The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Monday, 31 March 2014

Patchwork Challenge update - March


96. Kumlien's Gull - Chesil Cove 3 points + 3 points self-find bonus


97. Pintail - Chesil Cove 1
98. Redshank - The Fleet (from Ferrybridge) 1


99. Redwing - Suckthumb Quarry 1
100. Fieldfare - Suckthumb Quarry 1


101. Wheatear - Reap Lane 1


102. Little Ringed Plover - West Cliffs 1


103. Siskin - Portland Castle 1


104. Red Kite - Southwell (from West Cliffs) 2


105. Swallow - Barleycrates Lane 1


106. Blackcap - Verne Common 1
107. Hoopoe - Wakeham 3


108. Common Tern - Chesil Cove 1


109. Sand Martin - West Cliffs 1


110. Canada Goose - Chesil Cove 1


111. Redstart - Southwell 1


112. Arctic Skua - Chesil Cove 1

Points total: 151

And finally, a FINAL map of my patch.  None of the birds I have counted so far have been affected by these latest boundary changes.  With this map, I used the extra patch left over when I removed the East Weares to 'beef up' the patch, to reduce, as much as possible, any long, thin bits.  I will not be tweaking with it any more, I promise! (an advert at the top of the page covered over Ferrybridge, but it remains unchanged)


Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Epop-olypse....Boom!

Although I've got 11 odd days to update, it shouldn't take too long, as in truth it's been rather quiet.
Various excursions around the place revealed little evidence of migration, except the one day when whilst working at The Verne, I came across a nice concentration of 10 Wheatear.  Also a Black Redstart not far away in the housing estate.  Very little elsewhere, so did they somehow filter into the same spot?
Some of the other highlights during this period, was my first two Swallow over Barleycrates lane, the continued presence of the Iceland Gull, and the odd sighting of Redwing, Firecrest, and Rook.
I also had a seawatch from Chesil Cove one morning, that saw 8 Red-throated Diver go past, as well as a pair of female saw-bill duck.  I was pretty sure at the time I saw blank white panels in the wings (making them Goosander), but I stupidly failed to check the neck markings.  One that got away.
After a relatively uneventful morning, hearing my first Blackcap in song at Verne Common, and seeing Iceland Gull and Shelduck at Ferrybridge, I set off on my second circuit of the 'mid-island triangle'.
I was half-way round before I noticed that a goody had been found down the road at Wakeham, so I rushed back to the car.  On arrival the bird had done a vanishing act, but after a bit of searching, it was refound by John Lucas, in a garden.  They weren't great views, but it was my first Portland Hoopoe (upupa epops)!
The bird soon disappeared once more, never to be seen again!  Lucky.
I wasn't sure at the time whether the bird was in my patch or not, in fact I suspected it was right on the edge.  I needn't have worried, as a quick refresh of my patch map, proved that the bird was well inside.
Just a quick mention of the Dorset Butterfly Conservation AGM which I attended.  It was very interesting, but it was a particular pleasure to meet the legendary Dr Phil Sterling.  Any moth enthusiasts out there will (should) know his name!
Little to relate today, but a nice stroll round Verne Common produced a load of prehistoric looking Field Horsetail coming up (for those that don't know, Horsetails are ancient plants, distantly related to Ferns).
The other interesting observation of the day was listening to the incredible repertoire of a Carrion Crow at Barleycrates Lane.  The weak bubbling calls (which you may just be able to make out above the wind noise) I've heard before, but the Magpie-like chuckle it makes is completely new to me. I don't know if it is just a coincidence, but shortly before, I had witnessed a Crow mobbing a Magpie not far away (which incidentally, was also set upon by a pair of Peregrine, and had to ditch into a bush to escape).
Listen for the birds best Ptarmigan impression too!


It all happens on Portland!


The wind was a south-easterly, and that means only one thing; seawatching.

I wasn't expecting a great deal this early in the year, but the result of three hours watching in Chesil Cove was by far the best of the year so far. 

The highlight was an early pair of 'Commic' Tern which spent a great deal of time sitting on a very distant buoy. Making out any detail was tricky, but their wings looked very white, which made me think of Arctic.  However, an Arctic on this date would be very unusual, so I had to conclude they were likely to be Common Tern which hadn't quite developed the black markings on the wing-tip of summer-plumage.

The other top sightings were a brief Puffin, a single Sandwich Tern, 12 Common Scoter, 3 Shelduck, and the Iceland Gull once again.


This morning, it was a suitable day to get up at half 4, to go and hear the dawn chorus.  Myself and Megan Shersby headed down to Lodmoor, in order to connect with one part of the chorus in particular.  In recent weeks, the reserves first ever booming Bittern had taken residence, so we had to give him a listen. 

Just as predicted, we heard him even before we had finished getting out the car!  It was a great performance in the end, sounding really close too.  Such a shame however, that the sound is so low in pitch, that my camera failed to pick it up (I really need some proper sound equipment)!  Oh well, you can enjoy the dawn chorus instead!  How many species can you hear?

Just before lunch, I set up on the West Cliffs in order to count the overhead passage, which was seemingly strong this morning.

After an hour, I finished on an impressive 224 Meadow Pipit, along with smaller numbers of the likes of Linnet and Skylark.  The highlights however were a/the Red Kite again, and my first four Sand Martin of the year, inter-mingled with a Pipit flock.

Also whilst here, I found this awesome little Spider, Micaria pulicaria, which, although may not look like it here, closely resembled an Ant when it moved.

26th + 27th

Much the same as in previous days, with a further 'vizmig' session producing almost exact same numbers as the previous one. 

Although today was quite a busy day at the Bill, my usual stroll round Reap/Barleycrates/Suckthumb produced only 5 Wheatear and 10 Chiffchaff.  It's as if Southwell is an impenetrable migrant barrier!

Nonetheless, I'll leave you with one of my favourite residents, the overlooked Stock Dove.

With winds in the east, it looks as if the next week or so could be good, which is rather typical, as I'll only have the one or two mornings off!  Back on afternoons from the 7th though.

Monday, 17 March 2014


Once again, I wouldn't hold it against you if you were to skip to the end for the main event.  However, somehow I think you'll feel you've earned it if you plough through the rest first!


The day dawned to a promisingly misty start.  The conditions meant the sun's features were safe to study, such as it's dark 'sun spots' just left of centre, sadly not quite visible in this shot.

I did my usual early morning circuit round Barleycrates Lane, Suckthumb Quarry, and Reap Lane.  At the latter I was delighted to find the striking-plumage and furtive behaviour of my first Wheatear of the year. It's official. Spring is here!

A few Chiffchaff and Redwing were scattered about, and I caught a glimpse of a Black Redstart being chased by something at Reap barns.  As the Saunders' later found two birds there, I guess it was another Black Red.

After a completely highlight-less look at Chesil Cove (apart from the fixture that is the Iceland Gull) , I took a stroll up through Fortuneswell onto Verne Common.  The only things of note were the Black Guillemot still at Portland Castle, yet another out-of-place Rook, over the town, and the Portland plant tick of Danish Scurvy-grass.

Later, whilst working at Southwell Business Park, a Rock Pipit dropped in by my van, whose strong supercillium, pinkish breast, and greyish head, suggest it was a Scandinavian (littoralis) bird.  A shame my phone-binning skills totally failed!



Another beautiful day, which certainly brought the butterflies out.

What was less welcome, was the sight of workers ripping up some bushes by Barleycrates Lane, in preparation for the mine that is about to be built there.  Is there really a need for this, well away from the portal site?

Despite this, my second Wheatear of the year was on the grassland nearby.  Expect better photographic attempts later!


Throughout the morning so far, there had been an almost constant presence of Meadow Pipit overhead as they migrated north in the clear skies.  The wind was also in the east, so I thought it worth putting in a little time at the West Cliffs just south of Blacknor, monitoring vismig (visible migration).

I put in a total of two hours in the end (9:15 - 10:15 + 11:00 - 12:00), and it was surprisingly enjoyable despite the lack of variety.  The totals were 311 Meadow Pipit and 25 Pied Wagtail

But, the undoubted highlight came at 10 on the dot, when I heard a Plover calling overhead.  I wasn't sure of the species, and I was not confident of finding it, given my record with overflying calling waders last autumn (c10 heard, 1 seen!).  Luckily, just I thought it had slipped away, I found the unmistakable zigzagging shape of a Little Ringed Plover, not as high as I expected, off towards Blacknor.  I hadn't bargained on that!  Like Wheatear, that is my earliest ever LRP by two days.


A day which was greatly hampered by fog.  Despite it's lower level, Ferrybridge was just as affected... Barleycrates Lane.

In the murk, I was still able to find Wheatear at both sites, plus a lot of grounded Meadow Pipit (as well as plenty still ploughing on overhead!).  Also at Ferrybridge was the usual Iceland Gull, and a scarce-for-the-site Shelduck.

Later, I managed to continue my run of patch ticks with a single Siskin calling in the fog over Portland Castle.


Other than a quick whizz round the usual places, only finding a light scattering of Redwing, birding was quite limited today.

Whilst working, I heard of the 2nd-year Red Kite which was at the Bill.  Luckily, I was able to use my break to get down there and see it.  It was no problem finding (thanks to Ken Tucker), loafing in a field near Culverwell.  I thought I would try to get it from patch, so with limited time, I headed back to the car park by Barleycrates Lane, and scoped the Bill airspace from there, more in hope than expectation.

Within 10 minutes, I picked it up lumbering along over Southwell.  After annoying the entire Gull and Crow population of the area... took advantage of the warming air to head north along the east coast of the island, still with Crows in hot pursuit.


Just a few days ago, the rarity that was wowing in Wales was not really on my radar. I just didn't fancy the long journey.  Even when I took the decision to go, it was rather a reluctant one, particularly as I was going to be on my own.

Despite this, once I'd set off early yesterday morning, I was as pumped up as ever of the prospect of the twitch!

After a fairly relaxed journey with plenty of breaks, four and a half hours after leaving Portland I arrived at the pretty little village of Penally, just south of Tenby, Pembrokeshire.  In this view is the Golf course in front, with Giltar point behind, and Caldey Island in the distance.

It was a warm, overcast morning, and all the signs were that the exotic Ibernian visitor was still present on the Golf course.

On arrival, the adult Great Spotted Cuckoo was immediately in view.  What a bird!

 It was in view the whole time I was there, either successfully hunting for hairy caterpillars, or being harassed by the local Meadow Pipit.

It was the perfect twitch, with only a small crowd of people present, and a free car park with toilets close at hand.  Very little traffic too.  Oh yeah, and the bird wasn't bad either!

The prospect for Portland birding in the next few weeks isn't great, as I'm back on earlies. I look forward to hearing about the mega-falls!

P.S. If you were wondering about the post title, gog is Welsh for Cuckoo (as is cwcw)!

Tuesday, 11 March 2014


Quite a bit to catch up on, and I've let the photos build up a bit too much!  Nice to be able to report on some non-bird stuff for a change though. Spring is here!


I was up at the break of dawn, and what a dawn.

The best find from this mornings usual excursions was a 1st-winter Rook near the start of Reap Lane.  Very unusual away from Ferrybridge, this bird with it's developing pale base to the bill, was a surprise sound as it called from a lamppost.  Not a sound I expect here!  It was indeed very vocal, and presumably it was pining after some company.


All the usual stuff, including the two Iceland Gull again in Chesil Cove.  What was more surprising was a pair of Pintail, which passed at middle distance.  A Portland tick!

At Ferrybridge, I made a point of photographing a more expected Rook, as the bird went backwards and forwards cashing pieces of a large chunk of bread.

Whilst on my second look at the Cove, I heard the Gulls getting animated.  Usually it's the Buzzards or Peregrines that set them off.  I looked up towards the Verne to see a large, slow-flapping Accipiter raptor, with flared out undertail coverts.  I rushed to get my camera, but once I'd set up, the bird had vanished!  I'm not going to tick it, but I can't see how it couldn't have been a male Goshawk!

Later, on a break from work, I popped into Ferrybridge.  I was greeted by two flocks of waders (adding up to 17) flying back and forwards over the sea/beach/Fleet.  I only had my bins, so hence I had my second frustrating moment of the day!  They seemed to have a lot of white on them, but clearly weren't Black-tailed Godwit.  So I concluded, probably wrongly, that they were Redshank.  They did seem to appear from the sea first, which is why I thought against one of the Fleet resident species e.g. Bar-tailed Godwit.  It's too early for them to be moving.


My usual looks at Reap/Barleycrates/Suckthumb produced little to shout about, but what a beautiful day!  I looked at the jungle that is Barleycrates Lane from a different perspective!

Whilst here, I took my first proper look at the galls which cover the leaves of the Alexanders.  They are caused by the fungus Puccinia smyrnii.

Back at Chesil Cove, in addition to the usual 1st-winter Iceland Gull, the 2nd-winter Kumlien's Gull appeared from nowhere, before flying away along the beach.  A couple of swipes from the nearby Herring Gull revealed it's dark tail.  I wish it would settle down and give itself up to all!

Also in the Cove, the usual stuff, plus 26 Brent Goose, and a load more which looked like they were coming, before peeling off at the last minute and landing at Ferrybridge!


Chesil Cove first thing had promise, as a south-easterly was blowing.  Sadly, I couldn't take advantage of it as I was working the morning.  I only had time to see another 28 Brent Goose south, although they strongly thought about going 'up and over' the island.

Whilst working, I very fortuitously stumbled on a Bloxworth Snout moth settled by a window.  An increasing scarcity.

After work, I had my usual stroll round the place, and found my first migrant Chiffchaff at Barleycrates Lane, and identified for the first time, Common Whitlow-grass (not a grass at all, but a member of the cress family) along Reap Lane.

After that, I left for Surrey, as I was spending the weekend back at my old haunt. On arrival at my old garden, I was greeted by a singing Blackcap!  My first of the year!


The reason I was back in Surrey, was because I was leading a walk for my old local RSPB group on the South Downs at The Burgh.  Before that though, I just had to pop into the former local patch of Tice's Meadow.  It was the start of another gorgeous day.

The water level there was the highest it has ever been.  The whole place is one big lake!  Little of note on the bird side though, except a long-staying female Shelduck, and my first chicks of the year.

After a great meet-up with my old Tice's pals, it was onto the walk.  It went pretty well in perfect weather.  The site wasn't quite up to it's usual self though, with quite a few hoped-for species missing.  We still saw the likes of Grey Partridge, Raven, Red Kite, and Yellowhammer everywhere though.  Loads o butterflies on the wing including Peacock and Brimstone.


I couldn't resist another quick look at Tice's first thing.  Again, nothing particularly notable for the site, but it was just brilliant seeing the likes of  Shoveler and Bullfinch, species I just don't get to experience anymore being at Portland.

And, although I do see them at Portland, the Common Gull were looking smart.

I then also popped briefly into Frensham Great Pond, for no real purpose.  I miss this place as well!

A Firecrest, and best of all, a singing Woodlark (my favourite songster) were very welcome here.

I made my way home to Portland.

On arrival, I felt I had to have a quick nip around the place, seeing as the Wheatear had finally turned up!  No luck with those sadly, but I did happen to bump into a pair of Peregrine eating a Woodpigeon at Barleycrates Lane.  Plenty of calling and interaction going on, but sadly the female had had her fill, and had left the male to it by the time I got into a position to photograph the action.


A number of birding sessions finally yielded the winter thrushes, as at least 11 Redwing were scattered about the place (2 at Barleycrates, and 9 over Suckthumb), along with an obvious increase in Blackbird and Song Thrush.  2 Fieldfare were also at Suckthumb, as was two Firecrest still, and a Woodcock which I flushed from the side of the raised area.

A brand new fungus discovery was this nice troop of the wonderfully named Egghead Mottlegill, by The Hump.

A quick look at Ferrybridge revealed the Iceland Gull still, seemingly settled on the pools by the car park.  And last, but certainly not least, a stint at Chesil Cove revealed a distant pod of 3-4 Bottle-nosed Dolphin, whose presence was revealed by their attendant Gulls. 

Still no Wheatear for me though!

If you've made it this far, congratulations!

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Who Wants to be a Kumlien-airre

Oh dear, I've just realised how awful that title is.  I can only apologise.

I've rather lost track of the events of the last five days, suffice to say, they were really enjoyable.

One 1st-winter Iceland Gull has made itself a fixture of Chesil Cove, with a second briefly joining it on the 2nd March.

In fact I've spent quite a bit of time seawatching at that site, with little reward in terms of passage. Just a bit of obvious small Gull movement, including a number of Black-headed Gull flocks circling into the sky to take a short-cut across Portland Harbour.   Also the odd Common Scoter and Diver.

It's great to see the community getting together to clean up the legacy of the storms.

A few visits to Ferrybridge have yielded great action from the now smart-looking Mediterranean Gull.

On the 1st, I met up with an enthusiastic young naturalist called Megan who is currently doing a community engagement and wildlife course with the Dorset Wildlife Trust. See her excellent blog here  She is eager to learn as much as possible about the wildlife of Portland, and I was delighted to be able to show her the local Barn Owl pair that evening.  They put on an excellent show for us, as they called to each other, and prospected nest sites.


On what was a beautifully still day, I took the opportunity to go on one of my long rambles, first round Barelycrates/Reap/Suckthumb, then to Chesil Cove and back.  I can really sense that a summer migrant is just round the corner, though not today sadly!

I again bumped into a/the Firecrest at Suckthumb Quarry, but there was little else of note around.

As soon as I set up at Chesil, an Iceland Gull honed into view.  I saw nothing particularly unusual about it, till it was almost out of view as it carried on south towards the Bill.  Was that darker primaries I saw?  I wasn't sure. 

Almost immediately afterwards, the now regular (and perfectly regular) Iceland Gull appeared, showing on and off for the rest of the morning.  But, is this the same as the bird above?  I don't think so.

Sea passage consisted of a Manx Shearwater, a Red-throated Diver, and three Common Scoter.  Only a tiny improvement on recent sessions!

My first butterfly of the year, a Small Tortoiseshell, was seen.

As I walked back along the West Weares, I made a point of checking the seas, just in case.  This paid off, as a very quick scan of the water south of Blacknor Point produced an Iceland Gull-type.  I took out my scope once again and had a quick look, not expecting much.  Initially, it appeared pretty normal, but then it turned round, revealing it's primary projection, clearly with dark-tips.  It was unfortunately always distant.

But, with the support of Martin, I was delighted to call it a 2nd-winter Kumlien's Gull.  My first!

I was able to get a little closer to get this footage, but the sun was causing a bit of saturation.  The flaps it does was the only time I saw it open it's wings (pause it, and you may just be able to see the key features!).

I'm pretty happy with that find I have to say!

Later on whilst on my break at work, I was able to pop into Ferrybridge, and just catch a Buzzard flying from the island onto the mainland, over Portland Harbour.  Proper migration!

I predict the first Wheatear tomorrow (though I won't find it, as I'm working all day!).

I do realise my posts have been a little Gull-heavy lately, but what can I say, they're big and easy to photograph!