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Steve Berry's Birds of Kingston
Part 10 - The Chiffchaff and the Buzzard

Chiffchaff - Phylloscopus collybita

This tiny member of the warbler family – just 11cm long, making it marginally smaller than a blue tit – could be very easily overlooked were it not for its very distinctive and persistent song. “Chiff chaff” is a reasonable enough attempt to turn this into words but the Dutch hear this as , the Germans as and the . Whichever way you put it, it’s hard to mistake the call for anything else and to make things easier for us still, this bird is often considerate enough to sing from a prominent perch, right out in the open. Chiffchaffs are one of the two most common European warblers. The other is the willow warbler, which looks very similar but sounds completely different, having a long, musical call which takes the form of series of descending notes with a hint of a final flourish.

Chiffchaffs are one of the first migrants from the south to arrive and are frequently in southern England by the second week in March. They can turn up almost anywhere in Kingston but the area around the church is often favoured, and I’ve frequently heard them calling from birch trees in Bramleys and nearby. These days, you may also see chiffchaffs in winter. This is a fairly recent phenomenon that may be linked to generally milder weather (notwithstanding the current rather chilly season which has gone rather against the trend!). I don’t know whether chiffchaffs breed in the village or just pass through. They nest low down and have two broods. If anyone finds a chiffchaff nest in their garden this year or sees an adult feeding young, I’d be pleased to hear from you!

Buzzard – Buteo buteo

You get a lot of chiffchaffs to the buzzard! This is one of our largest birds of prey, with a wingspan of up to 128cm. For those like me who have to translate metric measurements before they become meaningful, that’s getting on for five feet and that’s BIG!

Buzzards were once common all over Britain but were gradually reduced by persecution to a rump population in the west. Large landowners were responsible, using gamekeepers as their agents of execution. The population was beginning to recover when the introduction of the horrific rabbit disease myxomatosis in the 1950s killed off the buzzard’s favourite prey item. Agricultural poisons (of a type since banned) then dealt buzzards yet another blow and when I was starting to get interested in watching birds in the 1970s, buzzards were still a rarity outside Devon and Cornwall, Wales and Scotland.

As many villagers will know, however, buzzards are now well and truly back in Sussex. They were thought to have bred in the county for the first time in more than 100 years in……….and there are now at least a few breeding pairs. Most of these are still in the west but there are several established pairs near Glynde and sightings in Kingston are, happily, no longer a rare event – although they are still very noteworthy. Maybe it won’t be too long before they take up residence even closer by – perhaps in the wood at Blackcap, for example.

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