26th October

Although the island list didn't advance today, many of the regular Portland birders did manage a second island lifer in two days when a Pine Bunting showed up in the Crown Estate Field; found trapped in a mist-net after it had been attracted to a 'rare bunting' sound lure, the bird sadly didn't oblige with subsequent field views. The arrival of a Dusky Warbler that lurked in the bowels of a private garden at Southwell maybe wasn't quite so unexpected but provided a nice back-up for the bunting; both the Hen Harrier at the Bill and the Turtle Dove at Reap Lane remained for another day, with the latter site also luring in a Lapland Bunting, 4 Bearded Tits headed north over Blacknor and single Yellow-browed Warblers were at Avalanche Hump and Victoria Place. Commoner migrants weren't such a feature of the day but amongst the relatively thin spread of standard fare there were a scatter of at least 12 Black Redstarts and 4 Firecrests.

Overnight mothing came up with a notable prize in the form of Portland's third Scar Bank Gem at the Obs; although immigrant numbers increased variety was otherwise rather limited, with 130 Rush Veneer, 83 Rusty-dot Pearl, 8 Diamond-back Moth, 2 White-speck and a single Gem constituting the remainder of the tally at the Obs.

Two birds from well east of the Urals and a moth from the Afrotropics (...OK, perhaps at this time of year the latter is maybe just from southern Iberia but that doesn't sound nearly so exciting) - Pine Bunting, Dusky Warbler and Scar Bank Gem © Martin Cade (Pine Bunting and Scar Bank Gem) and Debby Saunders (Dusky Warbler):

These days, there's always a strong demand for photo opportunities © Martin King

As far as we can see the bunting showed all the features you'd expect to be able to confidently age/sex it as a first-winter female:

Having heard mention that some calls of Pine Bunting might sound a little different to those of Yellowhammer we were keen to attempt to sound record the bird on release; in the event it didn't really perform and now that Yellowhammer is approaching semi-rarity status on Portland we just don't know their calls intimately enough to know whether there's anything in this tiny snippet that might be useful - basically, it sounded a lot like a Yellowhammer to our ears!

When we downloaded the Pine Bunting photos from our phone we realised that we'd taken some decent shots of yesterday's Bluetail that we'd quite forgotten about; the intensity of the blue on this bird varied ever such a lot with the viewing angle, the light and even how close you were to the bird; to our eyes these phone shots correspond closely to how it looked in the field - it really was a pretty crippling-looking bird:

And to end on something completely different, many thanks to Martin King for some photos from yesterday - West Cliffs and Southwell Business Park at last light and the Obs after dark:

25th October

This year's been very kind when it comes to unblocking Portland bogeys: spring dealt us perhaps the most long-standing of all when the Great Spotted Cuckoo showed up, whilst the Red-eyed Vireo a couple of weeks ago allowed us to claw back a species that had been inaccessible on its only other island appearance; today came up with what's surely the most long-overdue autumn rare - a Red-flanked Bluetail that conveniently dropped into a net at the Obs. It would have been a pretty decent day without the bluetail: in lovely, sunny and mild conditions common migrants that had been dropped by heavy rain overnight were present in both quantity and variety - Robin and Goldcrest topped 50 apiece at the Bill and thrushes were conspicuous everywhere - whilst oddities included 5 Yellow-browed Warblers, the long-staying Hen Harrier, 2 Bearded Tits (singles at the Bill and Broadcroft) and a showy Turtle Dove (at Reap Lane for its second day); scarcer migrants included 4 Black Redstarts, 3 Firecrests, 2 each of Merlin and Yellowhammer, and a late Garden Warbler at the Bill and singles of Woodcock and Short-eared Owl at Avalanche.

A small influx of immigrant moths included 2 more Radford's Flame Shoulder - this time at Sweethill; the tally at the Obs included 57 Rusty-dot Pearl, 51 Rush Veneer, 29 Diamond-back Moth, 2 Dark Sword Grass and singles of Olive-tree Pearl, Vestal, Pearly Underwing, Delicate, White-speck and Silver Y.

Red-flanked Bluetail and viewers © Nick Hopper (in hand) and Martin King (the crowd)

The Reap Lane Turtle Dove showed really nicely © Mark Eggleton (still) and Martin Cade (video):

...as did this Ring Ouzel in the hut fields at the Bill © Roger Hewitt:

At first glance we were amazed by how blue the Bluetail was and assumed it had to be an adult male; however, close examination soon revealed what appeared to be a single 'non-blue' edged outer greater covert - what we presumed to be a juvenile feather - on each wing which, together with the brownish-rimmed tertials and pointed tail feathers, suggested it was a bird of the year. Further research though seems to indicate that in terms of, for example, head pattern and blueness, it's way outside the normal range of first-winter plumage (there doesn't seem to be any evidence of post juvenile moult ever being extensive enough to account for a plumage pattern like this) so we're guessing that it has to be an older bird after all.

24th October

There's no doubt that wet weather was overdue but to have an almost complete washout was disappointing when it looked as though today had plenty of potential. Early rounds of the Bill area came up with a fair spread of grounded migrants amongst which thrushes were particularly conspicuous; the lingering Hen Harrier, together with 10 Lapwings, 2 Snipe, a Merlin, a Black Redstart and a late Whitethroat all provided interest there, whilst a late Turtle Dove put in an appearance at Reap Lane. A Pallas's Warbler was discovered at Avalanche Road as soon as other areas begun to get some attention but this coincided with the rain setting in and spoiling further attempts at meaningful fieldwork elsewhere, although a late clearance did allow for the discovery of a rather incongruous Spoonbill grounded amongst gulls at the Bill.

Not quite what you expect to find when you're heading home for tea and stop to have a quick check through the gulls below Culverwell:

23rd October

A pretty testing day with the always brisk easterly freshening to well beyond gale force after midday ahead of rain approaching across the Channel. Although it looked to be relatively quiet on the ground the rewards for sticking with it came during the afternoon when a Pallas's Warbler dropped in at the Obs; a Long-eared Owl that had been seen several times in flight there during the morning was also finally pinned down during the afternoon as it moved between increasingly wind-swept roosting spots. The day's only other scarcities were the long-staying Hen Harrier at the Bill and a Yellow-browed Warbler at Blacknor. Most of the day's routine passage was overhead, with Wood Pigeons, Starlings, Jackdaws and a variety of thrushes and finches through in some quantity at the Bill.

The Pallas's Warbler was the rarity highlight of the day...

...although for looks the Long-eared Owl ran it a pretty close second:

Visible passage wasn't easy to census with a steady passage of mainly small flocks of Wood Pigeons, Starlings and Jackdaws scooting through low and on a broadish front into the blasting easterly:

Goldfinches, Linnets and Chaffinches accounted for most of the day's finch movement; Redpolls have been almost absent this autumn, whilst in marked contrast to last autumn Siskins haven't been at all plentiful - and they've as often been represented by singletons as they have the more usual small flocks:

22nd October

Another day of reasonable visible passage but not over much in numbers on the ground. There were a few morsels of interest for the influx of weekend visitors to get amongst, with a Siberian Chiffchaff trapped and ringed at the Obs, 4 Yellow-browed Warblers scattered between the Obs and Easton, single Coal Tits at the Obs and Easton (neither seen well enough to be sure of subspecific identity) and 3 Dartford Warblers and the long-staying Hen Harrier at the Bill. Visible passage involved a similar range of species to yesterday but numbers were in most cases a little down; scarcities included 2 Merlins and 2 Short-eared Owls over the Bill. Very little was grounded for long at all, with distinctly low totals of the likes of warblers and Goldcrests in most of the areas of cover; 3 Ring Ouzels at the Bill and another at Avalanche Road were about as good as it got for less regulars. Ferrybridge came up with 18 Bar-tailed Godwits, 3 Grey Plovers, 2 Wigeon, a Golden Plover and a Sandwich Tern amongst the regulars, whilst seawatching at the Bill produced 8 Common Scoter, 3 Brent Geese and a Red-throated Diver.

With the exception of yet another Radford's Flame Shoulder at the Obs, overnight moth numbers dwindled; 11 Rusty-dot Pearl, 3 Rush Veneer, 2 each of Pearly Underwing and Clancy's Rustic, and singles of Diamond-back Moth and Dark Sword Grass made up the rest of the immigrant tally at the Obs.

Hen Harrier © Steve Carey stevecareybirdphotography, Grey Plovers © Pete Saunders, Dartford Warbler © Joe Stockwell Birdwatching South Dorset and Beyond and Siberian Chiffchaff:

21st October

An almost windless day was quite a novelty and allowed for pretty decent coverage of the centre and south of the island. The conditions were too fair to have expected much of a fall of migrants but there was plenty of passage afoot, with an almost constant light trickle of thrushes in particular apparent everywhere: sample counts included 260 Wood Pigeons, 140 Redwings, 50 each of Song Thrush and Chaffinch,  and 20 Fieldfares over the Bill during the morning, 128 Redwings, 40 Chaffinches and 12 Fieldfares over the centre of the island during the afternoon and 170 Starlings, 80 Redwings and 28 Fieldfares over Blacknor during the afternoon; a wide variety of lower totals included most of the expected late autumn regulars along with a Short-eared Owl, a Mistle Thrush, a Ring Ouzel and a late Tree Pipit over the Bill and another Tree Pipit over Avalanche Road. There was also plenty of variety on the ground but quantity didn't match yesterday and it was left to a few oddities to provide interest there: a Serin was the pick of the arrivals at the Bill, where the Hen Harrier and Siberian Lesser Whitethroat remained and a belated first Dartford Warbler of the autumn showed up; elsewhere there were 6 Yellow-browed Warblers scattered around the centre of the island.

Overnight mothing was again astonishing good considering the clear skies and chilly north-easterly, with an immigrant tally at the Obs of 22 Rusty-dot Pearl, 10 White-speck, 4 Rush Veneer, 2 each of Diamond-back Moth, Radford's Flame Shoulder, Delicate, Scarce Bordered Straw and White-speck, and singles of Barred Sallow and Clancy's Rustic; late singles of Brimstone and Dark Arches were also of note there.

Although most frequently a spring and summer visitor to Portland we do get the odd one or two Serins most late autumns; the strongly streaked throat and forehead seem to mark this one out as pretty conclusively a female, but we're not so certain of its age: quick looks at it in the hand suggested it was a bird of the year but now that we've spent a bit of time on these and other photos we're more inclined to leave it unaged

The Hen Harrier lingered on for another day © Mark Eggleton

...but we haven't got a clue whether various of the Yellow-browed Warblers are lingerers or not: bearing in mind that pretty well all of the Bill birds have moved on quite quickly it might well be that the daily reports from spots like the Craft Centre (where this one was photographed today © Ted Pressey) actually involve many different individuals

20th October

A reminder that there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm this Saturday, 22nd October.

A welcome pulse of passage today with the heavy cloud cover that rolled in after a clear start ensuring that new arrivals tricked in/over for a good part of the day. Visible passage was conspicuous for quite a while after dawn, with a one hour sample count at Verne Common that came up with 206 Redwings, 97 Meadow Pipits, 30 Fieldfares, 27 Linnets, 9 Skylarks, 9 Siskins, 8 Song Thrushes, 7 Chaffinches, 4 Mistle Thrushes and a Redpoll reflecting the volume of movement everywhere; different species involved elsewhere included 175 Wood Pigeons, 50 Jackdaws, 7 Bramblings, a Merlin and a Bullfinch over the Bill where a small flurry of hirundines included a late Sand Martin. It was the busiest day for a while on the ground, with Bill totals of 100 each of Robin and Chiffchaff, 50 Wrens, 30 each of Stonechat and Blackcap, and 15 Goldcrests again representative of what looked to be a good spread of new arrivals everywhere; quality was limited to the first Coal Tit of the autumn at Perryfields, 2 Yellow-browed Warblers at Southwell and further singles at Culverwell, Avalanche Road and Tout Quarry, 3 Ring Ouzels at the Bill and another at Coombefield Quarry, the lingering Hen Harrier still at the Bill, 3 Firecrests scattered about and a late Reed Warbler at the Bill.

Overnight mothing was again far more productive than the unhelpful wind strength/direction and general coolness would have suggested, with an immigrant tally at the Obs of 31 Rusty-dot Pearl, 20 Rush Veneer, 3 each of White-speck and Silver Y, 2 each of Diamond-back Moth and Scarce Bordered Straw, and singles of Convolvulus Hawk-moth, Radford's Flame Shoulder, Dark Sword Grass, Delicate, Barred Sallow and Clancy's Rustic; similarly impressive numbers and variety elsewhere included another Radford's Flame Shoulder at the Grove.

19th October

With the wind having abated as it veered towards the north birding was considerably easier today. The dawn capture of 2 new Yellow-browed Warblers at the Bill gave an early indication that there were new arrivals about and although it was never particularly busy on the ground there was plenty on the move overhead with Chaffinches in particular their most conspicuous so far this autumn, with 300 through at the Bill in a couple of hours and plenty more elsewhere. Visible passage came up with few surprises but a good selection of seasonable finches and the like, together with a few tardy hirundines, made the log. After the dawn flurry another 2 Yellow-browed Warblers showed up (at the Obs and Portland Hospital), whilst 2 Ring Ouzels and the lingering Hen Harrier were also about at the Bill where the Siberian Lesser Whitethroat first trapped and ringed more than a week ago made an unexpected reappearance. For the most part Ferrybridge numbers were unchanged but a new Curlew Sandpiper showed up there and at least 1 Sandwich Tern was still about.

Immigrant moths have confounded expectations several times in recent weeks and did so again overnight when in what looked to be wholly unsuitable conditions there was a noticeable increase in numbers: 13 Rush Veneer, 7 each of Rusty-dot Pearl and White-speck, 2 each of Diamond-back Moth and Silver Y, and singles of Delicate and Scarce Bordered Straw were trapped at the Obs, whilst additional singles of White-speck and Scarce Bordered Straw were trapped at Sweethill.

18th October

Despite a stiff north-westerly that made for uncomfortable birding there was a lot more about today, even if the vast majority were overhead rather than on the ground. Visible passage wasn't comprehensively covered but more than 700 Linnets, 250 Goldfinches, 200 Meadow Pipits and 150 alba wagtails passed through in quick time at the Bill where 2 Merlins were also in attendance. A bitsy selection on the ground included 3 Ring Ouzels at Coombefield and another at the Bill, 2 Firecrests at the Bill and the Hen Harrier that was still about at the Bill, but common migrant numbers dwindled still further and even the likes of Chiffchaffs were only very thinly spread. The Ferrybridge selection included 300 Mediterranean Gulls, 120 Dark-bellied and 3 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 23 Bar-tailed Godwits and a Sanderling.

Immigrant moth numbers (in fact moth numbers generally) remained very low, but the 16 individuals at the Obs did include singles of Radford's Flame Shoulder, Delicate and White-speck; elsewhere, the second Barred Sallow of the autumn was of note at the Grove.

Hen Harriers rarely linger for long at Portland so the five day stay of this youngster - we'd presumed since it was so big that it had to be a female and Chris's photo confirms that it is as it has a dark eye - is pretty unusual © Chris Minvalla:

Ferrybridge has been rather neglected in the recent absence of Pete and Debby Saunders so their return to get amongst the Pale-bellied Brents, Bar-tailed Godwits and the like is very welcome © Pete Saunders

After our blistering start in this year's Radford's Flame Shoulder stakes we've been overtaken by Scilly and The Lizard so our sixth of the season was quite welcome:

...in typical Portland fashion Barred Sallow is actually a much rarer visitor to the island than Radford's Flame Shoulder:

And finally, a bit of video of the harrier:

17th October

Poor reward again today with Yellow-browed Warblers providing most of what little interest there was in a blustery westerly. Five Yellow-browed Warblers were scattered about between the Bill and Easton, whilst amongst the back-ups the Hen Harrier reappeared at the Bill, 5 Ring Ouzels were spread around the centre of the island and singles of Merlin, Black Redstart and Firecrest were at the Bill. Routine passage was subdued, with a thin spread of expected grounded migrants and only very limited visible passage; a total of 475 grounded Great Black-backed Gulls was noteworthy at the Bill but once again there was next to no sea passage there.

A lone White-speck at the Obs was the only worthwhile immigrant from overnight mothing.

We get the impression that there aren't as many Long-tailed Tits about the centre of the island as there often are at this time of year - this one was at Bumpers Lane this afternoon (© Joe Stockwell) but we haven't encountered any flocks yet this autumn during our meandering around the Easton/Grove area:

16th October

Not a very eventful day, with a few lingerers but nothing much in the way of new arrivals downed by some pretty heavy rain in the late hours of the night. Yellow-browed Warblers remained at Southwell School (2), Langley Close and the Obs, but the only other scarcer migrant making the list were a couple of Ring Ouzels at the Bill, a Balearic Shearwater through on the sea there and a Firecrest at Pennsylvania Castle. Commoner migrants really weren't at all plentiful, with a thin spread of routine fare on the ground, very little visible passage and 2 Red-throated Divers the only other worthwhile sightings on the sea at the Bill.

It remained far too windy to have expected much reward from the moth-traps, with singles of Delicate and Scarce Bordered Straw at the Grove easily the best of the handful of immigrants.

15th October

Yesterday was always going to be a hard act to follow but there was some disappointment that the late night rain accompanying the change to westerly weather didn't drop more in the way of new arrivals than the latest flush of Yellow-browed Warblers: the day's tally of the latter ended up on 10 widely spread between the Obs and Easton. Additionally, yesterday's Hen Harrier lingered on at the Bill, Ring Ouzels included 7 at West Weare and 3 at the Bill and new (?Siberian) Lesser Whitethroats were at the Bill and Wakeham. Commoner migrants were a relatively low-key feature: a good total of 125 Dunnocks in the Obs/hut fields area was particularly noteworthy and decent numbers of Chiffchaffs were encountered everywhere; among the less regulars singles of Black Redstart and Brambling were at the Bill.

A milder night with a southerly breeze for a while made precious little difference to the mothing, with the Obs immigrant tally consisting of just 15 Rusty-dot Pearl, 4 Rush Veneer, 3 Silver Y, 2 each of Diamond-back Moth and Delicate, and a single Scarce Bordered Straw.

One of the day's Yellow-browed Warblers at the Obs was pretty vocal at times:

14th October

A stir-up in the weather with a succession of drizzly showers arriving from the east and making landfall throughout the morning did the trick today, most excitingly in a manner that nobody had predicted when Portland's second Red-eyed Vireo popped up in a mist-net at the Obs. Yellow-browed Warblers featured again, with at least 2 at both the Obs/Crown Estate Field and the Craft Centre, and another single at Pennsylvania Castle, Ring Ouzels included 4 at West Weare and at least 2 at the Bill, a Hen Harrier lingered for a while at the Bill and a very late Cuckoo showed up there. On the common migrant front there were getting on for 100 Chiffchaffs at the Bill, with plenty more variety amongst the steady flow of birds dropping in briefly or passing straight through into the brisk north-easterly.

Given the persistent easterlies over the last 10 days an American passerine would surely have been right at the bottom of anyone's prediction list for today, but in many ways the arrival of a Red-eyed Vireo bore striking similarities to the occurrence of the famous Northern Waterthrush at the Obs in mid-October 1996: the waterthrush also arrived during a spell of easterlies and in tandem with a fall of the likes of thrushes, Firecrests and Bramblings; the vireo was in perfectly good condition - it weighed more than 19gms which according to the literature would be a pretty decent weight for an autumn migrant in north America - and it seems most likely that both it and the waterthrush had made landfall in northern Europe in late September/early October and recovered sufficiently well to be moving on southwards on this side of the Atlantic © Nick Hopper:

These days, Yellow-browed Warblers can pop up just about anywhere: this morning's bird dropped into a tiny patch of brambles in the middle of the Crown Estate Field:

Nice dreary, drizzly fall conditions don't help when it comes to getting record shots of distant oddities but these dreadful efforts do at least clinch this morning's harrier as a Hen rather than the hoped-for Pallid:

Most likely, today's cuckoo was just a very late Common Cuckoo but given the recent conditions we can't imagine there's any reason why an Oriental Cuckoo mightn't be on the cards © Nevil Fowler:

And to end, a bit more in-hand vireo detail: