February 2018

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Published on 12 February 2018

Your help is needed to spot and report colour ringed oystercatchers

On Sunday 4 February 2018 a successful catch of 190 oystercatchers took place at Dawlish Warren National Nature Reserve. All birds were aged, weighed, measured and fitted with a uniquely coded metal ring before being released. 150 of these birds were also each fitted with a larger uniquely-coded colour ring, which can be read by observers at distance, allowing valuable information to be collected without having to re-catch or disturb the bird. Among the birds caught were 6 that had been caught before in early 2000s and one individual was ringed back in 1989!

About 150 oystercatchers were fitted with a blue ring engraved in white with a large alpha-numeric code, e.g. ‘U6’ or ‘2M’) on the right leg, read from the bottom up.  Above the blue engraved ring is a plain yellow ring and metal ring on left leg.  If you find one of these birds, observers are being asked to also provide information on date, time, location (precise as possible with a grid reference, and its behaviour (feeding or roosting, was it in a flock or on its own).

Any sightings of colour-ringed oystercatchers should be reported to exeoystercatchers@gmail.com

Dawlish Warren is part of the Exe Estuary which was designated a Special Protection Area (SPA). It is a site of European importance for a number of reasons, one is that it supported nationally important numbers of wintering oystercatcher.  Studies of this species on the Exe Estuary in 1970s to 2000s represent one of the most comprehensive studies of a wading bird conducted anywhere in the world.  Despite the wealth of existing research, the main drivers that influence the significant decline of oystercatcher on the Exe Estuary in recent years are not well understood. 

Tim Frayling, Senior Ornithologist at Natural England who organised the catch said:

“This project is another step in helping us to understand why the wintering oystercatcher population on the Exe is declining. Now that we have birds that can be individually identified,  we can investigate some of the key questions like: what factors are causing the population decline; and to what extent do birds from the SPA use the surrounding landscape.

“The catch was the result of months of planning and involved a team of 45 people, including 30 licensed bird ringers from around the country, the Exe Estuary’s habitat mitigation officers and the Teignbridge rangers. It was an incredible team effort. It’s also a great example of citizen science, as we hope members of the public will send details of their sightings, and contribute to the study.”

Exeter City Council’s Cllr Daniel Gottschalk, who is Chair of the South East Devon Habitat Regulations Executive Committee, said:

“Thanks to everyone who turned out at 7am on a Sunday morning to help preserve this declining bird species. This is an important part of the work that SEDHREC is tasked with. Our 2 habitat mitigation officers, Sama and Amelia, were delighted to get involved. Their job is to advise and educate people about the important wildlife and the effect of disturbance on these protected birds. The new rings will provide valuable information for the monitoring of the wildlife on the Estuary.

“We encourage local people and visitors to join in and report any sightings of Oystercatchers.”

Peter Burgess, Director of Conservation and Development at Devon Wildlife Trust said:

“Devon Wildlife Trust is extremely pleased to be able to support this vital evidence-gathering work taking place within the National Nature Reserve. We encourage all visitors to Dawlish Warren and anyone visiting coastal areas and estuaries to keep their eyes peeled out for colour-ringed birds and report them via the webpages. Oystercatchers can reach an amazing age but their long term decline in the estuary is cause for real concern – we hope this study will help reveal more about their lives.”