Portland Bill September ‘19

We needed a holiday after a long year of family commitments, and after a few quick decisions, (and nearly no homework!) ended up with a self catering apartment on Portland, Dorset. It ticked box 1 as dog friendly, box 2 as near the sea and a vague box 3 that we might see some birds there. Little did we know!

Arriving at the island in the rain the striking features were of greyness, bleakness, and sparse vegetation. And that the island seemed to be one large quarry separated by small holdings with rough-coated ponies. Spirits sagged a little, but a night’s sleep and out with the dog into the breeze and we felt better. And day by day we fell in love a little more with its ruggedness, that amazing light, and the huge skies.

The bird life was increasingly interesting day on day, even if this wasn’t a birdwatching holiday, as such. And gradually we became aware that there were serious birdwatching opportunities here : a wryneck in a quarry, a Lapland bunting on the cliffs. Both of which I could have “twitched” if that was my way. They were both within 1/4 mile of where we were staying. I watched a group of birders, many lying on the ground, encircling the little bunting in a way I couldn’t feel comfortable about. I walked the other way.

But chance findings while walking made up for not seeing the rarities, and were very rewarding. Sparrowhawk, buzzard and kestrel were busy all round the island and flocks of linnet, meadow pipit ducked and weaved. Larks sang all round and Northern wheatear popped up on fence posts left right and centre. Always a photogenic bird!

I think I would one day like to visit the observatory there and learn more about the techniques used : this in part to ease my continuing discomfort about the tension between interference and valid, important study. But also to see some of the beautiful unusual birds that pass through this southernmost point where migratory birds congregate en route to or returning from the continent.

The last in the series of Portland images is a chicory flower, planted near the observatory to provide feed for the finches and other ground-feeding birds.

Portland Bill