The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Winter of Content

Plenty to catch up on.  Sorry for the length, misjudged yet again!


All the signs were that today could produce a mammoth movement of Woodpigeon, so on what was a gloriously sunny day, I headed out early and positioned myself on the West Weares.

I was surprised to have walked a fair distance without seeing a single bird, so I scoped the mainland.  Sure enough, a small number of birds were moving.  In the time I was watching, a couple of flocks numbering 70 or so, plus a few stragglers, flew low into Weymouth Bay, before gaining height and heading off north-west.  I still to this day haven't seen any migrating Woodpigeon flocks over the island!

Still, the conditions were producing a trickle of movement, which included a flock of 7 Redpoll which came over then headed out to sea south-west, plus another single later.  Also 2 Redwing and a Grey Wagtail heading through.

On the way back I found Chat heaven in a horse field near Blacknor, where a fence-line held a Robin, a pair of Stonechat, and a Black Redstart, which yet again evaded my camera.

An extended route then took me towards Reap Lane barns, in what was still perfect weather.

Here I heard, and then saw a male Reed Bunting sitting on a bush.  Not all that usual round here.
What was more usual though, were the Raven, but one chose to show itself really well.
I didn't have anything particularly dynamic planned for the afternoon, so when a Yellow-browed Warbler was reported at walking distance, it seemed the logical step to take.
Once I was at the trees behind the former Craft Centre on Weston Street, a couple of guys there told me it had just been showing.  A little walk around the area produced nothing bar a single Chiffchaff.  There really weren't many trees still with leaves on to choose from!
I remembered that just west of this little wood is a small quarry, that I believe is called Sheat Quarry.  It's not at all easy to view, but I thought it worth checking out, so I forced my way there through the overgrown vegetation from Suckthumb.  Almost instantly, I heard the Yellow-browed Warbler calling, but where was it?  A change in my position, and bingo!  In the completely still conditions, it was a sinch to pick up as it moved through a Sycamore.  As I was leaving, it went into a calling frenzy, but it had now moved deep into vegetation on the other side of the quarry, and out of view.
I walked round to the road where views of the quarry were pretty poor.  Despite this, I managed to see a late female Blackcap, as well as hear a surprise 'cecking' Water Rail.   On my way home along Barleycrates Lane, I swear I heard the warbler calling again.  If I could hear it from there, it must have been in the Blackthorn thicket at the corner of the roads, and therefore presumably had made it's way through the gardens.
Anyway, while walking back along here at dusk, I disturbed a Sparrowhawk carrying prey, then I immediately looked across to see a Kestrel sitting on a post tearing up something.  Everyone was having their dinner, so it was about time for mine!
The day dawned to a very foggy start.  Despite this, whilst I was delivering in Fortuneswell, it was clear birds were moving.  I heard Redwing going over, and I even had a Grey Heron and a Lapwing head over south, in the fog!
Even though things were happening, I wasn't expecting the news of an incredible migration spectacle going on at the Bill and Ferrybridge.  So, after work I rushed down to the Ferrybridge car park. 
The island had it's usual lawyers wig of cloud.
Presumably, birds that were heading west close inshore, failed to see the island with this veil of cloud, and so carried on through the Harbour and over the road.
Even though I'd missed the main course, I still succeeded in seeing a couple of large flocks of Little Gull going over, with the help of Debby and Pete of course.  It was surprising how many of them were 1st-winters. 
Also a few flocks of waders doing the same that included Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, and Dunlin.
I thought it'd it be a good idea to scan through Portland Harbour, just in case any of these migrants had decided to ditch.  This watch was indeed a success with a/the Arctic Tern still fishing, a Great Northern Diver and a single Red-throated Diver showing distantly, as well as several Razorbill.  However, I now wished I'd looked up just a bit more, as apparently a Grey Phalarope flew over my head!  To compound things, myself and the Saunders' later absconded to Chesil Cove, only to hear that the Little Auk we were after had just flown off!  What a rollercoaster birding is.
Nonetheless, a very enjoyable day!
The day dawned to another cracker.
Birds were clearly still moving overhead, as on delivery in Fortuneswell, I had the likes of Redpoll, Siskin, Fieldfare, Grey Wagtail, and best of all, a Brambling, pass over.
I attempted to go for the Richard's Pipit at the Bill this afternoon, but it was getting late, and no bird or birders could be found. 
I had a nice find this morning of a prefect male Black Redstart on the derelict buildings by the Verne Prison whilst I delivered up there.  No bins, but was able to creep up on it using the van as a hide!  The whole of that area is private, so on this occasion being a postman paid off!
An afternoon walk round the Reap Lane and Suckthumb areas produced nothing unusual but a single Fieldfare and 2 Chiffchaff still behind the Craft Centre.  However, it was just nice to be out on such a beautiful day, and the common birds were entertaining me just as much.  See my video of the likes of male Kestrel, Raven, and Stonechat, with a little add-on of my Yellowhammer from today.  Please excuse the shakiness of some of it, I was without my tripod!

For no particular reason, I fancied a long walk today. 
The forecast was initially showing today as completely still, so the Harbour would have been a millpond.  Conditions weren't quite like that, but I certainly thought the Harbour and Ferrybridge were the places to be, so headed out early.
By the time I'd walked to Chesil Cove, I really didn't think walking it had been worth it, as I'd not seen anything remotely notable!  But, here at least I heard another rather out of place squealing Water Rail.
I walked to Portland Castle, then along the path through Osprey Quay and the marina.  A Little Grebe there was believe it or not, a Portland tick (I haven't birded much here in the winter before)!
On one of the verges was a little group of Pleated Inkcap, sometimes called the Little Jap Umbrella!
Finally at Ferrybridge, and the mud was covered in Brent Goose and Mediterranean Gull.  I didn't do a count of Brents, but with the help of the Saunder's, I managed an estimate of 500 Meds.  A Great Northern Diver was on the Fleet just beyond the mudflats, and waders included a few Bar-tailed Godwit.  I tried my best to find the Black Brants that the Saunder's had found, but to no avail.  Just a few Pale-bellied birds were seen.
After Pete and Debby's departure, I found a 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gull amongst the Geese.  Check out the pale head and long wings.
The moment when all the birds were spooked by a fisherman was quite spectacular!
I walked further on and did a good scan of the Harbour from Weymouth Watersports centre.  A 1st-winter Little Gull was a surprise as it fed with Black-headed Gull, and many Red-breasted Merganser showed well.
The hoped for Black-necked Grebe flock were eventually picked out in the distance, and closer in were the long-staying Red-throated Diver and Red-necked Grebe still about.
I toyed with the idea of taking the bus back home, but my legs weren't actually feeling too bad, so started the long slog back.
Nothing that notable was encountered, till I took a quick glance at the bushes in Chesil Cove again, only to see a female Blackcap, and hear now 2 Water Rail squealing.  And still, I'm yet to see Moorhen or Coot on Portland!  The weirdness of birding an island. 
Once up the towering hill, I made my way down Wide Street, and was surprised to hear a Yellowhammer flying over.  The male bird then dropped down and alighted on a bush on the edge of Inmosthay Quarry.  The first since I've moved here!  See my video above for a little bit of footage of the bird.
Well, we are very much now at the end of autumn, and the short days now lie ahead, virtually of birding entirely in the Harbour/Ferrybridge area.  Who knows what will occur though.  My birding frequency will go up come the new year, not only cause I'm in the Patchlist Competition, but also because my working hours will be changing on occasion to afternoons.  Birding every morning here I come!

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