Portland Heights Special Interest Breaks Trip Report 27 – 29 June 2008

reports archive

click here for a list of species seen over the weekend

Friday June 27th
Weather: Wet and windy on Portland, just windy on the mainland.

Tadnoll, 2100
Looking for Nightjars on such a windy evening was optimistic to say the least, and after an hour of searching we didn’t even hear one. But we did see a very smart male Stonechat and a good range of plants including Royal Fern, Heath Spotted Orchid and Bog Asphodel.

Saturday June 28th
Weather: Clear and sunny until the afternoon, with increasingly strong westerly wind.

Portland Bill, 0700
As soon as we arrived we could see that there were plenty of seabirds off the Bill this morning, with a fishing flock of Gannets just offshore. Guillemots and Razorbills were flying to and fro with lots of Kittiwakes feeding with the Gannets. For a while we were content with this selection but then the first shearwater appeared. We then spent a very pleasant 15 minutes or so picking out shearwaters as they became visible above the waves of Portland Race. They were mostly Manx with one or two Balearic Shearwaters showing up as noticeably more brown.

Southwell, 0930
Out of the strong westerly wind this was a warm spot to be, as demonstrated by the Wall Lizard we found basking on a rock in the sun. Overhead a young Peregrine was making an awful racket as its father repeatedly dive-bombed it. Butterflies were much in evidence in the warm sunshine with our main target species, Lulworth Skipper, showing up after only a few minutes of searching. Large and Small Skippers were present for comparison but it was probably the multitude of Marbled Whites that we enjoyed the most. Other insects were represented by several huge Rose Chafers. Another target here was the rare Portland Rock Sea-lavender which was growing in its usual spot as was a patch of Sea Spleenwort which we had found the previous year.

Rose Chafer

Ferrybridge, 1200
After a quick inspection of the Sea Holly plants across the road on Ham Beach we settled down with our sandwiches and telescopes. Amongst the usual flock of Ringed Plovers was a summer-plumaged Sanderling, presumably a failed breeder fresh from the Arctic.

Sea Holly

Powerstock Common, 1330
This afternoon we had this superb reserve all to ourselves, just us and an enormous diversity of wildlife. We spent much of our time sorting out all the new species of plants including Dyer’s Greenweed, Bitter Vetchling and hundreds of Common Spotted Orchids. Dragonflies were seen for the first time of the weekend with some particularly handsome Large Red and Azure Damselflies. Birds here were mostly seen and not heard but it was good to compare Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler songs.

On the way back a Corn Bunting was seen on a wire by the roadside.

Azure Damselfly

Meadow Thistle

Bitter Vetchling

Large Red Damselfly

Slime Mould

Dyer’s Greenweed

Abbotsbury Beach, 1600
Our final stop of the day was included for the unique shingle flora on Chesil Beach. Sea Pea and Sea Kale were the main species we found with Sea Campion, Sea Couch-grass and Sea Clover completing the set.

Sunday June 29th
Weather: Mostly sunny especially in the afternoon, fresh north-westerly wind.

Portland Bill, 0630
Much the same birds as yesterday with better views of Balearic Shearwaters and a Rock Pipit at last. Just as we were reaching the end of our sea-watch a fine pale-phase Arctic Skua came past, stopping a couple of times to chase Kittiwakes.

At the Bird Observatory we examined the night’s catch from the moth trap, (see the list for details) the highlight of which were several Small Elephant Hawk-moths. The warden Martin Cade updates the Portland Bird Observatory web site every day with a summary of the day’s sightings – see www.portlandbirdobs.org.uk.

Kingbarrow Quarry, 0900
We didn’t take long to find the Little Owl here and then watched it for 15 minutes or so while it took food (beetles apparently) to its nest site. Nearby we were delighted to find a couple of young Slow-worms whilst nearby was a patch of Early Gentians and huge numbers of Pyramidal Orchids.

Pyramidal Orchids

Walking on to Admiralty Quarries we found even more Pyramid Orchids and a good number of Silver-studded Blues, even if they were past their best. Next we visited the High Angle Batteries where we found some late Adonis Blues and Dingy Skippers. Whereas yesterday we were finding Rose Chafers today Summer Chafers were everywhere, with a lone Speckled Bush-cricket instead of the Great Green variety that turned up in the hotel yesterday evening. Looking up we were pleased to see 3 young Ravens flying over.

Ferrybridge, 1230
The only difference from yesterday was that a lone Dunlin was stood near the Sanderling.

Hartland Moor, 1430
Probably the highlight of the weekend, with a multitude of dragonflies including Small Red Damselflies, 2 Skimmers and 2 Chasers, These were good but paled into insignificance compared to the Smooth Snake which was a first for all but one of us. We also enjoyed the heathland plants which included Sundew, Bog Asphodel and 3 heathers.

Keeled Skimmer

Small Red Damselfly

Middlebere Farm, 1600
A gentle end to the day with a relaxed half hour sat in a hide overlooking Poole Harbour. Sika Deer were grazing on the marsh with a Yellow-legged Gull and several Little Egrets in the creek. We were more than happy with the list but on the way back a Lapwing and a Barn Owl were seen from the bus.

Sun-burnt and happy, we returned to the hotel for a monster cream tea, which was well-deserved after an intensive weekend of all-round natural history.

Looking forward to showing you all more of Dorset in the not-too-distant future.


All photos © Bob Ford/Nature Portfolio Image Library