A Knot in time…

A week into our trip and we are into the swing – we are managing to do a complete count on each site in each three-day period.  We are also spending more time on data now, trying to get everything sorted. The Knot however are slow to arrive…

Thursday afternoon we were out in Mispillion Harbour to catch – setting on the top, dry area for the falling tide when we hoped the birds would come up to feed. The setting team went out in the Jon Boat, with the rest of the team coming out in the larger Skiff and all landing on Back Beach. We set two nets and the Semi-fence and retreated into a firing position that was in the full sun (basecamp had the shade up). The birds were quite jumpy again and there were lots of Dunlin and Semi-palmated Sandpipers, we had numerous occasions where they came up into the area with many beyond, but we struggled to get a sample of Turnstone and there were few Red Knots around. We had some excitement when it was noticed the boats were high and dry when Rob was dispatched (with a driver) to twinkle.  There was also a canoeing photographer who came up stream and then floated back past the flock in front of the catching area, so the box was disconnected and Hen headed out in the Jon Boat to talk to him – he went off up a creek, never to be seen again (at least when we were looking).  Nigel moved to a higher point to watch the catching area and was able to find a gap with a reasonable number of Turnstone, so we fired.

Semi-palmated Sandpiper75075
Ruddy Turnstone89796
Red Knot11112
Short-billed Dowitcher 59160

We finished processing the catch in about three hours, packed up and headed back to the boat ramp and marina, then back to the house for an epic Graham meal, most of which had been cooked in the morning, but there were still parathas etc to cook. 

Friday started with surveying and resighting before we all headed off to birdwatch at Bombay Hook before heading up to Dave and Marge’s for a shrimp boil where we were joined by other friends associated with the project, for a great, relaxed evening. So nice to see so many people in person after so long. Back after midnight, with the car taking slow way back actually arriving before the car that headed down the main road, as they had a few unplanned U-turns. 

On Saturday the weather forecast was sadly accurate and it was incredibly hot (mid-90s); we needed to drink a lot! There are still few Knot around and we should be expecting the second wave soon. There was some entertainment from the air show at the Dover Air Base and a lot more from the team trying to kill all the flies that have found their way into the house despite the fly screens. We have no idea how we got so many, but there were squadrons of them in the lounge and in the bathroom.  The spectacle of several members of the team chasing them around the lounge with fly swats and anything else they could find to swat with, was fun to watch. Dinner was moussaka eaten outside under the awning as it was pleasantly warm and we were joined by other volunteers.

Sunday was another hot day for surveying, but the boat and other surveys went out in the morning. Buffoonery of the day was generated by Rob trying to make coffee – he filled up the filter and then, instead of putting the water in the water tank, he just put the flask straight on the hot plate with the water in it. Graham asked Rob if he thought his coffee was strong enough and he said it would be fine, before looking up to see clear water! After lunch, Richard, Guy and Rob headed off to the air show with a plan to get out before the rush so they could get to their afternoon survey sites to do the ground counts for the aerial survey.  We were wondering why there was an aerial count of the day of the airshow at the Dover USAF base… For the aerial counts we do a full count of each site on arrival, followed by 15 minute counts of just Knot and Turnstone until the plane comes over.  Due to the airshow, the plane had to bypass some of the northern sites and was therefore earlier than expected further south – there was a bit of scrambling to get necessary counts. The Mispillion team stayed out after the count to get some resightings and had more Knot building on Back Beach – we only got up to about 200, so still not the glory days. The Dunlin were singing more than they have been and some were looking very fat – they will be off soon.

We decided to get up at silly o’clock on Monday to get out to Brockenbridge early, meeting at Penguin Manor at 06:00 hrs.  The fallback was Back Beach in the afternoon for the Knot seen there on Sunday. The predicted thunderstorms came in in the evening and some of the tent crew bailed out and slept in the house, which was a lot less likely to leak!  Many of the team were woken at around 01:30 hrs by the fire crew heading out at speed past the house. We heard later that an unmanned barge anchored out in the Bay had been hit by lightning in the storm and was on fire, with boats from many surrounding fire stations heading out to help.

A White-rumped Sandpiper on a beach next to a Semi-palmated Sandpiper
A White-rumped Sandpiper next to a Semi-palmated Sandpiper. Photo by Rob Robinson.

Despite all this, we were up at around 05:00 hrs to get to Brockenbrdge and get the nets set early, but we were thwarted by the weather – it was too windy to take the Skiff out in the Bay and it’s too far to carry the gear – it was called and we set out to check various sites before going out to Back Beach where we made a catch with Knot and not too many Semis – we extracted and processed very quickly and had finished within 1.5 hrs of catching.  White-Rumped Sandpipers have come in in the last couple of days and we saw (and heard) several while waiting for the catch – they sound like flying mice. We caught three and Rob finally got to see a one in the hand (he had even been on a catch in a previous year when we caught one, which was hiding among the Semis, but had to leave before the end and didn’t know we had one).  Processing was punctuated by Dunlin song and calls as they started migrated, with a lot of birds heading out (Dowitchers as well) – it really is the most amazing and uplifting spectacle and one of the reasons why working in the Bay is so special. 

Semi-palmated Sandpiper43043
Ruddy Turnstone16117
Red Knot30434
Short-billed Dowitcher32133
White-rumped Sandpiper303

After another fairly late night we had a leisurely get up on Tuesday and then worked on data (checking in various bedrooms – there is much less space in the house this year than in Penguin Manor) and sorted out gear. After lunch we went back out resighting, with Nigel heading to Prime Hook to check a site for a catch on Wednesday. 

Wednesday was windy again, but we went down to Prime Hook for a sample of Turnstone, leaving a crew to survey and resight in Mispillion. We set two nets, but rapidly decided that we couldn’t fire both as the wind was too high and therefore the waves were too big. Base camp sat behind a ‘windbreak’ made from the shade cloth to shelter us from the birds (but not the wind) – it took a while to construct it in the wind. The birds were quite flighty in the wind and, as the weather deteriorated further, we called it and headed back to Slaughter and Swain’s to look for other options.  There were birds on both sites, but we decided to try Slaughter and put down a net just out and north from Penguin Manor.  However, we gradually lost birds until we gave up and came back for dinner.