Friday 27th March

The first Chiffchaff of the spring was ringed today along with 10 other new birds and 10 re-traps. The 11 new birds were 5 Chaffinches, 3 Blue Tits, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Collared Dove and 1 Robin.

Chiffchaff - John Buckingham
Chiffchaff – John Buckingham

Chiffchaffs are amongst the earliest of the summer migrants, sometimes arriving as early as the beginning of March and birdwatchers anxiously look or listen out for their arrival as heralds of the spring and summer to come. Those that we see here around the Observatory are mostly passage migrants on their way further inland to their regular woodland breeding sites, and the majority have passed us by and will have already set up territories along with hundreds of thousands of others.

Contrary to popular belief it is now thought that British breeding Chiffchaffs winter in Senegal, Mauritania and Guinea-Bissau and not around the Mediterranean, having overflown the Western Sahara. Current thinking, supported by ring-recoveries and studies in Africa suggests that having moved steadily south in the autumn through France and Spain they cross the ‘Med.’ into Morocco and then onwards to the South West. Their return journey will have started in February for their migration north into Britain and Europe.


Wednesday 25th March

No ringing on Tuesday because of strong winds and heavy showers, but time was not wasted as two of us repaired the Observatory crow trap and got it back to full working order ready for more Starlings to come, and totally replenished the feeders in The Whitehouse ready for a few days ringing.

Adult male Rook in fine iridescent plumage - John Buckingham
Adult male Rook in fine iridescent plumage – John Buckingham

Today was different however, and although there was a cold breeze we managed to process 65 birds – 39 new and26 re-traps. New birds were: 16 Chaffinches, 13 Starlings, 2 Fieldfares and 1 each of Moorhen, Redwing, Blackbird, Reed Bunting, Greenfinch, Stock Dove, Rook and Collared Dove. This was an interesting mix of birds with Chaffinches, Starlings, Fieldfares and Redwings still around as winter migrants, we had 4 re-trapped Yellowhammers, and two of the trainees ringed three new species between them – Moorhen, Fieldfare and Redwing. 

A Chaffinch re-trapped today with ring number X194057 was first ringed as a juvenile female on 22nd October 2008, now coming up to 7 years old.


Sedge Warbler feeds young - John Buckingham
Sedge Warbler feeds young – John Buckingham







Sedge Warbler ringed SBBO 05/08/14 controlled Sandouville, France 23/08/14. **

Lesser Redpoll ringed SBBO 16/11/13 controlled Chelmondiston, Suffolk 19/02/15.

Lesser Redpoll ringed SBBO 13/11/13 controlled Ascot, Surrey 29/12/13.

Black-headed Gull  ringed Margate 06/12/12 controlled Friesland, Netherlands 04/03/15. **

Reed Bunting ringed SBBO 13/02/11 (hatched 2010) controlled Reculver 12/02/15. (5 years old).

Blackbird ringed SBBO 02/02/15 controlled Warendorf, Germany 03/03/15. **


Chiffchaff ringed Dungeness 25/09/14 controlled SBBO 26/09/14 (the next day).

Goldfinch ringed Tring, Hertfordshire 09/11/14 controlled SBBO 09/02/15.


Sunday 22nd March

A very windy day with only two nets up and the two crow traps open. 9 new birds and 4 re-traps, with new birds: 7 Starlings and 2 Chaffinches.


Friday 20th March

71 birds processed today – 52 new and 19 re-traps. New birds: 35 Starlings, 10 Chaffinches, 3 House Sparrows, 1 Blackcap, 1 Great Tit, 1 Robin, 1 Yellowhammer.

Male Starling shows nictitating membrane - John Buckingham
Male Starling shows the nictitating membrane – John Buckingham

The Blackcap is the first summer visitor ringed of the year and another good catch from the large Starling flock (fortunately the door to the catching box in the Obs. crow trap had been mended on Wednesday), so we have now ringed 93 in the last two ringing days.

So many Starlings merits another photograph and this one of a male shows the nictitating membrane drawn across the bird’s eye. This is similar in a way to a ‘third eyelid’ but is transparent and is drawn sideways, completely across the eye to either clean the surface or to protect it temporarily. All birds have this ability, but you can see it more often on some species than others. This is particularly the case with diving water birds or seabirds (Dippers, Kingfishers, Gannets, etc), where there is also a lens attached to the nictitating membrane which ‘corrects’ the refracted light under water so that the birds are able to accurately catch their prey. NB. The eye looks opaque in the photograph because of the sunlight reflected on the surface of the membrane.


Wednesday 18th March

An unpleasant cold northerly wind meant that we were restricted in the number of nets that could put up today. However,

Winter Starling roost - John Buckingham.
Winter Starling roost – John Buckingham.

we had a great total of birds because a large flock of migrating Starlings decided to feed in the fields adjacent to the Obs., and we managed to catch and ring 58 of them from the well stocked Obs. ‘crow trap’. Interesting was that a good proportion of them were adults. Total birds processed was 73 with 8 re-traps and 65 new birds – 58 Starlings, 4 Chaffinches, 1 Yellowhammer, 1 Blue Tit and 1 House Sparrow.

A flock of 30 Fieldfares were still active along the Haven stream, where they have been coming down to drink regularly and Chaffinches continue to move through probably on their way to Scandinavian breeding grounds. Two Yellowhammers were a colourful bonus to an otherwise fairly dull weather day. 


Tuesday 17th March

Song Thrush at nest - John buckinmgham
Song Thrush at nest – John Buckingham

32 birds processed today, with 15 new and 17 re-traps. New birds – 6 Chaffinches, 2 Great Tits, 2 House Sparrows, 2 Greenfinches, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Yellowhammer and 1 Song Thrush.

Indicating that the Chaffinches are fuelling up for their journey, most were carrying good amounts of fat. A Reed Bunting re-trapped today was first ringed on 14th January 2012, so is now at least 5 years old and has been visiting us regularly since then and an adult male Yellowhammer has returned again having been ringed on 30th April last year as a young bird first hatched in 2013. Yellowhammers are unusual birds for us and so too was the Song Thrush which was  a real bonus.  


Friday 13th March

A lucky Friday 13th with 27 new birds and 10 re-traps. New birds: 15 Chaffinches, 4 Fieldfares, 3 Great Tits, 2 House Sparrows, 2 Reed Buntings and 1 Blue Tit.

Chaffinch male - John Buckingham
Chaffinch male – John Buckingham

Chaffinches are still moving through steadily and it is likely that they are Continental breeding birds that have wintered here. It is estimated that our Chaffinch population doubles in winter with the autumn arrival of migrants coming mostly from Norway and Sweden with others from Finland and as far away as Russia. Good numbers of ring-recoveries also show their strange ‘hooked’ migration route that takes them from and back to northern Europe into Britain by the shortest possible sea crossing, from Belgium, Holland and France into South East England, instead of flying directly across the North Sea on a broad front as Bramblings and other passerines do.

On arrival in the SE in autumn they disperse throughout the Country, with some even reaching Scotland, then returning the same way back onto the Continent at the end of the winter. The birds that we have been ringing recently may well be some of these.

British breeding Chaffinches seem to be highly sedentary with 90% of ring-recoveries within only 5 km of the place of ringing and the remainder (mostly young birds) within 20 km.


Robin spring siong - John Buckingham

Wednesday 11th March

No ringing today  but the step up onto the nearside of the Heligoland boardwalk has been fixed.



Tuesday 10th March

Very pleasant weather to start the morning and an interesting ringing session, although the wind got up by lunchtime and we finished a little earlier than usual. 19 new birds and 11 re-traps gave us a total of 30 birds processed.

New birds: 5 Starlings, 4 Chaffinches, 3 Collared Doves, 2 Fieldfares, 2 Long-tailed Tits, 2 Reed Buntings and 1 Bullfinch.

Starling flocks are still active with an equal mix of young and adults, males and females to keep everyone on their toes. One of the Starlings, a young male had been ringed as a pulli (nestling) from an Observatory nest box, on 7th May last year. The 2 Long-tailed Tits were perhaps a breeding pair as they were caught together twice, but in different nets.

??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? Plumage detail of  Fieldfares – male on left and female on right of each photo.

Don’t forget to click on any image to enlarge it.



Good flocks of Fieldfares are still feeding on what must be unending supplies of invertebrates and earthworms in the surrounding fields but they are spending more time in noisy wheeling flocks, flying off and then returning again – possibly a precursor to finally leaving us for breeding grounds in Norway or perhaps Sweden or Finland.  The two Fieldfares ringed today were an adult male and a young female. The photographs above show three details of plumage that enabled us to sex them. A good proportion of the crown feathers on males have distinctive black centres and the centres on the chestnut feathers of the mantle of males are also broadly marked dark grey to black.

Bullfinch young male - Maria Himsworth
Bullfinch young male – Maria Himsworth

The females generally lack these markings as can be seen on the male bird on left and the female on the right of each image. The tail feathers of the adult male are broader and blacker, contrasting with the narrow, brown feathers of the female.

The Bullfinch caught today was a young male and the photograph illustrates this attractive bird very nicely. Like some other farmland birds this rather sedentary species moves only very short distances, so today’s bird may be breeding nearby in the next few weeks. The British and Irish population stands at 190,000 pairs and has declined by 39% since 1967 and gone are the days when this was a common bird and classed as a pest species in fruit-growing areas, particularly further west in the County. After their dramatic decline there is now recent evidence to indicate an encouraging upturn in the population, and this has been mirrored in increasing numbers ringed at the Observatory in the last couple of years.



Sunday 8th March

15 new birds from a total of 22 birds today: 4 Chaffinches, 3 Starlings, 3 Blue Tits, 2 Great Tits, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Dunnock and 1 Blackbird.

Great Tits - 'continental' bird on right - Sue Smith
Great Tits – ‘continental’ bird on right – Sue Smith

We don’t usually catch many Goldcrests at this time of year, so this was a pleasant surprise, as was the weight of this male bird at 5.9grams and carrying no fat. When we see most of them in late autumn/early winter they are not usually much more than 5grams and it could be that today’s individual was in great condition as a potential local breeder.

Also of interest was one of the Great Tits which was a small continental male with extremely pale plumage compared to the colourful Brit. seen in the photograph.



Great-crested Grebe - breeding plumage - John Buckingham
Great-crested Grebe – breeding plumage – John Buckingham


**NB  If you are interested in BIRD MIGRATION why not come along to John Buckingham’s Tuesday Club classes – 2 sessions on 10th and 17th March – 7.30 at the Obs. These will be followed by THE BREEDING BIOLOGY OF BIRDS on Wednesday evenings – 3 sessions 18th and 25th March and 1st April.



We are noticing that many birds including Dunnocks are coming into breeding condition.
We are noticing that many birds including Dunnocks are coming into breeding condition – John Buckingham.


Friday 6th March

68 birds processed today – 29 new and 39 re-traps. 15 Chaffinches, 7 Starlings, 2 Collared Doves, 2 Great Tits, 2 Greenfinches and 1 Dunnock.

The eye colour of Dunnocks enables us to ‘age’ them and as the bird here has a dull brown eye this would indicate that it is age code 5 – hatched last year, but would be ready to breed now. Adults have a rich rufous iris colour.


Wednesday 4th March

The wind got up early so we hardly used any nets, however we had a reasonable catch of birds in the Crow Traps and Box Traps. A lovely day to be out with several very interested and appreciative visitors to the Ringing Room. 20 new birds and 18 re-traps.

12 Starlings, 3 Chaffinches, 2 Collared Doves, 2 Great Tits and 1 Blackbird.

Male Snow Bunting breeding plumage - Iceland - John Buckingham
Male Snow Bunting breeding plumage – Iceland – John Buckingham





Keith has received some interesting ring recovery details from the BTO:





LESSER REDPOLL L459723 ringed SBBO 31/10/11 controlled Leswalt, Dumfries & Galloway 2/5/14.

LESSER REDPOLL D421432 ringed SBBO 8/11/13 controlled La Neuville, France 5/1/14.

SEDGE WARBLER D422608 ringed SBBO 3/8/14 controlled Solve-sur-Saubre, Belgium 7/8/14.

SEDGE WARBLER D422902 ringed SBBO 5/8/14 controlled Woumen, Belgium 10/8/14.

SEDGE WARBLER D423026 ringed SBBO 5/8/14 controlled Woumen, Belgium 14/8/14.

SEDGE WARBLER D423109 ringed SBBO 7/8/14 controlled Tour aux Moutons, France 22/8/14.

CHIFFCHAFF BYV988 ringed SBBO 21/9/09 controlled Pembrokeshire, Wales 17/4/14

HERRING GULL GK91976 ringed Herne Bay 16/1/12 controlled Herne Bay 15/5/13.

BLACK-HEADED GULL EG93771 ringed Palm Bay 20/12/07 controlled Palm Bay 4/10/14.

BLACK-HEADED GULL EP10087 ringed Ramsgate 23/11/99 age 4 controlled Ramsgate 19/1/15 – more than 17 years old.


SNOW BUNTING ringed Pas-de-Calais, France 15/12/13 controlled SBBO 18/2/14

BLACKCAP ringed Dunes de la Slack, France 31/8/09 controlled SBBO 24/4/10.

SWALLOW ringed Filby, Norfolk 3/8/14 controlled SBBO 18/9/14.

GOLDFINCH ringed Tring, Hertfordshire 9/11/14 controlled SBBO 14/12/14.