Sunday, 18 October 2015

Netting some Oycs!

The Bury Inlet is well known for it's impressive numbers of Oystercatchers, these can range from 100 birds to 6 thousand plus! A few members from the SCAN ringing group based in North Wales had ventured down South to carry out the cannon netting for these Oycs. This has been done once a year for at least 15 years, maybe more! So the data set they have is very impressive. Dave Coker and Graham (and of course Ben the dog.) had stayed the day before we arrived to carry out a recce of the site to see the numbers each morning, over the two days they counted at least 5,000 oycs! I was the first to join the two Thursday evening, shortly followed by Steve Dodd, Molly and Josh and then Tara joined us later on in the evening. We then set out in the dark to the beach where we would be catching the Oycs in the morning. First of all it was setting up the nets under Steve's guidance and making sure everything was perfect so when we did fire, there wouldn't be any complications. After almost 2 hours worth of work, we were all set and ventures back to the Lodge to prepare ourselves for the early start.

Now the fun bit..

6am start, we all layered up and set off to do our jobs. Steve, Molly, Graham and Ben set out to the dunes to get the firing box connected and to watch the Oycs. Myself, Josh and Tara were at the Lodge loading up Steve's truck whilst Dave was opening the gate and collecting the key for us to drive down to the beach. We all piled into Steve's truck and set off down the sandy path ready to wait for the go time. It was a long waiting game, we had to stay quiet behind the dunes where Molly was waiting with the firing box for Steve's command. 

After about ten minutes of waiting, the Nation Trust rangers who wanted to help out, arrived and Dave briefed them on what to expect and what to do. Five more minutes waiting the oycs had moved in closer to the net, Steve took the chance and gave the command to fire! We were all expected was 100-200 Oycs which would be the top of the flock. Dave started the truck and raced over the dunes, quickly followed by the NT Ranges in the 4x4 which Steve jumped into and we raced across the sand to the nets. Once we arrived, everyone got into position and moved the birds further up the beach in the nets so they wouldn't be in the water. What I didn't notice was just how many birds we actually caught! Steve, Graham, Tara, Josh, Dave and Molly set out extracting the birds closest to the edge and the rest were covered to lower the panic in the birds. "BIRD!" was being yelled from all over the place and the NT Rangers and myself were collecting birds from everyone, sometimes with three or four being carried at once, which resulted in some very smelly trousers.. Once the first net was cleared, we moved onto the second net and then the realisation hit when I took some more birds back to Amy who was counting them going into the holding cages,  300 odd birds came out of the first net! After some further extracting and myself getting involved with extracting more birds. We reached the final count of 509 birds! Next up was the actual ringing. Everyone was given a demonstration and all took a bird out of the holding cage, aged it (3,5,6i,7,8 were the ages for our Oycs) and put a ring on it. The rings are a lot thicker than our average ring. Since the Oycs will batter them on the coast and to make sure they withstand the salt water. The rings were not easy to put on, but after a few, I got in the rhythm and everyone was working quickly to get through the birds. 

After four hours of solid hard work, we ringed the last bird and everyone reflected on the experience. Of the 509 birds, 42 of them were retraps including one control from Reykjavik, Sweden which was a nice surprise for everyone and a delight to see!Overall, I have fallen in love with Cannon netting and will be going to more of these ringing events across Wales. Wader ringing provided a challenge at first with the different ages, harder rings and a different style of catching than what I'm used to. But, It was so much fun and beneficial to me that I just have to do it again. Plus, It's amazing to see these birds up close instead of being a blob in the distance. What was surprising to me, was some deformities on some of the birds because of waste in the sea, some had wool wrapped around their legs which cut off some of the circulation and deformed the leg. It was such a shame to see, I'm always trying to educate people on the effect we are having to the ocean and this was a first-hand experience of that effect!

Thankyou to the National Trust rangers for helping out with the Cannon Netting process, it was a pleasure to have you along!

* Steve Dodd, Is a licensed Ringer with a Cannon Netting endorsement and able to supervise helpers. 


  1. An amazing tale and what an experience that must have been, getting up close to such impressive birds must be really great.

  2. I honestly can't explain the feelings I had through the day, was a overwelming feeling of joy and excitment. Was amazing to study the features of the birds up close like the subtle brown eye ring they have around their iris and the ever subtle colour difference between the older and younger birds.