through offshore and the Cetti's Warbler still singing at the Obs.