Monday, 31 October 2011

A first for Portland Bill

Trying to hide behind a 2nd winter Great Black-back (John Martin)
Standing out in the flock - a first winter Caspian Gull
Profile shot (John Martin)
A controlled Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Last weekend was billed as a weekend off - free from TUB commitments. I imagined sleeping in till late morning and digesting the morning's papers in the Observatory common room over a cup of peppermint tea free from the pangs of birding. Who was I kidding?

I arrived on Friday after dark and after a restful night in my bunk bed in the lighthouse, I arose pre-dawn to join the gang of birders that had already gathered by the french doors that overlooked the Observatory garden and ultimately the sea. It was a grey and breezy day. Nothing had been caught in the nets (although later in the afternoon the assistant warden pulled a male Lesser Redpoll from the nets). Overhead small numbers of Bramblings, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Pied Wagtails swept over. A couple of the guys recorded late Swallows. That was it for Saturday.

On Sunday, I got downstairs after dawn due to mixing up the correct time - I hate it when the clocks go back! The weather seemed even more grim than the day before. Despite that got great close views of a female Sparrowhawk in the hand. Magnificent. It was 9am and I had decided to take a stroll to the Bill some 15 minutes walk away. I was accompanied by Bristol birder, John Martin. To cut a long story short, we discovered around 12 gulls loafing on the common near the Bill and John first noticed the Caspian Gull. It was very distinctive with a very white head, long forehead and bill that seemed almost straight. It was my first on British soil seeing as I have seen a few in Serbia and Hungary. To be honest, identifying Caspian Gulls is not my forte and I was grateful to John pointing out the other more technical identification features. I called the Observatory and within five minutes it had empted with everybody getting a great chance to look at the bird before it was flushed by a boxer being walked by its owner. More pictures of this special bird are available from the Portland Bill website. site

Other hilights from my downtime weekend included my second ever Red-breasted Goose at nearby Ferrybridge, a female Merlin on both days, a late Turtle Dove, maybe 100 Mediterranean Gulls all told, a flyby Arctic Skua and 8 Kittiwakes.

All hail Portland Bill!

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