21st October

A very stormy day that came up with some of the hoped-for rewards on the sea. Chesil Cove was always going to be the favourite watch-point and plenty of coverage returned totals of at least 11 Great Skuas, 10 Arctic Skuas, 4 Leach's Petrels and 4 Manx Shearwaters; additionally, singles of Leach's Petrel, Storm Petrel, Arctic Skua and Arctic Tern passed through at Ferrybridge, a Leach's Petrel lingered for a short while in Portland Harbour and 2 Arctic Skuas, a Great Skua and an Arctic Tern passed through off the Bill. There was precious little coverage of the land but a Wryneck was an unexpected newcomer in the Obs Quarry, several Firecrests were still about the Bill and singles of Merlin and Black Redstart also made the list there.

After yesterday's very disappointing moth-trap returns an even windier night last night appeared to offer no hope so it was quite a surprise when the immigrant haul at the Obs included 11 Rusty-dot Pearl, 2 Vestals and singles of Spanish Dot Antigastra catalaunalis, Pearly Underwing and Small Mottled Willow.

Although they rarely linger for long, Ferrybridge is often the best spot to get good views of petrels during late autumn storms and this morning both Leach's and Storm Petrel obliged © Pete Saunders:

This Arctic Tern also passed through there © Debby Saunders:

On the moth front we were very pleased to find in one of the Obs traps this morning another leggy catalaunalis which has always been a favourite of ours. When we trapped our first in the fantastic October immigration of 1995 it was a really crippling UK rarity but subsequently suffered a steep decline in grip value, mainly by virtue of a big influx in 2006 when every Tom, Dick and Harry trapped them all over southern England (we caught 11 at the Obs alone); another good arrival of them in recent days suggests they're going the way of so many other once high value rarities and are almost to be expected during episodes of late autumn immigration © Martin Cade:

20th October

Pretty much all change with the weather and the birding today...and mostly not for the better. With the best part of a gale force westerly blowing at dawn it was always going to be difficult getting amongst what was about but eventually a few morsels of interest did make the day's list: single Yellow-browed Warblers were at Sweethill and Avalanche Road, a lone Black Redstart was at the Bill, a Ring Ouzel was at Suckthumb Quarry, at least 3 Hawfinches put in brief appearances at Pennsylvania Castle/Perryfields and a Green Woodpecker was at the Grove Stadium; inevitably there was also still a good spread of Firecrests, with about 40 spread widely around the centre and south of the island. Routine passage more or less fizzled out, with Swallows the only passing migrants in any numbers overhead and grounded numbers reduced to a fraction of what they'd been in recent days. The sea was well watched at times but produced little more than singles of Balearic Shearwater and Sooty Shearwater through off the Bill.

The less said about the overnight moth catch the better, with scarcely a shred of evidence that yesterday's immigration episode had ever happened.

19th October

A reminder that there's an In Focus field event at the Obs between 10am and 4pm this Saturday, 21st October.

A fantastic migration day that was only slightly spoilt by the necessity to have access to several changes of clothes: such was the frequency of the rain bands that precipitated repeated arrivals of migrants through the day that drenchings were an inevitable inconvenience for those that were sticking it out for their rewards in the field. The main feature of the day was a strong passage of thrushes and finches that were arriving in off the sea and tailing away to north over the Bill; Chaffinches were dominant, with the total of c1000 logged on the day sheet considered a huge underestimate with many flocks passing during spells of heavy rain and others so high overhead that they were only audible rather than visible. Oddities tagging along with the movement included at least 13 Hawfinches at the Bill and another 2 at Blacknor, as well as singles of Ring Ouzel, Mistle Thrush and Yellowhammer over the Bill and another 2 Ring Ouzels further up the island. Another nice fall-out on the ground included 150 Chiffchaffs, 100 Goldcrests and 40 Firecrests at the Bill, where a new Red-breasted Flycatcher zipping around the Obs/hut fields area during the afternoon was the best of the scarcities that also included 6 Black Redstarts there and another 2 at Reap Lane and a Yellow-browed Warbler at Southwell.

A new incursion of moth immigrants was most unexpected, coming as it did in the wake of a few seemingly much more promising nights that - with a couple of notable exceptions - had been low on both numbers and quality. Overnight totals from the Obs traps included 139 Rusty-dot Pearl, 23 Vestal, 10 Delicate, 8 Rush Veneer, 5 Silver Y, 4 Dark Sword Grass and singles of Olive-tree Pearl, Radford's Flame Shoulder, Scarce Bordered Straw, Small Marbled and Small Mottled Willow, with lower totals of a similar variety from the other trap sites. Local scarcities included singles of Merveille du Jour at the Obs and Autumnal Rustic at the Grove, whilst unseasonable singles of Yellow Belle at the Obs and Galium Carpet at Duncecroft Quarry were of interest.

Despite the rain and freshening wind this afternoon's Red-breasted Flycatcher put on a reasonable show © Martin King (top), Tony Hovell (middle) and Martin Cade (bottom):

Yellow-browed Warblers are finally beginning to show up in what in the past has been one of their more favoured haunts in the gardens on the south side of Southwell © Pete Saunders: 

Even after all these years we still succumb to child-like enthusiasm when it comes to spells of moth immigration and, on getting back to the Obs to churn through some more admin yesterday evening and discovering that the traps were festooned with Vestals and Rusty-dot Pearls decided to fuel up a generator and head off to Duncecroft Quarry for a few hours. Sadly, it seems as though Portland was well to the east of the main thrust of longer-range vagrancy and, rarity-wise, the island garnered only the sweepings from the Cornish table, with a Small Marbled at the Obs about as good as it got © Martin Cade:

A fringe benefit of being out for a few hours during the night was that we were able to tap into plenty of overhead audible passage; thrushes in particular were prominent and there was the usual miscellany of waders that included this flock of Greenshanks that headed north over the Obs when we popped back there to check the traps

18th October

Murky conditions and a diminishing easterly breeze were just the cocktail for a nice drop of new migrants, with plenty of action both on the deck and overhead. By way of oddities, the Red-breasted Flycatcher remained at Broadcroft, single Yellow-browed Warblers were at the Obs and Sweethill, Hawfinches included 2 singles over the Bill and another settled briefly at Broadcroft and an Avocet flew east over the Bill. It was the numbers that provided most of the entertainment though, with 250 Chiffchaffs, 75 Wheatears, 70 Goldcrests, at least 50 Firecrests, 50 Robins and 40 Blackcaps grounded at the Bill and 400 Chaffinches and 100 Redwings among the visible migrants that were mainly arriving in off the sea and leaving to the north there; everywhere else that got coverage came up with comparable numbers of these more numerous arrivals. Among the wide array of lower totals there were 7 Snipe, 6 Golden Plovers, 3 Grey Plovers, 3 Ring Ouzels and 2 Black Redstarts at the Bill, 6 more Black Redstarts scattered elsewhere and a Black-tailed Godwit at Ferrybridge, whilst late-ish records included 7 Whinchats, 3 Redstarts and singles of Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat at the Bill and a Spotted Flycatcher at Southwell School.

An otherwise meagre catch of immigrant moths at the Obs was more than salvaged by the presence amongst them of the autumn's second Silver-striped Hawkmoth.

When Goldcrests are picking up prey of this size you can understand why they have to stay so constantly active © Martin King:

Yellow-browed Warblers may now be routine at this time of year but you still don't tire of them © Martin Cade:

We can't imagine there have been many occasions in the UK when it's been possible to take this snap of Death's-head Hawk and Silver-striped Hawk on the same hand © Martin Cade:

Since it's nearly possible to see from Portland the little quarry on St Alban's Head where the Two-barred Greenish Warbler is currently residing we'll use that as an excuse to post occasional Portland resident Tony Hovell's very nice photo of it from today © Tony Hovell:

17th October

Plenty more of the same today, notably with the flow of Firecrests continuing unabated. With rain setting in soon after midday only half the day was birdable but during that time the Firecrest tally got to around 50 at the Bill and another 20 or more elsewhere; the Red-breasted Flycatcher remained at Broadcroft, a Yellow-browed Warbler was at Sweethill, 2 Hawfinches made brief visits to the Bill and 2 Short-eared Owls and 2 Bearded Tits were amongst the variety of other new arrivals. Seasonable grounded and visible common migrants were numerous and varied, with noteworthy concentrations on the ground that included 45 Goldcrests at Wakeham, whilst the first signs of Wood Pigeon and Starling emigration were of note overhead.

Overnight moth-trapping was the ultimate in damp squibs, with what promise there might have been after yesterday's long range southerly winds and fall of Saharan dust evaporating in the teeth of an almost all night long gale; 3 Rusty-dot Pearl and singles of Vestal and Silver Y were the only immigrants making into the Obs traps.

This morning's Hawfinch at the Obs © Martin King: 

...and Firecrest and Yellow-browed Warbler at Southwell © Pete Saunders: 

And yesterday we forgot to post Joe Stockwell's great little recording of one of the Hawfinches calling as it zoomed around over the Obs - we do hear their 'normal' ticking call from overflying migrants from time to time but quite often this peculiar and rather more unobtrusive wheezy note seems to be the call of choice:

And finally the shortest of clips of today's Two-barred Greenish Warbler at St Alban's Head; we made a very quick tick and run trip for it in the rain this afternoon and were much more intent on just watching it than taking any video. We can't imagine it's going to go anywhere in the current grim conditions so there should be much better video of it to come © Martin Cade: 

16th October

A day of freakish conditions with the island experiencing not only gale force winds on the periphery of storm Ophelia but also some bizarre atmospheric effects as the storm sucked up dust and smoke laden air from Iberia and north Africa. Birding on the land was really difficult in the raging wind but Firecrest was again the headline bird, with plenty of lingerers - and new arrivals? - from yesterday's exceptional influx; 23 new birds were trapped and ringed at the Bill where there were likely more than 50 present in total, whilst dibs and drabs elsewhere totalled at least another 10. Yesterday's Red-breasted Flycatcher remained at Broadcroft Quarry but with serious census work out of the question there were no other surprises discovered lurking in what shelter there was; a further build-up in Linnet numbers saw the off-passage gatherings around the south of the island reach around 2500. The sea got a lot of attention but the rewards were pretty lean, with 5 Great Skuas, 3 Arctic Skuas and a Balearic Shearwater through off the Bill and another Great Skua and an unidentified petrel off Chesil Cove.

Although the full effects of storm Ophelia likely came a little too late in the night to be hugely influential there was nonetheless a welcome upturn in immigrant moth numbers, with a Death's-head Hawkmoth the chief prize at the Obs; the catch there also included 29 Rusty-dot Pearl, 14 Delicate, 7 Vestal, 7 Silver Y, 3 Scarce Bordered Straw, 2 Rush Veneer and singles of Four-spotted Footman and White-speck, whilst a Radford's Flame Shoulder at the Grove was the pick of the lower numbers reported from other trap sites.

Today's peculiar atmospherics were seriously freaky, with an at times intense sepia glow to the sky and the haze sufficiently opaque as to obscure the sun - quite apart from being faintly apocalyptic it brought to mind the eerie conditions immediately before and after the total eclipse of the sun way back in 1999 © Joe Stockwell (the view from the Obs patio) and Martin King (the sun):

Despite the unhelpful conditions the Red-breasted Flycatcher was quite showy at times © Mark Eggleton (front view) and Brett Spencer (back view):

And going back to yesterday, many thanks to James Lowen for sending us through another photo of the Radde's Warbler as well as a short sound recording made at the time of the bird's discovery at Culverwell (with thanks to Dave Farrow for 'cleaning up' the recording) © James Lowen: 

Also from yesterday, something that sort of passed under the radar but rather interested us: this late Willow Warbler netted in the Crown Estate Field felt big and turned out to be enormously long-winged:

...with a wing length of 73mm we would have thought it was a dead cert not to have come from anywhere near Britain (...we handle an awful lot of Willow Warblers every year and can't remember one in recent times with a 'confirmed' wing length this long - it's pretty rare to catch one of more than 71mm). In plumage it doesn't seem to particularly resemble anything that you'd imagine might have come from way east and it's certainly very different from, for example, yakutensis from way, way to the east that we have handled a few of in Kenya in winter (these two differently lit individuals were photographed there in mid-December) © Martin Cade:  

With crabby light the order of the day - and a seemingly constant gaggle of admirers wanting their bit of the action - we didn't ever get round to securing a decent photo of the Death's-head Hawk so this quick snap will have to do until we can have a bit more time with it © Martin Cade:  

15th October

Well, there are Firecrest days and then there's the Firecrest day - the Firecrest day of all time - and today was certainly that day: the total of 68 ringed at the Bill (mostly at the Obs but with a very small contribution from Culverwell) exceeded any previous annual total there. Such was their abundance and mobility around the southern tip of the island that it was a struggle working out a complete area total but it seems unlikely that there were fewer than 150 in the Bill area as a whole; rather oddly, this remarkable event wasn't reflected elsewhere around the island: there were pockets of single figure totals around Southwell but, for instance, it was possible to give two hours of coverage to a wide area around Easton and the Grove and not log a single one. Even without the Firecrests the day had bags of action, with a Radde's Warbler trapped and ringed at the Obs after it - or another? - had earlier been heard calling at Culverwell, another arrival of Hawfinches with perhaps as many as 10 very mobile birds zooming around the Bill/Southwell area, a Red-breasted Flycatcher at Broadcroft Quarry, 5 Yellow-browed Warbler (2 at the Bill and singles at Sweethill, Avalanche Road and Penn's Weare) and a Lapland Bunting over the Bill. With several large off-passage Linnets flocks an almost constant presence overhead there was always a feeling of there being an awful lot of birds about and this was borne out on the sightings sheet that included representations from most of the expected late autumn commoner migrants; these were too numerous to list in full but included interest in the form of the likes of 40 Siskins, 4 Golden Plovers, 4 Redpolls, 2 Snipe and singles of Mistle Thrush, Black Redstart and Brambling at the Bill and 2 more Black Redstarts at Reap Lane.

Moth interest remained at a lower level than might have been hoped given the extremely mild prevailing conditions; a Vestal was seen by day at the Bill but the Obs immigrant totals consisted of just 12 Rusty-dot Pearl, 3 Silver Y, 2 Dark Sword Grass and singles of Dark Sword Grass and Delicate.

It seems almost churlish to relegate a Radde's Warbler to second place in the photo line-up but we have a feeling that in the fullness of time today will be remembered as The Firecrest Day © Debby Saunders:  

Today's Radde's Warbler was the tenth for Portland - nine of which have been trapped and ringed - we hope to have some more photos and a sound recording of this bird available for tomorrow's update © Joe Stockwell:  

We always used to think of south-easterlies in October (...a wind direction that's surprisingly infrequent at Portland) as the best conditions for producing Firecrests and Red-breasted Flycatchers - last night's little waft from the south-east certainly did the trick again © Martin Cade:  

The Red-breasted Fly was very vocal for a time although we were under-equipped and had to rely on the phone to capture a recording:

Among the day's other migrants were this Siskin at Southwell © Nick Stantiford: 

...and this new young male Sparrowhawk trapped at the Obs © Jill Rendell:

14th October

Another day when the weather really didn't know what it was doing: the dreariest of starts with a noticeable breeze blowing eventually gave way to a millpond calm and positively hot late afternoon and evening before the breeze freshened again and swirling fog clamped down after dark. After what looked to be a relatively unpromising start there begun to be signs of a few migrants dropping in amongst which was a very welcome surprise in the form of a Rustic Bunting attracted by a sound-lure and trapped in the Crown Estate Field; sadly, it proved to be tricky to get grips with after release and was seen for certain just once more before it was watched departing towards Top Fields (where it was likely heard and seen in flight later in the day). The autumn's Hawfinch total got a boost with at least another five - 1 over the Obs, 3 at Culverwell and 1 at Blacknor - although none lingered, whilst single Yellow-browed Warblers at the Obs and Avalanche Road were nice bonuses. Common migrants - with the exception of grounded and passing Linnets (including another 1000 or more leaving to the south at the Bill) - weren't particularly plentiful on the ground or overhead, but amongst the sprinkle of regulars 3 Firecrests and a Merlin at the Bill and a Pied Flycatcher at Avalanche Road attracted attention. After yesterday's flourish sea interest dwindled right away, with a lone Great Skua off the Bill the day's only worthwhile sighting.

The night's moth interest was negligible with barely a hint of an upsurge in immigrant numbers: 7 Rusty-dot Pearl, 2 Rush Veneer and 2 Delicate made up the totals at the Obs.

We're always surprised at the negativity issuing from the birding/listing community concerning the issue of trapped rarities, with today's Rustic Bunting a case in point; we get the feel that somehow it was accorded a lower status through turning up in a net (...the truth, as we'll see later, was that it was likely seen beforehand but it's identity couldn't be clinched) than it might have done had it been found by dint of conscientious fieldwork. Maybe operating mist-nets doesn't count as conscientious fieldwork - although we're not sure our legs would agree with that - but it's always struck us that anyone who doesn't operate mist-nets on a coastal headland must be completely bonkers because they're going to miss perhaps a third to a half of the passerine rarities that turn up there. The lesson of history here is that, quite apart from generating all the information we glean about common migrants, the nets consistently turn up rarities that just aren't getting found during the often saturation coverage of the headland by field birders. Of course, the other thing about these serendipitous captures is that you get such crippling views of the bird and arguments about, for example, whether such and such a feather was emarginatated immediately evaporate. Getting back to the Rustic Bunting, we did make sure that we briefly grossed out on all the features of what's a new handled species for PBO. We were surprised at how noticeably slighter it was than the Reed Buntings we've got used to handling in recent days; age-wise, on the basis of the pointed tail feathers and the noticeable discontinuity in the greater coverts it ought to be a pretty certain bird of the year, but as to its sex we're open to guidance © Martin Cade: 

...and a couple of quiet calls when it was released:

As we mentioned earlier, what was quite likely the Rustic Bunting had been seen flying into the Crown Estate Field a while before it was trapped © Joe Stockwell:

Another fly-by Hawfinch - this one over the Obs early in the morning © Joe Stockwell:

13th October

A bit of all sorts today, with one or two scarce migrants on the land and the brisk southwesterly perking up interest on the sea. A Hawfinch bombing around the Obs/hut fields area for a while at dawn, a Yellow-browed Warbler at Avalanche Road and singles of Dartford Warbler and Firecrest at the Bill were the high-spots on the land, where grounded migrant numbers were perhaps lower than might have been hoped under heavy cloud cover and with drizzle in the air soon after dawn. A pulse of 20 Sooty Shearwaters through off the Bill made for some of the better seawatching of recent weeks, even if the rest of the day's tally there consisted of nothing more than 28 Common Scoter and a Great Skua.

On a very mild night the moth-traps were busier although immigrant interest at the Obs consisted of just 3 Delicates, 2 Rusty-dot Pearl and a Radford's Flame Shoulder.

12th October

Although remaining basically mild and Atlantic influenced the weather's been locally quite changeable just recently, with yesterday's gale replaced by increasingly balmy sunshine today. If anything it looked as though conditions had improved too much and grounded migrants weren't at all numerous: the Yellow-browed Warbler and Ring Ouzel remained at the Obs and another Yellow-browed Warbler was at Weston, but amongst the bitsy spread of other migrants it didn't get much better than 2 Firecrests, a Merlin and a Grasshopper Warbler at the Bill. It was busier overhead although certainly not as busy as might have been hoped on a clear morning, with 40 Siskins over the Bill the best amongst the modest numbers of regular October movers.

Moth numbers were also unremarkable, with 3 Delicates the only immigrants trapped overnight at the Obs.

Stonechats have been very conspicuous just lately but this striking male stood out from the crowd on West Cliffs this morning. In spring birds as white-rumped as this are relatively frequent and are usually taken as belonging to the continental form, rubicola; in autumn though such an extensive white rump is much more unusual (British and continental Stonechats are in much fresher plumage at this time of year so the usually whiter rump of the latter is well hidden) - we don't recollect seeing any quite so well-marked - and, had the bird not looked in all other respects like a typical male 'Common' Stonechat, would have got the bird much closer scrutiny © Joe Stockwell:

11th October

Although both the Yellow-browed Warbler and Ring Ouzel remained at the Obs, with the wind quite quickly building toward gale force most attention was by necessity given to the sea. Early rewards were scant indeed although a passing Sabine's Gull was spotted by some observers at the Bill tip and 2 Great Skuas were logged both there and at Chesil Cove; a short, sharp pulse of action in mid-afternoon saw 5 Sooty Shearwaters, 5 Balearic Shearwaters, a Storm Petrel and an Arctic Skua logged in quick time at the Bill before passage fizzled out as quickly as it had started.

It was far too windy to have expected rewards from the moth-traps, with a lone Delicate the only immigrant of note at Obs.

This autumn's American wader bonanza in the area has been a real treat, with the latest star - the Lesser Yellowlegs at RSPB Lodmoor - putting on a great show this morning © Joe Stockwell (stills) and Bob Ford (video):

10th October

Uninspiring dreary, breezy conditions saw to it that birding was much trickier today. Visible passage - mainly of Linnets - was quite strong for a while but grounded migrants weren't at all plentiful and looked to include as many left-overs from previous days as new arrivals. A Yellow-browed Warbler lingered for a second day at the Obs with a second individual showing up at Pennsylvania Castle, a Lapland Bunting passed over at Penn's Weare, a Ring Ouzel was still present at the Bill and a couple of Firecrests were about in sheltered spots. Linnets were still numerous, with 1000 grounded at the Bill and another 1500 or so passing through there, but there were few other noteworthy totals amongst the routine assortment of other mid-October regulars making the day-list.

Nine Delicates were the best of the overnight immigrant moth catch at the Obs.

The Ring Ouzel in the Obs/hut fields area was a steadfast lurker - rarely seen other in flight or obscured in deep cover © Martin Cade:

9th October

Nice quiet and largely overcast conditions made for easy birding again today. Highlights weren't exactly plentiful but included yet another Yellow-browed Warbler - this one again at the Obs - and a few seasonable less regulars of the likes of a Great Spotted Woodpecker at the Bill/Southwell, singles of Ring Ouzel and Firecrest at the Bill and a Lapland Bunting over Blacknor. It was again the numbers that were more impressive, with off-passage gatherings of more than 1500 Linnets at the Bill and strong southbound movements there of several hundred each of alba wagtails and Linnets.

The overnight immigrant moth tally at the Obs included 29 Rusty-dot Pearl, 18 Delicate, 2 Rush Veneer and singles of Pearly Underwing, Silver Y and Red Admiral butterfly.

When it comes to sound recording, Ring Ouzels are something we usually seem to be in the wrong place at the right moment for; today though we jammed one that pitched into a hawthorn tree right above our head at Culverwell when we popped up to do a small job there - we were far from equipped for a recording but it's amazing how good the voice recorders on phones are these days:

The off-passage gatherings of Linnets in our stewardship crops are really impressive just at the moment © Pete Saunders:

8th October

A bird-filled day with waves of passage overhead and no shortage of grounded migrants - all to be enjoyed in warm sunshine and calm conditions. Classy rarities were lacking, but 8 Bearded Tits, a Siberian Chiffchaff and a Yellow-browed Warbler were all new in at the Bill and gave hope that there might have been better just around the corner. Although there were as many as 2000 Meadow Pipits grounded around the Bill it was visible passage that accounted for the bulk of the logged totals, with 900 Meadow Pipits, 88 Chaffinches, 60 Skylarks, 40 Siskins and 35 Reed Buntings some of the better totals accrued at the Bill. Grounded totals at the Bill included 60 Stonechats, 40 Chiffchaffs and 20 Goldcrests, with plenty more variety there amongst the lower counts.

Immigrant moth variety increased a little but quality was still limited to Delicates, with 7 trapped overnight at the Obs.

This year's crop of Yellow-browed Warbler haven't thus far been particularly vocal but today's bird did eventually come up with a pretty fulsome bout of calling that we just managed to get in on the end of:

Two birds of widely different origins that passed through our hands today: the Bearded Tit was one of a group that quite likely only erupted out of the reedbeds at Radipole this morning (...it was already ringed so we should be able to confirm that fact before long), whereas the Siberian Chiffchaff has presumably already been on the move for several weeks on its journey from at least the Ural mountains © Martin Cade: