Portland Heights Birdwatching Breaks
Friday January 11th – Sunday January 13th 2008

reports archive

A weekend of rough weather and brilliant birdwatching with Balearic Shearwater and 7 species of divers and grebes.

click here for a list of species seen over the weekend

Saturday January 12th
Weather: Clear and sunny until the afternoon, then increasingly cloudy

Portland Bill, 0900
We were hoping for plenty of seabirds here and we certainly weren’t disappointed. As soon as we reached the coast we could see Razorbills streaming past all over the sea. With them were lots of Common Gulls and the occasional Gannet and Kittiwake with one or two Fulmars seen as well. Walking round to the east side we found 7 charming little Purple Sandpipers (see photo below by Liz Taylor) and further on some Oystercatchers were resting on the cliffs along with 2 Turnstones. The fields here held encouraging numbers of Skylarks including several that were attempting what were probably their first bursts of song of the year.

Purple Sandpiper at the Bill
photo by Liz Taylor

Chesil Cove, 1200
The target here was sea duck and as again we scored straight away with several groups of Common Scoter being found on the sea off Chesil Beach. Further examination revealed 4 of them to be the much scarcer Velvet Scoter. Whilst we were watching these a superb Great Northern Diver flew past giving unusually good flight views. Just as we were getting ready to leave a pair of Ravens appeared on the beach to the north.

Ferrybridge, 1300
Here we had the very pleasant experience of being able to eat our sandwiches outside in warm sunshine whilst looking at a huge range of birds on the Fleet. First we found a group of Pale-bellied Brent Geese amongst several hundred Dark-bellied birds. Then we started finding Mediterranean Gulls, finally reaching at least 20 of them altogether. Waders were represented by a pair of Curlews with flocks of Dunlins and Ringed Plovers roosting on the beach. Good numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers were feeding in the waters of the Fleet with several Little Egrets on the shorelines.

Castle Cove, 1400
From our favourite viewpoint Portland Harbour yielded an excellent range of birds including another Great Northern Diver and both Slavonian and Black-necked Grebes. At least 8 more Mediterranean Gulls were found out in the harbour where there were also a great many more Mergansers.

Radipole Lake, 1500
From the reserve centre we were pleased to see a Water Rail feeding out in the open and found yet another Mediterranean Gull in with the flock of hundreds of other gulls. On the way to the North Hide we added Ruddy Duck to our list and heard Cetti’s Warblers several times. The hide produced good views of a Buzzard and a record number of 30 Gadwall. As dusk fell 3 Little Egrets arrived to start the pre-roost gathering but we had to leave before the hoped-for Cattle Egrets turned up.

Sunday January 13th
Weather: overcast all day with a strong southerly wind

Portland Bill, 0900
With the wind now at least force 6 there was even more activity on the sea than yesterday. A Red-throated Diver was a welcome addition to the list but the star bird was a Balearic Shearwater that appeared briefly out in the rough water known as “The Race”. Razorbills were passing at a rate of about 80 a minute and we saw far more Kittiwakes and Fulmars than yesterday, although fewer Gannets.

Church Ope Cove, 1030
This normally quiet spot was alive with seabirds today with Razorbills scattered all over the sea and Kittiwakes and Fulmars streaming past continuously. Another Balearic Shearwater was found, this time very close in, only to be joined soon after by a second. Probably the highlight of the weekend was watching these 2 birds through the telescope as they sat together on the sea just off the coast.

Portland Castle, 1100
Today’s first look at Portland Harbour produced 4 Long-tailed Ducks almost straight away with several distant Great Northern Divers visible after some searching.

Ferrybridge, 1130
A brief stop to look at the Brent Geese flock that was feeding just next to the car park produced excellent views of 3 Pale-bellied birds and 2 Mediterranean Gulls.

Underbarn, 1200
Portland Harbour was far too rough here to see much but we did manage some close views of Great-crested Grebes and a distant Black-throated Diver.

Radipole, 1230
We were really just here for lunch but even so we did see several more Mediterranean Gulls and a fly-by Peregrine.

Lodmoor, 1330
This turned out to be our main walk of the day with enough time to make a complete circuit of the reserve. Good views of 6 Scaup were the highlight, particularly as the flock included a superb adult male along with the usual females and youngsters. We also added Rook to the list with Water Pipit, Kingfisher and Wigeon spotted by one or two lucky members of the group.

We ended the weekend with a cream tea as usual, reflecting how incredibly fortunate we were not to get soaked on a weekend of decidedly dodgy weather.

Hoping to see you all again soon,