Wednesday 23 December 2015

Cannon-netting in Dublin Bay

We have had three cannon-netting sessions as part of the project so far, and have brought on board cannon-netting experts from Scotland to help us out with this very technical method of catching birds.  

Here, Simon Foster, Policy & Advice Officer at Scottish Natural Heritage, regales us with a synopsis of his experiences on the project, ably accompanied by Kenny Graham and Ewan Weston, the other members of their modestly self-named “Team Awesome”.

3….2…..1…., kind of like a cannon net catch, and as quick as that it seems our time helping BirdWatch Ireland and the Dublin Bay Birds Project has come to an end. Back in 2012 we were asked to help with the project – “come over to Ireland an ye can catch some waders, ah go on”. I think that’s how it went. Seriously though, we had no idea what we were embarking on. Our only sneak previews were from Niall; a few photos of the Merrion gates roost – wow that’s a lot of oystercatchers!  A look at the map, hmm that’s a big area! And counts of the individual roosts – jings that’s a big flock of birds!!

Merrion Gates roost at high tide Niall Tierney

Anyway, convinced that this was a very worthwhile thing for us to embark on, the three of us headed across. The first time we drove all the way from north Scotland to Dublin.  Navigating all the way to Dublin was easy. Getting around Dublin was a nightmare! We frequently drove right round the Aviva stadium on our way between Merrion and Bull Island, spent what seemed like a lot of euros on the tolls, which was only because we drove up and down the same bit of road several times within the space of an hour!  But when we got to the shore we could see the massive numbers of waders:  flocks and flocks of bar-tailed godwit, knot, dunlin and oystercatchers. Bucket loads of shoveler, mediterranean   gulls, little egrets – it was a birders’ paradise.  Our job from the outset was to catch some waders so that they could be colour-ringed and their movements could start to be unravelled.  Thanks to the detailed recces by everyone involved, it made our job relatively simple. The Dublin Bay Birds team had identified the roosts in advance, and had watched the birds intensely, which meant they knew how birds moved up the shore as the tide pushed in. If we had to do this from scratch ourselves, it would have probably taken a great number of days to figure out what was happening.

Radio-tagged Redshank John Fox

In the first year we took a small oystercatcher catch on Merrion, the next winter we spread our wings and targeted redshank at a few locations and of course the memorable large catch a lot of you were at.  In our last winter, we were successful again, with a lovely catch of 190 oystercatchers and 20 curlew, which allowed all of the remaining colour rings to go on and 10 radio transmitters.  Not only have we learnt a great deal about Dublin Bay (although our navigation skills are still terrible around the city!) but we’ve collectively learned a huge amount about wintering waders in Dublin. 

Members of Team Awesome getting just
the right angle!
Helen Boland
So, our impressions – it’s been a real genuine pleasure to help with this fantastic project. To be able to help in starting, what we really hope will be a long-term commitment to studying waders in Dublin Bay, is a genuine privilege.  Bird colour-ringing is vital for helping us understand our birds, and these studies are the work of teams, not solo efforts.  You guys pulled together as a great team – showing enthusiasm, enjoyment and of course a lot of entertainment. We hope we have whetted your appetites and will be spurred on to continue this great work.

Keep watching all those colour-ringed birds and remember “Team Awesome” are only a phone call away!

Simon Foster, Kenny Graham and Ewan Weston.