9th May

The two weekend days have been very similar, with the unsettled conditions downing a good scatter of migrants and the brisk onshore breeze seeing to it that the sea was always worth attention. Today's grounded numbers were a little lower than yesterday's but singles of Cuckoo and Turtle Dove were noteworthy amongst the typically varied selection of late season arrivals that included the likes of 10 Garden Warblers, 5 Lesser Whitethroats and 4 Yellow Wagtails at the Bill. A surprise sub-adult Long-tailed Skua was the highlight offshore, where 120 Manx Shearwaters, 78 Common Scoter, 11 Arctic Skuas, 2 Great Northern Divers and a good selection of small waders were also logged.

Arctic Skua © Martin Cade and Kittiwakes © Pete Saunders off the Bill today: 



And it looks like the Chesil Little Terns are settling in very well © John Dadds/Chesil Beach Little Tern Project:

8th May

For those following the forecast just lately, Saturday had looked to be a total write-off but it came to pass that the bulk of the promised rain fell overnight and, after a welcome moderate lie-in, it was with renewed hope that the day's proceedings began. The onshore winds had seawatchers heading down to the Bill, whilst the fieldworkers made for spots that offered some shelter from the stiff southwesterly. The highlights on the sea were five Pochards - a rare sight off the Bill - three Pomarine Skuas and the first double figure day of Great Northern Divers; seven Arctic Skuas and singles of Bonxie and Balearic Shearwater, along a worth total of 70 Dunlin, were among the back-ups. The land was busy with variety on the migrant front including double figure totals of Spotted Flycatcher, Garden Warbler and Willow Warbler. Reed and Sedge Warblers put in another good show in the Obs garden while Whinchats were a feature once more in Top Fields. 

One of today's Pomarine Skuas off the Bill - always the chief prize of a May seawatch © Pete Saunders:



It was a good day for Great Northern Divers just beginning their long haul to Iceland or Canada © Joe Stockwell:


Who needs Poms and Great Northerns when there are Pochard passing? - the big Bill rarity of the day! © Joe Stockwell


Some of the Sanderling at Ferrybridge © Pete Saunders:

7th May

With the blustery winds of the last few days having finally abated there was an opportunity for passage to resume even if, with a clear sky throughout the hours of darkness, numbers didn't look to be on the cards. Variety certainly improved, with Bill area totals of 60 Wheatears and 50 Willow Warblers backed up with a good spread of mid to high single figure totals of most typical late season migrants that included 10 Reed Warblers and 10 Garden Warblers. A Serin put in a very brief appearance at the Obs and a Siberian Chiffchaff was at Ladymead, whilst odds and ends of less regulars included single Short-eared Owls at the Bill and Barleycrates Lane, Black Redstarts at the Bill and Reap Lane, and a Merlin at the Bill. The sea was busiest in the less than appropriate offshore breeze during the morning when 55 Common Scoter, 3 Great Northern Divers and 3 Arctic Skuas passed by off the Bill; surprisingly, a shift to a more onshore wind direction during the afternoon killed off what movement there was.

For obvious reasons, the Harbour breakwaters are generally a no-go area for local birders but the very occasional visits that are made are always revealing. Nick Stantiford ventured out to the vicinity by boat today and discovered a few of the usual suspects in residence, including a sitting Canada Goose, a pair of Shelduck together with an extra single and the usual sitting Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls; additionally, there was a migrant tally of 10 Wheatears, a Whimbrel and a Bar-tailed © Nick Stantiford:                                                                                                                                                    


6th May

Serendipity plays a large part in birding- often it is all about being in the right place at the right time. The Pulpit Bushes and the surrounding area have a rich history of single observer (but well photographed) sightings, particularly of buntings that have rarely hung around for long. Today was no exception as a Cirl Bunting came in overhead, pitched for just enough time to be photographed before charging back up the island. This brief flash in the pan was to be the highlight of an otherwise quiet day with a Tree Pipit trapped at Culverwell the only other bird of note (the last individual trapped in the spring was in 2014). Common land-based migrants included: low double figures of Wheatears and singles of Whinchat, Spotted Flycatcher and Garden Warbler. Summer plumage Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone added some glamour to the otherwise quiet shoreline. The sea was flat calm and mostly empty with three Red-throated Divers and singles of Great Northern Diver, Arctic SkuaBonxie and Puffin the only notable sightings. 

Despite the heartland of the current British breeding population being visible on a clear day from West Cliffs, this morning's Cirl Bunting was only the fourth to visit Portland in the last 25 years © Martin Cade:




Spring migrants don't come much better than male Whinchats...


...we don't get a lot of experience with handling them in spring and the books urge caution with ageing at this time of year (they do awkward things like have a partial pre-breeding moult) but this bird struck us as being a first-summer: its flight feathers had a distinctly brown cast to them as did the outer primary coverts that were also quite ragged and pointed; the central tail feathers were also noticeably pointed although we can't remember whether Whinchats are one of those birds that always have pointier than average tail feathers © Martin Cade:

5th May

Our migration hiatus initiated by Monday's stormy weather continued, with a light scatter of grounded Wheatears, a modest increase in waders and a trickle of incoming Swifts overhead accounting for the bulk of the day's numbers. Two passing Great Northern Divers - one of which was over Top Fields - were all that could be mustered by way of seabirds in the brisk northwesterly.

Although 'European' Wheatear numbers were exceptional low for us this spring, there's been a strong passage of Greenland/Iceland-bound birds in the last few weeks © Martin Cade:

With such low temperatures the rule in recent weeks butterfly emergence dates might have been expected to be set back (...moth emergence dates certainly have been) but, perhaps tempted out by the frequent sunshine that's at least warmed up sheltered spots, this seems not to have been the case. Adonis Blue was the on the wing for the first time today © Andy Luckhurst...

...whilst first dates for Small Copper and Dingy Skipper were also logged today © Erin Taylor:

4th May

Beryl Clafton © Royal Manor Theatre

It's with great sadness that we announce the death of Beryl Clafton. Beryl's association with PBO dates back to the very earliest days of ornithological exploration at Portland in the early 1950s when she would travel by motorcycle from Bournemouth with her then boyfriend, Frank - who she would go on to marry in 1954, to assist with the establishment of a seasonal migration monitoring station at the Bill. After a spell on Bardsey Island after Frank's appointment as warden of the Bird Observatory there in 1961, Beryl settled at Portland - where she would live for the rest of her life - in 1963 when Frank was appointed warden of PBO. Beryl undertook a significant role in managing the domestic arrangements at the then fledgling observatory, often involving catering for guests, until Frank's resignation in 1974. In later life Beryl ran a gallery at Wakeham and served with distinction in a variety of roles for the Royal Manor Theatre Company, even winning the award for best producer at the All England Theatre Festival in 2004. Beryl remained a staunch supporter of PBO and was an almost daily visitor - walking her dog in even the foulest winter weather - until shortly before her death. 

Beryl chivvying birds towards a heligoland trap in the Obs garden in May 1966...


...and holding Britain's first Desert Warbler in December 1970 photos © the late Frank Clafton:


With the wind swinging round to the north-west and increasing in speed overnight, it was with low hopes that we began our birding efforts today. The land lived up to expectations: two presumed long-staying Ring Ouzels at the Verne were the pick of the bunch; with a Hobby and Little Egret in off at the Bill and a Spotted Flycatcher at Avalanche Hump the supporting cast. The sea was disappointing with the offshore wind doing its job to ensure that anything passing was miles out to sea. Two Pomarine Skuas, four Arctics and a Bonxie were the highlights at the Bill, whilst Chesil Cove saw a single Black-throated Diver and a selection of common waders. Among the 50 Manx Shearwaters at the Bill was the second Balearic of the year. Ferrybridge has become its usual consistent self with good numbers of Dunlin, Sanderling and Ringed Plovers as well as two Bar-tailed Godwits, five Turnstones and 22 Common Terns

The Ferrybridge Sanderlings are transitioning from their understated monochromatic winter-wear to their rufous summer tones © Pete Saunders


3rd May

If the forecast was to be believed we really only had this morning to enjoy any land-based migration before the storm reached us. This was just how events played out with the wind gaining speed steadily through the morning, reaching well into gale-force by the evening.  The highlight on the land was a male Serin that came in calling and displayed beautifully at the top of the 'Brambling tree' in the Obs garden before disappearing. The sea was, of course, the focus of the day and a slow start was interrupted by a mid-morning Pomarine Skua and a Wood Sandpiper in past the obelisk. Things picked up from there and a flock of Eiders and a Velvet Scoter followed, as well as a small selection of Great Northern and Red-throated Divers, and 5 Great, 3 Arctic and another Pomarine Skua. As the day wore on, a movement of Manx Shearwaters developed with 500 through off the Bill and the first Balearic Shearwater of the year spotted amongst them off Chesil Cove. Waders were less conspicuous but three Whimbrel, 15 Knot, seven Dunlin and a Sanderling were added to the days totals. 

As with so many Portland Serin records, today's male was picked up first on call and dropped straight into the 'Brambling tree' (the large, solitary sycamore to the right of the Obs patio) before ranging more widely around the Obs garden:

The expected skua-fest was not a feature off the Bill where this Arctic was one of a day total of the three species combined that only just scraped into double figures:


The first big storm of the spring might have been expected to produce a stronger movement of Manx Shearwaters than the 500 logged at the Bill photos © Martin Cade:

2nd May

Another day of quiet contentment with lots of variety but small numbers of birds. The highlight of the day was a drake Garganey seen drifting on the sea past the Bill, accompanied by a lone Puffin. The Turtle Dove resumed its position at Reap Lane along with singles of Pied Flycatcher and Redstart. Overhead, Yellow Wagtails continued to move with c.30 throughout the day, including those in the fields around Barleycrates Lane. Garden Warblers and Whinchats put in a good show with the island total reaching double figures. The sea was quiet but those stalwarts who stuck it out were treated to views of seven Eiders, two Great Skuas, one Arctic Skua. Ferrybridge continued its form with 107 Dunlin and three Sanderling on the exposed shore. 

The non-avian highlight of the day was a procession of Clouded Yellows heading up the West Cliffs around Blacknor. 

Garden Warblers are the epitome of understated beauty © Roger Hewitt:


The first fledgling Stonechats of the year were out at the Bill, clacking in their resplendent speckles © Roger Hewitt:

With almost nothing entertaining us on an evening seawatch at the Bill we took a punt on getting to Abbotsbury before dusk after news had broken of a Whiskered Tern having appeared there. The tiresome walk over the shingle from the beach car park to the tank teeth obviously put off other prospective viewers because to our surprise we had the bird to ourselves as it showed blisteringly well in the last remnants of daylight © Martin Cade:

1st May

A lazy start to the morning turned out to be for the best as numbers have dwindled significantly since mid-week. This does not, however, mean that there were not birds out there to be found. The species du jour was Turtle Dove with one at Reap Lane and later the same or another visiting a garden pond at Sweethill. The variety of the past few days remained, with a good spread of grounded Willow Warblers and another strong throughput of Swallows, together with single figure tallies of White and Yellow WagtailPied and Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat, Redstart, Black Redstart, Sedge Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler. Grounded waders included 112 Dunlin, 11 Bar-tailed Godwits, 3 Sanderling, 2 Grey Plovers and a Whimbrel at Ferrybridge.

Visitors to the blog might have noticed we rather obsess over Bar-tailed Godwits at this time of year: there's something quite gripping about the sight of a succession of distant smoky flocks of them passing up-Channel way off the Bill and the back story that some of them might be making a three day direct flight from Mauritania to Holland is something that's always caught our imagination. Thanks to keen eyes and sharp lenses we can also now marvel at the fact that at least some of them have come from even further than Mauritania: this colour-ringed and flagged bird at Ferrybridge on 23rd April was originally marked at the Bijachos Archipelago in Guinea-Bissau on 25th November 2019 as part of a continuing study into their feeding ecology both there on the wintering grounds and at the staging point on the Wadden Sea © Peter Coe (top) and Debby Saunders (bottom): 



The colour-rings on a second individual at Ferrybridge a couple of days later enabled it to be identified as a bird from the same project but unfortunately it had lost the flag that would have allowed individual identification and hence date of marking © Pete Saunders:


Today's Turtle Dove at Sweethill © Debby Saunders


Reap Lane and Barleycrates Lane have been favoured migrant hotspots this spring with Black and Common Redstarts (including this paradoxus male Black Redstart) featuring there on an almost daily daily basis just lately © Pete Saunders


30th April

If a good day list is your thing then Portland's been coming up with the goods this week, with some very fulsome tallies to be had as spring migration reaches its peak. Today's nice quiet conditions saw the island miss the rash of heavy showers that bubbled up just on across the mainland and provided ample opportunity to get amongst an almost complete suite of routine fare. Wheatear and Willow Warbler both topped the 100 mark at the Bill where Swallows were streaming in at times and certainly reached well into four figures in total; there were all-island double totals of the likes of Yellow Wagtail (including a Blue-headed Wagtail), Redstart and Whinchat, whilst 5 Pied Flycatchers and singles of Hobby, Merlin and Black Redstart, along with a late Redwing, were all on offer. Waders at Ferrybridge included 2 Grey Plovers and a notable increase to 95 Dunlin. The sea remained hard work but 3 Arctic Skuas, 2 Red-throated Divers and a Pomarine Skua were logged at the Bill.

There was plenty to get amongst today: Pied Flycatchers © Nick Bond (settled) and Pete Saunders (flying)...



...Redstart and Lesser Whitethroat © Paul Swann, Garden Warbler © Pete Saunders and Blue-headed Wagtail © Nick Bond...





...Grey Plovers and Dunlin © Pete Saunders:



And for anyone suffering burn-out after all the migrant-hunting there was the chance to end the day watching the altogether more soothing activities of the pair of Black-winged Stilts that had pitched up at Lodmoor this morning © Martin Cade:

29th April

The day after a fall can often feel a little flat, but despite the clear blue skies and chilling breeze there were still a good number of birds to be found - and of excellent variety. The nets produced another great total of 147 between the garden and Culverwell of 15 species. Today was the first day that Blackcaps outnumbered Willow Warblers, and unusually for us, 10 Reed Warblers were trapped in the garden. Around the Obs area four each of Redstart, Whinchat and Spotted Flycatcher added to the Pied Flycatcher at the Obs and a Grasshopper Warbler at Culverwell. The most unusual sighting, however, was a Bonxie that decided to take a shortcut and was sighted crossing the land at the Bill heading north towards Southwell. Away from the Bill, a Turtle Dove was in a Southwell garden and a Cuckoo was seen leaving the island at the Verne, but the highlight was a confiding Wood Warbler in the trees at Avalanche Hump. 

The Avalanche Wood Warbler put on an impressive display © Joe Stockwell:


Nothing better than walking along a fence line and seeing a bright red (orange) tail flashing ahead of you © Joe Stockwell:


The Bill has been good for waders during these spring tides with Dunlin, Turnstone and Common Sandpiper to add to the passage Whimbrel © Geoff Orton:

28th April

A lot of time at Bird Observatories is spent speculating about the weather for the week ahead - often our predictions are wildly inaccurate but as today approached the forecast looked increasingly promising. Waking up this morning the air was thick with the petrichor of the first rain in over a month, the wind was stronger than forecast but this aided in moving the rain to allow the nets to open and the fieldworkers to get out into what turned out to be a pretty spectacular field. Despite a slow start in the nets at the Obs, the first bird trapped at Culverwell was a Turtle Dove (it's 10 years since the last one was trapped). Things picked up from there as the Willow Warblers began pouring through the garden and surrounding area. Lesser Whitethroats fell just short of double figures in the nets and Blackcaps just short of 50 by the end of the day. 

Meanwhile, the watchers on the West Cliffs witnessed a similar spectacle with Whitethroats filling every bramble bush and Willow Warblers occupying every available Alexanders plant. Overhead passage was truly impressive with over 200 spring plumage Yellow Wagtails accompanied by 48 Tree Pipits and a plethora of common migrants. Mixed in with all of the above were double figure counts of Redstarts, Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers. The morning session came to a close as the rain clouds gathered once more and the heavens opened. 

However, it does not do to give up on a fall on Portland and once the rain had cleared after an hour and half it would begin again. This time Blackcaps, Garden Warblers and Whitethroats were the commoner species. A Cuckoo apiece in the Top Fields and Suckthumb began to sing, and three Turtle Doves were added to the day's tally. Spotted Flycatchers became more prevalent with three trapped and three elsewhere. Additional Pied Flycatchers were added to the list bringing the island total to six, as well as five reeling Grasshopper Warblers and a Wood Warbler. Swallows were recorded moving continuously, even through the toughest of rain storms, and across such a broad front that only estimates of 1000's of birds could be assumed. Along with the other Hirundines the Swallow passage attracted a minimum of four Hobbys. The second wave also included the movement of at least 120 Wheatears and just short of 20 Whinchats. A thoroughly impressive day. 

A selection of the key players involved in a day that delighted all of those present © Debby Saunders (Pied Flycatchers, Sedge Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat and Willow Warbler), © Joe Stockwell (Cuckoo, Turtle Dove and Yellow Wagtail):