Portland Heights Birdwatching Breaks
Friday October 7th - Sunday October 9th 2005

A weekend of classic October birdwatching with some outstanding sightings including Pectoral Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Curlew Sandpiper, Dartford Warbler, Hobby and Spoonbill.

click here for a list of species seen over the weekend

Saturday October 8th
Weather: bright in the morning, rain in the afternoon.

Portland Bill, 0900
We started the weekend with a sea-watch at the Bill. Despite an onshore wind seabirds were limited to mainly distant Gannets and a brief view of 4 Scoter flying past. There was more on the land though and we found plenty of migrant Wheatears as well as flocks of migrating Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails. More migrants were seen around the Bird Observatory in the shape of several Chiffchaffs and an elusive warbler that was probably a Blackcap. See the Bird Observatory's web site at www.portlandbirdobs.btinternet.co.uk for the latest news on sightings there.

Southwell, 1100
The best find here was a superb view of a Hobby as it slowly soared over us hunting for migrant birds.

Pennsylvania Castle, 1200
The walk down through the trees to Church Ope Cove was very pleasant and warm, producing a few Chiffchaffs and a lovely Clouded Yellow. The Grey Wagtail that flew up from the beach was the only one seen all weekend.
Grove Point, 1300
Here we managed to get close views of 3 of Portland's many Peregrines. The adult female could be heard calling as we approached, and was quickly found sat on her usual clifftop perch. The male was soon located a short distance below his mate and we enjoyed the opportunity to compare the relative sizes of the birds. Then the birds took flight and we were surprised to see them joined by a juvenile bird, the last of their offspring to leave the nest site. For several wonderful minutes we were able to watch 3 Peregrines soaring in the sky just in front of us. Hunger pangs drew us away to collect our sandwiches from the hotel.

Peregrine at Grove Point (photo taken on October 1st)
Ferrybridge, 1400
Lunch was had sheltering from the blustery wind watching Little Egrets, Dunlins, Turnstones and Ringed Plovers.

Lodmoor, 1500
More waders were seen here including Greenshank, 2 Black-tailed Godwits and a Snipe, but star billing goes to the Curlew Sandpiper that we had to brave the driving rain to see. A good range of wildfowl were also seen including Wigeon, Gadwall, Shoveler and Teal.

Radipole, 1630
As the rain eased off we continued to find more excellent birds including an adult Mediterranean Gull, repeated views of a Water Rail and the rarest bird of the weekend - a Pectoral Sandpiper all the way from the USA! The latter bird was most co-operative as it chose to feed on the closest patch of gravel in the company of a Dunlin just to make sure we fully appreciated the plumage details of this exotic but subtly-coloured bird.

Sunday October 9th
Weather: Dry and sunny from the outset with a very light southerly wind.

Portland Heights Hotel, 0730
Our search for early-morning migrants took us just a few strides north of the hotel to a point overlooking the tree-covered slopes that lead down to Fortuneswell. We soon found the best spot and spent 30 minutes rooted to the spot watching Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests and Blackcaps in the bushes in front of us. All the Chiffchaffs were of the greyer northern race, quite different from the brown and yellow birds seen yesterday. Walking eastwards along the clifftop path we were stopped by the "chit-chit" call of a passing Redpoll, assumed to be flying high overhead as were the 2 Siskins we had just seen. Approaching a small Sycamore we realised that the call was coming from the tree, and we were soon catching glimpses of a flock of these beautiful tiny finches. As they flew off we counted 9 birds in all - a very large number of a species that has been increasingly rare on Portland in recent years. The seductive odour of frying bacon from the nearby hotel kitchen windows had us walking quickly back in time for a late breakfast.

Arne, 1030
As often happens at this superb reserve we found it difficult to leave the car park as there was so much to see, with Nuthatch, Coal Tit and Marsh Tit all giving good views on the bird feeders.

The group at Shipstall Point
Our first walk was through the woodland to Middlebere Lake. A number of Sika Deer were seen on the way, with the eerie call of the rutting males echoing across the heath. An unusually tame Dartford Warbler allowed us some extended close telescope views but we had to hurry on to the hide to catch the last mud before the tide came in. Reaching the hide we found our first waders, mainly Curlew with a few Redshank and 4 or 5 distant Grey Plovers. A pair of Avocets were probably remnants of a much larger flock that must have recently flown off to Brownsea Island to roost. A single Yellow-legged Gull was found at the far end of the creek.
After lunch we walked out to Shipstall Point, where we stood in warm sunshine enjoying the view of Poole Harbour. The nearby hide gave us remarkably close views of a Whimbrel, which fortunately for us had chosen not to stand amongst the hundreds of roosting Curlews. The walk back produced more Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests, as well as views of Jay and Great-spotted Woodpecker in flight.


Heron, Little Egrets and Oystercatcher
We returned to the hotel for a well-earned Dorset Cream Tea - a fitting end to a fantastic weekend!

Very much looking forward to our next trip out together,

Bob Ford