The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

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!


  1. Great post. I agree with you about the Puffin's nostrils - I didn't know they were there either!

  2. Where do you think the oil came from?

    1. I think there is always a small amount of residual oil on the surface of the sea, and it all gets concentrated in conditions like this. Not necessarily from a single serious spillage event.