Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Justin Timberlake, Hen Harrier and Health & Safety on Sandymount Strand

Apologies for the title of this post, but it is inspired by a post on the excellent Little Tern blog from way back in the breeding season.  The wardens, as a result of either sun stroke or just general eccentricity, decided to give pet names to the birds that were breeding in and around the Little Tern colony in Kilcoole.  And while reading Oystercatcher rings on Sandymount Strand the other day, I realised that I had taken a leaf out of their book - I’d started naming the Oystercatchers according to their two-letter inscriptions! My rationale is that it saves me taking out my notebook between every ring read: when the rings are coming thick and fast, it’s more efficient to remember a few in your head and then pull out the notebook (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!).

Oystercatcer "DJ" Colin Corse

So JT, HH and HS were just three of the 29 rings I managed to read in about forty minutes at low tide on the northern part of the strand. That shows how readable these rings are, and therefore how much information we can learn from these colour-ringed birds. With so many of the Sandymount Strand Oystercatchers ringed, we have an invaluable opportunity, and perhaps even a duty, to get some science out of the re-sightings, and the more re-sightings we get, the better the science will be. We now have over 450 re-sightings logged in the database and have re-sighted 90% of the birds. Over time, we will be able to piece together the ecological story of how these Oystercatchers are faring in their winter home, and the more re-sightings we get, the more informative that story will be. I know I'm labouring the point, but I really can’t stress enough the importance of reading these rings! So please get out there with the camera or scope and make your birding count.

…What I can stress, though, is the importance of not disturbing the birds when reading the rings. Mid-winter is a tough time for these birds, as they work hard to gain sufficient reserves to stand them in good stead for the rest of the winter and into next season. Any disturbance caused by ring-readers is another straw on the camel’s back. Every time they are forced to take to the air, they are both losing valuable foraging time and wasting valuable energy. And you know what happens if the energy budgets don’t balance at the end of each day….

The additive effect of human disturbance on wader 
over-winter survival as a result of a reduction in calorific
 intake and an increase in energetic expenditure
 during avoidance behaviour. 

Thankfully, with a telescope or a camera and decent light, you can easily read the rings without disturbing the birds, which is the whole point of colour-ringing after all.

Apart from seeing some of the regulars, it was good to catch up with CN, IN and IX, who hadn’t been re-sighted since February. It’s good to know that these three are still knocking around. 


  1. Strange, just spotted a ringed Oystercatcher this evening on Garrarus Beach a couple of miles west of Tramore Bay. Took a photo but I dint think the rings are readable. Red on left leg, green and yellow on right leg. Any help?

  2. YES! That’s fantastic Clare, thank you! That’s the first of the red-ringed birds that we’ve heard back about. Whether you can read the inscription or not, it’s is always great to hear where our birds are!