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Juvenile Goldfinch moulting head feathers - John Buckingham
Juvenile Goldfinch moulting head feathers – John Buckingham


Monday 31st August

The second day of the Fair and pretty poor wet weather with a small catch.  New birds were: 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 1 Whitethroat, 1 Willow Warbler, 3 Magpies, 1 Goldfinch and 26 Starlings.

The photograph shows a juvenile Goldfinch with newly emerging ‘adult’ head feathers.


Sunday 30th August

350+ human visitors to the Fair today and many were thoroughly impressed by the ringers, with 102 new birds plus 41 re-traps, a massive effort over a long, tiring day.  Hirundines continue to make an appearance with a good mix of warbler species. August is always the month for Willow Warblers with 196 ringed so far, Blackcaps are starting to build and will continue to do so through September with 109 birds as a good start. Along with the Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs will be the main migrants for September.

New birds were:  13 Swallows, 2 House Martins, 1 Wren, 1 Dunnock, 5 Robins, 1 Sedge Warbler, 6 Reed Warblers, 5 Lesser Whitethroats, 3 Whitethroats, 1 Garden Warbler, 21 Blackcaps, 1 Chiffchaff, 9 Willow Warblers, 2 Blue Tits, 1 Great Tit, 23 Starlings, 2 Chaffinches, 3 Greenfinches, 1 Goldfinch and 1 Linnet plus 41 re-traps, one of which was a Pied Flycatcher, never a numerous species for us.

male Pied Flycatcher - Northumberland - John Buckingham
male Pied Flycatcher in Alder – Northumberland – John Buckingham

Pied Flycatchers share the same western and northern upland woods as the Redstart, which we discussed yesterday, but Pied Flycatchers have never nested outside that area and can only be seen as passage migrants in Kent, briefly in spring and with a more leisurely departure in autumn. Their breeding numbers were enhanced many years ago by the provision of nest boxes in suitable woods on Dartmoor and in the hills of Central Wales where they continued to flourish and with nest boxes used more widely, their population grew throughout.

Latterly the positive trend has reversed and during 1995–2010 British breeding numbers decreased by a staggering 50% to just 19,000 pairs. Like the Redstart this is still a very numerous and widespread breeding bird in central and northern Europe however. Two particularly good sites to see Pied Flycatchers and Redstarts  in early summer are Yarner Wood, a National Nature Reserve on Dartmoor and the RSPB’s Dinas Reserve in Central Wales.


Male Redstart - Ashdown Forest - John Buckingham
Male Redstart – Ashdown Forest – John Buckingham

Saturday 29th August

39 Blackcaps, 1 Garden Warbler, 3 Reed Warblers, 3 Whitethroats, 10 Willow Warblers, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Redstart, 2 Dunnocks, 5 Robins and 1 House Sparrow. A nice mix of warblers with the first big catch of Blackcaps and Willow Warblers still moving through. Redstart and Goldcrest were the first of the autumn.

The male Redstart in his elegant breeding plumage and flicking his chestnut/orange tail is still a fairly common site in summer in the mixed, upland woods in the west and north of Britain. These summer visitors from West Africa and south of the Sahara prefer open, deciduous and mixed woods where the soils are poor and where there is only light ground cover beneath the canopy of Sessile Oaks, Alder and Silver Birch. Like the closely related Robin, they glean much of their invertebrate food from the ground. Their breeding range has

Female Redstart at nest - Mereworth Woods 1983 - John Buckingham
Female Redstart at nest – Mereworth Woods 1983 – John Buckingham

contracted by 31% since the 1968-72 BTO Breeding Atlas and this has particularly affected the Redstart in the east, and hence throughout lowland Britain.

They have always been scarce as breeding birds in Kent but they are very regular passage migrants and we can see Redstarts regularly at Sandwich Bay particularly in the autumn. They often use fence posts and bare perches, darting to the ground to collect an insect and returning sometimes to the same perch, which is of course reminiscent of Spotted Flycatchers, with whom they often consort on migration.

After 1965 about 15 pairs were reported annually for a while in woodlands around Canterbury, Ashford and Sevenoaks, their favoured habitats being open, mixed woodland with old timber and parkland. They have now disappeared from The Blean, woodlands around Ashford and Mereworth Woods in the west, but just about hold on in Knole Park at Sevenoaks. Other places in South East England to see this lovely rare bird at its tree-hole nest-sites are Ashdown Forest in Sussex and Thursley Common in Surrey.


Sedge Warbler juvenile shows speckling on throat - John Buckingham
Sedge Warbler juvenile shows speckling on throat – weighing a massive 19.7 grams and 64% more than average – John Buckingham


Friday 28th August

Back into the maize with a bit more success than in previous visits, with 49 Sedge, 37 Reed and 1 Grasshopper Warbler. Other warbler species were around in the Whitehouse including 13 Blackcaps, so their numbers are building. With 3 Lesser Whitethroats, 1 Garden Warbler, 8 Willow Warblers and 2 Chiffchaffs, the first three are still on the move and we will soon see many more Chiffchaffs as Willow Warbler migration tails off. It is interesting in comparing that there are currently no Willow Warblers but large numbers of Chiffchaffs at a site well inland in West Kent.

Totals for the day were: 1 Robin, 1 Grasshopper Warbler, 49 Sedge Warblers, 37 Reed Warblers, 3 Lesser Whitethroats, 1 Garden Warbler, 13 Blackcaps, 2 Chiffchaffs, 8 Willow Warblers, 2 Blue Tits, 1 Great Tit, 1 House sparrow and 2 Greenfinches. Total 121 new plus 7 re-traps.


Juvenile Sedge Warbler - John Buckingham
Juvenile Sedge Warbler with an almost complete covering of fat – John Buckingham

photographs, ringed elsewhere today, had a ‘fat score’ of 7 with an apparent almost complete covering of fat which is stored sub-cutaneously (under the skin). This energy source is stored in the body cavity around the kidneys, in the fork of the ‘wishbone’, spilling out around and even below the eyelids.  Migrant birds tap these reserves during their long journeys and Sedge Warblers are particularly well known for this. On average, their body weight grows by 50% as they are about to leave, with some individuals almost doubling their weight. This bird weighed 19.7 grams and with an average weight of 12 grams for the species, it was 64% heavier than average, and was probably about to make a huge non-stop flight well into southern Spain and perhaps beyond.

It is reported that Sedge Warblers visit reed beds at this time in order to feed up on infestations of plum-reed aphids, but this individual was far from the nearest reed bed and still had many more daylight hours left to fatten up before its nocturnal flight away from the UK. For many British Sedge Warblers, ring-recoveries show them wintering in Senegal and other neighbouring African countries, reaching their destination in September. The Sahara is steadily increasing in size and these birds must therefore cross this formidable desert on both their autumn and spring journeys. The individual in the photographs is a juvenile and the speckling on the throat in the first image is one of the factors that indicates its age, as adults lack this feature.


Thursday 27th August

Not a big list but some interesting birds today: 1 Pied Flycatcher, 1 Nightingale, 7 Blackcaps, 1 Reed Warbler, 7 Willow Warblers and 1 Blackbird.


Wednesday 26th August

Impossible to put nets up today with a wet forecast and extremely windy conditions. We did however, get on with some work that had built up, including cleaning out bird bags, trimming net rides and mowing the remainder of two sites in the Oasis field ready to put net triangles up to catch Meadow Pipits, which we ringed in record numbers last year.

one of today's Redstarts - John Buckingham
one of today’s Redstarts – John Buckingham


Spotted Flycatcher today - John Buckingham
Spotted Flycatcher today – John Buckingham








Time also for some birding around the Obs. with Redstarts, Spotted Flycatchers and warblers nearby and a chase after a Hoopoe at Sandown Castle.


Wryneck - John Buckingham - photos of today's bird to come.
Wryneck – John Buckingham – photos of today’s bird to come.


Recent garden Wryneck - Sue Smith
Recent garden Wryneck – Sue Smith









today's juvenile Wryneck - Steve Tookey
today’s juvenile Wryneck – Steve Tookey

Tuesday 25th August

1 Wryneck, 1 Tree Pipit, 13 Willow Warblers, 4 Garden Warblers, 1 Blackcap, 2 Lesser Whitethroats, 1 Reed Warbler, 2 Robins, 1 Wren, 1 Blackbird, 2 Greenfinches and 3 re-traps.

WRYNECKS are now considered to be pretty-well extinct as breeding birds in Britain and their fairly recent demise runs parallel with a similarly timed decline in Europe, along with a contraction in range eastwards and away from the west coast of the continent. Many reasons have been discussed and conclusions reached for this, but with such a widespread contraction it is possibly down to a change in climate in Western Europe to wetter spring weather at a crucial time during breeding.

A relative of woodpeckers, the Wryneck was often called the ‘Cuckoo’s mate’, as both species arrived more-or-less together in April, with the Wryneck slightly earlier, and the distinctive, far-reaching, very basic songs of both birds were often heard together. They were fairly widespread summer visitors particularly in the south

Wryneck pair displaying at nest hole, Mallorca - John Buckingham
Wryneck pair displaying at nest hole, Mallorca – John Buckingham

and south east, in gardens, orchards, parkland, commons and areas of scrub, with bare, open ground for feeding. A steady decline took place during the twentieth century with an estimated population of only 100-200 pairs by the late 1950s, 40-80 pairs in 1966 and they were considered extinct in England by 1974.  There was then a fairly short-lived colonisation in Scotland, and latterly only a very few sightings of single Wrynecks are reported in Scotland during the breeding season. We now see them as rare but regular passage migrants from late August into September at mostly coastal locations with some inland records. There are about 250 records each autumn and they can usually be found feeding on the ground in suitable open, bare locations where ants are plentiful, which are their main food source. Interestingly ‘our bird’ today was seen moving along the hedge and fence posts around the car park before flying into the Obs. pond net, then Steve extracting and ringing it. They migrate well south into Africa and their extensive European breeding range extends to northern Finland, south to the Mediterranean with some nesting records in the Balearic Islands, a patchy distribution in Spain and Portugal then east through Russia and the Middle East into Siberia.


female Blackbird shows ear-opening - John Buckingham
female Blackbird shows ear-opening – John Buckingham



Sunday 23rd August

Oh dear! Only 5 birds today  – 3 Starlings, 1 Bullfinch and 1 Willow Warbler. A catch of a fairly large number of Chiffchaffs at an inland site in west Kent today has revealed that juvenile birds of this species are on the move, not yet obvious here on the coast in the east of the County. ‘Ear-‘ear – the contour feathers in some species are in heavy moult at the moment and this picture of a female Blackbird, shows a fairly bare head with the ear opening clearly visible.


……………click on pictures to enlarge…………..


Linnet male - John Buckingham
Linnet male – John Buckingham

Saturday 22nd August

7 Blackcaps, 4 Willow Warblers, 2 Garden Warblers, 2 Reed Warblers, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Greenfinch, 3 Robins, 1 Great Tit, 1 Wren, 1 Linnet, 1 Spotted Flycatcher, 4 Starlings and 13 re-traps. Total of 41 birds.

We don’t often catch Linnets in the nets, again this is a species that we would usually target away from our usual ringing area. There is however a large flock around at the moment and this one just happened along.  They nest fairly abundantly locally in Gorse and this confirms their standard habitat in the UK of scattered bushes or scrub for nesting and open ‘weedy’ grassland or farmland for food. A loss of some of the agricultural weeds essential for raising young has led to a decline in Linnets throughout much of the country. The population of 410,000 pairs belies the concern for this species which is RED listed because of

Linnet wing detail - John Buckingham
Linnet wing detail – John Buckingham

the speed of its decline.

Little is known about the reasons for the variable, annual movements of Linnets. They are ‘partial’ migrants which means that part of the population may migrate in some years but not in others, when they stay in Britain for the winter. If they do move on their migration takes them due south through in a narrow band France and sometimes into southern Spain. Linnets breeding in the British uplands move to lower altitudes in autumn and we see an increase in our winter population here, probably because of generally higher coastal temperatures.


Spotted Flycatcher - John Buckingham
Spotted Flycatcher – John Buckingham

Another species of concern and red-listed, is the Spotted Flycatcher, a late-arriving summer visitor from the west coast of Africa as far south as Cameroon and Angola. After a population decline of 88% since 1970 we now have just 33,000 pairs breeding in Britain and Ireland with the highest breeding densities in the north and west. Although always a widespread species, Spotted Flycatchers have declined more rapidly from the south and east where they are almost confined to breeding in gardens and parkland in some areas. They are night time migrants and their passage south starts in late July with ring-recoveries from southern France, Spain and Portugal.


Friday 21st August

Bullfinch  juvenile male - John Buckingham
Bullfinch juvenile male – John Buckingham

Another disappointing session in the maize with just 26 Reed and 16 Sedge Warblers. Other new birds during the morning were 3 Blackcaps, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Willow Warbler, 2 Blue Tits, 1 Bullfinch, 1 Chaffinch and 2 Greenfinches, plus 14 re-traps including a Grasshopper Warbler that has stayed around in the maize since it was ringed a few days ago. We are catching more juvenile Bullfinches than in recent years, hopefully indicating a good breeding season, which is also being reported elsewhere. As we said recently, it is unusual to come across these secretive ‘all brown’, young birds generally in the field and this picture shows the appearance of a few pink ‘male’ feathers coming through on the face.


Thursday 20th August

Pretty poor weather with just 21 new birds – 15 Starlings, 3 Greenfinches, 1 Blackcap, 1 Lesser Whitethroat and 1 Willow Warbler.


Wednesday 19th August
A long day with sound systems switched on in the maize at 3.30 am and then nets up in the Whitehouse and Oasis, a visiting group for the rest of the day and 124 new birds plus 25 re-traps, the day finishing for some at 4.30 pm – 13 hours later!

The maize was disappointing once again with just 18 Reed and 17 Sedge Warblers and unfortunately this has been the picture so far this season, after starting at the beginning of the month. Anecdotal evidence is of a very poor breeding season for especially Sedge Warblers throughout the country, and as almost all of the birds that we catch are juveniles, this may very well prove to be the case.  There is no information on Reed Warbler breeding success or otherwise as yet.

2014                                  635                                    239                                2
2015                                  122                                    105                                3
In the whole of August last year we caught 766 Sedge and 352 Reed Warblers. On the 5th last year we caught 221 Sedge Warblers (almost twice the number we have caught in total this year ) and on almost the same date (20th) we caught 63 Sedge and 52 Reed, compared to 18 and 17 today.

Spotted Redshank - photographed elsewhere but similar to the bird on the Scrape today - John Buckinmgham
Spotted Redshank – photographed elsewhere but similar to the bird on the Scrape today – John Buckingham

We continue to catch exceptional numbers of Starlings however, with 57 today! New birds were: 1 Collared Dove, 2 Green Woodpeckers, 5 Sand Martins, 3 Swallows, 18 Sedge Warblers, 17 ReedWarblers, 2 Whitethroats, 2 Garden Warblers, 2 Blackcaps, 4 Willow Warblers, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Magpie, 57 Starlings, 3 House sparrows, 4 Greenfinches, 1 Bullfinch and 1 Reed Bunting plus 25 re-traps. The visiting JB Group had a great day, enjoying a good number of interesting species ringed in the morning, learned a lot and were full of praise for SBBO Ringers and in the afternoon were birding at the Scrape and around the estate with 7 wader species, including Spotted Redshank and Wood Sandpipers, plus Hobbies, Osprey, Buzzards, Sparrowhawk, Whinchats and Wheatears.


yesterday's Cetti's Warbler in the maize - John Buckingham
yesterday’s Cetti’s Warbler in the maize – John Buckingham

Tuesday 18th August
Rain stopped play after only one round of nets this morning and continued until the evening. 19 birds were ringed however including 7 warbler species, so it could have been a bumper day: 2 Sedge Warblers, 3 Reed Warblers, 2 Lesser Whitethroats, 1 Whitethroat, 2 Garden Warblers, 1 Blackcap and 5 Willow Warblers, 1 Robin,  and 2 Greenfinches.



We have reports from the BTO of some good recoveries (3 = bird hatched this year):

Starling – 3JM – ringed 24/08/2014 – SBBO  –  Controlled 11/08/2015 – Calvados, France
Blackcap – 3F – ringed 08/09/2014 – SBBO – Controlled 08/08/2015 – Tidmoor, The Fleet, Dorset
Sedge Warbler – 3 – ringed 29/07/2014 – Perth & Kinross – Controlled 05/08/2015 – SBBO
Reed Warbler – 3J – ringed 06/07/2015 – Heathermoor, Surrey – Controlled 31/07/2015 – SBBO
Sedge Warbler – 3 – ringed 12/09/2014 – Witnesham, Suffolk – Controlled 14/04/2015 – SBBO
Chiffchaff – 3 – ringed 08/10/2014 – Orkney – Controlled 11/04/2015 – SBBO

Grasshopper Warbler - territorial male - John Buckingham
Grasshopper Warbler – territorial male – John Buckingham


Monday 17th August

An early start in the maize with 26 Sedge and 32 Reed Warblers plus 1 Cetti’s and 3 Grasshopper Warblers and finishing with a ‘Greenland’ Wheatear (ssp leucorhoa) near the Cinque Ports Golf Course. 77 new birds today: 1 Green Woodpecker, 1 Wheatear, 1 Wren, 1 Cetti’s Warbler, 3 Grasshopper Warblers, 26 Sedge Warblers, 32 Reed Warblers, 2 Whitethroats, 1 Blackcap, 4 House Sparrows and 5 Greenfinches plus 15 re-traps.

WHEATEARS are common passage migrants at the Bay especially during the autumn, with fewer spring migrants and occasionally one of these larger, striking and more upright birds of the Greenland race leucorhoa arrives with the others. This bird had an enormous wing length of 110 mm. Wheatears in general are very long distance migrants, which includes 3 sub-species, and all of them breed in the northern hemisphere and many breed as circumpolar birds as far east as Alaska and arctic Canada and west into eastern Siberia (around the entire top of the globe!). This is an extremely wide range considering that practically every one of them funnels south into Africa for the winter, so imagine the enormous journeys those

Emma with Greenland Wheatear - Maria Himsworth
Emma with Greenland Wheatear – Maria Himsworth

in the far west and east will have to make. Bear in mind that those from Alaska could more easily travel due south into South America and those from eastern Siberia into southern Asia or Australia.

Most of the Wheatears from Canada and Greenland almost certainly travel non-stop from south-east Greenland over the Atlantic direct to Iberia or even North Africa. This 3,000 km journey must make them the passerine covering the longest regular transoceanic crossing with no refuelling stops. Occasionally some of them like our bird today will make landfall in the UK. The Wheatears breeding in eastern Siberia travel 9,000 km overland before they reach North Africa, but they can feed on the way.

Greenfinch male - john Buckingham
Greenfinch male – John Buckingham


Sunday 16th August

36 new birds and 9 re-traps including several warblers and more Greenfinches – they must have enjoyed a very successful breeding season. Garden Warblers continue to move through in greater than usual numbers and we are ringing exceptional numbers of Greenfinches this year. 2 Robins, 4 Reed Warblers, 3 Whitethroats, 3 Garden Warblers, 5 Blackcaps, 6 Willow Warblers, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Jackdaw, 3 Chaffinches and 7 Greenfinches.



Saturday 15th August

No maize ringing today. We will be in again on Monday and Wednesday, weather permitting. 20 new birds: 1 Robin, 1 Reed Warbler, 7 Willow Warblers, 1 Greenfinch, 5 Starlings and 2 House sparrows.


Friday 14th August

A good day with 57 new birds and 19 re-traps, some from the maize and a pretty scarce species processed today, an Icterine Warbler. The list of new birds: 1 Dunnock, 9 Sedge Warblers,15 Reed Warblers, 1 Icterine Warbler, 3 Whitethroats, 1 Blackcap, 6 Willow Warblers, 1 Great tit, 5 Starlings, 5 House Sparrows, 8 Greenfinches and 2 Reed Buntings.

Icterine Warbler - John Buckingham
Icterine Warbler – John Buckingham

The ICTERINE WARBLER is a scarce autumn passage migrant in Kent with records from most years. Interestingly, up until the ‘80s, more than one third of Kent’s records had come from Sandwich Bay! The last one ringed at The Observatory was last September and singles have been caught in recent years in 2010, 2011, 2014 & 2015. The Icterine warbler is one of two large, ‘yellow’ hippolais warblers breeding in Europe, the other being the Melodious Warbler. Others include Olive Tree, Olivaceous and Booted Warbler and characteristically they all have a long, straight bill, a long, sloping forehead and the crown is high and flat, which can be seen well in the photographs.

The Icterine Warbler breeds quite commonly through Central, Northern and Eastern Europe, the

Today's Icterine Warbler 0- John Pell
today’s Icterine Warbler – John Pell

southern extent of its range in the west being Northern France, Switzerland and Austria. The range of these two hippolais species hardly overlaps as the very similar Melodious is found in just France, Spain, Portugal and Italy – as their ranges literally a-but one-another they are said to be ‘parapatric’ and could well have come from very recent common ancestry. In the north they are found into Norway, Sweden and Finland, eastwards into Russia and in the west, as far as the North Sea coast of northern France and the Low Countries, so very close to the UK. The Icterine warbler is a trans-Saharan migrant wintering in SE and S C Africa and is prone to a degree of vagrancy during migration, hence its regular appearance in the UK.

Male Icterine Warbler singing its loud, fast sometimes mimicking song in Estonia - John Buckingham
Male Icterine Warbler singing its loud, fast sometimes mimicking song in Estonia – John Buckingham

There are very obvious differences between the various genera (groups of birds with a common ancestry) of ‘Old World Warblers’ in Europe and the first of the two words that make up the scientific name, which you see in your bird books is the generic name. So the Icterine Warbler is Hippolais icterina, and hence the six species mentioned above are all hippolais with this word as their first name. So Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Wood Warbler and others are Phylloscopus, (the Chiiffchaff being Phylloscopus collybita), Reed and Sedge Warblers, etc are Acrocephalus, (the Reed Warbler being Acrocephalus scirpaceus), Grasshopper and Savi’s Warblers, etc  are Locustella (making locust or grasshopper sounds – the Grasshopper Warbler being Locustella naevia) and lastly the Sylvia warblers, mostly quite distinctive, include the Blackcap and Whitethroat, the latter called Sylvia communis. Getting to know the characteristics of these five groups is a great way of learning to identify the British warblers.


Curlew - Shellness 01.00 14th August - John Buckingham
Curlew – Shellness 01.00 14th August – John Buckingham

Thursday 13th August

Very windy this morning and only a very small catch.  11 new birds: 1 Magpie, 1 Jackdaw, 3 Starlings, 5 Greenfinches and 1 Dunnock plus 13 re-traps.

It has been a pleasure to have Donal from Co. Wicklow ringing with us for the week and he has been very pleased, processing several new birds, especially Great-spotted and Green Woodpeckers. Until only recently, woodpeckers have been absent from Ireland and Great-spotted has only just colonised, but is rare and Green Woodpeckers are still absent. Ireland has recorded about 20% fewer bird species than the UK and this goes back to the time when the Irish Sea, as it is now called, flooded through as sea levels rose after the Ice Age, and it became an island. At this time the climate was still very cold, we continued to be joined to the Continent and conditions were such that there was no forest or sufficient trees to support woodpeckers, owls and many other species that we consider to be common today. So Ireland ‘went off’ with fewer animals and plants overall and along with some birds they still do not have any snakes.

Whimbrels have been migrating south through The Bay for a while now and we can often hear their obvious

Whimbrel re-trapped 01.00 14th August - John Buckingham
Whimbrel re-trapped Shellness 01.00 14th August – John Buckingham

‘wickering’ calls. We can sometimes be lucky and see one or two on the scrape or the beach, and in August these are passage migrants from breeding grounds in Iceland, Scandinavia or Russia on their way to African shores, sometimes as far south as South Africa and Namibia. 500 pairs breeds in Britain with about 290 pairs in Shetland and the remainder in Orkney and the extreme north of Scotland.

The photographs show a ‘close-up’ of one being processed at Shellness on the isle of Sheppey late last night in wonderfully still conditions along with a larger Curlew. The Whimbrel has a proportionately, somewhat shorter bill and dark crown-sides on either side of a paler crown stripe and dark eye stripe accentuating a pale supercilium, which are diagnostic.


Wednesday 12th August

Our second dawn visit into the maize, but drizzling rain and a breeze affected our catch of only 27 Sedge Warblers, 10 Reed Warblers and 2 Reed Buntings plus 1 Lesser Whitethroat 1 House sparrow and 6 Starlings in the Whitehouse and around the Obs. later. A Yellow Wagtail, eagerly anticipated by one of our number, was seen to bounce twice out of a billowing net and fly off. A quicker reaction next time please Keith!


Sunrise across the Whitehouse - Sue Smith
Sunrise across the Whitehouse – Sue Smith

Tuesday 11th August

An excellent day with nets in the Whitehouse and traps open around the Observatory. 106 birds in total with 92 new and 14 re-traps. Woodpeckers, Hirundines, Warblers, Finches and Starlings all put in a good showing. 1 Green woodpecker, 2 Great-spotted Woodpeckers, 1 Sand Martin, 10 Swallows, 1 House Martin, 1 Dunnock, 2 Robins, 3 Sedge Warblers, 12 Reed Warblers, 1 Whitethroat, 1  Garden Warbler, 1 Blackcap, 1 Chiffchaff, 13 Willow Warblers, 1 Magpie, 29 Starlings, 3 House Sparrows, 1 Chaffinch, 6 Greenfinches and 2 Goldfinches.

We are all doing early mornings and Sue’s lovely photograph of dawn in The Whitehouse on Sunday shows why it is worth getting up, apart from the birds of course.

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Local Skylark - John Buckingham
Local Skylark – John Buckingham


Monday 10th August

Our first catch in the maize with 41 Sedge and 31 Reed Warblers and a Skylark, first for the year, with some ringers keeping going in the Oasis and the Whitehouse later to process excellent numbers of hirundines. 22 Sand Martins, 36 Swallows, 82 House Martins, 41 Sedge Warblers, 31 Reed Warblers, 1 Whitethroat, 1 Blackcap, 1 Chiffchaff, 4 Willow Warblers, 2 Kestrels, 1 Skylark, 1 Dunnock, 1 Blackbird, 2 Blue Tits, 1 Chaffinch, 2 Greenfinches and 1 Reed Bunting. A total of 244 birds including 14 re-traps.

Skylark - foot detail - John Buckingham
Skylark – foot detail – John Buckingham

It is most unusual for Skylarks to simply ‘turn up’ in nets, so the stick a net up and hope something might arrive has meant that a number of people have never ringed them. Some of us have found that they are reasonably easy to catch  in winter on the beach using a whoosh net and often with Snow Buntings. The Skylark along with most of this large family has a very long diagnostic hind claw and this can be seen in photograph. (There are two species of Short-toed Larks in Europe.) Other families around the world including pipits and long claws have a similar adaptation, possibly allowing the bird to push down on the claw, releasing the pressure and allowing it to spring off the ground in case of danger.


Sunday 9th August

Skylark re-trap - John Buckingham
Nightingale re-trap – John Buckingham

55 new birds today including a good catch of 31 Reed Warblers, which must have been part of a large over-night influx. 31 Reed Warblers, 4 Sedge Warblers, 5 Willow warblers, 2 Garden warblers, 1 Whitethroat, Green Woodpecker, Swallow, Wren. Robin, Nightingale, Blackbird and Great Tit plus 5 Greenfinches and 10 re-traps.

Nightingales are rare passage migrants for us here at the Bay, although Kent is a County that holds a large proportion of Britain’s breeding population, which come as summer visitors from south of the Sahara. They breed in scrub and open woodland with glades, doing particularly well in coppiced woodland of 5-10 years old, so that this old management technique has been advantageous to them here. We know little about the migration routes of this elusive bird and the 10,000 plus that have been ringed have only yielded about 70 recoveries. They arrive at the end of April/early May and after raising a single brood and moulting, they start back to Africa in late July. They probably cross into Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain and move southwards through Morocco and we now know from birds recovered, having been fitted with solar-powered geo-locators, that they follow the coast down to Senegal and Gambia. The female in the photograph above had been ringed seven years previously and made the journey to West Africa and back many times.

Nightingale - food for young - John Buckingham
Nightingale – food for young – John Buckingham

The Nightingale is very much a continental species with only a tiny proportion of its European population breeding in the UK, situated in an area south of a line drawn from the Wash south westwards  to the River Severn. The UK breeding population has declined by 50% since 1995 and now stands at just 6,700 pairs. A major site for them in Kent has been on MoD land at Lodge Hill on the Hooe peninsular in North Kent, where the Government has decided that the land should be sold for a huge housing development and they foolishly suggest that the Nightingales could be saved and easily re-located in Essex! Wow – where did they get that idea from?


Juvenile Sand Martin - Sue Smith
Juvenile Sand Martin – Sue Smith


Sunday 9th August

14 Reed Warblers, 7 Sedge Warblers, 5 Willow Warblers, 1 Garden Warbler, 5 Blackbirds, 4 Greenfinches, 2 Green Woodpeckers, 2 Jackdaws, 3 Robins, 2 Sand Martins, 1 Swallow and 10 re-traps.


Juvenile male Sparrowhawk - John Pell
Juvenile male Sparrowhawk – John Pell

Friday 7th August

A successful morning with 40 new birds and 18 re-traps. 14 Willow Warblers, 1 Blackcap, 1 Whitethroat, 2 Garden Warblers, 2 Reed Warblers, 1 Chiffchaff, 3 Sand Martins, 1 Swallow, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 2 Dunnocks, 1 Great Tit, 2 Robins, 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 House Sparrow, 5 Greenfinches, 2 Green Woodpeckers, plus 18 re-traps.

Warblers continue to move through including, what are usually elusive, Garden Warblers. Sand Martin is also a scarce bird in the nets and these are the first of the year.

Adult male Sparrowhawk - John Buckingham
Adult male Sparrowhawk – John Buckingham

Like other smaller species we start to see young raptors dispersing at this time of year, mostly Kestrels and Sparrowhawks and following a juvenile male Kestrel a week or so ago, today’s Sparrowhawk was a particularly chestnut-fronted juvenile male.

There is a huge amount of sexual dimorphism to be seen in Sparrowhawks, with particularly large size differences and colour differences through all stages. The females are much larger and browner than the tiny males and the size can be seen quite well in the photograph. The breeding season starts quite late and the female remains on the nest pretty well throughout, being fed by the male who is particularly fast and agile. He is able to weave through small gaps among woodland and hedgerow trees and foliage, catching the many small passerines that are fledging at the time that the Sparrowhawk young are hatching and require masses of food.


Bullfinch juvenile - John Buckingham
Bullfinch juvenile – evidence on the bill  of wild cherries and plums – John Buckingham


Thursday 6th August

63 new birds and 6 re-traps today, the largest proportion being hirundines – Swallows and Sand Martins. 18 Sand Martins, 18 Swallows, 12 Willow Warblers, 6 Reed Warblers, 2 Garden Warblers, 2 Blackcaps, 1 Blackbird, Goldfinch, Lesser Whitethroat and Whitethroat plus 6 re-traps.

Away from the Obs. I ring in an area of old plum orchard and

Juvenile Bullfinch - note white rump and dark flight feathers are already in place - John Buckingham
Juvenile Bullfinch – note white rump and dark flight feathers are already in place – John Buckingham

scrub in West Kent and catch Bullfinches fairly regularly.  I knew that they were starting to breed in the spring with one or two males producing their strange discordant whistles, squeaks and grating song. Today I caught and ringed my first juvenile and thought some of you might be interested to see a couple of photographs. Juveniles are hardly ever encountered, in fact so rarely that I think that I have only ever knowingly come across 3 or 4 of these very indistinct, brown young birds that merge into the background vegetation. Bullfinches are obviously very shy and secretive at this early stage, only occasionally appearing with the small mixed flocks of adults, which themselves melt into the background at the slightest threat. Perhaps our eyes fix on the superb colourful males overlooking their young! People that seem to see them most regularly are those that are fortunate to receive visits from this quite rare species to their garden ponds especially, and sometimes their feeders.


Wednesday 5th August

Much calmer first thing, with some cloud from early on and large numbers of birds were moving through East Kent. Reed and Sedge Warblers are now on the move with 33 Reed Warblers ringed today plus 30 Willow Warblers.

Garden Warbler at nest in Kent - John Buckingham
Garden Warbler at nest in Kent – John Buckingham

The 8 Garden Warblers were however the star attraction, as we only usually see these in ‘ones and twos’. It is interesting that one of our ringers caught several at another site in East Kent but outside our area on the next day. Garden Warblers seem to migrate on a fairly narrow and concentrated front through the South East and large numbers are very precisely and regularly recorded at Beachy Head in Sussex at times when only a relative few are caught elsewhere. This indicates the very intricate and varied patterns of migration among our British bird species.

Garden Warblers, unlike Blackcaps delay their moult until they reach their winter quarters and leave us mostly during August. The journey south through France and Iberia is made in short hops until they arrive in Morocco, where they fatten up for what is almost certainly a single flight crossing of the Sahara and on to their wintering grounds from Ghana to Nigeria.

104 new birds were 33 Reed Warblers, 30 Willow Warblers, 11 Sedge Warblers, 8 Garden Warblers, 4 Swallows, 3 Robins, 2 Green Woodpeckers and 1 Kestrel, House Martin, Wren, Dunnock, Blackbird, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Starling and Greenfinch pus 14 re-traps, making a total of 118 birds for the day.

And after that – a heavy job, but the maize was finally cleared of a 400’+  row of 6ft plants today and ready for the more positive job of erecting the nets, hopefully ready for big catches of mainly Reed and Sedge Warblers, which usually provides the BTO with some ring-recoveries elsewhere on their routes. Well done to those who helped with this, especially one or two who grafted at it on two consecutive hot days!


Swallow young bird - Becky Johnson
Swallow young bird – Becky Johnson

Tuesday 4th August

A very blustery day so we didn’t expect very much, however we had another good catch of Swallows in the

Whitehouse – it looks as though we’ve found a good spot for them for the present. Fantastic to be part of a process that shows that British Swallows are migrating to one particular part of South Africa – Cape Province and Kwa Zulu Natal, a round trip of up to 6,000 miles.

Three of us managed to make a start in the maize and virtually dug up or pulled more than a 400 foot row of 6ft maize plants, the Ragwort forks proving perfect for the job. Our 38 new birds processed in the morning included 24 Swallows, 3 Starlings, 4 Willow Warblers, 1 Green Woodpecker, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Dunnock, Reed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Blue Tit and Great Tit plus 5 re-traps. Once again the majority of birds were juveniles.


Treecreeper adult feeding young - John Buckingham
Treecreeper adult carrying food to young – John Buckingham (note bill, feet and tail)

Sunday 2nd August

Willow Warblers keep coming and now Reed Warblers have put in a good appearance, plus 2 Treecreepers, which were presumably young birds, dispersing from natal breeding areas. Not a bird we often see here and very little is known about the biology of the Treecreeper in the UK, but they are one of the most sedentary of all our species, found in all suitable woodland and with bill, feet and tail suited to their life gleaning insects over the trunks and branches of trees.

The Willow Warbler is a species that has declined enormously as a breeding bird in South East England. What was once a very common and widespread species is now a fairly scarce breeding bird of open woodland and scrub, especially amongst Silver Birch, in the south of the Country. Probably as our climate has been warming the Willow Warbler is contracting its

Treecreeper showing long, strong claws and widely spread toes - John Buckingham
Treecreeper showing long, strong claws and widely spread toes – John Buckingham

range into the northern limits of where it has previously colonised. Although common everywhere in Britain at one time it is now much more numerous in the north, including Scotland, than here in the South. Take a look at the breeding distribution of Willow Warblers on the map in your field guide and you may be surprised to see that it has always been a bird of the north of Europe, right up into the Arctic in Scandinavia, Russia and east into Siberia and absent from all of southern Europe, especially the Mediterranean. This, incidentally, really contrasts with the Chiffchaff which is absent from parts of Scotland and much of the arctic.

Treecreeper showing stiff tail feathers - John Buckingham
Treecreeper showing stiff tail feathers – John Buckingham

The ideal still weather continues with 61 new birds today: 21 Willow Warblers, 5 Whitethroats, 9 Sedge Warblers, 14 Reed Warblers, 2 Lesser Whitethroats, 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Dunnock, 1 Greenfinch, 2 Green Woodpeckers, 3 Robins and 2 Treecreepers + 4 re-traps. Let’s hope there are some birds left for those of us coming in on Tuesday and Wednesday and that some of the maize has been cleared!


…………………click on images to enlarge………………….

Saturday 1st August

Territorial male Sedge Warbler - John Buckingham
Territorial male Sedge Warbler – John Buckingham

The first Sedge Warbler of the season and a good catch of Swallows today as the still conditions favour ringing. 45 new birds: 2 Blackcaps, 2 Garden Warblers, 5 Reed Warblers, 2 Whitethroats, 6 Willow Warblers, 1 Sedge Warbler, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Dunnock, 1 Great Tit, 1 Robin, 4 Starlings, 2 House Sparrows and 17 Swallows plus 13 re-traps.

Numbers of Sedge Warblers have generally increased in Britain and Ireland but the trend is not even throughout. The Rep. of Ireland saw an increase of 69% during 1998-2010 and Scotland 36% during a similar time frame, whilst the increase in Eastern England was only 5%.  The BTO comments that Sedge Warblers show a trend of earlier spring arrival in Britain, and thus factors relating to migration and climate change may be implicated. They can reach high densities in wetlands throughout the lowlands and their migration routes take them in long stages as trans-Saharan migrants through to West Africa for the winter. Sufficient ring-recoveries indicate that birds from Ireland and western Britain winter in Senegal whereas those from eastern Britain are found from Senegal east into Mali and Ghana.