Exe Estuary Oystercatcher Project

June 2019 Update

Any sightings of colour-ringed oystercatchers should be reported to exeoystercatchers@gmail.com



With the first colour-ringed birds already back for the 2019/20 winter here is a quick summer update on the project.


For some weeks leading into June 2019, the Oystercatcher flock that roosts at Dawlish Warren during high tides had remained about the same size, so this now a good time to take stock of what the project’s birds have been doing and what data they have provided so far.  See the May 2018 and Sept 2018 updates for previously reported highlights.


From Feb 2018 to Feb 2019, two day-time cannon-netting sessions and three nocturnal mist-netting sessions at Dawlish Warren have resulted in the capture and successful release of 219 Oystercatchers, each fitted with uniquely-coded alphanumeric blue-colour rings and ten of these additionally had GPS tags fitted.  All of these Oystercatchers were fitted with a standard BTO metal ring and another 40 Oystercatchers had just this type of ring fitted, totalling 259 Oystercatchers.


Of the 150 colour-ringed Oystercatchers from Feb 2018, about 28 remained over the summer with 126 were seen into late autumn 2018 and 116 seen into and after late-Jan 2019, a survival rate of >77%, though some birds may then have still been alive and elsewhere. The unseasonably warm weather in Feb 2019 is thought to have triggered an early migration.  


Of the 28 that summering on the estuary in 2018, early indications are that at least 20 of these birds may do so again in summer 2019, and of these, only one was ringed as an adult in Feb 2018.


Of the 68 Oystercatchers colour-ringed from Sep to Nov 2018 (just one was caught in Feb 2019), 54 were seen into and after late-Jan 2019, a survival rate of >79%.  So overall, these early indicative rates are about as expected according to published sources, which if correct is good news.


Last year we reported on the far flung places that ‘our’ Oystercatchers went to during the 2018 breeding season.  The 2019 breeding season is also producing some fantastic results.  ‘1M’ summered last year at Lochindorb, Highland and it was seen there again in late-Feb 2019 having stopped over briefly near Inverness. ‘4M’ returned to the same site in Norway on 11th Apr; ‘5J’ to a lake outside of Bedford on 24th Mar, last year it was near Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire; and ‘M7’ zoomed back to Carsington Water, Derbyshire, arriving there on the incredibly early date of 1st Feb, beating its respectable effort in 2018 of arriving on or before 10th Feb.


But once an Oystercatcher decides to migrate, how long does it take to reach its destination?  Social media hummed with excitement by the achievement of ‘H7’, seen at Dawlish Warren on the evening tide 16th Feb and spotted the next day, early afternoon, at Larne, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland – a whopping 500km in less than 24 hours! How far was it from its final destination?  The answer is perhaps Iceland, a much anticipated destination due to other ringing recoveries, and this was at last added to the list of countries for the project when ‘8K’ was seen near Fljotshlio, Hlioarendakot on 30th Apr 2019.


Oystercatchers continue to reveal extraordinary feats of endurance during migration and survival over winter, but even for these tough, long-lived birds, time inexorably catches up.  We say farewell to ‘E5’, found dead on Looe Island, Cornwall on 16th Feb (last seen at Dawlish Warren in Oct 2018); and to ‘9V’, found dead in Klepp, Rogaland, Norway on 3rd May, where it reportedly met its match against a large bird of prey! 

A big thank you to all the observers in Britain and throughout Europe who’ve reported sightings so far (apologies to any omissions):

Laurence Archibald, Clive Ashton, Graham Bell, Chris Bollen, Dave Boult, Lee Collins, Matt Collis, Carole Davis, Richard du Feu, Fred Fooks, Filip Goussaert, Steve Holliday, Steve Hopper, Dave Jewell, David Joicey, Alan Keatley, Mark King, Ivan Lakin, Marc van Leeuwen, Ivor McPherson, Gisle Oddane, Lars Økland, Martin Overy, Kevin Rylands, Einar Selvaag, Bernard Siddle, Dave Smallshire, Sander Terlouw, Richard Walden, Marcus Ward, Colin Weaver, Bernard Wingrove, Marcus Zoe. Thanks also to Teignbridge District Council for their continued assistance and support for the project.



It has to be noted that as you scan through the flock of Oystercatchers at Dawlish Warren, or elsewhere, for the distinct blue-coloured rings, you may also notice individuals from previous Exe studies, still sporting worn out ‘wasp rings’, in addition birds colour-ringed in Scotland, Wales and Iceland are also present in the Exe estuary flocks. Knowing what we do about a handful of birds from the past 7 months, it’s humbling to think of the journeys and hardships some of these other birds have endured, knowing as we do that some of them are over 30 years old.

(posted on behalf of the Exe Oystercatcher project team)

Please send details of sightings of colour-ringed oystercatchers to: -




Thank you!

Text and map provided by Ivan Lakin. Pictures - Lee Collins (top) & Alan Keatley (lower two)