Just before dawn a group of 20 of us gathered in a ditch waiting for a bang and the call to go over the bank. As much as it felt like we were doing a World War 1 reenactment at Farlington this morning, we were actually canon netting on the side of the lake. Ducks and particularly waders are very sensitive to things out of the ordinary so they can be hard to catch for species monitoring. Canon netting is a net that fires over the top of the flock using projectiles and explosive charges. Our job was to bring the net in safely with the birds unharmed, carefully scooping the net up and taking it off of the mud where the waders were roosting moments ago.
One of the main purposes of catching the birds was to put colour rings on the Black-tailed godwits. Each juvenile bird was assigned an individual colour ring combination, this can then be seen in the field and their location reported. These birds are part of a co-operational international study called Operation Godwit. This is a project that collates information to improve the understanding in the life cycles of these pretty waders. In the summer months they spend their time in the southern latitudes of western Europe, while their summer breeding grounds are in Iceland. With these easily noticeable colour rings on, the locations of these birds can be noted and the journeys they take plotted on a map. This data not only helps towards understanding the species better, but can also contribute to the conservation of wetlands, on which godwits and other fauna and flora depend. It highlights the international importance of habitats such as Langstone harbour and Farlington Marshes.
In total the team managed to ring around 90 Black-tailed godwits, 3 Shoveler, 3 Knot, 12 Redshank, 2 Dunlin, 14 Teal and a Bar-tailed godwit. Much like the smaller Passerines (a name given loosely to the classification of perching song birds – tits, warblers, thrushes etc) which I ringed last weekend, we took all sorts of measurements, weights and observations of the birds, which was fascinating. It was fantastic to get up close to these stunning birds. After looking at them from afar through a scope or binoculars I was amazed at how small the Dunlin and Knot actually are. The colours of the Teal were particularly striking close up too.