Sunday 31st August

A good day with 65 new birds of which 25 Blackcaps and 15 Starlings made up the greater proportion, plus 6 Willow warblers, 3 Reed warblers, 2 Dunnocks, Chiffchaffs, House sparrows and Greenfinches, 1 Great-spotted woodpecker, Swallow, Blackbird, Cetti’s warbler, Lesser whitethroat, Blue tit, Chaffinch and Goldfinch.

Friday 29th August

Visiting ringers from Surrey have joined us for most of the week and today was a bumper day despite windy and wet conditions developing later. There were no less than 187 House martins, 9 Starlings, 3 House sparrows, 2 Goldfinches and Blackcaps, 1 Willow warbler, Dunnock, Greenfinch, Robin, Sedge warbler and Blue tit.

HOUSE MARTINS   There have been no ring-recoveries of British House martins anywhere in Africa, so we have no

House martin - feathered legs and feet
House martin – feathered legs and feet

idea where they spend the winter. With their well-feathered legs and feet they migrate over high passes whilst on migration through the Alps and Pyrenees and this feature possibly helps to keep them warm at altitude. It is thought that like Swifts they may also spend the night flying at great elevation, a possible reason why roosts have not been found in their winter quarters. It was only recently discovered using radio-tracking that Cuckoos spend the winter in The Republic of the Congo, a dangerous and remote country that has been almost ‘out of bounds’ to Europeans, and it could be that lack of recording there means that they have been missed. We may eventually have one of the thousands of House martins that have been ringed at Sandwich Bay recovered in ‘The Congo’ one day, but probably not before radio transmitters have been developed small enough to be fitted to these iconic birds.   

male Wheatear - John Buckingham
male Wheatear – John Buckingham

Thursday 28th August

31 new birds were ringed today – 8 House martins, 5 Blackcaps, 3 Willow warblers and Robins, 2 Reed warblers, Chaffinches and Greenfinches, 1 Chiffchaff, Whitethroat, Wren, Woodpigeon and Blue tit plus a Wheatear caught at Princes.

WHEATEARS are common passage migrants at this time of year and we could be seeing birds from Northern and Western Britain, Greenland, Iceland and Northern Europe. These birds and others from as far east as Siberia and as far west as Alaska all winter in Africa, making huge, sweeping migratory journeys. The race oenanthe that breeds in Britain and Ireland are some of our first summer visitors, arriving in March. These birds probably spend the winter in West Africa south of the Sahara.

today's young Wheatear
today’s young Wheatear







Wednesday 27th August

Ringing was washed out yesterday and the maize was cancelled this morning due to high winds, however we got

Dunnock - john Buckingham
Dunnock – John Buckingham

cracking today with 6 Greenfinches, 4 Blackcaps, 2 Chiffchaffs, Swallows, Reed warblers, Robins and Starlings and 1 Dunnock.  TOTAL 21 new birds. A well-informed and lively visiting group thoroughly enjoyed their experience of the ringing room today. They were most impressed with what they saw and extremely grateful for the huge amount of information that they gleaned about the birds, their biology and the amazing migratory journeys that they make. 



Goldfinch - John Buckingham
Goldfinch – John Buckingham

Monday 25th August

Disappointing weather for the Wildlife & Countryside Fair with rain starting quite soon in the morning, however early visitors will have enjoyed watching some ringing before the rain washed out proceedings. 4 Great tits and Blackcaps, 3 Greenfinches and Goldfinches, 2 Willow warblers, Reed warblers, Robins and Starlings and 1 Dunnock were the new birds today. TOTAL 23 new birds.





Green woodpecker male - John Buckingham
Green woodpecker male – John Buckingham

Sunday 24th August

A long hard day for all the ringers today, especially for those up early to ring in the maize. The maize produced 50 birds – 25 each of Reed and Sedge warbler, so numbers are dropping off.  From the Whitehouse, Heligoland and crow traps came 143 new birds – 68 Starlings, 19 Greenfinches, 14 Blackcaps, 7 Willow warblers, 5 Great tits, 5 Reed warblers, 5 Robins, 3 Lesser whitethroats, 3 House sparrows, 2 Swallows, 2 House martins, 2 Blue tits, 2 Chiffchaffs and single Dunnock, Song thrush, Collared dove, Green woodpecker, Whitethroat and Chaffinch. On top of that there were 26 re-traps of a variety of species.

A mammoth day of ringing and the great effort put in by the ringers will have entertained and informed the many visitors to the ringing room from the Wildlife & Countryside Fair.


Date Sedge Reed Willow Grasshopper Whitethroat 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
Total 777 356 4 5 2 1,144


Saturday 23rd August

Chiffchaff - John Buckingham
Chiffchaff – John Buckingham


91 new birds ringed today of which 85 were from the maize – 52 Sedge warblers, 31 Reed warblers and 2 Grasshopper warblers. There were also 1 Reed warbler control and a re-trap of Sedge and Reed warbler.  Other species ringed from elsewhere were a Blackcap, Willow warbler, Chiffchaff, Great tit, Chaffinch and Wren

Apart from the Sedge and Reed warblers from the maize,  Willow warblers have been moving through in reasonable numbers. They will be followed soon by larger numbers of Chiffchaffs.



Today's young Whitethroat - John Buckingham
Today’s young Whitethroat – John Buckingham

Thursday 21st August

Not enough people to do the maize this morning so three of us had a successful session in the Whitehouse with a good catch of 22 House martins, 12 Starlings, 2 Willow warblers, a Blackcap, Swallow, Robin, Great-spotted woodpecker, Dunnock and Whitethroat – total 42 birds. The young male Great-spotted woodpecker was a ringing ‘tick’ for Sarah and as Steve so generously divides out birds to trainees and others, he was ‘thrilled’ to be presented with his first Whitethroat of the year to ring! A ringing session at Pegwell unfortunately cancelled this evening due to very  high winds.



RIPE FRUIT AS FOOD FOR SYLVIA WARBLERS       Note the photograph and evidence on the bill of the bird feeding

Young Whitethroat
Young Whitethroat

on blackberries. (Click on photograph to enlarge.) Whitethroats and other Sylvia warblers such as Blackcaps, Garden warblers and Lesser whitethroats are able to convert sugars from the ripe fruit to fat more quickly than from insects and this enables them to rapidly lay on fat reserves ready for their onward migration.  After a great spring and summer of plant growth, the proliferation of berries will hopefully mean a successful journey to Spain and North Africa for Blackcaps, to East Africa for Lesser whitethroats and across the Sahara to West Africa for Whitethroats and Garden warblers. 


Wednesday 20th August

116 new birds in the maize this morning plus 2 controlled Reed warblers (ringed elsewhere in the UK). We will find out in a month or so from the BTO where they are from. There were 63 Sedge warblers, 52 Reed warblers, a Whitethroat and a Grasshopper warbler, this being the third this autumn from the maize. As there were not too many birds to deal with the three trainees, Sarah, Becky and Lucy processed them all and the Grasshopper warbler was a new species for Becky (another pound for the funds!) Good fun today was a visit from quite a large herd of Dick’s cows which were sharing the field with us and cleaned the back of several cars in the morning sunshine! The list was boosted later in the morning with a Willow warbler, a Blackcap, a Wren and a Robin from the Whitehouse.

Young Grasshopper warbler
Young Grasshopper warbler


Date Sedge Reed Willow Grasshopper Whitethroat 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
Total 700 300 4 3 2 1009
Grasshopper warbler - under-tail coverts
Grasshopper warbler – under-tail coverts









The broad tail and long diffuse streaks on the under-tail that reach the base of the feathers is indicative of this species.

Young male Sparrowhawk - note huge eyes
Young male Sparrowhawk – note huge eyes


Tuesday 19th August

Only 14 new birds today – mostly migrants – 6 Willow warblers, 4 Blackcaps, 1 Reed warbler and a Swallow plus a Blue tit and another young male Sparrowhawk – this one caught in the Heligoland.

Sparrowhawks are the quintessential fast, acrobatic, woodland predator with migratory and dispersive late summer and autumn movements into other areas where there is some cover for hunting such as hedgerows and copses, and where there is an abundance of


Young male Sparrowhawk - note small size
Young male Sparrowhawk – note small size

mostly passerine prey. Males can be tiny, compared to females which can be up to 25% larger. In the hand we can easily distinguish between sexes by measuring the wing length from carpal to tip with females measuring between 222-256mm and males 188-212mm. Adult males have a smart grey back and distinctive orange striped chest, while juvenile birds like this one are brown like the females and with obvious chestnut fringed feathers on the mantle and wings. Young birds also show bold heart-shaped brown markings at the tips of feathers on the breast.  



Willow warbler emarginated to the 5th primary
Willow warbler emarginated to the 5th primary

Sunday 17th August 

Only Graham on duty today using one net but he ringed 20 birds – 12 Willow warblers, 2 Reed warblers, 1 Chiffchaff, 4 Long-tailed tits and a Blue tit. August sees large numbers of young Willow warblers migrating and they were certainly in evidence today. Where the outer web of a primary feather narrows abruptly towards the tip, it is said to be ‘emarginated’. Willow warblers have the 3rd, 4th and 5th primaries emarginated and Chiffchaffs the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th. They are difficult to tell apart but in the hand this makes identification between the two species certain. 


Flat fly from House martin - Becky Johnsom
Flat fly from House martin – Becky Johnsom

FLAT FLIES are ectoparasites that live on the ‘outside’ of birds, on their skin and in their plumage. We come across a lot at this time of year and they occur on a number of species, but we always notice that they are most prolific on hirundines. The photograph is of one that has jumped off a House martin onto John’s hand. They are tough, leathery, flattened blood-feeding flies with well-developed claws and an ability to move very rapidly in any direction.  This species is free-flying and able to move between hosts but must be fast and well adapted to slip between the plumage as birds preen with their bills.



Friday 15th August                                                                                                                                            

 Not enough people to ring the maize today so nets were put up in the Whitehouse and 15 new birds were processed – 7 Willow warblers, 5 Reed warblers, 1 Garden warbler, 1 Lesser whitethroat and a Blue tit.Garden warbler with young - JohnBuckingham


Garden warbler at nest feeding young




Wednesday 13th August

Another good early morning session in the maize. We started ringing just after day-break and soon ringed 179 birds. The breakdown was 114 Sedge warblers and 65 Reed warblers – comparing these figures with our previous efforts, we are now processing a much larger proportion of Reed warblers and based on records from previous years, this trend will continue. Two other species ringed later were a Whitethroat and a Robin.

Tuesday 12th August

The weather forecast wasn’t great for today so nets were set up in the Whitehouse and 14 new birds were ringed. Some more warblers were on the move, 3 Reed warblers, 2 Willow warblers, 2 Lesser whitethroats, a Blackcap and a Whitethroat,plus a Swallow, 2 Robins, a Wren and a Greenfinch.

 Most of our migrant warblers are heading down through Europe on more or less a southerly route, on their way to the dry regions of Northwest and West Africa. The LESSER WHITETHROAT, however, undergoes a dramatically different migration, wintering much further east in damp thorny scrub in Egypt, Sudan, Chad and Ethiopia.  Only visual observations tell us where they are, as there are unfortunately no ring-recoveries in Northeast Africa, but we

Sandwich tern ringed Saturday night
Sandwich tern ringed Saturday night

do know that when our Lesser whitethroats depart in autumn they head south-east on their first leg taking them to northern Italy. Ring-recoveries show them feeding up here and then crossing the Mediterranean from Italy and Greece onto northeast African coast. Their Spring route brings them back along the extreme east of the Mediterranean, up through Israel, Syria and northwest through Turkey and beyond. Lesser whitethroats are very common passage migrants in Cyprus in early spring and are much more numerous breeding birds in Eastern Europe than further west.   


Saturday 9th August

Whimbrel - John Buckingham
Whimbrel – John Buckingham

A very varied day of ringing today. Ringing at the Observatory produced a nice list of new birds – 4 Willow warblers, 3 Reed warblers, 2 Whitethroats, 1 Garden warbler, 1 Blackcap and 1 Lesser Whitethroat plus a Great-spotted woodpecker, Wren, Blackbird and 2 Robins. Then a very successful overnight expedition to The Point saw 4 Sandwich terns and a Whimbrel processed. Sandwich terns have not been ringed at the Observatory for 25 years and the Whimbrel was only the ninth ever processed here.


female Chiffchaff brood patch - Graham Crick
female Chiffchaff brood patch – Graham Crick





Friday 8th August

Not a good weather forecast today so only one net put up which caught 3 Willow warblers, 1 Garden warbler, 1 Blackcap and a Chiffchaff. Jane and Graham were surprised that the Chiffchaff was an adult female as it is very unusual for us to see adults at this time of year. The photograph distinctly shows that this bird was carrying a brood patch.

Thursday 7th August

A wet and windy morning unfortunately prevented us from ringing in the maize yesterday but a 2am set up today rewarded us with another big catch of 141 Sedge warblers and 40 Reed warblers – Total 181 birds. As well as these, we controlled a Sedge warbler already ringed this year as a young bird somewhere else in Britain and a re-trap of an individual ringed here a few days ago. We will ultimately receive from the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology), details of the circumstances and of where the control was first ringed. Once we have closed up in the maize, usually between 8.30 and 9am a long job is to enter all the day’s details onto the computer in the ringing room and Keith regularly submits these records to the BTO.

The photograph of the young Sedge warbler below shows clearly the ‘necklace’ of spots, not present on adults, which is one of the more obvious ways which enables us to age the species at this time of year.

Male Sedge warbler singing - John Buckingham
Male Sedge warbler singing – John Buckingham


Young Sedge Warbler - John Buckingham
Young Sedge Warbler – John Buckingham








Tuesday 5th August

A couple of very early starts in the maize this week and a bumper number of birds processed today of just three species – 221 Sedge warblers, 51 Reed warblers and 1 Grasshopper warbler, making a grand total of 273. Like Sunday and as expected, these were mostly young birds once again.

  SEDGE WARBLERS on migration are often attracted to fields of maize along with Reed warblers and others, the tall crop must be reminiscent of the phragmites reed-beds that they are used to. About 250,000 pairs of Sedge warblers breed in Britain building their nests deep in the base of dense vegetation in many types of wetland.  At the end of July they commence their migration south into Africa but before they go they search out reed-beds with high infestations of Plum-reed aphids in southern England and north-west France. Feeding on these aphids and many other insect species they lay down fat in various body cavities and subcutaneously (under the skin), so much so that prior to migration they will on average put on an additional 50% of their body weight and some will almost double their weight. With this store of fuel on board they undertake rapid, long-haul southerly journeys.  There are few autumn ring recoveries of Sedge warblers in France or Spain as they have few if any feeding stops through southern France, Iberia, North Africa or the Sahara. There have been more than 4,000 ring recoveries of this species, 80% of which are by ringers in West Africa, south of the Sahara where they spend the winter in Senegal, Mali and Ghana.  Ringing has told us so much about this trans-Saharan migrant that we know that birds from Ireland and western Britain winter in Senegal while those from eastern Britain are found in Senegal eastwards through Mali and Ghana. 

Sedge warbler at nest - John Buckingham
Sedge warbler at nest – John Buckingham
adult Sedge Warbler - Becky Johnson
adult Sedge Warbler – Becky Johnson











Monday 4th August

A mixed bag today and with Lucy back after a few months away she notched up three ringing ticks. New birds were 2 Willow warblers, 3 Reed warblers, 1 Sedge warbler and 1 Blackcap – so warblers are building up – plus 8 Greenfinches, 2 Chaffinches, a Blue tit, Blackbird and Robin.

Sunday 3rd August

A great early morning session in the maize today with 87 Sedge warblers, 46 Reed warblers, 3 Willow warblers and one bird new for the year, a Grasshopper warbler. There was one re-trapped Sedge warbler and all the Sedge warblers and Reed warblers ringed were young birds bar 1 adult Sedge and 7 adult Reeds.  The 86 young Sedge warblers ringed clearly indicates that they have had an exceptional breeding season with adults concentrating on 2nd or even 3rd broods.

GRASSHOPPER WARBLER  The scientific name of the Grasshopper warbler isLocustella naevia where the first word is the name of the genus (or closely related group) to which the species belongs. In this case the genus includes other species in Europe – Lanceolated, River and Savi’s warblers all of which have high-pitched, reeling, insect-like songs reminiscent of grasshoppers, crickets and other insects, hence the word ‘locust’. As the male sings from a low perch often obscured in the vegetation he turns his head, so that the song becomes ventriloquial and can be difficult to pinpoint.

About 13,000 pairs of Grasshopper warblers breed in the UK and they are fairly widespread but with concentrations in the Fens, South West England, North East England, West Wales, Western Scotland and Northern Ireland. They are birds of marshland, moorland, open woodland and plantations where they build their nests close to the ground in tussocks of grass. They are summer visitors from West Africa where a major wintering area has been located in Senegal.

Grasshopper warbler at nest - John Buckingham
Grasshopper warbler at nest – John Buckingham
Grasshopper warbler - John Buckingham
Grasshopper warbler – John Buckingham










Saturday 2nd August

Migration is obviously underway with 56 birds processed today and 38 were new birds including more warblers and hirundines – 8 Willow warblers, 4 Reed warblers, 3 Chiffchaffs, 3 Garden warblers, 2 Whitethroats, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 7 Swallows, 1 House martin plus 4 Greenfinch, 2 Great tits, 2 Robins and a Long-tailed tit. Of the 18 birds re-trapped a Long-tailed tit had been ringed by JB in August 2011 and had not been seen since then.

Long-tailed Tit - John Buckingham
Long-tailed Tit – John Buckingham
Lesser whitethroat - John buckingham
Lesser whitethroat – John Buckingham








Friday 1st August

New birds ringed today were 2 Willow warblers, and one each of Whitethroat, Great tit, House sparrow, Chaffinch, Blue tit and Greenfinch. Of the warblers WILLOW WARBLERSare some of the first to make their move to Africa and August is the month when the majority of young and some adults leave the UK. More than 2,500 ring recoveries from 1 million + birds ringed shows that young birds will start in late July from the North. Adults will have moulted in Britain before departure, from late August onwards, and make rapid progress through Europe and across the western Sahara to their wintering grounds in the Gulf of Guinea around the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Willow warbler  is one of few passerines that moults twice in a year and they start their return journey from Africa in February after a second moult. The two moults are probably because of the unusually high amount of feather wear that happens when the birds are gleaning food amongst leaves in sometimes dense foliage.   

Most of the Robins we are ringing at the moment are juvenile birds moulting in various stages into their red ‘breeding‘ plumage. The bird in the photograph is one of these.

Willow Warbler - John Buckingham
Willow Warbler – John Buckingham
young Robin - Becky Johnson
young Robin – Becky Johnson