25th February

The Hume's Warbler showed from time to time at Thumb Lane but a brisk wind and overcast skies saw to it that most other attention was given to the sea, with 5 Red-throated Divers, 5 Brent Geese and 4 Common Scoter logged at the Bill. The day's only other bird news was 6 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill.

A dozen or more Bottle-nosed Dolphins were off the Bill during the morning.

Some of the dolphin action off the Bill this morning © Ted Pressey:


24th February

As has been the case for most of this winter yesterday's storm proved to be a fleeting visitor and today saw the rapid return of light winds and pleasant sunshine. There were more signs of early passage, notably in the form of 11 Common Scoter, 10 Red-throated Divers, 2 Velvet Scoter and a Great Northern Diver through off the Bill and a Yellow-legged Gull grounded there. The Hume's Warbler took advantage of the improved conditions and showed a little more often at Thumb Lane, with 5 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Short-eared Owls at the Bill and 2 Eider and a Sandwich Tern at Portland Harbour also getting mentions on the day's list.

Thanks to Mike Trew for some photos from today - Fulmar and Purple Sandpiper at the Bill:



...and to Ken Dolbear for a few bugs from the Obs garden - both the winter form (upper photo) and spring forms (lower photo) of the Green Shieldbug and the hoverfly Eristalis pertinax:





23rd February


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, 25th February.

Although the influence of Storm Doris wasn't as conspicuous at Portland as it had been elsewhere it was still windy enough to severely restrict forays into the field. Fortunately there were some still willing to make an effort and there was a nice reward in the form of a Kumlien's Gull grounded for a while during the afternoon in the fields below Culverwell. A Sandwich Tern was new in at Portland Harbour, where 2 Eider and a Slavonian Grebe were still present; the only seawatch report was of a lone Common Scoter through off the Bill.

The Kumlien's Gull was pretty obviously a first-winter - an age during which (...so we've subsequently read in the Collins Bird Guide) they're considered to be indistinguishable from Iceland Gulls. Be that as it may, this bird was as coarsely marked an 'Iceland Gull' as we've ever seen and seems to show more pronounced versions of all the various plumage features - darker outer primaries, tail band etc - that you see on what are presumably diagnosable second-winter Kumlien's Gulls. Our only real concern was that this bird did look to be very strong-billed for any sort of 'Iceland Gull' (in life it looked to be quite a dainty bird so wasn't big all round) © Joe Stockwell:


...and a few of our photos from another angle © Martin Cade:




22nd February

Enthusiasm for fieldwork was largely lacking today in the face of a freshening southwesterly and dreary skies. The Hume's Warbler was found at least once at Thumb Lane but the only other reports were of a Black Redstart at Reap Lane, 4 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill and 7 Red-throated Divers through on the sea there.

21st February

What coverage there was revealed few changes today, with the Hume's Warbler at Thumb Lane still the bird of the moment. Four Redwings, 2 Purple Sandpipers and a Black Redstart were at the Bill, with 6 Red-throated Divers also through on the sea there, 60 Mediterranean Gulls were still at Ferrybridge and 2 Black-necked Grebes were off Sandsfoot Castle.

We often regret not taking more 'before and after' photos of various habitat management/improvement projects at the Obs but today we happened to have the phone with us and took a little series of snaps through the day of a particularly brutal attack on the far south-west corner of the garden. Although the garden might seem quite small, it takes a huge amount of work to keep it in birdable/ringable/mothable condition and we've had our eye on this bit of it for some time. We're not quite sure which of our worthy pioneers back in the 1960s decided it would be a good idea to plant some Russian Vine here and there, but it was probably a well-intentioned attempt at establishing some cover in quick time - even if this seems to be a plant that has no ornithological or entomological merit whatsoever! Half-a-century down the line this bottom corner of the garden has been absolutely devastated by the stuff to the extent that it's become a completely impenetrable no-go area:


It's hard to imagine that there's a more pernicious and damaging plant than this apparent predator of pretty well everything: we uncovered what we remember as perfectly healthy specimens of Japanese Spindle, Blackthorn and Elder that had literally been smothered, strangled and eventually chocked to death by the advancing tide of creepers:


The one redeeming feature of the stuff is that at this time of year it's dry enough to burn straight away:


The end of a pretty decent day's work with a sizeable chunk returned almost to ground level; we say almost because we haven't actually yet reached bare soil but have been springing around on a dense matt of roots that are going to have to be pulled up individually - that back-aching bit of the job to follow next before we can get something worthwhile planted:

20th February

No particular surprises today with the Hume's Warbler at Thumb Lane continuing to steal the limelight. Seven more Redwings at the Bill provided the day's migrant interest, with the Blackcap in a private garden at Southwell perhaps the individual that's been kicking around elsewhere in the village for a while. The rest of the Bill list for the day included 4 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Short-eared Owls and 2 Black Redstarts, with 7 Red-throated Divers through on the sea.

The Southwell Blackcap © David Rashley:


19th February

Not so much about today, with 3 Redwings at the Bill the only noticeable new arrivals (yesterday's extra Stonechats had all moved on). The Hume's Warbler lingered on at Thumb Lane, at least 1 Short-eared Owl was still at the Bill, 11 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill and better coverage of Portland Harbour than of late came up with several Black-necked Grebes, 3 Slavonian Grebes and singles of Black-throated Diver, Eider and Goosander.

Both Black-necked and Slavonian Grebes were amongst the waterfowl gathered on the north side of Portland Harbour © Joe Stockwell:



A couple of random 'found whilst tinkering in the garden' discoveries at Easton today - Large Yellow Underwing caterpillar and Slow-worm © Ken Dolbear:


18th February

On such a pleasant mild, sunny day it was no great surprise to log a few more early arrivals with Stonechats featuring most conspicuously, including a total of at least 25 at the Bill (where there have been no more than 8 through the winter). Six Redwings were also new in there and there was a noticeable increase in grounded Meadow Pipits, whilst 6 Red-throated Divers, 3 Common Scoter and a lone Great Crested Grebe through on the sea were all heading up-Channel. Further routine fare included the Hume's Warbler still at Thumb Lane, 4 Purple Sandpipers, 4 Short-eared Owls and a Black Redstart at the Bill and 3 Slavonian Grebes in Portland Harbour.

A party of around a dozen Bottle-nosed Dolphins lingered off the Bill through the morning.

Stonechats are always one of the first migrants to show up in spring and today's benign conditions were just up their street; although 20 were logged on the morning rounds at the Bill it looked like more trickled in through the day (in one spot where 4 had been well settled during the morning there were 9 knocking around at dusk) so the final day total of 25 was very likely a bare minimum © Martin Cade:


This morning's Bottle-nosed Dolphins were another on cue arrival - the first sightings of the year are very often in late February © Sarah Hodgson:


A fringe benefit of the arrival of some pleasant weather is that it gets Ken Dolbear out and about with his camera and we get to see a selection of nice photographs of wildlife that would otherwise just as likely pass us by. A few of Ken's offerings from the last couple of days include Gorse Shieldbugs (together with the nursery web spider Pisaura mirabilis) on an isolasted gorse bush beside Park Estate Road:


...and from the Obs garden a Common Footman caterpillar, a Noble False Widow Steatoda nobilis and the hoverfly Eristalis tenax:



17th February

Another nice mild day saw some more spring action: nearly all the 27 Red-throated Divers were moving up-Channel, as were 16 Mediterranean Gulls, 8 Black-headed Gulls, 3 Brent Geese and an unquantified trickle of Common Gulls and Kittiwakes; by contrast, the 24 passing Common Scoter were still mostly heading the 'wrong' way. Three more Carrion Crows arrived from the south and 3 Short-eared Owls, 3 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Black Redstarts were still about at the Bill. The only other news was of the Hume's Warbler still being seen now and again at Thumb Lane.

16th February

The turn around in the weather in recent days has been profound, with the wind and cold of the beginning of the week giving way to balmy sunshine today. A Red Kite responded quickly to the improvement and roamed about overhead during the morning, whilst the Thumb Lane Hume's Warbler also took advantage and showed for marginally longer than has been the case just lately. On the migrant front the first signs of Meadow Pipit passage were evident along West Cliffs and a handful more gulls were on the move off the Bill. Winter regulars making the list included 6 Common Scoter and 3 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill and 11 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Short-eared Owls, 2 Black Redstarts and a Reed Bunting on the land there.

Although much devalued inland Red Kites are still infrequent enough at Portland to retain something of a rarity cachet © Martin Cade:


The Hume's Warbler was still about at Thumb Lane but certainly wasn't giving itself up very easily; we managed less than a minute of video of it in nearly two hours of searching first thing this morning:

15th February

Despite a good part of the morning being rained off there were still some pleasant spells with a little bit to be seen. Some steady gull passage before the rain off the Bill included 200 Kittiwakes and 40 Common Gulls heading up-Channel; 2 Common Scoter and a Red-throated Diver also passed through there. On the land, 6 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Short-eared Owls and a Black Redstart were the best on offer at the Bill.

14th February

Better conditions for fieldwork today but no change on the bird front, with 11 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Short-eared Owls and a Grey Heron at the Bill where 8 Red-throated Divers passed through on the sea.

13th February

A shocker of a day with almost no meaningful fieldwork in a raging easterly.

12th February

The seemingly ever-increasing strength of the east wind thwarted many fieldwork attempts today. The Hume's Warbler did show at least once at Thumb Lane although it continues to be missed far more than it gets seen; a Water Rail also put in an appearance there. The only other reports came from the Bill where 5 Purple Sandpipers were about and 5 Red-throated Divers, 2 Pintail, 2 Common Scoter and 2 Black-headed Gulls passed by on the sea.

11th February

Still very cold, to the extent that there were even a few flakes of snow in the air for the first couple of hours of the day. The Hume's Warbler showed up at Thumb Lane at least once during the afternoon, whilst a Slavonian Grebe was a notable arrival in Portland Harbour (they've been inexplicably absent from there pretty well all winter). Offshore, auks were very conspicuous through the morning when sample counts suggested they were passing the Bill at around 6000 an hour; a lone Red-throated Diver also passed through there. Other sightings included singles of Purple Sandpiper and Black Redstart at the Bill, a Black Redstart and a Blackcap at Southwell and 3 Black-necked Grebes in Portland Harbour.

We keep forgetting to mention that a few days ago we received from Dr Martin Collinson at the University of Aberdeen the results on our three putative Siberian Lesser Whitethroats from last October; mtDNA extracted from feather samples indicated that all three birds were indeed blythi Lesser Whitethroats - as usual, many thanks to Martin for undertaking this work.



10th February

They've taken a long time to filter down as far as Portland but 2 Waxwings that pitched up for a little while at Southwell were welcome arrivals on what was another largely dreary and very chilly day. Seven Pintail through off the Bill were also minor island goodies, whilst a Siberian Chiffchaff that surfaced at Southwell was perhaps the bird that's popped up from time to time at various spots around there and Weston through the winter; a Lapwing at the Bill was the only noticeable cold weather arrival. Other reports included 6 Purple Sandpipers at the Bill, 4 Red-throated Divers and a Brent Goose through on the sea there and a Black Redstart at Haylands.

The Southwell Waxwings © Martin Cade:


9th February

Lingering too long outdoors wasn't much fun today under a leaden sky and in a brisk and increasingly raw easterly. The Hume's Warbler was spotted at least once during the morning at Thumb Lane before it headed off and was lost in the buddleia scrub around Suckthumb Quarry. The day's other reports were all from the Bill where a migrant Carrion Crow arrived in off the sea, 3 Shelduck and a Red-throated Diver passed by and 11 Purple Sandpipers, 4 Long-tailed Tits and a Black Redstart were about on the land.

8th February

In nice quiet conditions the Hume's Warbler reappeared at Thumb Lane on a couple of occasions during the morning. The only other reports were of 4 wandering Long-tailed Tits showing up at the Obs, several Short-eared Owls still about at the Bill, 7 Red-throated Divers through on the sea there, a Pale-bellied Brent Goose at Ferrybridge and a Great Northern Diver in Portland Harbour.

Having jammed straight in on the Hume's Warbler when we first looked for it this morning we returned there later with the idea of trying to get some video of it but waited fully two hours without sight or sound of it  - it certainly doesn't seem to be an easy bird © Martin Cade:



Although often extremely creepy, the bird's very vocal - we get the impression that if it isn't audible when you're looking for it then it really isn't anywhere nearby:



Not that we're complaining but for the second afternoon running we had a Short-eared Owl decide to pitch right in front of us as if asking to be videoed © Martin Cade:

7th February

Nothing much more than the regulars today: 6 Purple Sandpipers and 5 Short-eared Owls at the Bill, 8 Common Scoter and a Red-throated Diver through on the sea there, 20 Redwings and a Fieldfare at Avalanche Road, 12 Goosanders and 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese at Ferrybridge and 2 Black-necked Grebes and 2 Eider in Portland Harbour.

The first butterfly of the year - a Peacock - was on the wing in the Obs garden.

The Short-eared Owls continue to entertain © Martin Cade:


...and we're still hearing them a lot at night, quite often when they fly right over the Obs as on this occasion back in January:



For obvious reasons we're not quite sure what they're up to when they're so vocal during the hours of darkness so this afternoon we spent a bit of time with them in daylight to see whether that might give any clues; in this recording the calls that most corresponded to what we've been hearing at night were largely directed toward other species - here a settled Common Buzzard that the owl was persistently diving at and then a Kestrel that flew through (the original recording that we've edited this down from is more than five minutes long so calling wasn't actually very frequent) :



The calls given when two owls had a brief aerial skirmish were quite different:



It'd be pretty hasty to draw any conclusions from these brief observations but we're tempted to wonder if some of the nocturnal calling mightn't be directed towards the Barn Owls that we're also hearing a lot of at night.

6th February

This is the time of year when it's very easy to get ahead of yourself but there was just a hint of some passage getting underway today: the first nocturnal Redwing since well before Christmas was heard over the Obs overnight, a summer-plumaged Mediterranean Gull headed steadily up-Channel off the Bill and there was a clear increase in Lesser Black-backed Gulls. These little morsels of promise aside there was only routine fare to report: 240 Mediterranean Gulls and 12 Goosander at Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour, 6 Purple Sandpipers and a Black Redstart at the Bill and a lone Red-throated Diver through off the Bill. Searches for the Hume's Warbler in increasingly dreary and ultimately wet conditions drew a blank.

Nine Lesser Black-backs settled at the Bill was the highest count there this winter, with the Scandinavian intermedius individual amongst them the first we've seen on the island since November © Martin Cade:


5th February

It had always seemed unlikely that last December's Hume's Warbler would have moved on but having been repeatedly looked for at Avalanche Road hopes of a reappearance had certainly faded; however, glimpses of a yellow-browed warbler at the end of Thumb Lane (the former Weston Craft Centre area) this afternoon were followed up and duly revealed the missing Hume's - although often vocal it was extremely creepy and mobile in the dense buddleia scrub between there and Coombefield Quarry. The day's other reports consisted of little more than 12 Red-throated Divers and 3 Common Scoter through off the Bill.

With swathes of impenetrable buddleia scrub to lurk in the Hume's Warbler wasn't affording good views this afternoon © Martin Cade



4th February

An amazingly rapid about-turn in the weather saw dawn break millpond calm and before long tolerably warm sunshine was the order of the day. A fair bit of weekend coverage also saw an improvement in the day's sightings: 13 Red-throated Divers and 2 Great Crested Grebes passed through off the Bill, a Grey Heron and a Reed Bunting were about on the land at the Bill, single Black Redstarts surfaced again at Blacknor and Hamm Beach and 12 Goosanders, 4 Black-necked Grebes, 4 Eider and a Great Northern Diver were in Portland Harbour.

3rd February

On a stormy and wet day the only reports were of 5 Common Scoter and 2 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill, 5 Purple Sandpipers on the shore there and the Greylag Goose still at Reap Lane.

2nd February

The stormiest day for a long time didn't bring in particular change in the birding: 3 Purple Sandpipers and a Black Redstart were at the Bill, 6 Red-throated Divers passed through on the sea there and 4 Pale-bellied Brent Geese were at Ferrybridge.

1st February

February got off to a brighter start than January ended but apart from some diver movement offshore there was little change in the birding. A total of 14 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill, with another 2 off Chesil, but sea passage otherwise consisted of just 9 Common Scoter through off the Bill; a lone Common Scoter was also new at Portland Harbour. Nine Lapwings at the Bill and the Greylag Goose at Reap Lane were a legacy of last week's brief chilly spell, whilst regulars making the list included 7 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Black Redstarts at the Bill and 12 Goosanders and 2 Eider in Portland Harbour.

31st January

The only good thing about today was that getting it out of the way gets us one day nearer to spring: this January's been a month that won't live long in the memory and today's offerings under frequently drizzly skies were appropriately meagre. Twelve Teal off Chesil Cove tied in with yesterday's half dozen in Portland Harbour to perhaps hint at some early waterfowl movement, but otherwise there was no change: 13 Goosanders were in Portland Harbour, the Greylag Goose remained at Reap Lane and 5 Red-throated Divers and a Black-headed Gull passed through off the Bill.

Some of the Goosanders off Portland Castle © Pete Saunders:


30th January

With fog and/or rain continuing to dominate proceedings there was only one brief window of opportunity for fieldwork today. That came up with the Greylag Goose still at Reap Lane, 6 Purple Sandpipers, a Grey Heron and a Black Redstart still at the Bill and 12 Goosanders, 6 Teal and 2 Eider in Portland Harbour.

29th January

A shocker of a day with heavy rain setting in during the morning and lasting until well after dark. The only reports were of the Greylag Goose still at Reap Lane and 2 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill.

28th January

In fairer conditions a handful of cold weather refugees lingered on including the Greylag Goose at Reap Lane, a Jack Snipe at Southwell and a few Lapwings (17 scattered about Reap Lane/Barleycrates Lane and 9 west off the Bill). Five Purple Sandpipers and a Black Redstart were still at the Bill, 3 Red-throated Divers passed by on the sea there and 440 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 12 Goosanders, 4 Pale-bellied Brents and 3 Eider were at Ferrybridge/Portland Harbour.

The Greylag Goose lingered on at Reap Lane © Abi Jacobs (still) and Martin Cade (video):



Fulmars are well ensconced patrolling the cliffs © Abi Jacobs: 


Short-eared Owls haven't been putting on such a good show in recent evenings: Pete Saunders reports that there was just one about this evening and mentions that he hasn't seen them make a single kill in his last four visits to watch them © Pete Saunders:


One of the Ferrybridge Pale-bellied Brents continues to court a Dark-bellied Brent but by the looks of it had some competition today © Pete Saunders:


We haven't been bothering with the moth-traps in the recent cooler weather but an early Early Grey was a notable find on the Obs front door this morning - our first dates for this species aren't usually until well into March although there was a freakishly ahead of time record of one a couple of winters ago on 30th November 2014 © Martin Cade:

27th January

No sooner had the chillier conditions got a response from some birds then today it turned noticeably milder with rain arriving during the afternoon. The Greylag Goose showed up again over Reap Lane, whilst singles of Lapwing, Golden Plover and Jack Snipe were still about at the Bill. The other happenings were all to be expected: 11 Purple Sandpipers and a Black Redstart still at the Bill, 12 Stock Doves at Sweethill (the highest count at this site so far this winter) and 490 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 12 Goosanders, 7 Curlew, 5 Pale-bellied Brents and a Bar-tailed Godwit at Ferrybridge.

Amongst the goings-on at Ferrybridge it was interesting to see one of the Pale-bellied Brents going through the motions of pairing up with a Dark-bellied Brent © Debby Saunders (the brents, GCGrebe and RbMerganser) and Pete Saunders (Kingfisher):




26th January

Maybe not surprisingly considering out chilly the air's got with a stiff southeasterly blowing off the Continent, today came up with a nice little pulse of cold weather movement: 5 Golden Plovers and singles of Lapwing, Snipe and Redwing showed up at the Bill, 4 Lapwings headed over Southwell, 10 Fieldfares, 8 Redwings, 6 Lapwings and singles of Greylag Goose and Golden Plover were at Barleycrates Lane, 37 Lapwings headed north over Priory Corner and a Teal passed through Portland Harbour. A rather comprehensive list of regulars included 7 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Black Redstarts at the Bill, 5 Common Scoter and 3 Red-throated Divers through on the sea there, 2 more Black Redstarts at Weston/Blacknor, 205 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 3 Pale-bellied Brents, 60 Dunlin, 17 Bar-tailed Godwits and 16 Ringed Plover at Ferrybridge and 2 Goosanders in Portland Harbour.

The 3 Pale-bellied Brent Geese at Ferrybridge this morning © Pete Saunders: