Portland Heights Birdwatching Breaks
Friday February 16th - Sunday February 18th 2007

Classic winter birdwatching in Dorset with Great Northern and Black-throated Divers, Slavonian Grebes, a Velvet Scoter and a Black Brant all the way from North America.

click here for a list of species seen over the weekend

Saturday February 17th
Weather: mainly overcast with a cold easterly breeze.

Ferrybridge, 0900
As we parked at our first birding spot we could see that plenty of Brent Geese were present. Closer examination revealed them all to be Dark-bellied. A solitary Curlew was feeding on the mudflats along with a small flock of Dunlins and a single Ringed Plover. Several Little Egrets were feeding on the shores of the Fleet and a record number of 5 Ravens were seen cruising north along Chesil Beach. Walking further along the Fleet we found a distant group of Goldeneye feeding in the company of Mergansers and Little Grebes. The highlight was without doubt the 10 Mediterranean Gulls, in various stages of plumage, although the 2 Great Northern Divers and the pair of Peregrines were pretty good too. A Lesser Black-backed Gull here was probably of the western Scandinavian race intermedius.

Portland Castle, 1130
This point at the southern corner of Portland Harbour produced a few Great-crested Grebes and Turnstones. Another Great Northern Diver was found further out and a Velvet Scoter was seen well through the telescopes in a close flock of Red-breasted Mergansers.

Portland Bill, 1200
A few seabirds were seen here, including Guillemots, Razorbills and a Fulmar but the highlight was definitely the hot chocolate in the café.

Sandsfoot, 1430
The best sighting here were the 2 Slavonian Grebes, both remarkably close in to the shore. Several more Great Northern Divers were found, but we were all really pleased when the final diver found turned out to be a Black-throated. On the shore one or two Chiffchaffs were a welcome sign of Spring (or a mild winter) and some of the group managed to get a brief view of a Firecrest.

Radipole RSPB Reserve, 1500
As usual a good range of wildfowl here including Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Shelduck and Ruddy Duck. The North Hide produced fly-by Kingfisher and Sparrowhawk and a large male Fox. Walking back we separated briefly and the lucky ones at the back got a close view of a Cetti’s Warbler. Our main target, the Bearded Tits, were only heard once.

Weymouth Bay, 1630
We finished off with a quick look at the gull roost from Weymouth’s ‘Pleasure Pier’. Not many gulls were present tonight (just a few hundred!) but we did get a very close look at a Great Crested Grebe.

Sunday February 18th
Weather: much as yesterday but a declining easterly breeze.

Kingbarrow Quarry, 0700
Walking from the hotel we explored one of the oldest existing quarry areas on Portland. Several flocks of Redwings were seen heading east along with a small group of Meadow Pipits, both signs of early Spring migration. The resident Little Owl was at his usual perch but reluctant to stay long in the cold wind. A Yellowhammer flew over and could be heard singing in the next quarry. A Stock Dove put in a brief appearance.
Wareham Forest, 1000
Parking at Sherford Bridge we walked west into Wareham Forest, a huge area of heathland and conifer plantations. At first the most noticeable birds were thrushes, with groups of Redwings in the trees and more moving east. A Mistle Thrush was singing constantly from a high perch on a tree top and later a Song Thrush was also found in full song. Siskins were seen regularly, all flying over at some height apart from one which gave us a distant view through the telescopes. Several Buzzards were present along with a single Kestrel.

Arne RSPB Reserve, 1300
Lunch was had outdoors here with Marsh Tits and Nuthatches calling nearby. The walk to the Middlebere Lake hide was quiet until we reached the top of the path and could see the hundreds of Avocets swimming around looking for water shallow enough to allow them to start feeding. Then fortune really smiled on us as all the Brent Geese flew in and landed on the one bit of water we could see clearly from the path. This enabled us to quickly find the Black Brant which we knew was in the flock somewhere.

From the hide we counted at least 500 Avocets along with a few Redshank and Curlew. Looking across the creek to the fields opposite we had the rare chance to compare Roe Deer and the larger Sika Deer. A real surprise were the 2 species that had presumably escaped from wildfowl collections – a very smart Bar-headed Goose and an immaculate adult Black Swan. Walking back we saw more Sikas and the only Yellow-legged Gull of the weekend, a very smart adult bird. The trees around the car park completed our weekend’s list with some more woodland species including good views of Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit and Goldcrest.

Finishing with a splendid cream tea back at the car park we found that if we included the Category D species (Bar-headed Goose and Black Swan) as well as the ones we only heard we had accumulated a very respectable 90 species of birds. Well done everyone!

Looking forward to our next trip out together,

Bob Ford