Bar-tailed Godwit - Ferrybridge, 28th February 2015 © Pete Saunders
A miserable start and end to the day but not too bad in between. The rather meagre tally for a weekend day included nothing more than singles of Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver and Great Skua through off the Bill, 3 Purple Sandpipers and a Blackcap still at the Bill and a Bar-tailed Godwit at Ferrybridge.
We've lost count of the number of times we've mentioned rapid changes in the weather this year and today could have elicited the same observation - in marked contrast to yesterday's rain, today was the most glorious of days. Migrants responded to the favourable conditions and a little selection of standard early fare was on offer at the Bill, where the tickle of incoming Meadow Pipits was joined by a minimum of 11 Rooks and singles of both alba and Grey Wagtails. Four extra Stonechats and a Redwing on the ground was also newcomers, whilst Lesser Black-backed Gulls are beginning to get a lot more conspicuous than they have been of late; movers on the sea included 5 Red-throated Divers and 2 Brent Geese. A few extra Rooks showed up elsewhere, but most of the other interest concerned lingerers, with 3 Purple Sandpipers, a Water Rail and the Blackcap at the Bill, the Hooded Crow at the Grove and 17 Black-necked Grebes, a Common Scoter and the Black Guillemot in Portland Harbour all still about.
Hooded Crow - The Grove, 27th February 2015 © Pete Saunders
...and thanks also to Ken Dolbear for the latest addition to his burgeoning tally of Obs garden shieldbugs so far this spring - today's offering being Gorse Shieldbug:
Fortunately there were plenty of other jobs to do today since the quality of the birding's got about as poor as it could possibly be - it can only get better. With half the day rained off the only reports were of the Blackcap still at the Obs, a single Meadow Pipit arriving from the south at the Bill and the Black Guillemot still off Portland Castle.
A day that looked to have some promise after much milder air arrived overnight ended up as a real disappointment with nothing new putting in an appearance. The only reports were of the Blackcap still at the Obs, a lone Red-throated Diver through off the Bill, at least 200 Mediterranean Gulls at Ferrybridge and a Black-throated Diver and the Black Guillemot still in Portland Harbour.
Green Shieldbug and Hawthorn Shieldbug - Portland Bill, 25th February 2015 © Ken Dolbear
...two more spring shieldbugs from the Obs garden.
Uneventful again today: 7 Purple Sandpipers, a Black Redstart and a Blackcap were still at the Bill where 5 Brent Geese and a Red-throated Diver passed through on the sea, and 14 Black-necked Grebes, 3 Slavonian Grebes, a Common Scoter and the Black Guillemot were in Portland Harbour.
A day that was memorable only for its mightily unpleasant mix of sleet and hail showers blown through on a raw north-westerly - spring weather it certainly was not. The day's dearth of reports reflected the lack of observers braving the elements: 8 Common Scoter and 3 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill, the wintering 6 Purple Sandpipers and singles of Black Redstart and Blackcap were still about on the land there, another Black Redstart was still at Reap Lane and the Black Guillemot off Portland Castle and Pale-bellied Brent Goose at Ferrybridge were both still about.
The proverbial day of two halves, with a perfectly OK morning giving way to a shocker of an afternoon once a particularly vicious little weather front had rolled in. The sea came up with most of the action at the Bill, although with movement in both directions it was maybe a case of birds shifting about before the weather arrived rather than there being another pulse of early spring passage; totals through the morning there included 33 Common Scoter, 27 Red-throated Divers, 3 Red-breasted Mergansers, 2 Black-headed Gulls and singles of Black-throated Diver, Manx Shearwater and Great Skua. The only reports from elsewhere were of a Grey Heron over the Grove, the Pale-bellied Brent Goose again at Ferrybridge and the Black Guillemot still in Portland Harbour.
Still the odd newcomers showing up but overall today was another dregs of winter day. Two Black Redstarts at Weston were the pick of the arrivals, although there wasn't much to give them a run for their money, with a couple of inbound Carrion Crows arriving over the sea at the Bill the next best offering. Offshore, another 13 Common Scoter and 10 Red-throated Divers passed the Bill, where 4 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Rooks and a Merlin provided interest on the land. Elsewhere the Pale-bellied Brent Goose was still at Ferrybridge and 2 Slavonian Grebes, a Black-throated Diver, an Eider and the Black Guillemot were in Portland Harbour.
Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Peregrine and Fulmar - Ferrybridge and West Cliffs, 21st February 2015 © Pete Saunders (Pale-bellied Brent and Peregrine) and Ken Dolbear (Fulmar)
Just odds and ends of note everywhere today, with the presence of a fair bit of rain in the Channel killing any chance of there being much in the way of passerine arrivals. Ferrybridge and Portland Harbour came up with most of the variety, with the Pale-bellied Brent and a Knot at the former and 12 Black-necked Grebes, a Black-throated Diver and an Eider at the latter; a Common Buzzard overhead there was also of interest, whilst 1 of the Black Redstarts remained at Portland Castle. Regulars at the Bill included 5 Purple Sandpipers, a Black Redstart and a Blackcap, whilst the seawatching there was sufficiently slow for one observer that he took the trouble to count Shags - the resultant tally of 57 in 100 minutes being a more impressive return than had been thought likely.
A reminder that the next In Focus field event at the Obs takes place between 10am and 4pm this Saturday, 21st February 2015.
Although the forecast rain held off for slightly longer than expected it had rolled in by mid-morning and spoilt any coverage for the rest of the day. The only reports were of 6 Red-throated Divers and 6 Common Scoter through off the Bill, the Blackcap still at the Obs and a Pale-bellied Brent Goose again at Ferrybridge.
Pale-bellied Brent Goose - Ferrybridge, 19th February 2015 © Pete Saunders
A perfectly pleasant day but far from as nice as yesterday once a veil of cloud had crept in through the morning. A Firecrest at Avalanche Road, another little trickle of northbound Meadow Pipits and a Black Redstart at Portland Castle were new today, whilst a count of a dozen grounded Pied Wagtails at the Bill was a noticeable increase on recent totals so likely included some newcomers, also of note were 7 Common Buzzards - the highest count of the year to date - over Weston, although the 'extras' in this case probably originated from no further than the mainland. The rest of the day's reports were relatively routine: 7 Red-throated Divers and 4 Common Scoter through off the Bill, the Blackcap still at the Obs, 3 Great Northern Divers, a Pale-bellied Brent Goose and the Black Guillemot still in Portland Harbour and 220 Mediterranean Gulls, 170 Dunlin and 100 Ringed Plovers at Ferrybridge.
Dock Bug and Hairy Shieldbug - Portland Bill, 17th February 2015 © Ken Dolbear
...two more signs of spring from yesterday.
More signs of spring today as the rapid return of fine conditions brought forth the first cross-Channel passerine arrivals as well as providing plenty of opportunity to get amongst the lingering winterers. The first dozen incoming Meadow Pipits trickled north along West Cliffs, with others obviously having arrived unseen since, by late afternoon, numbers on the ground had received quite a boost; the south of the island's first few Rooks of the year also showed up - although doubtless they'd wandered from no further than the mainland - whilst a second Merlin joined what was presumably the individual that's been reported widely in recent weeks. Long-stayers making the list included 16 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Slavonian Grebes and singles of Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver, Eider and Black Guillemot in Portland Harbour, the Hooded Crow at the Grove pig farm, a Black Redstart at Reap Lane, the Blackcap at the Obs and one of the Pheasants at the Bill; another single Red-throated Diver also passed through off the Bill.
The first Peacock butterfly of the year was on the wing at the Windmills.
The first Peacock butterfly of the year was on the wing at the Windmills.
Common Buzzard and Skylark - Southwell and Portland Bill, 17th February 2015 © Pete Saunders (Buzzard) and Martin Cade (Skylark)
There was far too much rain through the morning for there to be any meaningful fieldwork, and the only reports from when it eventually brightened up were of 4 Purple Sandpipers, a Black Redstart and a Blackcap at the Bill and the Black Guillemot off Portland Castle.
Even on a lovely bright, mild day when there was ample reason to be out looking there was a real sense of it being the dreg end of winter, with very little about. Another 5 Red-throated Divers passed through off the Bill, the usual 5 Purple Sandpipers and single Blackcap were still about on the land there, the Black Redstart was still at Portland Castle and the Black Guillemot remained off the castle.
Only a very mundane list today, with 5 Red-throated Divers and a Red-breasted Merganser through off the Bill, 5 Purple Sandpipers, a Black Redstart and a Blackcap still about on the land at the Bill and 16 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Great Northern Divers and a Red-necked Grebe in Portland Harbour.
Fulmar - Grove Cliffs, 14th February 2015 © Ken Dolbear
With a good deal of the day rained off the only reports came from the Bill, where 10 Red-throated Divers, 2 Black-throated Divers and a Great Skua passed by on the sea and singles of Water Rail and Blackcap were still about at the Obs.
Passage continued apace off the Bill again today, where an increasing range of early migrants were on the move. Auks were again dominant although not fully counted - we forgot to mention that the eastbound passage first recognised two days ago was maintained yesterday - whilst the variety consisted of 32 Red-throated Divers, 9 Brent Geese, 8 Pintail, 6 Black-headed Gulls, 2 Black-throated Divers, 2 Red-breasted Mergansers, 2 Common Scoter, a Great Northern Diver and a Great Crested Grebe. A Golden Plover headed north over the Bill, where 2 Purple Sandpipers and a Blackcap were still in residence. Reports from elsewhere around the island included the Grove Hooded Crow and the Portland Harbour Black Guillemot both still about.
More encouraging signs of early spring movement today on a dreary but millpond-calm day. It was again the sea that came up with the numbers, with 81 Red-throated Divers and 2 each of Great Crested Grebe, Brent Goose, Common Scoter and Great Skua through off the Bill, whilst 4 Greylag Geese that appeared high over the Obs also eventually headed away up-Channel well offshore. Most of the day's other reports were from visitors mopping up on the long-stayers: 5 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Pheasants, a Black Redstart and a Blackcap were at the Bill, the Hooded Crow was at Grove pig farm, with a Great Spotted Woodpecker nearby at Broadcroft Quarry, the Black Redstart remained at Portland Castle and 16 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Great Northern Divers, an Eider and the Black Guillemot were in Portland Harbour.
Greylag Geese - Portland Bill, 11th February 2015 © Martin Cade
The return of grey skies and a freshening south-easterly saw the temperature take a tumble again. The main feature of the day at the Bill was a strong up-Channel passage of auks that became apparent once the early gloom had lifted: the 6000 or so that were counted by mid-afternoon (we weren't able to watch for several long periods so the total was likely well in excess of 10000) were moving very purposefully and had all the look of the winterers from this part of the Channel suddenly departing - it'll be interesting to see if there are many non-breeders left in the next few days. The sea also came up with 7 more passing Red-throated Divers and a lingering Great Skua, whilst standard fare on the land included 5 Purple Sandpipers, one of the Blackcaps and a new Pheasant. Elsewhere, a Black Redstart was again at Reap Lane and the Hooded Crow was still at the Grove pig farm.
With the weather at least the measure of yesterday - if not better - there was plenty of incentive to stay outdoors, and a most unexpected reward came in the form of a Bearded Tit heard flying over at the Bill. Sadly there wasn't a sniff of any other new arrivals, with the Black Guillemot off Portland Castle, 3 Purple Sandpipers and a Blackcap at the Bill and 2 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill the only other sightings of note.
There were no gripes about today's weather: unbroken sunshine, calm and a double-digit temperature. Red-throated Divers seem to be particularly fond of relocating to new feeding sites on calm days, and this morning's conditions proved perfect for them with this winter's highest total to date of 98 passing through off the Bill. Apart from 4 Mallards that showed up at Ferrybridge there was little else new to report from land or sea, although plenty of long-stayers putting in appearances included 6 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Blackcaps at the Bill, a Chiffchaff at Southwell, the Hooded Crow at the Grove pig farm, a Black Redstart at Portland Castle and 16 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Great Northern Divers, 2 Red-necked Grebes and the Black Guillemot in Portland Harbour.
Common Gull and Mediterranean Gulls - Ferrybridge, 8th February 2015 © Pete Saunders
Motivation seems to be dwindling just now as thoughts are turning to spring rather than what winter might still have up its sleeve - and it's hard to drum up much enthusiasm for tramping the fields in the face of the relentless, chilly wind that's become such a feature in the last few days. Today's only reports came from the Bill where 27 Red-throated Divers and 2 Brent Geese passed through on the sea (nearly all heading west so not much sign of them thinking of spring) and 9 Purple Sandpipers and 2 Blackcap were still about on the land.
mainly Mediterranean Gulls - Ferrybridge, 7th February 2015 © Debby Saunders
...a few of the 350 or so Meds at Ferrybridge today.
Reports were limited today with only the keenest of stalwarts braving the biting easterly. Eight more Red-throated Divers and a Great Skua passed through off the Bill, the 2 Blackcaps and single Chiffchaff remained at the Obs and a Black Redstart - a different individual to the one there a couple of days ago - was at Reap Lane.
Raven and Brown Rat - Portland Bill, 6th February 2015 © Ken Dolbear
Today's only cold weather arrivals were Fieldfares - 2 in each case - at the Bill and Portland Castle. Otherwise it all once again much of a muchness: 26 Red-throated Divers through off the Bill, 5 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Redwings, 2 Blackcaps and a Black Redstart on the land at the Bill, the Hooded Crow at the Grove, the Black Guillemot off Portland Castle and 200 Mediterranean Gulls, 32 Oystercatchers and 3 Shelduck at Ferrybridge.
Shelducks - Ferrybridge, 5th February 2015 © Pete Saunders
With the best will in the world today's cold weather arrivals - 2 Golden Plovers and a Snipe at the Bill and another Golden Plover over Weston - couldn't be described as being in the least bit significant, but they did add a tiny bit of variety to what had become very samey day-lists just lately; rather more unexpected was the arrival of 2 new Black Redstarts - one joining the winterer at the Bill and another at Reap Lane. Routine fare included 9 Red-throated Divers and 7 Common Scoter through off the Bill, 3 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Blackcaps and a Merlin on the land there and the Black Guillemot still off Portland Castle.
Golden Plover - Portland Bill, 4th February 2015 © Martin Cade
Although it was quite a surprise to wake to a decent dusting of snow it was quickly apparent that there'd been almost no response from the birds, with a fly-over Golden Plover and perhaps a couple of extra Redwings pretty much all there was on offer by way of arrivals at the Bill. The 2 Blackcaps and single Chiffchaff were still at the Obs, 9 Red-throated Divers, a Common Scoter and a Great Skua passed through off the Bill, a Merlin was about at the Windmills and 2 Shelducks and a Pale-bellied Brent Goose were at Ferrybridge.
Portland Bill - 3rd February 2015 © Martin Cade
With the wind having finally dropped away overnight dawn was particularly crisp and frosty, with as thick a layer of ice on the Obs ponds as we've seen anytime this winter. The first rather limited ringing session at the Obs so far this year didn't come up with any surprises beyond a new Blue Tit (their numbers have been at a low ebb for many months, with just 8 ringed at the Obs in the whole of last year); 7 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Blackcaps, a Lapwing, a Chiffchaff and a Reed Bunting were the best of the other land sightings at the Bill, with singles of Red-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver through on the sea. A Black Redstart showed up again at Weston, whilst 17 Black-necked Grebes, 3 Slavonian Grebes, 2 Great Northern Divers and a Black-throated Diver were scattered about Portland Harbour.
Chiffchaff - Portland Bill, 2nd February 2015 © Martin Cade
...the infrequency with which Chiffchaffs actually winter at the Obs would suggest the habitat is very much sub-optimal for them at this time of year, and after spending a bit of time watching this bird you begin to appreciate quite how hard it's having to work: Tree Mallows seem to be the only plants with enough of a density of insect/arachnid prey to be worth gleaning and, as far as we've been able to make out, it doesn't stop darting from one clump of them to the next from dawn 'til dusk - you really get a feel for it being a pretty fine line between life and death for a bird like this during these short winter days.
More of the same on the weather front with it remaining pretty cold, albeit always under decent sunny skies. It's a measure of how little movement there is of Mute Swans between southern England and the Continent that sightings off the Bill are really infrequent, so today's duo that looked as though they might have been arriving from across the Channel were certainly the sighting of the day. Seawatching there also came up with 3 each of Red-throated Diver and Common Scoter, and 2 Brent Geese, whilst 4 Purple Sandpipers, 2 Blackcaps and singles of Merlin, Black Redstart and Chiffchaff made up the list from the land. Elsewhere, the Hooded Crow was again at the Grove pig farm and 12 Black-necked Grebes, 11 Slavonian Grebes, 5 Great Northern Divers, a Black-throated Diver and the Black Guillemot were at Portland Harbour.