The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Friday, 26 September 2014

It's Gold! Vitrealis is Ours.

Things are ticking over nicely, with a single Ruff flying through Ferrybridge being the highlight on the 19th.  A Portland tick for me as well as a patch one.  Also 2 Little Stint still there as well as a Yellow-legged Gull.

The moth trap I'm tending at the moment has had a view highlights.  Namely, the scarce and beautiful migrant, Olive-tree Pearl Palpita vitrealis.

Some of the other migrants including a few Dark Spectacle.

Amongst the best of the residents were another Red Underwing, and a fresh Oncocera semirubella.
My wanderings around the island looking for passerines has been largely uneventful.  Quite a few Spotted Flycatcher about though, including interesting behaviour observed, as I've noticed Chiffchaff following them around (catching disturbed insects?).
A lot of these Spot Flies have been at Portland Castle, and on the morning of the 20th, I was looking through the trees here, when I happened to glance out onto the water to find the Black Guillemot that I found last winter had returned!  A bit of a surprise!  Showing quite well too. 
Also an unseasonal Common Guillemot and 2 Kingfisher there.

On the 21st, I was in Southwell when I heard the calling of a Yellow-browed Warbler in the distance.  I attempted to see it, but failed, as it was deep in gardens.  Just half an hour later another was found at the Obs. 

My first Ring Ouzel of the autumn was also found in the hedge along the edge of the village.

Birding in the last view days has been pretty poor quite frankly, with a clear-out of the birds at Ferrybridge, and a total lack of migrants on the land, bar Chiffchaff and Blackcap.

I spent the whole of the morning of the 23rd searching for birds around the island, including Ferrybridge, seeing nothing of note.  Then, in the afternoon I took a very quick look out at Portland Harbour, and found two Portland ticks from the same spot!  The dynamics of patch birding (and birding in general) can be so weird at times!

These were an eclipse male Wigeon out in the middle, and a juvenile Golden Plover on the edge.

The bird was ridiculously tame!

Now, I'm back off to Tice's for the weekend, then I'll be playing at the bird guide next week, as I lead my former RSPB group round Portland!  I hope the birds perform for us!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Honey, I Shrunk the Mediocrity

Things are looking up!

On my usual rounds on the 14th, the highlights were another Marsh Harrier, this time heading high over The Hump towards the Bill, and a Grasshopper Warbler flushed from behind the former Weston Craft Centre.

There are a number of butterflies still on the wing, including Small Copper.

The next day I found what has to be an extreme Portland rarity, in the form of Marsh Cudweed, which normally grows in dried up ponds/puddles on acid soils.

Its position in a garden is a tad suspicious though, but I feel its not been planted, though instead may have arrived as seed in fertiliser/peat.

 Later that day at around half 10, I was searching the long grass at the edge of the football field down Watery Lane when I suddenly heard the Gulls over Weston going a bit mad.  I looked over to find them all flying in the same direction, and from that direction I got the sight of a large bird of prey flying straight at me, with a pale head and dark eye-mask. A HONEY BUZZARD!  It came closer, and closer, and I was able to snatch these shots as it passed (into the sun, sadly).

I had often wondered in the past whether I'd have trouble picking out Honeys in the spur of the moment, as I'd only ever seen them before on territory, when I was expecting to see them.  I needn't have worried, as the birds jizz was distinctive, though the fact that it was a strikingly pale individual did help a lot!

It flew round a bit before heading back north, and was last seen circling in the distance above the north of the island. 

I have a suspicion it came in-off the sea at Blacknor.  The rough route it took (green star, my location):

And a (fanciful!) facsimile of how it looked:

Sorry, you may have guessed I'm a tad obsessed with HBs!

A tidy 6-pointer in the Patch competition!

The only highlight on the 16th was my 5th juvenile Marsh Harrier on the island this year, as a bird sailed over my head at Reap Lane. I wonder how many individuals are involved in these sightings?  I suspect not many.

Yesterday, a visit to Ferrybridge yielded now 3 Little Stint, as well as a tidy Yellow-legged Gull.

Also, there was a very impressive passage of hirundines occurring, with a very fraught half-hour sample count yielding 1,413 through!  I was only watching the sheltered side of the centre too, so I no doubt missed a load as well!
I then spent an hour or so searching for the Tawny Pipit at the Bill, but to no avail sadly.

Later, whilst working, I found a long-dead Grasshopper Warbler at the side of a road in Castletown, I suspect a victim of window-strike. Yes, I did make sure it was a Common Gropper!

The moth trap that I'm tending at the moment has been pretty quiet for highlights in recent days, though this morning produced a few snippets of quality.

Namely, the migrant European Corn-borer...

...the scarce pyralid, Mecyna asinalis (keen followers of the blog may have remembered I drew attention to the larval damage on Wild Madder a few posts ago).

...and, best of all, a rather sorry-looking Red Underwing.

Later on in the day, I took Amy Robjohns ( ), who'd been staying at the Obs, round some of the local sites. 

Ferrybridge yielded the hoped for Little Stint, with all 3 showing together.  There were also 2 Knot and a female Teal, the latter only the second I'd ever seen there, and first one on the deck!

Next, we popped into Lodmoor, where the pair of Spoonbill stole the show.  Look how close they were to the path!

They were two juvenile birds, which have been there for a while now.

The other highlights here were two Marsh Harrier, and yet another Little Stint.

A look at Radipole produced little.

Well, things have certainly perked up, but are things about to go mad, if those birds currently on the east coast are to filter down here?  Only time will tell.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Nices at Tice's but Morsels in Dorset

A week of steady rather than spectacular birding, but Tice's Meadow was the highlight for me!

I returned to Surrey on the 6th in order to lead a walk at Tice's the next day.

I made a quick evening visit in order to do a recee, plus twitch a load of site ticks!  These being 4 Curlew Sandpiper, 6 Ruff, and 5 Garganey

All these were found, as well as a Wood Sandpiper, though the Garganey were a struggle. I concentrated on looking for them right at the back, skulking among the vegetation, till I noticed they were out on the open water, right by the mound!

The next morning before the walk, I decided to rush over to Leith Hill to join the guys doing vismig counts from the top of the tower, the highest point in Surrey.

What a spot this was, even in poor visibility.

The place has great potential, though we struggled a bit on this occasion with fog.  We did manage to see a number of migrating species such as Tree Pipit, hirundines, Grey Wagtail, and Lesser Black-backed Gull.  The highlight was a Hobby first thing, probably not on the move.

I got back in plenty of time for the walk.  We had already bumped into a Spotted Flycatcher and a Firecrest (both site ticks for me, and the latter a site 1st), by the time our 20-odd group got to the mound.  All the goodies from the previous days were still present, though in lower numbers.  The walk was enjoyed by all!

Back on Portland on the 8th, and I was luckily able to see the Wryneck that had appeared on my patch the previous day, at Barleycrates Lane.  A showy bird!

The only sightings of any note elsewhere mid-island were 3 Sedge Warbler, a Whinchat, and a Lesser Whitethroat.
The next day, it was a Falcon-fest on the West Cliffs, as whilst watching a perched Kestrel, I heard a Peregrine calling behind me, only to see a Merlin zoom over the cliffs and towards Reap Lane.  A Firecrest behind the hump was also notable. A very late-autumn feel to the birds!
On the 11th, I managed to see the Wryneck once again, find the Little Stint at Ferrybridge, and glimpse the Marsh Harrier go over Blacknor shortly after it had been over the Bill.  Not at all bad, though it's still frustrating me that I can't seem to find anything remotely rare, whilst all sorts get seen at the Bill.
I've been put in charge of a moth trap for one week only, and this has yielded a few decent things so far.
Such as the Delicate,

a rare-for-Portland Plutella porectella,

and a new micro for me, Dichrorampha acuminatana.

Yesterday, on the bird front I was entertained only by a Kestrel attempting to catch the seedheads of Pampas-grass.  I can only assume it was a young bird mistaking them for fluffy mammals! 
 A lot of Speckled Wood about at the moment, though one less...
A Grasshopper Warbler at Suckthumb Quarry, yet another Marsh Harrier, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker at Tescos(!) - a Portland tick, were the only birds of any note this morning.
Will these continued easterlies finally produce for me?  I'm not optimistic.  I won't give up though.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Herculean Effort

Quite a bit to catch up on, as autumn has well and truly made its presence felt.  I'm putting in plenty of time...

A fairly uneventful trip to Ferrybridge on the 26th August was enlivened only by a single Knot... well as the constant presence of a Hercules over West Bay.

On the 27th, I got the shock of opening my curtains in the morning, only to have the Marsh Harrier that had just been reported over Ferrybridge fly right towards me and over the roof!

Later, I was lucky to witness an Osprey hunting on the Fleet right by Ferrybridge.  It didn't catch anything sadly (apart from some seaweed!).

On the same day, a pair of Teal flew around on the Fleet, unusual at this site.  I also came across this Bright-line Brown-eye caterpillar on one of my many mid-island rambles.

The next day saw more action at Ferrybridge, as I twitched a Little Stint, only to have a Purple Sandpiper show up instead!  Very strange to see one feeding with Dunlin on mud.  I was able to see the Stint too in the end.

On the 29th, I got the opportunity to nip the 2 and a bit hours north to Frampton-on-severn, Gloucestershire.  I was working later that day, so couldn't give the fantastic Marsh Sandpiper the attention it deserved.  In the end I had to a bit of a tick-and-run, and I was still late for work!  The bird was at fair distance, but it was great comparing it directly with Greenshank and Ruff.

In the evening of the 1st September I was in Weymouth anyway, so thought I'd pop into the roost event at Radipole.  This was fantastic with huge numbers of Yellow Wagtail and hirundines coming to roost in the reedbeds.

The 2nd had already been decent when I had a flyover Snipe at Suckthumb Quarry.  A nice patch tick.  But, whilst I was attempting another vismig session up at The Verne, I heard some more news from Ferrybridge.  From The Verne, which thanks to the wonders of Google Earth I have found out is 1.8 miles from the Ferrybridge mud, I was able to scope the flock of 5 Avocet!  Aren't scopes wonderful things? 

I did of course decide to go and see them properly, eventually!

The 3rd day of September, and the third wader patch tick, as a Green Sandpiper calls as it flies over Suckthumb Quarry.  Lots of Wheatear around on this morning, but one ended up as lunch, probably at the hands of a Sparrowhawk.

But, was that milky-tea-coloured small warbler I glimpsed a Booted? One that got away.

Yesterday, the only highlight from a lot of walking was a distant large raptor soaring on flat wings.  It drifted off into the murk, and with it went yet another opportunity of a good find.  Will my rarity/scarcity-finding luck ever change?

In the evening I was fortunate enough to be invited to a private ringing session, targeting reedbed-roosting species.  It was a fabulous evening in calm conditions.  Yellow Wagtail and White Wagtail in the hand were real stunners.  I hope I'll be able to learn this tricky skill.

Today was equally calm, and although there were no particularly stunning sightings, all the migrants which were around the island were showing extremely well, even to my delicate photographic set-up (phone and scope - no adapter!).

Spotted Flycatcher:


Tree Pipit:

My final migrant totals for mid-island were 700 Swallow, 300 House Martin, 40 Willow Warbler, 20 Blackcap, 10 Whitethroat, 10 Yellow Wagtail, 5 Sand Martin, 5 Spotted Flycatcher, 4 Redstart, 4 Lesser Whitethroat, 3 Sedge Warbler, 3 Whinchat, 2 Chiffchaff, 2 Tree Pipit, 1 Pied Flycatcher, 1 Swift, 1(!) Wheatear, 1 Ringed Plover, 1 Curlew, and 1 Green Sandpiper.

Back to Surrey tomorrow, and hopefully to get a bit of the Tice's Meadow wader-fest for myself!

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Patchwork Challenge Update - May, June, July, + August

In all the excitement of my France and Italy trips, I got out of the habit of doing these updates!

194 points carried forward.



142. Swift - Southwell 1 point


143. Shoveler - Chesil Beach 1


144. Roseate Tern - Chesil Beach 2
145. Gadwall - Chesil Beach 1
146. Wood Warbler - Portland Castle 2


147. Hobby - West Cliffs 1
148. Spotted Flycatcher - The Hump 1


149. Turtle Dove - Windmill Stables 1
150. Cuckoo - Suckthumb Quarry 1


151. Reed Warbler - Barleycrates Lane 1


152. Bee-eater - Suckthumb Quarry 3

Total: 209





153. Mute Swan - Ferrybridge 1

Total: 210



154. Yellow-legged Gull - Ferrybridge 2


155. Marsh Harrier - Blacknor 2


156. Black-tailed Godwit - Ferrybridge 1


157. Purple Sandpiper - Ferrybridge 2
158. Little Stint - Ferrybridge 2

Total: 219