Fieldwork October 2019

Friday 25 October – Sunday 27 October

The weekend was dominated by the usual complexities of weather with constant changes to the forecast in the week leading up to the field work which presented challenges to the organisers. It was also the weekend of the annual change in time from BST to GMT (why does this happen so often on a Wash weekend?). An additional complication was the Rugby World Cup semi-finals with England playing New Zealand on Saturday morning. With a combination of these factors, it was going to be an interesting weekend . . .

Plan A

Participants received the usual plan for the weekend early in the week from our wonderful organiser Ruth. The plan for the weekend was as follows: to mist net on the morning tide on Saturday and cannon net on the evening tide (weather and birds willing). With high tide at 05:23, participants were advised that they may wish to ‘arrive at a decent hour to allow for some sleep on Friday night before an early start!’

Plan B

By Friday morning it was clear that there would be no mist netting on Saturday morning due to wind and rain. Jacquie let everyone know the revised plan so that people could revise their arrival times (an early night was no longer so essential). The new plan included the possibility of resighting on Saturday morning and to undertake some data checking from the summer catches. It was thought that the weather front would have cleared through in time for cannon-netting on Saturday afternoon (although still likely to be wet for setting).


Jen and Kirsty found a couple of hundred Oystercatcher on Heacham beach during a recce on Friday afternoon which provided a possible catching attempt for Saturday afternoon.

Plan C

Once tea was eaten and everyone had arrived at the base house, a briefing was given by Nigel and Rob P. Nigel confirmed that the weather was not conducive to mist netting (and there was therefore no need to get up in the middle of the night). Rob then gave the plans for a fairly narrow window (06:40−07:40) on the falling tide for resighting on Saturday morning as an alternative to mist netting. Complex plans were made for resighting, including a trip to the pub for breakfast for those who were keen to watch the rugby.  

Plan D

Once the cars etc. had been organised, there was a sudden realisation that it was still rather dark at 06:40 when we were due to be on the beach. Rob explained that his timings had all been based on GMT times which would come into effect from Sunday morning! Very pleased that the mistake had been noticed before everyone arrived on the beach in the dark, Rob hastily rubbed all his notes and drawings form the board and a new plan was created, mainly involving the all-important trip to the pub for the rugby. The plan was for the trailer to be packed at 07:00, leaving for the pub at 08:15 with the non-rugby team members having a later start with data checking (and data inputting) as the morning’s activity. The team then planned to meet at Heacham beach at 12:00 to set two cannon nets for a possible catch of Oystercatchers.

Team members watching the rugby in the pub
Team members watching the rugby in the pub

In my experience of Wash trips, visits to the pub have never featured much for the obvious reasons that they tend not to be conducive to either evening mist netting or ridiculously early starts so this was a somewhat unusual occurrence (particularly at breakfast time!).

Plan E

Nigel’s final comment to Jacquie as he left for the pub was to the effect that he had had second thoughts about the possibility of cannon netting in the afternoon as all weather forecasts were now predicting rain until around 19:00 (had the weather forecasts really changed or had Nigel’s optimism of the previous evening been enhanced by the gin?). By the end of the rugby, it had been confirmed that cannon netting was not sensible, either for the birds or for us.

Plan F

Once everyone had returned to the OSH and breakfast had been eaten and cleared away, a further briefing was held during which plans were made for an early morning mist netting session on Sunday morning, possibly also including some resighting depending on the catch. Plan F was clearly (or maybe not so clearly) laid out on the board both for the jobs to be undertaken in the afternoon and for mist nesting on Sunday morning.

Plan G

So – the jobs were started and dinner cooked and somewhere along the way it was decided (surprise, surprise) that the weather was going to be too windy (but only just the wrong side of borderline) for mist netting. So, a new plan (or the rehash of a former plan) with resighting back on the agenda for Sunday morning. Two lots of timings were included on the plan – BST and GMT with almost total confusion over when we would be getting up. In previous times the group had always kept to ‘Wash time’ over these weekends, ignoring the change in the clocks until after the weekend had ended. This has become more difficult with the advent of smart phones which don’t understand this concept and automatically change the time. Nigel had brought his alarm clock specially for this – although it had failed spectacularly to wake him to load the trailer this morning!

Teams were agreed to cover various sites including Snettisham Pits and beach, Heacham beach, Heacham NN beach and the inland field sites at Dersingham and Ingoldisthorpe with a car load of three to four people heading for each site. A few people voted to remain at base to continue with data and maintenance tasks.

Most of the team were up bright and early for resighting on Sunday morning and enjoyed a wonderful morning along the beaches in lovely weather. It was good to get out, especially as some of the team had been confined to the base all day on Saturday. This proved to be a very successful morning with 105 sightings of 79 individual birds of five species, providing a wealth of data for the group. As Nigel pointed out, we would have been unlikely to have recaptured 79 birds in a cannon-net catch.

Resighting Totals for the weekend

Species Sightings Individuals WWRG Non-WWRG
Curlew 47 38 37 1
Bar-tailed Godwit 25 21 20 1
Turnstone 31 18 18 0
Grey Plover 1 1 1 0
Black-headed Gull 1 1 0 1
Total 105 79 75 3

Thanks to everyone for all their help in the various tasks and good humour during a trip where, although no catching attempts were possible, valuable data was collected through a successful resighting session and many jobs were completed including both data input and maintenance tasks. There was time to enjoy the lovely meals preparad by members of the group and to enjoy some relaxed time and conversations.