Fieldwork February 2023

Friday 24 February


Cathy recced on Friday morning. Snettisham and Heacham beaches were being ‘recharged’ (moving sand onto the beach, before the start of the tourist season) and there were also reports of Peregrine and Gyr Falcon at Snettisham Pits. These events may have affected birds’ movements, but Oystercatchers were seen on all the beaches recced, with the birds on Heacham North North being the most reliable. A few Turnstone were also seen, the majority at Heacham South beach, where a flock of ca. 200 Bar-tailed Godwits were also observed.

Most of the team arrived on Friday evening and enjoyed a filling and delicious meal of baked potatoes with a variety of topping options and fruit salad prepared by Cathy, Beth and Ian. After dinner Lucy and Lizzie briefed the team that we would be targeting the Oystercatchers on Heacham North North beach, setting two large-mesh nets. Lizzie also explained how the catch and lift would need to be managed and how, if necessary, the ‘stretcher’ would be used. After the briefing Theo and David took charge of ‘trailer tetris’, ensuring all the necessary equipment was in and well-packed, ready for an early start in the morning.

Saturday 25 February

The team were up at 03:45 to start the set by 05:00 and be ready to fire by 06:30, with Sam and Skye joining a little later. Although a relatively small and inexperienced team, the set went smoothly and efficiently, with everything and everyone in position in good time. Lizzie, Lucy and James were the firing team, with Claudia and Ian acting as long stops and Richard observing from further away ready to twinkle. The rest of the team (basecamp) waited on the seawall, enjoying a rare view of everything.

Three flocks of Oystercatchers formed on the beach as the tide came in. Expert twinkling by Richard caused some mixing of the flock and with some encouragement from the rising tide a steadily increasing number of birds moved into the catching area. Lizzie took the catch comprising 130 Oystercatchers, two Bar-tailed Godwits and a single Knot. The team got to the net quickly and deployed the stretcher to ensure all the birds were moved swiftly and safely up the beach ahead of the rising tide. Three projectiles were taken off the net during the lift and were swept away by the tide!

Many of the Oystercatchers were adults, which was incredibly useful as the aim of this trip was to make a catch of Oystercatchers to monitor the likelihood of a starvation event. The processing team took additional biometric measurements, to help determine the feeding specialisms of the Oystercatchers. Lizzie and Molly colour ringed and flagged the Godwit and Knot, while Lucy ‘floated’; supervising the ringing team and ensured HPAI protocols were followed.

Team members colour-marking a Bar-tailed Godwit, by Beth Newark.
Molly getting a colour-marking masterclass from the expert, by Beth Newark
An Oystercatcher in the hand, wearing a colour mark indicating it was ringed in Norway. Photo by Beth Newark.
Retrap Oystercatcher from Norway, by Beth Newark

When the processing was nearly finished, Cathy, Beth and Molly left to prepare breakfast while the rest of the team finished up but, despite a concerted effort, the missing projectiles could not be located.

Time of fire: 07:55

Number of nets fired: 1

Bar-tailed Godwit202

When the team arrived back at the base house at 14:00 a hearty breakfast and bonus special guest (Kane Brides) were waiting for them.

A decision was taken not to mist-net on Saturday night due to the high winds. Given the relatively limited catching options for Sunday morning, it was decided to try for the flock of Bar-tailed Godwits on Heacham South beach (spotted on Cathy’s Friday recce).

The main jobs undertaken during Saturday afternoon were unpacking and repacking the trailer; trying (unsuccessfully) to locate the three missing projectiles by sight; and cooking dinner, which was a yummy vegetable and chickpea curry with rice plus an apple, pear and blackberry crumble, all masterminded by Sam (and assisted by Beth and Louise). 

Lucy and Lizzie briefed the team that the plan for Sunday morning was to set two small-mesh nets at different heights on the beach, to increase the potential catching options. It was also hoped that, if the Barwit attempt proved unsuccessful, the net configuration might give an alternative option for catching Sanderling on the falling tide. Lizzie explained that the lifting method would be different for the small-mesh nets, with the team needing to make a ‘tent’ to allow the birds to walk up the beach.

Mark arrived on Saturday evening but despite all efforts to persuade him to join the catching team, even the prospect of a Barwit catch could not persuade him to divert his attention away from planned maintenance activities.

Sunday 26 February

The team was up at 04:45 to start the set at 06:00 and be ready in position by 07:30. Everything ran efficiently again with the set completed by 07:10, ahead of schedule. Lucy, Lizzie and James were the firing team; Ian and Claudia again acted as the long stops, and the rest of the team waited out of sight at a basecamp over the dunes, where Richard and Molly were on the firing box.

Shortly after 08:00 a sizeable flock of grey waders including 100 Barwits, Grey Plover, Knot, Turnstone and Sanderling appeared, but they quickly left, with most flying off south towards the RSPB reserve. A total of 30 Sanderling and smaller numbers of Knot, Turnstone and Ringed Plover remained, however the Sanderling were straddling both nets so only around half that number were potentially catchable. The birds were reluctant to move away from the tideline and up towards the net into the catching area. Consideration was also given to taking a small catch of Turnstone for colour ringing; however, nothing ever quite materialised as a viable catch. Lucy took the decision to lift the set (and prevent any more equipment being flooded out). By 10:.00 the trailer was packed, and the team dispersed, with some heading back to the base house and others to go resighting, heading to Snettisham RSPB and promising fields around Ken Hill, Heacham and Lynn.

Photo of three people looking through binoculars on a marsh. Photo by Rob Robinson.
One of the resighting teams, by Rob Robinson

Lucy, Beth and Louise prepared breakfast, which included repurposing baked potatoes left over from Friday evening. The resighting team arrived back after some success.

On Sunday afternoon Tim arrived for the maintenance part of the weekend and Molly managed to borrow a metal detector by cashing in a few favours. Rob R, Mark, Tim and Richard discussed the possibility of undertaking mist-netting on Sunday evening, but after considerable discussion it was decided that maintenance would take priority. With no further catching, most of the team left on Sunday afternoon. Mark, Tim, Cathy, Richard, Ian, Claudia and Louise stayed on to undertake maintenance activities around the base house. Over the course of the morning, while the rest of the team had been out on the beach, Mark had been hard at work and had already trimmed and neatened the entire length of the lapped fence. After the late breakfast, the rest of the maintenance crew joined him and got stuck into tidying up the garden, clearing and digging over the borders and raking debris out of the lawn.

Afterwards Rob R, Cathy, Tim, Claudia and Louise went for an evening walk on the salt marsh beyond Ongar Hill and watched birds, including a flock of Brent Geese, come into the main Great Ouse channel as the sun went down. Back at the base, Mark cooked a superb chicken casserole which, together with the last of the leftovers from the weekend, was presented as ‘Wash Fusion’ cuisine.

Monday 27 February

After a lie-in (relatively speaking) and breakfast, those who had stayed on cracked on with more of the maintenance tasks. Richard sorted out some cabling before beginning an audit of all things electrical…. until a (scheduled!) power cut stopped play. Then, armed with the borrowed metal detector, he went on a mission to Heacham NN beach where he successfully recovered two of the missing projectiles. Cathy removed some old carpet and replaced it with vinyl. Tim dealt with the blocked toilet in the Annex – which had become distinctly alarming – and discovered the cause of the blockage was a plastic sandwich carton stuck in the drainage pipe! Meanwhile, Mark trained the remainder of the team (Claudia, Ian and Louise) in the art of line fencing, which enabled the fencing and planting work to be completed.

Photo of three people posing in a garden by a fence with lots of young trees planted in front. Photo by Tim Turner.
Maintenance heroes, by Tim Turner

Particular thanks to Ian who did most of the washing up during the weekend.

Resighting totals:

SpeciesTotal SightingsIndividualsWWRGNon-WWRG
Bar-tailed Godwit1110

The non-WWRG Curlew was a headstarted bird, which was released on the Wash.

Thanks to Louise McCartney & Molly Brown for writing this report.