Portland Bird Observatory: Expect the unexpected

I have just returned from a 3 night stay at Portland Bird Observatory. My main purpose of the trip was for bird ringing, and that certainly didn’t disappoint with an average of 60 or so birds ringed each day. I also did a little bit of birding, mostly from the Observatory or Portland Bill, so I’ll briefly summarise that here.

I arrived on Tuesday 7th April with hopes of seeing the Bonaparte’s gull that had been at Radipole Lakes for the past few weeks. It seems as if the gull disappeared some time in the afternoon as the last reported sighting was midday. I arrived mid afternoon and after waiting for half an hour or so, knowing it hadn’t been seen for hours, I headed back to Portland. I did however have a willow warbler, tufted ducks, pochard and a hooded merganser, among other species.

hooded merganser, Radipole Lakes, 7th April 2015

hooded merganser, Radipole Lakes, 7th April 2015

Back on Portland I went to visit the little owl in the quarry next to the Observatory, and then headed to Portland Bill where I enjoyed my first “Mr Whippy” of the year. There were plenty of meadow pipits and linnets coming in off the sea, and a white wagtail on the grass close by. 

Wednesday 8th started well with plenty of chiffchaffs and willow warblers to ring. By the afternoon it has died down with few new birds in the nets. However, one highlight was a young ring ouzel – a bird I’d only ever seen once and never in the hand. Sadly for Josie who was arriving on the Wednesday, we ringed and released the birds an hour before she arrived. It would’ve been a lifer for her…

My lifer for the day was a puffin. I discovered that down at Portland Bill by the other lighthouse and the cliffs was a colony of auks, and at this time of year you can also see puffins in the sea with the guillemots and razorbills. I had brief views of 2 puffins which was pleasing although I still plan to visit the Farne Isles to get better views!

Thursday 9th started well too before the fog arrived and put a halt to the migration. Again, plenty of birds to ring including 2 redstarts and a sedge warbler – the first of the year for both species. We ringed over 70 birds by the end of the day. Most of these were chiffchaffs and willow warblers again, with a bit of variety. The day got more exciting when Martin found a stone curlew. Great views were had until some photographers flushed it. Thankfully it settled in the Crown Estate field and remained there until the fog lifted late at night. The views became more challenging throughout the day as the fog worsened.

Friday 10th was quieter as the mist and cloud seemed to put a halt to movement again, so far fewer birds were ringed. However we did see a male black redstart, although distant. Further up the path was a male redstart, which was helpful for comparisons.

All in all, it was a fantastic week especially on the ringing front as I got plenty of practise, especially of willow warblers and chiffchaffs and a few species I’m less familiar with. I’ll finish with some pictures of the birds Josie and I ringed.

2 thoughts on “Portland Bird Observatory: Expect the unexpected

  1. You had a good time there didn’t you? Shame you didn’t have all the sunshine we had, although there were hazy bits too.

    I don’t understand the caption for the Lighthouse/Obs. Did you mean to say more, or were you going to contrast it with a photo in the mist?


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