Friday, 30 August 2013

Portland Bird Observatory (25-29/08/13)

It was nearing the end of my very long and interesting summer holidays and like last year I headed down to Portland for a few days to see if I would have the luck of finding myself something interesting. My brother accompanied me down and we stayed together in a room in the bird observatory. This meant it wasn't a relaxed holiday destination but thorough birding from 6 in the morning to 8 in the evening. Well that was what Samuel did I would usually role out of bed a bit later. The trip did not only consist of birding but also photography. On the first day we arrived on the bus around 1 o'clock in the afternoon and headed straight down to the bill for a seawatch with all our luggage, after a few minutes of looking through the Gannets, Common Scoters and Fulmars we had our first Shearwater which was quickly lost but soon after we had one very close in Samuel put me on it and I instantly recognized it as a BALEARIC SHEARWATER it flew sporadically up and down making its way east after this we didn't linger for much longer and headed off to the Obs with about three Balearic Shearwaters under our belt. Dropping our luggage off and saying hello didn't take long and we were out looking for migrants again very quickly. The walk around the East Cliff which turned up over 22 Wheatears. Along with the Wheatears we had Rock Pipits, Meadow Pipits, Yellow Wagtials and a good variety of butterflies including some Clouded Yellows and my first Chalkhill Blue.

Female Wheatear

The second day came quickly and Portland had already had its first scarce bird of the autumn so we had high hopes. I walked around separate to my brother because I was interested in photographing the Wheatears and Yellow Wagtails. This proved to be more of a challenge than I had expected but my new camo gear came in very handy and I had all the shots I needed. Although I saw over 20+ Wheatears I only managed to spot one male which was not very obliging when it came to photography.

Male Wheatear

As well as the Wheatears I had Yellow Wagtails and the occasional Tree Pipits flying over throughout the day. I arrived back happy with the photos I had got, ready to sit down and have a proper look at them. However, when I arrived at the Obs I saw a man running towards me who thought I was a local and began to ask about different places on the Island I asked him why he wanted to know and exclaimed that there was an Ortolan Bunting. I tried to give him the best directions I could and we headed straight off. We arrived at the place to find that the finder had left and we were left with no idea where it could be. Over the next few days, it was seen a few more times flying around with the Linnets and I tried my best to look for it but I had no luck. I was searching around the fields for the Ortolan and decided to check for more info on the bunting and after the information eventually loaded, I saw "Wryneck, Isle of Portland"! I quickly checked the news and found out it was at the Obs Quarry, where I was about to check before I ran off after the bunting. By this time, Samuel had arrived and we ran off together to the Wryneck. However, there was no need because we stayed around waiting for it for over three hours. We left the place to go and have dinner, which after all the running was a good idea. We finished our meals quickly and tried for the Wryneck again. This time we were a lot more lucky we and had great scope views of the WRYNECK!


we stayed around and observed its habits, which was good fun and watched it until some young children ran into the quarry and flushed it.

Tuesday was a lot less stressful and we made a walk around top fields. It rewarded us with only 5+ Wheatears but instead Yellow Wagtail numbers a lot higher than before with one flock being at least 18 strong. We also had Tree Pipits over head and a good number of Clouded Yellows. But the best didn't come until Samuel found a Pied Flycatcher in one of the fields we set the scope up to have a look at it and I quickly found another 2 female Redstarts to join and a Spotted Flycatcher. I also saw what I expect was a second Pied Fly but Samuel was doubtful. So far so good, we carried on and arrived at the east side of Portland where we went inside one of the quarries to see if anything interesting was about. A Little Owl and another Redstart were the highlights along with some sort of Acro warbler which I never got a look at. Also a 1cy Yellow-legged Gull was a nice surprise on the way back to the Obs and 3 more Balearics from the Obs. We then met up with Alex Berryman whose photographic work I have always admired and looked around the top fields again but only had a Redstart and a very showy Linnet.


The next day I headed back to photograph the Linnet and found it to be a lot more flighty than the day before but performed well enough to get some decent shots.


I then headed on and found 3 juv. Stonechats along with some adults. A Whinchat was also a nice photographic subject but flew away before I had any proper pictures.

Male Wheatear


Back at the Obs I was lucky to see a Pied Flycatcher in the hand which was very nice.

Pied Flycatcher

Then another report of the Ortolan pushed me out to the top fields with no reward so headed back quite quickly to the obs where I again met up with Alex to go and look see some Hummingbird Hawkmoths a moth I have wanted to catch up with for a while. I had very short views of what I expect was more than one flying around the place but headed back when the light was beginning to fade. On the way back we stopped quickly off at the Obs Quarry and had a very loud Nightingale appear twice. That night we had a nice selection of waders fly over including Dunlin amongst a Starling flock, Green Sandpiper and a Ringed Plover.

Our last day at the obs started nicely with myself being able to partake in the ringing of two Willow Warbler one which I was allowed to hold. Then when my brother arrived back I had a quick seawatch with his scope which ended nicely with a pod of about 25+ Bottlenose Dolphins which I think are my first. I then headed off with Alex to the Hummingbird Hawkmoth place where after a while we had one feeding nicely unfortunately this was to much for the auto focus of my camera and it rather took pictures of the background rather than the actual moth.

Hummingbird Hawkmoth

After the disaster we headed back and packed our bags and left on the bus to go back home.



  1. Hi Ephraim , great trip report with excellent photos , its been ages since i've been to Portland such a great place to visit

  2. Ephraim,
    just read your summer blog. Amazing sightings and fantastic photos you shot. Looks you had good fun despite the hard work of getting up early and covering most of Portland by running. Looking forward to viewing your autumn blog.
    Love mum