The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Looking for migrants? Have a lie-in!

I realise this post is a bit 'word-heavy', but it's worth reading believe me, as it's been an incredible and breathless week!


Yet another sunny day, which didn't look ideal for migrants.  Indeed, other than small numbers of expected migrants, my first walk round the 'mid-island triangle' produced little of note.  Luckily, two reeling Grasshopper Warbler were nice at Suckthumb Quarry, even though neither could be seen.

There seemed do be a decent overhead passage occurring, with a couple of calling Tree Pipit going over among others, so after lunch I set up for a vismig session.  Counting the incoming hirundines accurately was very tricky, with a total of almost 800 in an hour!  Final numbers were 727 Swallow, 36 House Martin, and 23 Sand Martin.  I was delighted to beat my Swallow total of a few days ago (531).  Among the small numbers of other passerines was a single Yellowhammer, a scarce patch bird, and I witnessed for the first time, Wheatear heading over in the sky, in small, loose groups.

Come the evening, I was having a casual scan with the bins from my bedroom window, as I often do, when I suddenly came across a large flock of medium-sized waders flying high over the sea, towards me.  I was rather hoping they were going to be Whimbrel, so I rushed out to try and intercept them.  Some of the buildings were in the way, so I had to wait for them to appear, but they never did!  My instinct tells me that they were Curlew, which probably ended up taking the short-cut across the island, out of my view.

Anyway, while I was out, I thought I may as well take a quick scan of the panorama to the south.  I immediately came across a set of distinctive bowed wings heading toward me high along the cliffs.  I knew immediately what it was, but I just had to make sure I wasn't seeing things, with the scope.  An Osprey!  It drifted lazily south, with the surprisingly relaxed Gulls, shadowing it as it went.  I always carry my phone camera or camcorder with me when I'm out, but surprise, surprise, I didn't have them on me on this occasion!  I then rushed upstairs to see it from my bedroom window to try and get rather an epic flat tick, but sadly I could not find it again!


My first venture out this morning produced next to nothing at Barleycrates, but at Suckthumb at least had my first Whitethroat of the year, plus I actually saw a Grasshopper Warbler, as I flushed it from grass by the path.  It was when I spotted a Redstart literally fall out of the sky at Avalanche Road, that I suspected something was occurring.  Although there were only a few Willow Warbler and Wheatear at Reap Lane, on arrival back at Barleycrates, it all started to happen, as I found 3 Redstart in quick succession, as well as 2 reeling Grasshopper Warbler.  The ploughed field at the end was carpeted with at least 50 Wheatear.

With all this happening, I thought it worth doing a full census, visiting many other mid-island sites.  It was more of the same, but I'm not complaining about seeing these!

The final full total was 13 Redstart and 5 Grasshopper Warbler.

I was working the afternoon, but with a few minutes spare, I thought I'd react to the report of '3 Pied Flycatcher at several north Portland sites', by visiting Verne Common.  I didn't even know that this was one of those sites, but I was delighted to almost immediately come across a stunning male Pied Flycatcher at the Naval Cemetary!  Spot the Pied Fly!

Also a couple of Redstart even here, including one sharing the Flycatcher's tree. By now they are probably sharing a tree in a lovely Welsh valley somewhere.

Also here, plenty of the diminutive Ivy-leaved Speedwell in flower (here with Lesser Celandine).

My first experience of a proper Portland spring fall, and what an experience it was!


With South-easterlies in the offing, seawatching at Chesil Cove was the order of the day. 

As it turned out, passage was actually pretty poor.  This was more than made up for though by an incredible run of sightings.  First, my earliest ever Pomarine Skua passed by close.  It seemed to be totally lacking a tail, but was undoubtedly a hulk of a Pom.  Then, a bit of frenzied calling on the calm shoreline revealed the presence of two Common Sandpiper

A scan of the far horizon, suddenly produced a large raptor powering in-off the sea.  It was always extremely distant right up to when it made landfall somewhere between Chickerell and Langton Herring.  But, I saw just enough to prove it was a Harrier, and I'm 90% sure it was a Hen Harrier.  On top of those, a Merlin (probably the bird seen in-off at the Bill) whizzed past and up the beach, and my first three Whimbrel of the year went by.  On top of all that, an Iceland Gull made a brief appearance, before drifting south.  Only an 'also-ran' on a day like this!

Later, a quick look at the usual areas produced little till Barleycrates Lane, which had a Redstart and a male Ring Ouzel, which gave me great views, but was sadly flushed by a dog walker before I could sort out the camera!


Both yesterday, and today, I was working in Bridport, which meant virtually no birding.  Good thing I'd had a brilliant few days before!

I did however get out this evening, to Radipole in the hope of a Savi's Warbler, a species I'd dipped twice before.  Well, it wasn't to be third time lucky, as there was no further sign.  A shame, but not all that unpredictable!  I had a nice time though, seeing the likes of Cetti's Warbler, Gadwall, and Common Sandpiper.


A day which started very similarly to the 14th, with virtually nothing around first thing, only for birds to start appearing a bit into the morning.  I had got all round the usual sites seeing little, before returning to Barleycrates, only to find 2 stunning male Whinchat and a Ring Ouzel along one small section of path, which were all then unfortunately flushed by a dog walker.  

A Grasshopper Warbler was reeling again there, and the only Redstart of the day was at Blacknor.  At the latter, I found a Cream-spot Tiger caterpillar wandering on the path.

Later, I thought it may be worth seawatching from Chesil Beach.  It very much wasn't, with the highlights being the wonderful panorama.

And a fairly close Red-throated Diver, though sadly still in winter-plumage.

In the evening, I took a stroll down to Chesil Cove, to be greeted by a distant Black Tern lingering, but nothing else at all!


I only had a quick look at Barleycrates and Reap Lanes this morning before work, and was rewarded with just a calling Ring Ouzel at BC, deep in a bush.

Luckily, I was able to do a more extensive walk during my break, which took me all the way to Penn Castle Woods, which lacked any Wood Warbler, but I did find a single English Bluebell, doing it's best to poke up out of the sea of Tuberous Comfrey!

There was little about compared to recent days, but that didn't stop me enjoying my best views yet of a Whinchat, at Suckthumb Quarry, and I got my earliest ever Garden Warbler in the trees behind the former Weston Craft Centre (now a building site!).

On arrival back at Barleycrates, this Kestrel was enjoying it's lunch.  This species really is used to walkers getting close to them along the West Cliffs.  This was phone-binned.

I had a quick seawatch from Chesil Beach later, but after immediately having 3 Whimbrel go past, I saw absolutely nothing for the rest of the session!  I find that pattern repeats itself so often on seawatches!

I'm not sure things can get much better.  Then I remember, I'm off to Provence in 29 days!  The countdown has begun!

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