Ten years of colour-marking Curlew on the Wash – what have we learnt?

Curlew use the Wash both as a passage site to moult during autumn and as a wintering location. On a global scale, they are ‘Near Threatened’ i.e. vulnerable to extinction and they are present in Internationally important numbers on the Wash. Declines in the UK breeding population have placed Curlew in the highest category of UK bird conservation concern; therefore, the species is a priority for the group in terms of long-term conservation monitoring. We started to mark a proportion of the population on the eastern shore of the Wash with unique leg flags in 2012. This allows us to accurately determine their survival and assess wintering habitat use.

Since then, a total of 478 birds have been marked and we have had over 5,000 re-encounters recorded by over 200 WWRG volunteers and members of the public. We regularly dedicate fieldwork hours to ensure we have sufficient resightings to determine survival and winter distribution. This steady stream of data has started to be used in scientific publications to describe the east Wash Curlew population. This blog is a summary of what we have learnt so far.

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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…

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Fieldwork October 2021: Part 2 – the younger generation

The following trip report was written by Sebastian Cooksey, age 14

BOOM! The cannons fired and the best weekend of my life had just started. After lying for around an hour in the grass, we suddenly rushed to our feet and were running to the catch. From first glance, we realised it was a wet catch, nonetheless we waded into the water and started the process of ushering the birds up onto the drier beach. Water flooded into my wellies, but the excitement overpowered the discomfort. When the birds were all up on the beach, nicely rolled into a pocket, we could calm down. I could appreciate what we had caught, lots of pearl-white Sanderlings mixed in with a few Ringed Plovers. We could now start the extracting process and I was going to just stand and watch the experienced ringers have the fun, but Rob encouraged me to go do some extracting and before long I had three Sanderlings in my hand ready to put in keeping boxes. I was really grateful that Rob encouraged me to get involved and I feel like all the other people I met on this trip were all just as welcoming and trusting. This is what made me enjoy this weekend so much.

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Fieldwork October 2021

Plan for the weekend

This was always going to be a challenging weekend! We had a number of targets and hoped to achieve some of them. The weather forecast was for it to be mild, with light winds, but foggy nights and early mornings.

We had arranged for BBC AutumnWatch to come out and film our work but they could only make the Saturday morning. We had still failed to catch a single Curlew on our east shore study area and had ten GPS/GSM tags to deploy. This is the single largest expenditure on a project that the group had made (£12,000) in its 60-year history so we did not want to have to leave them in a box until next year. We then had an Oystercatcher tag that had already been on two Oystercatchers and had just been found on a beach after the silicone harness had broken (as they are meant to do).

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Fieldwork September 2021

Monday 6 September

On Monday the team started to gather properly around lunch time as plans had been made to try for a catch of Grey Plover at Gedney that evening. Cathy had been at the Norfolk base for a couple of days so the house was well set up and ready for everyone to arrive, which soon included Tim, and they got the ‘party tent’ up and ready outside. Katharine arrived next followed by Caroline and Hilary and soon Steve, Alex, Luke, Sarah and Chris were also there. Tents were put up by those who needed them and a baked potato lunch was well appreciated by all (thank you Cathy!). The net set was sorted out for the evening’s catch and, once Sabine arrived, the team headed off to Gedney around 2.20 pm meeting Richard, Ryan and Lizzie there. The single net was set out on the pool identified at the previous Wash week and soon the team was waiting under a tarp for the tide to bring the birds in. Sadly the birds just weren’t quite settled and, with the tide in, the team had to give up for the day and headed home to dinner. During dinner it was confirmed that the licensees thought it was worth a second try at Gedney in the morning so soon everyone headed to bed.

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