Using data to make a difference

Birth, and copulation, and death.
That’s all the facts when you come to brass tacks:
Birth, and copulation, and death.
I’ve been born, and once is enough.

Although not involved in bird study, these lines from T. S. Eliot encapsulate our current studies of wader populations on The Wash. Bird populations are sustained by recruitment of fledged young into the adult population at an equal rate to the death of individual adults. More recruitment than deaths equals more birds. Unfortunately, the opposite is currently occurring in Eurasian Curlew, which is experiencing population decline. This could be due to not enough chicks being raised to adulthood from each nesting attempt, or alternatively, it could be due to increased death of adult birds. Knowing which factor is more important allows conservation efforts to be prioritised: do we need to protect Curlew nests to improve chick survival or do we need to enhance protection of wintering Curlew to improve adult survival? A recently published paper has explored one part of the equation – survival in Curlew – using data from The Wash, as well as other wader ringers around Britain and Ireland.

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Curlew and winter weather

If there is one preoccupation that unites the British above all others, it is discussion of the weather. The variable dominance of arctic maritime, polar maritime, polar continental, tropical maritime and tropical continental air masses cause rapid and variable changes in weather (and much conversation). Wind and rain can severely curtail fieldwork undertaken by the group; consequently following online weather predictions is fast becoming a collective obsession. The cold, snowy spell last year (22 February – 5 March) was so unusual that the press dubbed it ‘The Beast from the East’. This cold wave was officially named ‘Anticyclone Hartmut’, and brought widespread, unusually low temperatures and heavy snowfall to large areas. It combined with Storm Emma, which made landfall in southwest England and southern Ireland on 2 March. A milder repeat episode dubbed the ‘Mini-Beast from the East’ occurred on the weekend of 17 March 2018.

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Curlew and the WWRG

The Wash is one of a small number of sites of international importance in the UK for the Eurasian Curlew population (the only UK site that supports greater numbers being Morecambe Bay), with peak counts exceeding 8,500 during autumn passage. The Wash Wader Ringing Group has undertaken ringing studies of this charismatic wader for over 50 years and has contributed considerably to our understanding of the UK Curlew population. Metal ring recoveries of birds marked by the group indicate that most birds using the Wash breed in Finland and Sweden, with a smaller proportion coming from breeding sites within the UK.

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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.

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Fieldwork November 2017

Friday 17 November

This was a second weekend for the group with no opportunity for making a cannon net catch. However, there was a double opportunity for mist netting, along with the usual colour ring resighting on one tide. The mist netting sessions were initially planned for the high tides on both Saturday morning and Saturday evening but, as with all WWRG field trips, this was dependent on the weather.

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