Over Halloween weekend I made a trip to Wales to take part in a wader ringing weekend organised by SCAN ringing group coordinated by fellow ex-Curlew field worker Steve Dodd. A busy weekend which involved mist netting Friday night and a cannon “shoot” on Saturday and Sunday. Ringing took place in a nature reserve between Bangor and Conwy in north Wales. After 11 hours of travel (bus x 3, ferry, train & a lift from Rachel), I met the assembled team (in the dark) who had set the mist nets. Base camp was set up (where birds would be ringed and processed) and I borrowed a set of waders (thanks Emilie) to join the extraction team in the wet muddy parts of the reserve.
After a welcome slow start (allowing adjustment to the dark & the mud) the birds arrived and began appearing in the nets attracted by the tapes. We worked carefully, without light where possible, to extract the waders. Despite my experience with passerines, I found the extraction quite difficult, however Steve & Richard were always close by to help and offer tips. About an hour after high tide we closed the nets and went to assist the ringing & processing team. In total 82 Redshank, 34 Dunlin, 2 Curlew, 2 Black-tailed Godwits and a single Knot were caught. Once the last bird was released, all equipment was swiftly packed up and it was home for a few hours sleep before an early start to set cannon nets.
Although this was my second time attending a cannon net “shoot” it was a very different experience. As the nets were being set from scratch each day I got to experience the whole process from start to finish. This gave me more of an understanding and appreciation of how much time, equipment and expertise is involved in cannon netting (and how many factors need to come together for it to work). I was delighted to be involved in many different parts (especially the connecting up the “chocolate blocks“) and everyone made sure I felt like part of the team and was kept busy!
After multiple briefings and what seemed like an eternity (patience is very important!), I heard the magic words “3,2,1” followed by bang. Everyone dashed to the net and got to work covering, extracting, placing birds in keeping cages and finally ringing and releasing.
Once birds were safely in keeping cages, we divided up into teams and the ringing and processing began.
Among the 418 Oystercatchers (the target species for the catch) and 25 Curlew caught we had one Bar-tailed Godwit and one Black-tailed Godwit. I was given the chance to ring the Bar-tailed Godwit and it was a great opportunity to see these two very similar species up close and compare their differentiating features.
About one third of the Oystercatchers caught were already ringed. The majority of these were ringed in previous years by the SCAN group (retraps), with the oldest retrap of the day being 29 years old – older than quite a few members of the ringing group. The record for the longest living Oystercatcher in the BTO ringing scheme currently stands at 40 years, 1 month and 2 days. Among the ringed birds, we had 3 foreign controls, ringed in Iceland including JA a colour ringed bird. Initially I thought the colour ring was not white, but faded yellow meaning it could belong to the Dublin Bay Birds Project, but I was wrong, it was just dirty!
By mid afternoon all birds had been ringed and released and it was time to pack up. Another efficient clean up operation meant more time available for tea drinking and rest. On Sunday morning a net was set in a green field, before high tide, with the aim of catching Curlew. After all equipment was set up, I was given the opportunity to be part of the team that would sit in the hide, so I had a birds eye view of moments before the net being shot.
A few new pieces of equipment were introduced to me, including the hide and the “jiggler” (not the gigolo as I called it) – a simple but useful piece of string used to gentle encourage the birds away from the area immediately in front of the cannons (it appears cannon netting has it’s only set of terminology!)
I thoroughly enjoyed a very well organised weekend catching waders with a group of knowledgeable and friendly ringers. I would definitely recommend a visit for any ringer interested in experiencing cannon netting.
Finally catch totals for the weekend (from my notes):
- 418 Oystercatcher
- 82 Redshank
- 47 Curlew
- 34 Dunlin
- 3 Black-tailed Godwit
- 1 Bar-tailed Godwit
- 1 Knot
Over the last month or two, I have been learning to read again, but in a whole different way – reading colour rings on birds legs! A bit of a specialised skill, I must admit, which involves spending a considerable amount of time standing in one place, staring at birds’ legs through a powerful telescope, looking for coloured bands, which sometimes have letters / numbers inscribed on the ring. It’s a tad embarrassing, but I do get a rush of excitement when I spot a colour ring and huge satisfaction when I finally get all the details! If you are wondering WHY birds get bling like this the BTO explains it all here. And if you happen to see a bird with bling, please tell someone about it – here’s how.
At Omeath, on the south side of Carlingford lough, close to the newly established Greenway, which I must find time to explore properly, I stopped to examine a mixed flock of birds roosting (chilling out, pruning etc.) at the waters edge. I scanned through the birds and was thrilled to spot a blue colour ring on a Common Gull (Larus canus), which I eventually read as 2AHX.
I sent the details to Shane Wolsey from the BTO in Northern Ireland and he was able to tell me that 2AHX was ringed on Copeland Island on the 29th of June 2013 as a pullus (chick). This was the first time the bird has been seen since!
Just across the water in Warrenpoint, I spied a large gathering of gulls on the roof of a warehouse close to the harbour. Before the morning traffic started, I set up the scope on the footpath in the middle of town and began searching through hundreds of legs for a splash of colour. My heart skipped a beat (is this sad?!) as I spotted a white band on the red-ish leg of a Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus). I edged closer, being careful not to get run over, and with a bit of patience and a lot of luck, I managed to read the ring – T5J4.
After asking some local ringers which scheme this bird might belong to, details were sent off to the Polish Ringing Scheme in Gdansk. It turns out this bird was ringed on the 5th of June 2011 as a pullus (chick) and has travelled almost 1,550 km to Warrenpoint – the point obviously has a lot to offer! Black-headed gulls which breed in northern Europe and around the Baltic Sea migrate to western Europe (including Ireland and the UK) for the winter. Check out bhgullsni for all the news on Black-headed gulls in Northern Ireland!