January resighting weekend

Friday 26 January

A small number of people (four WWRG members and two partners) met at the base house on Friday evening in preparation for an intensive day of colour-ring and flag resighting on Saturday. The focus of the trip was to look for Bar-tailed Godwit with WWRG flags. The group is down on resightings of this species compared to the previous winter, with insufficient sightings to undertake a survival analysis.

Rob had identified possible sites where colour marked birds would be likely to be found at the various stages of the tide. The plan was to begin with the beaches along the northern edges of the Wash including Thornham, Holme-next-the-Sea and Heacham North at low tide, moving southwards to Snettisham and Heacham South as it approached high tide. We planned to have lunch at high tide and then look for Curlew in the fields around Snettisham and Heacham.

Saturday 27 January

Three teams, with two people in each, left the base house just before 08:00 and headed for their respective destinations. The weather was reasonably pleasant for the first part of the day, although the wind was already starting to pick up.

Thornham Beach had small numbers of mixed grey waders along the tide edge. One group of 10 Bar-tailed Godwit included one bird with a flag, the only marked bird to be found on this beach. A second group of 14 birds had none with flags. Holme had two groups of Bar-tailed Godwit, one of 44 birds and one of just seven. Neither group had any flagged birds. The third group was more productive on Heacham North Beach with a group of 50 Bar-tailed Godwit, 12 of which were flagged. This supports the theory that groups of birds remain together on their wintering site.

The move to Snettisham/Heacham coincided with a deterioration in the weather, as predicted by the forecast, with light rain turning into increasingly heavy rain with accompanying high winds. The only way to keep the tripods still was to kneel in the wet sand. Fortunately, there were few other people around to observe this strange sight! Good numbers of sightings were made on this section despite the conditions but, as the incoming tide reached the edge of the mudflats, it was time for some relief from the rain and the team headed to Hunstanton for a well-earned lunch in ‘Shoreside Fish and Chips’ where the staff took pity on us and brought us a fan heater along with good portions of hot food.

Warmed and fed, the teams were ready for a final push and headed off to various locations in search of Curlew. Fortunately, the weather had improved whilst we were having lunch and it was no longer raining. A flock of 60 Curlew was located in one of the fields around Heacham but the birds were in long grass making sightings difficult. This flock then lifted and was relocated in another field, also with long grass plus the added challenge of receding light. The team in Snettisham were more fortunate and gained a respectable number of sightings from a flock near the RSPB car park. The third team headed for the high tide roost of Bar-tailed Godwit at Holme and found two more flagged birds to add to the total.

With dusk approaching, the reduction in light rendered even the best telescopes useless in reading any more flags and the team returned to the base house to collate the data and share a hot drink and biscuits.

Resighting totals:

Species Sightings Individuals
Bar-tailed Godwit 31 30
Curlew 27 24
Total 58 54

The data collected increased the overall total of resighted Bar-tailed Godwits for the winter to 55, just reaching the minimum threshold for a survival analysis. It is hoped that the ideal number of 70 birds can be reached in the remaining resighting trips planned for this winter.

Thanks to Rob Pell for organising the resighting trip and for his research into the best places to look for birds.