25th March

The most glorious sunshine of the year to date was tempered, at least for the best of the morning, by the continuing brisk northeasterly. In a couple of weeks time such conditions would likely have been just right for a bountiful fair weather fall but this early in the season the bounty was on the lean side of limited: Meadow Pipits trickled through overhead and Chiffchaffs made up the bulk of the thin spread on the ground, whilst quality consisted of little more than 2 White Wagtails at the Bill and a Ring Ouzel at Thumb Lane. The Hume's Warbler again showed very intermittently at Thumb Lane, with the day's only other reports being of 22 Common Scoter and a Red-throated Diver through off the Bill.

The first Small White butterfly of the year was on the wing at Weston.

24th March

Plenty of fall ingredients in the air today with overcast skies, bouts of drizzly rain moving northwest across the Channel and a brisk northeasterly wind. The main response was overhead, where Meadow Pipits were arriving plentifully on a broad front throughout the morning, with a sample three hour count at Blacknor coming up with 1500 north; the same watch also produced 46 Linnets, 25 phylloscs, 8 Chaffinches, 6 alba wagtails, 2 House Martins, a Marsh Harrier, a Ring Ouzel and a Goldcrest heading through, whilst additional species elsewhere included the likes of several Sand Martins, a Sparrowhawk, a Swallow and a White Wagtail through at the Bill and a Redshank through over Reap Lane. For the most part it was unexpectedly quieter on the ground: Ring Ouzels were represented by 5 at the Bill and 1 at Thumb Lane, and 3 Redwings and a Fieldfare were of note at the Bill but, for example, the totals of grounded Wheatears and Chiffchaffs there barely reached 40 apiece. Aside from the migrants, the wintering Hume's Warbler put in a couple of appearances at Thumb Lane. The only sea reports were of 3 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill and 3 Eider and a Slavonian Grebe lingering on at Ferrybridge and Portland Harbour respectively.

The Bill Ring Ouzels looked to be moving through pretty sharpish and the tentative day-total of 5 might even have included some duplication; this one pitched in for a short while in the Strips © Martin Cade:


23rd March

Weather-wise, a bit of a grim day with drizzly rain coming and going throughout; this, in combination with a shift in wind direction to brisk north-easterly, promised a few new arrivals and while no delivering anything in numbers came up with some variety. A good 25 Chiffchaffs moved through quickly at the Bill, where 2 each of WheatearBlack Redstart, Blackcap and Goldcrest were grounded and singles of Redshank, Short-eared Owl and Swallow passed over amongst the steady trickle of incoming Lesser Black-backed Gulls, alba wagtails and Meadow Pipits. The only reports from elsewhere were of 28 Ringed Plovers, 5 Dunlin, a Redshank and a Sandwich Tern at Ferrybridge, where an overflying Buzzard was an oddity.

A lone Silver Y was the only immigrant that made it into the Obs garden moth-traps overnight.

22nd March

Overnight rain dropped a small arrival of mainly Chiffchaffs but with the eventual clearance not reaching the island until mid-morning they were difficult to get amongst before most had moved on. At least 25 Chiffchaffs - along with 7 Wheatears, 2 Black Redstarts, a Golden Plover and a Blackcap (as well as several lingering Short-eared Owls) - were logged at the Bill, whilst 3 Blackcaps and 2 Willow Warblers at Thumb Lane were amongst the sprinkle elsewhere; the Hume's Warbler also remained at Thumb Lane. Seawatching at the Bill came up with 18 Common Scoter, 4 Sandwich Terns and 2 Red-throated Divers, whilst a Great Northern Diver passed over Ferrybridge and 8 Sandwich Terns, 2 Eider and a Black-necked Grebe were in Portland Harbour.

The Great Northern Diver and one of the Sandwich Terns from Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour this morning © Pete Saunders:



A Peacock butterfly at the Obs making the most the lovely warm, sunny afternoon that followed the wet early morning © Ken Dolbear:

21st March

With blustery westerlies still the order of the day passage didn't pick up at all today. Wheatear and Chiffchaff remained rooted on 10 each at the Bill, where there was also a single Blackcap, a very light passage of incoming Meadow Pipits and 8 Red-throated Divers and 5 Common Scoter through on the sea. The only other report was of the Hume's Warbler still at Thumb Lane. Roll on spring...

20th March

We can only hope that the equinox marks a transition to more favourable conditions: today's dreary skies and almost gale force westerly that preceded a short spell of rain had at least cleared through by evening, although far too late to perk up the day's meagre sightings list. Migrant-wise, there was a little more around, with both Wheatear and Chiffchaff just scraping into double figures at the Bill, but interest on the land mainly revolved around the continuing presence of the likes of the Hume's Warbler at Thumb Lane and 1 or more Short-eared Owls at the Bill. The sea was never busy, but 3 Sandwich Terns, 2 each of Red-throated Diver and Black-throated Diver and a single Teal made it worth a look off the Bill.

19th March

Only the smallest of improvements in the migrant situation today, with none reaching double figure totals at the Bill, but an Iceland Gull was a new/reappearing oddity at Barleycrates Lane; nearby, the Hume's Warbler also remained at Thumb Lane. In a constantly blustery westerly most of the day's other reports came from the sea, with 200 Kittiwakes, 11 Common Scoter, 5 Red-throated Divers, a Great Skua and a Sandwich Tern through off the Bill; a further 8 Common Scoter were settled in Portland Harbour, where 2 Eider and a Slavonian Grebe were also still present. The rarities aside, a Bullfinch at the Bill was the only noteworthy arrival on the land.

The immigrant moth tally at the Obs consisted of singles of Rush Veneer, Dark Sword Grass and Turnip.

Although there have been plenty enough Iceland Gulls around the country to imagine that today's individual was new in, it also bears a more than passing resemblance to the bird/birds seen at the Bill in late February/early March © Martin Cade (video) and Pete Saunders (still):


18th March

A day that won't be remembered in a hurry. In a brisk westerly only Wheatear just about managed to reach a double figure total at the Bill, with the other routine migrants either absent or reduced to low single figure totals. Five Sandwich Terns through off the Bill were the first of the season there, with 7 Red-throated Divers the only other sightings of note on the sea. The only other report was of the Hume's Warbler still at Thumb Lane.

17th March

The chilly but fair conditions of dawn didn't last and it wasn't long before signs of the forecast downturn in the weather were apparent, with a buffeting westerly well established by dusk. Wheatears replaced Chiffchaffs as the conspicuous migrants of the day: more than 50 were grounded at the Bill early in the morning, with more dropping in as the day went on, whilst other counts included 21 at Ferrybridge. Chiffchaffs were about but reduced to fewer than 40 at the Bill, with other migrant interest there consisting of little more than singles of White Wagtail, Blackcap and Goldcrest; 3 Black Redstarts were also still about there and 4 Red-throated Divers passed through on the sea. The only report of note was of an Eider at Ferrybridge.

Moth numbers were again rather reduced, with 3 Rush Veneer, 2 each of Diamond-back Moth and Dark Sword Grass, and a lone Turnip the only immigrants at the Obs.

16th March

An entertaining day saw murkiness overhead drop another good arrival of Chiffchaffs - amongst which there were also several early firsts for the year - whilst overhead Meadow Pipits were arriving in quantity for the first time this spring. With meaningful coverage limited to a handful of observers it was only the Bill area that was well worked; Chiffchaffs got to around the 200 mark on the ground, whilst overflying Meadow Pipits likely got into four figures although with many flocks audible but not visible in the fog it was impossible to be more accurate. The back-up cast was varied and included 20 Wheatears, 4 Swallows and singles of Golden Plover, Curlew, Short-eared Owl, Ring Ouzel, Fieldfare, Redwing, Black Redstart, Willow Warbler and Yellowhammer; elsewhere, a Yellow Wagtail overhead at Blacknor was only one day off equalling Portland's earliest record, whilst the Hume's Warbler was still at Thumb Lane.

After yesterday's excesses, moth numbers were lower overnight with immigrants consisting of 7 Diamond-back Moth, 3 Rush Veneer and 2 Dark Sword Grass at the Obs and the year's first Silver Y at the Grove.

Although there have been some earlier field records we think that this morning's Willow Warbler is the earliest ever trapped and ringed at the Obs © Martin Cade:


Although youngsters are trapped relatively often it's much more unusual for us to handle a full adult male Sparrowhawk; since it wasn't already ringed it'll be a fair bet that it isn't a local bird either © Martin Cade:

15th March

http://www.at-infocus.co.uk/ 
A reminder that there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm this Saturday, 18th March.

Yesterday's quiet, heavily overcast conditions persisted and dropped slightly better numbers of migrants. Numbers-wise, Chiffchaffs dominated at the Bill where a good proportion of the 50 or so logged dropped in through the afternoon; 5 Wheatears, 3 Redwings, 2 Blackcaps and singles of Merlin, Redshank and Goldcrest were also new in, whilst 2 Black Redstarts, a Short-eared Owl and a Bullfinch were still about. Sea passage was almost non-existent, with singles of Common Scoter and Great Skua the only things worth a mention off the Bill.

The mild, still conditions resulted in some good catches of moths, with the 43 individuals in one trap at the Grove an exceptional total for early spring (many typical early year species such as the Orthosias are far from numerous at Portland); migrant interest consisted of 12 Diamond-back Moth, 6 Rush Veneer and 3 Dark Sword Grass at the Obs and 3 Diamond-back Moth at the Grove.

This Redshank was one of the better newcomers of the day at the Bill © Roger Hewitt:


The nice male Black Redstart was still about at the Bill Quarry © Roger Hewitt...


...where marauding Sparrowhawks have become a regular feature just recently © Keith Pritchard:

14th March

What looked to be very promising conditions at dawn fell far short of delivering either quantity or quality today. Under the overcast skies that lingered all day none of the routine early migrants managed anything like a double figure total at the Bill, where the best of the interest came in the form of a light incoming passage of Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits, Redwings and Chaffinches; a lone Grey Wagtail overhead was the first of the year there. Three Long-tailed Tits were still about at the Bill and a Bullfinch also looked likely to be a lingerer, whilst 15 Common Scoter, 3 Red-throated Divers and 2 Black-headed Gulls through on the sea were the only other sightings worth a mention.

With fewer than 50 new birds ringed so far this year (...we haven't really made much of an effort until recent days) it's been a bit of a surprise to have already handled two 'controls' ringed away from Portland; we don't yet know the origins of the Chiffchaff trapped amongst the three figure fall on Sunday, but the ring sequence of yesterday's Goldfinch was familiar: it was one of Ian Dodd's birds from Littlesea, Weymouth, where it was ringed on 1st October last year (we've had quite a few exchanges of Goldfinches to and from Ian's ringing sites beside the Fleet) © Martin Cade:


13th March

A brilliantly moonlit night and crystal clear dawn didn't bode well on the numbers front and it was certainly much quieter than yesterday. At the Bill both Wheatear and Chiffchaff just about managed double figure totals, with 3 Long-tailed Tits and singles of Redwing and Black Redstart the best of the rest on the ground there; alba wagtails, Meadow Pipits and Chaffinches also trickled overhead there. A similar light scatter elsewhere included 2 White Wagtails at Suckthumb and 150 Mediterranean Gulls still at Ferrybridge. The sea was pretty quiet in the light offshore breeze, with 7 Mediterranean Gulls, 5 Brent Geese, 5 Common Scoter and a Red-throated Diver the best off the Bill.

The clear night was much poorer for moths, with immigrant interest consisting of just 3 Diamond-back Moth, a Dark Sword Grass and a Turnip at the Obs and a Rush Veneer at the Grove.

We're guessing this ringed Long-tailed Tit at the Pulpit Bushes this morning is one of the three individuals that we ringed at the Obs in late January/early February; they've made several other visits to the Bill since then so must be just a little bit interested - perhaps our first ever Bill breeding attempt is in the offing? © Keith Pritchard:


The male Wheatears are looking great at the moment © Mike Hetherington (top - at the Sailing Academy) and Keith Pritchard (bottom - at the Bill):



12th March

A day of some nice variety, with early rain dropping the first small fall of the spring amongst which Chiffchaffs reached a three figure total at the Bill. Migrant interest otherwise included 20 Wheatears, 3 Black Redstarts, 2 Redwings and 2 Blackcaps at the Bill, 4 Red-throated Divers and a Great Skua through off the Bill, another Blackcap and plenty more Chiffchaffs around Southwell, 2 Black Redstarts and a Lapwing at Blacknor and a Yellow-legged Gull at Ferrybridge. Other interest included the Hume's Warbler still at Thumb Lane, 190 Dunlin, 34 Oystercatchers and 16 Bar-tailed Godwits at Ferrybridge, 3 Black-necked Grebes in Portland Harbour and 2 pairs of Canada Geese settled on the harbour breakwaters.

The lepidoptera highlight was the first island record of Small Eggar caught overnight at the Obs; another arrival of immigrants included a Painted Lady watched coming in off the sea the Bill, 7 Diamond-back Moths, 3 Rush Veneer and a Red Sword-grass caught overnight at the Obs and 2 Dark Sword Grass and a Rush Veneer caught overnight at the Grove.

These days Canada Geese aren't quite the novelty island oddity that they once were and it looks like these two pairs are going to be following in the footsteps of a pair that bred on the harbour breakwaters once before (in 2011) © Nick Stantiford:



The last few wintering Black-necked Grebes are still about and getting into quite decent plumage before departing © Nick Stantiford:


Not surprisingly, a good many of the day's Chiffchaffs were 'pollened' around the face © Keith Pritchard (top - on the shore at the Bill tip) and Martin Cade (bottom - in the Obs garden):



In our junior mothing days Small Eggar was a rather sought-after local special in coastal west Dorset but it recent years it seems to have spread into the Weymouth area and we'd had it marked down as a pretty likely future addition to the Portland list; if the females are as seemingly lethargic as some of the other female eggars then Chesil Beach/Ferrybridge might prove to be an insurmountable barrier to future colonisation but clearly males like last night's specimen are capable of reaching the island © Martin Cade:


Diamond-back Moths and Rush Veneers are no big deal later in the season but they're quite high value species in early spring © Martin Cade:


11th March

Today's little flurry of migrants included an overdue first few Wheatears of the spring, including 10 at the Bill and 5 at Ferrybridge, but it was still far from busy. The Bill area also came up with 5 Black Redstarts, a Chiffchaff and a Goldcrest, as well as 16 Common Scoter, 11 Black-headed Gulls, 5 Mediterranean Gulls, 3 Red-throated Divers and a Great Northern Diver through on the sea. Other reports included the Hume's Warbler still at Thumb Lane, where 2 Redwings and a Chiffchaff were also present.

A small arrival of immigrant lepidoptera included 2 Painted Lady butterflies at the Bill and single Dark Sword Grass in moth-traps at the Obs at the Grove.

The morning at least was fog-free which allowed for better looks at whatever had dropped in, including the first Wheatear © Keith Pritchard:


...and one of a couple more Chiffchaff © Debby Saunders:


As usual at this season the mix of local and migrant Rock Pipits include plenty that defy straightforward subspecific placement © David Rashley:

10th March

A day of wall-to-wall fog didn't bode well but, at the Bill at least, came up with a small arrival of new grounded migrants. Variety was still very limited but 22 Stonechats, 15 each of Blackbird and Chiffchaff, and 2 Fieldfares suggested that some migration momentum was at last gathering. Two Black Redstarts and a Short-eared Owl were also still at the Bill and 2 Mallards were in Portland Harbour.

A lone Dark Sword Grass was the first immigrant moth of the year in the Obs moth-traps.

When this was all that could be seen of the Obs from just across the road in the Crown Estate Field it wasn't really a surprise that migrant-hunting was pretty hard work:


Nearly all of the day's new Blackbirds were males:


Although no doubt anything will do after a long flight, the still leafless trees and general air of dank gloom hardly looked very inviting for today's crop of new migrants:

 

9th March

Waiting for the spring's first Wheatear is often Portland's equivalent of Waiting for Godot and today fitted that bill perfectly. The arrival of considerably milder air - and as the day went on, pleasantly warm sunshine - did precious little to perk up the migrant tally that consisted at the Bill of just 2 grounded Redwings, a handful of incoming Meadow Pipits and 13 Black-headed Gulls, a Red-throated Diver and a Great Northern Diver through on the sea. Six Purple Sandpipers, 2 Short-eared Owls, 2 Black Redstarts, a Bullfinch and a Reed Bunting were also lingering on there, the Hume's Warbler showed up a couple of times at Thumb Lane and 8 Black-necked Grebes and 3 Slavonian Grebes were in Portland Harbour.

One of the two Bill Black Redstarts © Keith Pritchard:


And to end, a bit of off-island interest. The annual departure of Weymouth's wintering Bitterns is something that we've wanted to witness for a while (...this event hadn't been 'discovered' all those years ago when we used to scrutinise the gulls in Weymouth every evening but would have packed up and gone home before dusk) and after drawing a blank on several visits to Lodmoor last year we gave Radipole a try this evening. This isn't an event that offers anything to anyone who wants feather perfect views but it turned out to be as wholly gripping as we'd imagined it was going to be: this evening's bird appeared about half-an-hour after sunset when there was still plenty enough light to follow it in silhouette although only just about enough to get some photos...


...it circled the north end of the reserve at relatively low level for a couple of minutes...


...all the time calling as it went. Whilst Radipole has very many merits, these days you maybe don't really get the feel for being at one with nature there, what with the constant din of traffic, trains, yobs and whatever else gets in the way of making a nice clean sound recording!...



...finally, after a third circuit, it gained height and headed away steadily to the northeast to end what had been a truly exciting little event (many thanks to Dick Morris in particular for allowing us to tap into his experiences with departing birds at Lodmoor) © Martin Cade:

8th March

Not a completely wasted day because the miserable conditions - fog and rain at dawn giving way to dreary skies and a brisk breeze for the rest of the day - allowed for good progress with plenty of other jobs but bird-wise there wasn't a single worthwhile sighting logged on the day-sheet.

7th March

Quiet, overcast conditions looked promising for a few arrivals but plenty of fieldwork revealed precious little of note: another small pulse of 10 Stonechats at the Bill were certainly new, as were the continuing trickle of incoming Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails, but the likes of a Long-tailed Tit at the Obs, a Chiffchaff at Southwell, a Blackcap at Thumb Lane and 4 Redwings at Suckthumb Quarry were all thought to be winterers or local wanderers. It was even a struggle to get much of a list from the sea: a minimum of 24 Mediterranean Gulls amongst an obvious influx of Common Gulls were of note at the Bill where 2 Red-throated Divers also passed by. A varied tally of lingerers included the Hume's Warbler at Thumb Lane, 7 Purple Sandpipers and 3 Short-eared Owls at the Bill, a Great Spotted Woodpecker (that has now taken to drumming) at Pennsylvania Castle and the Bill, 54 Brent Geese at Ferrybridge and 10 Black-necked Grebes, 4 Slavonian Grebes, 2 Eider and 2 Common Scoter in Portland Harbour.

We took advantage of today's quiet conditions to have a look for the Thumb Lane Hume's Warbler that hadn't been reported for a few days. Although it was still about it hadn't become any easier to get to grips with in the three weeks or so since our last look at it - in fact it seems to have become considerably less vocal in that time which meant that for the most part it was really tricky to keep tabs on © Martin Cade:



In the absence of much in the way of proper migrants it was at least nice to see some gull passage, amongst which a flurry of passing Mediterranean Gulls were noteworthy © Martin Cade:


The wintering Eiders in Portland Harbour lingered on © Debby Saunders:


And, a tad later than in the last two years, the Widow Iris at Broadcroft is just coming into flower © Ken Dolbear:

6th March

A wodge of rain moving through the Channel was close enough at times to be visible from the Bill but, perhaps surprisingly, didn't prevent a few migrants from getting through, with a trickle of Meadow Pipits and alba wagtails arriving in off the sea for much of the day; 5 Carrion Crows also arrived, whilst a Bullfinch that dropped in at the Obs was a first for the year there (as was a singing Collared Dove but that likely arrived from further up island). Seven Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill and 7 Purple Sandpipers and 3 Short-eared Owls were about on the land.

5th March

A wholly grim day of constant buffeting wind and frequent heavy showers. At the Bill the only reports were from the sea, where 2 Red-throated Divers, 2 Brent Geese and singles of Black-throated Diver and Common Scoter passed through; despite the conditions several single Meadow Pipits and a Pied Wagtail were also logged arriving in off the sea. Elsewhere, 24 Brent Geese were still at Ferrybridge where a wintering Kingfisher was also still about, and 2 Black-necked Grebes and singles of Great Northern Diver, Slavonian Grebe and Common Scoter were in Portland Harbour.

The Ferrybridge Kingfisher © Pete Saunders:


4th March

In bright and breezy conditions migrant interest consisted of little more than single new Blue and Great Tits mist-netted at the Obs and continuing light passage of the likes of Common Gulls on the sea, but an Iceland Gull following the plough and loafing for a while in Top Fields did provide a morsel of quality. A pretty thin back-up list included a Black Redstart at Blacknor, 7 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Black-headed Gulls and a Short-eared Owl at the Bill and 3 Common Scoter and 3 Red-throated Divers through on the sea there.

The Iceland Gull lured in by ploughing in Top Fields looks as though it could easily have been the individual recorded at the Bill last weekend © Roger Hewitt:


Changes afoot on the bird front remains very subtle for the moment; the likes of the wintering Purple Sandpipers are still on station © Ted Pressey: 


...but, for example, out to sea the Common Gulls are no longer lingering/feeding winterers but active migrants © Keith Pritchard: 


...whilst overhead Rooks are beginning to appear after having been absent all winter © Keith Pritchard:


Also from today, Ken Dolbear sent us through a photo of 3 Scarlet Tiger moth caterpillars basking in the sun in his garden at Easton this morning; we're always surprised at how successful a colonist this species has proved to be since it first reached the island in the early 1990s: although usually thought of as an inhabitant of damp places, it's now become really widespread in what's got to be one of the driest places in Dorset:

3rd March

Another day that threw up conditions offering little prospect of early arrivals, with overnight rainfall - pretty heavy at times - eventually giving way a cool, overcast and breezy day. A Goldeneye was new at Portland Harbour, where 2 Great Northern Divers and 2 Eider were still about. The only reports from the Bill were of 2 Common Scoter and a Black-throated Diver through on the sea and 7 Purple Sandpipers and a Black Redstart still on station on the land.

2nd March

The blasting westerly that sprung up overnight gradually dropped away through the day but probably not soon enough to have allowed much in the way of new arrivals to have dropped in, with a Black Redstart at Reap Lane (a different individual to the one that's popped up there from time to time through the winter) the only obvious newcomer. Coverage of the Bill area came up with 6 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Short-eared Owls, a Black-headed Gull and a Chiffchaff on the land and 2 Red-throated Divers, 2 Common Scoter, a Mediterranean Gull and a steady trickle of what looked to be migrant Common Gulls on the sea.

The first Hummingbird Hawk-moth of the year was on the wing at Weston.

There seems to be fewer Short-eared Owls about now than there were earlier in the year but those lingering on have still been showing nicely © Roger Hewitt: