Collared Flycatcher – Southwell, Portland, Dorset

I hadn’t had a tick for 1303 days and had let Dad have my pager and I wasn’t sure when I would next twitch a bird. Peter texted me on the Thursday night to ask whether I realised that there was a Collared Flycatcher at Portland, Peter had seen the bird that morning. He suggested that if it was still there Friday morning then it would probably be there after work for me on the Friday evening. Gradually I became more convinced that I should give it a go but I didn’t fancy the prospect of a Friday evening trip from Southampton to Portland and on the eve of a bank holiday weekend (probably 1.75 hours). I decided to wait until Saturday morning.

Sarah’s Mum and Dad had invited us over for a meal over the weekend and my Dad had said that he was going to go to Magdalene Hill for Grizzled Skipper and that he would probably go on Saturday as that was the best day for weather. I had planned to try for photographs of Woodlark at Beaulieu Road Station on the Saturday evening. I rang Dad on Friday night and convinced him to come with me for Collared Flycatcher and then we could try Durlston Country Park on the way back as there were Grizzled Skippers showing there. Dad had already seen Collared Flycatcher at Church Norton in June 2002 but he agreed to come.

I left home at 7am, picked Dad up in Wellow and then headed west to Portland.  We arrived in Sweethill Road, Southwell at around 8:45am and drove through a huge crowd of birders who were stood either side of the road, we parked the car 50 yards further down the road. We returned to join the assembled masses and began looking over a wall into a back garden where an apple tree seemed to be the point of interest. Apparently the bird had been returning to this favoured tree on a regular basis, it had been seen 20 minutes previously.  The pager had said that birders should view from a roped off area in a small field, I wasn’t sure where this could be but we were content to stay where we were given that everyone else seemed to be staying put.

After about 45 minutes of no show a small group of birders came back from the Avalanche Road side and indicated that the bird was showing well further along the road. We dashed off in that direction and after 100 yards or so we filed down a small gap between two houses where a lady was collecting for the Portland Air Ambulance. We carried on down the overgrown cut through and came out into a wide clearing which had been roped off, this was probably where we should have come to when we first arrived. It became clear that other birders had been watching the flycatcher from this vantage point non stop for the last few hours. 

After a few minutes people were calling out directions and pretty soon we got onto the flycatcher. After a few failed attempts I managed to get good views through the telescope. The large white forehead, complete broad white collar and pale upper rump were all clearly visible. 

This was the 31st Collared Flycatcher to be seen in Britain which is a remarkably low number considering how nearby it’s breeding range is and that it is a relatively long range migrant. The key to the rarity probably lies in the fact that the bulk of records are spring overshoots and with the flycatcher having a north-south migration route from East Africa to europe east of Italy if overshoots occur they are likely to occur in Scandinavia and east of there rather than Britain. 

After good views we left to head off to Durlston where we saw a Wall ( a new species for me) but were unable to find Grizzled Skipper.

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