Open University Migrants Workshop

Saturday October 10th 2009

Portland Bill

list of species

We set off from the car park at Portland Bill on a bright and breezy morning after a week of heavy rain - just the right conditions to find something unusual!

We had just about got to the edge of the car park when we realised that there were an awful lot of Meadow Pipits about, flocks of them flying overhead and landing on the ground in front of us. We soon had the opportunity to separate them from the resident Rock Pipits by sound and plumage, and then soon after also had the chance to compare them side by side with both Linnet and Wheatear.

We had a quick look at the sea just in case there was any passage going on but there wasn't so we headed off along the Westcliffs to where there had been a report of a Firecrest. On the way we found lots more pipits as well as a pair of Stonechats and, best of all, a young Peregrine that was being harassed by a group of crows. This impressive bird, probably a young male, was soon joined by another youngster and an adult which combined forces to see of a Buzzard that had appeared on the scene.
By the time we got to the Old Higher Light, the location of the Firecrest sighting, the number of birds that were reported to be there had increased to four. Needless to say we only saw a Goldcrest. There were a few Swallows passing through (flying north!) and yet more Meadow Pipits in the fields.

The bug boxes were starting to fill with the group capturing a Garden Cross Spider, a huge Fox Moth caterpillar and a fabulous female Dark Bush Cricket within a few yards of the path taking us in to the area known as Topfields.
Topfields is an area of fallow fields and horse grazing that still shows the feudal field system of strip lynchets, or lawnsheds as they are called on Portland. Today these fields held dozens of Skylarks... and yet more Meadow Pipits. One pipit that flew over calling oddly will remain as "the one that got away".

The stars of the show here were the Kestrels that were dotted about all over the place, mostly looking for insects in the grass although one was seen to catch a small rat.
Our lunch was taken quickly on the patio of Portland Bird Observatory, which was rapidly filling up with visiting birders hoping to see the Yellow-browed Warbler that had been caught earlier. While we were there we were lucky enough to see a Blackcap and a Robin in the hand, the latter actually flying into the net in front of us!

The warden, Martin Cade, puts all of the Observatory's sightings on the PBO web site at
For me, the bird of the day was the Turtle Dove which turned up sat quietly in a Sycamore in the front garden of the Observatory. Many thanks to the sharp-eyed birder that spotted it and told us where to look!

We finished the day with a walk along the Eastcliffs looking for our mystery pipit. We certainly found plenty of pipits but they were all of the meadow and rock varieties. A few more Wheatears and another Stonechat added a bit of variety.

What I haven't mentioned yet is the astounding variety of butterflies we saw - seven species in all which is not bad at all for mid-October. See below for the full list.

List of species seen


Great Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Turtle Dove
Stock Dove
Wood Pigeon
Meadow Pipit
Rock Pipit
Pied Wagtail
Great Tit
Song Thrush
Carrion Crow
House Sparrow


Clouded Yellow
Painted Lady
Red Admiral
Small Copper
Small Heath
Small White
Speckled Wood


Fox Moth

Other Insects

Dark Bush-cricket

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