26 Sep 2017

Calidris canutus - Knot ringing at Altcar

An invitation to help canon netting Knot as part of  long term colour flagging / marking project came my way recently and  I couldn't resist. The project was instigated with the following aims in mind:

The aim of catching at Formby Point is to colour mark a sample of Knot as part of a long running study in Norway and Iceland trying to show the differences in migration routes to Greenland and Canada of the Icelandica knot.  Typically in spring and autumn very few Knot on the West coast are being seen with colour marks.  This increases over winter and drops again in spring.  Colour marking birds in Autumn, along with recording moult, should provide an insight into whether these birds generally migrate via Iceland rather than the more traditionally studied route via Norway.

A lot of behind the scenes work went on to get permission off the MOD to access the site via Altcar training camp and a large team of people from SCAN, South West Lancs Ringing Group & Hilbre Bird Observatory duly turned up at the gatehouse with the required identification.

Nets were set on the beach where Knot had been congregating over previous high tides and the waiting game began....... so did the rain. Lying quietly, virtually motionless and out of site in the dunes in a rain storm waiting for the feathered canutes to decide they couldn't force the tide to turn wasn't exactly pleasant.

The view from base camp - it looks a bit grim!

As part of the base camp team we couldn't see anything and daren't show ourselves incase  we disturbed the birds but as the high tide came closer we could hear the sounds of Knot, Dunlin, Sanderling and Grey Plover all around us. 

Finally the order to fire came and we ran down to the net to make sure it was clear of the water and start extracting the birds. Only then did we realise how big a catch we'd made. 

Once the birds were safely extracted and put into holding cages to keep them safe, dry and warm we set about building a temporary ringing station with gazebos, tarpaulins and tents to try and provide some shelter from the intermittent rain showers.

Pop up ringing station.

What a catch! 
Final totals were: 1155 Knot (only 8 juveniles though) including 44 controls.

One of the few juvenile Knot showing typical scaly plumage. Sanderling and Knot breed in the same areas and have obviously had a very poor breeding season.

                               374 Sanderling (only 12 juveniles) including 46 controls of which 3 were from   
                                 75 Dunlin (46 juveniles) including 2 controls including 1 from Norway
                                   4 Grey Plover - all adults.
A grand total of 1,610 birds - the biggest catch by a long margin that I've ever been involved with. 

I even got a new species to add to my list of birds ringed when I was fortunate enough to be able to ring one of the Grey Plover. What stunning birds. 

 However, this is what the day was all about. Colour ringed Knot.

Please keep an eye out for these birds - we've already had one sighted on the Wirral, 10 km from the ringing site, the next day! 

After a gruelling but satisfying day I got home around 19.00 had a curry, a few beers and a shower (well, actually, it was beer, curry, beer, shower, beer) and set the alarm to do it all again with the SCAN team the following morning. This time it was N Wales and the target species was Oystercatcher! Another good catch was made but this time the weather was warm and dry. 

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