Fieldwork November 2018

Friday 23 November

Prior to the weekend, the plan had changed allowing for a relaxing Friday evening, which is when the majority of the team arrived and had a delicious dinner and dessert, thanks to the cooks. Mist netting had been determined not to be possible due to the time of tide (too early) and the fullness of the moon (too bright).

Saturday 24 November

On Saturday morning Lucy and Ros went to recce Snettisham Beach while Ron and Lizzie visited Heacham North North. Meanwhile the others went to look for colour marked birds during the morning tide at Snettisham Pits, Snettisham Fields, Heacham South, Holme, Dersingham Curlew field and Wolferton Curlew fields.

Once returned and breakfast had been eaten (made by Lizzie and Ron), Lucy discussed our potential options for a cannon-net catch. During the recce at Snettisham Beach, they had observed a tight group of 35 Grey Plover and a flock of 50−100 Sanderling. As Grey Plover is a target species for WWRG, this was a great opportunity and the discussions concluded that we would cannon net on Sunday at Snettisham Beach.

The Heacham beaches were also considered as at Heacham North North, 10 Turnstone had been observed, while at Heacham South, a large group of 500+ Curlew were recorded. It was decided that it would be a difficult catch since Curlew cannot be caught into water so it relied on the tide being far out enough. Because of the time of tide in relation to daylight, catching was probably only feasible some time after high tide and it was unlikely the birds would stick around long enough.

In the afternoon Guy ran a practice demonstration at the base house on how a cannon net is set up, furling the net and how to move a small mesh net up a beach once fired. This provided people with the opportunity to work as a group moving the cannon net prior to the actual event.

Trailers were loaded with the equipment, while others did a bit of maintenance such as trying out a heat gun Cathy had brought to seal the edges of carpet which had been cut to shape to acts as mats in keeping boxes. Chris took the time to thread the new bird bags and tie them off with a fisherman’s knot. The ends were subsequently burned by David to prevent fraying.

After dinner (thank you Sam and Lizzie) the team headed out at 18:30 to set four small mesh nets.

Sunday 25 November

The team were up at 04:45 and in place by 06:00, with high tide at 07:19. Lucy, Richard, Ros and Lizzie were in the hide while Ron and Lynne took on the roles of long-stop. The rest of the team was at base camp behind the sea wall with Ryan in charge of the firing box and Guy making sure everyone knew their positions should the cannon net(s) be fired.

As the sun rose and the tide pushed the waders up the beach, there was a group (c. 50) of Grey Plover across two nets (and some beyond) with a flock of Sanderling nearby. A decision was made and one net (Net 4) was fired at 07:08. Once the waders were extracted from the nets and quickly placed into the keeping cages, the team returned to basecamp for a second attempt to catch the Sanderling should they return to the beach before the tide dropped too far away from the nets. Ros in the hide monitored the catching and safety area along with the surrounding beach, while Ryan quickly re-connected Nets 1 to 3 and the long-stops got back into position.

At base camp, the radio flared to life and the team listened to a short but amusing dialogue from Ros to Ron. Ros: ‘Ron do you have any Oystercatchers near you or are they black rocks?’ A brief pause, then: ‘Oh they are rocks. I’ve just realised that I have a scope.’

After giving it another 10 minutes, which allowed the recently caught waders to dry off in the keeping cages, no birds had entered the area and with the tide receding, it was decided to call off the second attempt and ring and process the waders behind the sea wall. All of the Grey Plover were aged as adults and flagged.

Examining Grey Plover plumage, by Guy Anderson
Examining the plumage of a Grey Plover, by Guy Anderson

Catch totals:

  New Retrap Total
Grey Plover 17 0 17
Oystercatcher 1 0 1
Knot 1 0 1
Total 19 0 19

After the catch some of the team return to the base house to make breakfast and do data checking, while others went and did some colour-ring resighting before breakfast. Once everyone had returned, the team tidied and then departed.

Resighting totals:

  Encounters Individuals
Bar-tailed Godwit 35 22
Curlew 146 78
Grey Plover 3 2
Knot 1 1
Total 185 103

This included:

1 control Bar-tailed Godwit from the Netherlands

1 control Curlew from Northumberland

During the weekend, a professional photographer, Dan Kitwood, joined the Group and his photographs from the trip can be seen at the following links:

The Wash Wader Ringing Group: A day in the life of a bird study group

Bird ringing on the Wash estuary – in pictures