Dorset Walks

Walks on Portland - wildlife highlights for 2012

last year's walks . . .

Friday December 28th
Coombefield Quarry

Mostly geological sightings this morning but a few birds of prey put in an appearance over the lip of the quarry.

An excellent and comprehensive introduction to the geology by Albion Stone's Quarry Manager Mark Godden can be found here, and a less technical introduction here.

Here are the geological sightings in order of age:
calcite, cave system, hard slatt, Purbeck beds, root holes, great earth bed, Portland beds, roach stone, bivalve fossils (Oss's Heads), ammonites, whitbed, basebed, cherty beds

and the bird list:
Peregrine, Kestrel, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Raven

Friday December 21st
Grove Point

After two days of appalling weather we were delighted to be out on the cliffs in beautiful warm sunshine. We were at the cliffs above the East Weares to check on the goats that were introduced here by Natural England a few years ago. In visible at first we eventually found half of the flock of ten goats and no doubt the rest of them were busy in the bushes somewhere.

Pleased with our success we set off towards Grove Point to look for our next target, the resident pair of Peregrines. On the way we found a wintering Chiffchaff and shortly after that a Buzzard flew past escorted by a pair of Carrion Crows.

Reaching the view point opposite the YOI bowling green we saw not only both Peregrines but also a number of Fulmars wheeling around just off the cliffs. Next stop was Yeolands Quarry to look for the Little Owl. He wasn't there but a Stock Dove was, as were a pair of Ravens.

The walk finished with a superb close-quarter flypast from the pair of Peregrines as they set off hunting over the quarry.

The day's list:

Peregrine, Kestrel, Buzzard, Fulmar, Raven, Stock Dove, Chiffchaff, British Primitive Goats (5)

Friday December 14th

Too wet to see any birds so we tried the amazing coffee at the new Ferrybridge cafe, coincidentally where a Snow Bunting has been residing recently.

Two mugs of coffee later we still hadn't see the Snow Bunting but had enjoyed very close views of Dunlins and an unexpected Golden Plover. However the real find of the day was the screen in the DWT information centre displaying a high resolution scan of the seabed off Portland. The image on the right is linked to the relevant page on their web site.

The day's list:

Golden Plover, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dark-bellied Brent Goose,

Friday December 7th

A bitter north-west wind today so we headed south-east and sought shelter on the cliff path at Southwell.

Parking near Cheyne House we saw the best bird of the morning before we had even opened the car doors - the male Peregrine from the nearby cliffs had taken an extreme dislike to one of the local crows and was giving it a really hard time. Walking along the cliffs we soon lost the wind and enjoyed some lovely warm sunshine and amazing light. Not many birds though, apart from a couple of Kestrels and a large flock of Gannets over the Race.

The recent rains had brought down a number of small sections of the cliffs and several other bits looked very dodgy so if you are walking along here it would be best to keep well away from any overhangs.

The day's list:

Peregrine, Kestrel, Gannet, Razorbill, Great Black-backed Gull, Shag, Rock Pipit

Friday November 30th

On one of the first really cold days of the winter we visited the Fleet to see all the Siberian birds that are obviously feeling quite at home there for the winter.

The highlight was the biggest flock of Mediterranean Gulls I have ever seen, along with close views of both Dark-bellied (from Siberia) and Pale-bellied (from Spitsbergen) Brent Geese.

The day's list:

Dark-bellied Brent Goose (750), Pale-bellied Brent Goose (20), Mediterranean Gull (350), Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Common Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Shag, Cormorant, Red-breasted Merganser, Little Egret, Great-crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail

Friday November 23rd
Chesil Cove

A beach-combing session the morning after a very windy night produced some very interesting records, most notably the Portugese Man-o'-war pictured here.

The day's list:

Common Scoter, Mediterranean Gull, Sparrowhawk, Pied Wagtail
Plants: Sea Kale, Sea Beet, Yellow Horned-poppy, Scarlet Pimpernel, Sallow, Tree Mallow
Algae: Knotted Wrack, Bladder Wrack, Kelp (3 species)
Marine animals: Portugese Man-o'-war, Dead-mans Fingers, Pink Sea Fan, Hydrozoan (see iSpot), Bryozoan (see iSpot), Whelk, Cuttlefish, Ray (eggs), Dogfish (eggs), Edible Crab, Orange Sponge, Branched Sponge (see iSpot)

Friday November 16th
Portland Castle

A quick walk around the castle grounds produced a few birds including several Golcrests, one of which stopped bouncing around the tree long enough for me to film this short video.

The day's list:

Heron, Kestrel, Goldcrest, Fieldfare, Redwing, Chaffinch, Goldfinch

Friday November 9th

A very short report on a very quiet morning.

The day's list:

Peregrine, Kestrel, Buzzard, Oystercatcher, Gannet, Shag, Rock Pipit, Goldfinch

Friday November 2nd
Portland Bill

For the second week in a row we achieved a named target. This time it was the Purple Sandpipers that has just arrived for the winter. In the rough weather they took a bit of finding but when we located a group of Turnstones we knew we had found the right spot. From some distance we could just see the smaller sandpipers feeding with their larger cousins, but then they flew right past us and landed on the cliffs nearby.

So then we went and celebrated with coffees and hot chocolates all round in the Lobster Pot!

The day's list:

Purple Sandpiper, Black Redstart, Turnstone, Gannet, Shag, Rock Pipit, Linnet

Friday October 19th
Tout Quarry - Westcliffs

For once a targeted walk achieved its aim, as we set out to see a Ring Ouzel and, on arriving at the Westcliffs, pretty much the first bird we saw was indeed a fine male Ring Ouzel. After enjoying quite a prolonged view of the bird through the telescope we continued along the cliff-top path towards Blacknor Fort. As expected the resident pair of Ravens soon put in an appearance, surrounded by a mass of annoyed Jackdaws.

Less expected was the Black Redstart that popped up right by the edge of the path. This also stayed still long enough for us to get a good view through the telescope. We had only progressed a few paces when we had to stop again, this time to look at a Buzzard which had been found sat on a rock not far away in Bower's Quarry. This bird did not stop around long enough for a telescope view but the Kestrel on the top of St Georges Church was more obliging.

Our final sighting was just as we approached the hotel where a late Wheatear appeared on the grass just north of Inmosthay Quarry.

The day's list:
Ring Ouzel, Black Redstart, Buzzard, Kestrel, Raven, Swallow, Goldcrest, Chiffchaff (heard), Wheatear

Friday October 12th
Eastcliffs at Wakeham

Our aim today was to see one of the several Yellow-browed Warblers that were on the island. Needless to say we didn't but we did find all sorts of other birds - and we stayed dry again in what has been another very wet week.

Our first stop was in Wakeham over the old railway line. The Sycamores here often hold an interesting migrant or two but today we had to be content with a few very restless Chiffchaffs.

Next we tried behind the Mermaid. This was much better with Chiffchaffs flitting all over the place along with a few Blackcaps, a Goldcrest and - the real star bird of the day - a lovely Firecrest (the photo is from the archive - there was absolutely no chance of photographing this bird!)

We finally dragged ourselves away from all the activity up in the trees and walked out onto the clifftop where we were treated to an amazingly clear view of the Jurassic Coast all the way to St Aldhelm's Head. Out at sea there were lots of Gannets fishing but not much migration going on. Instead it was all happening over our heads with a late Sand Martin amongst the Swallows heading south and several parties of Meadow Pipits flying west into the wind.

The day's list:
Buzzard, Kestrel, Sand Martin, Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Firecrest, Goldcrest, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Gannet

Friday October 5th

A new bird for our Portland walks bird list today in the shape of a lovely Red-backed Shrike in the bushes just south of Southwell.

This bird has been here for over a week but has often been very tricky to find. Today we managed to find it, with the help of a visiting birder and the fantastic Swarovski telescope borrowed from the Heights Hotel. It was never close but most of us got a reasonable view in the end through the 'scope.

After about 15 minutes the bird exited stage left and we walked on to the Eastcliffs. Instead of turning north and exploring our usual haunts towards Cheyne House we walked south along the cliffs at Godnor. Here the rocks are weathered into amazing shapes, giving the landscape a very elemental feel. It was even more elemental than usual today as we were treated to the rare sight of a rough sea in almost windless conditions, presumably the result of a swell originating well out to sea.

Overhead Swallows and House Martins streamed past on their way south. On the cliffs a few Wheatears were stood around but soon these too moved on south.

Back in the fields above Southwell the Ivy bushes were alive with Ivy Bees, Droneflies and Red Admirals.

The day's list:
Birds: RED-BACKED SHRIKE, Kestrel, House Martin, Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Wheatear, Goldfinch

Friday September 28th
Pennsylvania Castle - Church Ope Cove

The north-westerly wind sent us the the east side of the island again in the hope of finding some autumn migrants in the grounds of Pennsylvania Castle.

As soon as we got there we could hear lots of birds up in the trees. A quick look confirmed them as mostly tits, but we did see one or two Chiffchaffs and a Goldcrest with them.

As we reached the ruins of St Andrew's Church the sun came out and we started seeing butterflies everywhere. Most of them were Red Admirals and Speckled Woods but there were also a few Commas. Lots of other insects were buzzing around the Ivy flowers including hundreds of Droneflies and quite a few Ivy Bees, a species which I cannot remember seeing before. Just in case I have got the identification of this bee wrong, I have posted a photo onto iSpot for checking, at A huge hoverfly resting nearby was probably a Volucella zonaria. See iSpot at

On the walls of the church were several wall lizards, including one very tiny juvenile. Looking out to sea there did not appear to be much going on, until a string of 6 Common Scoter flew past on their westerly migration. A Rock Pipit appeared on the shoreline and a Kestrel soared overhead.

Walking back we found the feeding tit flock again. This time there were a few more migrants with them including both Spotted and Pied Flycatchers and a very late Willow Warbler.

The day's list:
Birds: Kestrel, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Raven, Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit, Swallow, Rock Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Common Scoter
Insects: Red Admiral, Comma, Speckled Wood, Ivy Bee, Dronefly, Honey Bee, Volucella zonaria
Reptiles: Wall Lizard Plants: Elm, Herb Bennett Fungi: Dryad's Saddle

Friday September 21st
Portland Bill

Our first stop on this beautiful calm day on Portland was at the Bird Observatory where the warden, Martin Cade, told us that they had just seen a Nuthatch - a very rare bird indeed for Portland. We headed off north to look at the fields by the Eastcliffs, where we hoped to find a rare pipit, or at least some wagtails

We certainly found lots of pipits, but they were all Meadows. The rocky ledges under the cliffs held plenty of wagtails, all Pied. Several Kestrels were about today, including this very tame adult male, filmed at 60 frames per second to slow it down a bit.

A very pleasant 15 minutes was then spent at the Lobster Pot drinking coffee and waiting for dolphins to appear before we walked back to the Bird Observatory, having a quick look at the resident Little Owl on the way.

The day's list:
Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Sand Martin, House Martin, Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Linnet, Pied Wagtail, Sandwich Tern, Small Heath

Friday September 14th
Eastcliffs, Cheyne - Southwell

With a strong north-westerly wind blowing we chose the south-east corner of the island to explore today.

Our first stop as always at this site was the little cliff-top quarry just south of Cheyne House to see if the Wall Lizards were out. It was still a bit windy here but we did manage a brief view of a couple of them.

Then it was on to the cliff-edge where we nearly always get a good view of one or both of the resident pair of Peregrines. Today just one was present, probably the female.

Behind us a Whitethroat popped up amongst the Bramble bushes and promptly dashed off to attempt to catch a large insect that had just flown past. This insect stopped to hover in front of the Valerian flowers and showed itself to be a Hummingbird Hawkmoth. These insects arrive every summer and autumn from southern Europe, along with all sorts of other migrant insects such as Painted Lady butterflies and Silver Y moths, both of which were much in evidence to day.

Once the sun came out it turned out to be a very good day for butterflies with 9 species in total including a fine female Comma. A video of the comma can be seen at or on my video blog at

The day's list:
Birds: Gannet, Peregrine, Kestrel, Raven, House Martin, Swallow, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Wheatear, Rock Pipit, Goldfinch
Insects: Red Admiral, Comma, Peacock, Painted Lady, Wall, Speckled Wood, Common Blue, Small White, Large White, Hummingbird Hawk-moth, Fox Moth, Silver Y, Grey Bush-cricket
Reptiles: Wall Lizard Plants: Portland Rock Sea-lavender, Golden Samphire, Rock Samphire

Friday August 31st
Portland Bill

A fruitless Wryneck search again this week, but we did enjoy Portland Bill in absolutely gorgeous weather and there were plenty of other birds to see.

On arriving at the car park immediately there were Wheatears popping up all over the place and dozens of Sand Martins over our heads. A walk through the Bill Quarry added a few more Wheatears and several Rock Pipits. Out at sea a Gannet flew past, unusually close.

Next we walked northwards along the Eastcliffs towards the Observatory Quarry, where we heard that a Nightjar had recently been seen - as well as the Wryneck that had been there in the week. A Painted Lady was found feeding on the Golden Samphire around the fishing huts, one of the first seen this year.

The Obs Quarry held neither bird but we did hear a close Tree Pipit and saw several very large dragonflies, all too quick to identify with certainty. A Buzzard that flew over had a careful examination from us just in case it was a much rarer Honey Buzzard.

We were almost back to the car park when we saw the best bird of the morning - a Whinchat sat in the bushes near the Pulpit Inn. Another was found nearby along with a Stonechat for comparison.

The day's list:
Gannet, Oystercatcher, Buzzard, Kestrel, Raven, House Martin, Swallow, Sand Martin, Stonechat, Whinchat, Wheatear, Rock Pipit, Tree Pipit (heard), Goldfinch, Painted Lady, Silver Y

Friday August 24th
Verne Common

Recent reports of a Wryneck at the Verne had to be investigated, although we knew we were very unlikely to repeat the good fortune of our walk last August when we found two of them!

Sure enough when we got to the Verne the Wryneck was nowhere to be seen. In fact the whole area was very quiet with just a few House Martins feeding over our heads and a Blackcap calling from the bushes. We did find the resident Peregrines up on the cliff and got good views through the hotel telescope before they flew off in search of pigeons.

A group of four late Swifts was a good find as we were walking back to the bus, as was a Sparrowhawk hunting along the top of the cliff high above us.

Back at the hotel we were pleased to see that the Autumn Ladies Tresses were out in good numbers again - the last orchids we will see until next Spring!

The day's list:
Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, House Martin, Swallow, Swift, Blackcap, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Red Admiral

Friday August 3rd
Kingbarrow Quarry

Every now and again we decide to undertake a particular project on our Friday walk and today we were concentrating on lichens and macrophotography. We chose Kingbarrow Quarry to look for lichens as there are a large number of ancient rocks here.

Our first practice task was to take a macro photo of a single flower of Vipers Bugloss. This was a fairly simple example to start with as the limited depth of focus that results when the camera is so close to the subject will help to separate the flower from the background. However we soon revealed another problem - the shadow of the photographer that covers the subject if correctly positioned with the sun exactly behind. We solved this by using a hand-held mirror to direct sunlight onto the flower, see the results below.

A bit further on we found a particularly good lichen-covered rock on which one colony, the white one, appeared to be over-growing the adjacent orange colony. We will revisit this rock if we remember to see how the situation changes over time. Today we used the rock to explore the problems of field depth with a large subject, where only one area is in focus at any one time. One way to overcome this is to take several photos and use software such as Adobe Photoshop to make a composite photo. The example on the right shows this with the separate photos that were combined are shown below. All photos in today's report can be viewed at a higher resolution by clicking on the image.

On the occasions that we did look up we couldn't find many birds, although I had seen a Little Owl and a Willow Warbler here earlier in the morning. A solitary Raven was a splendid sight though as it flew past just over our heads. Butterflies however were much in evidence and a couple of Slow-worms were found in their usual sites.

The day's list:
Raven, Kestrel, Slow-worm, Six-spot Burnet, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Marbled White, Chalkhill Blue, Common Blue, Small Skipper
Other photos from today's walk:
all can be viewed at a higher resolution by clicking on the image

Bob Ford/Nature Portfolio

Viper's Bugloss unlit (left) and lit by mirror (right)
Bob Ford/Nature Portfolio

The lichen rock with focus at left, middle and right

Friday July 27th
Tout Quarry

Another gorgeous day but with a stiff breeze blowing from the east we decided to walk west from the hotel and seek the shelter of one of our favourite quarries, Tout.

We were still in the car park when one of the few birds seen during the morning appeared - a pair of Ravens. Shortly afterwards we heard a plaintive squeaking and a large female Peregrine flew overhead. But the squeaking was surely not from this impressive brute, sounding much more like a youngster. The problem resolved itself once we walked to the cliff-edge and found a young Peregrine perched right next to the coast path. Soon this was joined by another youngster and we had amazingly close views as they chased around after each other and their mother.

The quarry itself was full of butterflies today; with good numbers of Marbled Whites and Graylings along with a few Chalkhill and Silver-studded Blues. Most of the male Silver-studded Blues were very fresh, indicating a second hatching perhaps caused by the appalling weather during their normal flight period in early June.

Lots of Bloody-nosed Beetles were seen, including a mating pair with the male using the smooth surfaces of his extra-large front feet to suck onto the back of the female. Moths were out too including a splendid Scarlet Tiger. Two more tiny moths that we found are being checked on iSpot, see and

The day's list:
Raven, Peregrine, Swift, Linnet
Cinnabar Moth, Six-spot Burnet, Scarlet Tiger, Comma, Grayling, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Marbled White, Chalkhill Blue, Silver-studded Blue, Common Blue, Bloody-nosed Beetle, Summer Chafer
Other photos from today's walk:

Kay Mantripp/Nature Portfolio

Bloody-nosed Beetles, Scarlet Tiger, Comma, Marbled White
Kay Mantripp/Nature Portfolio

Grayling, Gatekeeper, Six-spot Burnet, Silver-studded Blue,
And a couple of moths that are being checked on iSpot (click on the image to go to iSpot):

© Bob Ford/Nature Portfolio

Oncocera semirubella and Least Black Arches

Friday July 20th

On a beautiful warm sunny morning we drove down to Ferrybridge to have a look at the new walkway over to Ferrybridge. From here we got a good view of the small flock of gulls on the edge of the beach and found 8 or so Mediterranean Gulls amongst them including a juvenile. The green patches on Chesil Beach were particularly green with lots of Haresfoot Clover and Wild Thyme. Looking closely amongst the other plants a tiny little white clover could be seen - the rare Rough Clover.

This find got us in the mood for some proper botanising so we crossed the road to examine the incredibly diverse community growing on the sandy soil at the edge of Portland Harbour. We didn't find the main rarity, Yarrow Broomrape, but we did find 50 or more species including a tall form of Wild Thyme and a few plants of Common Broomrape, growing in probably its only site on Portland (the rest are all Ivy Broomrape). Of course the real star was easy to find - Sea Holly.

Back across the road again the tide had gone out so we searched the mudflats for waders. Our perseverance paid off when a Whimbrel dropped in and a family of Oystercatchers arrived. Just then all the Little Terns got up from their colony on the beach and flew around. Looking for a bird of prey to blame we could only see an adult Gannet with what looked to be a recently-fledged youngster cruising just over the crest of the beach.

The day's list:
Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Starling, Pied Wagtail, Gannet, Cormorant, Raven, Carrion Crow, Rook, Kestrel, Skylark, Little Tern, Common Tern, Sandwich Tern, Whimbrel, Dunlin, Oystercatcher
Cinnabar Moth, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Great Green Bush-cricket, Roesel's Bush-cricket
Plants: (51 species)
Common Broomrape, Wild Radish, Wild Carrot, Fennel, Hemlock, Common Hogweed, Sea Holly, Bristly Ox-tongue, Common Catsear, Common Ragwort, Creeping Thistle, Hoary Ragwort, Spear Thistle, Wormwood, Yarrow, Curled Dock, Common Toadflax, Yellow Rattle, Pale Flax, Common Storksbill, Dovesfoot Cranesbill, Crow Garlic, Common Mallow, Wild Thyme, Wild Clary, Sea Purslane, Shrubby Seablite, Marsh Samphire, Pyramidal Orchid, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Black Medick, Common Vetch, Grass Vetchling, Hairy Tare, Haresfoot Clover, Horseshoe Vetch, Kidney Vetch, Red Clover, Restharrow, Rough Clover, Mouse-ear Chickweed, Sea Campion, Buck's-horn Plantain, Hoary Plantain, Ribwort Plantain, Sea Plantain, Woody Nightshade, Bramble, Thrift, Sand Sedge, Portland Spurge

Other photos from today's walk:

Bob Ford/Nature Portfolio

Great Green Bush-cricket, Cinnabar caterpillars on Ragwort, Wild Thyme

Friday July 13th
Penn's Weare

In the wettest summer since Noah our walks on Friday mornings have been almost always dry. Mostly pretty windy, but we have hardly ever got wet. Today was another case in point so we headed off to the Eastcliffs to enjoy the watery sunshine and escape the blustery west wind.

We chose one of our favourite stretched below the cliffs at Grove Point along the old railway line that runs above the huge area of undercliff known as Penn's Weare. We particularly wanted to check out how the birds had fared through all the wet weather, especially the pair of Peregrines that have bred here every year since about 1986.

The first birds we reached were the Fulmars nesting on the cliffs above us. They were there as usual but we could only see a handful of them so they might have decided not to bother this year. With a lifespan of well over 50 years Fulmars can afford to take a year off now and again.

As we were watching the Fulmars a tatty-looking Raven appeared briefly over the top of the cliffs above us. Its worn-out flight feather showed it to be an adult - the young birds are much smarter at at this time of year. To prove the point a young bird soon appeared and showed us its new, sleek plumage.

A screaming noise revealed that our main target was nearby. First we saw the adult male Peregrine make a quick fly-past then we found the young bird squeaking on the cliff. Twice the size of its parent this youngster was a big healthy female. Both birds had bulging crops so had obviously just eaten, probably a pigeon. The male flew past again and landed just above us. Through binoculars we could see a second bird crouched down next to him. This was the adult female, seemingly guarding their recent kill.

As we headed back another world of birds were making their way past off to the east - Gannets and Manx Shearwaters skimming low over the sea. At our feet on the track of what was the Weymouth - Easton railway a Bloody-nose Beetle lumbered past lumps of strange gelatinous brown algae. You'll have to check out the iSpot page at to see if my tentative identification as a blue-green alga is proved correct.

The day's list:
Fulmar, Gannet, Shag, Manx Shearwater, Raven, Peregrine, Kestrel, Linnet, Whitethroat, Long-tailed Tit, Bullfinch, Song Thrush
Marbled White, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Bloody-nosed Beetle
Maidenhair Fern, Pyramidal Orchid, Common Toadflax, Rock Stonecrop, Viper's Bugloss, Eyebright

Friday July 6th
Kingbarrow Quarry

A report of a recent sighting of the Kingbarrow Little Owls made up our minds as to where to go on this beautifully calm, if a bit damp, morning.

The first birds we saw were pretty much the only birds seen all morning - a Kestrel sat on the resevoir and a family of Whitethroats nearby. The Little Owl site produced a blank but then there were several workers from the Dorst Wildlife Trust clearing out the old tyres (by rolling them into a gully!) that may have disturbed it. A few more birds could be heard singing from the edges of the quarry including a distant Song Thrush and several remarkable loud Wrens. They do seem to like to use the quarry walls to add a bit of echo to their song.

The wild flowers were really out in force this morning including plenty of new Pyramidal Orchids and a patch of 50+ Early Gentians. Two Slow-worms were found under an old bit of rusted metal, one of which was the palest we have ever seen - almost white!

Searching the grasses for sheltering butterflies (it was raining gently now) we found the real star of the morning in the shape of one of our most colourful insects - a Small Elephant Hawk-moth. The elephant bit of the name could come from the part of the pupa that holds the developing tongue, or from the fact that the larva does look a bit like an elephant's trunk. At first we thought that this individual must have just hatched as it looked so bright and refused to move. But closer inspection of the photos reveals a covering of white pollen, so it must have spent the previous night out feeding, probably on the flowers of Wild Privet which are so numerous in this area.

We were almost back to the hotel when we found one final find; a Speckled Bush-cricket.

The day's list:

Little Owl, Kestrel, Linnet, Whitethroat, Wren, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Robin
Small Elephant Hawk-Moth, Meadow Brown, Speckled Bush-cricket
Plants (68 species):
Birdsfoot Trefoil, Early Gentian, False Oat-grass, Pyramidal Orchid, Rosebay Willow-herb, Wild Carrot, Wild Privet, Yellow Oat-grass, Yorkshire Fog

Friday June 29th
Waycroft Quarry

Tucked away in the far north-eastern corner of the Tophill quarries is Waycroft, an area of old quarry workings between Kingbarrow and Admiralty Quarries. It includes a set of Victorian gun emplacements that are rarely seen as the area has always been private, mostly used for horse-grazing. Today we were lucky enough to have the chance to look around this very special area and we took the opportunity to survey the incredible diversity of plants found there.

We found most of the same species that were on the nearby Fancy's Farm last week, plus a few more including some shrub species that hadn't received the attentions (yet!) of the goats from Fancy's Farm. Pyramid Orchids were here again but we were particularly pleased to see a good showing of Bee Orchids - at least 50 of them!

A few more butterflies were out this week including some really smart Common Blues. My personal favourite sighting of the day was a Yellowhammer, as this is now the only part of the island where these lovely birds still breed.

The day's list:
Yellowhammer, Linnet, Whitethroat
Cinnabar Moth, Meadow Brown, Small Heath, Common Blue
Plants (68 species):
Agrimony, Ash, Bee Orchid, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Black Medick, Blackthorn, Bramble, Broad-leaved Eyebright, Burnet Rose, Carline Thistle, Cats-tail, Cleavers, Cocksfoot, Common Centaury, Common Hogweed, Common Milkwort, Common Ragwort, Cowslip, Crested Dogstail, Daisy, Dog Rose, Dogwood, Early Gentian, Entire-leaved Cotoneaster, False Oat-grass, Greater Knapweed, Hart's Tongue Fern, Hawthorn, Hedge Bedstraw, Hemp Agrimony, Herb Robert, Hoary Ragwort, Hop Trefoil, Horseshoe Vetch, Ivy, Ivy Broomrape, Kidney Vetch, Lesser Burdock, Lesser Trefoil, Marjoram, Meadow Grass, Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Pyramidal Orchid, Quaking Grass, Red Clover, Restharrow, Rock Stonecrop, Salad Burnet, Sedge, Self-heal, Smooth Hawksbeard, Sorrel, Spear Thistle, Stemless Thistle, Stinging Nettle, Sycamore, Teasel, Upright Brome, Viper's Bugloss, Wayfaring Tree, White Clover, Wild Carrot, Wild Clary, Wild Privet, Wild Thyme, Yellow Rattle, Yellow-wort, Yorkshire Fog

Friday June 22nd
Fancy's Family Farm

A Facebook message from Jon Illsley sent us scurrying over to Fancy's Farm to look at a bumper crop of Early Gentians that he had reported flowering all over his fields.

When we got there we were warned that we might have a bit of a job counting them as there were at least 400 in flower, but in the end we had to give up and estimate at least 1,000 flowering plants! This could well be the most important patch of this little flower left in the UK, or even the world, as this species is not found anywhere else other than Southern England.

Remarkably, this was not our best sighting of the morning as one of our regular walkers, Kay Mantripp, pointed out a little pink orchid that looked distinctly paler than the nearby Pyramidal Orchids. A closer inspection revealed this to be a Common Spotted Orchid, a very ordinary sight in most of Dorset but as far as I know the first one ever seen on Portland! I've put the sighting up on iSpot for the experts to consider, see

Slow-worms were, as usual, found under their usual shelters but today we also found a shrew and a toad. A few butterflies were out but in the blustery wind were few and far between.

The day's list:
Raven, Kestrel, Swift, Swallow, Linnet, Whitethroat
Other animals:
Common Shrew, Slow-worm, Common Toad, Lackey Moth, Cinnabar Moth, Red Admiral, Meadow Brown, Small Heath, Common Blue
Plants (all 56 species within the farm):
Annual Meadow Grass, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Black Medick, Blackthorn, Bramble, Broad-leaved Dock, Broad-leaved Eyebright, Bulbous Buttercup, Burnet Rose, Carline Thistle, Cat's-tail, Cocksfoot, Common Hogweed, Common Ragwort, Common Spotted Orchid, Creeping Cinquefoil, Creeping Thistle, Crested Dogstail, Cut-leaved Cranesbill, Daisy, Dandelion, Early Gentian, False Oat-grass, Greater Knapweed, Hawthorn, Hedge Bedstraw, Hop Trefoil, Lesser Burdock, Lesser Trefoil, Marjoram, Meadow Vetchling, Mouse-ear Chickweed, Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Pale Flax, Purging Flax, Pyramidal Orchid, Quaking Grass, Red Clover, Ribwort Plantain, Salad Burnet, Scarlet Pimpernel, Self-heal, Sheep's Fescue, Sorrel, Spear Thistle, Stemless Thistle, Stinging Nettle, Upright Brome, Viper's Bugloss, White Clover, Wild Clary, Wild Thyme, Wood Sage, Yellow Rattle Yellow-wort, Yorkshire Fog

Other photos from today's walk:

, ,

Friday June 8th

Unseasonal gales had brought seabirds such as Pomarine Skuas and Storm Petrels to Chesil Cove but we didn't fancy getting blown about in the wind so we devised a cunning plan...

In gales most seabirds struggle along Chesil Beach and past the Bill, often giving birdwatchers at these sites dramatically close views. But a close view of a passing skua or shearwater is not much use if you can't keep your binoculars steady and when the lenses are all covered in salt spray anyway. Our cunning plan was to seek the shelter of Portland Harbour and hope that the gale was strong enough to encourage the birds to take the short cut across the harbour at Ferrybridge.

So we left the island and drove to Wyke, parking conveniently close to Smallmouth, the channel where the waters of the Fleet enter Portland Harbour. As we suspected, terns were streaming through at close quarters, mostly Sandwich Terns with a few Common Terns and a single Little Tern. After half an hour though we still hadn't seen any Storm Petrels so we decided to further explore these foreign lands and walk along the Rodwell Trail for a bit.

The sheltered railway cutting at Downclose holds a really good selection of plants, including a tremendous selection of legumes (plants in the pea family). As well as a host of common species (listed below) we also found the scarce Bithynian Vetch and the really rare Little Robin (not a legume but a geranium). This last species can be a bit tricky to identify so I uploaded a photo onto iSpot just to make sure I've got it right. See

The day's list:
Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Little Tern, Kestrel, Cormorant, Swallow
Plants: Little Robin, Bithynian Vetch, Meadow Vetchling, Common Vetch, Herb Robert, Black Medick, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Salad Burnet

Friday June 1st
Verne Naval Cemetry

With all sorts of exotic birds from the continent such as Bee-eaters, Rollers and Coursers turning up elsewhere in the country we thought we would have a look at the Verne again, just in case.

We had already managed a great view of a Sparrowhawk while we were still in the hotel car park and then as soon as we got to the Verne we could hear the distinctive whinging squeak of a bird of prey from up on the cliffs. A search through the telescope revealed the source of the noise to be a male Kestrel, no doubt calling to a nesting female nearby.

In the cemetery a Red Admiral flew up from one of the headstones and a Holly Blue was seen gaining height over the bushes, the only butterflies seen all morning. Down in the grass a number of large bumble-bees were found, all very sleepily sat with their heads buried deep in the grass. Bumblebees make little nests in leaf litter on the ground so these may have been looking for nest sites.

Further along the path the telescope came in useful again when a male Peregrine was seen sat high up on the cliffs above us. Before long the female appeared and helped herself to breakfast from the male's plucking ledge. This is where the male bird leaves food for the female so he doesn't have to risk his neck by getting too close to her. Female Peregrines are much larger than the males and often very hungry!

On the way back a persistent "wheet-wheet" noise was found to come from a very smart male Chaffinch., This bird sat still long enough for me to video it from the front, then it turned round and showed off its smart green back to us.

The day's list:
Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Peregrine, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch, Goldfinch
Insects: Red Admiral, Holly Blue, Buff-tailed Bumblebee
Plants: Shining Cranesbill, Himalayan Cottoneaster, Wood Spurge, Hartstongue Fern

Friday May 18th
Kingbarrow Quarry

In a brisk easterly wind (again) we set off east from the hotel and sought shelter in the depths of one of Portland's oldest quarry systems - Kingbarrow.

Skirting round the recently-erected big top (the circus is in town!) we dropped down into the quarry seeing a number of Whitethroats on the way. Not finding any sign of the resident Little Owls we moved on through the quarry heading eastwards. Many species of wild flower were in evidence including several types of the yellow vetches that will be swarming with blue butterflies in a week or two, as soon as the weather warms up.

Entering the gully that runs north from the quarry we immediately stepped into a different world, a world of shade-loving ferns, damp mosses and huge stems of Ivy. Some of these Ivy plants must have been here for the best part of a hundred years and are twelve inches or more in circumference around the stems. In places they appear to be holding up the walls of the gully and it was particularly alarming to see that someone had been cutting them down.

As we emerged from the gully's northern entrance overlooking Tilleycoombe a Yellowhammer called from the bushes above us. What a relief to know that this once-common songbird is still hanging on in the north of Portland.

The day's list:
Kestrel, Whitethroat, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Stock Dove, Yellowhammer, Wren
Plants: Horseshoe Vetch, Kidney Vetch, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Milkwort, Wood Spurge, Hartstongue Fern, Wayfaring Tree

Friday May 4th
Portland Bill

We were all set for a walk along Chesil Beach today but I thought I would just check Martin Cade's Twitter feed before we left., "Another big fall" and "pod of 10 Bottle-nosed Dolphins" had us changing our plans pretty quickly.

A "fall" is a birding term for a large arrival of migrants, usually as a result of poor weather overnight. Most small birds choose to migrate at night when they can see the stars to navigate by and the dangers of predation are less. But if they fly into a band of heavy rain or suddenly encounter strong winds their response can be to find the nearest land and rest-up until the conditions improve. Sometimes this will involve thousands of birds converging on a small area, usually a coastal headland like Portland Bill.

As we arrived and found a place to park we could see warblers flying along the roadside. Within minutes of getting out of the car we had a whole list of species under our belts including the first Whinchats and Garden Warblers I had seen this year. The area around the Old Higher Light was the most productive with several Redstarts (all females) and a superb female Hobby.

I spite of all this birding action today's photo is not of a bird but a plant. The Green-winged Orchid is a species common enough on the mainland but for some reason very rare indeed on Portland. So we were delighted to find this little beauty on exactly the same spot where I had last seen one, 10 years ago!

... but we didn't see the dolphins.

The day's list:
Hobby, Kestrel, Peregrine, Garden Warbler, Whitethroat, Blackcap, Sedge Warbler, Chiffchaff, Redstart, Whinchat, Yellow Wagtail,, Raven, Gannet, Razorbill, Guillemot, Kittiwake, Shag, Wheatear, Goldfinch, Fulmar, Stonechat, Rock Pipit
Plants: Green-winged Orchid, Early Purple Orchid, Greater Knapweed, Horseshoe Vetch, Alexanders, Hoary Cress, Stemless Thistle (just the leaves, found when we knelt down to photograph the orchid!)

Friday April 27th
Portland Bill

A week of what can only be described as filthy weather had pushed the migrating seabirds to our side of the Channel, with hundreds of shearwaters and dozens of skuas seen close in off the Bill. So on the first morning of fine weather for several days we headed off to the Bill for a spot of sea-watching.

A sea-watch is when you find a good vantage point overlooking the sea, make yourself comfortable and wait to see what flies past. On a good day at Portland you will hardly be able to keep up with all the birds streaming past; on other days you might find it hard to keep your eyes open. A bit like fishing really.

Today showed us that you really do need a bit of rough weather to produce the birds. On this fine sunny morning we only managed a single Gannet and a couple of Manx Shearwaters. Luckily I had filmed more of the shearwaters on the weekend when the wind was much stronger and the birds a lot closer in.

We did see plenty of the resident seabirds of course: Razorbills, Guillemots and Kittiwakes floating past in large groups on the sea and a few solitary Fulmars flying past. But we were really hoping for skuas.,

See next week's post...

The day's list:
Raven, Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Razorbill, Guillemot, Kittiwake, Shag, Wheatear, Goldfinch, Fulmar, Stonechat, Rock Pipit

Friday April 20th
Penn's Weare

Strong westerly winds today sent us seeking the shelter of the old railway line along Penn's Weare below the high Eastcliffs near Grove Point, a favourite walk of ours in such weather.

Pausing at the top of the steps down to Church Ope Cove we were pleased to see a lovely male Orange-tip butterfly flutter past, one of several I have seen in this area in the last week. Nearby a Blackcap was feeding in a low Sycamore and a Willow Warbler could be heard singing in the trees a bit further away.

We then started along the old track of the Easton - Weymouth railway and were pleased to see that some of the Buddleia bushes had been cut back. Even though this plant does attract butterflies to its flowers in the summer it is an exotic introduction so we do not have any butterflies in this country that will lay their eggs on it.

Just past the cutting, one of the most dramatic parts of Portland's landscape, we found the bird of the day - a fine male Redstart. This little beauty did not allow us close enough for a decent photograph but nearby was a much more co-operative pair of Linnets, one of which is pictured here.

The last part of the walk was below the huge cliffs of the Grove where we found a pair of Kestrels, the male of the resident pair of Peregrines and a marauding Raven. On the cliffs were several pairs of Fulmars, cackling to each other as they do at this time of year.

The day's list:
Redstart, Swallow, Raven, Peregrine, Kestrel, Wheatear, Linnet, Fulmar, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Goldfinch
Butterflies: Peacock, Orange-tip, Small White, Large White

Friday April 13th
High Angle Battery - Nicodemus Knob

Clear skies and light northerly winds in April are always very good conditions to encourage migrants to use the island as a flight path on their journey north. This is just what we had today so we decided to spend a while on the high Eastcliffs around Nicodemus Knob to see what was moving through.

Parking next to Fancy's Farm we started by walking round the High Angle Battery. Linnets were everywhere, mostly in pairs and singing so probably not migrants. However the Swallows that were dashing overhead certainly were as probably was the Sparrowhawk that was circling overhead far higher than the resident birds tend to do.

Moving on to the Verne Moat we found a very smart Stock Dove sun-bathing on the cliff-edge, soon joined by a second bird.

The cliffs near Nicodemus Knob were alive with Wheatears, including one or two that looked as if they could have been from the brighter Greenland population. A pair of Ravens were busy overhead circling round and round calling to each other - presumably a courtship display. In contrast the male Kestrel that was hovering nearby was very much on its own, perhaps the female of the pair was on a nest somewhere.

There were other things than birds to look at with a couple of very pale Speckled Woods on the wing along with a Peacock butterfly. Not many flowers out yet but we did find some Scurvy-grass and on the banks the first flowers of Horseshoe Vetch were starting to show.

The day's list:
Swallow, Raven, Stock Dove, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Kestrel, Wheatear, Linnet, Meadow Pipit, Chiffchaff
Butterflies: Peacock, Speckled Wood
Reptiles: Slow-worm
Plants: Scurvy-grass, Horseshoe Vetch

Friday March 23rd
Admiralty Slopes - Westcliffs

A beautiful Spring day with the wind (what there was) in the east meant that we could brave the exposed cliffs on the west side of the Bill and have a good look at the seabird colony there.

Walking across the Admiralty Slopes we could see that there had been quite an arrival of Meadow Pipits overnight with birds feeding on the grassy slopes and the occasional group flying overhead, all heading north. Above us the sky was filled with the song of Skylarks and at our feet there were dozens of bright yellow Coltsfoot flowers. Suddenly a large brown bird flapped up from just in front of us - a Short-eared Owl stopping off for a rest on its migration north.

Reaching the cliffs we were surprised to see them deserted; the Guillemots and Razorbills must have all been out at sea building up their reserves for the breeding season. A Fulmar flew past no doubt prospecting the cliffs for a suitable mate and nest site and further out several strings of Gannets were heading east.

Walking north along the cliff-edge we found a pair of Stonechats and in the distance a Peregrine could be seen sat on a ledge. As we turned to walk back a Swallow flashed past - the first of the summer!

The day's list: Short-eared Owl, Swallow, Stonechat, Peregrine, Buzzard, Kestrel, Gannet, Fulmar, Cormorant, Shag, Linnet, Skylark, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Chiffchaff, Coltsfoot, Peacock Butterfly

Friday March 16th
Suckthumb Quarry - Barleycrates Lane

It was obvious that there were a lot of migrants about today when a Chiffchaff popped up next to the van while we were still in the Heights car park deciding where to go. Some of the group had reports of Wheatears at Barleycrates Lane so we headed off towards Weston to see if we would be lucky today.

Parking on Weston Street we were literally still getting out of the van when a superb adult male Black Redstart flew up onto a windowsill on Weston House, allowing us to get some excellent views before flying off towards Southwell. Pleased with this early find we headed off away from Barleycrates initially to explore the perimeter of Suckthumb Quarry, where sure enough we eventually found our first Wheatear.

Watching this lovely little spring migrant we noticed a shape approaching fast from the direction of Cheyne House. The long swept-back wings meant that this must be a Peregrine. Hoping that it hadn't noticed our Wheatear we watched it as it sped overhead, followed a few seconds later by another smaller Peregrine. This one must have been the male of the pair with the first bird being the much larger female.

A third Peregrine was seen out on the Westcliffs from Barleycrates Lane. This one was more interested in seeing off a Kestrel that had a bit of a shock as the Peregrine nearly took it out with a dramatic high-speed swoop.

The photo today is of a very rare plant which we found growing in a semi-permanent puddle in the quarry last summer and were glad to see it still there today. The Brackish Water Crowfoot is a close relative of the common Buttercup, but always grows in water where its thread-like leaves absorb oxygen directly from the pond. Flatter leaves are formed later in the year on the water surface to catch the light. As it's such a rare plant I've uploaded the photo to iSpot to get its identity confirmed by experts. See

The day's list: Wheatear, Black Redstart, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Linnet, Stock Dove, Skylark, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Stonechat, Chiffchaff

Friday March 9th
Portland Bill

All over the country birdwatchers are becoming restless now that we are into the second week of March. The first Wheatear of the year is usually on our lists by now and we can't relax until we have seen our own. So far this year two Wheatears have been found in Dorset, both in the last couple of days, so there's every chance that one will be at the Bill this morning. What's more the weather is cloudy today, which increases our chances considerably. Fog would be better but we'll settle for cloud.

The first birds we see from the Bill car park are Pied Wagtails feeding on the Bill Common. A couple of Rock Pipits are with them but no Wheatears.

We decide to pretend we're looking for something else and go off to Pulpit Rock to see if the Puffin is there. It isn't but there are Razorbills up on the cliffs and lots of Guillemots on the sea. Gannets fly past further out. But no Wheatear.

Walking along the Eascliffs (I always find it difficult to walk past the Lobster Pot without stopping!) a group of Turnstones are found and more Rock Pipits. Still no Wheatear.

Reaching the crane things are looking desparate but when a familiar nose pops up in the sea we forget our other target. I've watched this seal off the Portland cliffs for so many years now he really does feel like an old friend. It's good to see he's still with us.

We'll see a Wheatear next week.

The day's list: Raven, Fulmar, Gannet, Guillemot, Razorbill, Skylark, Pied Wagtail, Rock Pipit, Turnstone, Grey Seal

Friday March 2nd
Westcliffs - Reap Lane

Our first rare sighting this morning was a ploughed field - a very rare sight on Portland now that farming has all but ceased. This one was full of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits taking advantage of the abundant food that this valuable habitat presents.

On the clifftop were more Skylarks, this time in full song reminding us that were are now well and truly in Spring. Off to the north Fulmars were wheeling around the cliffs of Blacknor and over the sea a string of white Gannets were heading south.

Not much more in the way of animals was seen until we reached Reap Lane and here it was the horses, sheep, pigs and chickens that grabbed our attention. As always around farms there was a busy flock of House Sparrows, including several very smart adult males. I often hear people say how bright the sparrows look on Portland, so I have chosen one for today's photo.,

The day's list: Raven, Fulmar, Gannet, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Stonechat, House Sparrow

Friday February 24th
Broadcroft Quarry - Shepherd's Dinner

Portland has very little in the way of fresh water ponds so the few that do exist are much in demand by the island's amphibian population. Most are very busy in February especially in mild weather., As today fulfilled both of these requirements we decided to pay a visit to the ponds at the eastern edge of Broadcroft Quarry.

Arriving there we were disappointed to see that the ponds has almost completely dried up and had become choked with vegetation. Even so a little toad spawn could be seen in one of the wet patches and nearby we found a "ball" of toads. This is when a female toad attracts a number of males and the group of them cling together in a ball. A very large and fat female frog was not far away presumably waiting for a male to arrive before laying her eggs.

Just to the north of Broadcroft is Yeoland's Quarry and here we had great views of a pair of Ravens investigating the cliffs much to the annoyance of the local gulls and magpies. Walking across to the cliff edge we could see a number of Fulmars wheeling around over the railway line footpath.

Back at Bumper's Lane we enjoyed watching a fine male Kestrel perched on a very small twig right at the top of a Sycamore. No matter how much he was wobbling around he always managed to keep his head perfectly still!

The day's list: Raven, Fulmar, Kestrel, Frog, Toad

Friday February 10th
Portland Harbour

A cold and wet day with a freezing south-easterly wind so we opted to leave the top of the island and venture "underhill" to see what was sheltering in the harbour.

Our first stop was Portland Castle where we found plenty of Red-breasted Mergansers but not much else on the sea. The castle gardens had plenty of birds though including several Song Thrushes and Redwings.

Next we moved on to the Sailing Academy where we found more mergansers further out in the harbour, but none of the divers we were hoping for.

Thouroughly cold now we were nearly ready to call it a day but decided to have a quick look at Ferrybridge before going back to the Heights Hotel for a coffee. A good job we did because we finally struck gold here with a good size flock of Brent Geese and dozens of waders including Dunlin, Ringed Plovers and a couple of Sanderling. Best of all was a record flock of no less than 300 Mediterranean Gulls, some with really smart black hoods.

The day's list: Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling, Turnstone, Brent Goose, Mediterranean Gull, Red-breasted Merganser, Song Thrush, Redwing

Friday February 3rd

With a bitterly cold easterly blowing and much ice underfoot we decided to seek the relative shelter of the Westcliffs and see how our friend the Ravens and Fulmars were doing. Both species breed on the cliffs just north of Blacknor, the Fulmars in a loose colony on the ledges and the Ravens as a single pair in one of the huge vertical cracks running down the length of the cliff.

We picked the right day because both Ravens were there and the male (I assume it was the male) was putting on a very impressive display of rolls to the female, who was watching from the cliff. Later on one of them, I'm not sure which, flew into the nest site carrying a huge twig. So there should be another family to watch out for in a month or two.

While we were watching these a flock of Golden Plover flew over at high speed, probably looking for some ice-free fields to feed in.

The walk back round Bower's Quarry produced a fine male Stonechat and a pair of Peregrines that dashed past us at zero altitude, obviously in hunting mode.

The day's list: Golden Plover, Stonechat, Peregrine, Raven, Fulmar, Buzzard

Friday January 27th
Eastcliffs at Southwell

The aim of today's walk along the Eastcliffs was to see if we could find the dolphins that I saw here a few days ago. With all eyes searching the sea we did find a good range of seabirds but sadly no dolphins. Kittiwakes were present in hundreds, with even more Razorbills, all feeding in the waters between the Shambles sand bank and the Eastcliffs., Gannets were present too but mostly kept further out over the Race. At a similar distance a lone Red-throated Diver flew past high over the sea.

The warm sunshine today was enough to tempt out lots of honey bees, no doubt from the hives at nearby Cheyne House. The bees were feeding on the flowers of Winter Heliotrope, an introduced species that always flowers at this time of year., You can see a slow-motion video of this here on YouTube. Even more remarkable were the Wall Lizards that were out on the rocks basking in the sunshine., We often see these rare reptiles here, but none of us had ever seen any in January before.

Overhead a pair of Ravens held an arial dogfight with a pair of Carrion Crows and at ground level several pairs of Rock Pipits were exploring the cliff edges, perhaps already looking for nest sites.,

The day's list: Red-throated Diver, Kittiwake, Gannet, Razorbill, Kestrel, Raven, Crow, Rock Pipit, Wall Lizard, Honey Bee, Winter Heliotrope

Friday January 20th
Church Ope Cove

With a cold north-westerly blowing we thought we would be sheltered down on the beach at Church Ope Cove but when we got there we found it suprisingly breezy. Just as well actually because it meant that we could get upwind of the dead dolphin that has been on the pebbles here for a few weeks now. Presumably an adult Bottle-nosed Dolphin from its very large size but the lack of teeth makes it difficult to be certain.

Also on the beach was the usual Rock Pipit and offshore a variety of seabirds could be seen including the expected Gannet or two and an unexpected Brent Goose resting on the sea some way out. Another unusual visitor was the Grey Heron that the Herring Gulls were chasing around the trees above the Cove.

Walking back up through the trees around the ruins of St Andrews Church we found several different species of fungi including this very attractive clump of Brick Caps, a close relative of the common Sulphur Tuft.

The morning's list:,
Heron, Brent Goose, Gannet, Kittiwake, Common Gull, Guillemot, Shag, Great Tit, Goldfinch, Robin, Rock Pipit, Wren Fungi: Brick Caps, Artist's Fungus, Dryad's Saddle

Friday January 13th
Admiralty Quarries

A visit to the north-eastern corner of the island today to take advantage of the calm conditions and enjoy the views from the highest point on Portland.

At 135 metres (450 feet) this is a very windy part of a very windy island, but has amazing views over Weymouth Bay towards St Aldhelm's Head to the east. It now also has Fancy's Farm with the last flock of Portland Sheep on the island grazing in scenery that their ancestors would have recognised hundreds of years ago.

The communications mast here often has a Raven or two on it and today was no exception., As we walked along the clifftop path the constant "honk-honk" of the Ravens was a wonderful backing track to our walk. Peregrines were here too, not bothering with the Ravens but making sure the Crows kept well away.

Off to the south a Kestrel hovered over the grassy cliffs on a hungry search for voles and mice.

The morning's list:,
Raven, Peregrine, Kestrel, Great Tit, Goldfinch, Robin, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw Portland Sheep, Hebridean Sheep, Donkey, Alpaca, Guinea Fowl, Greylag Geese

Friday January 6th
Portland Bill

Having failed to find the Black Guillemot last week we tried for another rarity that Martin Cade had found near the Bird Observatory - a Snow Bunting. These birds breed on remote mountain tops, mostly in Scandinavia, but winter on the East coast of the UK in some numbers every year. However they rarely visit Dorset and this winter has seen more than usual turning up around Weymouth and Portland.

As we walked up the hill opposite the Observatory we met Martin and were told exactly where to look. It didn't take us long to find it feeding in stubble along with Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails and Skylarks. Looking quite sparrow-like, its gingery head and white wing patches were quite distinctive when it hopped out of the cover.

Feeling flushed with success we moved on to the Eastcliffs were we felt confident that we would find the Black Guillemot that we missed last week. It was not to be but we did have a brief view of the resident Little Owl in the Observatory Quarry.

The morning's list:,
Snow Bunting, Little Owl, Kestrel, Buzzard, Skylark, Pheasant, Stock Dove, Razorbill, Kittiwake, Cormorant, Shag, Meadow Pipit

List of species seen

Birds (131 species)

Great Northern Diver
Black-throated Diver
Red-throated Diver
Little Grebe
Great-crested Grebe
Slavonian Grebe
Storm Petrel
Leach's Petrel
Manx Shearwater
Balearic Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
Little Egret
Dark-bellied Brent Goose
Pale-bellied Brent Goose
Black Brant
Red-breasted Goose
Mute Swan
Velvet Scoter
Red-breasted Merganser
Long-tailed Duck
Red Kite
Marsh Harrier
Wood Pigeon
Stock Dove
Collared Dove
Great Skua
Great Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Herring Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Little Gull
Bar-tailed Godwit
Golden Plover
Grey Plover
Ringed Plover
Purple Sandpiper
Little Owl
Short-eared Owl
House Martin
Sand Martin
Meadow Pipit
Tree Pipit
Rock Pipit
Pied Wagtail
White Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail
Grasshopper Warbler (heard)
Sedge Warbler
Reed Warbler
Garden Warbler
Lesser Whitethroat
Willow Warbler
Spotted Flycatcher
Long-tailed Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Black Redstart
Song Thrush
Carrion Crow
House Sparrow

Mammals (10 species)

British Primitive Goat
Common Shrew
Grey Squirrel
Brown Rat
Oryctolagus cuniculus
Brown Hare
Red Fox
Roe Deer (prints)
Grey Seal
Bottle-nosed Dolphin

Reptiles (4 species)

Common Lizard
Wall Lizard

Amphibians (2 species)

Common Frog
Common Toad

Fossils (6 species)

Lopha gregarea
Nucleolites clunicularis
(sea urchin)
Titanites giganteus (ammonite)
Trigonia gibbosa (oss's head)
Butterflies (28 species)

Adonis Blue
Chalkhill Blue
Clouded Yellow
Common Blue
Dingy Skipper
Green-veined White
Holly Blue
Large White
Large Skipper
Lulworth Skipper
Marbled White
Meadow Brown
Painted Lady
Red Admiral
Silver-studded Blue
Small Blue
Small Copper
Small Heath
Small Skipper
Small Tortoiseshell
Small White
Speckled Wood

Moths (25 species)

Cream-spot Tiger
Dark Arches
Heart and Club
Heart and Dart
Jersey Tiger
Knot Grass
L-album Wainscot
Large Yellow Underwing
Lesser Yellow Underwing
Light Brocade
Marbled Minor
Mother Shipton
Oak Eggar
Poplar Hawk-moth
Portland Riband Wave
Shuttle-shaped Dart
Six-spot Burnet
Speckled Yellow
Treble Lines
Vine's Rustic
White Ermine
Yellow Shell

Other Insects (14 species)

7-spot Ladybird
Dark Bush-cricket
Harlequin Ladybird
Honey Bee
Ivy Bee
Meadow Grasshopper
Oil Beetle
Roesel's Bush-cricket
Rose Chafer
Speckled Bush-cricket
Summer Chafer
Swollen-thighed Beetle
Volucella zonaria

Marine Life (28 species)

Ray spp (egg-case)
Greater Spotted Dogfish
Lesser Spotted Dogfish
Goose Barnacles
Spider Crab
Edible Crab
Blue-rayed Limpet
Flat Winkle
Rough Winkle
Toothed Topshell
Beadlet Anemone
Snakelocks Anemone
Dead Man's Fingers
Pink Sea-fan

Knotted Wrack
Channeled Wrack
Spiral Wrack
Bladder Wrack
Sea Lettuce
Laminaria saccharina
Laminaria digitata
Saccorhiza polyschides

Fungi (6 species)

Dryad's Saddle
Field Blewits
Field Mushroom
Honey Fungus
Velvet Shank
Shaggy Inkcap
Plants (195 species)

Annual Beard Grass
Annual Meadow Grass
Annual Mercury
Annual Wall Rocket
Autumn Gentian
Autumn Ladies Tresses
Bastard Toadflax
Bee Orchid
Birdsfoot Trefoil
Biting Stonecrop
Black Medick
Black Mustard
Black Spleenwort
Bladder Campion
Brackish Water Crowfoot
Bristly Ox-tongue
Broad-leaved Dock
Broad-leaved Eyebright
Bulbous Buttercup
Bulbous Meadow Grass
Burnet Saxifrage
Bush Vetch
Carline Thistle
Common Broomrape
Common Centaury
Common Elder
Common Gromwell
Common Ragwort
Common Storksbill
Common Toadflax
Cotoneaster microphyllus
Cotoneaster simonsii

Cow Parsley
Creeping Buttercup
Creeping Cinquefoil
Crested Dogstail
Crow Garlic
Dwarf Elder
Early Gentian
Early Purple Orchid
English Bluebell
False Brome
False Oat-grass
Fern Grass
Field Penny-cress
Field Speedwell
Fodder Burnet
Germander Speedwell
Golden Samphire
Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil
Greater Plantain
Great Hairy Willowherb
Great Mullein
Grey Willow
Hairy Bittercress
Hairy Rockcress
Hard Rush
Hartstongue Fern
Hawkweed Ox-tongue
Hedge Bedstraw
Hemp Agrimony
Herb Robert
Hoary Plantain
Hoary Ragwort
Hoary Stock
Holm Oak
Hop Trefoil
Horseshoe Vetch
Ivy Broomrape
Ivy-leaved Toadflax
Japanese Knotweed
Kidney Vetch
Lady's Bedstraw
Lady's Mantle
Lesser Centaury
Lesser Reedmace
London Plane
Maidenhair Fern
Maidenhair Spleenwort
Male Fern
Meadow Vetchling
Mouse-ear Hawkweed
Musk Mallow
Olive Willow
Oxford Ragwort
Pendulous Sedge
Portland Rock Sea-lavender
Portland Spurge
Prickly Sow-thistle
Purple Toadflax
Pyramidal Orchid
Quaking Grass
Red Fescue
Red Valerian
Ribwort Plantain
Rock Samphire
Rock Sea Lavender
Rock Stonecrop
Rough Meadow Grass
Round-leaved Cranesbill
Round-leaved Fluellen
Rue-leaved Saxifrage
Rye Grass
Sea Beet
Sea Holly
Sea Kale
Sea Lavender
Sea Mayweed
Sea Radish
Sea Spleenwort
Shining Cranesbill
Slender Thistle
Soft Brome
Soft Cranesbill
Slime Mould
Small Scabious
Smooth Sow-thistle
Spanish Bluebell
Spear Thistle
Spindle Tree
Spotted Medick
Square-stemmed Willowherb
Stemless Thistle
Stinging Nettle
Stinking Iris
Strawberry Clover
Tall Fescue
Tor Grass
Toothed Medick
Upright Brome
Upright Hedge Parsley
Viper's Bugloss
Wall Barley
Wall Rocket
Wall Rue
Wall Speedwell
Wayfaring Tree
Welted Thistle
Western Polypody
White Stonecrop
Wild Cabbage
Wild Carrot
Wild Clary
'Wild' Gladiolus
Wild Leek
Wild Madder
Wild Privet
Wild Thyme
Winter Heliotrope
Wood Sage
Wood Spurge
Yellow Horned-poppy
Yellow Oat-grass
Yellow Vetch
Yellow Vetchling
Yorkshire Fog

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