Hoopoe – Portland, Dorset

As you get into late March, high pressure systems (which have clockwise winds) to the east of the UK can lead to a southerly air stream and bring overshooting spring migrants to the south coast. With these conditions in place, a Great Spotted Cuckoo was found on the Isle of Wight on Tuesday 21st March. We were just about to go to Amsterdam on a 4-day cruise and so the cuckoo would need to stay for over a week if we were to see it. That seemed a bit unlikely. Dad, Aly and I had already blocked out Thursday 28th March for a day’s birding as Aly was down from Cambridge, and so we hoped that, however unlikely, it could be one of our target birds.

We arrived back from Amsterdam on Tuesday 26th and the cuckoo was still present! A Hoopoe had also been found on Portland on the Monday. We spoke on Wednesday evening and in the end decided that we would wait for news on Thursday morning before booking any ferry tickets. The plan was that I would go to Portland for the Hoopoe and Dad and Aly would bird more locally, perhaps for the Garganey and Spoonbill at Titchfield Haven. If the Great Spotted Cuckoo was seen again we would then meet up at my house to get the midday ferry to the Island.

I set my alarm for 5:30 am and at 5:43 am Aly texted to say that she had changed her mind and wanted to come with me for the Hoopoe.  In addition, the Lesser Yellowlegs had been seen again at Lodmoor after a week of no sightings, prolonging its six-month stay. Including the Great Spotted Cuckoo that meant three potential ticks for Aly. I detoured via West Wellow to pick her up at just after 6 am and we headed off to Portland. The Hoopoe had already been present three days, a relatively long time for a spring migrant to stay in the same place, so I wasn’t confident we’d see it, especially as it had been clear overnight. Most land birds migrate at night because they are unlikely to be attacked by birds of prey, the air is less turbulent and the air is cooler, allowing them to lose excess heat more easily. They are also better able to navigate when it’s clear – birds do not learn star patterns but learn a north-south orientation from the way stars rotate about the pole star. 

Thankfully, however, just before we arrived at Reap Lane on Portland, news came through of the continued presence of the Hoopoe. We soon found the horse paddock and barn and Aly located the Hoopoe on the farm track. Over the next hour or so we had good views, especially once we changed our angle to get uninterrupted views up the length of the field.

A good start to the day, however, a message came through that there was no sign of the Great Spotted Cuckoo at Ventnor.

Next stop was Lodmoor for the Lesser Yellowlegs. Aly had dipped this bird once already when we visited in early January. We arrived at the favoured west scrape but there was no sign of the bird. A lovely male Wheatear showed well on the edge of the lagoon and then we heard an unfamiliar dry rattling call before a male Garganey flew in and landed right in front of us. It was 9:30 am and news came through that the cuckoo was still there. We would need to leave by 10 am to give us enough time to get to the Red Funnel terminal in Southampton for a midday sailing. We therefore only had 25 minutes to find the yellowlegs. Thankfully a birder close by located it and we got onto it, Aly’s second tick of the day. I ordered the ferry tickets and we sped off. 

Great Spotted Cuckoo blog to follow…

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