Portland Heights Birdwatching Breaks
Friday September 22nd - Sunday September 24th 2006

reports archive

A weekend's birdwatching that can only be described as outstanding - with 2 Ospreys, several Hobbies, a Honey Buzzard, a Black Tern, a Little Stint and a Mediterranean Gull.

click here for a list of species seen over the weekend

Saturday September 23rd
Weather: very warm south-easterly wind with unbroken sunshine all day.
Portland Bill, 0900
A beautifully warm and breezy morning at this very exposed site found us looking at Meadow Pipits and Wheatears as soon as we left the bus. Reaching the sea we started finding seabirds; first Shags, then Gannets, a Guillemot/Razorbill and finally we struck lucky with a Black Tern feeding some distance offshore. Walking to the Bird Observatory we found more Wheatears whilst Swallows and House Martins were streaming overhead in huge numbers. Martin at the Observatory didn't have any birds to show us (it was too windy to catch any in the nets) but he had kept a Convolvulus Hawk-moth for us to see.

As we left, a raptor could be seen arriving from the north. First identified as a Short-eared Owl, then a Common Buzzard, it turned out to be a juvenile Honey Buzzard, the first of 3 new birds for the hotel list of the weekend!

We then walked up to the Westcliffs, seeing a distant Hobby on the way, and had good views of a couple of Whinchats with a Stonechat for comparison.
Ferrybridge, 1300
Ringed Plovers, Dunlins and Turnstones were on the tidal mud-flats here with a few Bar-tailed Godwits, a very close Little Egret fishing in the shallows and a Raven cruising along Chesil Beach.
Lodmoor, 1400
The star bird here was found before we even reached the reserve, when a Pied Flycatcher appeared next to the car park. Not all of us saw it so it was a bonus when it appeared again on our return journey. Reaching the reserve proper we found a number of waders including Dunlins, Black-tailed Godwits and, best of all, a gorgeous Little Stint. Feeding on the mud with the waders were plenty of wagtails, including several Yellow Wagtails and a single White Wagtail. Wildfowl here included Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall and Shelduck and the first Barnacle Goose seen on a Portland Heights weekend since the species was added to Category C of the British List (this gives it status as an introduced species rather than just an escape). A close examination of the gull flock (always a pleasant way to spend an hour or two!) revealed a first-winter Mediterranean Gull. A very bright Comma was found on blackberries next to the path, whilst Migrant Hawker dragonflies buzzed around us and across the marsh a Heron adopted a very odd pose in its efforts to get an all-over suntan (behaviour shown by many birds attempting to get rid of parasites).
Radipole, 1600
A quick look at the gulls here revealed nothing of great interest but we did see some close Snipe and Black-tailed Godwits.

Portland Bill, 1700
We returned to the Bill to look for Short-eared Owls as they started their evening hunting flights. None were seen but we did see a Turtle Dove and we had time to marvel at the numbers of Kestrels in the area today.
Sunday September 24th
Weather: Very similar to Saturday, but with more cloud making the temperatures lower.

Portland Bill, 0900
From the outset, as we assembled outside the hotel, it was clear that this was going to be a remarkable day. Flocks of pipits, wagtails and swallows were streaming over the island at low altitude, flying into the south-easterly wind. Many of them had settled at the Bill where we had good views of Meadow Pipits, Yellow Wagtails and Pied Wagtails. At the Bird Observatory Martin had caught us a Tree Pipit - a species rarely captured as it generally keeps out of the Observatory garden. Martin updates the Portland Bird Observatory web site every day with a summary of the day's sightings - see www.portlandbirdobs.btinternet.co.uk.
Walking back to the bus we were treated to a splendid view of a Hobby as it slowly flew over our heads.

Grove Point, 1100
We stopped here to look for Peregrines. They didn't appear but we did add Grey Wagtail to the list.

Langton Herring, 1200
Sitting down on the shoreline of the Fleet to eat our sumptious Portland Heights packed lunch we considered ourselves very fortunate indeed. But our luck had hardly even started because I had barely opened my packet of crisps when an Osprey appeared over Chesil Beach flying towards us. It soon landed on the beach allowing us to resume our banquet but before long a second Osprey entered stage left, and gave us a closer view as it flew past us and off towards Abbotsbury. What with all this and the group of 6 Buzzards that were circling over the nearby hill it was a wonder we didn't all have indigestion...

Radipole, 1400
We finished the weekend with a very productive walk around this excellent RSPB reserve in the middle of Weymouth. The best bird seen in terms of its rarity was a 1st year Yellow-legged Gull but I got the impression that most of the group preferred the Bearded Tits that were 'pinging' in the reeds nearby (sorry Margaret). The walk to the far hide produced relatively little but we did find the first Water Shrew ever seen on one of these weekends - shame it was dead though. The hide itself lived up to its reputation as a raptor viewpoint with a male Hobby hunting at close quarters right in front of it, with a Buzzard watching from a dead tree, a Sparrowhawk gliding overhead and at least one Kestrel hovering over the reeds.

Back at the hotel we enjoyed a lovely cream tea and added up the total for the weekend - 85 species!

Looking forward to our next trip out together,

Bob Ford