Wednesday 29 April 2020

Lockdown Day 37 - Remembering Portland Bird Observatory

Nine years ago now we had a holiday down in Dorset and during that holiday we visited Portland on the south coast of England that has a very impressive reputation for rare and migrating birds as it is a headland that when birds cross the English Channel or migrate along it, the point acts as a marker and resting place.

After quite a long drive and having to navigate roadworks in Weymouth that were part of the preparations for London 2012 Olympics venue, we arrived on Portland and drove quite a way down to the observatory. Inside there is some information about the site, and while we were there a warden was ringing migrating birds that had been caught in the (harmless) mist net that morning.

The first bird the warden showed us was a Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) and they are really quiet small birds! Normally they are very hard to find in trees as they blend in really well and often you can only hear but not see them. Their call is a descending, fluid warble. Although it looks in the photo that the bird is being squashed, bird ringers are trained and the bird really isn't too bothered by the experience. Ringing the birds allows future observations of the bird to be tracked and before the advent of satellite tracking, this was often the main way that information about migration was established.

The other bird we saw being ringed that day was a Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) , another type of warbler. To me, their song sounds like they have given the instruction to the bird to warble but it has no idea what to do and thus sings randomly! This year there have been plenty of Blackcap warblers near where I live, they are - with Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus collybita) - the first warblers to arrive, some over overwinter here nowadays, and one of them was really quite showing off in some woods near me on Monday, unusually getting quite close!

On our visit to Portland I was really hoping for a Hoopoe (Upupa epops)  but you have to be extremely lucky to see one, a bird that looks like it was designed by a committee from spare parts! However, we did see a pair of Cirl Buntings (Emberiza cirlus) and a Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) that day which are both quite rare in the UK.

Obviously, this is a lovely place to visit once the lockdown restrictions are lifted!

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