A little outside my usual area of operations, the Isle of Portland is the premier migration watching hotspot in the South west. A visit in Spring or Autumn is a great way to witness the miracle of migration as birds arrive on or depart our shores. A small seabird colony provides added interest and in certain conditions this is an ideal location to practice that most difficult aspect of birding: Seawatching!
A typical day on Portland would start with a seawatch from 'The Bill'. The seabird colony on the cliffs provides a constant flow of common species such as auks, fulmars an kittiwakes, so we can get our eye in and familiarise ourselves with their flight patterns. The real prizes here though are skuas and shearwaters, and in the right winds, good numbers can pass by, with all the regular British species possible in a day. Almost anything can come into view, and we'll be keeping a sharp lookout for divers, grebes, ducks, waders and terns.
We'll then start walking around the sparsely vegetated southern part of the island, where the few patches of trees and bushes are a magnet for newly arrived warblers, chats and flycatchers. Portland Bird Observatory owns and manages several fields which attract pipits, larks, finches and buntings. A visit to the observatory itself is a great opportunity to discover how mist-netting and ringing is used to study bird migration, and we may be priveliged enough to see a bird 'in the hand'.
As well as common migrants, Portland has a great track record for producing rare birds, the beauty of bird vagrancy is that pretty much anything can turn up. Several species have turned up on Portland before being seen anywhere else in the UK, but we obviously stand more of a chance of bumping into scarce visitors. In Spring we'll be hoping for maybe Wryneck, Hoopoe, Woodchat Shrike, Golden Oriole or Red-rumped Swallow, while in Autumn, Yellow-browed and Pallas's Warblers, Richards Pipit, Barred Warbler and Red-backed Shrike are possible.
If time allows at the end of the day, we could visit one of the reserves in Weymouth after leaving the island.
Ferrybridge is a great place to look for waders throughout the year, especially if the tide is right. And the wetlands of Radipole and Lodmoor often attract rarities, making a perfect quick diversion on the way home
Red-rumped Swallows in front of the Bird Observatory