The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Saturday, 17 August 2013


That title relies on you pronouncing Fea's as 'Fay-uz', rather than 'Fee-uz' or 'Feez' (which just so happens to be one of the topics of conversation that kept us seawatchers going this afternoon).  The title also requires you to read the last two letters as L and D rather than ID, which is what it looks like.

Yeah, it's not such a great pun of a title if I have to explain it I guess. Anyway, on with the catch up!


There had been a bit of a fall on the island, as I realised when I went to work via Barleycrates Lane and found several Willow Warbler and Whitethroat.  So, I decided to cover as much ground as I could.  I went first to Verne Common, where the absolute jungle of vegetation was a nightmare to cover as usual.  I bumped into a guy who had seen a Spotted Flycatcher, though it failed to show itself to me.  I did at the very least see a Lesser Whitethroat, which could conceivably be one of the local birds, rather than I migrant.  Whatever, it was virtually the only small bird I saw there!

I took a quick look at Old Hill and then Pennsylvania Castle woods in the vain hope of a Wood Warbler, though found only more Willow Warbler, one of which did it's best to sound like a Greenish!

After a further exploration of the woods, I did a short circuit around the Bill area, and did at least bump into a Whinchat at the Privet Hedge, as well as a few Wheatear.


All I managed today was a short seawatch in the evening, as the wind strength and direction looked promising.  As usual, it was slow, but I did at least see an Arctic Skua, and a few Balearic Shearwater.


Literally, all I could bear to do today in terms of birding was to stick my head out the window of the flat to see what was airbourne!  I've already managed to get Peregrine, Raven, and Black-tailed Godwit on the 'Flat list', and today I even managed to scope a Gannet!  I also saw a few Swift, which shortly will start to become rather notable, plus a pair of talon-grappling Sparrowhawk.


I did an extended looped walk today, taking in Reap Lane, Top Fields, Culverwell, followed by Suckthumb Quarry and Barleycrates Lane on the way back.  Other than a few Wheatear, no notable birds were seen.

At various sites, and at different times, different species of butterfly have been the most numerous.  I have already experienced the Chalkhill Blue, Marbled White, Green-veined White, and Common Blue 'phases'.  Today I found that walking along any rocky path, Wall Brown were the most numerous (I realise some of you would be delighted to see just one in the area you live [I never saw one in Surrey]).  Amongst these, I found probably the most tatty butterfly I have ever seen, and it could still fly fine!

Many weeks ago I found the area of Wild Cabbage growing on the West Weares by the flat.  In my plant book it states that Wild Cabbage leaves are always 'ravaged by the caterpillars of the Large White butterfly'.  Up to now, I'd seen no evidence of this at all.  That was until I found these eggs on one particular plant.

The traps at the Obs were not particualry bursting, though I did finally get my chance to improve on my appalling photo of a Chinese Character a while back.  Surely the best 'bird poo-mimic' in the business!

On the walk back I found this very confiding and conveniently-placed Grasshopper, though I wish I knew the species!

So, today was initially shaping up as a brilliant one for seawatching.  I was contemplating rushing down to Cornwall after work, to at least get a few hours in at the famous Porthgwarra.  As it happens, it wasn't quite the mega seawatch that everyone was predicting and no news came out of the site by lunchtime, though as it turned out, I still would have got three lifers had I gone! 
Nonetheless, I was quite happy putting some time in at the Bill, which really felt very promising in a strengthening south-westerley.  My first couple of hours past with a steady, though unspectacular passage of Manx and Balearic Shearwater.  Things were enlivened a tad by an Arctic Skua,  followed by a juvenile Arctic Tern.  There were also a few very (fool)hardy Swift heading out to sea!  I also had the frustration of a group of four birds pass distantly, that looked all the world like three Black Tern and a Sabine's Gull.  I'm pretty certain the latter was a Kittiwake, and the Tern were probably Commic.  I was rather hoping someone else might have picked up this little group, though sadly not.
After taking cover at the Obs for a couple of hours as some heavy pulses of rain passed over, I headed out yet again, fresh in the knowledge that a Fea's Petrel had just passed Berry Head, which is just down the coast to the west.  Had I realised that the report referred to three hours earlier, I might not have been so intent on scanning to the west!
There were still plenty of Shearwater passing, though rather strangely, all were now heading east, rather than west as earlier.  I managed to get some footage of a Balearic Shearwater passing.  I've just realised that the quality of this Blogger video is appalling!  I'll have to put it on YouTube and post it again sometime.  You can actually tell what the bird is in the original video, honest!

The wind continued at full pace, but numbers were still not as hoped.  We did manage to get 2 more Arctic Skua together, plus a total of 3 Great Skua by the evening.  I also saw three Common Tern pass by during a period of particularly heavy Gannet and Fulmar passage (the three Terns I saw earlier going back?).  Martin managed somehow to pick out a distant Sooty Shearwater, though I only just saw the bird before it disappeared behind the rocks, and couldn't get any detail.  Hopefully, there's more of those to come!  No Fea's appeared, and there was I rather looking forward to gripping Joe off! ;-)
The weather is quietening down in the next few days, which may reduce seabird passage, but may hopefully improve passerine migration.
(and just in case you still haven't got the title, it's supposed to sound like 'failed'!  Like, what the pun has just done!)

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