Devon and Cornwall Wader Ringing Group

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The Covid-19 pandemic has had and continues to have a significant impact on all our lives. It has affected our health and limited our ability to see friends and family, travel and conduct work as normal.  Throughout the pandemic, there has been a constant review of ringing activities by the BTO. The DCWRG committee has kept the guidance under discussion with the aim to enable 2020-21 fieldwork within the rules and in a way which minimises risks to our members, stakeholders and collaborators. In late August, after the compilation of current guidance, a review of procedures adopted by other ringing groups and completion of a thorough risk assessment by the DCWRG committee; it was decided that mist-netting sessions could be appropriately held whilst following a Covid-19 protocol and on the approval of our site landowners. Shortly before our first scheduled mist-netting session, we received the approval of our Covid-19 risk assessment and working protocol from both Devon Wildlife Trust and Teignbridge Council enabling the first session to go ahead. Unfortunately, due to only having a few days to organise it and the need for experienced people under the CV-19 protocol, we had to be selective at who was asked to attend this first session. A team of 6 met at Dawlish at 1830 on the 7th September with the overall objective of catching juvenile Oystercatchers to deploy our remaining 9 GPS-UHF tags as part of the ongoing Exe Oystercatcher Study.

Dawlish Warren Nets 2020 09 07Sunset at the Island, showing both lines of mist-nets © David Scott

Two lines of full height nets were set shortly after sunset, 1 heading from the hide towards the point and the second at 90’ heading towards the railway. The team retreated to wait for dark and to allow Oystercatchers already in the area to settle down. Under our CV-19 risk assessment, we cannot use the hide at Dawlish due to issues with social distancing and the increased risk of working in enclosed spaces, so the team enjoyed a meal of fish and chips kindly delivered by Nik Ward in the dunes behind the hide (Thanks to Nik!). Shortly after dark, the tape lures were deployed. This time at a slightly quieter level and using a breeding season call which Ryan Burrell had received from another wader researcher. 

After a few blank rounds, as the tide approached, a single juvenile Dunlin was caught and promptly colour-ringed and released. This is the 8th Dunlin now colour-ringed in the estuary as part of our colour-ringing project. As the tide drew closer, the numbers of Oystercatchers, Redshank and Dunlin rose across the Warren, with estimates using the thermal scope of approximately 300 Oystercatchers spread between the Island, Recharge Area and Finger Point. As high tide approached, we were lucky to catch small groups of Oystercatchers and Redshank as they moved between roost locations. Finally, a further two Oystercatchers were caught shortly before the nets were taken down at 2230. After the kit was taken in, all birds were ringed, colour-ringed where appropriate and released. The two juvenile Oystercatchers were GPS-tagged by Lizzie Grayshon and Ryan Burrell before being released. 

Fantastically, after only a few days committed DCWRG colour-ring resighter, Lee Collins has already seen many of the newly marked Oystercatchers and the Dunlin back at the Warren. Hopefully, the first movements of our tagged juveniles have already been downloaded to the base station at Finger Point. 

The DCWRG committee wishes to extend a special thanks to the Steve, Stephen and Phil of Teignbridge Council for allowing us to access the site and for providing sanitised waders to team members who needed them. Thanks also go to Devon Wildlife Trust and the Warren Golf Club for allowing our continued access to the site under the current situation.

Dawlish Warren Ringing 2020 09 07Adult Oystercatcher AV (age - 8) newly colour-ringed (left) and a newly tagged (white-arrow) juvenile Oystercatcher CE.

After a successful catch of waders in early February on a field adjacent to RSPB Exminster Marshes Reserve, a second attempt on the same field and on RSPB Exminster Marshes Reserve was eagerly anticipated.

With a new moon on the 23 February and high tides several hours after sunset, the entire week of the 24-28 February appeared suitable. However, stormy weather conditions predominated, restricting our options. Winds were forecast to relent for a short while on Thursday evening, so a session was planned and a team assembled. In the event conditons were near perfect for mist-netting. The objective of the session was to target Curlew and continue colour-ringing of this species on the Exe, to add to the 7 birds already colour-ringed.

Due to the later sunset time of 17:51 and larger team as well a new familiarity with the site, the team assembled 2 hours later than last trip, this time meeting at 17:00. On arrival 21 curlews were located feeding on field 13 (left field, non-RSPB), before these lifted over onto the marsh. A near identical net set to early February was put up, with 2-shelf nets set on 2 large freshwater pools. With and increased team of 9 ringers and 5 helpers we had the ability to also set nets in field 14 (right field, RSPB). This field comprised of a series of fantastic new habitat recently created by the RSPB, with engineered scrapes and ridges running between pools. Two lines of full height wader nets were set around these scrapes.

Nets set in field 13, Exminster MarshesNets set in field 13, Exminster Marshes

With dusk pretty much over by the time nets were set, the sounds-lures were put out and the first net round conducted. This produced a surprise of 7 Curlew coming in to roost early, which were quickly ringed, colour-ringed and released. Soon after this we had a second round producing a further 2 Curlew one from each field and 8 godwit. From this point on from each net round up to and beyond high tide we ringed small numbers of waders plus two Wigeon and a Mallard.

All 9 curlew were colour ringed taking the group total to 16 marked birds and the late addition dunlins added two more to the colour-ring study. Curlew were all aged as adult and the rest of the waders made up a mix of both first winter and adult birds in a 50/50 split. The mallard was an adult female and both wigeon adult males. No Curlew were fitted with GPS-GSM tags during this session as these will be saved for tagging of more birds in subsequent winters.

Exminster Marshes Birds 2020 02 27Adult Dunlin, adult female Curlew and adult male Wigeon

Exminster Marshes Bar tailed Godwit 2020 02 27Juvenile Bar-tailed GodwitThis session produced excellent results and based on the colour-ring recoveries by our committed resighters so far will contribute excellent resighting data for future survival analyses. With a large team and a large range of expertise this session gave us the opportunity to undertake training of new DCWRG members and involve RSPB staff in the ringing process. The RSPB team’s enthusiasm and passion for waders matched our own, with discussions about how the data colour ringing and tagging can improve our understanding wader special ecology, survival and how waders use the wetlands and marsh around the Exe Estuary. Thanks, must go to the RSPB and David King for allowing us permission of operate on their land, for supporting our projects and the expansion of our knowledge of waders in the Exe Estuary.

In late December, a potential option for catching Curlew on the RSPB Exminster Marshes Reserve and surrounding wet fields was identified by WeBS counter James Diamond who covers that segment of the shore (thanks James!). Curlew and a mix of other wader had been coming up on to these fields at high tide, both during the day and at night. After work by Ryan Burrell and Tim Frayling in January, permission was secured for targeted mist-netting on RSPB Exminster Marshes and nearby fields from a private landowner to support our colour-ringing and GPS-tracking studies.

The objective of session on these holdings was to target Curlew to commence our fitting of the 10 GPS-GSM tags we secured through the Natural England grant. After inspection of moon phase and tides, recces by local DCWRG members and after discussion with other successful Curlew mist-netters, Ryan concluded that our best chance would be the end of February but that also an attempt could be made at the beginning of Feburary. Though the tides and moon phase and his availability to fit the GPS tags ruled out any catching taking place then. Due to an opening in Ryan’s schedule, the decision was made on the morning of Saturday 1 February to conduct a pilot session the following evening despite the unsuitable conditions of a bright moon and low high tide meaning catching was highly unlikely.

Setting nets at Exminster Marshes 1 Feb 2020 websiteSetting nets at Exminster Marshes 1 Feb 2020

An hour or so after dusk, 2 Lapwing and a Woodcock were caught. This was a surprise, as the moon was still bright, and both these species are known to be good at identifying and avoiding nets. Several rounds later, in advance of high tide, a single Grey Plover was caught. As with the Lapwing and Woodcock before it, this was a very welcome first for the group, especially as we have a colour-ringing scheme registered for this species. Half an hour before high tide, when the team had all but given up hope that the Curlew were going to be pushed from the estuary by the tide, a flock of ~20 Curlew circled above the field and landed in the freshwater pools, 6 were caught and promptly extracted, during which time a further two Curlew and a single Grey Plover were caught. Five GPS-GSM tags were deployed on Curlew in total (3 Females and 2 Males), with the remainder held for winter 2020/21. These will record a fix every hour for potentially the next 2-3 years tags but unlike those which we have used on the Oystercatcher’s at Dawlish, transmit their data via the mobile phone network, approximately every 21 days.

Birds ringed at Exminster Marshes 1 Feb 2020Birds ringed at Exminster Marshes 1 Feb 2020

This session was a really exciting development for the group and our projects, with a further session planned in late Feburary to fit further colour-marks. Thanks must go to the RSPB and David King for allowing us permission to operate on their land and for supporting the project to allow us to expand our knowledge of waders in the Exe Estuary.

Aims

The aims of the Devon and Cornwall Wader Ringing Group are to study the wading birds that live in, or pass through, Devon and Cornwall.

We hope to undertake fieldwork approximately once a month, mainly at weekends, involving either mist-netting or the use of a cannon net. Members of the group live across Britain, although many are based in Devon. A key site for fieldwork is the Exe Estuary and in particular Dawlish Warren National Nature Reserve, where we have a project on colour ringed Oystercatcher.

Birds are marked with individually numbered metal leg rings and, to aid relocation without the need to recapture them, with colour rings. Under special license we are also fitting GPS tags to a small number of birds to help understand the way they use the habitats around the estuary through the winter and at different states of the tide.

The group welcomes volunteer ringers from anywhere who are interested in taking part in the fieldwork.

Links

The Dawlish Warren Recording Group publish regular updates on the birds seen at Dawlish Warren.

The county bird clubs are Devon Birds and the Cornwall Bird Watching and Preservation Society.

Bird ringing in Britain is licensed and coordinated by The British Trust for Ornithology. More information on why we ring birds and why we use colour marks on our study species can be found here. Bird ringing in Europe is coordinated by EURING.

The definitive database of all colour-marking schemes for waders in Europe and the East Atlantic flyway is available on the International Wader Study Group website. All editions of their publications (Wader Study, Wader Study Group Bulletin and International Wader Studies) are available online

For species other than waders the European colour-ring Birding website, voluntarily maintained by Dirk Raes, should be useful.

Acknowledgements

The group operates with the excellent support of Teignbridge District Council and Devon Wildlife Trust as landowners of Dawlish Warren. Warren Golf Club kindly allow access across their land.

We are also grateful to he RSPB and David King for allowing us to operate on their land at Exminster Marshes and to Torridge District Council for co-ordinating permissions at Northam Burrows.

The value of the projects would not be fully realised without the excellent re-sighting work undertaken and publicised by the Dawlish Warren Recording Group.

We are grateful to Natural England for funding the rings and GPS tags, and for providing staff time for ongoing management of the projects. We are also grateful to the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) for staff time for fitting the GPS tags, organising the project and dealing with data. Devon Birds have generously provided some funding for colour rings.

Header images on this website are licensed under the Creative Commons license by the photographers.

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