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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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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Remembering Mike Watson

The members of the Wash Wader RG were very sorry to hear that one of our longest-standing members, Mike Watson, has died. Mike started coming to the Wash over 60 years ago while at university, where he and Daphne met and got together while catching Swifts at Cambridge Sewage Farm – ringers are nothing if not romantic. Although never officially a ringer, Mike has been a WWRG stalwart ever since, known for his awesome cooking skills, expert recceing and reliable scribing. Mike hasn’t been able to join us since before Covid, and we were already missing him and Daphne. Our thoughts are with Daphne and the family – all of whom have been out catching waders at some point in their lives. There will be an obituary in our next biennial report.

We miss you Mike!

Photo above: Mike scribing for a ‘vintage’ team on the occasion of Clive Minton’s last visit to the Wash – Heacham, September 2018. From left: Clive, Mike, Steve Dodd and Daphne Watson. Photo by Cathy Ryden.