Thursday, 3 April 2014

WWRG weekend

Last weekend I joined my friends at the Wash Wader Ringing Group for a weekend of ringing and colour ring re-sighting. Arriving on Friday evening I was told that we would be having a leisurely evening and going out colour ring resighting the next morning. That was fine with me!

Saturday morning saw me teaming up with Ron to visit Heacham North and Heacham North North beaches. There are usually plenty of turnstone and sanderling on this beach and a high proportion of them are ringed, so the site is normally quite productive. The number of birds present this morning was quite low but the proportion of turnstone carrying colour rings was high which provided us with some great data.

Colour rings allow individual birds to be tracked throughout their lifetime without needing to catch them more than once. This allows information about longevity and movements to be collected very easily and without putting any undue stress on the birds. A morning spent recording fifteen or so individual colour ring combinations is therefore incredibly valuable. If you are out and about and see a colour ringed or flagged bird, please note the details and report it at

Colour ringed turnstone
By 9am, we were back at base and before long we were tucking in to a hearty breakfast which would have to see us through until tea that evening. By mid-morning we were heading down to Heacham South Beach where we set two large mesh nets with the hope of catching some oystercatchers. Catching in the afternoon in lovely warm sunshine is a luxury that we are unaccustomed to, particularly in March, but a warm, sunny beach also has its downside when it comes to trying to catch waders… people! The team members positioned at each end of the beach to chat to members of the public were kept pretty busy and we even had to send someone out to chat to a photographer who had snuck up unnoticed over the sea wall and was quite close to standing on the nets by the time we reached him! That doesn’t happen  at 5:30am!

After the visitor had kindly moved back behind the sea wall, the catching effort resumed but we were not especially hopeful as the birds seemed to be favouring an area further down the beach from our nets. Luckily, things came together just in the nick of time and we were able to make a fantastic catch of 66 oystercatchers and a single turnstone. We processed the catch on the beach so were able to chat to lots of interested passers-by and tell them about the work we were doing and the conservation benefits of ringing. 

As we had a decent sized team and not too many birds, I was able to do some ‘double winging’, which is where two people measure the wing of the same birds to enable a comparison of their measurements to be made (some people measure shorter or longer than others). This data helps to ensure consistency between different ringers. I was very happy that I was pretty consistent with the person I was being compared to on every bird!

When we got back to base, Richard had a quick look at the ringing information for the birds that we had caught that already had rings on. We were astonished to find that one of the birds had been ringed back in 1980! We are waiting to hear how old it was when it was first ringed but whatever the answer, this bird was older than a few of the ringers.

Ringed oystercatcher (not the 34 year old one)
Being at the Wash on weekends when the clocks change can be a little confusing as we stay on GMT for the duration of the trip. Unfortunately, no-one ever tells that to our clever mobile phones. This year I remembered to switch off the alarm on my phone and relied instead on the old fashioned alarm clock that my room-mate had brought with her. Thankfully, this meant that I didn’t get up an hour earlier than necessary as I (and quite a few others) did last year. Getting up at 5am GMT (6am BST) was bad enough!

We spent the morning out colour ring resighting again and this time Ron and I visited Ken Hill looking for flagged curlew. There weren’t too many birds around on the fields that morning and we therefore only managed to find and read one flag, but that is still useful data. The most surprisingly element of the morning was the huge number of brown hares about – in one field alone, we counted fifteen! We were hoping for a bit of boxing action, but had to settle for a minor spat.

Flagged curlew
After another hearty breakfast we held the Group’s AGM before packing up and heading back to our respective parts of the country. 

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