Sunday, October 31, 2010

Portland Bird Observatory

We took a few days last week to stay at Portland Bird Observatory. It is an old lighthouse magnificently located on Portland Bill and one can book to stay in bunk rooms in the lighthouse or the adjoining cottage. Daily activity is centred around regular checks of the nets which are strung throughout the garden to gently capture some of the many birds which use this little area of copse and garden as a stopping-off point. The first daily check is around 0800 and there is a great sense of anticipation as the experts head off at the appointed hour - I thought I detected a hint of a skip in the first step of even the most seasoned ringer..

The nets are re-checked throughout the day, and any find is carefully disentangled, brought round for general scrutiny and admiration, then prior to release, if it is of particular interest, put in a soft bag for weights, measures, and ringing. This process has been going on for decades and the marvellous database is already online as far back as 2000, with the full history being worked on by a team of copy typists I believe.

The front room of the Obs has large windows opening onto a patio with a great view over the sea, so the mixed group of regulars, residents, locals and visitors can keep an eye on the sea, get periodic updates from the garden and are also at the epicentre of bird-intell for the area. All the latest news, with Martin's fantastic photographs are put on the website.

This lovely, comfortable, friendly room must be one of the 'birdiest' places on earth - packed with books and paintings and magazines, and conversation benefiting from the presence of some extraordinary knowledge and experience, Where else could a lengthy discussion be sustained on the short feathers just below the beak of a Pallas' Warbler?

On our first day we arrived late and headed down to the Bill (Pied Wagtails and Rock Pipits). Bad call- we missed by just 30 mins the find-of-the-week Pallas' Warbler.

We were up sharp for the morning check, but this was officially rated 'extremely quiet'. Couldnt actually have been any quieter, since there were no birds at all in the nets! Over our 2 days we saw Wren, Greenfinch and Redwing fron the nets.

Seawatching yielded Gannets, Lesser BB gulls, Cormorants, Guillemot (L), Great Skua (L). The local trees and fields had loads of Linnets, Goldfinch, Housesparrow with a Buzzard, a pair of active Kestrels and a Merlin.

Down at the Bill subsequently we found the reported Black Redstarts

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