Fieldwork November 2021

Friday 5 November

Most team members started to assemble at the base house from mid-afternoon (breaking the peace of Bernard and Carole who had been staying for a few days already). A mini-Glastonbury was then established outside to accommodate the large weekend team. Cathy, along with Lynne and Alex, provided a hearty meal of jacket potatoes with all the trimmings for the bulk of the team, followed by a fruit salad (Lynne), and a chocolate hazelnut tray bake (Alex) which was big enough to last the entire weekend (thanks to Tim and Ian B for washing up!). Katharine, Sophie, Alice, Rob, Sam and Skye all arrived later, with Rob blaming his later than planned arrival on the necessity to bake a carrot cake for the team, starting at 17:15…

After everyone had settled in Richard and Lucy co-led a briefing to go over the morning’s recces by Rob P, Bernard, and Carole, and the plans for the weekend. Rob P had reccied Heacham N that morning finding 20 Turnstone, 30 Sanderling, around 80 Oystercatchers on the dam and a further 100 on the beach. There was also a flock of ~50 Curlew, and 60 Grey Plover at dawn, which were in a good catching area, however they didn’t remain for long. He then saw a 150 juvenile Knot with a few Turnstone on the falling tide which looked potentially catchable.

A plan was made to set two nets in the morning to catch on the rising tide at Heacham NN to hopefully make a catch of Turnstone for colour ringing. With Bernard and Carole first heading out to do a recce of the dam at Snettisham, and Rob P heading to Heacham North for the falling tide before joining the rest of the team at the (hopefully successful) catch.

With all jobs for the morning assigned and no net to set the team’s attention quickly turned to ‘the bar’ and were reminded to settle up with the drinks tin which, as Kirsty pointed out, may well be older than some members of the team.

Saturday 6 November

The team was up 04:45 and at Heacham N for ~06:00 to find a higher tide than expected, exacerbated by a moderate onshore wind. By 07:30 the tide had receded enough to allow a single small mesh net to be set on the beach. A paucity of many birds further along the beach and an increasing number of dog walkers appearing as the beach became exposed led to a rather short wait for base camp. A small catch of Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher was made and was followed by a smooth tent lift as demonstrated the night before. Notable birds from the catch included a juvenile Ringed Plover with near immaculate plumage (which caused some confusion in the processing team), and a retrapped juvenile Sanderling from Norway which Rob R informed the team was one of few (if not the first) first year Sanderling retrapped along this migration route since ~1995.

A Ringed Plover in the hand, being examined with the wing extended. Photo by Rob Robinson.
Examining a Ringed Plover, by Rob Robinson
Ringed Plover606

During the catch Bernard and Carole went recceing/ resighting and found ~200 Oystercatchers and ~12 Knot at the Snettisham dam at high tide. Along the tideline at Snettisham beach there was a further flock of 50+ Grey Plover amongst some more Dunlin/ Sanderling. They then found 450 more Oystercatchers in three groups on Heacham S beach.

The team then headed back to base to an excellent breakfast made by Kirsty, Sophie T, and Max and to make plans for the rest of the day (thanks to Ian B and Tim for putting in a second consecutive shift on washing up!). Lucy then briefed the team on the plan to go for the flock of Knot found by Rob P at Heacham North on Sunday morning’s falling tide, with a single large mesh net to be again be set in the morning as soon as the tide allowed. After breakfast the team said goodbye to Chris, Ian C, Seb, and Yunlong (who had ringed his first wader, a Sanderling, that morning!).

With the evening’s weather looking too windy for mist netting a plan to resight on the afternoon’s rising tide was masterminded by Rob P. Four teams of resighters were sent to inland field sites to look for flagged Curlew and a further two teams were sent directly to the beach. The field teams later joining the others to cover the beach from Snettisham to Hunstanton as high tide approached.

The field teams had limited success with flagged birds making up a low proportion of those Curlew present (there was just one flagged Curlew in a flock of 54 near Great Bircham). A small number of flags on fields were also read around Ingoldisthorpe and Dersingham. No flagged birds were found in the teapot field or around Ken Hill and Heacham NN.

On the beach the team fared little better; the tide had cut and most of the team were frustratingly left able to see birds with rings/ flags that were too distant to read. However, with persistence, a dozen more Curlew flags and a handful of Turnstone colour combinations were read.

The resighting team returned with the fading of the light and was treated to a Thai coconut curry (at a choice of spice levels) made by Sara, Alex and Cathy. This was then followed by a very difficult choice between chocolate hazelnut tray bake or apple crumble with ice cream.

After dinner and resighting reports Richard, Kirsty, and Rob R headed back out to Snettisham to test whether a night scope on loan from BTO may be useful in locating roosting waders on the beach. After spending a while searching with the scope and finding just a few rather large waders (also known as geese) they returned to base. Despite this limited success, it was noted that the scope could merit from some future testing and could potentially prove very useful in locating birds at roost.

The team had also now been joined by a film crew (Josh and Rhodri) who were putting together a film on the birds of The Wash for Josh’s dissertation. The crew had joined the catch of Curlew on the previous Wash weekend and were hopeful of filming the catch of Knot planned for Sunday morning.

At the end of the evening the team was treated to a reading of some morally dubious storybooks of Skye’s by Katharine, Rob R and Chantal which provided much entertainment.

Sunday 7 November

At first light half of the team returned to some of the inland fields from 07:00 to continue to look for Curlew flags, and then again on to the beaches from Snettisham to Hunstanton with plans to re-join the setting team for the planned catch at 09:30. However, the tide was again higher than expected and had made enough to delay the setting team by 90 minutes giving the resighters some extra time in the field(s). This delay also gave Sam enough time to go and check in on some Curlew GPS-tagged by the group in October (N2 and N3) found by Cathy nearby in the Teapot field. Overall, half of the Curlew caught and flagged on the previous weekend trip were resighted during the weekend!

Photo of the ringing team lifting the net into position on the shingle beach, by Sara Miller
The team lifts the net into position 20 minutes before the catch was made, watched on by the film crew. Photo by Sara Miller.

To make the most of the little time available before the tide dropped too low to catch, the team laid out and furled the net, and connected the projectiles, cannons and droppers while little beach was exposed. As the tide fell the net was then lifted into position in record time and connected up (a hurried changing of a chocolate block on the beach providing some additional jeopardy).

Almost immediately, birds started to settle near the catching area and were promptly twinkled into position by Cathy and Richard. Soon (<20 minutes after setting) the net was fired and an excellent catch of Knot and a handful of Oystercatcher and Sanderling was made. Rather nicely, given the location of the catching area, all the team (including the film crew) and many members of the public were able to watch the catch take place.


Given the number of Knot to be colour ringed and the size of the team, two (and ultimately three) flagging teams were established alongside one (and ultimately two) processing teams, providing many training opportunities. All but one of the Knot were juveniles, and all were fitted with a flag. Of interest amongst the Oystercatchers was a bird that had been colour-ringed and fitted with a GPS tag by the group in November 2020. Sam then had the chance to do a thorough inspection of the bird and its harness before removing the tag and releasing the bird.

Given its very public location, the catch provided a great opportunity for public engagement with many passers-by showing an interest in what the large group of slightly dishevelled people were up to on the beach. So a big thanks are due in particular to Tim, Cathy, and Sam for doing some excellent PR for the group.

After finishing processing the team then returned to the base for a 16:00 ‘breakfast’ prepared by Cathy, Alex, Alice, and Sophie. Josh and Rhodri then thanked the group for their help during filming and seemed very pleased with the footage that they were able to record of the catch (they will be sending over the finished piece over to the team when it is ready). At a debrief by Richard and Lucy it was confirmed that the flooding risk for that evening was too great to carry out any mist-netting on the marsh (at least for those who wanted to avoid a midnight swim). All the team agreed that the weekend had been a great success and that it was particularly lovely to have real age range of team members (spanning seven decades!). The majority of the team then left for home with a few team members staying for a final resighting session on the Monday morning (during which Carole and Bernard would resight six of the Knot flagged that weekend at Snettisham pits!).

Resighting totals

SpeciesTotal SightingsIndividualsWWRGNon-WWRG
Turnstone181318 0
Bar-tailed Godwit22 02

The resighting totals for knot include 6 birds ringed on Sunday morning, and then resighted on the following morning by Carole and Bernard.

Trip Ringing Totals

Ringed Plover606