30 Apr 2023

Back to Altcar

We made it back to Altcar Army base to canon net and flag waders as part of an on going study. A previously planned attempt was cancelled as the gods of wind and rain combined to create a high tidal surge which meant there was no beach for the waders to roost on!  This time, however, the conditions were almost ideal. An offshore wind combined with a hight tide and reports of plenty of birds roosting on site.

Arriving at the base with Chris we soon signed in and waited for the rest of the team to assemble before driving to the site where we set 4 canon nets. From then on it was a waiting game with a small team  of 'lifters' lying quietly in the dunes just behind the nets so we could get there quickly and start lifting when and if the canons were fired. The rest of the team would drive down from the car park where spotters were keeping an eye on the birds moments around the nets to make sure we were  safe to fire

All great in theory if the birds play ball. We could hear birds coming into roost all round us and at one pount had a good number in the catching area but it wasn't safe to fire as there were birds in the air above the net. Still we waited  - then a Sparrowhawk flew through and put everything up! The birds were jittery and and started dispersing so people were dispatched to try and 'twinkle' them back along the beach. Finally on a falling tide a catch was made. I didn't hear the canons fire as I'd been dispatched further dow nthe beach to try and twinkle birds along. Wearing fleece line trousers and chest waders I jogged down the dunes for 20 minutes before emerging on the beach and gradually working my way north again. I didn't have any radio reception and couldn't raise any one on the phone but I guess my mission was successful as when Chris did ring me he told me the team had made a good catch. I reckon I lost 3-4 kg in sweat!

When I eventually arrived back at the catching site I found a very happy team! A good catch had been made of the target species - Knot and Grey Plover  - meaning a meaningful sample could be flagged. We also caught good numbers of Dunlin and Sanderling.

Provisional totals from Richard were:

Grey Plover. New 29.  Retrap 1

Ringed 2019 ~35 sightings since ringing, all around Altcar

Sanderling. New 44.  Retrap 3 

Dunlin. New 366.  Retrap 3 

Knot. New 224.  Retrap 6 
SR77834 - ringed 22/09/2017 Altcar, no flag, no resightings
SK04281 - ringed 27/05/2021 Ainsdale, no flag, no resightings
SR77354 - ringed 30/03/2018 Altcar, was this reflagged? 
SR74747 - ringed 17/01/2010 Penmon Quarry, Beaumaris, no flag, no resightings
SK15325 - ringed 11/09/2022 probably Ynyslas point, TTM flag, only recently first seen
SV56511 - ringed 28/10/2022 Hoylake

A lot of the birds were attaining their breeding plumage and looked stunning - especially the Knot who certainly lived up to their full English name of 'Red Knot'

Hopefully there will be as many sightings of these birds as ones we've previously flagged and the data will provide us with more information about their migrations and stop-over points to aid with their conservation. 

Grey Plover are one of my favourite waders so it was a treat to see them close up. A summer plumaged Grey Plover looks like a dandy highway man with its black mask and silver spangled plumage - the Adam Ant of the wader world. They're very distinctive in flight with the black axillary feathers creating a black 'armpit' which is very visible

The Dunlin were interesting as we had two distinct races in the catch. the majority were schinzzi that winter in the UK but a few were alpina that winter further south. In summer plumage schinzzi has mantle feathers fringed yellow / red (left hand bird in photo below), whilst alpina has mantle feathers chestnut fringed (right hand bird in photo below)

Its always nice to see Sanderling in the hand and some of the birds caught were beginning to get their summer plumage.

All in all a great day and it was good to catch up with old friends - some I hadn't seen since before Covid! I got home shattered and went straight to the fridge for a cold beer to celebrate a successful day.

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