This trip was the first chance I've had to use my new Opticron Verano HD 10x42 binoculars and MM3 60 ED scope, so it was a great opportunity to really try them out and see how I got on with them.
We arrived in the dark on Tuesday evening, so the birding began early on Wednesday morning. And it was a cracking start - one of the first birds I saw at Portland was a lifer, a Firecrest! I've wanted to see a Firecrest for so long, but I always seem to miss them, so when Josie told me they'd caught one in the mist nets in the Obs garden I was very happy indeed. A stunning species to see in the hand, but we also saw them everyday 'in the field', flitting about in the Obs garden, just a few metres away. (Please click on the images to see the full photos.)
During a bit of a lull in bird activity on Wednesday afternoon, a birder arrived at the Obs saying they had just seen a Pallas's Warbler down the road in Southwell. Suddenly everyone sprung into action and we power-walked the 10 minutes to the quarry where the bird had been seen. After a short while the bird showed well, another lifer! It was moving about too quickly for me to try using the bridge camera I had with me, so I spent the time just watching it through my bins, which I think was probably more enjoyable than if I had been trying to photograph it!
We saw plenty of other good birds over the 3 days of birding too, including confiding Black Redstarts, Rock Pipits, a Little Owl, a Continental ater Coal Tit, lots of Goldcrests, Snipe, Stonechats, 2 Dartford Warblers, and a large number of Kestrels. The seawatching was decent too, with Gannets, Shags, Common Scoter, Guillemots and Razorbills, Mediterranean Gulls and Kittiwakes seen passing by. Although, I was rather gutted to hear that I'd missed 2 Great Northern Divers and a Balearic Shearwater (which would've been a lifer!) when I went back for second helpings of the Pallas's Warbler on Thursday morning!
On Friday another flurry of excitement ensued after Ben returned to the Obs with news of a Little Bunting he'd just found! So we all dashed over to Top Fields where he saw it go down and began searching. Unfortunately, we had no luck, and Ben was the only observer of this scarce species. His photos are rather gripping though! (You can see them on his blog here)
We spent the last hour or so of daylight each evening standing at Top Fields, looking out over some great rough grassland habitat, waiting for the Short-eared Owls to emerge from their daytime roosts. We saw up to 5 birds each night, accompanied by some spectacular sunsets. And on our last evening, on Friday, the Barn Owl we had been hoping to see also put on a show, giving us both owl species in the same bins view from time to time. The birds didn't show amazingly close, and often waited until the light had all but gone to start hunting, but nothing beats watching these graceful creatures glide through the air, especially since I've only ever seen Short-eared Owls once before.
Billy and I had to leave before 8am on Saturday morning, but during the rush to get ready and leave in time for our train, this little gem turned up in the mist nets at the Obs... a Pallas's Warbler! So after getting great views of this gorgeous little bird in the field the 2 days previous, we got to see one in the hand (again, please click on the images to see the full photos).
A fantastic end to a very successful trip!
As a group we saw a total of 70 species, which we thought was pretty good, considering the lack of freshwater habitat for wildfowl and waders to bump the list up. I didn't get any year ticks, and unfortunately missed some good birds seen by other members of the group, like Woodlark and Brambling. But I was chuffed to get 2 lifers, and see plenty of other great birds, and to enjoy them in the great company of other young birders!
I very much enjoyed using my new optics, and the scope was incredibly useful for seawatching. My new 10x42 bins focus down to 2 metres, compared to the over 5m I had previously been used to, which came in very handy when watching a Black Redstart that showed very close.
I'd like to say a huge thank you to Martin Cade and all at Portland Bird Observatory for a great few days. It's a place I would love to visit again in the not too distant future.
I'm Sorrel, a young birder and wildlife artist based in the East Midlands - this is my blog all about my birding and wildlife adventures.