Friday 22 September 2023

A successful wader catch 13/9/23

It was in the pre-covid era that the last wader catch on the Axe took place, so there was much trepidation and excitement between ringers as we set up on Colyford Marsh. Teal, Curlew and Little Egret were all noted in this period, and their flight patterns influenced our placement of nets. 

Wader footprints on the mud at Colyford – a promising start. (Photo: T. M. Mylett)

Mist-netting for waders requires a different approach to our monthly passerine sessions; whilst the former group is best targeted from the early morning, it tends to be more successful to catch waders as they come into roost. We set up 5 60ft nets (and herded cattle) across the tussocky terrain from 4:30-6pm, while Adrian kindly marked a clear pathway for us to use once darkness set in. Without the white bamboo canes to follow, there may have been a few too many You’ve Been Framed moments. 

Setting up nets. (Photo: Robin Pearson)

Watching the nets was at first frustrating, as a small troupe of Ringed Plover gallingly fed underneath the nearest shelves. After some time, however, our first bird was caught – a magnificent Curlew – and from there, the evening really took off. 

Robin and Mark measure the wing of a Curlew. (Photo: Mark Wills)

Per BTO guidance for Curlew and Dunlin, and for the sake of parity, we measured tarsus and bill length of all birds caught. This proved a good opportunity to refine our skills in these areas, generally not used for the smaller birds we catch during our monthly crop field sessions. In Curlew, these measurements can prove useful to identifying the sex; females are, on average, altogether larger. In Dunlin, the same measurements can prove indicative of different subspecies. 

A total of 5 Dunlin were also ringed. Because these were caught within the same net round, we were able to compare them during processing, which proved a valuable lesson in identification and ageing. Much conversation was had regarding the slight differences in plumage, and the guidance given by Jeff Baker and Laurent Demongin’s texts. The latter had a point of particularly pertinent advice preceding all discussion of the species – ageing may prove ‘very difficult’. Indeed. 

A Dunlin in the hand (Photo: Mark Wills)

In simplified summary, Dunlin can be aged based on the overall colour of their feathers. More warm, golden-brown birds are younger, and those with greyer hues are older. The below picture shows all 5, which comprised of 4 immature birds and 1 adult (at the left of the circle).

Comparing Dunlin. (Photo: Mark Wills)

Other appearances were made by a Common Snipe, 5 of (presumably) the 6 cheeky Ringed Plover mentioned earlier, and 2 Common Sandpiper. The Ringed Plover were another treat, as they are the first the AERG has ever ringed.

Common Snipe (Photo: Sue Murphy)

A Ringed Plover in the hand. This bird hatched this year – According to Baker and Svensson, in adults, the beak would also be bright orange contrasting to a well-marked black tip, and the legs would be of a similar orange, unlike the yellowish tarsi this bird has. (Photo: Sue Murphy)

Alan processes a Common Sandpiper, Demongin to hand. (Photo: Mark Wills)

Common Sandpiper (Photo: Robin Pearson)

The session proved to be the largest catch for the site, with 14 birds of 5 species caught. It was a great turn out with 10 ringers from Devon and beyond attending. All birds were newly ringed, and there were no retraps (bar 1 Dunlin, who seemingly enjoyed being processed so much the first time they hopped back into the net around 10pm). 


Total ringed

Common Sandpiper


Common Snipe






Ringed Plover



Dismantling the nets in the deep jurassic dark proved a final challenge, but, as always, many hands made light work. The marsh is a mucky site to navigate and most of us had a liberal splash of Colyford mud on our gear and hands by the end of the evening. Final comments between the group included a humorous quip from Allan regarding how our own earthy covering could rival Gweneth Paltrow’s own ‘Goop’ range. We’ll leave the marketing of that idea to him… 

-T. M. Mylett

And in other news.....

On 3/9/23, the Group set up a display stand at the annual Seaton Wetlands Wildlife Day. The event was rather quiet, possibly due to the fact that it was a gorgeous day & everyone was on the beach, and the holiday-makers were on their way home as the school term was about to start. 

A couple of days prior to the wader session, on 11/9/23,  4 members attended Colyford Common for the more usual passerine ringing session. 35 birds were caught and processed, which included 4 re-traps. 







Blue Tit



Cetti’s Warbler








Great Tit




Reed Warbler