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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 http://www.portlandbirdobs.org.uk/aa_latestnews.htm
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!