Dorset Walks

Walks on Portland - wildlife highlights for 2015

last year's walks . . .

Friday December 18th

As often happens when we go out looking for a particular bird, the short-eared owl that has been seen at Sweethill for the last few days didn't show up.

But we did see a few birds and quite a list of plants still flowering in the unseasonably warm weather.

The day's list:
raven, kestrel, sparrowhawk, buzzard, chiffchaff, guillemot, stonechat, robin, wren
insects: honey bee
plants: red valerian, bristly ox-tongue, common hogweed, winter heliotrope, greater periwinkle, wild parsley (not flowering)

Monday November 9th
Penn Weare

The path under the Eastcliffs gave us some shelter from a very windy day, but the weather still kept most of the small birds well-hidden. The peregrines weren't bothered though, and both male and female gave us excellent views.

The day's list:
shag, raven, kestrel, peregrine, water rail (heard), gannet, chiffchaff, stonechat, robin, wren
insects: red admiral
plants: maidenhair fern
ships: RFA Fort Rosalie, Weymouth Lifeboat

Friday October 30th

A damp but very warm day that coincided with a large number of migrants landing on the island. Most were goldcrests and chiffchaffs but there was also one very special rarity from Siberia - a Pallas' warbler.

So we drove off to Southwell on our own mini-twitch to see if we could see this little eastern gem.

Of course we never found it but we did get a very good view of a short-eared owl, which definitely made up for not seeing the rarity.

The day's list:
shag, raven, kestrel, buzzard, short-eared owl, brambling (heard), chaffinch, goldfinch, chiffchaff, blackcap, goldcrest, song thrush

Friday September 11th
Westcliffs - Tout Quarry

The car park at the Heights Hotel was the best place today to witness a remarkable migration of swallows and house martins, coming through at a rate of about 2,000 birds an hour.

After a quick look at the autumn ladies tresses on the hotel lawn we had an unsuccessful search for migrants on Old Hill. Then a careful look at the recent cliff-fall on the Westcliffs and onto Tout Quarry where several wheatears were the first grounded migrants seen.

Walking under Wide Street into Inmosthay we had the find of the day - a previously unnoticed and very large colony of maidenhair fern.

The day's list:
gannet, raven, kestrel, wheatear, sand martin, house martin, swallow, goldfinch
plants: autumn ladies tresses, maidenhair fern, ploughman's spikenard, carline thistle, burnet saxifrage, Japanese knotweed

Friday September 4th
Topfields - Culverwell

After last week's successes around the west side of the Bird Observatory recording area we decided to look at the northern edge starting at Southwell Business Park and walking through the Topfields towards Culverwell.

Two species dominated today, robin and wheatear, both of which were to be seen pretty much everywhere we looked. Just a few common butterflies were out but some of the speckled woods were particularly fresh.

The day's list:
raven, buzzard, kestrel, stock dove, wheatear, robin, blackbird, whitethroat, stonechat, willow warbler, swallow, linnet, goldfinch, great tit, blue tit
insects: common darter, meadow brown, gatekeeper, holly blue, small white, speckled wood, red admiral
plants: autumn ladies tresses, fumitory, flax, hoary plantain, centaury

Friday August 28th
Westcliffs - Topfields - PBO

A breezy day with a rogue shower that caught us out as we were at the most exposed part of the walk, but mostly pleasant to be out after a week of heavy rain.

A few migrants were about but it was the numbers of birds of prey that stood out - mostly made up of adult birds with their recently-fledged young.

The day's list:
raven, lesser black-backed gull, oystercatcher, buzzard, kestrel, peregrine, stock dove, wheatear, whitethroat, stonechat, meadow pipit, swallow, linnet, goldfinch, great tit
butterflies: meadow brown, gatekeeper, common blue, small white

Friday August 14th

Today was so wet that we decided to search the Ferrybridge mud-flats from the comfort of the Chesil Beach Centre.

Whilst sipping coffee we watched the rare sight of an adult curlew sandpiper feeding just outside. Families of dunlins and ringed plovers were running around on the shoreline whilst out on the mud-flats common terns arrived and left.

The day's list:
pied wagtail, common tern, swallow, ringed plover, dunlin, curlew sandpiper, turnstone, sanderling, ruff, bar-tailed godwit, redshank

Friday August 7th
Tout Quarry

A beautifully warm, calm and sunny day to explore the quarry just across the road from the hotel.

The first few yards of our walk produced several graylings and dozens of chalkhill blues. We soon added common blue to the list and then a host of species quickly followed, with the highlights being wall brown and small blue. We finished the morning with no less than 14 species of butterfly, all in a very small area in the northern end of the quarry.

The day's list:
kestrel, raven, buzzard, willow warbler, whitethroat, goldfinch, linnet
butterflies: common blue, chalkhill blue, small blue, small skipper, small white, large white, marbled white, meadow brown, ringlet, gatekeeper, wall, grayling, painted lady, red admiral
other insects: summer chafer, six-spot burnet, mint moth Pyrausta aurata
plants: autumn gentian, wild carrot, wild thyme, carline thistle, viper's bugloss, burnet saxifrage

Friday July 31st
High Angle Battery

At last a calm sunny day so in these beautiful conditions we walked east along New Ground to the Victorian gun emplacents.

Butterflies were out in enormous numbers, mostly gatekeepers but also lots of chalkhill blues as well. We were particularly pleased to be able to compare three species of skipper at close quarters. However the rarest sighting was a winged female Roesel's bush-cricket. A returning migrant willow warbler was an expected sighting but the young wheatear was very early.

The day's list:
kestrel, raven, wheatear, willow warbler, stonechat
butterflies: common blue, chalkhill blue, lulworth skipper, small skipper, large skipper, large white, marbled white, meadow brown, ringlet, gatekeeper, peacock
other insects: summer chafer, small green lacewing, Roesel's bush-cricket, six-spot burnet, silver y, mint moth Pyrausta aurata
plants: meadow vetchling, pyramid orchid, wood sage, viper's bugloss, burnet saxifrage

Friday July 24th
Portland Bill

In outrageously wet weather I decided to brave it out and do a seawatch at the Bill. Actually I stayed in the van and did the seawatch from the car park but with gannets diving into the sea just off the rocks it was a good place to be.

Unusually there were waders passing as well with a whimbrel over the Common and turnstones and dunlins flying east past the Bill. The clear highlight though was a dark-phase arctic skua chasing what looked very like a black tern.

The day's list:
gannet, arctic skua, fulmar, shag, dunlin, whimbrel turnstone

Friday July 17th
Eastcliffs at Southwell

Cool and breezy for the third week in a row but the westerly wind allowed us to walk in comfort under the shelter of the Eastcliffs.

As usual at this site we started off looking for reptiles and soon found a good number of wall lizards including a large adult male along with several adult females and a few juveniles.

Switching to butterflies we had most success in the more sheltered spots and were pleased to see a number of fresh common blues, most of which were very small. The chalkhill blues were of course all very fresh, this being the first day of the year that this species has been out in numbers.

We did not expect to see many birds but the sight of the adult pair of peregrines sat right next to each other was completely unprecedented, as males of this species normally keeps well away from the much larger female.

The day's list:
kestrel, peregrine, buzzard, raven, linnet
butterflies: common blue, chalkhill blue, lulworth skipper, small skipper, large white, marbled white, meadow brown, ringlet, gatekeeper, red admiral, painted lady
other insects: swollen-thighed beetle
plants: Portland rock sea-lavender, pyramid orchid, wild thyme, viper's bugloss, melilot, strawberry clover, fennel

Friday July 10th
Merchant's Railway

Yet another cool and breezy day but in beautiful bright sunshine so it didn't matter too much.

Walking along the railway track we disturbed literally hundreds of marbled whites, with good numbers of meadow browns and gatekeepers and a few ringlets, small heaths and both small and large skippers. Just a few birds were seen, the highlights being a family of whitethroats and a close raven feeding on the grassy slopes. But for me the most memorable sighting was spotting a distant harebell growing on Verne Common.

The day's list:
kestrel, whitethroat, raven, stock dove, wren, swift, goldfinch
butterflies: common blue, large skipper, small skipper, large white, marbled white, meadow brown, ringlet, small heath
other insects: silver Y, emperor dragonfly, summer chafer
plants: greater knapweed, pyramid orchid, wild thyme, viper's bugloss, ivy broomrape, harebell, black mustard, red valerian, false brome

Friday July 3rd
Tout - Inmosthay - Kingbarrow

During 2015's first heat wave Portland was, as usual, very breezy and a bit on the chilly side. So we sought the shelter of Tout Quarry and were immediately surrounded by flowers and butterflies. The most numerous insects here though were the summer chafers which were bumbling around all over the place.

Walking through the tunnel under Wide Street we entered Inmosthay Quarry where there were hundreds of Pyramid Orchids in full flower. The highlight here was a very early chalkhill blue, pictured right.

Leaving Inmosthay we crossed Easton Lane and walked into Kingbarrow. An inquisitive hummingbird hawkmoth flew very quickly round us then disappeared even faster. The resident little owl was eventually found, looking very tanned this morning. Or more likely faded.

The day's list:
kestrel, whitethroat, little owl, stock dove, robin, wren, swallow, swift
butterflies: chalkhill blue, common blue, dingy skipper, large white, large skipper, marbled white, meadow brown, ringlet, small heath, small skipper, small tortoiseshell, speckled wood
moths: cinnabar, speckled yellow, silver Y, hummingbird hawkmoth, scarlet tiger
other insects: 7-spot ladybird, hover-fly, summer chafer
plants: teasel, pyramid orchid, wild thyme, viper's bugloss, ivy broomrape, wild privet, broad-leaved eyebright

Friday May 29th
Old Hill - Kingbarrow Quarry - Waycroft Quarry - Admiralty Quarry - Independent Quarry - Little France Quarry

In a vicious south-westerly we explored the sheltered paths under the northern slopes where we found lots of flowers but very few birds. Most notable here were the shining cranesbills (a species - not a description!).

Then on to the steep gullies of Kingbarrow where there were many examples of over-sized plants taking advantage of the mild and calm conditions, such as the huge sow-thistles and enormous nettles (descriptions not species!)

Finally we walked through Independent and on to Little France, finding an introduced shrub that was probably a type of cockspurthorn, a relative of hawthorn. Nearby was another exotic plant, possibly neapolitan garlic.

The day's list:
buzzard, chaffinch, greenfinch, whitethroat, blackcap, stock dove, wren
plants: Brackish Water Crowfoot, Bush Vetch, Cocksfoot, Cotoneaster horizontalus, Cotoneaster simonsii, Cow Parsley, Germander Speedwell, Great Mullein, Herb Robert, Maidenhair Spleenwort, Meadow Vetchling, Milkwort, Prickly Sow-thistle, Quaking Grass, Red Fescue, Rough Meadow Grass, Shining Cranesbill, Smooth Sow-thistle, Tall Fescue, Teasel, Three-cornered Leek, Upright Brome, Wayfaring Tree, Yellow Vetchling

Monday April 10th
Merchant's Railway - Naval Cemetery

A cold east wind had us sheltering under the ramparts of the Verne Citadel, where the warm sun made for very pleasant conditions indeed. The birds thought so too and we soon had good views of several goldfinches and willow warblers and a brief view of a redstart.

Reaching the north-facing slopes of the Verne Common another redstart was found, this time a beautiful male perched in the sunshine. Nearby was a pair of stonechats.

The Naval Cemetery showed us the best views yet of a third male redstart along with a few more willow warblers. None of these were photographed but I did get this shot of a herring gull in the cemetery.

The day's list:
chaffinch, goldfinch, willow warbler, redstart, dunnock, stonechat, wren
insects: peacock, small tortoiseshell, buff-tailed bumblebee

Monday April 3rd
Portland Castle

Thick fog at the hotel this morning but down at sea level visibility was much better. Initially there was very little to see and in particular the black guillemot we were hoping for was not visible at all. The mergansers were very smart though, including the pair in this photo.

Then the sun started to break through and the migrants started to arrive. First were the swallows that appeared just in front of us heading north low across the waters of Portland Harbour. Then a couple of chiffchaffs turned up in the trees in the castle gardens. Finally we moved across to the Sailing Academy where we found 3 or 4 wheatears on the shoreline and a similar number of sandwich terns out in the harbour.

The day's list:
grey heron, oystercatcher, sandwich tern, red-breasted merganser, swallow, wheatear, chaffinch, goldfinch, chiffchaff

Monday March 2nd
Penn Weare

On a very blustery day we had a most pleasant walk along the old railway line in the shelter of the Eastcliffs.

Both male and female peregrines were seen along with about 20 fulmars and some very rare ferns.

The day's list:
gannet, shag, fulmar, great black-backed gull, common gull, oystercatcher, peregrine, sparrowhawk, great tit, goldfinch, chiffchaff, raven
plants: maidenhair fern, sea spleenwort, harts-tongue fern, wallflower
insects: buff-tailed bumblebee

Friday February 20th
Portland Castle - Officer's Field

A report of an outstanding adult male black redstart had us hurrying down to Castletown and hunting out the no entry sign that it had been seen on. We soon found it and discovered that it was not on its own but had a female black redstart and a male stonechat for company.

In the harbour we had grreat views of displaying mergansers and our old friend the black guillemot.

The day's list:
black redstart, stonechat, blue tit, great tit, pied wagtail, raven, kestrel, black guillemot, razorbill, red-breasted merganser, cormorant, shag

Friday January 2nd
Governor's Garden - Shepherd's Dinner

After a freezing end to 2014 it was really nice to walk along the cliffs in warm sunshine today - we even saw a butterfly!

The fulmars were out in force, with probably as many as 10 wheeling around under Grove Point. Other birds included a buzzard and a raven in Yeoland's Quarry and a very confiding pair of meadow pipits on the cliffs above Penn's Weare.

The day's list:
fulmar, kestrel, buzzard, raven, meadow pipit, peacock (?) butterfly

Full list of species seen since 2005

Birds (143 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
Glossy Ibis
Grey Heron
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
Curlew 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
White-spotted Bluethroat
Ring Ouzel
Song Thrush
Carrion Crow
House Sparrow
Snow Bunting

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 (28 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
Mint Moth Pyrausta aurata
Mother Shipton
Oak Eggar
Poplar Hawk-moth
Portland Riband Wave
Scarlet Tiger
Shuttle-shaped Dart
Silver Y
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 (29 species)

Ray spp (egg-case)
Greater Spotted Dogfish
Lesser Spotted Dogfish
Goose Barnacles
Spider Crab
Edible Crab
Portugese Man o' War
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 (196 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
Three-cornered Leek
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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