Friday 20 October 2017

Ready or Knot!

When out counting Terns in September I cast my eye over some wader flocks - delighted to see some of our Dublin-ringed Oystercatchers back for another winter, as well as some individuals ringed on their breeding grounds in Iceland. As my scope-view moved across a flock of newly-arrive Knot – some carrying traces of ‘rusty’ breeding plumage and others with their plainer whites, browns and grey feathers that they’ll have for the winter, something bright yellow caught my attention. It was a flag – very similar to a colour ring, but one that sticks out to make it easier to read. The tide was pushing in and the Knot were constantly on the move but I eventually managed to read the code – 07K – my first Knot ring/flag to read!

The Knot I had seen was ringed in Iceland last May, and had been seen in Merseyside near Liverpool at the end of August before moving on to Dublin in the subsequent two weeks.

Knot in NW Iceland. Photo by J. van de Kam.

Knot with unique colour ring and coded-flag combination.

'My' bird was part of a study to learn more about the different populations of Knot in northern Europe and where they go at different times of the year (breeding, moulting, staging, wintering). You can’t conserve and protect a species if you don’t understand the different parts of its life cycle and where the protection is needed! 

The study began with ringing at sites in north Norway and Iceland, and has recently expanded to include flocks in the Irish Sea in Liverpool Bay and the Ribble Estuary. Several thousand birds have been ringed as part of this project since it began and resightings are providing vital information on this species. We’ve already spotted one bird from Liverpool that had moved over to Dublin Bay, and there will undoubtedly be loads more over the winter!

As recently as 22 September 2017, 519 Knots were colour-flagged in Liverpool Bay. The birds are marked on the tarsus with an orange flag with two inscriptions, over a pale blue ring. About 50% of the marked birds were 2 years old, which means that for the first time the summering population on the west coast has been marked in good numbers.

Knot in N Norway(bottom). Photo by J. van de Kam.

In Jim Wilson’s own words:
As so many knots are now carrying flags you are almost guaranteed to find marked birds, but in most situations need a good telescope to read the codes on the flags. The record is about 90 readings in one day, but that was near the ringing site. Even if codes are not read off, the position and colours of flags and colour rings also tells us whether knots are marked in Norway, NW Iceland, SW Iceland or the Netherlands. Knots with one flag and 4 rings on the tarsus are marked in the Netherlands. Records of lack of sightings despite searching through flocks are also interesting.”

Sightings of Knot in Ireland with the above rings/flags should be sent to

Photo courtesy of J. van de Kam

Photo courtesy of I. Hartley.

Photo courtesy of P. Knight.

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