Portland Heights Birdbreaks Friday
January 19th - Sunday January 21st

A weekend full of quality birds including Ring-billed Gull, Yellow-browed Warbler, Long-tailed Duck and Red-breasted Goose.

click here for a list of species seen over the weekend

Saturday January 20th

Weather:  overcast with a very cold northerly wind.


Portland Bill, 0900

A good variety of seabirds were seen at our first stop, mainly Gannets, Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Razorbills but with also both Red-throated and Black-throated Divers flying past. The highlight was the flock of 7 Purple Sandpipers on the shoreline near the lighthouse.


Southwell, 1030

The male of the pair of resident Peregrines here gave us a series of good views as it hunted for pigeons around the quarries.


Portland Castle, 1130

This point at the southern corner of Portland Harbour produced good numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers along with a few Great-crested Grebes and Turnstones.  Several Great Northern Divers were found further out and were seen well through the telescopes.


Ferrybridge, 1230

3 Curlews were feeding on the mudflats here but the only other wader was a single Ringed Plover.  In the distance we could see Little Egrets feeding on the shores of the Fleet and a pair of Ravens cruising along Chesil Beach.


Castle Cove, 1330

The shoreline here offered some welcome shelter from the cold wind and eventually produced some brief views of our target - a vagrant Yellow-browed Warbler from Asia. Several Chiffchaffs were also seen and a male Bullfinch was much appreciated as it sat in the sunshine at the top of one of the tallest trees.


Sandsfoot, 1430

The best sighting here was a Slavonian Grebe, first spotted in the far distance and then remarkably close in to the shore. More Great Northern Divers were found, one of which on closer examination turned out to be a Black-throated. Finally a smart adult Mediterranean Gull was located in the middle of a flock of Black-headed Gulls, giving good views as it flew off passing right in front of us.


Radipole RSPB Reserve, 1500

Most of us stayed near the Reserve Centre to wait for the Ring-billed Gull which we were reliably told would turn up at 1530. Remarkably that's exactly what it did and we enjoyed prolonged and close views of this superb gull. Another adult Mediterranean Gull turned up more or less next to it.


Verne Prison, 1700

For most of us this was a cold and fruitless vigil but just after we left the Barn Owl turned up and delighted the hardy individuals who were waiting. 



Sunday January 21st

Weather:  much as yesterday but with bright sunshine in the morning.


Lodmoor RSPB Reserve, 0930

Here we added several new birds to our already burgeoning list including Pheasant  and Rook.  We had already seen Ruddy Duck, Shoveler and Gadwall but we enjoyed good views of all these species from the road on the northern edge of the reserve.


Arne RSPB Reserve, 1400

Before lunch we walked out through the woods to Shipstall Point, seeing a good range of woodland birds and thrushes on the way with a brief view of a Dartford Warbler on the edge of the heath. Looking out across Poole Harbour we found what for me was the sighting of the weekend - a pair of handsome drake Long-tailed Ducks feeding in the company of Mergansers and Goldeneye. Sadly the pair never came very close and were underwater for most of the time but eventually most of us had satisfactory views through the telescope.  As we were watching these lovely ducks a pair of Sandwich Terns cruised past completing the feeling of an early Spring!  Walking back towards the car park we stopped to search the tidal inlets and found 3 Spoonbills sleeping on a sandbar whilst a very smart Fox appeared from the woods on the edge of the marsh.


Lunch was had in warm sunshine 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. Before we reached the hide the first of several Yellow-legged Gulls flew past - this one a first-year. From the hide we counted at least 500 Avocets as well as Grey Plover, Redshank, Curlew and Dunlin. A local birdwatcher pointed out the flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese containing the adult Red-breasted Goose which has spent the winter here.  We then spent a frustrating half hour getting no more than glimpses of its back as it walked  to and fro in a ditch behind a hedge of gorse bushes.  We lost interest when a superb male Hen Harrier appeared and a Spoonbill flew over and landed in a field in front of us.


The weekend culminated in a dramatic fight between a pair of Peregrines took a dislike to a Buzzard that was innocently flying past and proceeded to see it off in a most determined fashion.


Before being allowed to tuck in to our cream tea we had one more task - the Barn Owl.  After a freezing 15 minutes at the prison (some of us were considering what we would have to do to be let in there!) the ungrateful little avian gave us about 2 seconds of viewing as it flew out of its roosting site and promptly flew straight back in again.  We hurried back to the hotel thinking bad thoughts about owls.


So in conclusion it was a tough weekend at times but one in which hard work paid off producing one of the best lists ever seen on a Portland Heights Birdbreak.

Looking forward to our next trip out together,


Bob Ford