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Portland Bill: An old stomping ground

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Chris Packham Chris Packham | 11:19 UK time, Thursday, 8 October 2009

Portland Bill is an old stomping ground of mine. I started visiting this migration hotspot in 1980 when I began to spend most Saturdays there during the spring and autumn peaks of activity. We would journey down from Southampton to arrive at first light at Ferry Bridge or Radipole Reserve before moving onto the bill itself.

There weren't so many birders in those days and even when our trips coincided with 'big twitches' there weren't too many people or any woeful behaviour. I recall some great birds too: woodchat shrikes, quail, wrynecks and, during a brief foray into the world of 'sea-watching', various vagrant skuas and shearwaters. Sleeping off the early start after a pint or two in the pub before a late afternoon round up before heading home was also a pretty regular scenario too.

So this week I was pleased to head back to reacquaint myself with this unique part of the UK. The landscape is pretty harsh, barren even, perhaps even hostile on the wrong day. Our Monday dawned mildly hostile: mist, rain and the wrong wind for our migrants. However, by lunchtime things had cleared up and we had an afternoon of sunshine.

A few swallows were heading out from the bill and a couple of great skuas were spotted wending past far out to sea. We went inland to Weymouth, where we enjoyed a real treat, an intimate insight into the roosting habits of the pied wagtail.

This evolved into a quintessential Autumnwatch piece - technology and imagination revealing something totally unexpected about a very familiar species, a bird we all think we know but which very few have had the chance to examine in this revealing way. I was genuinely very, very excited and it was nice to bump into local wagtail watcher Steve Hales in the car park and to be able to invite him in to enjoy our views first hand.

portlandbill.jpg

Me and Kate at Radipole Lake Reserve

Next morning... it was raining, no good for mist-netting. But Kate persevered and caught a couple of interesting birds and a bit later I went through the moth trap at the Bird Observatory with the brilliant Martin Cade. I've had the privilege of working with Martin on a few previous occasions and I always learn new things. He is not only one of my teenage heroes (his notes in the British Birds Journal were legendary) but one of the nation's most modest yet greatest naturalists. And he's a really nice bloke to boot. As usual the Obs was busy with other blokes birding about and mulling over stuff. Teas were served, slurped and savoured. Then we went to Radipole Lake Reserve .

I like 'Radipoli' as I like to call it. It glamorises the Weymouth resort by adding a little Italian pizzazz to it. I've seen some really good birds there over the years. It and its sister Lodmoor have sadly shrunk over the years due to repeated developments and I have long felt that it hasn't really maximised its potential as a fabulous urban reserve in terms of visitor facilities.

It's one thing appealing to bitterns and marsh harriers, which bred this year, but putting people in contact with birds is perhaps more important in sites such as this. Thus I was delighted to learn from the hospitable and extremely helpful staff and volunteers that there are some really exciting plans for the reserve's future, starting with a re-fit of the centre in February of next year. Fingers crossed that the mix of conservation and engagement comes to fruition soon.

A massive thanks to all, especially on the second day when their help meant that we were able to do a short piece about... bearded tits. Super-dooper birds .

Roll on Friday...

Comments

  • 1. At 11:50am on 08 Oct 2009, Nicola Main wrote:

    Great to hear whats been happening recently and I'm looking forward to seeing the various pieces on the programme.

    I'd like to ask the presenters if they think wildlife and conservation topics should be taught in schools so that the younger generation can learn and be more aware of the natural world in which they live. If they aren't taught it and aren't made aware of it then how will they ever look after it?

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  • 2. At 1:07pm on 08 Oct 2009, Denice_Stout wrote:

    Bearded tits are absolutely beautiful. Looking forward to seeing them on Friday & I'm also very curious about the wagtail behaviour you guys have observed.

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  • 3. At 3:06pm on 08 Oct 2009, Wildlife Filmer Adam wrote:


    Cheers Chris.


    @Silverfalcon I think it should be taught in school.

    Kate always looks lovely, that's a really nice picture of you BOTH.



    Wildlife Filmer Adam

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  • 4. At 3:38pm on 08 Oct 2009, NatureWatchCM wrote:

    Talking of "migration" but insects not birds. I saw a Hummingbird Hawk Moth today in my garden (Corfe Mullen nr Poole, Dorset). Would this be migrating? I've never seen one in October before. Thanks all....

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  • 5. At 8:15pm on 08 Oct 2009, Foxman62 wrote:

    Bitterns - I seen one in Poole Harbour last year, unfortunately was in the train at the time on me way to Dorchester, it was a bird I have always wanted to see, and although it was a quick glimpse, it was very much appreciated!!

    As I was on my own muttering 'Bittern, that was a bittern, a bittern , a flippin bittern',repeatedly to myself - got a few weird looks, but such is life!!!

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  • 6. At 09:55am on 09 Oct 2009, NWmikecooper wrote:

    I spent every Easter and October half term holiday weeks at Portland from 1970 - 1975 with my school's Natural History club - King Edwards Five Ways, Bartley Green (Bill Oddie's old stomping ground) before branching out to Cornawall, Norfolk and Fair Isle twice. Portland is fantastic it is so unique for attracting migrating birds and fr sea passage - it absolutley hooked me on migration for life. Now living in Heywood (near Rochdale - where Bill O's from) I get to Seaforth and Spurn at appropriate times of the year. As well as watching my local patches. In fact Bill and I have swapped over geographically during our lives.

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  • 7. At 12:46pm on 09 Oct 2009, LazyRizzo wrote:

    There used to be a huge pied wagtail roost on the roof of the old (now obsolete) Post Office building in Leicester city centre, I remember years ago seeing hundreds of wagtails coming in and chittering away.

    Like many above, I think nature, wildlife and conservation should be taught in all schools, and in many schools it is. Several primaries locally have nature areas, led nature walks and they make projects and study tables about conservation. Get 'em young and you will keep 'em for life!

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  • 8. At 8:01pm on 09 Oct 2009, jg wrote:

    It is great to see the team back- am very excited about the bearded tits- we don't get them up here. Can't wait for the show tonight- all the presenters are amazing- thanks

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  • 9. At 10:22pm on 09 Oct 2009, Nicola Chester wrote:

    My children loved Radipole Lake Reserve. Three hours in the reserve then a swim in the sea - perfect day out!

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  • 10. At 4:14pm on 10 Oct 2009, daveboy3066 wrote:

    Chris, As a boy a (Greyback or Hoodie) crow had a grey back and were scarse now they seem to be everywhere, but now (60 years later) they seem to have a grey body and black wings and head. Is this my memory playing tricks on me or have they changed?
    David

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  • 11. At 5:47pm on 10 Oct 2009, Spatz_kat wrote:

    We're delighted you came down to Weymouth this week! We know those Wagtails who party in the bushes behind the Ferry Terminal, of course - AND we know that really they all jump on the hydrofoil to get down to France. They were just waiting for the next one. There they all sit on the back rail, little claws hanging on for dear life, wind streaming through their feathers ....

    But you must come back in the Spring to see all the swallows nests high in the walls of Nothe Fort across the harbour! They must have the best sea views of any Swallows - and the shortest distance to emigrate!

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  • 12. At 12:05pm on 11 Oct 2009, dollydeb wrote:

    Being a great lover of swifts I have read that they are on the amber list and I would like to put a nest box up for them but they are very expensive so could you tell me if there is much success with these boxes. I will buy one if the success rate is good. We have quite a few swifts here and my house is a three storey house on a side of a hill so good access for them. Could you do a talk on swift boxes ad manybe more people like me will fork out for them. Thank you.

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  • 13. At 7:52pm on 11 Oct 2009, CJSurrey wrote:

    I was walking in Exbury in Hampshire yesterday afternoon (Sat 10 Oct) and saw a huge flock of little birds that looked like the firecrest you showed on Autumn Watch on Friday. There were atleast a hundred, very lively and bringing the tree they lodged in to life, then flying off across the field. WOULD THEY HAVE ARRIVED TOGETHER AND THEN DISPERSED?

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  • 14. At 10:18am on 12 Oct 2009, BurleyRambler wrote:

    You asked for sightings of Painted Lady butterflies. My wife and I saw 2 at Worbarrow Bay; whilst walking the Coastal Path on the Lulworth Ranges on Saturday 10 October 2009.

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  • 15. At 4:40pm on 12 Oct 2009, JeanneYates wrote:

    10.55am on Sunday October I heard a Chiffchaff singing very loudly at
    51.3520 degrees North and 1.9930 degrees West in Devizes Wiltshire.I have not heard it since.

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  • 16. At 7:59pm on 12 Oct 2009, halfdanhalfbiscuit wrote:

    Back to bearded tits it was great to see you at Radipole last week Chris, and the beardies are showing really well at the reserve at the moment, sometimes theyre right outside the visitor centre. There were even 3 beardies heading south at Portland Bill today.

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  • 17. At 12:55pm on 16 Oct 2009, mist_net wrote:

    Chris, just to let you know that I am heading up a team at Filey Bird Observatory in North Yorkshire, training bird ringers and we have had a mass movement of Redwings/Blackbirds/Song Thrush over the past six days but hardly any Fieldfare (11!!) Also trapped first Hawfinch, and over 600 birds. It is open for the public as part of the BTO 100 anniversary and completed this Sunday (18th) although had to stop today (Friday) because of high winds. Could do with a good forecast on autumnwatch tonight.

    Peter

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  • 18. At 12:58pm on 16 Oct 2009, mist_net wrote:

    p.s. to last posting. Have posted a few photos on the autumnwatch flickr page

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