Open University Exploring Nature Walk

Monday March 4th
Portland Westcliffs

A very cold and windy morning on Portland but we did see a few birds heading north that could conceivably have been the first of the spring migrants. Most were Meadow Pipits but there were one or two Pied Wagtails amongst them. These are not normally thought of as migratory species but as they are both largely insect feeders it is hardly suprising that most of their population moves south in winter. We then see them returning north in the spring, a few weeks before the long-distance migrants arrive.

The Stock Doves that we saw were also spring migrants in a way as they are forced to leave Portland in the winter to feed in farmland on the mainland. They used to stay on the island all year but now that there is very little farming and virtually no ploughing here there is nowhere for them to feed. Fortunately they still like to use the cliffs and quarries in the summer for nesting in.

Reaching the cliffs we stopped for a while to look at the Fulmars nesting on the ledges. Keeping well back so as not to disturb this very local species we counted about 10 pairs that had taken up residence on the cliff face. I pointed out that these are not gulls but more closely related to albatrosses, being in the petrel family.

Then one of their neighbours appeared, a huge Raven that settled down on the base of the cliff just underneath the Fulmars. I was pleased to see just one bird as it meant that the other member of the pair was most likely sat on the nest incubating eggs.

What followed was one of the most uncanny coincidences I have ever witnessed! I was just telling everyone about the Peregrines that nest round the next headland when one of them appeared just below us. As it sped off towards its nest site a second bird followed it. The much larger size of the second bird showed that this was the female.

Finally we walked through Tout Quarry back to the car park, noting that we must spend longer here looking at the geology and hunting out all the sculptures. Here a few plants were starting to show signs of growth, although the Carline Thistle pictured above was well and truly dead! I've added a bit more about this fascinating plant on the iSpot web site, where hopefully someone will agree that I have identified it correctly!


Great Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Wood Pigeon
Stock Dove
Meadow Pipit
Pied Wagtail
Carrion Crow


Bloody-nosed Beetle (dead)


Wood Spurge
Carline Thistle

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