Portland Heights Birdwatching Breaks May 16th – 18th 2008

click here for a list of species seen over the weekend

Saturday May 17th
Weather: light rain most of the day becoming drier in the afternoon in a light easterly wind

Portland Bill 0700
Our birdlist started even before we left the hotel with a fine male Greenland Wheatear just across the road.

Within a few minutes of arriving at the Bill we had seen Puffin, Manx Shearwater and Common Tern, with lots of Gannets, Guillemots and Kittiwakes flying around as well. We then had a closer look at the feeding flock of shearwaters just off the Bill and found a single Balearic Shearwater amongst them.

Portland Bill 0930
Arriving at the Bird Observatory we heard that we had just missed an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, and from the dismal looks on the faces of the scattered masses of twitchers present our hopes of re-finding it didn’t seem very high. However, they did not take into account our secret weapon – muffins! A bird of this rarity called for a brace of the doughy confectionaries, which we duly consumed. The results appeared within seconds, in the shape of a pair of Spotted Flycatchers. Next was a Blackcap, then a Sedge Warbler and finally the star of the show popped up on an elder bush right in front of us. We had only got a few hours into our Birdbreak weekend and already we had a major UK rarity under our belts! And 2 muffins.

Opposite the Bird Observatory we stopped to admire a Hobby perched on a post and a nearby Whinchat.
(to keep up to date with sightings at Portland check out the PBO web site at:
http://www.portlandbirdobs.org.uk/aa_latestnews.htm )

Ferrybridge 1230
We thought we had probably already had all the luck we were due for one weekend but no, a quick scan of the mudflats revealed not only the usual waders but also a Glossy Ibis, in a very uncharacteristic habitat. A hurried phone call to the Bird Observatory brought a number of local birdwatchers hurrying down but alas, too late. The bird had flown.

The wader flock now received our undivided attention (and that of the disgruntled twitchers) and we soon had located Sanderling, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwits and a Little Stint.

Lodmoor RSPB Reserve 1330
News of a Purple Heron brought us here but all we could find was a Reed Bunting and some Grey Herons as we ate our sandwiches, our muffins having all been used up on the Olivaceous Warbler. The breeding Common Terns were entertaining though as the males chased the females around the nesting islands trying to seduce them with fish in their beaks. I must try that myself.

We were just setting off for a tour round the reserve when we heard of a Great White Egret at …

Radipole Lake RSPB Reserve, 1430
Not only was the GWE still in front of the hide but with it was a Cattle Egret and 3 Garganey, with a Hobby perched on a tree behind them. We eventually walked back to the car park in a daze, smiling smugly at the late-arriving birdwatchers hurrying towards the hide. We knew the Great White Egret had, like the Glossy Ibis, flown off. But we still hadn’t finished. A Marsh Harrier appeared in the skies above us and gave us a great view of it as it circled overhead.


Birds digiscoped from the North Hide, Radipole Lake RSPB Reserve - Nikon Coolpix 4500 and Swarovski HD80


Great White Egret

Cattle Egret

Sunday May 18th
Weather: Warm sunny intervals all day, but with a cold north-easterly wind in the morning.

Portland Bill 0700
Pretty much a repeat of yesterday, but with 2 Puffins instead of just the one. If anything a few more Gannets but still no skuas.

Hartland Moor 1030
The reported Montagu’s Harrier was nowhere to be seen when we arrived at this heathland site so we tried the muffin trick that worked so well yesterday. I was still chewing my first mouthful when a Dartford Warbler started singing close-by and a male Stonechat appeared on a bush in front of us. True to form a Dartford soon appeared in the same bush under the Stonechat – it seems as if the Dartfords use them as sentries. As we were watching these lovely birds a grey shape appeared briefly over the hillside only to disappear from whence it came. We knew that the muffins had done their trick again and produced a Montagu’s Harrier for us, one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey! It soon came back and we then spent a blissful hour or so watching it hunt right in front of us, repeatedly diving into the grass after unknown prey.

Arne RSPB Reserve 1300
The sun was well and truly out now and we had a very pleasant lunch with a Nuthatch making occasional visits to the bird table next to us. Our final walk of the weekend was out to Middlebere Lake and to be honest we didn’t really care if we saw anything or not – we had already seen in excess of 80 species including 4 that had never been seen a Birdbreak weekend before. On the way to the hide we stopped to admire and photograph 2 non-avian species; a fine Green Hairstreak and a very dusty male Common Toad.

Green Hairstreak

Common Toad

Reaching the hide we soon found the 6 Spoonbills that we were told had been seen there and also the first Little Egret of the weekend. A few waders were present including a very fine summer-plumaged Grey Plover and a Black-tailed Godwit. Several Yellow-legged Gulls were seen flying past and the first Buzzards of the weekend were found soaring over a distant hillside. As usual several species of mammal were seen from the hide including Roe Deer, Sika Deer and Red Fox. The final sighting of the weekend was a very smart adult Mediterranean Gull which flew over us as we walked back to the car park.

The final tally was a stunning 100 species with an unprecedented number of rarities and additions to the Birdbreak list.