The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

By the Will of Godwit

With a day off, I was intending to get up early and get out to thrash the bushes and fields, before settling down for a seawatch, so set the alarm clock for 5. 

By 7:45, I decided I better get up.  I looked out the window, and was glad to see I made the right decision with the impromptu lie in. Fog!

I eventually got down the Bill, but unlike yesterday, it was just as hopelessly gloomy as Weston.  All I could do was hang about the Obs till it lifted.  At least I had the opportunity to scrutinise a selection of the overnight moth catch.  The only (macro) lifer amongst them was a Garden Dart.  I have to say I disputed the ID a little, as I thought it matched the picture of Square-spot Dart better, but I've not seen either, so what do I know!
Sorry for the hopeless shot, but this is always going to be a highlight when caught, the extraordinary Chinese Character.  I'll try and get a better shot of this 'bird dropping' another day!

Also notable was this Pinion-streaked Snout.  Despite it's size, it's a macro.

Due to being one of the only ones stupid enough to be actually out scrambling through the fields or down the Bill in the path of the 'Haemoroids' (see post 'I'm not Lulworthy'), and not sitting around at the obs, I rarely get to see any of the birds 'in hand'.  So, it was nice to see this Willow Warbler (the first of the autumn in the nets) this morning, courtesy of Joe.

Well, by this time it had cleared a little, and a Balearic Shearwater passing the Obs was my cue to get down to the Bill.  Despite Joe's suggestion that they may be 'streaming past', it was business as usual!  I managed to see 8 Balearic and a few Common Scoter and Manx Shearwater pass, but that's all that could be found.  I bumped into Mark Leitch down there, and he had seen another 7 Balearics before my arrival.
After I reported all that stuff to the Obs, I thought I'd take a short walk down the East Cliffs.  The highlights here were my first in-flight Hummingbird Hawk-moth (i.e. not in a moth trap) for some time, and as promised before, I got some shots of the drupe-resembling Strawberry Clover seed-heads.

This afternoon, I decided I didn't want to be stuck indoors, despite my lack of dynamic ideas, so had a stroll round the Barleycrates Lane area next to the flat.  A short way into the walk, I was quite astonished when the Black-tailed Godwit that had been reported earlier flew into view.  All I saw of the report was 'Ice Blackwit - Weston', which could have easily meant a fly-over for instance, so didn't have any expectations of re-finding it.  It settled in a sheep field, and I went back home for my scope.  It was still present and feeding pretty happily on my return, despite some farm workers in the next field.  I managed to get a few decent record shots, of a species which is pretty rare on Portland (and virtually unknown outside of Ferrybridge).  The deepness of the red colour (not so obvious in these washed out pics) and the fact that it extends onto the flanks, make it a bird of the sub-species islandica.

The weather is looking a bit better in the coming days, though not so good for seawatching. But, how can that get much quieter!


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Fog and Balearics

I've called the blog post that, because these were the only real characteristics of the last few days!

On Saturday, the only high point of the day bird wise was watching a juvenile Peregrine making a nuisance of itself at Ferrybridge, flushing a Whimbrel in the process.  Just the usual Dunlin, Sanderling, Turnstone, and Ringed Plovers otherwise.

I also bumped into only my second Scarlet Tiger, that was sitting in the middle of the pavement at Priory Corner!  Needless to say, I led it to safety.

Sunday brought yet more fog, so the only real option was seawatching.  I put in a great deal of time, but got only as a reward, one Great Skua closely followed by a single Balearic Shearwater, as well as lots of Manx Shearwater, 2 Dunlin, and a very out-of-season adult Common Gull.  I noticed something else slightly odd.  A large number of Gannet heading east, almost all immatures.  I also witnessed 15 or so Sand Martin heading out to sea, as well as several birds still feeding up over the slopes of Bill Hill. 
I found yet more Knot Grass larvae, this time feeding on Broad-leaved Dock.

Yesterday was yet another plagued by fog coming and going, but the conditions improved for seawatching (or so I thought) with the edition of a nice blasting south-westerly.  But, just an hour or so at the Bill proved that virtually nothing was on the move.  Is it that there is simply nothing out there to be blown in?  I did managed to salvage a couple of Balearic Shearwater, along with a Mediterranean Gull and 5 Common Scoter.
Today was of a little more quality.  I headed out to work in a downpour, the first proper rain I had encountered during the day here.
By lunchtime the rain had largely stopped, but there was still stubborn fog around Weston.  I eventually decided I just had to do something, and headed on down to the Bill.  The difference was astounding.  Almost no fog.  When I came back home in the evening, Weston was still shrouded!  The Bill has a microclimate it seems (and the weather also bears no resemblance to the forecast for Fortuneswell either!).  Weird.
I did manage to get a bit of seawatching in, but despite the continuing south-westerly, it was still pretty dire.  A little group of us did manage a few Balearic and Manx Shearwater, as well as singles of Turnstone, Dunlin, and Sanderling
By this time the wind had died down a little, so I decided to take the first look of anyone that day, at the bushes of Top Fields.  The area around The Strips was alive with Goldfinches, Linnets, Skylarks, and Meadow Pipits, but try as I might, I could see nothing more unusual.  The Rape crops were alive with Green-veined Whites, and I found a confiding Painted Lady.

I did eventually find something different.  I flushed a Sedge Warbler from long grass near the Admiralty Hedge.  Notable, for being the first migrant warbler (i.e. except Whitethroat) I had seen in the Top Fields/Culverwell area since I got here in mid-June!

Once I got back to the Obs, I rather hopelessly scanned the sea.  I immediately found a passing Great Skua, followed by a Balearic Shearwater!  Something must be happening, I thought.  So, I yet again took a chance at the Bill.  Sadly, the weather gods had different ideas, and the sea fog foiled my attempts, though I did see a couple more Balearics through the haze.  I was otherwise entertained by a family party of Rock Pipits.

The first Melodious Warbler of the autumn can only be round the corner.  That's if the fog will let us see as far as that.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Cloud 9

Another day that initially looked as if it was going to be another fog-out, turned out rather well.

First of all, on my round in the morning I not only got a glimpse of a male Vapourer moth flying around, but I later stumbled across my first ever female (which is flightless), which had laid eggs on her old cocoon.

In the afternoon, I thought my first port of call, Ferrybridge, might be clear, but it wasn't at all.  Despite this, I was able to count all the massed waders as they were right next to the centre.  Nothing unusual, but there were at least 15 Sanderling in with the 150 or so Dunlin, along with 2 Turnstone, loads of Ringed Plover, a Sandwich Tern, plus the usual Mediterranean Gull and Little Terns.

On the way to my next port of call, Verne Common, I was able to ID for the first time, Annual Wall-rocket.  When the leaves are crushed, the aroma is rather like Rocket that has gone off!

The common itself was rather devoid of interest, though I did see a nice pair of Bullfinch.  Also, you don't get to see a Ringlet open it's wings too often.

As you can see, the fog was still extensive, completely hiding the mainland.

I did however, still managed to get my first view of the famous white horse (just above the fog!).

On the way home, I found my first Portland Harebell.  A single plant on the banks of the prison.

I took the footpaths back via Underhill and Old Hill, and stumbled across this dead Common Shrew.

The famous view from the top was not looking it's usual self!

Come the evening, I had a short stroll down to the west cliffs, where the fog was absolutely spectacular, completely blanketing the sea.  The weather here really is unique!

Here, the butterflies really were everywhere.  They say that the days of taking a step and clouds of butterflies taking off are gone, well not here!  In a single strip of grass about 20 metres by 5, I counted 80 roosting Marbled Whites (as well as lots of Chalkhill Blues and a few Small Whites)!

This is all rather good, but I think I am now ready for the migrant birds to start turning up.  Come on goodies!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

A Mocha-ry of the Forecast

The day dawned to yet another foggy start, though that soon wore away, and I was able to get out into the field a little in the morning.

The moth traps came up with the highlights as usual though, as the pretty rare migrant Jersey Mocha took the plaudits.

The other lifer for me was another migrant, a Four-spotted Footman (the other two spots are hidden).

Also among the highlights were Barred Rivulet, a feeder on Red Bartsia (which is everywhere at the moment).

A beautiful Herald.

This pretty micro, Eucosma campoliliana.

And Garden Tiger are numerous at the moment.

A stroll down to the Bill produced little, but I was delighted to be able to see the sea, to do some seawatching!  Sadly, it was almost hopeless.  Just 2 Turnstone and 3 Sanderling went by, as did a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull, which it turned out had just been seen by Joe Stockwell from the East Cliffs.

I started to stroll back through the Bill quarry, and came across a juvenile Wheatear, which was surely the same one I saw a week or so ago.  Locally bred?

I just started to stroll up Bill Hill, when I flushed a juvenile Cuckoo, and it flew back towards the Obs Quarry.  Surely the same bird that's been around for a while.  Once at the top of the Hill, a view towards Southwell revealed at least 4 Kestrel.  A couple of these were later heard calling a lot around the Obs.  I think a family party.  From this same view I also had the spectacle of watching a pair of Peregrine cooperatively hunting a Woodpigeon.  They disappeared behind Southwell Business Park, so I was unsure of the outcome.
I got home for lunch, then noticed that it had fogged over again!  

After an afternoon nap I looked outside, and guess what, there was barely a cloud in the sky!  Portland weather is weird!

Later on I took an evening stroll round Blacknor Point.  Not a lot of note, except another juvenile Yellow-legged Gull mixing in with the local Herring Gull young, perhaps the same bird yet again.  I also found the Portland tick of Betony.

Less fog tomorrow please!  It's July!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Knot Much

It dawned yet another misty day, but luckily it had largely worn off by the time I finished work, and could get out and do some birding.  The wader passage seems to be well and truly underway down at Ferrybridge, so I decided on there as my first port of call. 
It was still cloudy at this point, so luckily, there was minimal human disturbance out on the mud flats, bar for a few bait diggers.  I was delighted to see a swarm of waders out there, but also close to the centre on the stream.  Best here were two moulting Knot, still pretty dapper looking.

A short walk down the edge of the mudflats, and I was able to do a quick count of 93 Dunlin.  I also managed to find 3 Sanderling with the main flock, as well as another 9 on the mudbank off the Little Tern colony.  Also in attendance were 3 Turnstone, a few Ringed Plover (including the Swedish colour-ringed juvenile), a Little Egret, a Grey Heron (which landed by the Tern colony, but was quickly seen off by the Gulls - bet the Terns were happy with that protection service!), and a count of 44 Mediterranean Gull.  On the walk back I counted the Dunlin again - 105 this time!  By the time I'd got back to the centre, the loafing Med flock had built up too, to 70!
I found the Portland plant tick here of Common Stork's-bill.
On the exhausting trudge up Old Hill, I found another new plant, Wavy Bitter-cress.
I decided to look for Chalk-hill Blues next at High Angle Battery, as some had been seen there recently.  I then realised that King Barrow Quarry was closer, so it might be worth popping in there first.  Literally, the first butterfly I saw was this beauty!

I then watched this individual do something strange on these Bramble buds.  Curved it's abdomen round as if egg-laying!  But, it's a male!

After it left, I took a closer look at the spot, and it had left two tiny orange blobs on the buds. Can you spot them?  Excreta maybe?  Anyone any other ideas what went on here?

 I later found this gem, called Oncecera semirubella.  A micro moth, but one of the larger ones.  It's one I've seen before, but no less spectacular for that.  The shot doesn't do it justice - it really is bright yellow and pink!

Finally, I noticed a lot of Six-spot Burnet action.  Firstly, how many can you fit on a Knapweed head?

And, I can't imagine how it occurred, but this poor individual had lost a whole set of wings.  It should still be able to reproduce.

I hope tomorrow is going to be clearer, as I'm getting seawatching withdrawal symptoms!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Asparagus and the Virgin

Only in the study of natural history could one come up with a title to a blog post like that!  All will become clear.

Well, I say that, but actually things have not become clear at all. I woke up this morning to a scene familiar to those who remember yesterday...

After work, I rushed down to the Bill, because I wanted to join a botanical walk led by Brian Bland.  At least plant-watching isn't affected by the weather!  I was unfortunately rather late for it, so only caught the end.  I did however, still managed to appear, just as Brian was revealing the location of Wild Asparagus.  This is a plant which is extremely rare in Britain, with only a few other sites known.  These plants on the East Cliffs were trans-located here many years ago, to give them a good home, and they seem to be doing well, although sadly they were not in flower today.  Looks rather inconsequential doesn't it!

I was also in time to see the fantastic Portland Sea-lavender, although I had already seen some in bud before.

Also added to my Portland plant list was Strawberry Clover (the fruits do indeed look like tiny strawberries! - I'll try and get a photo later) and Autumn Hawkbit.
Next it was to the moth traps.  The highlight from the morning opening was the migrant Vestal.  What's in the name? Well this from good old Wikipedia: 'In ancient roman religion , the Vestals or Vestal Virgins, were priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth'.

Also amongst the throng were a perfect comparison of Uncertain (left) and Rustic.

And this odd form of (a damaged) Marbled Green, a species I've seen a lot of in the block of flats where I deliver in Fortuneswell.

Not at all unusual, but this fresh Rosy Minor was just absolutely stunning.

 And finally, a Dusky Sallow.  A species which an old friend of mine back in Surrey called the 'toffee moth'.

I then took a short walk back down to the East Cliffs, but the visibility was as hopeless for birdwatching as ever.  Luckily, I found a cutting with steep grassy banks on each side, that was absolutely teeming with Lepidoptera!  Amongst the butterflies were Lulworth Skippers and Small Blues, but there were also some great moths.  These included my first ever Scarlet Tiger, which sadly got away before I got a picture.  But also, there were loads of these Chalk Carpets, which are quite a scarce species!  My first.  They were very jumpy, and this was the best pic I got!


The forecast looks cooler and cloudier for the next few days, which is brill.  Just keep that cloud at a height thank you!