The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

NPBO - Migration Action-station

Things haven't quite gone mad, but I've certainly got plenty to talk about from the last week. The floodgates seemed to have opened somewhat!
It's difficult to keep my eye on the ground at the moment, but there are some nice flowers about now, such as this tiny Wall Speedwell.

The other non-bird distraction at the moment is the running of a moth trap.  Not all that much happening to be honest, but a Pale Pinion was nice one morning.

I finally saw my first Swallow on the 1st, during a very quick break from work, and it was nice to see the Black Guillemot in its summer plumage the next day, even though it was not really photographable!

On the afternoon on the 2nd, I thought it worth having a quick look off Chesil after work.  There was nothing offshore, but that was greatly compensated by a Little Ringed Plover coming into land at Ferrybridge as I arrived!

The morning of the 3rd was uninviting, with horizontal rain, and poor visibility.  However, I thought it worth doing a seawatch with the southerly wind.  I found a piece of sheet metal on the beach to improvise into a surprisingly effective shelter!

These sorts of conditions always create spectacular weather sights.

There was a decent number of Common Scoter passing, but little else.  Then, I happened to glance over towards the harbour to be met by a glowing beacon of white sitting on the water, close-in - a male Goosander!  My first on Portland, let alone the patch!

Whilst I watched it, some Turnstone came scurrying around a few metres away.  Always nice to see.
For some reason, the rain stopping coincided with the sea passage totally stopping too, so I went up onto the land to do a visible migration watch at the West Cliffs.  During a great passage of Meadow Pipit (1600 in an hour), a Golden Plover was spotted flying around.  I later found it feeding along Weston Street.
Also during the aforementioned vismig watch, my first House Martin of the year was seen, and a Firecrest in a garden was incredibly visible from my flat window (if you saw the view I had, mostly of a vegetation-less brick-floored yard, you'd realise how unlikely a sighting that was!).

I attempted a seawatch in the evening, but got little reward beyond a couple of Grey Plover.  I then got a call from Joe Stockwell about a Gadwall in the Harbour - a valuable patch bird.  No problem spotting it among the Red-breasted Merganser.
The 5th appeared promising for sea passage, with a very light easterly wind.  I joined John Down and Paul Harris on the beach, and soon had a single distant Great Skua past.  This set the scene for the first Arctic Skua of the year not long after, followed by a Black-throated Diver
I moved back onto the land, and was rewarded with a nice fall of migrants everywhere, the best being 2 male Ring Ouzel at Suckthumb Quarry, and my first load of Willow Warbler.
A fantastic moment came at Barleycrates Lane, when I almost got a Wheatear in the face, as a bird dived for the bush I was next to, to avoid a stooping Peregrine! Astonishing.
I feel unusual experiences, such as the above, are just as important in the general excitement and fascination of wildlife watching, as rare species. 
Another one of those was observing a Carrion Crow tearing into a Slow Worm at Blacknor.
 After the quality morning seawatch, I thought it worth doing an evening stint too.  I hadn't been there long when the Gulls around the Harbour started to sound a warning.  Then suddenly, the large raft of Red-breasted Merganser took off as one - something I 'd never seen before.  I just knew there was an Osprey around, and indeed there was!  It took a little while to spot it, but it was found soaring high over Wyke with a Buzzard.
The seawatch was fairly uneventful, though it's always great to see tight-knit flocks of migrating birds, such as these Manx Shearwater
Joe's arrival on the scene provided a further highlight of a nice early flock of 5 Whimbrel heading up over Fortuneswell. 
Yesterday is barely worth mentioning, apart from the fact that I narrowly missed all 3 patch ticks on offer (Red Kite, Short-eared Owl, Redstart, plus another Osprey)!  After the luck I had the day before, I really shouldn't complain though!
Today was another enjoyable morning, as on arrival at Chesil I found a close-in summer-plumaged Slavonian Grebe... the valuable patch tick of 4 Avocet bombing back and forth.

The seawatch was a very enjoyable one as there was great variety.  Now with Joe, we were treated to good numbers of Black-headed Gull and Common Scoter passing, along with a very surprise female Goosander, and a Little Ringed Plover which was spotted as it flew towards Ferrybridge.

A look round the land finally produced the 1st-summer male Redstart at Suckthumb Quarry, or be it briefly.

It's finally sunk in just what a good spot Chesil is for watching migration.  It may not be quite so lavishly furnished, but the memorial stone on the beach is now (as far as I'm concerned) the North Portland Bird Observatory! ;-)

P.S. Sorry I'm taking ages on my post about the Chesil Gull, but I'm sure you'll understand when I say birding is getting in the way!

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