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4th June

Portland Bird Observatory - 10 hours 15 min ago
Remind us to get some lottery number tips from the island resident who told us this morning that the day looked to be a good one for raptors: his assessment was that the puffy cumulus clouds and brisk northerly breeze that followed yesterday's change in the weather were spot on for birds of prey - and how right he was. He himself came up trumps first with a Honey Buzzard that arrived along West Cliffs and quickly headed away north; a Marsh Harrier followed over Reap Lane but it was not until early afternoon when the pièce de résistance was stumbled upon in the most unlikely of settings - a Red-footed Falcon that spent a couple of hours on the sand flats at Ferrybridge. The rest of the day's sightings paled into insignificance, but a steady trickle of passing Swifts overhead, a couple more grounded Reed Warblers and a few passing Manx and Balearic Shearwaters and Mediterranean Gulls offshore are worth a mention.

The Red-footed Falcon - Portland's sixth record - was a great performer © Martin Cade (video) and Pete Saunders (stills):

It's interesting to compare the extent of moult of this bird with that of our last showy Red-footed Falcon in May 2017. Today's individual had moulted precious little of its underwing coverts - we're thinking we can see a few 'new' grey feathers on the leading edge of the lesser underwing coverts on the right wing and on the greater underwing coverts on the left wing but could do with some more photos to confirm that. In contrast, the 2017 bird had big blocks of moulted adult-like grey feathers on both underwing coverts © Pete Saunders:

From an ID perspective, the lack of moult in this area opens up the possibility of Amur Falcon - they evidently often have an underwing pattern a lot like today's bird (and besides, they'd be acquiring new white feathers in this area that would perhaps contrast less well with the retained juvenile feathers than do the new grey feathers of a Red-foot). The literature seems to suggest that if you're lucky a first-summer male Amur Falcon will have a paler face, streaks on the breast and grey rather than blackish newly-moulted central tail feathers so hopefully you'd suspect you were onto something good before having to scrutinize the underwing coverts.

Sightings - Thursday June 4th 2020

Dorset Bird Club - Thu, 04/06/2020 - 20:12

Balearic Shearwater - 6 passed Portland Bill
Great White Egret - 1 Lodmoor
Honey Buzzard - 1 over Verne Common, Portland
Red Kite - 1 Hartland Moor
Red-footed Falcon - 1 Ferrybridge
Merlin - 1 female Lodmoor
Hobby - 1 Hartland Moor
Little Ringed Plover -  1 Silverlake
Rosy Starling - 1 Southbourne, 1 Southill,Weymouth

Red-footed Falcon © Edmund Mackrill

Red-footed Falcon and Kestrel © Edmund Mackrill

Whitethroat  Along River Stour at Iford © Clinton Whale

3rd June

Portland Bird Observatory - Wed, 03/06/2020 - 23:37
The first day of rain in just under a month was a welcome change and granted some much needed moisture to the parched ground. Despite the altered weather, the birding didn't differ much: another small Reed Warbler influx saw three new birds ringed and a further five logged in the field; other land-based migration was limited to 3 Willow Warblers and singles of Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart and Wheatear. The sea, however, was a little more eventful than of late with the second day-time Storm Petrel past the Bill, a total of four Balearic Shearwaters feeding amongst the gulls; as well as an Arctic Skua and a steady passage of 28 Mediterranean Gulls.

Mallard used to be tolerably regular visitors to the island - in fact they even bred from time to time - but in recent years have become very infrequent and hardly ever get to feature with a photo on the blog - this drake was one of a pair on the saltmarsh at Ferrybridge this evening © Martin Cade

The busiest moth night of the year saw a few signs of dispersal, with a Fenland Pearl Anania perlucidalis the best of the catch at the Obs - their island total's not long reached double figures so it's still a good value moth here © Martin Cade:

Sightings - Wednesday June 3rd 2020

Dorset Bird Club - Wed, 03/06/2020 - 19:08
Rosy Starling - 1 Hengitsbury Head
Arctic Tern - 1 seen on Westham Bridge Weymouth

GBB Gull attacked by Crow © David Hill

Young Great Tit © David Hill

Sightings - Tuesday 2nd June 2020

Dorset Bird Club - Tue, 02/06/2020 - 21:26
Cuckoo - 1 Cheselbourne, 1 Burleston, 1 Christchurch Harbour
Puffin - 1 Portland Bill
Balearic Shearwater - 3 Portland Bill
White Stork - 1 Stinsford (blue ring on left leg)
Great White Egret - 1 Lodmoor
Osprey - 2 over Lytchett Bay
Red Kite - 1 Canford Bottom, 1 Broadwindsor, 1 Swineham, 1 East Stour
Marsh Warbler - 1 still at Bestwell RSPB (Wareham)
Redstart - 2 trapped at PBO
Crossbill - 2 over Stanpit

White Stork at Stinsford © Colin Chainey

2nd June

Portland Bird Observatory - Tue, 02/06/2020 - 20:32
With the plethora of Acrocephalus warblers arriving in the country, we felt that today surely had to be our day. It certainly was a day filled with Acros as we experienced a passage of Reed Warblers seeing the day total reach 13 birds (the majority of which were singing males and is likely to be an underestimate of the true presence). A couple of nice surprises accompanied the Reed Warbler influx with a pair of Redstarts trapped at the Obs, a persistently calling Bullfinch and two fly-over Spotted Flycatchers. Once again, much of the focus on the sea centred around the gull flock with three Balearic Shearwaters joining the action, along with a selection of Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls, two Sandwich Terns and a single Puffin.

Today obliged with a good spread of Reed Warblers (there's even a bonus Willow Warbler trying to get in on the act in the background of this one that was in good song in the Obs garden this morning)...

Portland Bird Observatory · Reed Warbler, Portland Bill, 02062020
...but two new Redstarts was a bit random - you'd think it was far too late for them to be fresh arrivals in the UK but neither showed any sign of having made a breeding attempt that might have indicated they were actually early leavers © Martin Cade:

Sadly, the best migrant passed us by unseen: this Quail migrating over the Obs just before midnight was picked up on last night's nocmig recording:

Portland Bird Observatory · Quail, Porrtland Bill, 010620, 2351hrs
The current warm weather has been providing us with plenty of lepidoptera interest. The first Silver-studded Blues of the year were on the wing yesterday © Ken Dolbear...

...whilst amongst the local special moths, Starry Pearl Cynaeda dentalis, is always appreciated when it makes its first appearance of the year © Martin Cade:

1st June

Portland Bird Observatory - Mon, 01/06/2020 - 21:37
We had almost stopped saying the phrase, "good day for raptors", for the simple reason that almost the entirety of the last month was a good day for raptors even if we had very little success. Today, however, was a perfect day for raptors, and as such a Honey Buzzard flew in off the sea and straight up the east cliffs. Once again, other migrants were limited to a very small selection of Willow Warblers (a new singing bird in the garden and a new bird trapped), Chiffchaffs and two Spotted Flycatchers. The gull flock once again attracted Balearic Shearwaters with two emerging amongst the feeding birds. The rest of the sea watch was relatively uneventful with 35 Manx Shearwaters and three each of Puffin and Dunlin.

This afternoon's Honey Buzzard © Wayne & Lauren Tucker Newton-St-Loe Birding

The Lulworth Skippers are getting well underway in this warm weather © Roy Norris

Sightings - Monday 1st June 2020

Dorset Bird Club - Mon, 01/06/2020 - 19:10
Barnacle Goose - 1 Stanpit Marsh
Cuckoo - 1 Longham Lakes, 1 Wick
Honey Buzzard - 1 over Portland Bill
Bee-eater - 2 over Durlston CP
Hobby - 3 Morden Bog
Marsh Warbler - 1 still at Bestwell RSPB (Wareham)

Bullfinch, Lytchett Matravers © Marcus Jones
Reed Warbler, Iford © Clinton Whale

31st May

Portland Bird Observatory - Sun, 31/05/2020 - 22:24
On another day when the soaring temperature and blazing sun was made just a tad more tolerable by the strength of the brisk northeasterly it came as no surprise after recent events on the near Continent that a Rosy Starling would be today's headline bird; sadly, it retained far too much migratory urge and after a brief pause in the treetops at Culverwell it was on its way north, never to be seen again. Equally sadly, a putative Red-throated Pipit - a far higher value bird at Portland - narrowly escaped being clinched by its lone observer at Verne Common and couldn't be found again. A typical late spring selection of commoner migrants included singles of Whimbrel, Reed Warbler and Willow Warbler - along with a tardy Kestrel arriving in off the sea - at the Bill and 7 Sanderling and a Grey Plover at Ferrybridge.

Grey Plover - surely one of the very best of the Arctic waders © Pete Saunders:

We had a serendipitous little discovery last evening whilst meandering about at the top of the Grove cliffs listening for whatever eastern scarcities might have been singing in the woefully underwatched impenetrable scrub far below on Penn's Weare. In lovely still conditions a variety of routine micro-moths were on the wing and amongst these an unfamiliar Argyresthia suddenly flittered in and landed on a leaf right under our nose; without any collecting equipment to hand we had to resort to photographing it with the phone and later discovered it was a Cypress Tip Moth Argyresthia cupressella - seemingly the first record for Portland! Since this accidentally introduced North American species is spreading far and wide in Britain its appearance at Portland isn't a great surprise even if the circumstances of the discovery - presumably some hundreds of metres from the nearest ornamental cypresses - were a tad unexpected © Martin Cade

Sightings - Sunday 31st May 2020

Dorset Bird Club - Sun, 31/05/2020 - 21:10
Puffin - 1 Portland Bill
Osprey - 1 Arne Moors
Red Kite - 2 Dorchester, 1 Tolpuddle, 1 Kinson, 1 Sydling St Nicholas
Short-eared Owl - 1 Swineham Point
Hobby - 1 Arne Moors, 1 White Nothe
Marsh Warbler - 1 still at Bestwell RSPB (Wareham) 
Rose-coloured Starling - 1 briefly at Portland Bill
Red-throated Pipit - 1 probable seen briefly in Fortuneswell (Portland)

Reed Warbler, Wareham © David FosterReed Bunting, Wareham © David Foster
Whitethroat at Iford © Clinton Whale

30th May

Portland Bird Observatory - Sun, 31/05/2020 - 07:19
A small joke from yesterday's blog has horribly backfired today as we don't even have a flock of swans to tout as our highlight of the day! Perhaps we're being a little glib: a Cuckoo at Barleycrates was only the fifth record for the year of what's becoming an increasingly scarce migrant here. It has been a very good year for Yellow Wagtails (potentially should have been expected given last autumn's ringing totals), and today continued the trend with another three late birds. Other migrants were extremely hard to come by with just singles of Spotted Flycatcher, Willow Warbler and the Obs garden breeding pair of Chiffchaffs. The sea was equally disappointing with just four Sandwich Terns and 2 Great Northern Divers of note off the Bill.

The first Emperors emerged from the Obs pond today (the first sighting of the year was yesterday near the Verne) and rather unusually they remained by the pond all afternoon and began laying immediately © Erin Taylor:

Big eyes and a cracking moustache, what's not to like? © Pete Saunders

Sightings - Saturday 30th May 2020

Dorset Bird Club - Sat, 30/05/2020 - 21:19
Red Kite - 1 Worth Matravers
Honey Buzzard - 1 over Ferndown
Hobby - 1 Melbury Hill
Green Sandpiper - 1 Lytchett Fields RSPB
Marsh Warbler - 1 Bestwell RSPB (Wareham) for second day

Mute Swan at Tuckton © Dave Hill
Marsh Harrier, Weymouth © Edmund Mackrill

29th May

Portland Bird Observatory - Fri, 29/05/2020 - 23:40
Just as we were planning a blog-opening sentence that made light of the ignominy of having to elevate a flock of Mute Swans to poll position in the evening round-up so our blushes were saved by a Red-breasted Flycatcher that dropping in at the Obs during the afternoon. The day's events were otherwise a long way toward the less than compelling end of the spectrum, with a late Purple Sandpiper and 10 Sanderling at Ferrybridge and 3 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Willow Warblers and a Yellow Wagtail at the Bill the best of the grounded migrants.

The Red-breasted Flycatcher was far from obliging - during its seemingly brief visit to the Obs garden it was seen by just one observer and heard by two others - but at times it was quite vocal as it lurked deep inside the cover of the front garden. This little recording begins with a series of the characteristic Wren-like rattles before the bird swaps to the completely different squeaky 'lost-chick' call:

Portland Bird Observatory · Red-breasted Flycatcher, Portland Bill, 290520
On a day when the UK bird observatory network was knee-deep in Greenish Warblers we were rather relishing the prospect of getting to the evening and having to find a way of talking up our largest flock of Mute Swans in recent memory © Martin Cade

Reports of interest, Friday 29th May 2020.

Dorset Bird Club - Fri, 29/05/2020 - 22:22
Brent Goose - 2 Fisherman's Bank.
Red Kite - 1 Bridport.
Osprey - 1 Culpepper's Dish.
Grey Plover - 1 Fisherman's Bank.
Knot - 1+ Durlston CP.
Bar-Tailed Godwit - 2 Fisherman's Bank.
Cuckoo - 1 Iford.
Spotted Flycatcher - 1 Poundbury.
Red-Breasted Flycatcher - 1 Portland Bill (Obs garden).
Crossbill - 12 over Studland golf club.

Late news:  Hen Harrier near Kingston yesterday.

Great Tit in Tuckton © Dave Hill.
Great Tit in Tuckton © Dave Hill.
Linnet at Cogden Beach © Trevor Wilkinson.
Linnet at Cogden Beach © Trevor Wilkinson.
Rock Pipit at Tilly Whim © Fiona Keeling

Reports of interest, Thursday 28th May 2020.

Dorset Bird Club - Thu, 28/05/2020 - 21:59
Barnacle Goose - 1 Stanpit.
Brent Goose - 2 Stanpit.
Garganey - 2 Abbotsbury Swannery.
Great Northern Diver - 1 past Portland Bill.
Balearic Shearwater - 1 past Portland Bill.
Purple Heron - 1 north through Christchurch Harbour.
Sanderling - 16 Ferrybridge.
Cuckoo - 1 Higher Hyde, 1 Nether Compton.

Meadow Pipit at Ferrybridge © Will Bown
Sanderling at Ferrybridge © Will Bown
Cuckoo at Higher Hyde © Clive Hargrave

28th May

Portland Bird Observatory - Thu, 28/05/2020 - 21:36
What would have been a stiflingly hot day was kept cool by the steady easterly breeze; although pretty poor within the nets once more, there were a couple of highlights to be enjoyed. A high Marsh Harrier over Ferrybridge was the second for the week, whilst highlights at the Bill included two very tardy migrants in the form of a Redstart and a Whinchat (perhaps speculative that they are late arrivals rather than early leavers but the Redstart was a female with no signs of having bred recently). Commoner migrants were once again thin on the ground with just singles of Blackcap and Chiffchaff at the obs. The sea had a few glimmers of variety with a Balearic Shearwater joining the morning gull flock and a passing Arctic Skua disturbing the peace.

The Chesil Little Terns appear to be feeding well, with 20-25 pairs present fingers crossed for a good season! © Pete Saunders

Reflections: 28th May 2020 - The Balance of Nature

Nature of Dorset - Thu, 28/05/2020 - 19:14

The buzzard stands accused ...! [Photo: Peter Orchard]

This letter appeared in the Bournemouth Echo on the 27th May 2020 and I have to say it really saddened me that views such as this still persist. I have encountered the argument many times over the years, usually the poor magpie is the victim of the attack but sparrowhawks get a lot of flack too. This time it is the buzzard:

“I MUST agree with Douglas Mills when he writes about the lack of reptiles on many of the heaths in Dorset.

As a boy growing up in Wareham, we roamed many of the heaths and woodlands surrounding the town, in those days all species of snakes and lizards were in abundance much to the delight of us kids.

Whilst I agree with Douglas that mankind’s presence has played a part in the demise of the reptile population, I do however believe that the increase in the birds of prey population has also played a major part.

Years ago, one had to travel to the remote parts of Purbeck to spot a buzzard, now they are everywhere, indeed a few years back I counted 13 rising on a thermal above the centre of Wimborne.

Farmers and country folk are now no longer allowed or need to keep the birds of prey population in check by shooting etc.

As part of the birds of prey diet is snakes, lizards and small mammals, this in turn leads to a reduction in the number of reptiles.

Therefore, the end result is that the balance of nature has been disturbed, in favour of birds of prey.


Mr Moyes has absolutely no comprehension of what the ‘balance of nature is’. The ‘balance of nature’ is a natural process and not one dictated by human intervention. If birds of prey over predate reptiles then the obvious consequence is that there would be less food for the birds of prey and their numbers would fall. As the birds of prey numbers then go into decline so the reptiles would be subject to less predation and so increase. That is how natural systems ‘balance’ themselves.

The reasons for the decline in reptile populations on the Dorset heaths are far more complex than a recovery in buzzard populations in recent years. Sadly most of the reasons are due to human disturbance of the natural ecosystem with the fragmentation of the once large expanse of heathland in the Poole basin coupled with the increased human activity on the heaths for recreation and, of course, the devastating effects of wildfires carelessly or deliberately started. 

The reasons go much deeper and are far more complex. One reason is that most reptiles are insectivorous and the dramatic fall in insect populations coupled to pesticide use means many species of reptile are suffering. 

Killing birds of prey is NOT the answer to restoring reptile populations. The old fashioned human concept of killing to control has to cease and we have to try and restore the natural balance of nature and not attempt to exert ill thought out strategies based on outdated thinking.

Categories: Magazine, Publish

Reports of interest, Wednesday 27th May 2020.

Dorset Bird Club - Wed, 27/05/2020 - 21:47
Barnacle Goose - 35 past Brand's Bay, 35 through Christchurch Harbour.
Brent Goose - 2 Stanpit.
Fulmar - 1 through Christchurch Harbour.
Red Kite - 1 Bridport, 1 Ringstead, 1 Winspit.
Honey Buzzard - 1 N over Pymore.
Osprey - 1 Brand's Bay.
Little Ringed Plover - 1 Bramble Bush Bay.
Grey Plover - 3 Stanpit.
Sanderling - 17 Ferrybridge.
Greenshank - 3 Stanpit.
Golden Oriole - 1 West Bexington flew west.
Cuckoo - 1 Christchurch Harbour, 1 Hurn.

Great Black-Backed Gull in Tuckton, © Dave Hill
Great Spotted Woodpecker in Bournemouth, © David Wareham.
Peregrine in Bournemouth, © David Wareham.

27th May

Portland Bird Observatory - Wed, 27/05/2020 - 21:33
As the wind reverted to the north-east, there was a distinct chill despite the unfaltering sunshine. As such, there was very little on the migrant front in the garden but the west cliffs watchers were treated to double figures of Swifts, and singles of Hobby and Spotted Flycatcher. Around the Obs area, Spotted Flycatchers reached a meagre three, whilst two Willow Warblers and a single Chiffchaff were all that remained of the Phyllocsopus movement of recent days. The sea was rather quiet, and a summer plumage Great Northern Diver was the best we could muster from the morning sea-watch.

Some of this morning's Sanderlings and yesterday's Marsh Harrier © Pete Saunders:

26th May

Portland Bird Observatory - Wed, 27/05/2020 - 00:15
A really rather varied day compared with the past few weeks led to a couple of nice surprises, but also some missed chances with two potentially interesting calling fly-overs that weren't clinched - probably not surprising given the glorious conditions that would have prompted anything to carry on without stopping. The early morning revealed a continuation of yesterday's trickle of Phyllocs although the Spotted Flycatchers had dried up almost entirely. The highlight of the day was an elusive Turtle Dove in the Top Fields but the likes of 3 passing Hobbys were good back-ups. Waders were also still on the move, with 10 Dunlin, 6 Sanderling and a Bar-tailed Godwit gathered at Ferrybridge and a Whimbrel through at the Bill. Surprises from the sea included an unseasonable Eider and a tardy Red-throated Diver off the Bill.
Last night we had our first foray of the season down to the Bill tip to see if we could renew our acquaintance with one of the most charismatic of visitors to the Bill. It was only really an impromptu mission to check the lie of the land and the state of our kit but 2 Storm Petrels were sound-lured while we were there so it was successful - in fact doubly successful since the first of them was already bearing a ring that wasn't one of ours (details on that when we receive them) © Martin Cade:

Our hitherto really random selection of picks from the moth-traps to feature here seems to be evolving into a highlighting of Portland inhabitants that are scarce or local in the rest of Dorset. Hemlock Yellow Conch Aethes beatricella was a first for the year today and is seemingly something that's pretty thinly spread in Dorset as a whole. Hemlock does occur on the island (although apparently not at the Bill) but here the only documented foodplant is Alexanders - the moth has been reared from larvae inhabiting their stems quite often over the years. It seems from the records that beatricella is a relatively recent arrival here - it wasn't known to the Victorian lepidopterists who worked the island and may not have colonised until quite late in the 20th century - but it's certainly quite common these days © Martin Cade:


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