The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Friday, 11 April 2014

Reely Good!

Most of the last 9 days have been totally forgettable, either because I saw nothing of note bird-wise, or because I was working.  Luckily, these were interspersed with two days when everything seemed to happen at once.  Spring is just starting to get going now!

3rd - 6th

On the 4th, conditions seemed ideal for a fall of migrants, with a clear night, followed by a rainy dawn.  However, the wind was from the south, so presumably the rain came from where the migrants were, hence nothing moved.  A wander round my usual sites produced a pitiful showing of Chiffchaff and Wheatear only.

On the 5th, I had an extensive walk around several sites, but the only highlights were the plants.  At Verne Common, Dog's-mercury, normally a woodland plant, was in flower in numbers.

And, I found several 'False Oxlips' (middle).  These are a hybrid between Cowslip (left) and Primrose (right). Click to enlarge.

Later, in Suckthumb Quarry I came across a nice stand of Common Water-crowfoot in a puddle.


A day of constant drizzle, that produced the goods.

I started the day with a seawatch from Chesil Cove, as I thought the south-westerly might produce something.  As it turned out, the variety was good, but not the numbers.  Luckily, a pair of Tufted Duck passed at middle-distance, which was a Portland tick!  Otherwise, an hour and a half produced 1 Common Tern, 6 Sandwich Tern, 2 Great Skua, 1 Manx Shearwater, 1 Red-throated Diver, and 7 Common Scoter.

Later, during my break from work, I popped into Ferrybridge.  On arrival, there was nothing at all on the mud, except a few Gulls.  Then suddenly, it all kicked off, as a flock of 20 'Commic' Tern came in to take a quick bathe, and with them was 4 Little Gull, and a single Little Tern, which went on to do a bit of fishing in the shallows.  My earliest ever.  See my gripping phone-binned shot!

The bigger Terns were not around for long, and as they flew off over Portland Harbour I could clearly see the smaller, longer-tailed shape of at least two Arctic Tern amongst the Commons.  Also a new early date!  The Little Gull stayed for a bit longer, before they too headed off east.

8th - 10th
The only event of any note during these days was a quick explore down the West Cliffs on the 8th, in preparation for my Breeding Bird Survey.  It gives a whole new panorama of the island.

The only bird of note down there was a single summer-plumaged Red-throated Diver offshore.


A full day out and about, and things were really happening!

My first early-morning circuit of the 'mid-island triangle' had produced nothing of note, bar a Large Yellow Underwing caterpillar, till I got to Reap Lane.

Then, there was a sudden surge of movement along the West Cliffs, mostly from a loose flock of Wheatear.   They eventually settled in the ploughed field at the end of Barleycrates Lane, where at least 30 were counted.

With all this action, plus a light northerly wind, I thought a visible migration session was the way to go, so I settled down at the West Cliffs for a couple of hours.  Numbers weren't spectacular, but the highlights were a single Tree Pipit over with a flock of Meadow Pipit, and my first House Martin of the year.  The totals for 8:45 - 10:45 were 41 Meadow Pipit, 37 Linnet, 28 Swallow, 7 Goldfinch, 7 Pied Wagtail, 3 House Martin, 1 Skylark, 1 Tree Pipit, and 1 Sand Martin.

I then thought I may as well do another big walk, just in case the warbler/chat migration had happened post-dawn.  Certainly, there were noticeably more Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, and Blackcap around than first thing.

Then, on walking past the Windmill Stables (on a path I only discovered recently!) I thought I heard a Grasshopper Warbler singing, but it was rather odd and quiet.  Very similar in fact to something I'd heard a couple of days ago by the derelict house at Barleycrates.  But, then it got louder and louder, till it was engaging in full-on reeling!  Even though it was in the bush right next to me, I never saw it!

During lunch, it was clear there was a good arrival of Swallow happening, as they whizzed past my window in numbers, so more 'vismig' was in order!  An hour of extremely difficult counting later (they were everywhere!) I finished on 531 Swallow, along with a small number of Sand and House Martin.

I finished the day with a short walk round Blacknor, and some courting Small Tortoiseshell.

 Top day!

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