Fieldfare - John Buckingham
Fieldfare – John Buckingham

Tuesday 30th December 2014

54 birds today including re-traps and dominated again by Starlings of which several were once again of Russian origin. The 47 new birds were made up as follows: 35 Starlings, 3 Chaffinches, 2 House sparrows and Blackbirds and 1 eachof Fieldfare, Redwing, Bullfinch, Reed bunting, Greenfinch.   Bullfinches are pretty scarce and not often seen here but although Fieldfares are around commonly in winter in sometimes large noisy ‘chack-chacking’ flocks, we rarely manage to catch and ring them.



Bullfinch - Juvenile female - John buckingham
Bullfinch – Juvenile female – John buckingham

The female Bullfinch ringed today, was identified as a juvenile, partly from the detail on the greater coverts. Clearly seen on this photograph are the newly moulted inner greater coverts which are broadly tipped with grey/white and the un-moulted old greater coverts which are tipped fawn/brown. An adult would have moulted all of its greater coverts to tipped grey/white. The other feature indicating that this bird is a juvenile is that the primary coverts (top right of the wing shown here) are rather dull dark grey compared to the shiny blue/black of the greater coverts alongside them.







This Russian Starling also ringed today, shows extensive purple iridescence on the contour (body) feathers on the front of the bird. On a British Starling this would be a mix of mainly green, with some blue iridescence. This is also a male with its dark iris and pale blue base to the yellow bill. The bill colour is becoming obvious at the moment and is a good feature to look for in the field, as it can be clearly seen through binoculars.



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Starlings bathing in Restharrow Scrape - John Buckingham
Starlings bathing in Restharrow Scrape – John Buckingham



Wednesday 24th December

69 new birds today of which 66 were Starlings, plus 1 Chaffinch, 1 Collared dove and 1 Stock dove. An adult male Starling LA74878 re-trapped for the first time today was ringed as a pulli (nestling) in a box on the Observatory wall on 10th May 2011. 


Large Russian Starling - John Buckingham
Large Russian Starling – John Buckingham

Some of the Starlings ringed today were particularly heavy and had very long wings, which would indicate that they are probably birds from Russia, which are generally larger and heavier than ours and with extensive purple iridescence.   

Sunday 21st December

15 new birds ringed – 4 Starlings, 4 Greenfinches, 3 Chaffinches, 2 Goldfinches, 1 Blue tit and 1 Magpie.


Friday 19th December???????????????????????????????

Weather started wet and windy so only 3 new birds ringed. An adult male Chaffinch L043899 re-trapped today was ringed as a young bird on 7th January 2011.  

This is a male Starling identified by the dark iris and pale blue base to the yellow bill. At this time  Starlings have yellow bills and in contrast to males, the females have a pink/buff base to the bill and a pale iris.




We have recently received details from the BTO of some interesting recoveries of birds both ringed elsewhere and

Willow warbler young - John Buckingham
Willow warbler age 3 (young) – John Buckingham

controlled here at Sandwich Bay and ringed here and controlled elsewhere. Only one of these was a foreign control and that was a Blackcap ringed on 7/9/14 and controlled on the next day in France.

Looking through these, there are also some extremely well-known birding sites, including Nature Reserves from around the south and south-east of the country, including 2 birds at Beddington Sewage Farm, South London, 1 bird from Wraysbury Gravel Pits,Windsor, 1 from not far away at Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve,Kent, 1 from Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve,  Fareham, Hampshire, 1 from Slapton Ley Nature Reserve, Devon and 3 birds from Icklesham, East Sussex.


LESSER REDPOLL ringed age 3, 31/10/11 – controlled Leswalt, Dumfries & Galloway 2/9/14, 3 years later.

BLACKCAP ringed 3 female, 8/9/14 – controlled Medway, Kent 13/9/14.

BLACKCAP ringed 3 female, 7/9/14 – controlled Saint Julien-de-Sant, France 8/9/14.

SEDGE WARBLER ringed age 3, 19/8/12 – controlled Glasbury, Powys 21/6/14, breeding 2 years later.

LESSER REDPOLL ringed age 3, 13/10/12 – controlled Beddington Sewage Farm, London 26/10/14, 2 years later.

HERRING GULL ringed age 5, 13/12/07 – controlled Pitsea Landfill, Essex 15/11/14, 7 years later.

LESSER REDPOLL ringed 3 male, 16/11/13, – controlled N. Ayreshire 19/6/14, breeding next year.

HERRING GULL ringed age 3, Herne Bay, 11/12/13 – controlled Herne Bay 6/12/14, the next year.



HOUSE MARTIN ringed age 3, W. Bexington, Dorset, 20/9/14 – controlled Obs. 27/9/14.

REED WARBLER ringed 3J, Beddington Sewage Farm, 3/8/14 – controlled Obs. 20/8/14.

BLACKCAP ringed 3F, Clocaery Forest, Darlington, 5/9/14 – controlled Obs. 16/9/14.

REED WARBLER ringed 3, Icklesham, 8/9/14 – controlled Obs. 11/9/14.

BLACKCAP ringed 3J, Icklesham, 23/8/14 – controlled Obs. 7/9/14.

REED WARBLER ringed 3, Icklesham, 13/8/14 – controlled Obs. 20/8/14.

CHIFFCHAFF ringed 3J, Slapton Ley, Devon, 20/8/14 – controlled Obs. 29/9/14.

REED WARBLER ringed 3J, Stodmarsh, Kent, 16/8/14 – controlled Obs. 23/8/14.

CHIFFCHAFF ringed 3J, Brockholes Quarry, Lancashire, 30/7/14– controlled Obs. 28/9/14.

BLACKCAP ringed 3M, Wraysbury Gravel Pits, Windsor 13/9/14 – controlled Obs. 28/9/14.

WILLOW WARBLER ringed 3, Rowlands Gate Sewage Works, Tyne & Wear, 31/8/14 – controlled Obs. 6/9/14.

BLACKCAP ringed 3M, Stanford Reservoir, Northants., 27/9/14 – controlled Obs. 5/10/14.

CHIFFCHAFF ringed 3, Titchfield Haven, Fareham, Hants., 27/9/14 – controlled Obs. 29/9/14.



Wednesday 17th December

Dunnock - John Buckingham
Dunnock – John Buckingham

A busier day today with 25 new birds. 13 Starlings, 2 each of Blackcap, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Reed bunting, 1 each of Dunnock, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and Chaffinch.

We know that the UK’s breeding Blackcaps all migrate mostly to North Africa for the winter, with some moving further down into West Africa.Those that we see in our gardens and elsewhere during the winter months are shown by many ring-recoveries to come here from the central parts of Western Europe and especially from the extensive Hanoverian forests of Germany. It may be that the two birds today could be winter migrants from Germany, here to enjoy the Christmas fare from our bird tables.

** A re-trapped adult male Starling today, LC45608, was first ringed here as a pulli (nestling) on 11th May 2012 and not recorded since.



Curlew - John Buckingham
Curlew – John Buckingham

We always have large numbers of Curlews to enjoy during the winter months in the fields around us, calling evocatively as they constantly fly over. The photograph is a reminder of this local seasonal visitor.

British breeding Curlews are short-haul migrants and are site faithful both in summer and winter, moving to coastal sites mostly west and south-westwards into Ireland, with others going generally south into coastal France, Spain and Portugal in the autumn. British birds start the return flights to their moorland breeding grounds as early as January or February much earlier than the European migrants. ‘Our’ local birds could therefore be visitors from Fennoscandia and Russia, especially as we have them here well into April, but who knows if the same birds are around all winter?


Tuesday 16th December

Mute swans - John Buckingham
Mute swans – John Buckingham

A trip to Kearsney today meant that a new bird for the year, a young Mute swan was added to the list plus a few other new birds back at the Observatory. Kearsney has always been a regularly used ringing site for us and is a great asset thanks to Dover District Council, as trainees can be introduced to wetland species, especially very large birds like Mute swans, plus Coots and ducks that they would not otherwise process at the Observatory. Long may we be able to use the site.

Total of six new birds today: 2 Blue tits, 1 Goldcrest, 1 House sparrow, 1 Chaffinch and 1 Mute swan.



Yellowhammer male - John BuckinghamSaturday 13th December

No ringing today but 9 ringers worked hard in the Whitehouse to take the tops out of trees in the ringing area. The idea is that we might not miss birds now that would otherwise fly over the top of the nets! The cleared net rides also means less damage to expensive nets through snagging on the twigs and vegetation.

Despite the work there were still some Yellowhammers and various thrushes around, so the Sunday ringers might be lucky.


Tuesday 9th December

13 new birds today included two large male continental Chaffinches. 2 Blackbirds, 2 Chaffinches, 2 Greenfinches, 2 Goldfinches, 1 each Collared dove, Wren, Dunnock, Goldcrest and Starling.

British breeding Chaffinches are highly sedentary with 90% of ring-recoveries within 5 km of the place of ringing. The

Male Chaffinch - John Buckingham - a numerous winter migrant.
Male Chaffinch – John Buckingham – a numerous winter migrant.

population doubles in winter, however, with autumn and early winter migrants from the Continent, mostly from Norway and Sweden and some from Finland and even from Russia. Chaffinches are daytime migrants and they can be seen most noticeably along the east and southeast coast and we ring good numbers of them here at Sandwich Bay at this time.

Recoveries also indicate that females travel further than males from their northern breeding grounds, the theory being that males stay closer to home to enable them to return to nesting sites earlier in the spring to establish territories. The famous 18th century Swedish scholar and naturalist Carl von Linné is responsible for many of the scientific names for birds that we use today and he named the Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs, where coelebs = celibate, as he saw many Chaffinches in ‘bachelor’ flocks. The migratory details of this species was therefore understood more than three centuries ago by an amazing taxonomist who named the bird in 1758.


Monday 8th December

Of the 16 new birds ringed today 12 were Chaffinches. 12 Chaffinches, 1 Blackbird, Greenfinch, Reed bunting and House sparrow.


Female Reed bunting with Banded demoiselle - John Buckingham
Female Reed bunting with Banded demoiselle – John Buckingham

Friday 5th December

Just 18 new birds: 8 Chaffinches, 3 Great tits, 1 each Goldfinch, Reed bunting, Collared dove, Blackbird, Redwing and Jay.

Ring-recoveries show that the majority of British Reed buntings are sedentary and generally site-faithful during the breeding season. Post breeding dispersal is usually over only a few kilometres and longer movements are from more northerly regions for the winter. More than 50 birds controlled from Europe show that some Reed buntings from Fennoscandia over-winter here and that rather more of them are on passage in the autumn and early winter to France and the Low Countries.




Monday 1st & Wednesday 3rd December

A bad start to the month with poor weather on both days, so very little was done with only 11 new birds ringed in

Lapwing - John Buckingham. A large flock was overhead all day on Wednesday
Lapwing – John Buckingham. A large flock was overhead all day on Wednesday

total:  5 Chaffinches, 2 Blue tits, 1 House sparrow, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Reed bunting.

An adult male Chaffinch on Wednesday was a big continental bird with a wing of 92mm and we had two interesting re-traps. One a Blue tit first ringed as a juvenile (3J) on 27th June 2008 making it more than SIX YEARS OLD.  (The oldest BTO record is of a Blue tit 9 years old – our bird is doing very well, but with a way to go yet.) The other a Great tit first ringed as a juvenile (3J) on 16th July 2012 is 2 years old.

No photographs of any consequence but we had a very large flock of winter Lapwings overhead for much of the day so the photograph is a celebration of these lovely birds.