Portland Heights Birdwatching Breaks
April 19th - April 21st 2008
click here for a list of species seen over the weekend
Saturday April 19th
Weather: light rain most of the afternoon in a bitterly cold easterly wind
In spite of the miserable weather we set out from the car park at Arne in optimistic mood looking forward to the weekend’s birding. This turned out to be justified as the first bird we saw was a Cuckoo which flew across the heath towards us and went right over our heads! A bit further on we came across the first of several Dartford Warblers seen during the afternoon, but due to the poor weather none gave us a really good view.
The hide gave us some respite from the rain and also views of an exceptionally large flock of Black-tailed Godwits – at least 800. With them were a single Avocet and a few Redshank and Dunlins.
Walking back we had good views of Willow Warbler and Goldcrest. A Treecreeper was a bit more elusive but eventually showed itself to most of us. The 2 Grey Lags which flew over were a good record as they are much more scarce in Dorset than in the home counties. Back at the car park the bird feeders held a good range of species including Marsh Tit and Nuthatch.
Wareham Forest 1500
It was still raining hard here so we set off without any real expectation of seeing much. But soon we had found another pair of Dartford Warblers as well as a clump of what appeared to be genuine Wild Daffodils and some exquisite lichens. The star bird here was a gorgeous male Redstart which we all saw well in the end.
The wet weather was a nuisance but at least the lichens were happy.
Sunday April 20th
Weather: overcast and foggy at first with sunny spells at midday and light rain in the afternoon. Wind light and from the NE.
Portland Bill 0630
With the fog horn sounding and poor visibility conditions were not perfect for sea-watching but this morning just proved how you can never tell what is going to happen. Within a few minutes of arriving at the Bill we had seen Whimbrel, Manx Shearwater and Common Tern, with lots of Gannets, Guillemots and Kittiwakes flying around as well. We then spent a superb hour searching for Puffins, which we did eventually find, and in the process seeing Yellow Wagtail, Redstart and Sandwich Tern as well as all sorts of more common birds.
Kingbarrow Quarry, 0930
This was a one-species search and we eventually found our target in the shape of a pair of Little Owls sat dozing in a rock face. We also found our first Whitethroat of the year along with several Willow Warblers.
Barleycrates Lane, 1100
First we stopped to look at a remarkable set of dinosaur footprints. See http://www.soton.ac.uk/~imw/portdino.htm for a detailed account of these fossils by Ian West of Southampton University. Walking on to the Westcliffs we found a number of Wheatears as well as a striking male Whinchat. Skylarks were particularly abundant here and at times the air was full of their song. After a short rest on the cliff-top we walked back picking up our only sighting of Raven on the way. We may have missed the best sighting though – a very tatty butterfly that was most probably a Large Tortoiseshell but would not allow me to take the photograph that would confirm its identity.
Lunch took a lot longer than normal here as there was so much to see. Waders were the main interest with Whimbrel and Sanderling the most notable sightings. The first Little Terns of the year were here as well as an unexpected group of 4 Brent Geese.
Radipole Lake RSPB Reserve, 1430
A quick look through the gulls here revealed a Western Scandinavian Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus intermedius). Walking round the paths we discovered a fall of migrant warblers including dozens of Willow Warblers, several Whitethroats and 3 Blackcaps. Sedge and Reed Warblers were abundant in the reedbeds and the resident Cetti’s Warblers gave an unprecedented series of close and prolonged views. The North Hide produced a pair of Shovelers and a Marsh Harrier.
Monday April 21st
Weather: Light drizzle in morning, drier in afternoon. Wind moderate NE.
A brief stop here in the rain to log the first record of Cattle Egret ever on a Birdbreak weekend. Shame it wasn’t a bit closer.
Langton Herring, 1030
My favourite spot always turns up trumps and today it produced not one but two star birds in the shape of a Goosander and a Spoonbill which sadly decided to leave as soon as we belatedly noticed it was there. Out on the Fleet were lots of Sandwich Terns, a few Common Terns and a flock of 6 Whimbrel.
The waders were a bit closer today particularly the 2 Knot which came right up to the car park (see right). A probable Little Stint appeared and disappeared before we could really confirm it.
Even more waders here with a flock of very handsome summer-plumaged Dunlin and 3 Greenshank also in their streaky summer dress. Wildfowl were also much in evidence with Pintail being added to the list and Ruddy Duck providing much better views than yesterday.
We ended the long weekend with a very respectable total of 108 species – and we were almost dry!
Here’s to the next wet MBS weekend,
PS I now realise what MBS stands for – Makes Barbara Soggy!