The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Friday, 3 January 2014

Storming the Patch!

Sorry for the lack of photos in this post, but the weather for the last few days hasn't exactly been camera friendly!


Determination is my middle name, (it's actually Robert, but, you know) and that was the only thing forcing me to get out birding to kick off the year, and also the patch list. 

The forecast was horrendous, but it started off with perfectly tolerable light rain, as I started at Verne Common at dawn.  I was hoping this little sheltered area would get me the small birds, and I did indeed get a little luck, with Dunnock, Robin, Wren, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Goldfinch, House Sparrow, Song Thrush, Blue Tit, Great Tit, a heard only Goldcrest, and hoped for Long-tailed Tit (not easy on Portland).

A call I didn't recognise echoed down from the cliff-edge, and there I found a rather fed-up looking Peregrine.  Not their normal territorial call, but a softer, rather Kestrel-like noise.

Onwards to the end, and I came across a number of paths that have opened up since I was last here, through the leaves dropping in autumn, and I suspect, a little human pruning.  On one of these paths I was delighted to flush a Woodcock (I had to rely on my instincts, as the ID wasn't immediately obvious)The perfect time to find my first on Portland!

I was able to find a couple of decent vantage points overlooking the south-east corner of the harbour, and found a number of Auks scattered about the place, though nothing out of the ordinary. 

It was at this point that I decided it was time to get down to Portland Castle, in the hope that I could get the Brunnich's onto the list.  Well, it was just not meant to be, but it was great to see Black Guillemot, Black-throated Diver, and Great Northern Diver amongst the expected stuff.

Next, it was on to Weymouth Watersports, where I found a lovely sheltered corner behind one of the porta-cabins.  Even in these horrendous conditions, I was able to eventually pick out all five species of Grebe; the first time I've ever managed that on the same day!  What a place!

I managed to coincide a visit to Ferrybridge with low tide, though the site was at it's very quietest!  Not even a Ringed Plover!  I took the opportunity to sit in the car de-misting my optics, as I had to do between all these visits!

On my way back home for lunch, I stopped off at Chesil Cove briefly, only to witness a spectacular procession of Gulls passing close-in, in lovely soft light.  Any Lariphile would have had a whale of a time.  With my limited skills however, the only quality species I was able to pick out was a 2nd-winter Glaucous Gull, which flew west, and on over the beach towards Victoria Square (where it was later found by others).   There was a constant stream of Kittiwake, including some right over the beach, and I spotted two Great Skua past. 

In all this excitement, I rather forgot about lunch, and instead decided to pop quickly back to Verne Common, to check out the Harbour again, just in case the Brunnich's had moved there.  No such luck on that score, though I did glimpse a dark-headed Auk just outside the Harbour entrance.  Both Guillemot and Razorbill were about, seemingly relishing the calm water.

A real bonus was hearing a pair of Water Rail squealing as I stood. 

The day was drawing to an end, but I really wanted to try The Bill, particularly for the wintering Purple Sandpiper and Black Redstart.  Well, the weather was now at it's very worst, and the only birding I managed was a watch from the obelisk.  This was fairly productive though, with one after another Great Skua passing, some really close, adding up to 9.  Awesome birds!  Only Fulmar was added to the list.

On arrival back at home, I rushed round Barleycrates and Suckthumb to try and jam in a few routine species.  The all-day rain had had quite an affect on the usually bone-dry Barleycrates.

I was delighted to add Sparrowhawk, Meadow Pipit, Magpie, and Linnet as it got to dusk.
I finished on 55 species (plus one, Collared Dove, just outside of patch), which I feel is a pretty good effort considering the conditions! 
I got home, soaking, starving, but very happy with my days work!

In much improved conditions, I wanted to make doubly sure the Brunnich's wasn't in the south-east corner of the harbour, so once again headed for Verne Common.

I'm not sure what they were up to, but there was a flock of at least 25 Auk flying around in the Harbour, as well as 15 or so dotted about, the most I've ever seen in there.  I was able to identify most of the closer birds around the Portland Port and the entrance, including my dark-headed bird in exactly the same spot as yesterday - a slightly oiled Common Guillemot in full summer-plumage.  To add to the rather 'Bill' feel of the harbour today, there were also at least 4 Gannet wheeling about, and apparently also hunting.  Also a Great Northern Diver very close to one of the Port walkways.  Shame the whole place is private!

Also, in a completely different spot to yesterday, two Water Rail squealed.  I wonder how many of these winter on Portland!?  More than any estimates I bet.

Also from the same spot, I was able to add Chiffchaff and Greenfinch to the patch list.

I was planning to head to The Bill, but then I heard of a Woodlark apparently seen at Ferrybridge.

On arrival, there was a fair number of people looking, but no-one had seen the bird, only Skylark.  I watched the small flock amongst the saltmarsh plants for quite a while, but could only see Skylark, some with particularly bold-looking ear-coverts and supercilium, as the sun shone on them.

The mudflats were looking a bit busier than yesterday, and I was able to find the ticks of Common Gull, Bar-tailed Godwit, and Little Egret.

On arrival back at base, a Buzzard being mobbed by crows, was also an addition.


Very frustratingly, for the foreseeable future, I shall be working in Weymouth.  This is a real pain, cause I didn't get out into the field till gone 2 today, so only with a couple of hours of light left.  I suppose I'd rather it happen now than during spring!

Nonetheless, when I finally got down to Ferrybridge this afternoon, it was blowing a hoolie, and I know only too well that weather like that can so often produce the goods.

I was once again in my lovely sheltered spot at Weymouth Watersports, scanning the water of the harbour for seaduck, when I happened across a small Petrel struggling into the wind, a fair distance away towards Hamm Beach.  I thought I'd better get the news out quickly, as it wasn't likely to hang around.  So, I assumed at this time of year it has to be a Leach's Petrel, and tweeted the message.

I began to watch it more closely, and it started to move towards my position.  I was sure I saw a flash of white on the underwing, and that's when doubt started to take hold.  I'd never seen a Storm Petrel as well as this before, but it was soon enough clear to me that that's what it was.  I'm still very happy with the find though.  Unfortunately, it then drifted away into the harbour, and I do not rate it's chances of survival, especially with the number of hungry Gulls about (one did make a couple of glances at the bird at one point, but decided against it)!  Far too distant to get any sort of image, so you'll just have to take my word for it!

So, up to 62 species for the patch.  I'll be grateful for any additions in the coming weeks (still need Raven, Stock Dove, Collared Dove, Ringed Plover, Bullfinch, RT Diver, C. Scoter, Little Owl etc.), hopefully starting with the Bill Purple Sands and Black Redstart, once the weather improves!

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