The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

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)!

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