The weather forecasts were watched with some interest in the week preceding this visit, since after damaging storms on the Monday a whole series of depressions resulted in a very unsettled period. By Thursday a further storm was predicted for Friday/Saturday with strong winds continuing into Sunday.
Thursday 31st January
PLI to the Hunstanton base ready to recce in the morning. Windy and wet journey.
Friday 1st February
|07:55||Heacham Far north||120 Oystercatchers, 200 Sanderling, 6 Grey Plover, 3 Turnstone directly in front of new house being built. Lots of beach left.|
|08:00||Heacham North||18 Sanderling and 12 Turnstone on tide wrack by slipway. Some birds running on to top of sea wall despite dog walkers.|
|08:15||Heacham South||ca. 250 Oystercatchers present but on new spit which tide just about to cover.|
|08:15||Snettisham North||Only a few Turnstone and a Sanderling. Lots of beach recharge activity between public car park and the feeding site groynes.|
|08:54||Heacham South(again)||Oyks still there but now on beach with a few Curlew still on the spit which had only just covered.|
|09:03||Heacham North||Numbers feeding on wrack increased to 28 Sanderling and 25 Turnstone (none colour-ringed).|
|09:15||Old Hunstanston||Fewer Oystercatchers than earlier but Sanderling still present in tight flock.|
Although too late to find if birds used the beach, a visit to Old Hunstanton found:-
|10:20||Heacham Far north||On the islands towards Holme, lock (300+?) Oystercatcher. On a nearer island, 500 Bartails, Grey Plover and Knot. 1 Golden Plover flew past.|
The recce had been done in very strong (force 6-7) S or SW winds with a swell on the beaches that made it inadvisable to catch birds into water. With a weather forecast for both Saturday and Sunday which indicated the winds would be similar both in strength and direction it was decided, after phone discussion with NAC, that no catching attempt would be made on Saturday and, unless the wind moderated, the prospects for Sunday were not good. In view of this it was decided to inform those due to come for the weekend of the situation to avoid their coming and then finding nothing going on!
Further recces were made of the grass in the centre of Hunstanton (16 Turnstone feeding with a flock of Starling) and Titchwell / Thornham. The visit to Titchwell was purely bird watching (Lapwing, Snipe and Black winged Stilt added to the wader list for the day) but the walk to Thornham was to see how the area has changed since WWRG last used it for cannon netting. The answer is that the dunes at the point have grown both in height and extent. No evidence of waders roosting there.As a result of informing people of the prospects, only MS and JS arrived at the accommodation on Friday evening.
Saturday 2nd February
Up 07:45. MS and JS went to Port Sutton Bridge to see to what extent it was being used by Turnstone and to observe colour rings. So far this winter a lack of grain being spilled and possibly better feeding conditions in the Wash have resulted in lower numbers being present. This visit found 30 birds with 3 colour ringed. A visit to Kings Lynn docks, also used by the Turnstone last winter discovered 50 Turnstone, none of them colour ringed. A trip to Hunstanton found 16 Turnstone on the grass in the town centre with 1 colour-ringed, an individual which was seen in Canada in July 2000, then in Hunstanton in Oct and Nov 2000 before going to the port for Dec and Jan 2000/01.
Meanwhile PLI largely repeated Fridays recce:
|08:40||Heacham Far North||80 Oystercatchers, 200 Sanderling, 12 Grey Plover, 12 Ringed plover, 10 Knot, 2 Redshank and 1 Bar-tail again directly in front of new house being built|
|08:45||Heacham North||26 Sanderling and 26 Turnstone on tide wrack by slipway and on to top of sea wall.|
|08:50||Heacham South||Similar numbers of Oystercatchers present to the previous day but on shore already despite the tide being predicted to be a foot lower.|
|Sailing Club Bay||Looking from the South, three flocks of Oystercatchers totalling 2000|
|10:20||Heacham South(again)||Oyks still there.|
|10:30||Heacham North||Still same numbers feeding on wrack|
|10:45||Heacham Far North||Tight flock of Sanderling at tide edge. A further group of Sanderling noted amongst wrack well back from the tide edge and on careful counting this turned out to be 126. With the flock at the tide edge looking similar in size to before, the estimated number of Sanderling present was ncreased from 200 to in the order of 350. Oystercatchers still present in similar numbers. Knot and Ringed Plover were making good use of the tide wrack by sheltering behind it.|
MS, JS, PLI then reassembled at base for breakfast. Information on anticipated wind speed for Sunday now suggested it would be force 4-5 rather than the 6-7 of the previous two mornings, Hence catching was rather more feasible than anticipated although dry or nearly dry catches were to be preferred due to the swell. The Heacham South Oystercatchers were a difficult option due to the new shingle ridge but the Heacham Far North Sanderling presented an attractive alternative. A few phone calls ensured a suitable team would be available so equipment was assembled with a visit to the store. MS and JS spent most of the afternoon watching Rugby Internationals on television but PLI ventured out to mark the net sites for the morning.
RR arrived just in time to join the team for a pub meal. Bed at the ridiculously early time of 21:30!
Sunday 3rd February
Up 06:15. Met up with JK and AK and, slightly later, NAC and RL at the site. Two narrow half nets set near the anticipated tide edge although a ridge not noted on the recces gave concern as to whether it would be covered at high tide. Also a narrow full net set where the flock of 126 Sanderling had been seen well back from the tide edge on the previous day. Set by 08:00, 2½ hours before high tide. At this stage the tide was already near the base of the beach and a flock of Oystercatchers had assembled, together with a small flock of Sanderling. Initially the tide pushed both species towards the nets but a dog decided chasing birds was a good idea and caused quite a lot of disturbance. Fortunately all the birds stayed on the beach although the main Oystercatcher flock was centred a hundred yards or so towards Hunstanton.
After this, things settled down with the Sanderling and some Oystercatchers on the ridge in front of the two half nets. A Sparrowhawk made two appearances, causing the flock to fly round, but they returned to the same place on the beach. By 09:45 it was becoming obvious that the birds were going to stay near the tide edge and that the tide was not going to come close enough. Decided to move the half nets after careful considering where to place them. Whilst this was done the Sanderling moved to the main Oystercatcher flock towards Hunstanton. Moving the nets was very efficiently done although on circuit testing from the firing point a fault was found and MS had to return to the net to correct it. By now the tide was already falling off and far enough away from the nets to fire so NAC went to twinkle the birds. The Sanderling proved very co-operative, not wanting to fly much. Hence after a couple of pushes, the flock was in the vicinity of the nets.
Sanderling in a keeping cage waiting to be processed
After a short period of confusion between the twinkler and the firing point due to the decoys which were very close to the edge of the catch area becoming invisible, a thumbs-up from JK looking from behind at base confirmed the flock was in front of the nets. The right hand of the two nets was fired, the one which had earlier failed on circuit testing. Only a few birds went in to the tide edge, the vast majority being dry. Keeping cages were set up by the house now being built on the final vacant plot.
A summary of the birds caught:-
|Species||New||Control / Retrap||Totals|
|Bar - Tailed Godwit||2||0||2|
All birds processed, much of the proceedings being watched by the owner of one of the nearby beach houses and his two young children.
For those who like statistics, the Sanderling catch was the 11th largest Wash Sanderling catch, the biggest ever in winter (previous large catches have been on spring or autumn passage) and largest since July 1976. Oldest bird in catch was 14 years.
Most people back to the Hunstanton house for breakfast before leaving mid-afternoon.