The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Hardly a Feast from the East

Despite the pessimistic title, it has been a thoroughly enjoyable few days.


An early morning seawatch at Chesil Cove in south-easterlies had plenty of promise, but the best birds seen were Canada Goose and Black-headed Gull!  However, the former happens to be a Portland scarcity, and a Portland tick for me, and the latter was migrating in impressive numbers.

Three Canada Goose appeared to come straight in, before heading north over Weymouth (where had they come from?!), and there were small numbers of the likes of Common Scoter, Sandwich Tern, and a single Curlew on the move.

The highlight though was a total of 240 Black-headed Gull past in an hour and a half.  A shame that I had to go to work, as who knows what the total could have been.  Its strange to think that I would hardly look twice at 130 BHGs in a field, yet seeing this flock migrating low over the sea...

...before towering up into the sky to take the short-cut across Portland Harbour, was quite spectacular!

A quick whizz round the mid-island triangle (Reap/Barleycrates/Suckthumb) saw little unusual, bar a single Grey Wagtail over.


I started the day with my usual routine, also taking in the garden of Pete and Debby Saunders, who had asked me to keep their feeders topped up while they were away.

Other than a male Blackcap, the garden itself was fairly empty.  However, a quick scan of the large hedge opposite produced something being chased by the local Robin and Dunnock.  I was surprised to eventually see that it was a male Redstart, my earliest ever!

I later got this unusual view of Verne Common (unusual, since it was taken from the prison complex, somewhere I'm allowed to go whilst on delivery!)

I thought an afternoon seawatch at Chesil Cove might be worth trying.  As it turned out, it wasn't really, but I did see a few Little Gull lingering about, plus four Bar-tailed Godwit heading up over Portland Harbour.


Being the end of the month, I put a great deal of effort into today, birding virtually from dawn till dusk.  It really is perplexing how these easterlies aren't producing more migrants.  On my extensive wanderings, I saw only a few Wheatear and Chiffchaff, plus these White Wagtail at Barleycrates Lane.

A seawatch however, did raise standards a little, with my first Arctic Skua of the year, harassing the Terns.  Also a small number of the usual stuff, including four Little Gull.
A quick scan of Portland Harbour revealed a Black-throated Diver and a transitional-plumaged Red-necked Grebe still hanging on, as well as two Mallard (don't knock 'em!).


I started the day off in Chesil Cove once more, but after an hour, and seeing one Common Scoter, I had enough!  Luckily though, a pair of Long-tailed Duck (including, I think, my first ever adult male) resting fairly close in, saved the session. 

I wonder if this sea-mist, seen just a bit earlier from the West Cliffs, had caused the ducks to ditch?

I wander round the usual sites finally got me my first Willow Warbler of the year, at Barleycrates Lane.

I thought an hour-long vismig session at the West Cliffs was in order next, and it was pretty good.  Nothing outstanding, but a Siskin was fairly unusual, along with 127 Linnet, small numbers of Sand Martin, and a single Swallow.

I next heard about a Hoopoe, that was seen in Suckthumb Quarry (where I had been earlier!!!), but flown towards Watery Lane.

I undertook a grand-tour of the area, failing on the Upupa mission.  I did however see one or two other things of interest, including this Holly Blue.

And, I took in the spectacle of a floor covered with Tuberous Comfrey in Penn Castle Woods.

But, most interesting of all, I witnessed more strange Carrion Crow behaviour.  A bird had it's wing-tip caught in the barbed wire, and all the birds around it (including a Magpie, and the local Herring Gull) were going mad!  One Crow was seen to attack the unfortunate bird, and I also saw another pecking at it's wing.  Whether it was attacking too, or trying to free the feathers, I'm not sure.

Eventually, it did escape, though that didn't stop the attack!

 In the evening, I attempted another seawatch, at a sunny Chesil Cove.

I was rewarded with a flock of ducks, which landed on the sea miles out.  After a great deal of head scratching, they eventually floated closer on the tide, and revealed themselves to be Teal.  A good record.


At work all day, so only got out into the field mid-afternoon, at Ferrybridge.  The star of the last few weeks was still very much showing off.  They do look smart in worn plumage (Iceland Gull).

I also witnessed a Kestrel catch a large rodent, possibly a young Rat, before tucking in.

Afterwards, I just took one short circuit of Barleycrates.  I had only just set foot on the path, when I heard a familiar 'chack!' from a nearby bush.  The next thing I know, a male Ring Ouzel is up in the air, eventually coming down again at Suckthumb Quarry.  I've been looking for one of these for several days, and of course, it's when you're not expecting it, when it happens!

Also at Barleycrates, this Horse wasn't the least bit worried about a Carrion Crow nicking it's hair!

I also came across a freshly-dead Woodpigeon, probably a victim of window-strike.

The neck detail.

And, I believe this little lump on the rump is the gland from which the bird exudes water-proof oil for anointing it's feathers.

Finally, this Magpie has a nest not very far away, and it wasn't very impressed by the interruption of a female Sparrowhawk!  The Magpie was making a strange croaking, and Starling-like whistles at the predator.

An action-packed few days!

I'm working solidly for the next three mornings, so I hope the real fall of migrants hold off for a bit!

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