30th April – 1st May – two very different visits to Portland and Weymouth.   Leave a comment

With strong southerly winds forecast I headed to Portland for some seawatching. Having seen Pomarine Skua on my last visit I was hoping to see Black Tern, a European marshland bird that is only see on migration in the UK.

First I headed to the Bill but to my surprise only a few other birders were present. The wind had shifted to the south-east and in these conditions the local birders head for Chesil Cove where Chesil Bank meets the Isle of Portland. Having got here I decided I might as well give it a go at the Bill and call in at Chesil Cove on the way home.

The wind had reached gale force overnight and the sea was monstrous. Waves crashing over the rocks were reaching the top of the Pulpit Rock and it was difficult to keep your scope still even when sheltering next to the Obelisk. In some ways it was too windy, terns and skuas would not battle into such a fierce wind and only the true pelagic species were on the move, with Manx Shearwaters,  Gannets and Fulmars passing quite close.

After an hour of buffeting, I retreated to the Observatory where I watched the sea for another (rather more comfortable) hour. Conditions were improving and a few passerine migrants were about, so I went for a short walk but saw little. I headed down to Chesil Cove, I was to regret going on the short walk, as two Black Terns had passed the Cove just before I arrived. A further hour there produced a large flock of Common/Arctic terns (colloquially known as ‘commic’ terns), a few Scoter and an Arctic Skua, but no more Black Terns.

This gives some idea of the force of the waves.


The view from the Bill.

Swifts were arriving in big numbers, often seen skimming the waves.

News of a Hoopoe nearby at the Fleet caused all the assembled seawatchers to abandon the Cove but by the time we arrived it had already gone. However it was clear that migrants were arriving as a Redstart, several Wheatear and my first Whinchat of the year were seen. I headed back to Ferrybridge where the Fleet flows into Portland Harbour and saw my first Little Terns of the year.

My first Whinchat of 2012

Digiscoped picture of a Little Tern at Ferrybridge. The local colony has been declining for years and looks to be heading for extinction.

My final call was at Lodmoor, but the recent heavy rain had flooded the path and my only reward was a couple of wet feet.

It was unusual to see small fish swimming down the main path at Lodmoor.

Floods at Lodmoor, the tern breeding islands are almost underwater.

With news of a couple of Black Terns at Blashford Lakes, I toyed with the idea of going there on the 30th. I had also thought about going ringing at Durlston but it rained until mid-morning at Swanage so I’m glad I didn’t. I chose the best option and returned to Portland, even though it was still raining heavily when I left. With dawn now at 0530 getting there for first light would involve getting up about 0415, this is not something I can manage every day! I arrived at the Observatory at 0815 and found that the rain (which had ceased there at dawn had brought in loads of migrants. About 200 had already been ringed but now the sun was coming out and they were moving on rapidly. It was one of those mornings where it was hard to know what to do, Graham Walbridge returned from the Reap Lane area with tales of stacks of migrants, nice birds like Redstarts and Pied Flys were being ringed at the Obs and good seabirds like Pom Skuas and Black Terns had been seen offshore. After failing to pick up a Black Tern from the Observatory one was radioed through from the watchers at the Obelisk and I had acceptable, if distant views. I also saw two Pomarine, single Arctic and Great Skua and a flock of 75 Bar-tailed Godwits on their way up from the Mauritanian coast.

I headed for Reap Lane in hope of seeing Yellow Wagtail and gave Graham a lift (as he lives in that direction). As always, I was amazed by his field skills as time after time he found and identified, Wheatears, Whinchats and migrant warblers long before I was even aware of their presence. With Yellow Wagtail and Spotted Flycatcher under the belt I walked the short distance to the West Cliffs where hirundines were passing in huge numbers. It is hard to be precise but about thousand Swallows, along with smaller numbers of Sand and House Martins were seen in about half an hour.

At long last a mass movement of Swallows and other hirundines.

The Swallows were streaming along the West Cliffs, just another small part of the journey from South Africa to the UK.

As I have indicated before, spring migration is very late this year with some birds in worryingly low numbers that may affect the breeding population. However today showed just how many birds were held up to the south. It was difficult to estimate numbers but this is gives an indication: Warblers: Willow 300 , Garden 3, Sedge 3 heard, Reed 1 heard, Chiffchaff 30, Blackcap 50, Redstart 30, Whinchat 12, Yellow Wagtail 1, Wheatear 60 and many Swifts. Aso seen or heard, but not by me, Osprey,  Hobby, Turtle Dove (I missed it by seconds), Cuckoo, Grasshopper Warbler, Wood Warbler, Nightingale plus much larger numbers of common birds mentioned above.

Along with other passerines, Whitethroats have finally arrived in force, 2 – 3 weeks late!

An hour at Lodmoor on the way home produced more goodies, a Cattle Egret (my 4th this year), a male Garganey, many Bar and Black-tailed Godwits in summer plumage and several Whimbrel.

A flock of Whimbrel at Lodmoor.

Garganey. The only duck that is exclusively a summer visitor

Of course the arrival of so many good birds wasn’t confined to Weymouth, Shaun had heard a Nightingale at Lytchett Bay in the rain that morning, I went down there at dusk but it had long gone.

Posted May 2, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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