Sunday 30th November
Still pretty quiet. 6 Chaffinches, 5 Greenfinches, 2 House sparrows, 1 Wren, Blackbird, Blue tit, Collared dove, Fieldfare and Robin.
Friday 28th November
6 Chaffinches, 6 Goldfinches, 3 Blackbirds and 1 Reed bunting.
Wednesday 26th November
Only 7 new birds – 1 Great-spotted woodpecker, 1 Blackbird, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Chaffinch, 2 Greenfinches and 1 Goldfinch. Plenty of time to do lots more work taking the tops out of the willows around the Observatory Pond.
Tuesday 25th November
No ringing today but Steve single-handedly tidied up the Ringing Room office which was in a terrible state, baited up the Whitehouse and the Obs pond and took the top out of the large tree behind the Ringing Room, thus opening up the pond for more birds. Thanks from the ringers, all of who will benefit!
Monday 24th November
No ringing today due to maintenance in the Whitehouse, however this adult male Kingfisher was ringed just outside Tonbridge this morning.
Saturday 22nd & Sunday 23rd November
Just 14 new birds over the weekend. 4 Reed buntings, 2 Chaffinches, 2 Redwings, 1 Goldfinch, 1 Song thrush, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Blackbird, 1 Great tit and 1 Lesser redpoll.
Friday 21st November
49 new birds today with an unexpectedly good catch of House sparrows and Goldfinches, plus a Fieldfare which was the first for the winter. Totals for the day were 18 Goldfinches, 12 House sparrows, 8 Blackbirds, 5 Chaffinches, 2 Greenfinches, 1 Redwing, Fieldfare, Lesser redpoll and Collared dove.
Fieldfares have a huge breeding distribution in Europe, from the west in France, south to Austria and Switzerland and
north to Scandinavia, then way across to Lake Baikal in Eastern Siberia and globally they are one of the top east-west migrants. Not so long ago Fieldfares moved south-west into France as breeding birds and surprisingly colonised in quite large numbers. At the time it was predicted that we would see them colonise the UK, however this did not quite materialise, except for a few pairs that continue to hold on in Scotland and Northern England. It is great to see them nesting in town parks and gardens in countries like Norway, Finland, Poland and Germany while further south in Switzerland and Austria they are birds of alpine forests.
We see the Fieldfare as a widespread winter visitor each year and up to a million of them visit the UK, moving away from the freezing conditions of the huge continental land mass. Ring-recoveries show clearly that their origins are in Scandinavia and Finland, with the majority of our winter birds migrating to Britain from Norway. Those that winter in the western and southern part of the continent come from Eastern Siberia on an enormous round-trip migration of around 12,000 kilometres! Watch out for a few stragglers that hang on into the spring if you are on holiday in southern Spain or Portugal.
Ring recoveries show that Skylarks breeding in South-east England are probably mostly sedentary, however we see a southward movement in the autumn, sometimes in large numbers, and there is some evidence that these birds may be from the north of the UK , augmented by birds passing through from Scandinavia and the Low Countries
Wednesday 19th November
Only 8 new birds today but an interesting variety. 2 Reed buntings, 1 Water rail, Skylark, Wren, Blackbird, House sparrow and Chaffinch.
The Reed buntings were the first of this species for the winter, the Skylark was the first of the year and was caught using a whoosh net on the beach and the Water rail was a great surprise caught in the Heligoland.
Water rails are birds of reed beds and other well-vegetated wetland habitats and can be extremely skulking and secretive, particularly during the breeding season. For this reason they may be under-recorded except of course when both male and female emit their loud squealing, grunting territorial whistles, which can be heard throughout the year. In winter they are seen more readily in the open and are omnivorous, taking a wide variety of food. Resident populations are boosted by winter visitors from the continent.
19 new birds – 6 Chaffinches, 4 Lesser redpolls, 2 Goldcrests, 1 Dunnock, House sparrow, Blackbird, Kestrel, Chiffchaff and Goldfinch.
The Kestrel was a very smart young male. This is a very unusual species for us to ring at the Observatory and is the first for a few years.
As well as new birds we had two interesting re-traps – a male Chaffinch first ringed as a juvenile on 4th October 2009, so is 5 years old, and amale Reed bunting first ringed on 24th April 2011 as a young bird, which is therefore nearly 4 years old. For comparison the oldest Chaffinch recorded inthe UK was 12 years old and the oldest Reed bunting at 9 years old.
Sunday 16th November
24 new birds – 7 Lesser redpolls, 5 Blackbirds and Chaffinches, 2 Blackcaps and Goldcrests, 1 Chiffchaff, Robin and Dunnock.
Saturday 15th November
Two consecutive Saturdays of maintenance in the Whitehouse has seen a lot of work done and the tops have been moved from a good number of the trees, and nets rides widened, hopefully increasing our opportunities of catching birds. Also during this week many of the willows around the Obs pond have been topped and the poles and strings now fixed along the new boardwalk across the 40’ Haven stream. Great work by everyone concerned.
The male Reed bunting shown here was the first newly ringed bird of this species for this winter. Reed buntings arrive with us as winter visitors and passage migrants at this time and we catch most of them in the Haven. This bird is a male in winter plumage, identified by the fairly unclear pale ring around the back of the neck, black base to pale fringed feathers on the head and bib and rich chestnut on the wings.
Some passerines like Reed buntings and especially males, have a very different breeding and winter plumage, even though they only moult once a year, in the late summer and early autumn. These birds are in fairly new plumage now but do not look as striking as they will in the spring after, as in the males of this species, the pale fawn or grey tips on the feathers of the head, face, neck and bib will wear off to reveal the bold black of their breeding plumage situated towards the base of these feathers. This is an interesting strategy which birds like Reed buntings, Chaffinches, Bramblings, Snow buntings and others use to save on the huge amounts energy that would be required to moult part of their plumage twice each year to achieve these dramatic changes.
Very blustery weather with some heavy rain showers is not ideal for ringing and we were only able to put a few nets up. Our ‘catch’ was consequently small and the following were the 10 new birds ringed: 3 Goldcrests, 5 Chaffinches, a Robin and Lesser redpoll. The 3 Goldcrests in the photograph were feeding in the Haven and were all ultimately caught in the Whitehouse in net 6. They were ringed and released together. All were carrying good amounts of fat and pectoral muscle (one of the birds weighing in at an excellent 6.2 grams) having fed well and were ready for a possible onward journey.
As Thursday 30th October was not planned as a ringing day unfortunately Ian’s Yellow-browed warbler which he caught in the Heligoland had been omitted from the ringing report – apologies for that! Only a few of these birds are seen around the Observatory each autumn and even fewer are ringed, this being the only one caught so far this year.
It is not at all clear how Yellow-browed warblers get to Britain and Ireland but they are becoming increasingly numerous as autumn migrants. The map from Eric Simms’ British Warblers – Collins shows their far easterly breeding range through Siberia from the Urals to the Sayan Mountains, Outer Mongolia and Korea and south to Afghanistan and the northwest Himalayas. It is one of the most common birds in Siberia and migrates through China to India, Malaysia, Thailand , southeast Asia and parts of China.
Together with Richard’s pipit it is perhaps the most regular of the Siberian vagrants to reach Britain. Most sightings are coastal and particularly along the North Sea coast, in south and southwest England and just a few in Ireland, Wales and the Hebrides. The number of occupied 10-km squares increased significantly from 3 in the 1981-84 Winter Atlas to 130 in the current Atlas and the mean annual totals of individual Yellow-browed warblers present in Britain increased from 72 during 1968-72 to 434 during 2000-03.
There is now unsurprisingly an ongoing debate as to whether these birds represent part of a migration to western wintering areas, rather than just vagrancy.
Birdwatchers in S.E. England are often surprised at how many Siskins breed in the UK. The BTO estimate 410,000 pairs, more or less the same as Linnet and Pied wagtail. The greater proportion of the breeding population is found in Scotland, Wales, Northern and Western England, in fact anywhere where there are conifers or especially, conifer plantations. There are far fewer breeding sites in the South and East but Thetford Forest in Norfolk and The New Forest have increasing populations.
With the need for timber after the First World War, the Forestry Commission was established to plant trees, and species of fast growing imported conifers were chosen which would also do well on poor thin, acid soils so that agricultural land need not be used. As everyone knows, vast areas of important moorland and heathland were carpeted in these plantations which blotted out the light and excluded some of the UKs rarer ‘open-country’ species. Some birds benefitted however, including Coal tits, Goldcrests, Goshawks and of course, Siskins.
Some Siskins remain all year in these areas but others move into lowland Britain where they often join Lesser redpolls and Goldfinches to feed on the seeds of river and waterside Alders, Silver birch and sometimes European larch. Since the advent of garden bird feeding, starting in the 1960s they also now visit gardens in huge numbers during the second half of the winter. In some years more birds move south in response to a decline in cone crops and therefore can become irruptive and nomadic in their movements. The population has been increasing rapidly and since the 1968/72 BTO Breeding Atlas there has been a range expansion of an impressive 166%, and even more recently between 1995-2010 we have seen a population increase of 55%.
The Siskins that are moving through Sandwich Bay at the moment, some of which have been ringed over the last week, may very well be migrants from Fennoscandia which is indicated by past ring-recoveries. These recoveries show that some Scandinavian breeding birds move south to the Low Countries before moving across the Channel to East Anglia and Kent. Once again the numbers of birds is likely to be dependent on seed availability and some may move on south into Iberia or even across to the Mediterranean.
Thursday 6th November
A busier day today with 16 Lesser redpolls and 24 Blackbirds including lots of the larger, greyer, duller, dark-billed continental birds, and 4 Blackcaps still on the move. Total 64 new birds – 24 Blackbirds, 16 Lesser redpolls, 7 Chaffinches, 5 Robins, 4 Blackcaps, 2 Goldcrests and 1 Song thrush, Redwing, Firecrest, blue tit, Greenfinch and Siskin.
A re-trapped Chaffinch today was originally ringed as a young female on 21st January 2009, so is six years old.
Tuesday 4th November
Just 16 new birds with some more Lesser redpolls and a few Blackcaps still migrating south. 4 Lesser redpolls, 3 Robins, 2 Blackbirds, Blackcaps and Goldcrests, 1 Song thrush, Blue tit and Great tit. Heavy rain and windy weather has disrupted several days of ringing and looks as though it may continue to do so.
Saturday 1st November
A few more Lesser redpolls but the bulk of today’s 46 new birds were Long-tailed tits. The list was 30 Long-tailed tits, 5 Blue tits and Lesser redpolls, 3 Chiffchaffs and 1 Blackbird, Sparrowhawk and Bullfinch. Interesting to see a few Chiffchaffs still moving through.