Fieldwork March 2023 (part 1)

Friday 10 March

Lizzie and Guy braved the freezing winds to recce at first light. Guy walked south from Heacham to view Heacham South beach from one viewpoint, whilst Lizzie walked north from Snettisham car park to check Snettisham and gain a different view of Heacham South. Despite normally being a prime spot for Oystercatchers, only 10 were present close to the usual catching area just south of the tump. Clearly sheltering from the inclement conditions, they were hunkered down amongst the tidewrack at the top of the beach. Guy visited Heacham North, to find another 60 behaving much the same – just 100 m north of the South beach access point. It was noted this was unusual behaviour for the roosting birds, as this area is often very busy with visitors. Guy then went on to Heacham North North beach and found 90 Oystercatchers split into three groups – 60, 20 and 10. Additionally, there were ca. 100 Turnstone, Sanderling and Ringed Plover scattered across the beach. Almost no beach was visible at this point, because of the unusually strong wave action and tide height. Again, the birds were right on the upper edge of the beach along the tidewrack – their behaviour clearly being affected by the strong winds.

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Fieldwork February 2023

Friday 24 February


Cathy recced on Friday morning. Snettisham and Heacham beaches were being ‘recharged’ (moving sand onto the beach, before the start of the tourist season) and there were also reports of Peregrine and Gyr Falcon at Snettisham Pits. These events may have affected birds’ movements, but Oystercatchers were seen on all the beaches recced, with the birds on Heacham North North being the most reliable. A few Turnstone were also seen, the majority at Heacham South beach, where a flock of ca. 200 Bar-tailed Godwits were also observed.

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Why is that wader white?

We all occasionally see birds with some white feathers and, unless the bird has no colouring at all (albino), we generally put the lack of colouring down to leucism – an absence of pigment in some feathers. However, it’s not that simple – there are number of different types of lack of pigment (van Grouw 2021).

Photo of a leucistic Knot amongst standardly coloured Knot at Snettisham Pits in Norfolk. Photo by Rob Pell
Two other birds with ‘white spotting’ seen on the Wash, both at Snettisham. Photos by Rob Pell
Photo of a leucistic Oystercatcher roosting with other Oystercatchers with standard plumage at Snettisham Pits in Norfolk. Photo by Rob Pell
White-spotted birds are seen regularly, but it is rare for us to know if the cause is leucism or ‘progressive greying’.
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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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