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Updated: 1 hour 54 min ago

21st October

Sun, 10/21/2018 - 23:12
With barely a sniff of a change in the conditions it was no surprise that the birding remained very samey, with 2 Yellow-browed Warblers at both the Obs and Southwell School, 2 Ring Ouzels at the Verne, singles of Black Redstart at the Bill and Blacknor, and singles of Firecrest and Yellowhammer at the Bill providing some pretty low-key highlights around the island. Grounded totals included 25 each of Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and Reed Bunting at the Bill, whilst 500 Wood Pigeons overhead there was as good as it got on the visible passage front.

A miscellaneous selection of other natural history interest included a Vagrant Emperor dragonfly and 4 Red-veined Darters seen in the Cheyne Weare/Church Ope Cove area during the afternoon, another 2 Radford's Flame Shoulders trapped overnight at the Obs and a Brown Long-eared Bat caught at dawn in a mist-net at the Obs.
*If Steven Guy happens to look in on the blog do please get in touch as we'd very much like to share your photos of the Vagrant Emperor here*
There was a time when bats were caught quite frequently in the Obs garden mist-nets but that certainly hasn't been the case for some years so it quite a novelty when this Brown Long-eared Bat was trapped there at dawn; we have several old records of this species having been caught at the Obs and it'll be interesting to see if the static bat detector deployed there provides evidence that they're resident or just strays/migrants © Martin Cade/Fergus Henderson:
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20th October

Sat, 10/20/2018 - 23:11
It's not often that you get to moan that the weather was too nice during October but from the birding point of view that was likely the case today, with the cloudless sky and shirt-sleeves warmth hardly conducive to dropping migrants in quantity; that said, the trees were certainly busier with Chiffchaffs and 'crests than has been the case for a few days and the balmy conditions made it a pleasure to spend time working through them. The Chiffchaff tally from the centre and south of the island was well into three figures, whilst Goldcrests - that have hitherto been conspicuously thin on the ground throughout - reached an autumn peak to date of 30 at the Bill; other worthwhile totals included 15 Reed Buntings and 8 Long-tailed Tits at the Bill. Quality on the ground was sadly lacking, with Yellow-browed Warblers at Southwell School (2) and the Grove the best on offer; 4 Ring Ouzels were still scattered about the north of the island and 3 Black Redstarts were at the Bill/Southwell. Visible passage was a bit of an anti-climax - were they all too high or just taking a different route today? - with seasonable fare all represented but only sparsely at best.

The warmth of recent days has seen plenty of insects on the wing, amongst which today were at Red-veined Darter at the Verne and well into double figure totals of both Clouded Yellow and Painted Lady.

In places the purges of recent years on invasive cotoneaster maybe went a little too overboard and grubbed out swathes of the plant (whose berries are so loved by migrant thrushes) from traditional Ring Ouzel haunts; fortunately the inaccessible slopes of the Verne Citadel retain a fair bit of this pernicious alien and continue to be an ouzel hot-spot © Dave Foot:

The Obs after dark this evening © Martin King:
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19th October

Fri, 10/19/2018 - 23:00
It looked today as though many of the migrants that had wanted to move on after the dreary start to the week did so at the first opportunity yesterday - today's even more glorious conditions tempted far fewer birds into the sky and certainly didn't prompt many to drop in. Visible passage was best recorded at the north of the island where 1222 Linnets topped an otherwise fairly undistinguished tally amongst which 90 Siskins were of most note; a Woodlark was the best on offer amongst the generally lower numbers logged over the Bill. It was never busy on the ground but interest came in the form of single Cetti's Warblers at the Bill and the north of the island, single Yellow-browed Warblers at Avalanche Road and Old Hill and totals of 7 Ring Ouzels, 4 Black Redstarts and 4 Firecrests dotted about.
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18th October

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 21:51
A complete change in the weather saw crystal clear skies greet the expectant dawn risers and it was quickly apparent that, not unexpectedly, overhead passage would feature prominently. The usual late autumn suspects - Wood Pigeons, Skylarks, Swallows, Meadow Pipits and a variety of thrushes and finches - dominated and were at times tricky to full quantify since movement was taking place over such a broad front; cumulatively, the most numerous constituents amounted to a nearly five figure total, whilst quality was provided by a minimum of 3 Woodlarks and a Hawfinch. It was noticeably quieter on the ground than it had been on the drearier days earlier in the week but a/the Little Bunting was spotted briefly in Top Fields, a Yellow-browed Warbler was at Southwell, 4 Ring Ouzels, 3 Black Redstarts, 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a Firecrest and a Corn Bunting were scattered about and there was a decent late-ish total of 50 Wheatears at the Bill.

One of the Woodlarks over the Bill this morning © Martin Cade:

Just for a bit of fun we combined last night's 5 new Radford's Flame Shoulders from the Obs moth-traps (the highest ever single night total there) with the 5 we already had potted from previous nights for a double-figure assemblage photo - and to think that as recently as ten years ago the all-time British total had only just crept over 20 © Martin Cade:
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17th October

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 20:47
A bit of a soggy one today with super fine rain that never failed to drench any birder who dared venture out into the field. Yesterday's Little Bunting was relocated in the Top Fields feeding away in the drizzle. The rain did not deter some of the commoner migrants with another strong showing from Chaffinches, Linnets, Goldfinches and Skylarks. It was another good day for Black Redstarts with two at the Bill and two near Portland Castle. A Firecrest at the obs and a Goldcrest in Culverwell were the only crests located throughout the day and a single Yellow-browed Warbler was at the Grove.

Despite being a relatively unmarked bird, the Little Bunting in the top fields was definitely the highlight of a very wet day ©Matt Ames

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16th October

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 23:27
On the nicest birding day for some while the middle of the island was veritably hopping with birds, with 5 Yellow-browed Warblers and singles of Ring Ouzel, Siberian Chiffchaff, Firecrest and Hawfinch the pick amongst high counts of a wide variety of thrushes, warblers and finches. The Bill was something of the poor relation but did chip with the rarity of the day when a Little Bunting that appeared over the Crown Estate Field during the afternoon eventually dropped in and was duly trapped there; also at the Bill, 3 Bramblings overhead were the first of the autumn, 500 Swallows and 250 Skylarks were worthy visible passage totals and scarcities included 2 Black  Redstarts, 2 Ring Ouzels and a Yellow-browed Warbler.

Maybe not surprisingly, our crops in the Crown Estate Field have become something of a Little Bunting hotspot in recent years and today we were able to watch the effectiveness of Joe Stockwell's 'ticking bunting' sound-lure that we've employed there in recent late autumns (we knew it was effective because, apart from Little Buntings, we've had the good fortune to stumble across Pine Bunting and Rustic Bunting in nets beside it in the last couple of years!). We happened to be in the field doing a net round when we first heard today's bird calling high overhead and we watched as it did several circuits over the field before plunging into the maize not far from the lure; on this occasion it didn't fly straight into a net but it wasn't long before it made its way toward the lure and was trapped © Martin Cade:  

In much calmer conditions overnight mothing at the Obs was considerably more rewarding than of late, with 2 more Radford's Flame Shoulders the best of the scarcer immigrants. Our highlight though was the long, long overdue first Clifden Nonpareil for the island - not much more than a decade ago this would have been a noteworthy capture anywhere but such has been the remarkable change in their status that, latterly, Portland has been one of the few regularly trapped sites in Dorset not to have had a record © Martin Cade:
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15th October

Mon, 10/15/2018 - 20:50
Today finally felt like a traditional autumn, cold, wet and breezy with bushes full of birds and a feeling of potential. Although the 'biggie' never materialized there was a good amount of variety and numbers of common migrants. Blackcaps were the most common migrants of the day with just under 200 individuals recorded; Chaffinches put in their highest count of the autumn with 80 birds around the bill area and Swallows had a late flurry with 104 birds over the East Cliffs. On the more unusual front there were three Yellow-browed Warblers (2 at the obs and 1 at thumb lane), the first double figure count of Reed Buntings of the autumn, 6 Ring Ouzels, 3 Black Redstarts and a lone Mute Swan. In the theme of the past few days we also witnessed some migrants slightly on the tardy side including 4 Swifts, 2 Whitethroats and a Common Sandpiper.

Linnets provided the biggest spectacle of the day with estimates of around 3,000 birds cumulatively in the Crown Estate and the top fields © Martin Cade 

A common bird just across the sea but Black Redstarts are always a pleasure to see in the hand © Martin Cade/Erin Taylor:


The third Yellow-browed Warbler trapped this autumn, still a way off the record year ringing total of 11 set in 2016 © Trevor Wilkinson:

The recent spell of exceptionally mild weather that now looks to be behind us had huge potential on the moth front but, since it remained ragingly windy throughout, will chiefly be remembered by us as something of a damp squib. A few routine southern scarcities - Olive-tree Pearls, Vestals, Gems and the like - put in appearances but the killer rarities remained stubbornly absent from our traps. Despite a huge dip in the overnight temperature there were still a few morsels of interest on the wing last night, including the fifth - and least rubbed so far - Radford's Flame Shoulder of the autumn © Martin Cade: 
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14th October

Sun, 10/14/2018 - 22:04
An erratic day of weather with heavy showers for most of the morning hampering most birding efforts. As the rain cleared, however, some birds were noticeably moving and in some good numbers. Counts of Blackcap and Chiffchaffs neared 100, Chaffinches were also more evident with 47 birds in total. Phylloscopus warblers were prominent within the obs garden and amongst the flitting Chiffchaff flocks lingered a pair of unringed Yellow-browed Warblers (another bird was also recorded at Wakeham). The Cetti's Warbler frequenting Culverwell was still present this morning along with a lone Firecrest, a pair of Goldcrests and a Snipe.
Ferrybridge was back on form this afternoon with 82 Brent Geese (including a pale-bellied individual), 270 Mediterranean Gulls, 14 Turnstone, 7 Ringed Plover, 42 Dunlin and singles of Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwit
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13th October

Sat, 10/13/2018 - 23:16
Another warm but blustery day yielded slightly more in the way of migrant activities with a pair of Merlin at the Bill, the loitering Yellow-browed Warbler and Firecrest in the obs garden and the fourth Cetti's Warbler of the autumn making it the best year on record. A few late-ish migrants included a Yellow Wagtail on the West Cliffs, three Whinchats (including two at Avalanche Hump), and a lone Wheatear. The first Purple Sandpiper for some time, a pair of Snipe and a Song Thrush were indicators of how far through the autumn we have already progressed. The sea had only a Bonxie to offer, however this is unsurprising given the huge swell that has been generated over the past couple of days.

With migrant activity at such a low ebb by day it was interesting to receive Nick Hopper's report on his visit to try some nocturnal recording a couple of night's ago (10th/11th October). It turned out to a well-chosen night since the blasting wind that was such a feature of the latter half of the week dropped away to virtually nothing for several hours during the evening and passage was immediately audible over the Obs. Nick's report is as follows:

The night’s recording coincided with a big Song Thrush movement, with 1576 calls logged. The majority of these were in a 3.5 hour period up until around 00.30, after which the calling reduced significantly. A few Redwing also on the move with 108 calls logged and 4 Blackbird.
In terms of rarity value the night’s highlight was the first Firecrest to be recorded since recording began here. In fact 3 individuals were logged during the night. Also 2 Goldcrest. 
Best of the rest: Common Scoter - small party, Common Snipe 2, Robin 5, Dunlin 1, Ringed Plover 4, Grey Heron 1.






Today's Purple Sandpiper at the Bill © Mark Eggleton
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12th October

Fri, 10/12/2018 - 22:34
Portland didn't fare nearly as badly on the weather front as points westward but it was still way too windy for any serious coverage of the land and too blown out to have expected much reward from the sea. The Yellow-browed Warbler remained at the Obs although getting any more than a glimpse of it required considerable perseverance; the land returned precious little else bar a lingering a Firecrest also still at the Obs. The sea got plenty of attention but 3 Balearic Shearwaters, a Sooty Shearwater and a Great Skua were as good as it got at the Bill.


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11th October

Thu, 10/11/2018 - 20:57
A day of variety if not rarity value. A Yellow-browed Warbler trapped at the obs during a break in the weather provided some much needed enthusiasm during a rather wet an windy morning. A Great Northern Diver was the first of the autumn, a pair of Yellowhammers were a welcome addition to the year list, three Ring Ouzels were present across the island and a couple of Firecrests finalised the less common species. Commoner migrants included: the first 1000+ day of Linnets for the autumn, a small handful of Song Thrushes and Redwings, a Whinchat at Barleycrates Lane, a Snipe at the North end and an Osprey over the West Cliffs.

The first Yellow-browed Warbler of the year trapped in the obs garden was a welcome delight to the onlookers ©Martin Cade/ Erin Taylor



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10th October

Wed, 10/10/2018 - 18:44
Another breezy and stunningly clear day saw a couple of much desired migrants gracing our shores. A Yellow-browed Warbler at both Southwell school and Thumb Lane were accompanied by a lone Firecrest at the Obs, a Ring Ouzel in the hut fields and a Black Redstart in the front garden. The supporting cast of 13 Wheatears, a Whinchat, a Jack Snipe and a pair of Merlins were also of note. Thrushes continued to trickle through with a slack handful of Song Thrushes and a flock of 10 Redwings. Alba Wagtail and Meadow Pipit migration was much reduced on recent days although small groups continued to move throughout the morning.

Over the past few days we have been treated to a wide variety of 'alba' Wagtails, with 'Pieds' now vastly outnumbering the White Wagtails we saw passing earlier in the season ©Erin Taylor 



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9th October

Tue, 10/09/2018 - 22:02
Although it was a pleasure to out in summer-like conditions numbers and quality were at a premium today. The only oddity reported was a Yellow-browed Warbler near the Borstal, with the less regulars list including the likes of 2 Merlins, a Ring Ouzel and a Firecrest at the Bill and the first Black Redstart of the autumn at Blacknor. Although the conditions were far too nice to have expected any sort of arrival on the ground it was also surprisingly uneventful overhead where standard mid-October fare was reduced to a trickle and only 24 Siskins over the Obs merited a mention; the fact that there were, for example, fewer than 10 Chiffchaffs at the Bill just about summed up the general dearth of grounded migrants.

So gloriously warm and sunny was it that without making any particular effort 12 butterfly species were logged around the island today; these included Clouded Yellows dotted about at several sites, a Brimstone (a decent island oddity) at Tout/Inmosthay and an Adonis Blue still on the wing there. Common Blue and Small Copper were among the more expected fare enjoying the conditions © Ken Dolbear:

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8th October

Mon, 10/08/2018 - 22:19
A quite different sort of day to yesterday saw heavy cloud overhead for the duration and Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits, thrushes and finches to the fore on the migrant numbers front. Another Yellow-browed Warbler - this one at Southwell - was the best of the oddities, with the first Ring Ouzel of the autumn at the Bill, a Dartford Warbler at Suckthumb and a Green Sandpiper at Broadcroft  of further note. Numbers-wise, it was visible migrants that dominated, with 1500 Linnets, 1000 Meadow Pipits, 360 alba wagtails and 250 Goldfinches tip-of-the-iceberg totals at the Bill where far more birds on the move way out over the sea had to be left unidentified. On the ground, thrushes were quite conspicuous for the first time this autumn, off-passage flocks of Meadow Pipit and Linnet totalled into four figures at the Bill and Blackcaps were numerous around the centre of the island but the like of Chiffchaff hardly featured.

It's taken Yellow-browed Warblers quite a time to trickle down as far as Portland but judging by reports from elsewhere there'll be plenty more to come in the next few weeks © Martin Cade:

Although their autumn passage is as good as over a few Grey Wagtail spend the winter on Portland - we'd guess that today's bird feasting on leatherjackets at Southwell was most likely one of these winterers © Nick Stantiford:

In contrast, Ring Ouzel passage is only just beginning, with this bird the first to show up at the Bill © Martin Cade:
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7th October

Sun, 10/07/2018 - 21:52

PBO membership standing ordersAs Obs members will be aware, earlier this year our charitable status changed when we became a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO); as part of this change we were required to open a new current bank account. We are in the process of closing our old bank account and request that members who have a membership subscription standing order in our favour transfer this to the new account. For those with online banking facilities this transfer may be readily accomplished via your banking app - our new account details are: Account name Portland Bird Observatory; Sort code 09-01-29; Account No. 19754723Those without online arrangements will require a new standing order form that can be requested from the Obs or downloaded here  - this form should be filled in and returned to us for forwarding to your bank or sent direct to your bank. Apologies for the inconvenience and many thanks for your help with this important matter.

Today saw the commencement of the inter-bird observatories bird race and as such we can tell you that an average to poor day on Portland Bill will earn you a species list of around 80 birds. The morning started with a flurry of common migrants with 44 Chiffchaffs trapped and large flocks of Siskins and Pied Wagtails overhead. Highlights of the day included: the first Yellow-browed Warblers of the year, a pair of obliging Woodlarks at Shepherds Dinner (I didn't know that was a place either), the first Redwings and Fieldfares of the autumn and the third Cetti's Warbler of the autumn.

Only the second and third Woodlarks of the autumn showing off all the features... © Erin Taylor


The first Redwings of the year proved tricky to catch and this one had us waiting until the very last net round of the day © Martin Cade:

...and with this Mistle Thrush and a Fieldfare also on the list it made for the first five thrush day of the autumn © Keith Pritchard: 

A couple of late Sandwich Terns lingering in the harbour © Joe Stockwell:

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6th October

Sat, 10/06/2018 - 20:22
No matter how much effort we put in today the elusive Yellow-browed Warbler never showed, probably due to the howling gale and thrashing rain. Other than a pair of Brent Geese heading west and 15 Golden Plovers overhead, variety was mostly confined to those migrants who didn't leave before the onslaught of the weather. A small flock of 12 House Martins marked the beginning of the end of the Hirundine movement for the year.
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5th October

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 23:13
If we'd have known just how many thrushes and Robins had been passing over during the hours of darkness - overnight recordings later revealed a steady passage that included the first Redwings of the autumn - we might have been even more geared up for the day that we were at dawn when it soon apparent that there were plenty of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps about at the Obs. Sadly, however, it proved to be one of those days when pretty well everything left as soon as the sun got up and later toil turned up nothing in numbers and, the lingering Moorfield Road Hoopoe aside, nothing of quality. The hitherto also lingering Turtle Dove at Culverwell only showed once at dawn , with 3 Snipe were the only other even faintly less regular migrants to report from the Bill. Elsewhere, 2 Redstarts were at Wakeham and another Snipe passed over at the Grove. The only sea news was of a lone Balearic Shearwater through off the Bill.

Despite another impressive large catch of moths at all sites immigrants remained rather less numerous as might have been hoped given the conditions, with singles of Gem and White-speck the best of the scarcities at the Obs.
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4th October

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 21:37
Heavy cloud, a drop in temperature and a change in wind direction had everyone scouting for a rare. Unfortunately the only uncommon species we were treated to were the long staying Turtle Dove and the equally obliging Hoopoe. Today saw a second consecutive increase in Blackbird numbers along with the first couple of Song Thrushes. The most numerous migrants within the obs garden were undoubtedly the Chiffchaffs with 36 trapped throughout the day and dozens more recorded across the island, our first Phyllosc fall of the autumn. A Tree Pipit over the 'Hoopoe paddocks' was potentially the last of the year and three Great Spotted Woodpeckers was the highest day count of the year. Other than this, migration trudged by as normal with only the commonest fly-over migrants putting in any big numbers.

The lingering Turtle Dove afforded some close views at times ©Matt Ames

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3rd October

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 21:26
Another October scorcher saw little in the way of rare migrants but large numbers of common passage birds kept everyone counting through the morning. A minimum tally of 450 Meadow Pipits were matched for the first time this autumn by passing Alba Wagtails. Chaffinch, Siskin and Reed Buntings continued in numbers and the first signs of thrush passage began with an increase in Blackbird numbers in the top fields. The highlight of the day came from the return of the Hoopoe to the horse paddocks in Easton, whilst nearby there were 2 Firecrests at the Grove.
The Hoopoe seems to be enjoying the rich supply of invertebrates supplied in the horse grazed paddocks, occasionally disappearing when the local Kestrels start harassing it © Roger Hewitt: 

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2nd October

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 18:57
A brisk and cloudy morning soon evaporated into somewhat of a stunner where weather was concerned. Avian highlights included the second Cetti's Warbler of the autumn trapped in Culverwell, 36 Brent Geese East past the Bill and a Merlin in the top fields. Otherwise, the movement that has brought Hoopoe and Wryneck to our shores in recent days seems to have slowed up and only a handful of other commoner migrants were recorded throughout the day. 
 Keith's regular checking of the local gull flock has paid off handsomely in recent weeks and today saw a grand total of three Yellow-legged Gulls including this smart second calendar year bird ©Keith Pritchard:


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