The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Friday, 28 February 2014

Patchwork Challenge update - February


88. Teal - Chesil Cove 1 point


89. Manx Shearwater - Chesil Cove 2


90. Puffin - Chesil Cove 2
91. Grey Wagtail - Verne Common housing estate 1


92. Common Scoter - Chesil Cove 1
93. Lapwing - The Fleet (from Ferrybridge) 1


94. Scaup - The Fleet (from Ferrybridge) 2


95. Iceland Gull - Chesil Cove 2

Points total: 126

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Marila Ice

Things are finally perking up, with even the suggestion of spring producing the goods!


A quick look at Ferrybridge initially produced little, till the now seemingly semi-resident Great Skua came in for a quick drink, before lumbering back up over the beach.

An interesting observation was a tight flock of four Raven flying from the mainland over to the island.  Going the wrong way, but migrants?

Chesil Cove I thought might be worth a look in medium-strength south-westerly wind.  When I got there, I was immediately confronted with a sea covered in packs of cigarettes!  They had apparently been lost off a container ship off Devon the previous day.  The glint of the plastic in the sun could literally be seen to the horizon!

And, the beach was now covered in a never-ending white strandline (you may need to enlarge the second shot).

The coastguard plane made several low flypasts, presumably to assess the situation.  Various people, some of which were the authorities, soon turned up and began to pick up the booty.  It's not going to be a small job though!

The only birds of any note whilst all this was going on was one close Great Northern Diver, plus another Diver which landed further out, probably also this species.


A lovely day with light winds meant a walk round some of the field and bush areas of my patch first of all.

No early summer migrant sadly, but I definitely noticed a larger number of Meadow Pipit, Linnet, and Stonechat than recently.

I found these Lesser Celandine in flower near Verne Common.  I was rather delighted to find these initially, but on inspecting the photos afterwards, I notice that they have marked leaves, and so are probably a cultivated variety.

A probable Firecrest was heard on the Common, and I had an amusing encounter with one of the local Peregrine.  It stalled in the wind above my head and had a good scratch of it's head.  This distraction caused it to fail to notice the Gull that was sneaking up on it, and the poor raptor got a right wallop!

Ferrybridge was the next destination, where I wasn't expecting a great deal.  Indeed the mudflats were empty.

But, on scanning The Fleet, I suddenly came across a distant Duck with a bright white blaze on it's forehead.  I was fairly sure it was a female Scaup (Portland rarity), but I had to get better views from the pub car park, just to make sure it wasn't one of those weird female Tufted Duck (which would also be a Portland tick!).  

Sure enough, it was showing really well from here.

It was associating with some Red-breasted Merganser, and more than once, the flock was frightened by Gulls attempting to steal their catch, and the Scaup (Aythya marila if you were wondering about the blog title!) took flight.

It almost looked as if it was about to fly up The Fleet at one point (which is presumably where it had come from - there has been a Scaup reported from Abbotsbury recently) but thankfully looped round and landed even closer.

Great bird!


Initial looks at Ferrybridge and Portland Harbour produced little, so I popped into Chesil Cove, as once again the wind felt promising.

As ever, passage was nil (except a Red-throated Diver, which ditched into the sea some way out).  But, watching the distant Gull flock down Chesil Beach, I suddenly got the flash of a white-winged Gull through my scope.

My immediate reaction was Glaucous, cause it just looked so large and chunky!  I had to check the bill colouration, but at that distance it was very tricky.  It didn't though appear obviously pale with a dark tip.  That's when I started to wonder.

I had to get closer, so I walked all the way along the beach, in the hope it would still be in the area beyond the diggers. 

It was, and it was now unequivocally an Iceland Gull!  Thank goodness for that!  I deserve that I think after dipping so many this year.  A Portland tick.

It went on to show brilliantly in perfect light.

Loving my birding at the moment! 

Monday, 24 February 2014

Glorious(!) Gulls

Not a massive amount to relate in the last week.


A Great Skua was a bit of a surprise sitting in Portland Harbour, though it appears this wasn't the only out of position Bonxie around that morning. 

The only other notable sighting was of a couple of adult Little Gull again in Chesil Cove.

This dark Gull stood out like a sore thumb among the Herring Gull at Ferrybridge, though I'm assuming it's just a dark argenteus.


There was still a number of Kittiwake knocking about the place, this one at Ferrybridge.

But, the most notable sightings was still a Little Gull in Chesil Cove, as well as a Great Skua, Red-throated Diver, plus the patch tick of a pair of Common Scoter past.

The other notable (for Portland) sighting was a Lapwing, which was on the shore of Chesil Beach a fair way down The Fleet (so not quite at Ferrybridge!).


A walk around the Suckthumb/Reap/Barleycrates triangle produced a cracking Firecrest at the former, which one hopes is a primary migrant, on this spring-like day.

Chesil Cove was still sadly littered with dead Auks, a great number with their heads missing. What's doing that?  Perhaps a Fox?  Not sure it was the Carrion Crow which I watched feeding. 

I am determined to get some decent stuff pass through the Cove, and today saw glimpses of quality with 5 more Common Scoter and a Black-throated Diver.


On what was a very foggy and soggy day, I rather embarrassingly mis-ID'd an Eider in Portland Harbour.  It held it's head up straight for much of time, and looked all the world like a Velvet Scoter neck and head shape!  The visibility and choppy waters didn't help! 

The fourth Glaucous Gull (a 1st-winter) of the year was found scything through Chesil Cove, which had just previously dropped into Radipole Lake.


A beautiful day, that produced nothing of interest bird-wise, except my first Linnet at Ferrybridge since the autumn, undoubtedly a migrant.

I had a walk round Blacknor, and it was worrying to find all the Alexanders looking damaged by salt-spray, clearly caused by the recent storms..

This is unfortunate as this plant is vital on Portland for providing food and cover for passerine migrants.


It was nice to see the adult Glaucous Gull once again, this time lurking in Chesil Cove.  A shame however to see it sporting some sort of line coming out the side of it's bill.

It may look like another white-winger at the back, but in fact it's just a Herring Gull that's let it's wing-tips droop into the water.

Gulls have very much been at the centre of my attentions recently (although I've now missed three Icelands!), so it was nice to (just!) get five species in one shot. Although I couldn't quite get a Great Black-backed Gull in it too!  Great to have some adult Lesser Black-backed Gull back from Spain/North Africa.

Spring is very much in the air now.  I can smell the first Wheatear round the corner!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Patchwork Challenge update - January

I recently realised that I should really be keeping you up to date with the details of how my patch list is coming along each month.  So, although its late, here is the list up to the end of January.


1. Brent Goose - Ferrybridge 2 points
2. Red-breasted Merganser - Portland Harbour (from Portland Castle) 1
3. Black-throated Diver - Portland Harbour (from PC) 2
4. Great Northern Diver - Portland Harbour (from PC) 2
5. Cormorant - Portland Harbour (from PC) 1
6. Shag - Portland Harbour (from PC) 2
7. Little Grebe - Portland Harbour (from Weymouth Watersports) 1
8. Great Crested Grebe - Portland Harbour (from WW) 1
9. Red-necked Grebe - Portland Harbour (from WW) 2
10. Slavonian Grebe - Portland Harbour (from WW) 2
11. Black-necked Grebe - Portland Harbour (from WW) 2
12. Sparrowhawk - Suckthumb Quarry 1
13. Peregrine - Verne Common 2
14. Water Rail - Verne Common 1
15. Oystercatcher - Ferrybridge 1
16. Turnstone - Ferrybridge 1
17. Dunlin - Ferrybridge 1
18. Woodcock - Verne Common 1
19. Great Skua - Chesil Cove 2
20. Black Guillemot - Portland Harbour (from PC) 2
21. Razorbill - Porland Harbour (from PC) 2
22. Guillemot - Portland Harbour (from Verne Common) 1
23. Kittiwake - Chesil Cove 2
24. Black-headed Gull - Chesil Cove 1
25. Mediterranean Gull - Ferrybridge 2
26. Lesser Black-backed Gull - Chesil Cove 1
27. Herring Gull - Verne Common 1
28. Glaucous Gull - Chesil Cove 2
29. Great Black-backed Gull - Portland Harbour (from PC)
30. Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon - Verne Common 1
31. Woodpigeon - Verne Common 1
32. Magpie - The Hump 1
33. Jackdaw - Verne Common 1
34. Carrion Crow - Verne Common 1
35. Goldcrest - Verne Common 1
36. Blue Tit - Verne Common 1
37. Great Tit - Verne Common 1
38. Skylark - Ferrybridge 1
39. Long-tailed Tit - Verne Common 1
40. Wren - Verne Common 1
41. Starling - Ferrybridge 1
42. Blackbird - Verne Common 1
43. Song Thrush - Verne Common 1
44. Robin - Verne Common 1
45. Dunnock - Verne Common 1
46. House Sparrow - Verne Common 1
47. Pied Wagtail - Portland Castle 1
48. Meadow Pipit - Barleycrates Lane 1
49. Rock Pipit - Ferrybridge 1
50. Chaffinch - Verne Common 1
51. Goldfinch - Verne Common 1
52. Linnet - Suckthumb Quarry 1


53. Gannet - Portland Harbour (from Verne Common) 2
54. Little Egret - Ferrybridge 2
55. Buzzard - Barleycrates Lane 1
56. Kestrel - Verne Common 1
57. Bar-tailed Godwit - Ferrybridge 1
58. Common Gull - Ferrybridge 1
59. Chiffchaff - Verne Common 1
60. Greenfinch - Verne Common 1


61. Storm Petrel - Portland Harbour (from WW) 2


62. Balearic Shearwater - Portland Harbour (from WW) 2


63. Ringed Plover - Ferrybridge 1


64. Eider - Portland Harbour (from PC) 2
65. Kingfisher - Portland Harbour (from PC) 1
66. Raven - Barleycrates Lane 1


67. Long-tailed Duck - Portland Harbour (from PC) 2
68. Curlew - The Fleet (from Ferrybridge) 1
69. Rook - Ferrybridge 1
70. Bullfinch - Verne Common 1


71. Shelduck - The Fleet (from Ferrybridge) 1
72. Goldeneye - The Fleet (from Ferrybridge) 1
73. Grey Heron - Portland Harbour (from WW) 1
74. Stock Dove - Suckthumb Quarry 1
75. Collared Dove - Weston Street 1
76. Stonechat - Reap Lane 1
77. Black Redstart - Reap Lane 2


78. Velvet Scoter - Portland Harbour (from Hamm Beach) 2
79. Red-throated Diver - West Bay (from Chesil Beach) 2
80. Fulmar - West Weares 2
81. Grey Plover - Ferrybridge 1


82. Sandwich Tern - Portland Harbour (from PC) 2
83. Firecrest - Pennsylvania Castle Woods 2


84. Little Gull - Chesil Cove 2


85. Mallard - Portland Marina 1


86. Knot - The Fleet (from Ferrybridge) 1
87. Barn Owl - The Verne 1

Total: 114 points

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Ring a Ring o' Ross's

Before the main event, I'll try and condense the last week as much as I can.


The morning after the big storm, I walked the strandline at Chesil Cove at first light, before work.  I was pretty much expecting to find dead birds, but it still doesn't prepare you for sights such as this.

I had counted 12 Guillemot , 11 Razorbill, and a Kittiwake before I met with some guys coming the other way picking up the carcasses, presumably for scientific reasons.  They told me they had at least one Puffin amongst 40 or so other Auks.
They also successfully rescued one or two which were still alive.

Also among the debris was several Starfish.
This Sea Fan (or similar).

And at least four of these fish, which I think are Ballan Wrasse.
The only sighting of any note this morning was of 13 Curlew at Ferrybridge first thing, which is a decent count here in the winter.
After a similarly uneventful look at the usual North Portland sites, I took a long walk to the East Cliffs and back.
On the way, I flushed Song Thrush from Barleycrates Lane, and Blacknor, which are both places the resident birds would not normally be.  Perhaps this was the first sign of spring passage?
Also on my jaunt, I found the fresh carcass of a Kittiwake on the West Cliffs, that looked like it had been taken by a Peregrine.  Another victim of the storm, picked off by the opportunists.

I also came across a little landslip on the coast path near Church Ope Cove...

...and managed to confirm my Fungi ID from a few blog posts ago, of Layered Cup (it may look like a piece of Tuna, but you'll just have to take my word for it!).


It was my day off work, and I needed to be in Yeovil for mid-afternoon.  So, I thought I may as well carry on going north, and give the Ross's Gull in South Wales a go.

I was not expecting it to be there, after a total no show the previous afternoon.  On arrival at Aberavon near Port Talbot, in pretty iffy conditions, I could see some people watching from the end of the concrete breakwater.  It took me (and the others that had just arrived) a while to realise that they were watching the bird, so we hotfooted-it down there.

Just as I was approaching the line of concentrating figures, they suddenly relaxed.  The bird had been showing right in close, but had just flown off out to sea!  Just one minute earlier and I'd have seen it!

My morale wasn't helped by the conditions, with showers, a howling wind, and even a couple of soakings from the pounding waves.

I stayed for another couple of hours, but the bird never reappeared, despite at least 11 Little Gull knocking around, showing ridiculously well.

This shot is taken with my phone camera without any optics, to give you an idea.

Same goes for this shot, as sadly, there were a number of moribund Kittiwake around.

Remember, this was all happening in the industrial heartland of South Wales.

On the way back to Yeovil, I stopped at an undisclosed site, where with no effort at all I found Shelduck, Goosander, and the most Ruddy Duck I have seen for a good few years, two!


Not a lot to relate today, except the weather was the worst that we've experienced so far.  Constant rain all day, and the highest wind speeds yet.  Come nightfall, I was genuinely scared in my modern block of flats, rocking and rolling!

As a result, the only birding I could really manage was from the car.  Nothing unusual was seen, but I was delighted to have a brilliant encounter with two of the local Great Northern Diver down at Portland Castle.


Just another day in Chiswell (notice the boats caught on the bollards)!

The flooding wasn't quite as bad as the 5th, probably because of the slightly lower high tides, but the seabirds were still clearly struggling.

I had to watch from one of the upper roads, but from there first thing I was delighted to finally see some genuinely alive Puffin out on the water, even though it was clear they were in dire straights.  Also at least 2 Great Skua milling around with the Gulls.

Other than all the expected things, I very unexpectedly flushed a Grey Wagtail from by one of the block of flats I was delivering to in Fortuneswell.  It was sensibly keeping out of the wind! Patch tick!

I failed to even attempt to see the Leach's Petrel that was in the harbour. Hopefully I'll get one in autumn.


Up at 2:30am, and out birding.

Yep, that is the earliest I have ever got up for a bird, but it was worth it.  Keith Pritchard (Brilliant blog here ) was keen to go up for the Ross's Gull himself, so what a great opportunity I thought to give it another go.

As I suspected, we arrived way too early, but it was nice to admire the atmospherics, at a totally windless Aberavon.


But in the darkness, it was clear the concrete breakwater I had walked along on Thursday was not accessible at that moment!

As the sun rose, we got to work.  But, in the next couple of hours we only got passing glimpses of two 1st-winter Little Gull. Had the rest chosen the calm conditions to leave?

Well, after changing our position to the higher esplanade to look down into the small bay, I suddenly got wind that the birder to my right was getting animated.  I was immediately on the bird he was looking at close in feeding with the Black-headed Gull.  It was it!  The beautiful 1st-winter Ross's Gull!  I called it.

It wasn't around for long, before disappearing over the harbour wall, and into the docks with the Black heads.

A really cute little bird!

All this, in what couldn't be more different conditions to my last visit. Contrast these with my pics above!

After a little bit of waiting, and only finding a single adult Little Gull, we gave it best, and decided to move on, very content with our encounter!

On the way home, we just nipped into the wonderful Ham Wall reserve in the Somerset Levels in the hope of a Green-winged Teal (lifer for Keith! Doesn't do fowl!).

No sign of that, but what a delight to just be there in such lovely weather, birds singing everywhere.

Other than the expected stuff (Cetti's Warbler, Water Rail, Marsh Harrier etc.), I also found this  odd Aythya hybrid duck.  Possibly a Pochard x Ferruginous (white behind, yellow eye, dark back etc.).


What a long day, but worth every moment!

Not long till those Wheatear are back!  Can't wait!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Storm before the Storm


Although I had seen the forecast, and knew the weather was going to be rather wild, it didn't prepare me for what I was about to witness.

After a uneventful look at the usual spots, I set up in Chesil Cove, with already huge waves bombarding the seawall, long before high tide.

A reporter attempted to do a piece to camera in a very perilous position.
On the bird side, there was not a great deal to see, bar a good passage of Kittiwake and smaller numbers of Fulmar and Gannet.  Eventually though, a few Great Skua did lumber past.
On high tide, waves overtopped the sea wall, sending water flowing into the nearby streets, and sending pebbles flying. 
Should the sea have therefore been fined?

The sea also sent a couple of small boats over the wall, one ending up in the street.  The other was determined to hold on by wrapping it's anchor rope round a bench!

The resulting floodwaters sent debris all along the main road of Chiswell, and eventually collected on the Beach Road, completely blocking it.

The sequence of events in it's entirety here (also a glimpse of one of the 9 Great Skuas that eventually passed):

As bad as these events obviously were, no-one was injured.  I have to say the whole experience was quite surreal, and strangely exciting to be in the middle of!


The wind had died down reasonably well, though a look at the usual sites produced all the now expected mix of Divers and Grebes (though not the White-billed Diver which I think passed over Ferrybridge whilst I was at Chesil Cove).

In the Cove, in must calmer conditions, I enjoyed watching 4 Little Gull feeding, one very close-in.



Again, very little of note despite lots of field time.  Spring can't come soon enough!

A look at Verne Common produced more calling Water Rail, and a possible calling Firecrest.  The main reason for being here though was to check the less-well-watched area of the Harbour adjacent to Portland Port for the White-billed Diver.  I did have one or two Great Northern Diver here, but I also had an unidentified large Diver out towards the distant harbour breakwater.

 Just after I spotted it, it took off and flew towards the middle of the harbour.  It seemed to have a pale bill, though the sun was very strong at the time.  I didn't notice any pale shafts in the primary feathers, but it was distant.  The bird also held it's head up to the sky, just before take-off, and after landing - a pro-White-billed feature.  I went round to Weymouth Watersports and Sandsoot Castle to try and relocate it, but only found Great Northerns.  One that got away?

Nonetheless, we seemed to have been spoilt with rainbows recently!


I was determined to get a birthday tick!  The closest I managed was this trap-for-the-wary leucistic Herring Gull at Victoria Square.  Got the pulse racing for a minute!

Another relentless storm passed through overnight, and the morning was again a time for seawatching, or so I thought.
A count of the Harbour Divers produced at least 15 Great Northern and 6 Black-throated, along with all the other expected stuff.  I also saw my leucistic Herring Gull again, this time in flight.  Strangely it has just the one pure white wing-tip!
I then set up in Chesil Cove, where I was soon joined by Ken Tucker

We bared witness to absolute carnage in the bird world, with exhausted Kittiwakes and Auks littering the inshore waters.  There were also a few Guillemots, some oiled, on the beach.

Not all were still alive though sadly, with the most unfortunate find being Ken's spot of a Puffin, which soon died.

As sad as this all is, it was great to see the bird close-up, and you feel a great deal more connected to a species seeing it in the hand.  I'd never noticed before where the nostrils on a Puffin are for instance (at the bottom-left corner of the upper mandible)!  I'd always assumed they were on the top!

Such a shame to get a valuable patch tick in those circumstances (I was a little relieved, as I'd missed the previous three reports in recent days).

I kept a vigil on the Cove for a further few hours, but got virtually no reward!  I didn't even see a Gannet or a Fulmar!  A single Little Gull was the only record of note.

The happy ending though was that the remaining beached Guillemots were eventually rescued, and taken away to recover. 

Lets hope that the weather calms down a bit!  Portland weather is just mad!