27th May

http://www.at-infocus.co.uk/ 
A reminder that there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm tomorrow, Sunday 28th May.

There was considerable enthusiasm for fieldwork today, with overnight thunderstorms thought likely to have dropped some new arrivals on the land and the sighting of a purported Black-browed Albatross yesterday evening off the east Devon coast ensuring the sea got constant attention. Although there were a handful of newcomers on the land, including 2 Reed Warblers and 2 Willow Warblers at the Bill and 8 Dunlin, 5 Sanderling and a Redshank at Ferrybridge, it was the sea that came up with the day's numbers, with 150 Manx Shearwaters, 90 Common Scoter, 55 Kittiwakes, 7 Sandwich Terns, 6 Great Skuas, 2 Arctic Skuas, 2 Black-headed Gulls and a Black-throated Diver through off the Bill. The day's only real oddity was a lone Red Kite that during the afternoon was first over Fortuneswell and later headed north over the Grove.

The promising conditions failed to deliver on the moth front, with 2 Orange Footman and a Delicate the best of a poor selection of immigrants/dispersers caught overnight at the Obs.

There are some that would say Portland's fortunate to avoid the now annual circus of 'plastic' Red Kites undertaking peculiar movements across southern England at this time of year, but such are the numbers involved it was perhaps inevitable that one would eventually stray out to the island. Today's bird gave us quite a shock when it flew close past the car as we were driving down New Road but we were in no position to be able to stop and photograph it; when we returned to the island half an hour later we had a quick scan round from the Grove and jammed it for a second time - this time much more distantly - as it was returning northwards © Martin Cade:


And a few photos from this morning's Bill seawatching - Kittiwakes, Black-headed Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Great Skua © Keith Pritchard:




26th May

A lovely sunny, warm day but birding was hard work in a blasting easterly wind. The general lack of birds hardly encouraged prolonged fieldwork, with a lone Spotted Flycatcher the only worthwhile arrival at the Bill. Seawatching there came up with 51 Common Scoter, 11 commic terns, 10 Manx Shearwaters, an Arctic Skua and a Sandwich Tern, whilst 31 Common Scoter, 13 Manx Shearwaters, 4 Sandwich Terns, 3 Mediterranean Gulls and a Black-headed Gull passed through off Chesil.

25th May



Back to par today with very few new arrivals showing up - on the bright side, a freshening easterly did at least give some hope for the next few days. The majority of the day's numbers were on the sea, with a late pulse of 121 Common Scoter being of particular note at the Bill; 11 commic terns, an Arctic Skua, a Black-headed Gull and a steady trickle of Manx Shearwaters also passed by there. The only obvious new arrivals on the land were singles of Hobby, Yellow Wagtail and Chiffchaff at the Bill, where 4 Swifts and a handful of Swallows passed through overhead.

The moth-traps were again busy but quality amongst a poor selection of immigrants/wanderers was limited to a Small Mottled Willow at the Obs and 3 Orange Footman at the Grove.

Red Kites might be streaming by to the north and west of us but the only raptor making the most of the lovely conditions today was this tardy Hobby that paused briefly in the Strips © Martin Cade:

24th May

Although the best part of the day was very warm and blazingly sunny early cloud cover had lingered long enough to drop what amounted to a pretty respectable little flurry of late migrants. Most of the coverage was of the Bill area where 20 Spotted Flycatchers, 7 Chiffchaffs, 3 Reed Warblers, at least 3 new Whitethroats, 2 Blackcaps and singles of Whimbrel, Sedge Warbler and Willow Warbler were logged; limited looks elsewhere came up with a scatter of additional Spotted Flycatchers together with a Black Redstart at Southwell Business Park. A steady trickle of Manx Shearwaters off the Bill totalled more than 150 but a single Great Northern Diver was the only other sighting of note.

The first Meadow Brown butterflies of the year were on the wing at the Bill.

A warm, overcast night saw moths trapped in their highest numbers so far this year; at the Obs the immigrant tally consisted of 11 Diamond-back Moth, 3 each of Rusty-dot Pearl, Small Mottled Willow and Silver Y, 2 Rush Veneer and 1 Pearly Underwing, with dispersing singles of Small White Wave, Rosy Wave and Orange Footman providing additional local interest.

Spotted Flycatchers are usually the best represented migrant in falls this late in the spring:


Small Mottled Willows aren't particularly noteworthy at Portland - the average annual total at the Obs in recent years is 135 - but we always think of their presence as being a good indicator that better quality is in the offing...


...last night's catch at the Obs didn't include any other scarce long-distance immigrants but singles of Rosy Wave and Small White Wave were wanderers of interest - both are in the fewer than 10 records ever category there all photos © Martin Cade:


23rd May

A largely uneventful day with persistent cloud cover dropping no more than a handful of late migrants. The only full coverage was of the Bill area, where 6 Wheatears, 4 Whimbrel, 3 Chiffchaffs and singles of Redstart, Blackcap and Spotted Flycatcher were logged on the ground and 26 Common Scoter, 20 Manx Shearwaters and singles of Great Northern Diver, Great Skua and Arctic Skua passed through on the sea.

One of the long-staying Whimbrel photographed yesterday at the Bill © Chris Minvalla:


Finally, this spring passed off with us accumulating a huge backlog of photos and other material that we're only just getting round to going through and certainly didn't get round to posting. Amongst these we received an interesting email from Ian Lewington concerning the Red-footed Falcon earlier this month; Ian had been staying at the Obs at the time and had scrutinised/photographed the bird himself so we'd asked if he'd mind commenting rather more authoritatively than we were able to on the age of the bird. Ian replied as follows: this is an amazingly advanced bird and from some shots I have that are too bad to send I see it appears to have completely moulted its tail. When I looked at the collection at Tring for a paper I did in Birding World (July 1998) most 1st summer males in June had only replaced the two central tail feathers, still hadn't moulted any underwing coverts but had a few new, fresh central upper greater and median coverts. The Portland bird also showed grey second generation central tail feathers with a dark sub-terminal band (as opposed to all blackish) shown by about 20% of the museum specimens. A very interesting and instructive bird (photos © Ian Lewington):



22nd May

The first blank in the ringing book at the Obs since 10th March was a sure sign that the barren times are upon us and it'll likely be scarcities or bust for the next few weeks. Plenty of legwork in the Bill area as a whole did eventually muster 2 each of Whimbrel and Chiffchaff, and singles of Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear and Blackcap. The light onshore breeze saw the sea get some coverage but rewards consisted on nothing more than 24 Common Scoter, 9 commic terns and a Great Northern Diver through off the Bill and 9 Common Scoter, 4 Sandwich Terns and a Whimbrel off Chesil.

Despite having only three functioning wings this Broad-bodied Chaser was zipping around the Obs garden quite happily this afternoon © Ken Dolbear:

21st May

It wasn't without a lot of effort - particularly since there was seemingly so little about for the best part of the morning - but eventually today came up with an excellent little list of minor rarities: a briefly seen Hippolais warbler beyond Privet Hedge was later tracked down at Wallsend and confirmed as a Melodious Warbler (that was singing from time to time), with its presence there leading to the spotting of first a Bee-eater and shortly afterwards a Honey Buzzard - both of which passed straight through. The handful of routine migrants at the Bill totalled no more than 7 Spotted Flycatchers, 5 Wheatears, 3 Chiffchaffs, 2 Blackcaps and a Hobby, with Ferrybridge coming up with 14 Sanderling and a Knot. The sea was still worth a look, with 3 Great Skuas and singles of Arctic Skua and Pomarine Skua through off the Bill.

The Melodious Warbler showed quite well at times and was occasionally breaking into subdued song © Roger Hewitt (top still) and Martin Cade (bottom still and video):




The Honey Buzzard looked to be a fine adult male © Keith Pritchard:



The flush of action over Wallsend also included a passing Hobby © Keith Pritchard:

20th May

A surprisingly difficult birding day - on the land at least - with the early promise of clear skies and light winds at dawn giving way first to a series of hefty showers and later to an increasingly blustery southwesterly. The sea was watched for the best part of the day and although 2 Great Northern Divers were the only conventional migrants shearwaters put on their best showing of the spring, with the first 2 Balearic Shearwaters of the season and a strong afternoon movement of more than 2500 Manx Shearwaters through off the Bill. Although it was hard work covering the land it did seem as though it was very quiet, with 2 each of Wheatear and Chiffchaff, and singles of Blackcap, Spotted Flycatcher and Corn Bunting all there was on offer at the Bill. The Ferrybridge wader selection included 18 Sanderling, 3 Dunlin and a Knot, whilst nearby the lingering Eider remained in Portland Harbour.

After they've been so conspicuously absent for most of the spring it was nice to finally tap into a really strong evening movement of Manx Shearwaters © Keith Pritchard:



Several Adonis Blues were on the wing today at Penn's Weare © Ken Dolbear:

19th May

In bright and increasingly breezy westerlies migrant interest was rather limited, with 2 Turtle Doves at Thumb Lane easily the best on offer. The Bill got plenty of coverage but couldn't muster more than 4 each of Whimbrel, Wheatear and Spotted Flycatcher, 3 each of Blackcap and Chiffchaff, 2 each of Yellow Wagtail and Willow Warbler, and singles of Grey Plover and Garden Warbler; despite the sunny skies visible passage there was limited to a trickle of hirundines, although these did include a late Sand Martin. Further reports from elsewhere included a smattering of Spotted Flycatchers around the centre of the island and 40 Sanderling and 15 Dunlin at Ferrybridge.

Hummingbird Hawkmoths have begun to feature in recent days, with singles reported from several sites today. Immigrant moth interest overnight was limited to a handful of Rush Veneer, Dark Sword Grass and Silver Y trapped at the Obs.

Inevitably, common migrant interest is fizzling out now that we've got past the middle of May, with just the likes of tardy Wheatears cropping up during the quests for something rarer © Martin Cade:


The only peculiar event common migrant-wise is something we've drawn attention to in previous years - the late season arrival of new Chiffchaffs; trapping-wise, this year's spring Chiffchaff peak occurred on 16th March, with yesterday's 8 birds ringed at the Obs constituting the highest day total there since as long ago as 22nd April. An entirely expected annual event this late May/early June passage might be but it's something that we have no obvious explanation for: why do these birds arrive so much later than the bulk of the population? Are we missing something and perhaps overlooking that some are from far northern populations -  towards abietinus maybe? They certainly don't give the impression of being anything other than 'British' Chiffchaffs; for example, with it's huge 'pollen horn' one of yesterday's birds would have looked quite at home amongst a fall of Mediterranean-wintering Chiffchaffs two months ago © Martin Cade:

18th May

Portland's been on a real roll just lately and remained in fine form today: the Golden Oriole of the last two days lingered on, with a second individual showing up at the Obs, whilst 2 Red-rumped Swallows roamed about overhead at the Bill for an hour or more during the morning. Common migrants were also well represented at the Bill, with the 9 Chiffchaffs including 8 new individuals trapped at the Obs; 6 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 each of Wheatear and Willow Warbler, and singles of Yellow Wagtail, Redstart, Whinchat and Blackcap were also new there. Extensive coverage of the north of the island came up with an additional 25 Chiffchaffs, 12 Spotted Flycatchers, 7 Wheatears and 1 Yellow Wagtail. The sea wasn't to be outdone, with 2 Great Northern Divers and 2 Pomarine Skuas through off the Bill.

Immigrant moths included 3 more Delicates trapped overnight - 1 at the Obs and 2 at the Grove.

The events surrounding the discovery that there two Orioles were slightly odd: what we took to be the bird of the previous two days had been singing well at times in the bottom of the Obs garden and when one appeared in a mist-net right there we assumed it'd be that individual; on taking it up to the patio for viewing we discovered that the 'original' bird had in fact left the garden and was being watched at that moment in the Strips © Martin Cade:



The original bird was also trapped later in the day in what was almost precisely the same spot in the same net. It was a tad brighter than the first bird and had noticeably paler lores but to all intents and purposes they were pretty similarly-plumaged and we took it that both were first-summer males. Presumably as a result of it feasting voraciously on Brown-tail and Lackey caterpillars over the previous couple of days (in the same bushes as last year's Great Spotted Cuckoo), the original bird was considerably heavier than the newcomer; it had though been through the wars: it had a pretty sizeable tick beside one eye and a largely dried-up wound on one wing - it hadn't been seen for a couple of hours before capture and we wonder if something had had a go at it earlier in the day and it had been keeping its head down for a while © Martin Cade (top) and Paul Ward (bottom):



What we assume was this original individual was singing really nicely at times during the morning:



The two Red-rumped Swallows put on a nice albeit usually rather distant show as they ranged about overhead south of Culverwell and Privet Hedge © Keith Pritchard (top) and Martin Cade (others):




17th May

Just as forecast, the best part of today was a complete wash-out (after more than an inch of rain had fallen by the late afternoon it was reported that Portland was the wettest place in Britain today). That said, there was plenty of interest on the land during slightly less wet spells early and late in the day, whilst waders put in a strong showing during the rain. The Golden Oriole remained at the Bill all day but more of a surprise there were the number of migrants that had dropped in, with negligible coverage in shocking conditions coming up with 9 Yellow Wagtails, 6 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Wheatears and singles of Whimbrel, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Garden Warbler; elsewhere there was a Cuckoo at Bumpers Lane. The sea eventually got attention towards evening when 250 Manx Shearwaters passed through off the Bill. After the poor returns there in recent day there was a positive wader bonanza at Ferrybridge, including 140 Dunlin, 88 Turnstones, 27 Sanderling, 9 Bar-tailed Godwits, 5 Whimbrel, 2 Black-tailed Godwits and a Knot.

A small party of Bottle-nosed Dolphin were lingering off the Bill during the evening.

Overnight mothing at the Obs saw the first 2 Delicates of the year trapped amongst a handful of commoner immigrants.

Despite enduring a soggy night - and with the prospect of an even soggier day in the offing - the Golden Oriole was in fine voice at dawn:



At anything other than a really local level Ferrybridge is pretty hopeless for waders but beggars can't be choosers and we have to admit to finding it magnificent in the rain this afternoon; bar the 2 Black-tailed Godwits there wasn't anything at all out of the ordinary there, but it had all the feel of the Broad-billed Sandpiper being just about to drop in - after 31 years the pain of missing the last one by minutes has been replaced by the anticipation of how great the next one's going to look! © Martin Cade:


16th May

A Golden Oriole that lingered at the Bill for most of the day was a welcome addition to the year tally - particularly since this usually annual scarcity was missing from the 2016 list. Migrant interest was otherwise very limited, a situation hardly helped by the complete lack of coverage of anywhere except the Bill and Ferrybridge. The paltry selection at the Bill totalled just 2 each of Chiffchaff and Spotted Flycatcher, and singles of Little Egret, Hobby, Kestrel (a migrant arriving in off the sea), Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear, Reed Warbler and Willow Warbler; Ferrybridge chipped in with 7 Sanderling, 4 Dunlin and a Grey Plover. The sea looked to be pretty quiet but 2 each of Great Northern Diver and Great Skua, and a single Pomarine Skua - together with what would be a very exceptional 2 Sooty Shearwaters - were eventually logged at the Bill.

The Golden Oriole eventually settled quite well, albeit at long range, and gave plenty of closer flight views © Joe Stockwell:


15th May

Our heady days of spring - migrants galore, skua flocks and a smattering of rarities - are beginning to seem like a distant memory as damp, dreary and resoundingly birdless conditions look to be getting well established; on the bright side, at least our conservation crops are getting a good watering after suffering at the hands of April's severe rainfall deficit. The frequency of today's showers restricted coverage of the land but it was apparent that precious little had dropped in overnight: 2 Whimbrel, 2 Spotted Flycatchers and singles of Wheatear and Chiffchaff were the only new arrivals logged at the Bill; elsewhere, Ferrybridge couldn't muster more than 3 Sanderling and a late Common Gull. A steady westbound movement of Manx Shearwaters off the Bill was enlivened by 2 Great Northern Divers, 2 Great Skuas and a single Arctic Skua also on the move there.

14th May

Another pulse of overnight rain did nothing to improve migrant numbers that fell still further. A decent amount of weekend coverage of the Bill area came up with 6 Wheatears, 4 each of Reed Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher, 2 Blackcaps and singles of Yellow Wagtail, Garden Warbler, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff; a similarly limited variety of passerines showed up in the few other areas visited, with 13 Sanderlings at Ferrybridge the only other worthwhile addition to the tally. In a blusterly westerly the sea got plenty of attention, with 64 Common Scoter, 10 Arctic Skuas, 2 Great Skuas and a Great Northern Diver the chief highlights off the Bill.

Immigrant moth numbers/variety dropped right away but a Narrow-winged Pug was a stray of interest at the Obs.

13th May

The fact that a Willow Warbler wasn't ringed at the Obs for the first time since 31st March summed up the state of play on the common migrant front - very slow today and most likely very nearly over for the spring as a whole. Some drizzly rain either side of dawn did drop an itsy-bitsy selection of routine fare that included a total of 20 Spotted Flycatchers from everywhere visited but nothing else in any quantity; 2 Hobbies over the Bill and another over Blacknor were the best of the less frequent migrants. The fresh onshore breeze offered hope for the seawatchers but 3 each of Great Skua and Pomarine Skua, a single Arctic Skua and a well into three figure total of Manx Shearwaters was all that could be garnered from the Bill.

Immigrant moth numbers picked up a little, with 13 Silver Y, 12 Diamond-back Moth, 2 Dark Sword Grass and singles of Rush Veneer, Rusty-dot Pearl and Pearly Underwing trapped overnight at the Obs.

12th May

With a profound change in the weather afoot - an unsettled southerly/southwesterly airflow replacing the dry northeasterlies that have been established for so long - hopes of a late flourish of migrants have been put on hold for the time being and the sea's had most of the attention. Pomarine Skuas featured again, with a total of 16 through off the Bill; 69 Common Scoter, 50 Manx Shearwaters, 20 commic terns, 5 Common Gulls, 4 Arctic Skuas, 3 Red-throated Divers, 3 Great Northern Divers and 3 Mediterranean Gulls were also logged there, whilst 2 Great Skuas were an addition to the tally from Chesil Cove. There were new arrivals on the land and even a fair bit of variety at the Bill but nothing featured in any quantity and a tardy Goldcrest was the only minor oddity there.

Showery rain tracking across the Channel and introducing milder air looked have some potential for immigrant moth activity but in the event the Obs moth-traps returned overnight totals of just 5 Silver Y, 3 Diamond-back Moth and 2 Dark Sword Grass.

Another day, another flock of Poms © Ted Pressey:




Finally, we couldn't resist a quick nocturnal nip across to Lodmoor to listen to the singing Spotted Crake that had been found there this evening:

11th May

A little pre-dawn drizzle offered some encouragement but migrants didn't respond as hoped and it remained relatively quiet on the ground, with Willow Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher (on 20 apiece at the Bill) the only arrivals in any numbers. It was busier overhead, where amongst the customary pulses of hirundines the second Hooded Crow of recent days passed through at the Bill and was later found settled at the Grove pig farm, single Hobbies headed over the Bill and Wakeham, and a late Siskin showed up over the latter. Offshore, a well into three figure total of Manx Shearwaters would have been of little interest in most years but qualified as a major movement this year, whilst a steady passage of Kittiwakes (including a sample count of 120 in 90 minutes off the Bill during the evening) was unexpected; quality was provided by 7 Pomarine Skuas, 2 Arctic Skuas and a Great Northern Diver through off the Bill.

Being patently fully(and 'clean')-winged today's Hooded Crow was a different individual to the one seen three days ago:



A typically ropey view of a fly-by Hobby over the Obs:


In the middle of the rather blissful solitude of our evening seawatch we were suddenly joined by an unlikely companion:


A little later that most charismatic of shapes emerged from the golden glow to the west:


...and then there were three:


...and soon all six merged together to round the Bill:


...and just as quickly as they'd hoved into view so they were away on the next leg of their dash up the Channel all photos © Martin Cade:

10th May

Under clear skies and with a fresh easterly blowing, the West Cliffs were always going to corner the bulk of the day's visible passage and perseverance there paid off with first a Red-rumped Swallow and later a Honey Buzzard heading through; numbers-wise, House Martins and Swallows were both moving through at around 300 per hour, with Swifts just making 100 per hour and Sand Martins still passing in the dozens; a Marsh Harrier and a Hobby also headed north, as did 12 Yellow Wagtails and several Spotted Flycatchers. Grounded arrivals hardly featured, with only Wheatear amongst the commoner migrants just about managing a double figure total at the Bill; a single Cuckoo there was the only minor oddity on offer. Despite a seemingly favourable wind direction the sea was quiet, with nothing better than 3 Great Northern Divers and an Arctic Skua through off the Bill.

Both Guillemot and Razorbill eggs are proving popular with one of the Ravens at the moment © Joe Stockwell (flying) and Barry Titchener (settled):



...in fact the crows were going out of their way not to endear themselves to us today - this Jackdaw was ripping apart a Slow-worm © Barry Titchener:


 On the butterfly front Dingy Skippers are now on the wing (in these photos a male at the top and a female at the bottom) © Ken Dolbear:



And finally, many thanks to Andrew Jordan for some more lovely photos of Monday's Spectacled Warbler that we certainly don't need an excuse to indulge in © Andrew Jordan ajordanwildlife: