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WEATHER: torrential rain to start, then dry for most of the day with overcast conditions, rain again at 3pm. Cold all day with a chilly wind. Top temp 10C felt like 5C.

Guy Campbell picked me up at 6:45am this morning for a full day's birding, last year we acheived an admirable  89 species and today we hoped to better that! We drove straight down to Portland Bill, passing through some torrential rain We stopped twice to listen for Tawny Owl but never heard one, we did hear Wren, Snipe and Robin during our second stop.

We got to Portland Bill around 7:40 just as it was getting light, we had listed Mute Swan and Herring Gull as we past through Weymouth and a Common Kestrel along the Ferrybridge Causeway. We had a very good hour at the Bill searching the rocks and scanning the ocean, it was a great birding session.

Many birds were passing out at sea, we scanned from the shelter of the TH Obelisk, we saw many Gannets, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills, Cormorants, Shags, both Herring and Great BB Gulls as well as a few Common Scoter. A Great Northern Diver flew over the top of us as we walked away from Bill. 

Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper seen at the Bill

On the rocks we saw a few Oystercatchers, Rock Pipits, Goldfinches and after a short search we found Ruddy Turnstones with half a dozen PURPLE SANDPIPERS! Smashing, the latter was a must-see species! Other birds on show were Jackdaws, Carrion Crows, Wood Pigeon, Starlings and House Sparrows.

more Purple Sandpipers

Before we left the area we parked near the Lower Lighthouse (Bird Obsevatory) to scan the Obs Quarry, we picked out a Little Owl but failed to find a Stonechat on the bramble heathland. From the Bill we headed to Reap Lane to look for a CIRL BUNTING, this male bird had been present for the last week or so. We dipped on the Bunting but we did find Stonechats, Meadow Pipits, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird and Kestrel.

Next we visited the wooded area around the mock Pennsylvania Castle, apart from a flurry of activity around a garden with feeders we saw very few species there. Chaffinch & Greenfinch joined Blue & Great Tits around a garden, Guy picked out a male Blackcap and we found more Robins and Dunnocks. 

Razorbill seen in Portland Harbour

We searched the wooded area for Goldcrests or Firecrests without luck but we did see a Black Redstart in Church Ope Cove. From there we drove off Portland to begin our search of Portland Harbour and Ferrybirdge. Our first port of call was Portland Castle (we did make a brief stop at Portland Skate Board Park to look for a male Black Redstart - we dipped).

From the shoreline at the Castle we saw dozens of Shags and fewer Cormorants on the breakwater rocks with many Red-brested Mergansers in the water. Further out we quickly found two species of Divers, Great Northern and Black-throated were seen by myself but Guy missed the latter. Rock Pipits flitted about and we added Black-headed Gull to our list.

A quick stop at Ham Beach just along the shore produced a single Razorbill and nothing more, lots of people were out on the water with their Surf boards and Kite Surfers. So we quickly abandoned our search and headed to Ferrybridge.

We sheltered from the wind behind the visitor's centre at Ferrybridge as we scanned the mudflats during low tide. A number of species went onto our list: Brent Geese, Great-crested & Little Grebes, Mediterranean Gull, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Little Egret, Skylarks as well as Oystercatcher, Red-breasted Merganser and other gulls.

Sandsfoot Castle was our next destination from the raised garden we scanned the north side of the harbour for more divers and grebes. We added Eider Duck (3), Black-necked Grebe (4) and we saw 3 more Great Northern Divers.  We also saw more of Great Crested Grebes, Red-breasted Merganser, Oystercatchers and Gulls. A  quick scan from Weymouth Sailing Club produced little more, just 6 more Black-necked Grebes and another G N Diver. A Raven flew over us at the Castle, our first of the day.

many Shags with Cormorants and Herring Gull taken from Portland Castle beach

We headed into Weymouth to visit both Radipole Lake and Lodmoor Reserves, they were both flooded, too much water everywhere, but we added: Common Gull, Tufted Duck, Coot, Common Pochard, Shoveler, Teal and a male Goldeneye at Radipole. At Lodmoor we saw over 100 Lapwings, lots of Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit (3 - fly-overs), Cetti's Warbler, Common Shelduck, Gadwall, Marsh Harrier (2) and our first Moorhens.

Lapwings over Lodmoor

It was now 1pm, the sky darkened and rain threatened, we had a dreadful feeling that our day was prematurely coming to an end. We decided to visit Maiden Castle near Dorchester to look for more species. Thousand of birds were out in the fields around this Iron-Age Fort, especially in and around a set-aside field of sun-flowers. There must have been wll over 600 Linnets, with well over a thousand Wood Pigeons, Rooks (I've never seen so many Rooks)  and Jackdaws. Also Goldfinches, a couple of Stonechats and some Meadow Pipits were seen.

Med Gulls moulting into summer plumage with Black-headed Gulls in the foreground

Suddenly the whole area errupted into chaos, thousands of birds took to the air in great swirling masses and tightly knit flocks, a Peregrine was the cause, it nearly took a Wood Pigeon but not quite. We also found a couple of Common Buzzards and another Kestrel.

We had very little time left so we quickly decided to visit Silverlake, West Knighton and Crossways Watercress beds before it got too dark. We had 75 species on the list, not too bad, but well below par.

At Silverlake we added Canada Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, Fieldfare and Redwing and a distant Gossander. The woodland at West Knighton produced new sightings of Coal Tit, Nuthatch and Long-tailed Tit. The Watercress Beds were a bit of a dead loss, we saw Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails. The rain increased, so we decided to call it a day.

Three birds were added to the list  as we drove home, Pheasant, Bullfinch and finally Cattle Egret (at least 5). It was still light when Guy dropped me home at 4pm, but it was raining hard. 

It had been a great day out, one I really enjoyed. Our total was 86 species, 3 less than last year and well below our 100 target. Oh well, maybe next time!!