Devon and Cornwall Wader Ringing Group

setting mist nets - Tim Frayling.jpg

The main objective was to catch at up to 6 juvenile oystercatchers to enable the remaining 6 UHF GPS (which downloads data to a base station) tags to be deployed. Mist netting early in the autumn is the better as early in the season there are a good proportion of juveniles, but they tend to spend less time at the roost and more time feeding on fields as the season goes on. After being unable to muster a large enough team in August, we had a great response and assembled a team of 12 people for our first session of 2021. After collecting the group’s 18 foot long poles from the RSPB base from Exminster Marshes, Tim Frayling arrived on site to transfer kit from his car to Dave Scott’s truck. From 4.30pm the rest of the team started to assemble and despite problems with trying to find a petrol station with any fuel left, the Cornwall contingent arrived in good time and we walked down to the site via the Warren Golf club track. Fortunately, we had a large team that carried the poles down following Dave’s truck, which was carrying all the kit.

The plan was to set 2 lines of nets around the island roost in front of the hide, however as we had a large team and plenty of nets this was adapted following a suggestion by Robbie Phillips to add a ‘T’ at the end of each line. Despite the fact that on every session there are 1,000+ oystercatchers at the Dawlish Warren roost, we only ever catch a small fraction of these so anything we can do to improve the changes of a catch is taken. The set was a line of a 4 nets in the direction of the hide to Finger Point, with single nets at 90 degrees at the end of the line. A second line, also with a ‘T’ at 90 degrees to the line, in the direction of the railway was set, a total of twelve 12 metre nets.

Dawlish Warren Nets 2021 09 25Line of nets with T near Island roost © T Frayling

Weather conditions were favourable with a cloudy sky and 6mph winds coming from the south. With the nets up at 18.45, a few hours before high tide, we set up the base camp on the golf course just behind the hide. Once the fish and chip order was taken, two of the team departed to collect the food, and we waited for darkness. The presence of two fisherman with bright headtorches kept the oystercatchers off Finger Point, and for most of the time the birds were in the ‘recharge’ area in the compartments where we normally set the cannon nets. Watching with the night vision scope we could see two birds in the net, were extracted and taken back to be ringed and processed, just before high tide at 10pm. With new members of the team it was an opportunity for people to ring oystercatchers for the first time. Robbie Phillips led the ringing and processing, including checking the various biometrics, which includes various bill measurements including bill length, bill depth, and bill tip measurements. Once processed the birds were all colour ringed, including an uncoded blue ring above the metal ring to indicate that bird has been GPS tagged. The two adult birds were then tagged by Andy Hoodless with Tim Frayling, who is training to fit tags. The two adult birds were fitted with GSM- GPS tags (which do not rely on a base station as they use the mobile phone network). At 22.20 another two adult oystercatchers were caught, processed and kept in keeping cages in the dark so they could be tagged. The next net check produced another 4 birds were caught, including 3 juveniles, which was fantastic news as we wanted juveniles for tagging. Around 23.15 with the tide dropping some of the team went out to take the nets down and found more birds in the net. The total catch was 12 oystercatchers, 7 were juvenile and 5 were adult. This was fantastic as it allowed to deploy our remaining 6 UHF tags on juveniles, and 5 GSM-GPS tags on adults.

Dawlish Warren Ringing 2021 09 25AAdult oystercatcher ‘CT’ © D Scott Dawlish Warren Ringing 2021 09 25BJuvenile oystercatcher ‘EE’ © D Scott

Once the nets had been taken down, some of the team headed back home carrying the poles, and Andy, Tim, and Robbie continued to tag the remaining birds, eventually finishing at around 0245. Simon Lee and Tim dropped the poles back at Exminster at 3am. Thanks to the team: Tim Frayling, Robbie Phillips, Andrew Hoodless, Dave Scott, Jon Turner, Ben Rousseau, Thomas Weston, Charlotte Foot, Sally Kunzig, Kate Fox, Simon Lee and Kevin Rylands. Thanks also to Steve, Stephen and Phil at Teignbridge Council for allowing permission, and for providing chest waders to some of the team. We are also very grateful to the Warren Golf Club for allowing access and letting us process the birds on the golf course.

Species Ringed Retraps Controls Colour ringed GPS tagged
Oystercatcher 12 0 0 11 11

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.

Species Ringed Retraps Controls Colour ringed GPS tagged
Oystercatcher 11 0 0 10 2
Dunlin 1 0 0 1 0
Redshank 5 0 0 0 0

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.

Species Ringed Retraps Controls Colour ringed GPS tagged
Curlew 9 0 0 9 0
Bar-tailed Godwit 15 0 0 0 0
Black-tailed Godwit 1 0 0 0 0
Redshank 3 0 0 0 0
Dunlin 2 0 0 2 0

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.

Species Ringed Retraps Controls Colour ringed GPS tagged
Curlew 8 0 0 8 5
Grey Plover 2 0 0 2 0
Lapwing 2 0 0 0 0
Woodcock 1 0 0 0 0

Mist-netting Background

The use of mist-nets on high tides during the hours of darkness is less selective in which species are caught, but this technique provides us with  additional opportunities to catch and ring waders in the region. A mist-net catch can usually be managed with a smaller team and without the need for a specialist cannon net license holder or the preparatory work needed to reconnaisace precise roost sites and set cannon nets in advance of the planned catch tide.

Our focus on the Exe estuary is the wintering Oystercatcher population and this species is our primary target for mist-netting as we aim to catch birds flying into the high-tide roosts.

Oystercatchers are faithful to wintering sites so the birds you have seen here years ago may be the same ones now. The oldest Dawlish Warren Oystercatcher on record is at least 36 years old, last seen in Jan 2018.

If you see a bird with one of our colour rings, please use the form on this website to send us the details (ring-code, date, location, species) or you can send email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 

Mist-netting totals

2020 year totals

Species Ringed Retraps Controls Colour ringed
Oystercatcher 11 0 0 10
Dunlin 3 0 0 3
Redshank 8 0 0 0
Curlew 17 0 0 17
Bar-tailed Godwit 15 0 0 0
Black-tailed Godwit 1 0 0 0
Grey Plover 2 0 0 2
Lapwing 2 0 0 0
Woodcock 1 0 0 0

2021 year totals

Species Ringed Retraps Controls Colour ringed
Oystercatcher 12 0 0 11

Grand totals

Species Ringed Retraps Controls Colour ringed
Oystercatcher 47 0 0 44
Dunlin 12 0 0 8
Redshank 11 0 0 0
Curlew 17 0 0 17
Bar-tailed Godwit 15 0 0 0
Black-tailed Godwit 1 0 0 0
Grey Plover 2 0 0 2
Lapwing 2 0 0 0
Woodcock 1 0 0 0
Knot 1 0 0 0
Greenshank 1 0 0 0

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