The Norwegian Connection: a tale of two journeys

One of the most visible birds on The Wash beaches must be the Oystercatcher. With its distinctive black and white plumage, orange bill and strident ‘kleep’ call, it’s certainly hard to miss! But where do ‘our’ Oystercatchers go when they leave The Wash? The map summarises the international movements of ‘our’ Oystercatchers – the red triangles are birds ringed abroad and found on The Wash, the blue dots are birds we ringed that were found abroad. It is clear that there is a really strong connection between The Wash and Norway – which is where most of the Oystercatchers wintering on The Wash go to breed. Most of these reports are of metal-ringed birds but, in recent years, we and other groups have used colour marks and tags to track movements in greater detail, and these sometimes produce very rapid feedback.

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Oystercatchers and shellfish

Back in the winter of 1992/93 Wash Group members noticed far more Oystercatchers than usual were feeding inland – on grass verges, in the middle of roundabouts and on the lawn at Sandringham. The Oystercatchers we caught had stopped moulting part way through, presumably to preserve energy and we found many hundreds of corpses on the shore. This led to an investigation of what had happened and, of course, the answer was complicated – but WWRG data helped to unravel the mystery. The Oystercatchers had encountered a ‘perfect storm’ of unusually cold weather combined with low stocks of both Mussels and Cockles – the preferred food of many of them – and a popular human food as well. Work with BTO, Eastern Inshore Fisheries & Conservation Authority (EIFCA, then the Eastern Sea Fisheries Joint Committee), the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and Richard Stillman at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), showed the importance of balancing numbers of shellfish taken by the fishermen and the birds to ensure that there were sufficient for both as well as maintaining a breeding stock of shellfish, so that the supply continues. Understanding these balances, what might change them and how to react to changes (Adaptive Harvest Management) is a vital part of managing fisheries.

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Fieldwork February 2022

Thursday 17 February

In anticipation of the coming Storm Eunice, Kirsty arrived at the base late afternoon, opened up and replaced the dripping tap glands. Lizzie and Ryan arrived later in the evening after collecting keys from Cathy. Plans were made for recces in the morning, provided it did not look too windy.

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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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