Dorset Walks

Walks on Portland - wildlife highlights for 2011

last year's walks . . .

list of species seen on all Portland walks

2011
Friday December 30th
Eastcliffs (Cheyne - Godnor)

If you look at Martin Cade's birdwatching reports for this month you will see that a Black Guillemot has been seen several times off the Bill lately. This is a very difficult bird indeed to see in Dorset so today we decided that we would have a look off the Eastcliffs just in case it was hanging out there.

Walking down past Cheyne House we saw a lot more flowers than we did birds with the mild weather bringing the Alexanders out into flower a couple of months early. Alongside it were masses of the purple flowers of Winter Heliotrope, flowering at its normal time in mid-winter.

The cliffs held just one of the resident pair of Peregrines, probably the male, whilst offshore the only auks we could see were three Razorbills. Further out a few Kittiwakes could just about be picked out flying past low over the sea. On the path just in front of us a Rock Pipit was feeding at the edge of a puddle, with a Robin watching from a bramble.

The morning's list:
Peregrine, Razorbill, Kittiwake, Cormorant, Shag, Rock Pipit
In flower: Creeping Buttercup, Alexanders, Winter Heliotrope, Rock Samphire, Red Valerian, Bristly Ox-tongue, Red Clover, Daisy

Friday December 23rd
Grove Point

With the westerly wind blowing a constant drizzle into our faces we chose a site on the eastern side of the island again to escape the worst of the weather. At the Grove the clifftop path runs alongside the YOI and gives a good view over the East Weares where Natural England introduced a group of ten British Primitive Goats to keep the vegetation under control. Today we could only find eight of them but I expect the others were hiding from the rain in the bushes.

After a few minutes counting goats we moved on to the Engine Sheds where Portland Gas have been working on renovating the stone walls around the site. It was good to read the words of Portland poet Skylark Durston beautifully inscribed on a stone in one of the walls.

This is a good spot to see one of our earliest flowering plants, the Sweet Violet. Often in full flower over Christmas, for some reason we could only find the leaves today. Perhaps next time.

The morning's list:
British Primitive Goat, Sweet Violet

walks take place every Friday as usual throughout the Christmas holiday

Friday December 16th
Penn Weare

After seeing Fulmars off the Bill last week, we decided to see if they had arrived on their nesting ledges yet on the east side of the island. The freezing westerly wind had something to do with this decision as well...

Walking down the lane towards Church Ope Cove it felt warmer and warmer until at the cove itself the weather was positively balmy. Goldfinches and Blue Tits were being very tame here as was a very seasonal Robin that practically came and sat on my shoulder.

The old railway line is one of my favourite walks on Portland and is one of those places where you nearly always see something interesting. And even if you don't it doesn't matter - there's always the amazing view. We like to check up on one of Portland's rarest plants when we walk along here as this is the only place I know of where you can get really close to Maidenhair Fern. We were pleased to see it doing well here and spreading slowly along the rock-face.

We had to walk all the way to Grove Point before we found any Fulmars. It looks like just one of the twenty or so pairs here has arrived back so far. Great views of the breeding Ravens and Peregrines were had too - with the Ravens exploring a new nest site on the cliff.

The morning's list:
Fulmar, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Maidenhair Fern

Friday December 9th
Portland Bill

Yesterday was very stormy indeed, so it seemed sensible to head down to the Bill to see what seabirds may have been blown up the Channel. After all, it was about 2 years ago to the day when a similar low pressure system brought hundreds of Leach's Petrels into Lyme Bay.

There were no petrels to be seen at the Bill today, apart from several Fulmars cruising past some distance out. We were quite pleased to see these as they have been absent from the island since they finished breeding back in the summer. Fulmars spend a few months out in the Atlantic Ocean in the south-western approaches before they head back to their breeding cliffs late in the year.

Also out over the Race were a few Gannets feeding in a flock of several hundred gulls, mostly Herring and Great-black Backed with a few Kittiwakes. Guillemots and Razorbills, difficult to distinguish at this time of year, were busy flying backwards and forwards in small flocks low over the sea.

At the very edge of the Bill you are in a truly marine environment, with no-one in Dorset further south than you! This is the preferred wintering spot for a bird that flies all the way down from the Arctic Circle every year to feed on the rocks. The Purple Sandpiper is not very well-named; it's not purple, it doesn't like sand and it never makes a piping noise! Instead it spends all its time feeding on the wet rocks as close to the sea at it can get without getting washed off its perch. Today we found 4 of them on the very last rock off the end of the Bill.

And we still had time for a round of hot chocolates in the Lobster Pot!

The morning's list:
Purple Sandpiper, Gannet, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill, Kestrel, Buzzard, Pheasant, Red Fox

Friday November 24th
Inmosthay - Tout Quarry

We were on a mission today - to find the Mouse-pee Pinkgill. This is a very rare fungus that had been seen last week in Tout Quarry just next to the hotel. However we didn't know where to look in Tout and we didn't know if it would still look the same a week later. So a bit of a tall order really.

We approached Tout by walking through Inmosthay and using the newly opened tunnel under Wide Street. Here our old friend Boots Coman was again to be found continuing the restoration work on the old quarry railway. On the way we stopped to look at the geology of the Portland and Purbeck beds that is so easily seen here.

In Tout we were able to find several species of small fungi fairly quickly, but none that looked right for the fabled Mouse-pee Pinkgill. We did find some of the fascinating sculptures though including Fallen Fossil, Climbing Man, Ship of Fools and Thinker. A Raven flew over escorted by a pair of Carrion Crows. Everywhere plants were in flower, a consequence of the warm, damp weather we have been having of late. Wild Thyme, Burnet Saxifrage and Wild Clary were all most unusual for this time of year.

Out on the Westcliffs a Kestrel was hunting over the scree slopes and several Great Black-backed Gulls were cruising around. Resigned to not finding our fragrant fungus we walked back through Tout towards the hotel. One of the group stopped: "What's this one here then Bob?" Could it be, a Mouse-pee Pinkgill? Perhaps.

The morning's list:
Kestrel, Raven, Wild Thyme, Burnet Saxifrage, Red Valerian, Hoary Ragwort, Cottoneaster, Portland Spurge, Wood Spurge, Wild Marjoram, Wild Clary

NOTE: There will be no walk on Friday December 2nd.

Friday November 11th
Old Hill - Tilleycoombe

Walking straight out of the Heights Hotel car park to the north you soon come to the treacherously steep hill that was the only way up to the top of the island in years gone by. Today we decided that in the fresh south-easterly that was buffeting us the trees lining Old Hill would be sheltered enough to hold a migrant or two.

We thought we had got it wrong again until we reached the top of Fortuneswell High Street and turned to walk up the hill towards Tilleycoombe. Almost at once a warbler could be seen flitting around the tops of the small sycamores. The restless flicking of its wings and tail made it clear that it was a Chiffchaff but as soon as we got our binoculars on it we could see that its white underparts meant that it was a bird from the far east of its range - a Siberian Chiffchaff.

After this anything else was a bonus and our walk around the top of the sheltered dell that is Tilleycoombe and up onto the Merchant's Railway was made in very good spirits. A few Redwings and a single Stonechat were the only notable birds seen but a couple of late Red Admirals were a welcome sight this late in the year.

As we walked slowly back up Old Hill we could hear the stirring sound of the Last Post coming from a lone trumpeter at the Cenotaph. It was 11 o'clock on the 11th day of the 11th month, 2011.

The morning's list:
Siberian Chiffchaff, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Redwing, Song Thrush, Stock Dove, Stonechat, Kestrel, Red Admiral

NOTE: There will be no walk on Friday November 18th or Friday December 2nd.

Friday November 4th
Wakeham

A very special bird has been seen around the centre of Portland recently - a Pallas's Warbler. This tiny little green and yellow sprite is native to Eastern Asia but for some reason significant numbers turn up in Western Europe every autumn.

Needless to say we didn't find any sign of the bird in question but we did come across lots of finches. This started with a Brambling which flew over calling as we were looking for the Pallas's in the railway cutting. Then we noticed flocks of Goldfinches feeding on teasels on the waste ground between Wakeham and Tesco's. Here there were also Chaffinches and Linnets feeding on the ground and lots of House Sparrows feeding on the seeds of Old Man's Beard amongst the Bramble bushes. The same area produced no less than 4 Ravens which flew over in a great hurry during a brief downpour.

Finally we searched the area behind the old Mermaid pub and found several Goldcrests. A passing local resident told us that Portlanders of old used to catch these birds and keep them in cages outside their houses. Has anyone else heard of this?

The morning's list:
Goldcrest, Chiffchaff, Brambling, Linnet, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Skylark, Raven, Red Admiral

Friday October 28th
Admiralty Slopes - Portland Bill

Anyone looking at recent records on the Portland Bird Observatory web site can't failed to have been impressed by Martin Cade's photo of the Snow Bunting at Portland Bill. So that is where we went today.

Walking down the Admiralty Slopes we noticed that the local crows were harassing something out over the cliffs. A quick examination confirmed that the large brown bird they were chasing was a Short-eared Owl. We were then treated to a series of close views of this beautiful bird as it flew around the Bill - right over our heads at one point!

While we were watching the owl we could hear a bird calling from within the Quiniteq enclosure. We ignored it while the owl was entertaining us but in a lull between fly-pasts I had a quick look through the fence and found a dark bird bobbing up and down on one of the buildings - a Black Redstart!

Two Ketrels were seen in the distance and nearby was a smaller, darker falcon that looked very like a Merlin but disappeared before we could get a good look at it. Shortly after this a very odd-looking bird jumped up onto a rock in front of us. It looked like a Wheatear with a black back, but before we started going through all the various European species it could be we realised that it was actually just a normal Wheatear in very bad condition and probably still drenched from yesterday's rain.

All in all a very frantic 90 minutes!

The morning's list:
Birds: Short-eared Owl, Black Redstart, Wheatear, Swallow, Buzzard, Kestrel, Merlin (?), Skylark, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Guillemot, Turnstone, Red Admiral, Fox Moth

Wednesday October 26th
The Verne Naval Cemetry

This morning's target was a Yellow-browed Warbler from Asia - a species which turns up surprisingly often on Portland especially in the sycamores around the Naval Cemetry above Portland Port. Another reason for visiting this fascinating spot was that it offers welcome shelter from a south-westerly wind, situated as it is in the lee of the Verne.

The trees around the cemetry were pretty much birdless apart from the odd Robin but looking towards the Verne we could see that the cotoneaster bushes on the slopes were covered in orange-red berries - perfect food for Ring Ouzels! In the quarries the cotoneasters are mostly the prostrate Cotoneaster integrifolius and are considered a nuisance because the plants grow over everything. But on this north-facing slope the species is the upright Cotoneaster simonsii, generally not a problem although it does seem to be getting a bit out of control here recently. Examining these bushes we could see that they were alive with thrushes, mostly Blackbirds and Song Thrushes with a few Redwings and one paler bird that was too far away to identify with certainty but was probably a young Ring Ouzel.

A flurry of swallows passed overhead, possibly the last we'll see until March. Up on the cliffs a Peregrine could be heard screaming at a pair of Ravens nearby. Photos of a similar bird from last week and one of this week's Robins can be seen on the right and at iSpot at http://www.ispot.org.uk/node/233066 and http://www.ispot.org.uk/node/233063.

Bullfinches and Blackcaps were found feeding a bit closer to us while over the harbour a beautiful rainbow appeared. It was then that I noticed I was stood next to the grave of Captain George Hayhoe. How George would have loved the view this morning!

The morning's list:
Birds: Ring Ouzel(?), Redwing, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Swallow, Peregrine, Kestrel, Raven, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Robin, Red Admiral

Friday October 21st
Tout Quarry - Westcliff

With lots of reports of Ring Ouzels coming in during the week we set off on foot from the hotel to try our luck at the traditionel ouzel spot on the scree slope below Tout Quarry. On the way we met our old friend Boots Coman working on the excavation of the tramway that used to run through the newly-opened tunnel linking Inmosthay and Tout. Boots showed us where the set of points would have been and a pile of ancient iron nails that he had dug up from the site.

Reaching the cliff we were rewarded by a magnificent view across Lyme Bay with the distant Devon coastline bathed in sunshine while we were stood under a leaden grey sky. No ouzels appeared but we did witness an amazing aerial dog-fight between a Raven and a Carrion Crow which took them from the quarry right across Chesil Beach and continued over most of Fortuneswell.

The walk back was uneventful but we did find some nice specimens of petrified wood in material infilling the western edge of Inmosthay.

The morning's list:
Birds: Kestrel, Raven, Gannet, Pied Wagtail, Linnet, Robin, Red Admiral

NOTE: Next week as well as the Friday walk there will be a free Open University Exploring Wildlife walk on Wednesday. Both start as usual from the Heights Hotel at 10.00 am.

Friday October 14th
Pennsylvania Castle - Church Ope

A biting wind blowing across the hotel car park sent us to the sheltered valley that leads down to the ruins of St Andrews Church above Church Ope Cove. The only area approaching woodland on the island this stand of chestnuts and sycamores often attract migrant birds in spring and autumn. Today it was fairly quiet with just a few Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests accompanying the resident flock of tits around the trees.

Reaching the old church we looked over the wall down to the cove and were pleased to see our first Black Redstart of the autumn on one of the beach hut roofs. Turning round towards the ruins we noticed a late dragonfly settled on one of the nearer pieces of masonry. Its small size and the time of year suggested that it must be a Common Darter, but this one looked too dark to be a male and yet too red to be a female. Knowing that there are a number of very similar closely-related species we decided to take some photos and send them up to the Open University's iSpot web site, where we should be able to get expert confirmation as to its true identity. You can see if any comments have been made about this observation by going to www.ispot.org.uk/node/229057

As we were watching this lovely insect we noticed a movement on the ruined church - a lizard was running vertically up one of the walls! A photo of this has also been uploaded to iSPot as many wildlife enthusiasts do not realise that this European species occurs in the UK.

The morning's list:
Birds: Black Redstart, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest (heard), Siskin, Wren, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Raven, Gannet, Pied Wagtail, Linnet, Swallow
Others: Wall Lizard, Common Darter(?), Red Admiral, Speckled Wood

Friday October 7th
Portland Bill

With last week's fine anticyclonic weather replaced by biting westerlies there was only one place to be - out on the end of the Bill in the thick of it!

As soon as we got to the car park we could see we had made the right decision with hundreds of Ganners milling about just offshore with a very rough Portland Race as a backdrop. The Race is the patch of rough water usually visible just east of the Bill caused by a combination of suddenly deepening water and opposing tidal currents. The bass fisherman know that this is the best place to fish and can usually be seen out there in numbers but today it was so rough that the Gannets had it to themselves.

Of course we were hoping to see something a bit rarer than a Gannet and we weren't disappointed as the cry came out "SHEARWATER!". After a bit of frantic searching with the telescope a distant bird could be seen with the characteristic swep-back wings and bounding flight of a Sooty Shearwater. This bird is pretty much unique in that it spends it's winter with us - in our summer! Sooty Shearwaters breed in the southern hemisphere during our winter and move north into the northern oceans during their winter. We see them off the UK as they are returning south to their breeding islands, mostly around Tristan da Cunha.

A lone Eider just off the rocks was a more familiar site as was another sea duck, a Common Scoter, 2 of which were seen flying past at speed.

The morning's list:
Sooty Shearwater, Gannet, Eider, Scoter, Razorbill, Cormorant, Shag, Great Black-backed Gull, Oystercatcher, Raven, Buzzard, Kestrel, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Linnet, Goldfinch, House Martin, Swallow

Friday September 30th
Broadcroft Quarry - Silklake

Portland this morning was basking in an unusually warm Indian summer, the light south-easterly wind encouraging huge numbers of Swallows and House Martins to fly south. Pipits and wagtails were in amongst the Swallows and in amongst the pipits was a larger bird - a Merlin. This acrobatic little raptor follows its food supply south - never far from a quick snack in the shape of a Meadow Pipit or Skylark. The Kestrel that was sitting on a tree as the Merlin dashed overhead looked large and clumsy in comparison to this 'Spitfire' from the north.

The warm weather had brought out plenty of insects as well with Red Admirals feeding on the Ivy flowers and Wall Browns flitting around the rocks of Broadcroft Butterfly Reserve.

The morning's list:
Birds: Merlin, Kestrel, Robin, Dunnock, Blackbird, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Goldfinch, House Martin, Swallow,
Butterflies: Red Admiral, Wall Brown, Large White, Speckled Wood

2011
Friday September 23rd
Suckthumb Quarry - Southwell Hump

With the country full of American birds blown over in the recent gales I thought I would pay a visit to the last site I saw an American landbird - Southwell Hump at Avalanche Road.

On the way we walked through Suckthumb Quarry between Weston and Southwell. The Sycamores and Buddlieas were full of birds this morning, mostly Chiffchaffs on migration along with a few Blackcaps and dozens of Robins. A temporary pond in the quarry held a good population of a very rare plant - the Brackish Water-crowfoot (Ranunculus baudotii).

Reaching Avalanche Road we started to see even more birds with the highlight being a completely unexpected group of 5 Redpolls feeding in a Buddleia. These little finches are a regular sight in Autumn but usually are only seen flying over as they move south.

Well-satisfied with our morning's birding we all climbed back in the van and started off back to the hotel. We had only driven a few yards when we had to stop again to admire a mixed flock of Pied and Yellow Wagtails at the side of the road at Weston Corner.

The morning's list:
Birds: Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Robin, Dunnock, Wren, Wheatear, Blackbird, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Wheatear, Redpoll, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, House Martin, Swallow,
Butterflies: Red Admiral, Peacock, Painted Lady, Comma, Large White, Speckled Wood

2011
Friday September 16th - Aftermath of the gales
Chesil Cove - Hallelujah Bay (almost)

After a very rough week indeed we decided to visit the site of most of the action - Chesil Cove.

200 years ago this was known as "Deadman's Cove" because of the horrific scenes encountered after shipwrecks, and it still tends to be where most of the flotsam and jetsam turns up after a storm. Seabirds also tend to concentrate here if they are blown off course so it's a favourite spot for birdwatchers. Earlier in the week a number of good birds had been seen here, notably Grey Phalaropes, Little Gulls and Sabines Gulls. Today it was fairly quiet apart from an enormous flock (at least 100) of Great Black-backed Gulls sat on the beach.

After checking that there was nothing waiting for us in the cove (the sea not the pub!) we walked out along Hiram Otter's famous trail under the Westcliffs towards Hallelujah Bay, named from the inscriptions that this Victorian Salvation Army stalwart inscribed on the rocks. A pair of Stonechats kept us occupied for a while but apart from Robins, Dunnocks and Wrens they appeared to be the only birds feeding in the jumble of huge boulders that make up this unique area of coastline.

Overhead a pair of young Ravens circled in a thermal along with a flock of gulls, all looking for the next edible item to be washed up on the beach. In case you're wondering how I knew they were young it's because at this time of year the adults look pretty untidy as their feathers are all a year old, whereas the young birds still have fairly new plumage.

Looking out to sea a patch of black dots could be seen flying rapidly over the waves - an unmistakeable sign of Common Scoter, a migratory sea duck that arrives this time of year from Northern Europe. A small group of waders turned out to be a mix of Sanderling and Dunlin, closely followed by a feeding group of 3 Sandwich Terns. In the very corner of the cove a young Razorbill was feeding in the surf.

The morning's list: Raven, Kestrel, Razorbill, Gannet, Shag, Common Scoter, Great Black-backed Gull, Sandwich Tern, Sanderling, Dunlin, Stonechat, Robin, Dunnock, Wren, Rock Pipit, Sand Martin, Swallow,

All walks are now on Friday mornings, starting from the Heights Hotel at 10.00 am. 4.00 per person including a free coffee at the hotel afterwards.

Friday September 2nd - A brace of Wrynecks!
Southwell - Topfields

This morning I decided we would go all out for a single target - we were going to find a Red-backed Shrike on Portland! The weather was perfect, it was the right time of year and there was already one in the east of the county. So we set off fairly optimistic but at the same time knowing that you can very rarely name your target in birdwatching.

Parking near Southwell Business Park (now named "The Venue" I notice!) we had hardly left the car when 2 birds of prey appeared overhead, circling above us with an attendant mob of Swallows. One had a long tail and shortish rounded wings so was clearly a Sparrowhawk. But the other?

One of our party declared "Kestrel!", another "Peregrine!". It was certainly a falcon with a slim tail and pointed wings, but this was too dark and short-winged for either of these species. It had to be a Merlin! With that it stopped circling and sped off showing us a Merlin's typically speedy flight and rapid acceleration. "Dashing" the bird books call it, and that's exactly what it is.

Well, a very good start to the morning and the centre track through Topfields produced more birds with lots of Wheatears, countless Swallows and Martins as well as good few Whitethroats. But the real treat was round the corner above Culverwell when a Wryneck flew up from the path just in front of us and disappeared into a bush. With uncharacteristic patience I suggested we wait a bit to see if it reappeared and sure enough in a few minutes up it popped. We could hardly believe our luck, especially after seeing one just two days ago. But then the impossible happened - our Wryneck was joined by another! A phone call to the Bird Observatory quickly attracted more observers and some decent cameras to record this very rare event.

So no Red-backed Shrike but we weren't complaining!

The morning's list: Wryneck, Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear, Buzzard, Kestrel, Merlin, Whitethroat, House Martin, Sand Martin, Swallow, Red Admiral, Meadow Brown, Small White, Small Heath

Our next walk is on Friday September 16th, starting from the Heights Hotel at 10.00 am. 4.00 per person including a free coffee at the hotel afterwards.

Wednesday August 31st - Perseverance pays off
NOTE: from September 16th all walks will be on Friday mornings
Portland Bird Observatory - Topfields

Birdwatching, like fishing, is all too often a case of "if only you were here yesterday". But this is exactly why you stick at it for that once-in-a-lifetime golden moment where everything comes together and rewards you with a truly memorable sighting. Also if you live on Portland you get to experience "once-in-a-lifetime" moments at least once a year!

Having decided to have another go at the Wryneck (and it wasn't raining) we called in at the bird observatory to check where it had been last seen. Before heading off to the Obs Quarry we had a quick look at Martin's moth catch and were delighted to find several very fresh Straw Underwings - a species new to me. At the quarry we were treated to the news that the Wryneck was "seen by someone a couple of hours ago" so we decided to carry on past the Bill Common and up the Admiralty Slopes to the Topfields. This circuit showed us a few Yellow Wagtails with plenty of Gannets and Shearwaters off the cliffs but no Wryneck.

Returning to the Bird Observatory we were satisfied with our morning's birding but then a passing birder passed on the all-important message of "Wryneck showing well in the Obs Quarry". We virtually sprinted the last 400 metres or so to find the same birders as before but now far more animated and joined by a few hard-core locals including Paul "Bagsy" Baker (see The Bagsy Blog). They soon put us onto the bird and we spent a very pleasant 5 minutes trying to differentiate a grey-brown bird from a grey-brown patch of teasels. But this is the sort of thing birders live for and we were in heaven for these wonderful 5 minutes.

The morning's list: Wryneck, Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear, Buzzard, Kestrel, Skylark, Swift, House Martin, Sand Martin, Swallow, Stock Dove, Gannet, Fulmar, Manx Shearwater, Straw Underwing

Friday August 26th - A morning dominated by the weather
NOTE: from September 16th all walks will be on Friday mornings
Portland Bird Observatory - Ferrybridge

Stood in the car park of the Heights Hotel we should have heeded the omens and retreated to the shelter of the bistro for a coffee. Looking west over Lyme Bay towards Cornwall we could see wisps of funnel-shaped clouds poking out of the bottom of a huge cumulus that was heading across the Bay. These wisps were caused by vortices of rapidly spinning air currents - the same systems that can grow to form the awesome water spouts that are occasionally seen off our cliffs.

But no we headed off to the Bill hoping to find the Wryneck that had been found a couple of days ago. Parking at the Bird Observatory (one of the perks of being a member) we were treated to the sight of a Sparrowhawk becoming briefly entangled in one of the mist-nets that are put out to catch the migrant birds passing through this time of year. This bird soon escaped but not so lucky was a huge Convolvulus Hawk-moth which the warden, Martin Cade, had caught earlier in the morning. Martin was keeping the moth to show any interested visitors but would soon be releasing it somewhere safe from the birds.

Our search for the Wryneck took us towards the Coastguards Cottages but a heavy downpour forced us to seek shelter next to one of the many huts in the fields here. These huts are all on private land but the owners are always happy to greet passing birdwatchers and you can be sure of a warm welcome from any of the friendly hut-owners if you are passing or caught out in the rain.

Not wishing to outstay our welcome we took advantage of a lull in the rain and dashed back to the vehicle. Next stop was the more sheltered surrounding of the Fleet Visitor Center at Ferrybridge where we found an excellent variety of waders, listed below.

The morning's list: Dunlin, Sanderling, Oystercatcher, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Wheatear, Buzzard, Kestrel, Convolvulus Hawk-moth

Wednesday August 24th - Migrants turn up at last

Church Ope Cove - Pennsylvania Castle

Following last week's failure to find any migrant birds we set off this morning to a favourite spot - the trees around Pennsylvania Castle.

Walking down the path past the museum towards Church Ope Cove we found a feeding flock that was mainly Long-tailed Tits and Willow Warblers but also held single Pied and Spotted Flycatchers. The church ruins held several Wall izards and a veritable swarm of Southern Hawker dragonflies, as well as a few more Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs. Overhead a young Peregrine soared over, preceded by some very panicky Wood Pigeons.

The "woods" of Pennsylvania Castle held a Grey Squirrel (still pretty rare on Portland) and a number of interesting fungi including some Dryad's Saddles on a rotten Sycamore and what may well prove to be the first example of an Artist's Fungus on Portland for many years. The latter is still a youngster, having been watched by us for some 5 years as it had slowly appeared on one of the huge Horse Chestnuts here, which must be the largest and oldest trees on the island.

The morning's list: Fulmar, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Pied Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Buzzard, Kestrel, Peregrine, Wall Lizard, Red Admiral, Gatekeeper, Southern Hawker, Dryad's Saddle

Wednesday August 17th - Hidden corners of Kingbarrow

Kingbarrow Quarry

Stood in the car park of the Heights Hotel waiting for 10 am to arrive we noticed that several Wheatears were flying back and forth around the rocks bordering the road. We had just had a night of drizzly rain so it looked like the weather had dropped some migrants onto the island. As it was clearly too cold to look for butterflies we decided to spend the morning bird-watching, at least that was the idea.

First we explored the trees around Old Hill but apart from a few Robins couldn't find much here. Walking into the gully that leads into Kingbarrow Quarry we were impressed at how the area had grown such luxuriant vegetation since it was cleared just 4 years ago. Ferns here included Hartstongue, Male Fern and one or two others we didn't recognise. The Quarry being fairly quiet bird-wise we turned to geology for interest and discussed the shapes to be seen in the Portland and Purbeck beds in particular some odd chert deposits containing shell material. The internationally-famous fossil forest was much examined from an island of indisturbed ancient Portland meadow that can be found just to the north of the reserve. Returning to the hotel we stopped to look at the Autumn Ladies Tresses which were even more dense than last week.

The morning's list: Wheatear, Whitethroat, Robin, Common Centaury, Marjoram, Autumn Ladies Tresses, Hartstongue Fern, Male Fern, Polypody

2011
Wednesday August 10th - Tigers and Gentians on a butterfly reserve

Broadcroft Quarry
The second instalment in our search for the Silver-spotted Skipper took us to one of the first specialist butterfly reserves ever set up in the UK.

Broadcroft Quarry was set up as a butterfly reserve in 1994 by Butterfly Conservation in agreement with ARC, the owners at that time. Since then it has been managed specifically for butterflies but also has a very interesting selection of flowers as well as a multitude of other insects, birds, mammals etc. Today it failed to yield the skipper we were looking for but we did find a huge population of the little Autumn Gentian and a recent colonist to the south coast - the Jersey Tiger moth.

The morning's list: Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Speckled Wood, Chalkhill Blue, Common Blue, Large White, Wall Brown, Jersey Tiger, Shaded Broad-bar, Autumn Gentian, Lesser Centaury, Marjoram, Red Valerian, Bee Orchid, Goldenrod, Hawkweed Ox-tongue, Red Bartsia, Birds-foot Trefoil, Kidney Vetch

Wednesday August 3rd - In Search of the Silver-spotted Skipper!

Merchants Railway - Verne Glacis
Our walk this week concentrated on looking for a very rare butterfly that, if recent rumours are to be believed, has returned to the island after an absence of 20 or more years.

Search for Silver-spotted Skipper on the Open University's iSpot web site and you will find a number of reports, mostly from Oxfordshire (www.ispot.org.uk/node/190678 for example). But this charming little butterfly also occurs in Dorset and is rumoured to have been seen on the island in recent weeks. Its preferred habitat is grassy slopes with bare patches, where it can warm up in the sun and where its food plant, the grass Sheep's Fescue, grows. So our intrepid band of butterfly explorers set off from the Heights Hotel car park at 10.00 as usual and headed east towards the slopes of the Verne Glacis, just above the track of the old Merchant's Railway where the landscape looked to be absolutely perfect for this little gem of a butterfly. All the party were instructed to look for a tiny bright orange butterfly ("like a little flame" one girl said) but all we could find were small orange Gatekeepers, although a single Small Copper was probably the closest we got.

After an hour and a half of searching we found not a single skipper but did see an impressive list of butterflies, with Chalkhill Blues literally in their hundreds. The flowers were impressive too with the rare orchid the Autumn Ladies Tresses already starting to appear on the Heights lawn, several weeks earlier than usual. The birdwatchers in the group found a few migrant warblers, Willow Warblers and Whitethroats, as well as a mob of four young Ravens stirring up the Jackdaws around the Verne ditch.

Next week we'll be continuing our search around the centre of the island at Broadcroft Quarry.

The morning's list: Kestrel, Raven, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Speckled Wood, Chalkhill Blue, Marbled White, Small Copper, Small Heath, Red Admiral, Clouded Yellow, Cinnabar Moth, Six-spot Burnet, Six-belted Clearwing, Autumn Ladies Tresses, Lesser Centaury, Marjoram, Red Valerian, Pyramidal Orchid

Wednesday July 27th
Tout Quarry - Westcliffs

Kestrel, Fulmar, Linnet, Whitethroat, Meadow Brown, Chalkhill Blue, Marbled White, Grayling

Wednesday July 20th
Portland Bill

Kestrel, Buzzard, Linnet, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Swallow, Pied Wagtail, Whitethroat, Meadow Brown

Wednesday July 13th
Barleycrates Lane - Blacknor

Kestrel, Raven, Linnet, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Swallow, House Martin, Chalkhill Blue, Small Blue, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Ringlet, Marbled White, Small Skipper, Red Admiral, Scarlet Tiger, Hummingbird Hawk-moth, Harlequin Ladybird,
Pyramidal Orchid, Wild Cabbage, Greater Knapweed, Pale Flax, Squinancywort, Small Scabious, Kidney Vetch

Wednesday July 6th
Southwell Landslip

Kestrel, Peregrine, Gannet, Stock Dove, Linnet, Chalkhill Blue, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Marbled White, Lulworth Skipper, Dingy Skipper, Red Admiral,
Pyramidal Orchid, Ivy Broomrape, Rock Rose, Ploughman's Spikenard, Golden-rod, Golden Samphire

Wednesday June 29th
Penn Weare

Kestrel, Peregrine, Whitethroat, Fulmar, Stock Dove, Common Blue, Small Blue, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Marbled White, Lulworth Skipper, Small Skipper, Dingy Skipper
Pyramidal Orchid, Ivy Broomrape, Viper's Bugloss

Wednesday June 22nd
Freshwater Bay

Kestrel, Peregrine, Gannet, Whitethroat, Fulmar, Manx Shearwater Pyramidal Orchid, Lulworth Skipper, Marbled White, Rose Chafer, Garfish

Wednesday June 15th
Penn Weare

Kestrel, Peregrine, Raven, Jackdaw, Gannet, Whitethroat,Fulmar, Wild Privet, Bee Orchid, Pyramidal Orchid, Black Medick, Ivy Broomrape, Buddleia

Wednesday June 8th
Admiralty Quarries

Kestrel, Buzzard, Whitethroat, Great Tit, Common Blue, Adonis Blue, Silver-studded Blue, Speckled Wood, Dingy Skipper, Six-spot Burnet, Cinnabar, Wild Privet, Dogwood, Wayfaring Tree, Pyramidal Orchid, Cannabis

Saturday June 4th
WEA Day Course

Kestrel, Whitethroat, Linnet, Yellowhammer, Common Blue, Adonis Blue, Silver-studded Blue, Meadow Brown, Small Heath, Dingy Skipper, Slow-worm

Wednesday May 25th
High Angle Battery - Independent Quarry

Kestrel, Whitethroat, Linnet, Yellowhammer, Common Blue, Small Blue, Adonis Blue, Small Heath, Small Copper, Dingy Skipper, Wall, Adder

Wednesday April 20th
Tout Quarry - Westcliffs

Fulmar, Kestrel, Swallow, Raven, Whinchat, Wheatear, Whitethroat, Linnet, Green-veined White, Comma

Wednesday April 13th
Barleycrates Lane - Reap Lane

Fulmar, Kestrel, Swallow, Stonechat, Linnet, Brown-tail Moth
Duke of Argyll's Tea Plant, Charlock, Black Mustard, Herb Robert, Toothed Medick

Wednesday March 30th
Portland Bill

Gannet, Great Skua, Red-throated Diver, Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar, Peregrine, Buzzard, Kittiwake, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Common Gull, Oystercatcher, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Wheatear, Linnet

Wednesday March 23rd
Portland Bill - Westcliffs

A significant northerly passage of Meadow Pipits with a few Sand Martins, Swallows, Pied Wagtails, Wood Pigeons and Linnets.

Wednesday March 16th
Portland Bill

HOOPOE, Black Redstart, Wheatear, Stonechat, Shag, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Slow-worm

Wednesday March 9th
Cheyne - Freshwater Bay

Kestrel, Peregrine, Buzzard, Raven, Shag, Fulmar, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Wall Lizard

Wednesday March 2nd
Westcliffs - Blacknor

Kestrel, Peregrine, Raven, Shag, Great Black-backed Gull
Sea Spleenwort, Portland Spurge, Common Field Speedwell, Alexanders

Wednesday February 23rd
Portland Bill

Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Gannet, Razorbill, Guillemot, Fulmar, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Linnet, Skylark

Wednesday February 16th
Old Hill - Kingbarrow

Raven, Jackdaw, Peregrine, Chaffinch

Wednesday February 9th
Verne Ditch

Raven, Jackdaw, Carion Crow, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Olive Willow (Salix eleagnos)

Wednesday February 2nd
Verne Naval Cemetry

Peregrine, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Grey Squirrel, Common Gromwell

Wednesday January 26th
Westcliffs

Gannet, Razorbill, Fulmar, Raven, Peregrine

Wednesday January 19th
Westcliffs - Tout Quarry

Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Great Tit, Fulmar, Raven, Jackdaw, Black Redstart, Song Thrush

Wednesday January 12th
Pennsylvania Castle - Perryfields

Goldfinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit

Wednesday January 5th
Penn Weare

Fulmar, Peregrine, Kestrel, Gannet, Guillemots/Razorbills

List of species seen

Birds (128 species)

Great Northern Diver
Black-throated Diver
Red-throated Diver
Little Grebe
Great-crested Grebe
Slavonian Grebe
Storm Petrel
Leach's Petrel
Fulmar
Manx Shearwater
Balearic Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
Gannet
Shag
Cormorant
Little Egret
Dark-bellied Brent Goose
Pale-bellied Brent Goose
Black Brant
Red-breasted Goose
Mute Swan
Mallard
Teal
Wigeon
Pintail
Velvet Scoter
Goldeneye
Red-breasted Merganser
Goosander
Long-tailed Duck
Red Kite
Marsh Harrier
Buzzard
Merlin
Kestrel
Peregrine
Sparrowhawk
Wood Pigeon
Stock Dove
Collared Dove
Great Skua
Great Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Herring Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Little Gull
Kittiwake
Curlew
Oystercatcher
Woodcock
Snipe
Jacksnipe
Bar-tailed Godwit
LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER
Redshank
Lapwing
Golden Plover
Grey Plover
Ringed Plover
Purple Sandpiper
Dunlin
Knot
Turnstone
Pheasant
Guillemot
Razorbill
Little Owl
Short-eared Owl
HOOPOE
Skylark
Swift
Swallow
House Martin
Sand Martin
WOODCHAT SHRIKE
Meadow Pipit
Tree Pipit
Rock Pipit
Pied Wagtail
White Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail
Wren
Dunnock
Grasshopper Warbler (heard)
Sedge Warbler
Reed Warbler
Garden Warbler
Blackcap
Whitehroat
Lesser Whitethroat
Chiffchaff
Willow Warbler
Yellow-browed Warbler
Goldcrest
Firecrest
Spotted Flycatcher
Long-tailed Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Stonechat
Whinchat
Robin
Wheatear
Redstart
Black Redstart
Blackbird
Fieldfare
Redwing
Song Thrush
Starling
Rook
Jackdaw
Carrion Crow
Raven
Magpie
Jay
House Sparrow
Linnet
Siskin
Redpoll
Goldfinch
Chaffinch
Bullfinch
Greenfinch
Crossbill
Yellowhammer


Mammals (9 species)

British Primitive Goat
Common Shrew
Grey Squirrel
Brown Rat
Oryctolagus cuniculus
Brown Hare
Red Fox
Roe Deer (prints)
Grey Seal


Reptiles (4 species)

Common Lizard
Wall Lizard
Slow-worm
Adder


Fossils (6 species)

Belemnite
Lopha gregarea
Nucleolites clunicularis
(sea urchin)
Titanites giganteus (ammonite)
Trigonia gibbosa (oss's head)
Butterflies (28 species)

Adonis Blue
Chalkhill Blue
Clouded Yellow
Comma
Common Blue
Dingy Skipper
Gatekeeper
Grayling
Green-veined White
Holly Blue
Large White
Large Skipper
Lulworth Skipper
Marbled White
Meadow Brown
Painted Lady
Peacock
Red Admiral
Ringlet
Silver-studded Blue
Small Blue
Small Copper
Small Heath
Small Skipper
Small Tortoiseshell
Small White
Speckled Wood
Wall


Moths (25 species)

Brown-tail
Cinnabar
Cream-spot Tiger
Dark Arches
Heart and Club
Heart and Dart
Jersey Tiger
Knot Grass
L-album Wainscot
Large Yellow Underwing
Lesser Yellow Underwing
Light Brocade
Marbled Minor
Mother Shipton
Oak Eggar
Poplar Hawk-moth
Portland Riband Wave
Shuttle-shaped Dart
Six-spot Burnet
Speckled Yellow
Treble Lines
Vine's Rustic
White Ermine
White-point
Yellow Shell

Other Insects (10 species)

Dark Bush-cricket
5-spot Ladybird
Harlequin Ladybird
Meadow Grasshopper
Oil Beetle
Roesel's Bush-cricket
Rose Chafer
Speckled Bush-cricket
Summer Chafer
Swollen-thighed Beetle


Marine Life (28 species)

Ray spp (egg-case)
Garfish
Triggerfish
Greater Spotted Dogfish
Lesser Spotted Dogfish
Goose Barnacles
Spider Crab
Edible Crab
Hydroid
Whelk
Cuttlefish
Blue-rayed Limpet
Flat Winkle
Rough Winkle
Toothed Topshell
Beadlet Anemone
Snakelocks Anemone
Seasquirt
Dead Man's Fingers
Pink Sea-fan

Knotted Wrack
Channeled Wrack
Spiral Wrack
Bladder Wrack
Sea Lettuce
Carragheen
Laminaria saccharina
Laminaria digitata
Saccorhiza polyschides


Fungi (6 species)

Dryad's Saddle
Field Blewits
Field Mushroom
Honey Fungus
Velvet Shank
Shaggy Inkcap
Plants (195 species)

Agrimony
Alexanders
Annual Beard Grass
Annual Meadow Grass
Annual Mercury
Annual Wall Rocket
Autumn Gentian
Autumn Ladies Tresses
Bastard Toadflax
Bee Orchid
Birdsfoot Trefoil
Biting Stonecrop
Black Medick
Black Mustard
Black Spleenwort
Blackthorn
Bladder Campion
Brackish Water Crowfoot
Bramble
Bristly Ox-tongue
Broad-leaved Dock
Broad-leaved Eyebright
Buddleia
Bulbous Buttercup
Bulbous Meadow Grass
Bulrush
Burnet Saxifrage
Bush Vetch
Calamint
Carline Thistle
Cats-tail
Charlock
Clematis
Cocksfoot
Common Broomrape
Common Centaury
Common Elder
Common Gromwell
Common Ragwort
Common Storksbill
Common Toadflax
Cotoneaster microphyllus
Cotoneaster simonsii

Cow Parsley
Cowslip
Creeping Buttercup
Creeping Cinquefoil
Crested Dogstail
Crow Garlic
Daisy
Dandelion
Dogwood
Dropwort
Dwarf Elder
Early Gentian
Early Purple Orchid
English Bluebell
False Brome
False Oat-grass
Fennel
Fern Grass
Field Penny-cress
Field Speedwell
Fodder Burnet
Germander Speedwell
Golden-rod
Golden Samphire
Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil
Greater Plantain
Great Hairy Willowherb
Great Mullein
Grey Willow
Hairy Bittercress
Hairy Rockcress
Hard Rush
Harebell
Hartstongue Fern
Hawkweed Ox-tongue
Hawthorn
Hedge Bedstraw
Hemp Agrimony
Herb Robert
Hoary Plantain
Hoary Ragwort
Hoary Stock
Hogweed
Holly
Holm Oak
Honeysuckle
Hop Trefoil
Horseshoe Vetch
Horsetail
Ivy
Ivy Broomrape
Ivy-leaved Toadflax
Japanese Knotweed
Kidney Vetch
Lady's Bedstraw
Lady's Mantle
Lesser Centaury
Lesser Reedmace
London Plane
Maidenhair Fern
Maidenhair Spleenwort
Male Fern
Marjoram
Meadow Vetchling
Milkwort
Mouse-ear Hawkweed
Musk Mallow
Olive Willow
Oxford Ragwort
Pear
Pendulous Sedge
Polypody
Portland Rock Sea-lavender
Portland Spurge
Prickly Sow-thistle
Purple Toadflax
Pyramidal Orchid
Quaking Grass
Red Fescue
Red Valerian
Restharrow
Ribwort Plantain
Rock Samphire
Rock Sea Lavender
Rock Stonecrop
Rough Meadow Grass
Round-leaved Cranesbill
Round-leaved Fluellen
Rue-leaved Saxifrage
Rye Grass
Sainfoin
Saw-wort
Sea Beet
Sea Holly
Sea Kale
Sea Lavender
Sea Mayweed
Sea Radish
Sea Spleenwort
Shining Cranesbill
Slender Thistle
Soft Brome
Soft Cranesbill
Slime Mould
Small Scabious
Smooth Sow-thistle
Spanish Bluebell
Spear Thistle
Spindle Tree
Spotted Medick
Square-stemmed Willowherb
Squinancywort
Stemless Thistle
Stinging Nettle
Stinking Iris
Strawberry Clover
Tall Fescue
Teasel
Thrift
Timothy
Tor Grass
Toothed Medick
Upright Brome
Upright Hedge Parsley
Viper's Bugloss
Wall Barley
Wall Rocket
Wall Rue
Wall Speedwell
Wallflower
Wayfaring Tree
Weld
Welted Thistle
Western Polypody
Whitebeam
White Stonecrop
Wild Cabbage
Wild Carrot
Wild Clary
'Wild' Gladiolus
Wild Leek
Wild Madder
Wild Privet
Wild Thyme
Winter Heliotrope
Wood Sage
Wood Spurge
Wormwood
Yellow Horned-poppy
Yellow Oat-grass
Yellow Vetch
Yellow Vetchling
Yellow-wort
Yorkshire Fog

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