A trip to Portland

One thing I’d planned (and been recommended) to do as a trainee ringer was visit a bird observatory to ring there, and as Portland Bird Observatory is the closest to me it made sense to visit it first. Thanks to a grant from British Birds, I was able to go in mid September for 5 days.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t ideal while I was there. It was lovely and sunny, but the wind speeds were too high. Nonetheless, ringing went ahead where possible as the garden is quite sheltered. The downside was that I didn’t get to ring much in comparison to Titchfield Haven, but the plus side was ringing 18 different species which was fantastic and good practise!

Portland - the bird observatory is based at the lighthouse.

Portland – the bird observatory is based at the lighthouse.

I arrived on 14th September and had the rest of the afternoon free to explore the island. Being without a car, I spent most of my time around the Observatory and didn’t do a huge amount of birding. That said, I was here for bird ringing anyway! Being without a car still meant I could explore Portland Bill (where the Observatory is), and as you can sea watch from the patio there wasn’t a need to travel too far. Living 4 miles in land, and with the closest bit of coast being the Solent, being able to see Gannets from the bedroom window was a novelty!

From Monday to Thursday morning, I was helping with the bird ringing, especially in the garden. We had to check the nets every 15 minutes and ring and process any of the birds in the nets. The nets were open for about 10 hours, as here a sudden fall of migrants could happen at any time.

By the end of my time there, I had ringed and processed 65 birds of 18 different species including a Sparrowhawk, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Spotted Flycatcher – all firsts for me! The other species were all species I’m used to handling, although I don’t usually ring Linnets in the autumn, so that was good too. At Titchfield Haven we also don’t ring many Meadow Pipits, Goldfinches etc, so it was great to be able to spend time aging (and sexing where possible).

Sparrowhawk - Portland Bird Observatory. 15th September 2014

Sparrowhawk – Portland Bird Observatory. 15th September 2014

Close up of Sparrowhawk

Close up of Sparrowhawk

Another close up of the Sparrowhawk

Another close up of the Sparrowhawk

Spotted Flycatcher - Portland Bird Observatory. 15th September 2014

Spotted Flycatcher – Portland Bird Observatory. 15th September 2014

One of the first birds ringed during my stay: a Great Spotted Woodpecker - a relatively rate bird on the island!

One of the first birds ringed during my stay: a Great Spotted Woodpecker – a relatively rate bird on the island!

While I saw in Portland I did some birding, particularly around the Observatory. The quarry (next to the observatory) has a resident Little Owl that is usually quite easy to spot. When I visited earlier in the year with Olly, we couldn’t find it but thankfully it had reappeared. I also had brief views of a Nightingale a few days later – another new bird for me. I had heard a strange alarm call coming from the quarry on several occasions when watching the owl, and it turned out that the call came from the Nightingale!

Little Owl - Portland. 14th September 2014

Little Owl – Portland. 14th September 2014

In the evenings, myself and the other birds, went and stood at the edge of the road so we could see in to the valley close by. There we waited hoping for hunting owls and weren’t disappointed! First, we had a Barn Owl and then a Short-eared Owl – having not done much birding at dusk, these were both firsts for me, and very lovely they were too.

On my final day on Portland, I met Sean, another NGBer, and did some birding on route to the train station. Our first stop was Ferrybridge to see what waders were about at low tide. There was a nice mix of waders – 2 Knot, 3 Little Stints, a Sanderling, several Dunlin as well as some Gulls. We stayed watching them for a while, although people walking around on the intertidal mud disturbed the birds several times.

Little Stint, Ferrybridge, 18th September 2014

Little Stint, Ferrybridge, 18th September 2014

We then moved on to Lodmoor, an RSPB reserve in Weymouth. One of the first birds we saw was a Spoonbill – 2 in fact. They were extremely close to the path and feeding which was fantastic!

Spoonbills feeding at Lodmoor RSPB, Weymouth. 18th September 2014

Spoonbills feeding at Lodmoor RSPB, Weymouth. 18th September 2014

As well as the Spoobnbills, there were more waders, including another Little Stint, and a Marsh Harrier. It was great to see a thriving Wetland reserve in the middle of Weymouth.

Although the weather conditions weren’t ideal, I still had an enjoyable time so will definitely return and plan to visit other bird observatories too. I’m also very grateful to British Birds for the grant as it made the trip much more affordable! Finally, it was also nice to meet other naturalist, many of whom also turned out to be from Hampshire!

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