Tuesday 30th September

September has been a very busy month and the large number of birds ringed has really enhanced our total for the year to date with 7,027 new birds of 65 species. The total has surpassed the figure for this time last year by 900 birds. One of the significant species is Meadow pipit with a current figure of 466 birds which has beaten last year’s total of 354.

Today’s total was 91 new birds, featuring 32 Meadow pipits, 18 House martins, 15 Chiffchaffs and 7 Blackcaps. 2 continental Blackbirds were the first of the autumn and Jay, Bullfinch and Yellowhammer brightened the ringing room.



Monday 29th September

164 new birds were processed today including 62 Chiffchaffs, 47 Blackcaps, 30 Meadow pipits, 5 House martins and 3 Goldcrests.

Sunday 28th September

142 new birds were processed today including 78 Chiffchaffs, 25 Blackcaps, 17 House martins, 5 Swallows, 5 Goldcrests and a Firecrest.

Saturday 27th September    

A massive day today with a total of 591 new birds including impressive numbers of House martins especially, and with another British control.

398 House martins, 12 Swallows, 2 Sand martins, 93 Chiffchaffs, 46 Meadow pipits, 33 Blackcaps, 2 Great tits and Robins plus 1 Chaffinch, Goldcrest and House sparrow.


Friday 26th September

Sand martin
Sand martin


With still so much visible migration taking place, particularly of hirundines, it’s not surprising that there was another good haul of birds today, with House martins and Swallows taking pride of place along with Blackcaps, which have been featuring every day. We don’t catch many Sand martins these days and it is always a pleasant surprise to get one in with the House martins.

It was a long day for the ringers and a total of 246 new birds were ringed plus a controlled Chiffchaff – in other words a chiffchaff was processed that had already been ringed elsewhere – this one in Britain.  It will take a month or so for the details of this to come through from the BTO. The list was: 176 House martins, 38 Swallows, 24 Blackcaps, 2 Chiffchaffs, Chaffinches and Blue tits plus one each of Lesser whitethroat and Sand martin.



Sand martin colony - John Buckingham
Sand martin colony – John Buckingham

SAND MARTINS  nest in colonies in sand or clay banks. Naturally these would be in river banks or cliffs but with the excavation of sand for building, the quarry walls soon became successful sites for large colonies and the species became a common and fairly widespread breeding bird in Britain. Sand martins winter in the Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa and during the winter of 1968/69 the area suffered a severe and prolonged drought that caused a huge and dramatic population crash. The inevitable food shortage became critical as birds attempted to fatten up for their northward spring migration. Many failed to make the necessary weight gain to sustain a Saharan crossing and succumbed in the attempt.

The 1968/72 BTO Atlas suggests that a pre-drought British breeding population of between 250-500,000 pairs fell by about 80% following this catastrophe. We may now be seeing an increase in numbers but here in South East England there are few places where we find them breeding. In East Kent the Reculver colony still holds on but after the tidal surge before Christmas last year, erosion of the cliffs meant that they had to move further along the coast and this may have delayed the season for them. One more positive point is that following the winter and spring rain and warm summer they may have picked up and enjoyed the successful breeding season that is apparent with our other two hirundines.


Saturday 20th – Thursday 25th September

Here are the results of a great ringing effort of 893 new birds over the last 6 days. After a fairly quiet weekend things started to pick up during the week with a massive day on Tuesday that began with nets going up at 04.30 am and finally coming down 12 hours later at 16.30 with 409 new birds processed . A visiting group enjoyed a morning with us on Wednesday and the Observatory has benefited from very nice donations from them – a good thought for those who have got through four consecutive days of ringing.

adult female Curlew ringed at Pegwell Bay on Friday evening - the bird was sexed on bill length (longer in female than male) - average male 115.5mm, female 152.9mm.
adult female Curlew ringed at Pegwell Bay on Friday evening – the bird was sexed on bill length (longer in female than male) – average male 115.5mm, female 152.9mm.


Migration is of course in full swing after a highly successful breeding season for many species and our totals reflected the huge numbers of birds counted in the Bay at the same time. Rather breezy conditions meant that we were unable to catch large numbers of House martins that were present, but on Thursday we passed last year’s total of 372 Meadow pipits, not surprising considering the vast numbers counted in the area on Monday and Tuesday!

Largest numbers of birds ringed were 314 Meadow pipits, 309 Blackcaps and 150 Chiffchaffs, all three as passage migrants with just the ‘tail end’ of migrating warblers such as Lesser whitethroat, Sedge warbler, Reed warbler and Willow warbler which had already moved on in August and early September. Winter visitors such as Goldcrest, Robin and Chaffinch could have been helped on their way across the Channel by easterly winds and possibly the two Sparrowhawks were here for the same reason.


Species Sat 20 Sun 21 Mon 22 Tues 23 Wed 24 Thur 25 TOTAL
Chiffchaff 9 6 6 67 25 37 150
Goldcrest 2 1 1 1 1 1 7
Blackcap 13 8 44 142 44 58 309
Robin 2 1 3 2 2 2 12
Meadow pipit 40   90 134 28 22 314
Goldfinch 1   1       2
Blackbird 1 2 1 1     5
Blue tit   1 3 7 2 2 15
Lesser whitethroat   1   1     2
Woodpigeon   1   1     2
Wren     1       1
Cetti’s warbler     1       1
Great tit     2 2   2 6
Starling     1       1
Chaffinch 2   2 10   1 15
Sparrowhawk       2     2
Collared dove       1     1
Green woodpecker       1     1
Gt-sp woodpecker       1     1
House martin       28   6 34
Song thrush       1   2 3
Sedge warbler       1     1
Reed warbler       4   1 5
Willow warbler       1     1
Greenfinch       1   1 2
TOTAL 70 21 156 409 102 135 893



YEAR  TOTAL SO FAR – 5,536 of 65 species


Friday 19th September

51 new birds today and again a small movement of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, a latish Reed warbler, 2 more Goldcrests arriving for the winter and another Great-spotted woodpecker, one of several that have dispersed through our area recently. Note the detail in the photograph of the hardened tongue tip complete with barbs – they locate grubs in dead wood and behind bark with the tip of the tongue and pierce the grubs in order to drag them out.

Great-spotted woodpecker male - John Buckinmgham
Great-spotted woodpecker male – John Buckingham
Great-spotted woodpecker tongue - John Buckingham
Great-spotted woodpecker tongue – John Buckingham









So a good list including 8 Chiffchaffs, 35 Blackcaps, 1 Great-spotted woodpecker, 1 Great tit, 2 Goldcrests, 1 Reed warbler, 2 Robins and a Song thrush.


Dunlin - moulting juv. autumn - John Buckingham
Dunlin – moulting juv. autumn – John Buckingham

And on Friday evening Pete organised another successful expedition to Pegwell Bay for an evening high tide with waders moving in to roost. All the trainees present got a bird each 1 Curlew and 4 Dunlins. A good result for all concerned.




Wednesday 17th September

A much quieter day’s ringing with a strong breeze so we were unable to put nets up to attract House martins in numbers or Meadow pipits. 39 birds in total : 1 Great-spotted woodpecker, 2 House martins, 1 Dunnock, 3 Robins, 1 Song thrush, 1 Garden warbler, 20 Blackcaps, 5 Chiffchaffs, 1 Firecrest, 2 Blue tits, 1 Starlings and a Chaffinch.

House martin - a very unusually marked young bird
House martin – a very unusually marked young bird


Garden warbler
Garden warbler










So a small movement of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, a latish Garden warbler and one of a few Firecrests either leaving the UK or passage migrants on their way south, while some over-winter in coastal scrub. Song thrush is never a numerous bird for us and the young House martin (above) with extremely strange plumage..


Tuesday 16th September

A fantastic ringing effort today with 370 new birds processed due to fairly cloudy, calm conditions. The best of the very mixed bunch were 171 House martins, 120 Blackcaps and 32 Meadow pipits.

Meadow pipit - John Buckingham
Meadow pipit – John Buckingham
Meadow pipit - hind claw - John Buckingham
Meadow pipit – hind claw – John Buckingham








      The total list was: 2 Great-spotted woodpeckers, 1 Dunnock, 5 Robins, 1 Sedge warbler, 1 Reed warbler, 1 Lesser whitethroat, 12 Chiffchaffs, 2 Willow warblers, 2 Goldcrests, 3 Blue tits, 3 Great tits, 12 Starlings, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Greenfinch plus the 171 House martins, 120 Blackcaps and 32 Meadow pipits


Goldcrest - John Buckingham
Goldcrest – John Buckingham

Monday 15th September

A much calmer day with a cracking number of birds ringed including an outstanding catch of 175 HOUSE MARTINS. Blackcaps were on the move again with 31 ringed plus a mix of other interesting birds. 31 Blackcaps, 8 Robins, 1 Blackbird, 2 Reed warblers, 1 Lesser whitethroat, 1 Garden warbler, 4 Chiffchaffs, 1 Willow warbler, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Firecrest, 1 Pied flycatcher, 2 Jays, 1 Chaffinch and 175 House martins. TOTAL:  230 new birds.


The GOLDCREST ringed today was probably one of the first of an influx that migrate here for the winter from Fennoscandiamale Goldcrest - note orange crown and other countries around the Baltic. They start to arrive in September with bigger numbers in October and more coming in November. We have a large sedentary breeding population in the UK of 520,000 pairs, which is joined by this surprisingly large number of winter visitors, crossing the North Sea and The Channel on a broad front.   

Goldcrests have very fluffy, well insulated plumage and are amazingly robust, which enables them to make such an incredible journey and survive in often sub-zero temperatures once they have arrived. Even more incredible, as they weigh in at a mere 5-6 grams which is just one/fifth of an ounce! Weather conditions have to be right to enable them to accomplish this feat and if things go against them many can be lost at sea. The herring fishermen from the East coast gave them the name Herring spink or Herring finch, as migrating flocks sometimes alighted to rest on the rigging of their herring boats out in the North Sea.


male House sparrow - John Buckingham
male House sparrow – John Buckingham

Sunday 14th September

A very windy day with only Graham in, so only a few nets up and a total of nine new birds: 4 Robins, 2 Blackcaps, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Chaffinch and 1 House sparrow.






Saturday 13th September

30 new birds today – 4 Chiffchaffs, 2 Starlings, 3 Blackbirds, 1 Great tit, 1 Greenfinch, 4 Robins, 1 Blue tit, 9 Blackcaps, 2 House sparrows, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Long-tailed tit and 1 Magpie.

Long-tailed tits start nest-building early in the spring, well before leaves are emerging to provide cover, but usually in

Long-tailed tit at  nest - John Buckingham
Long-tailed tit at nest – John Buckingham

thick, spiny, protective cover. The basis of the nest is moss which is bound together with spiders’ webs, covered in lichen (for camouflage) and lined with feathers (for insulation) collected from nearby. They have even been observed removing feathers directly from the corpses of several species. The nest is soft but strong and expands to accommodate the growing chicks inside and it often becomes ‘pear-shaped’. The young don’t leave the nest until they have developed their long tails which can sometimes be seen emerging from the entrance hole, near the top of the structure.

The unusual shaped nest has given rise to many old country names for the bird including ‘BOTTLE TIT’, ‘BUM BARREL’, ‘BUSH OVEN’, ‘FEATHER POKE’ and ‘HUCKMUCK’!


female Blackcap
female Blackcap

Friday 12th September

31 new birds today. 1 Reed warbler, 9 Blackcaps, 2 Firecrests, 2 Greenfinches, 1 Blue tit, 4 Swallows, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Willow warbler, 1 Great-spotted woodpecker and 8 Robins.

In the last week 629 NEW BIRDS were processed and of those there were no fewer than 409 Blackcaps. An excellent total and a great effort!


THE BLACKCAP  The Blackcap is a common and very widely distributed species in Britain & Ireland during the

male Blackcap - John Buckingham
male Blackcap – John Buckingham

breeding season and there have been extensive gains in distribution since the 1968-72 Breeding Atlas – in Ireland by an incredible 249% and in Britain by 25% with the biggest gains in Scotland.  It is most commonly a bird of the wooded lowlands. Blackcap ring-recoveries show that they migrate south after their post-breeding moult, having fattened up on berries, which will have been extremely plentiful this year. They leave throughout September and October and their route is through western France into Iberia and western North Africa, where the majority over-winter. It is now known that some push on, travelling with continental populations to areas south of the Sahara.

In fairly recent years we have been encountering more and more Blackcaps wintering in ourgardens, sometimes feeding on bird tables. Ring-recoveries and DNA evidence shows that these birds are not merely over-wintering but come to us from Germany and neighbouring continental countries. This is an amazing new east-west migration pattern, possibly becoming established due to the much increased British interest in feeding garden birds, and also because of more mild winters.


Pied flycatcher - Sabine Zelz
Pied flycatcher – Sabine Zelz

Thursday 11th September

49 new birds were processed today. 12 Swallows, 1 House martin, 2 Meadow pipits, 1 Wren, 1 Dunnock, 4 Robins, 2 Blackbirds, 3 Reed warblers, 1 Lesser whitethroat, 8 Blackcaps, 4 Chiffchaffs, 2 Willow warblers, 3 Pied flycatchers, 2 House sparrows, 1

Redstart caught in the Gullies last week - Sabine Zelz
Redstart caught in the Gullies last week – Sabine Zelz

Greenfinch and 2 Goldfinches.






Garden warbler
Garden warbler

Wednesday 10th September

60 Blackcaps today. 2 Swallows, 1 Meadow pipit, 1 Dunnock, 1 Robin, 8 Reed warblers, 3 Lesser whitethroats, 1 Garden warbler, 60 Blackcaps, 33 Chiffchaffs, 1 Willow warbler, 2 Blue tits, 2 Starlings, 2 House sparrows, 1 Greenfinch and 5 Goldfinches. TOTAL NEW BIRDS – 123.



Tuesday 9th September



And more Blackcaps – 123. 1 Collared dove, 7 Meadow pipits, 2 Dunnocks, 6 Robins, 1 Sedge warbler, 8 Reed warblers, 2 Lesser whitethroats, 1 Whtethroat, 2 Garden warblers, 123 Blackcaps, 9 Chiffchaffs, 1 Willow warbler, 1 Spotted flycatcher, 1 Blue tit, 2 Great tits, 4 House sparrows and 1 Firecrest (the latter being a new species for the year.  TOTAL NEW BIRDS – 172




Lesser whitethroat - John Buckingham
Lesser whitethroat – John Buckingham

Monday 8th September

More Blackcaps – 65 today. 2 Lesser whitethroats, 6 Chiffchaffs, 2 Willow warblers, 1 Blue tit, 3 House sparrows, 2 Magpies, 2 Starlings and 65 Blackcaps.  Total 83 new birds.




Spotted flycatcher at nest - John Buckingham
Spotted flycatcher at nest – John Buckingham

Sunday 7th September

Blackcaps are on the move – 144 today!  1 Robin, 1 Blackbird, 144 Blackcaps, 9 Chiffchaffs, 4 Willow warblers, 1 Spotted flycatcher, 3 Blue tits, 3 House sparrows, 2 Chaffinches and 2 Greenfinches.  TOTAL – 171 new birds.




Friday 5th September

Pied flycatcher male - Wales
Pied flycatcher male – Wales


Still good numbers of migrants around and another good haul of newly ringed birds. Blackcaps are very numerous at the moment with other warblers still on the move including Willow warblers, Chiffchaffs, Reed warblers and Whitethroats. A second Pied flycatcher was caught and ringed today – it is always nice to see this attractive species in Kent as they breed in the west and north of the country and will always be seen as passage migrants here. Large flocks of young Starlings are also very much in evidence.

75 birds ringed today –  36 Blackcaps, 21 Starlings, 4 Swallows, 3 Willow & Reed warblers, 2 Chiffchaffs and Greenfinches,  1 Pied flycatcher, Robin, Whitethroat and Chaffinch.



young Knot - 05/09/2014 - John Pell
young Knot – 05/09/2014 – John Pell

This evening an exploratory visit was made to the other side of the estuary at Pegwell Bay with the intention of seeing if it would be possible to catch gulls, terns, waders and wildfowl after dark, as they are pushed up towards the saltmarsh at high tide to roost. Unfortunately daylight held on longer than expected and it was not quite fully dark when the birds were moving up towards the nets with the tide. All was not lost as a young Knot was caught in a single panel net and biometrics taken indicated that it was of the race – once canutus – now islandica, from arctic Canada or western Greenland  – and we did get drinks from ‘The Sportsman’ as we were waiting for the tide!

The KNOT is a small/medium sized stocky wader that we see in the UK sometimes as a passage migrant from Russia, but mostly as a winter visitor, in huge numbers in some estuaries with average peak counts of 138,000 birds in the Wash alone.  320,000 winter here in total from Canada and Greenland with Russian birds as passage migrants in autumn moving south into Africa. The longest distance travelled by any bird ringed by The Observatory was of a Knot which was recovered in The Cape! They really are long-haul migrants and their heavy departure weights

Knot - winter on Sheppey - John Buckingham
Knot – winter on Sheppey – John Buckingham

in Canada show that they carry enough fat to take them across Greenland to their main staging post in Iceland in one hop, on their way to north-west Europe, with 65% of them wintering around the coasts of Britain and Ireland. We see them mostly as grey birds feeding in tight groups or flocks, sometimes called ‘packs’, as they move across estuarine mudflats feeding on bi-valves or swirling like clouds of smoke as large numbers flight into roost. In spring we might be lucky enough to see one or two late birds in their stunning rufous breeding plumage on their way to Iceland where again they gather in large flocks to feed, recently seen on newly ploughed fields in south-west Iceland’s developing agriculture.

young Knot 05/09/14 showing pale fringe and dark subterminal line on tertials & coverts - John Pell
young Knot 05/09/14 showing pale fringe and dark subterminal line on tertials & coverts – John Pell
Knot - spring migrant in rufous breeding plumage - John Buckingham
Knot – spring migrant in rufous breeding plumage – John Buckingham









Wednesday 3rd September  Please find account for today misplaced after 2nd September.

Cetti's warbler
Cetti’s warbler
Icterine warbler
Icterine warbler
Reed warbler - unusual markings
Reed warbler – unusual markings








Tuesday 2nd September

A nice mix of birds today with three migrant species new for the year – Spotted flycatcher, Pied flycatcher and

Pied flycatcher 02/09/2014
Pied flycatcher 02/09/2014

Meadow pipit. The list was – 15 Blackcaps, 6 Willow warblers, 4 Reed warblers, 3 Meadow pipits, 2 House martins, Blue tits & Goldfinches, 1 Wren, Chiffchaff, Spotted flycatcher, Pied flycatcher, House sparrow and Greenfinch. Total – 40 birds.A re-trapped male Chaffinch was originally ringed five years ago as a young bird at the Observatory on 4th October 2009. It was re-trapped 0n 21st September 2012 and not seen since. It would have some interesting tales to tell!

PIED FLYCATCHERS  are ringed in large numbers in the UK, particularly as nestlings in the western and northern sessile oak woods where they breed, mostly using nest boxes. Some, such as our young bird today, are ringed on migration, which could be either a British breeding bird or one on passage from Fennoscandia. Migration from the UK starts in August and recoveries show them tracking south and south westwards through France into western Iberia and on to Morocco. This is where the information stops apart from a handful of records indicating that they possibly winter in West Africa. Birdwatchers visiting The Gambia in winter will have seen them there.

Spotted flycatcher 02/09/2014
Spotted flycatcher 02/09/2014


Meadow pipit 02/09/2014
Meadow pipit 02/09/2014









Wednesday 3rd September

A bumper day with 107 new birds from a dawn start in the maize followed by ringing in The Whitehouse and The Gullies. Bird of the day was a young Icterine warbler caught in the side Haven net, probably having been pushed across from the continent on prevailing south-easterly winds. Other noteworthy species were Redstart, Cetti’s and Grasshopper warbler

Icterine warbler - note quite large tapered head and broad-based rather heavy bill.
Icterine warbler – note quite large tapered head and broad-based rather heavy bill.

 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 in 2011. The Icterine warbler is one of two large, yellow hippolais warblers breeding in Europe, the other being the Melodious warbler. The Icterine breeds quite commonly through Central, Northern and Eastern Europe, the 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 abut one-another they are said to be ‘parapatric’ and could well have come from very recent common ancestry. 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. 

New birds ringed today:  42 Sedge warblers, 39 Reed warblers, 10 Blackcaps, 2 Robins, Chiffchaffs, Blue tits and Greenfinches, 1 Wren, Dunnock, Redstart, Cetti’s warbler, Grasshopper warbler, Icterine warbler, Whitethroat and Willow warbler.

Cetti's warbler 03/09/2014 - note rufous back and broad rufous tail.
Cetti’s warbler 03/09/2014 – note rufous back and broad rufous tail.


Reed warbler - growth bars. We find growth bars on many young birds in the autumn, These are caused by a period of shortage of food while the tail feathers are growing whilst in the nest . The pale bar marks a weakness where the feather is susceptible to breakage later.
Reed warbler – fault bars. We find fault bars on many young birds in the autumn. These are caused by a period of shortage of food while the tail feathers are growing whilst the bird is a chick in the nest . The pale bar marks a weakness where the feather is susceptible to breakage later.










Date Sedge Reed Willow Grasshopper Whitethroat Cetti’s Total
31/07 15 7     1   23
03/08 87 46 3 1     137
05/08 221 51   1     273
07/08 141 40         181
13/08 114 65         179
16/08 59 39 1       99
20/08 63 52   1 1   117
23/08 52 31   2     85
24/08 25 25         50
03/09 42 39   1 1 1 84
Total 819 395 4 6 3 1 1,228