7th November 2016
Now on to Portland Bill and perhaps not too surprisingly it hadn't changed a bit since my last visit 25+ years ago. We used to holiday at Chesil Beach in those days so I am very familiar with the place and was looking forward to revisiting some old haunts. First stop was The Bill itself and at first it appeared that the only residents were this pair of Oystercatchers that were grabbing a nap on one of the rocky outcrops.
However, It wasn't too long before I connected with my target species, the Rock Pipit. I often photograph Rock Pipits on the Essex coast but there the pipits are the migratory winter visitor Scandinavian Rock Pipit subspecies littoralis, which are sometimes difficult to approach. At Portland the Rock Pipits are the resident nominate species Anthus petrosus and will hopefully be more used to humans and therefore more approachable. Luckily my theory proved to be correct.
What was surprising, however, was that a couple of the birds were spending a lot of time in and around the Golden Samphire growing in the rock crevices. The reason for this was that there were a number of moths roosting in the plants and the birds were absolutely gorging themselves on them. From this photograph it was possible to identify the moths as Angle Shades.
If you just sat down on the rocks near the Golden Samphire the birds would fly in and walk around just a few yards away. So yes, I am now confident that the resident Rock Pipit petrosus is far more confiding than the Scandinavian littoralis.
Now time to go up to the hills and have a look along the cliffs by the western coast. Once we left the small area of civilisation by The Bill, we were joined by one of the resident Buzzards. And in keeping with what I have said before about the birds in this part of Dorset being so tame, this Stock Dove flew in from across the fields and landed on a nearby fence as if to see what we were up to.
As was the case 25 years ago, Stonechats were everywhere and this female posed on the cliffs with the deep blue sea as background.
But this male from another pair posed in more traditional style against the sky.
But the star of the show, not only today but for the whole trip, was this Raven that posed just 10 yards away. We had found a pair on top of the hill which then proceeded to fly down the hill and landed in a ploughed field. We made our way down there and got with some 30 yards of the bird but it had its back to us and the sun was straight into the lens of the camera.
It was clear that I had to get past the bird to get the sun behind me, but that would have entailed walking past the bird within just 6 yards, which was unlikely to be possible without making it fly. To make things worse I was constrained by the ploughed field on one side and a fence on the other, So therefore the strategy was to walk slowly past the bird and hope that it would either hop or fly just a few yards further into the field allowing me to get past.
So off I set. I walked very slowly taking care not to make eye contact with the bird and was soon within 10 yards of the bird, which still seemed to be very settled. I inched forward and unbelievably was soon alongside the Raven. I carried on as I needed room to get past the bird, turn round and lift the camera, all without spooking the bird at the last minute.
I stopped and slowly turned round when I was still just 10 yards from the bird and started taking some shots and unbelievably the Raven didn't bat an eyelid. Well, apart from the second shot when it showed its nictitating membrane, or third eyelid.
I was so close that I couldn't get all the bird in, and only managed it by turning the camera on its side to take a portrait shot. HOW GOOD IS THAT????
What a fantastic end to fantastic 2-day trip to our old stomping ground of Weymouth and Portland.