Friday, 30 August 2013

Portland and the Obs (25th-29th August)

We (my brother and I) were off to Portland for a couple nights to stay at the obs and jam in on a couple early common migrants.  This involved all round the clock birding and mothing with no exception!  It was tough going as we trudged diligently around the Bill, Top Fields, the East Cliff, seawatched and checked the quarries on a daily basis.  In short a brilliant experience as we did not only encounter a huge array of birds and moths but some knowledgeable birders too!

The only downside has been my computer which has decided to change all my cropped photos to plain white images!  As a result I've lost the majority of my favourite pics so I can only share a couple of my worse record shots.

Portland Bill

Weather conditions were hot and dry with light winds blowing (rarely from the east) so not much hope for rarer or scarcer migrants.  Dozens of Wheatear and Yellow Wagtails were a daily experience as were numerous Clouded Yellows with on average a dozen seen per day.

We arrived at the Bill by bus and headed straight for the coast (along with all our luggage) for a short seawatch.  A couple distant unIDed shearwaters passed before a Balearic Shearwater did the honours of passing close past the Bill affording excellent views!  Other species of note on the first day included a couple dozen Common Scoter, Small Heath, Clouded Yellows and the first of many Painted Lady butterflies.  Already tired with the trip behind us and a decent afternoon wandering the isle we were finally convinced to twitch the Icterine Warbler that had popped up in 8 Kings Quarry just down the road (only a couple hundred meters from were we had been birding oblivious to its presence!)  Thanks to Joe (Assistant Warden) we soon had a lift to the site but we were soon thrown off the land by a rather disgruntled lady for trespassing.  In short, another dip.  A grueling 3 hour wait the following day did not pay off with the Wryneck that we hoped to refind in the quarry.  However, after returning later that afternoon we struck gold immediately as we were treated with brilliant views of the WRYNECK that we had been hoping for!

Wryneck in the Obs Quarry

The early morning route around the bill produced hunting Sparrowhawk, a Hobby chasing a passerine, a Peregrine chasing feral Pigeons and the first Whinchat of our visit.  I also encountered my first ever Clouded Yellow of the helice form!  The east coast quarries rewarded us with 2 Redstrats and a Little Owl scolding a  Red Fox.

Little Owl in the obs quarry

Whinchat at the bill

Kestrel with prey on the East Cliff

I got up even earlier the following day so as not to miss out any of the ringing activity.  The early hours of the morning produced 14 Tree Pipits in flight over the obs and a later check of the traps produced a single Convulvous Hawkmoth!  Top Fields produced our first Pied Flycatcher of the year, 2 Redstarts and a Spotted Flycatcher.  Heading downhill again we entered the East Cliff quarries were I located a skulking Acro warbler (unfortunately the two brief glimpses I had of it were insufficient for a certain ID).

A 1stCY Yellow-legged Gull in the fields north of the obs was a welcome addition to the day list along with another Redstart.  I only bothered with a brief stop at the obs before heading out again, this time alone and connected with the Little Owl in the obs quarry, 3 Whinchats, 5 Stonechats and a Pied Flycatcher.

The 28th began with a relatively late start but the West Cliff hosted 4 Whinchats before I had to head into town for food supplies.  After shopping, I had a short walk around the Easton Quarry produced 2 Whinchats and a Redstart.  Yet another visit to Top Fields after returning to the obs where I connected with a further 10 Whinchats, 1 Redstart, 2 Spotted Flycatchers and a Nightingale in the obs quarry.  A surprise Dunlin flying north was an unusual sight as it was traveling with a  flock of Starling!  That evening, we also added Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper and Ringed Plover to the list as we heard them calling in flight in the dark.

Our final day at the observatory so I aimed to cram in as much as possible before we left.  An early morning seawatch reward Alex Berryman and I with 6 Balearic Shearwaters (3 W, 3 E).  I also heard a Curlew in the distance, 1 Common Sandpiper on the rocks below the obelisk and back at the obs I located a Pied Flycatcher in the garden.  Ephraim's seawatching from rewarded us all when he found us a pod of 20+ Bottlenese Dolphins!  Other things of note included a Reed Warbler at Culverwell, another helice Clouded Yellow, 2 Spotted Flycatchers in 8 Kings Quarry along with a Pied Flycatcher, a calling Redstart at East Cliff and yet another 2 Pied Flycatchers back in the obs garden.

Clouded Yellow of the helice form

Pied Flycatcher in the obs garden

Alex and Ephraim sped a little ahead of me and thanks to their searching before I arrived I didn't have to do much to be shown 2 Hummingbird Hawkmoths and a Grayling!

Hummingbird Hawkmoths on the East Cliff


Overall, a brilliant stay with a selection of common migrants making the highlights along with a couple butterfly and moth surprises.  As migration is only just kicking off, moths were a good distraction.  Martin Cade's efforts paid off with a Tamarisk Peacock and Shining Marbled (both very rare with only 4 or 5 British records for the later species!)

Shining Marbled

Tamarisk Peacock

Thanks to all who educated me and made the stay such an amazing experience.  Special thanks to Martin for all his effort in the upkeep and running of the obs that makes Portland such a brilliant place to bird!

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