Thursday, 3 November 2016

26th October - Isle of Portland, Dorset

Another dry and bright morning, but soon the cloud and mist moved in from the sea.  It was not as misty as the previous day, but the blue skies that left us last night were now grey.  Today we were heading back east, this time back to Portland.  We had spent a weekend there in early June, and it would be interesting to see the difference today.  The route took us along the "Jurassic Coast" road, which follows the hills overlooking the Fleet from Bridport.  

The road is so called because of the stunning views as you approach from the west of the cliffs at Burton Bradstock through to Charmouth, but it is equally impressive as you come down into Abbotsbury with the full impact of Chesil Beach and the Fleet, with Portland away in the distance.  The whole scene highlighted by the light coming through the gaps in the cloud.

The route takes you through the snarl of traffic around Weymouth and Ferrybridge, and then the climb up through Portland.  We headed for the Portland Bill lighthouse where we parked for the day.

First stop was a walk down to the lighthouse, where i immediately found one of today's target birds a Black Redstart.  I picked it up feeding on the short grazed grass just under the wall of the lighthouse boundary.

 It seemed quite unconcerned by us, and came very close, perching first on the fence posts

Then flying across to the wall on the other side.

As someone remarked it was unfortunate this was not an adult male, but it still has an appeal, they are very smart and clean birds.  This year has been good for finding them, but this was the first that I have seen in the UK for quite awhile.

 A Pine Bunting had been reported as trapped in the morning at the Observatory, and we walked over towards the fields where it had been let go in the hope that maybe it was showing.  There were plenty of people looking, and it hadn't been reported since released so we decided to walk on.  Walking down the path past the Observatory a Kestrel was perched on one of the telegraph poles scanning the ground below.

Kestrels were in good supply and as we came through the rows of Beach Huts we disturbed two more birds that flew up onto the fence posts.

As with the other day at Seatown, these were juvenile birds and seemed to be happier hunting in pairs, the other flying over to see if the other had caught something.  Everytime they came up empty handed and it was back to the fence posts.

I was able to approach quite closely and to be able to get some lovely portraits

In the field behind the Kestrels were a number of Great Black-backed Gulls, and as one of the Kestrels flew over the gulls all took to the air.

We decided to walk around the lower half of the island in the opposite way we had taken back in June.  The path passes through coastal quarries, with huge rocks littered all around the top of the cliffs.  Movement in amongst the rocks revealed a Wheatear.

We searched hard around the quarries, venturing into Nore Quarry to check all the nooks and crannies of the piled up rocks in the hope of finding the Little Owls that are frequently see here, and in fact the location where we found one in June.  Unfortunately we could not find them, but above us one of the Kestrels had followed us and was perched in the brambles on the edge of the cliff.

Back on the coast path we looked out over the sea towards the cliffs at Ovmington and Ringstead Bay.

We turned inland and walked through the village of Southwell, and out to the footpath near Reap Lane.  Passing the horse stables we came across a pair of cats in a stand off, and it was probably the presence of the cats that meant we did not get the views of the Turtle Dove that had been very confiding to others early in the day.  I did though manage a view of the bird as it flew across the field from a clump of brambles by the side of the barn.

The path comes out on the west side of the island, and walked south past the Southwell Business Park, the location of the hotel we stayed in back in June.  Along the cliff Jackdaws performed their aerobatics in the wind, are they playing, it certainly seemed like it, and it also looked quite good fun.

A little further along we came across more Kestrels, again hunting in pairs above the cliff, looking down into the grass covered cliff sides.

At one point I was able to get almost directly underneath the Kestrel, and was able to get a sense of what maybe are the last seconds a vole or mouse my have as they drop towards the final plunge.

Hopeful of maybe a Peregrine we were not to be lucky, and the walk down to the car park was accompanied by calling Meadow Pipits and a large flock of Linnets.

A pair of Raven were around the car park, one flew up to the fence around the MOD property and called.

It was time for some lunch at the cafe by the lighthouse, and we ate in the presence of a quite tame and adventurous Rock Pipit.

Both with an ice cream in hand we headed back towards the Crown Estate field in the hope of finding the ring-tail Hen Harrier that has been present for quite a while.  The skies had now cleared and we walked towards the area where the Harrier had been seen in glorious sunshine.  

It had been seen today but I was not confident.  Then I noticed a raptor fly up from the field at the top of the hill, and I could see quite clearly that it was a Hen Harrier.

We crossed the road and walked up the hill to a good watch point.  Very quickly it appeared again, and flew towards us and passed over the track into the adjoining field.

It then turned and came past us quite close.

It then turned again and moved away from us and soon became a target for the crows, who started to mob it, and despite the best attempts of the harrier to get away in the end they forced the bird down to the ground and out of view.

We waited and had several quick views until it decided to move again, and was immediately mobbed again by the crows.  In this photograph you can clearly see the characteristic white rump, and the bars on the tail feather that give the female or immature bird the name "ring-tail".

The crows were clearly an annoyance and the harrier continued up the hill in the direction of Southwell, and out of sight.

Once again the day had been saved by a good bird in the afternoon, but while the day may not have delivered quantity it did provide the opportunity to get some lovely photographs, and another opportunity arose as we walked back to the car with a male Stonechat perched in the golden teasel parsley heads.

Looking down across the field towards the Bill Lighthouse the sun was back lighting the scene.

Another quality day, if not overflowing with numbers of birds.  Unfortunately the blue skies and lovely sunshine was left behind as we drove back along the coast road, the overcast and grey skies returning.

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