As I looked out to sea I quickly came to the conclusion that not a great deal was passing offshore, although there was a steady and fairly substantial passage of Common Scoters, flying in flocks of 3 or more. After a refreshing cuppa and some hobnobs, we decided to have a check of the Obs garden and go down to the Bill again as nothing of note was being seen from the Observatory itself. From Martin’s report I wasn’t expecting to see any signs of fall conditions. I was annoyingly correct in my expectations too, as despite a meticulous check of the Obs garden there were no signs of any of the scarcer species that had been present the previous day; not even any Redstarts. Maybe 20 each of Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff remained, but this was a significant decrease from yesterday’s numbers. One word was lingering in my mind, and that word, I thought, could well turn out to prophesise the rest of the day’s birding on Portland; quiet. What can one do though? Admittedly I was taken aback slightly by the sudden change from the previous evening (the change from definite signs of a fall and huge numbers of small birds, to very little indeed), but Portland is obviously one of those places that is dependent on certain winds and weather conditions for providing good birds. On the plus side, I was still very keen to explore other parts of the island, I could always go elsewhere and things could change. As I walked down to the Bill the atmosphere of the morning livened up a little as I discovered that the White Wagtail was still present, feeding busily with a few Pied Wagtails just a few paces away from the end of the huts round the Obs garden. As well as this I was delighted to come across 3 cracking male Wheatears flitting about on the rocks by the shore, their white rumps leaving me in a state of trance and allowing me to ID them instantly. These 3 birds were my first of the year and took the year list up to the big 150 mark. When we got to the Bill itself and had a look again out to sea much the same was passing, basically more Common Scoters plus a few Razorbills and Guillemots. Apart from that though, there really was very little happening, so we trudged back to the Observatory. Our entire walk and check of the Bill and the Obs garden took just over an hour, so by the time I returned to the Observatory it was coming on 8:00am. The sun was well up by now, shining high in the sky and casting an air of warmth on the area; it looked like it was going to be a lovely day. The atmosphere of the day birding wise remained negative though. Little did I know though that I was going to be in for a pleasant surprise when I got back into the Observatory...
I have to confess to being very hungry when I got back, and I decided to disregard birding for a while just so I could have some breakfast... toast had rarely felt as replenishing as it did then. Now for those who aren’t aware of this, a lot of ringing goes on in Portland, and every 20 minutes Peter will go around usually with a few visiting ringers and check if any birds have been caught in the nets. They leave the nets up from dawn till dusk, and anything that gets caught in them is taken out of the nets and is ringed (if the bird hasn’t been ringed already). Once ringed, if the bird is of the scarcer variety they will bring it up and show them to visitors in the hand, although sometimes I was told that they do bring up commoner migrants like Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, Whitethroats and Blackcaps. I was yet to see a bird in the nets or being taken up to the veranda, so when I noticed people getting off their seats and stopping staring out to seas and going towards Peter, I knew that something had been caught, ringed and was going to be shown to visitors. The question was which species? With me noticing this, I left my toast and hurriedly joined everyone on the veranda. As I did so I could see Peter walking towards us with a bird in his hand, from a distance looking like a Phyllosc. I wasn’t able to see quite where it was from that distance, but as he got closer I could see that it was far too small (minute) to be a Phyllosc and that it had a bright, orange crest. As he climbed the stairs I could see a whacking great supercilium... It was a male Firecrest!
You can’t see it on the map above, but Suckthumb is situated between the small communities of Weston and Southwell. The quarry itself mines the famous Portland Stone, a type of limestone mined only on the Isle of Portland that has been used since Roman times and is the stone to have built several famous buildings such as Buckingham Palace and St Pauls Cathedral in London. We had been told that Hoopoe had been favouring some fields on the very edge of the quarry, pecking around by some horse paddocks. We were given precise directions as to how to easily access these fields, and were there by 9:45am. Parking up just as the fields came into view, we got out of the car and proceeded to enter the quarry. I set up the scope and scanned the whole field as meticulously as I could whilst Dad scanned through the bins. A few Pied Wagtails were scuffling around, along with at least 5 Wheatears (2 females and 3 males), which was quite nice. The Hoopoe, however, was conspicuous by its absence. There just wasn’t one there. Hmm, what to do... The best thing was just to have a look around the whole quarry for it, plus check for anything else. The bushes looked ideal for catching a fall or a rare passerine, but it was by no means the right conditions for this. We trudged round the quarry, sweating as the heat of the day intensified, with no success. The best that Suckthumb Quarry had to offer bird-wise was those Wheatears plus 2 migrant Willow Warblers. I wasn’t surprised that we had failed to see the Hoopoe. After all it was bound to have moved on due to the lovely weather and clear skies. Having done this, we decided it would be most appropriate to head to Radipole Lake RSPB, not far as it was only in Weymouth. There had been an Alpine Swift around there a few days before. Plus, Portland was destined to be quiet all day with the sheer lack of migrants passing through. We didn’t plan to go towards the Poole Harbour until the next day, so birding locally seemed to be the best idea. A couple of pictures taken at Suckthumb Quarry are below.
It took surprisingly long to get from Suckthumb Quarry to Radipole Lake, with traffic acting as a constant hindrance to our birding time (WARNING: The traffic is terrible in Weymouth). It probably took around 25 minutes to half an hour to get there, plus time spent getting food for the day. When Radipole came into view I couldn’t help but think about how strange its location was, a lake fringed by dense reedbeds in the heart of hectic Weymouth; convenient for those living locally, definitely. On our arrival we paid at the car park, and headed off for a look around. The species I was most wanting to see here was Bearded Tit, a specialist bird to the reserve and a bird that is very hard to see here in NE Scotland (although they are just about annual at Loch of Strathbeg but very elusive). I was also looking for Reed Warbler (even though it was a bit early for them), yet another bird that you don’t get in North-East Scotland. I had seen both species on plenty of occasions before, but to see them both would be very useful on the year-list front. As we crossed the bridge to enter Radipole I couldn’t help but notice the escaped Hooded Merganser hanging around and feeding with the Mallards in its semi-tame fashion, and decided to photograph it just because it was an aesthetically pleasing creature. See below for a photo. If it only it was wild... hey?
Looking out from the other side of the bridge, there were a variety of species of commoner ducks, ranging from Shelduck to Gadwall, as well as a couple of Little Grebes and plenty of Black-headed Gulls. I quickly felt the need to get away from the general populous and thus headed onto the reserve quite quickly. It wasn’t long before we heard the explosive song of a Cetti’s Warbler, and it wouldn’t be the last time we’d hear it, as there were plenty around on the reserve. A Sedge Warbler was also singing nearby to where we had heard our first Cetti’s. It was rather pleasant walking around and being surrounded by reedbeds in the sunshine and hot weather, a far more tranquil scene than the hecticness of the car park. As we walked towards the North Hide I had fleeting views of at least 3 Cetti’s Warbler, with one individual briefly hanging onto a piece of reed very close to us before flitting out of view. A few more Sedge Warblers were singing and one was seen. However, despite meticulously searching for them, there weren’t any signs of Bearded Tits. I found this somewhat odd as I had the impression that there were a good number of Bearded Tits on the reserve. Furthermore, I hadn’t even heard any. On a couple of occasions we came to openings in the reedbeds and had a look for avifauna, but there was nothing apart from the same variety of wildfowl that we had seen earlier on. The word was once again staring me in the face - ‘Quiet’. Mind you, what do you expect? There is minimal wind, the skies are clear and it’s hot! When we finally reached the North Hide, which was quite a walk, we had a look out. After sitting there for 20 minutes we had seen much of the same, which was perfectly nice but was not enough to keep us fully occupied. As I sat there, staring out onto the reedbed fringed lake, I felt slightly soporific. The fact that I had only had around less than 8 hours that night was starting to tell on me, and I was feeling somewhat tired. As was my Dad, so we headed back to the car park to have something to eat and drink to fuel us up, yet again failing to hear or see any Bearded Tits. I now knew that seeing Bearded Tits at Radipole wasn’t as easy as I had originally thought. My overall impression of Radipole was that it was a nice reserve and could easily have potential when conditions were better; however it was a little too disturbed for my liking.
Langton Herring itself is a beautiful little village, and to access where the Hoopoe was hanging around you have to park at the end of the village and walk down through rolling fields towards the coastguard’s cottages by the beach. The field that the Hoopoe had been favouring was in fact before you reach the coastguard’s cottages, on the edge of the only oil seed rape field in the area. It took us a little while to find where we were supposed to be going to get into the area, but with the help of a birder (who unsurprisingly said that he hadn’t seen it) we found out where to go and proceeded to walk down. The area itself was very scenic, the ideal place to spend a sunny afternoon. When we reached the rape field, we walked slowly down the edge of it, seeing if we could flush up anything orange. But no, it wasn’t to be, as I had expected. Once we had walked down the side of the whole field we came to a lagoon, situated in front of the beach. It held a few species of wildfowl, the commoner suspects and, on the more notable side, at least 6 Red-breasted Mergansers. A Little Egret also flew by. Yet again though, it was quiet. With the feeling of quietude and being soporific, my Dad and I couldn’t help but just sit there and relax for a while, admiring the beauty of the area. After a while we moved on, slowly wheeling round past the coastguard’s cottages and back up the track towards the car, with still no sign of the Hoopoe. Not that I felt at all disappointed though, I wasn’t expecting to see it by any means. From here we couldn’t really think of much else to do or anywhere else to go. It was nearing 4:30pm, and we were both feeling tired. We both agreed that we might as well go back to the Observatory. Below is a picture of Chesil Beach.
And we did return to the Observatory, to find out that nothing but a few more Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and Blackcaps had been ringed. Nothing new had been seen apart from that. Dad was more tired than me, and shortly after we arrived back he had a kip. I had a brief look around the Obs garden, but with little success, the best I could see being a few Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. At this point, I gave up for the day, and woke Dad up. We spent the rest of the day sitting in the Observatory chatting to other birders, and as it got dark, went to the local pub with one of the birders and the ringer Peter. Overall, a very quiet day, which was frankly rather disappointing, what with the fall on the previous day. However the Firecrest was lovely. Without that, it could have been even worse. Not the ideal start for the holiday, but there was room for improvement. The next day we would spend the day in Poole Harbour, which we hoped would prove more productive. Whether it would or not is a story yet to be told. For more on that, tune in to my next post.
Thanks for reading,