24th April

A rather too fine a dawn didn't bode well on the migrant front and it was quieter all round today. A small post-dawn rush of Willow Warblers saw 120 pass quickly through at the Bill, with Wheatears - that got to around 70 there - making up the bulk of the rest of the numbers. Although there were entries on the day-sheet for many of the other expected routine migrants their numbers were pretty insignificant and it was left to the likes of the 2 long-staying Ring Ouzels at Barleycrates Lane to provide interest on the ground; rarity-wise, the singing Serin showed up for a while again in Southwell. Visible passage was much reduced but did include a Hobby through at Blacknor. The best of the sea variety came from Portland Harbour and Chesil: 55 Pale-bellied Brent Geese (together with 17 Dark-bellied Brents) dropped in at Portland Harbour and 35 Common Scoter, 37 Whimbrel, 21 Bar-tailed Godwits and an Eider were amongst a customary mix of wildfowl and waders through off the latter; 113 Common Scoter, 100 Bar-tailed Godwits and 2 Arctic Skuas were the best of the bunch off the Bill.

In the absence of any so far this year at the Obs it's good to have had this nice Serin show up at Southwell © Pete Saunders:


Part of the raft of mixed Pale-bellied and Dark-bellied Brent Geese settled in Portland Harbour © Pete Saunders:


Judging by the appearance of many of the genetically-confirmed trapped individuals, Siberian Chiffchaffs seem to come in all manner of guises these days so this very drab chiffchaff at Southwell might well be one - unhelpfully it remained resolutely silent © Pete Saunders:

23rd April

Any day would struggle to compete with the last two so today had it's work cut out from the outset - that said, there was still more than enough going on to keep most visitors happy. The reappearance of yesterday's Subalpine Warbler was very welcome after it had vanished almost as quickly as it had been found; however, it still proved troublesome to connect with and had gone to ground in the Obs Quarry by mid-morning. The spring's first Wood Warbler moved quickly through the Obs garden amongst an early flourish of 150 or so Willow Warblers and many of the rest of day's highlights were less regular migrants rather than another avalanche of routine fare, with the likes of at least 9 Whinchats, 8 Redstarts, 7 Ring Ouzels, 6 Grasshopper Warblers, 4 Lesser Whitethroats, 4 Pied Flycatchers and singles of Turtle Dove, White Wagtail and Black Redstart scattered around the south of the island amongst a thinnish spread of commoner fare. Overhead passage was really conspicuous but poorly quantified with a strong incoming movement of hirundines a feature throughout the morning. There were hints that the sea would have been more productive were it not for the mainly offshore breeze with, amongst others, 23 Whimbrel, 5 Great Skuas, 4 Arctic Skuas, 2 Red-throated Divers, a Black-throated Diver and a Great Northern Diver through off the Bill, singles of Grey Plover and Sanderling off Chesil and 14 Whimbrel, 3 Bar-tailed Godwits and a Greenshank over Ferrybridge.

Reports from some field observations suggested that the Subalpine Warbler was a rather obvious male but that's not really borne out by the photographic/video evidence (...it certainly isn't in the same league as last week's very well-marked bird at the Higher Light); we'd be more inclined to leave the sex as uncertain and wonder if it mightn't be more likely a 'bright' female © Martin Cade (stills) and Dave Foot (video):




We still haven't found enough time to get round to yesterday's photos, but in the meanwhile here's a nice couple from today of a Ring Ouzel and a Whinchat at Barleycrates Lane © Pete Saunders:


22nd April

Fall size continues to grow exponentially, with another fantastic arrival around the centre and south of the island today. Solidly overcast skies and what was only really a waft of a headbreeze did the trick and saw the Bill area absolutely hopping with 1000 Willow Warblers, 200 Wheatears, 100 each of Blackcap and Chiffchaff, 50 Whitethroats and 20 Grasshopper Warblers on the ground and a strong and constant passage of hirundines overhead. The back-up cast was too varied to enumerate in full but over a wider area of the south of the island included an additional 20 Grasshopper Warblers, 25 each of Sedge Warbler and Redstart, 10 Yellow Wagtails (including a 'Channel' Wagtail), 5 Ring Ouzels, 4 Lesser Whitethroats, 3 each of Black Redstart and Pied Flycatcher, 2 each of Turtle Dove, Cuckoo, Fieldfare and Firecrest, and singles of Hobby and Green Sandpiper, whilst rarity interest was confined to brief sightings of a Subalpine Warbler beside the Coastguard Cottages at the Bill and a Serin at Coombefield Quarry. Sea passage was pretty limited but did include 62 Common Scoter, 32 Whimbrel, 3 Red-breasted Mergansers, 2 each of Red-throated Diver and Arctic Skua, and singles of Great Northern Diver and Great Skua through off the Bill.

Two of the more interesting migrants today were this 'Channel' Wagtail that dropped in briefly at the Bill © Graham Morey:


...and a Green Sandpiper that flew over the Bill and Ferrybridge (presumably both sightings referred to the same bird?) © Pete Saunders:




We've been sent a hatful more photos for today's blog but after a such a busy week we really need to catch up on some sleep so they'll have to wait until tomorrow!

21th April

http://www.at-infocus.co.uk/ 
A reminder that there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm tomorrow, Saturday 22nd April.

The change delivered overnight was sufficiently subtle that it could hardly be termed a stir-up but a weak weather front slipping southward introduced more than enough heavy cloud cover to precipitate another whopping fall of migrants across the south of the island at least (...was there anyone looking around the north?). As usual, the perceived totals for the Bill could only be arrived at with some informed guesswork, but it was clear to everyone that Willow Warblers were hugely dominant and 700 was the eventual total making the log; the also-rans included 90 Wheatears, 50 Chiffchaffs, 40 each of Whitethroat and Blackcap, 20 each of Yellow Wagtail and Redstart, 11 Grasshopper Warblers, 10 Garden Warblers, 8 each of Tree Pipit and Sedge Warbler, 5 Ring Ouzels, 4 Whinchats, 3 Lesser Whitethroats, 2 Black Redstarts and singles of Short-eared Owl, Reed Warbler, Firecrest and Serin (the latter at Southwell). Additions numbers-wise elsewhere included 2 more Ring Ouzels at Barelycrates Lane and another at Blacknor, and another Short-eared Owl at Tout Quarry. Seawatching at the Bill came up with 58 Whimbrel, 26 Bar-tailed Godwits, 21 Common Scoter, 3 Red-throated Divers and an Arctic Skua.

The first Small Blues of the year were on the wing at Bottomcombe.

Two more of what's turned out to a pretty good late flurry of Ring Ouzels (these were over Southwell) © Pete Saunders:



Bottomcombe again came up trumps with what we're guessing must be some of the UK's earliest emerging Small Blues © Ken Dolbear:


20th April


Just a rather modest flurry of new arrivals today - the prevailing quiet and very dry weather conditions make for nice, easy birding but perhaps there's a sense now that a bit of a stir-up wouldn't do any harm. Although numbers were significantly reduced there was a fair bit of variety on offer, with the Bill area coming up with totals on the ground of 150 Willow Warblers, 50 Wheatears, 25 Blackcaps, 20 Chiffchaffs, 2 each of Redstart, Black Redstart, Whinchat, and Sedge Warbler, and singles of White Wagtail, Ring Ouzel, Lesser Whitethroat and Pied Flycatcher; another 2 Ring Ouzels lingered on at Barleycrates Lane and a Snipe at Suckthumb Quarry was a extra species for the day. Visible arrivals were a feature throughout, with Swallows in particular passing through in some quantity. The sea ticked over without ever getting busy, with 65 Common Scoter, 18 Whimbrel, 14 Bar-tailed Godwits, 10 Red-throated Divers, 5 Arctic Skuas, 4 Sandwich Terns and 2 Great Skuas the pick of the day's tally at the Bill.

Whinchat at Suckthumb Quarry © Graham Stacey:


Finally, we've received an interesting follow up to Ken Dolbear's recent sighting of a Dotted Bee-fly from John Mellings, an entomologist who's moved to Portland relatively recently; John's note is worth posting in full:

As an entomologist, I was interested in Ken Dolbear's Dotted Bee-fly Bombylius discolor posting of 6th April, particularly as Carol and I recorded several specimens (males and females) of this species on Saturday afternoon, at the northern end of the East Weares (if the rather inaccessible bit of coast with two small saline lagoons immediately east of Grove Prison, is still considered being part of the East Weares?) The grid ref was around SY70543 72352. The insects were flying over the open part of the path just before the beach.
I also have recorded Black Oil Beetle Meloe proscarabaeus on the island (see below) - I got a bit carried away and have written the following, in case it is of interest to you/readers of the blog? Goes into a bit of detail about lifecycles/host associations etc:
Bee-flies are parasitic within the nests of ground nesting solitary mining bees. In the UK, Dotted Beefly has been associated with two species of the ground-nesting mining bee genus Andrena. These include the Yellow-legged Mining Bee Andrena flavipes and the Ashy Mining Bee A. cineraria, both of which occur on Portland (I recorded them during a survey in 2013). The UK range of both bees have, according to records, increased in range in recent years and I suspect that an increase in Dotted Bee-fly distribution is related to this.
My Portland Dotted Bee-fly records were in an area where Ashy Mining Bees were nesting. In the literature Dotted Bee-fly has been associated primarily with the Yellow-legged Bee-fly in coastal southern England, whilst it has been more strongly associated in the Cotswolds with Ashy Beefly. I have seen Dotted Beefly both on the south coast and in the Cotswolds within close proximity of Ashy Beefly aggregations, however, whilst observation is valuable such records do not necessarily prove an association.
Interestingly, bee-flies exhibit a similar biology to those of the oil beetles and species like the Black Oil-Beetle Meloe proscarabaeus are nearly always seen in close proximity to ground nesting bee aggregations in warm, sheltered locations, often with bee-flies and hymenopteran cuckoo bee species also in attendance. 
I have seen Black Oil Beetles in only one area of Portland so far; amongst Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria within the gardens at Grove Prison, myself and friends first saw the species there in spring 2015 and have seen it again in a similar location this year. In my experience (and I have seen a lot of oil beetles in different parts of the country), Lesser Celandine is pretty much always present. Whilst, as far as I know, there have been no scientific studies regarding this association, I have read anecdotal accounts of this associations.
Despite being from completely different taxonomic orders, the life-cycles of bee-flies and oil beetles are remarkably similar. The larvae of oil beetles and bee-flies both have early larval stages which are adapted for crawling and, in some cases, clinging to the host bee species. These larvae are collectively called 'planidia'. In the case of the oil beetles, the name 'triungulin' is used, as the species have three claws, enabling the larvae to cling to the hairs on the legs of host bees. The triungulins are transferred from flowers to the bee's legs as they forage on flowers and are then transported to the nest chambers of the host. 
Once in the nest cell, the larvae are sealed into the larval chamber of the host bee where they change from agile, crawling planidia or triungulins to fleshy, immobile maggot-like larvae. Both oil-beetle and bee-fly larva then feeds on the supply of pollen provided by the host bee for it's own progeny and at the progeny's expense. After developing fully, the oil beetle and bee-fly larvae pupate, usually emerging in the following spring.
I suspect that like many species, the Dotted Beefly is under-recorded on a national basis. It needs to be stationary for conclusive identification and is probably overlooked by non-entomologists due to its similarity to the ubiquitous Dark-edged Beefly Bombylius major. Incidentally I have also seen the latter species on several occasions on Portland. I think Dark-edged Beefly is usually ignored by recorders as it is pretty much as common in southern England as the Speckled Wood Butterfly (for example).

19th April

Sadly for the wealth of extra observers who were on station today (...where were you for the last couple of days when that extra coverage would have been so welcome?) it would have been pushing our luck to have expected a fall for the third day on the trot; that said, for the early risers at least there was a decent enough flurry of new arrivals to sift through before activity quickly quietened down. The nature of what occurred was very much like yesterday's event, with migrants whipping through rapidly under a crystal clear sky such that there was often precious little differentiation between grounded birds and visible passage. Day totals from the Bill area included 800 Swallows, 150 Willow Warblers, 200 House Martins and 120 Wheatears, with quality amongst the wide range of lower counts that included 15 Yellow Wagtails, 6 White Wagtails, 2 Ring Ouzels and singles of Merlin and Grasshopper Warbler; an additional 6 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Ring Ouzels and 1 Grasshopper Warbler were at Barleycrates Lane. The promised shift toward a more onshore breeze didn't materialise until well into the afternoon and the sea remained quiet, with 15 Whimbrel, 12 Common Scoter, a Red-throated Diver and a Bar-tailed Godwit the best on offer at the Bill.

A good many of the day's migrants, such as this Willow Warbler high over the Obs, didn't even trouble to touch down but made the most of the cloudless sky to head straight through to points northward © Martin Cade:


A few of the birds actually making landfall included Whinchat and Ring Ouzel at Barleycrates Lane © Ted Pressey (Whinchat) and Debby Saunders (Ring Ouzel):



The first Wall Browns of the year were on the wing today © Ted Pressey:


It's not often we get to see this view but Nick Stantiford was recently out on a boat off the Bill and sent us through some photos of parts of the seabird colony and a couple of shots of close Razorbills © Nick Stantiford:




18th April

In very different conditions to yesterday the island experienced another fine fall of migrants. Today's event was a classic fair weather arrival: under a clear, sunny sky the chilly headwind dropped birds that to a great extent barely touched down before heading off rapidly northward. The bulk of the numbers at the Bill consisted of 600 Willow Warblers, 250 Wheatears, 200 Blackcaps and 100 Chiffchaffs; amongst the less frequent species wider coverage of the southern half of the island came up with totals that included 40 Redstarts, 20 Yellow Wagtails, 12 each of Whitethroat and Pied Flycatcher, 11 Grasshopper Warblers, 10 Tree Pipits, 8 Whinchats, 7 Ring Ouzels, 2 each of White Wagtail, Reed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and Siskin, and singles of Cuckoo and Sedge Warbler, whilst elsewhere 2 Common Sandpipers were an addition to the tally at Ferrybridge. The only rarity putting in an appearance was a Siberian Chiffchaff trapped and ringed at the Obs. The breeze was always a little too offshore for the sea, but 59 Whimbrel and 36 Bar-tailed Godwits passed through off/over Chesil and 12 Bar-tailed Godwits and a Great Skua were logged at the Bill.

A Brimstone butterfly was a good local oddity at the Obs.

A few photos from around the island today - Redstarts © Angela Trew (upper) and Nick Stantiford (lower):



...Whinchat © Joe Stockwell:


...Whitethroat © Roger Hewitt: 


...Common Sandpipers © Pete Saunders:


...Linnet © Angela Trew:


...and finally, the in-hand Siberian Chiffchaff © Martin Cade:

17th April

With the Easter weekend having hitherto been a slow-burner at best there was quite a need for an injection of excitement that duly arrived in the form of a whopping fall around the centre and south of the island. Under partly cloudy skies and with no more than the lightest of northwesterly breezes conditions were perfect for getting amongst the birds at the Bill, where 500 Willow Warblers and 150 each of Wheatear and Blackcap made up the bulk of the numbers on the ground and all three routine hirundines were moving through in quantity; far from extensive coverage of the southern half of the island returned scarcer migrant totals of 25 Redstarts, 23 Pied Flycatchers, 18 Grasshopper Warblers, 5 Yellow Wagtails, a Grey Wagtail, a Tree Pipit and a Firecrest. The only coverage reported from points northward was of Ferrybridge, where 7 Whimbrel, 2 Mallard and a Common Sandpiper were of note. The sea got some attention, with 2 Red-throated Divers and singles of Great Skua and Arctic Skua logged at the Bill.

Excepting the constantly moving carpet of Willow Warblers - a spectacle we're usually lucky enough to witness several times each spring - the sight of the day had to be the wealth of male Pied Flycatchers exhibiting themselves in multiples in just about every patch of suitable trees that were visited © Pete Saunders:



The sound of the morning was undoubtedly the reeling of multiple Grasshopper Warblers, with 13 counted around the Bill area and at least 5 more elsewhere; Richard Newton recorded this one singing beside the Obs garden:

16th April

Today was a Bank Holiday Sunday but you'd have never guessed that at the Bill where there were extraordinarily few visiting birders about doing the rounds. What limited coverage there was revealed a slight increase in migrant numbers, with Willow Warblers up to around 60 on the ground at the Bill where hirundines were again moving through pretty steadily all day; sadly, variety wasn't a feature, with 2 Pied Flycatchers at Southwell and a Grey Plover at Ferrybridge the best of the uncommon migrants. A single Little Gull was off the Bill, where 2 Red-throated Divers also passed by.

In the insect line, the first Broad-bodied Chaser of the year was on the wing at the Bill (...marking the point where a lousy view of a dragonfly whizzing past can no longer be assumed to refer to a Vagrant Emperor!).

One of the day's Pied Flycatchers at Southwell © Debby Saunders:

15th April

A pretty low-key day with no more than a small flurry of new arrivals. Hirundines were pulsing through in fair numbers throughout the day but grounded totals from the Bill area didn't get beyond 40 Willow Warblers, 25 Wheatears, 10 each of Chiffchaff and Blackcap, 7 Whimbrel and 3 Grasshopper Warblers; the Red-legged Partridge was also still about there, whilst a Pied Flycatcher dropped in at Southwell and 2 Whimbrel and the first settled Sanderling of the spring were at Ferrybridge. With little else to entertain the sea got plenty of looks but was also quiet, with Bill totals of just 9 Common Scoter, 5 Red-throated Divers, 3 Sandwich Terns and 2 Great Skuas.

Whimbrel at Ferrybridge this morning © Pete Saunders:


We mentioned a few weeks ago the presence of Canada Geese out on the Portland Harbour breakwaters and Nick Stantiford has kindly sent us through an update on happenings there; Nick reports that both the pairs of geese have now settled down to breed © Nick Stantiford:



...and it looks like there'll be at least one pair of Shelducks making an attempt © Nick Stantiford:

14th April

The forecast weather conditions had sounded promising but the utterly different conditions that materialised - clear skies, bright sunshine and the lightest of breezes - defied expectations by dropping plenty of migrants. Willow Warblers made up the bulk of the numbers, with a good 300 at the Bill where 60 Chiffchaffs and 40 each of Wheatear and Blackcap accounted for the only other double figure totals; among the wide variety of also-rans 10 Redstarts, 4 Grasshopper Warbler, 5 Pied Flycatchers, 2 Yellow Wagtails, a Lapwing, a Common Sandpiper, a Yellowhammer and a Corn Bunting were dotted about the centre and south of the island. Sea passage never really got going but 44 Pale-bellied Brent Geese over Ferrybridge and 70 Common Scoter, 3 Red-throated Divers, 3 Eider and a Great Skua through off the Bill were of note.

Two each of Dark Sword Grass and Silver Y made up the overnight immigrant tally in the Obs moth-traps.


As an extra feature today we've invited James Phillips to run through an exciting new development that's taken shape over recent months:

The Obs has prided itself on managing the Crown Estate Field and Helen’s Fields for a number of years now to benefit migrating birds and this has been a great success. However there has always been a thought that we could get paid to do this land management through a government funded Agri-environment (AE) grant scheme.

In 2016 the observatory started to look at this more seriously to consider which AE scheme would best fit its needs and the type of land management that would most benefit migrating birds and farm wildlife associated with Portland Bill.

This was very much a team effort and I worked with Martin, Pete Morgan (Chair of the Obs Trustees), Richard Newton (Obs trustee and the Observatory’s Farming expert) and Alex Butler from the Farm Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) South West to explore how we might best achieve this.

Through the summer of 2016 we put together an application that we saw as the best fit and submitted this at the end of September 2016. We are now proud and excited to announce that Portland Bill Bird Observatory has been accepted into the Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme with the CS agreement starting this year and running for the next five years.

We thought we would give you a quick summary of what we are looking to achieve through the Observatory’s new CS land management agreement:

What is Countryside Stewardship?

Countryside Stewardship (CS) is an Agri-environment government grant scheme run by Natural England on behalf of Defra which provides financial incentives for land managers to look after their natural environment through activities such as conserving and restoring wildlife habitats.

The CS scheme land management options have been specifically designed to benefit England’s wildlife habitats and the species associated with these habitats. Monitoring evidence is now showing that farmland biodiversity will respond positively if the right agri-environment options are put in the right places and at the right scale. 

Which land management options did we choose and why?

We tailored the Observatory CS agreement to put in place a package of measures to benefit the farmland birds, wild pollinators and other wildlife associated with the farmed environment at Portland Bill.

In particular we focused on the land management that provides the year-round life cycle needs (year-round food, shelter and nesting places) that these species need in order to thrive. It also includes land management options that will benefit the migrating birds that pass through Portland Bill each spring and autumn.

1. Winter Bird Food (Wild bird seed mixes):

This option will provide important food resources for farmland birds and migrating bird species, especially in autumn and winter. Pipits, thrushes, chats, warblers, finches and buntings will all benefit, with many migrants using the mixes as a valuable refueling stop in the spring and autumn.

The idea of sowing these mixes is to provide an abundant and available supply of small seeds during the autumn and winter months.

Farmland and migrating bird species will utilise the seeds from the autumn onwards and insects including bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies and hoverflies will also use the flowers in the mix during the summer.

The mixes are sown between early March and mid-June to establish a seed mix of cereals, brassicas and other plants which produce small edible seeds to meet the autumn, winter and spring food needs of the birds. The mixes once established last between one and two years and then are re-sown.


There is flexibility with the seed mixes we can use too, so we can have more cereal based mixes or more Brassica based mixes depending on the species of birds we want to attract in. The blocks of mixes can be rotated around the Crown Field and Helen’s field through the lifetime of the CS agreement.

2. Supplementary Feeding

This option provides important food resources for farmland birds in late winter and early spring on arable farmland, by supplementing crops of winter bird food when they have been depleted and before natural food sources become available in the late spring.

Species that will benefit will include species like linnet and reed bunting and may in time attract in other rarer species such as yellowhammer and corn bunting. 

The period between January and early spring is often referred to as the ‘Hungry Gap’ for farmland birds when food can be in very short supply and so providing this additional food source during this time period will be extremely beneficial to these farmland bird species.

Tailings (the small seeds and chaff removed from the harvested crop) are used as the supplementary feed and this is spread on the ground, at least once a week from early December until the end of April.

3.    Harvested low-input spring cereal

This option is used to create an open-structured cereal crop (using wheat, barley, triticale, oats or rye) which is not too dense, which then provides summer foraging sites for localised farmland birds and habitat for rare arable plants. This will be important for wild pollinator species such as bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies and hoverflies.

The resulting open nature of the crop will provide suitable habitat for nesting birds such as skylarks, and a range of declining arable plants and other broadleaved species will also benefit. The more weedy nature of the resulting stubble from the crop will also be beneficial, providing food for farmland birds and other migrating birds through the autumn months. 

This option is also rotational and can be moved around the Observatory’s land holdings each year. The Bill area holds significant breeding populations of skylarks and most of this specially managed crop will be sown in Helen Field’s to help benefit these important populations.

4.  Nectar flower mix

We included this option as we wanted to provide some areas of flowering plants to boost essential food sources to benefit pollinating insects and other invertebrate species found at the Bill.

The idea is to create an abundant supply of pollen and nectar-rich flowers between early and late summer for pollinating insects such as bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies and hoverflies and other invertebrate species.

The option works by establishing a mix of nectar-rich plants using species such as early and late flowering red clovers, sainfoin, birdsfoot trefoil, knapweed and musk mallow. The mix is established in blocks or strips between mid-March and late April or mid-July and late August. This option then remains in place for the duration of the agreement to provide a continuous long-term food source for pollinators.

As well as benefiting insects and invertebrates this habitat will also provide an important foraging habitat for breeding and migrating birds.

5. Cultivated areas for arable plants
There have been historical records of rare arable plants such as Shepherd’s Needle at the Bill. We added this option into the agreement to create uncropped, cultivated areas which would benefit a wide range of these scarce and declining arable plants, and also provide areas of less densely vegetated ground for insects and other invertebrates.

The management is simply to create fallow margins or plots annually by cultivating in the spring between February and April or in the autumn between September and November and leaving these areas in place each year. This option can be rotated and placed where we think it will benefit arable plants the most.

This then provides the bare ground habitats to help vulnerable species of arable plants such as Shepherd’s Needle to germinate and complete their life cycle. It also helps foraging insects such as bumblebees, solitary bees and hoverflies visiting flowers and the bare ground created and provides more open foraging habitat for farmland and migrating birds.

6. Planting new hedges

We have also added in some additional capital works into the agreement including planting new hedges in and around the Crown Estate Field.

Using native hedgerow species associated with the Isle of Portland we will plant lengths of hedgerow in and around the field to create good foraging, nesting and sheltering habitats for birds and other wildlife.
The Observatory will monitor the success of the agreement. Through the daily migrant census and the annual breeding bird survey of the PBO recording area (which has been carried out each year since the mid 1960s) we will be able to track the biological responses of the bird species and other wildlife we are targeting to the land management we are putting in place. Who knows - the land management may well fit the needs of the next autumn Pine Bunting at the Bill or even attract in the first ever Pallas’s Reed Bunting at the Bill, we can but dream…..!

Finally, I'd like to record a huge debt of thanks to Richard Newton who undertakes all the farming work on behalf of the Obs; these activities take place in Richard's own time and we've benefitted enormously from his long experience and local knowledge.

If you would like to know about the PBO CS agreement then please do drop me a line.

James Phillips (PBO Trustee)

13th April

With cloud cover not materialising until after dawn there was no repeat of yesterday's fall of migrants but there was welcome compensation in the form of a Western Subalpine Warbler that showed up on West Cliffs near the Higher Light. Depleted migrant numbers at the Bill included 50 each of Wheatear and Willow Warbler, 25 Blackcaps, 4 Redstarts, 3 Whimbrel, 2 each of White Wagtail and Tree Pipit and singles of Golden Plover, Short-eared Owl, Yellow Wagtail and Corn Bunting, with a Red-legged Partridge providing some extra novelty interest; elsewhere there was a Grasshopper Warbler at Southwell. The only reports from the sea were of 3 Red-throated Divers and a Great Skua through off the Bill.

Singles of Dark Sword Grass and Silver Y were the only immigrant moths trapped overnight at the Obs.

Although largely typically furtive the Western Subalpine Warbler showed quite well from time to time © Martin Cade:




Hardly in the same league but quite possibly rarer at Portland than the Subalpine Warbler, this Red-legged Partridge surprised us when it scuttled out at point blank range from under the bushes that the warbler first flew into - just the latest oddball in a long line of recent dodgy gamebird escapes/releases around the island! © Martin Cade:


Oil Beetles seem to be a vogue group at the moment and until recently we hadn't realised any of the species occurred at Portland (...they're probably perfectly well known here but none of the regular visitors to the Obs 'do' beetles). Emma Cockburn first mentioned she'd discovered what she believes are Black Oil Beetles at the Grove and more recently Ken Dolbear stumbled across the same species at Penn's Weare © Ken Dolbear (upper still) and Emma Cockburn (lower still and video):



12th April

Cloud cover and a chilly northwesterly came up with the goods and dropped a steady stream of new arrivals today, even if variety was nothing to shout about - for example, just 5 species accounted for all of the nearly 200 birds ringed at the Obs. The Bill area got the fullest coverage and returned totals of 400 Willow Warblers, 100 Wheatears, 75 Chiffchaffs, 25 each of Redstart and Blackcap, 6 White Wagtails and singles of Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat and Grasshopper Warbler; a Ring Ouzel at Suckthumb Quarry and singles of Garden Warbler and Pied Flycatcher at Southwell were the pick of migrants elsewhere. Although the sea was given plenty of attention 4 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill were the only sightings of note.

11th April

Still no much sign of the sort of conditions likely to drop migrants in quantity, with rarely enough cloud in the sky to even cover the sun for more than a few minutes at a time. Numbers and variety remained at a ticking-over level, with totals of 75 Willow Warblers, 30 Wheatears, 20 Chiffchaffs, 10 Blackcaps, 6 Redstarts, 3 Common Sandpipers and singles of White Wagtail, Black Redstart and Firecrest making up the bulk of the grounded tally at the Bill/Southwell; elsewhere, a Golden Plover was new at Ferrybridge. Visible passage was slower than might have been expected but did include singles of Golden Plover and Yellow Wagtail amongst the trickle of hirundines over the Bill. The breeze was again firmly from an offshore direction and sea passage included little more than 48 Common Scoter, 8 Red-throated Divers, a Whimbrel and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill.

After the relative drabness of the Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers that have made up the bulk of the numbers so far this spring, it's nice to now being seeing some Redstarts injecting a splash of colour into proceedings; this one was at Southwell this afternoon © Pete Saunders:


The first Greenland/Iceland Wheatears of the spring showed up yesterday and a couple of strapping males were trapped and ringed this morning © Martin Cade:


We didn't have time last evening to mention yesterday's 'control' Pied Flycatcher © Martin Cade:


...we won't know for a while where this bird was first ringed but, if it was ringed as a nestling, there's a strong chance it was from somewhere in Wales and the Marches: the map below shows our ringing recoveries to or from breeding sites and the cluster in that area is striking, with Powys, Gwynedd and Dyfed accounting for more than 50% of all the recoveries:

10th April

With a subtle rather than profound change in the weather - just a little more cloud in the sky and a cooler northerly replacing yesterday's southeasterly breeze - changes on the migrant front were hardly large scale. A response from Wheatears was very welcome, with more than 100 at both the Bill and Reap Lane/Barleycrates Lane going a little way toward making up the recent shortfall in their numbers. A modest arrival of other species at the Bill included 60 Willow Warblers, 20 each of Blackcap and Chiffchaff, 3 Redstarts and a Pied Flycatcher (3 wintering Short-eared Owls were also still about there), whilst elsewhere 2 Common Sandpipers were a first for the spring at Portland Harbour. Visible migrants of note included an Osprey over Weston and a Yellow Wagtail over Blacknor. The sea quietened down after yesterday's flurry, with 21 Manx Shearwaters, 5 Red-throated Divers, 2 Little Egrets and 2 Great Skuas the best on offer at the Bill.

There looked to some urgency to the Wheatears today, with many flying straight through and few of those that did pitch in lingering for long © Pete Saunders...


...and © Keith Pritchard:


This fly-by off the Bill was the latest in a minor flush of Little Egrets in recent days - we could do with one or two of the wintering Cattle Egrets tagging along as a bit of variety © Keith Pritchard: