Last week I was invited by Angel Sallent of the ANSE (Asociación de Naturalistas del Sureste) ringing group to participate in a wader ringing exercise at the ‘encañizadas’ – the area of shallow water between the end of La Manga and San Pedro Salinas, and so on Friday (22nd August) I made may way up to San Pedro del Pinatar, arriving at about 6 pm. I got there a little early so as to have a quick look at the Salinas themselves, but apart from a lot of cars and people, there wasn’t a lot to be seen, the best birds being a group of 6 Ruff and a single Little Stint. ‘Doesn’t bode well for wader ringing’ I thought!
A couple of the Ruff seen
Fishing like crazy, a young Little Tern
An adult Little Stint, the only small wader seen apart from Kentish Plovers
The arrangements were to meet at the ‘La Mota’ windmill at 7 pm, and then walk with all the gear to the marshes at the ‘encañizadas’ – a walk of about 4km, and although getting late in the day, the temperature would still be more than 25ºC. Setting off at 7 was delayed due to no-one being able to find anywhere nearby to park, and I declined the idea of walking down there, and got out of the garage and dusted down my old folding bike, and cycled the 4 km, stopping off here and there when there were any birds to be seen (which wasn’t often). One thing that surprised me, was that the large group of Black-necked Grebes that has always gathered in the lagoons there in past years, just wasn’t there – I only saw two birds – I suppose that now with all the disturbance from ‘mud-bathers’, they prefer the peace and quiet of the local sewage farms – the July count at the EDAR Beaza (Cartagena) was more than 1,500 birds, a record for there.
The only other birds of interest on the way down were a few (around 6) Dunlin, all adults still in breeding plumage.
Black-necked Grebe - one of only two seen on the way down to the Encañizadas
Arriving at what was going to be our ‘base’ for the evening, while the mist nets were erected (one group of 3 13metre nets and another of 5), I waited guarding our ‘base camp’, and I was quite amazed by the movement of birds during the last hour of light of day. There was a constant stream of Black Terns heading south (in the last hour of light I counted a minimum of 180 birds in small groups), plus a group of 13 Common Sandpipers, and various Curlew Sandpipers, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwits and Grey Herons . The people putting up the nets also had a small group of 5 Oystercatchers while putting up the nets, although I didn’t see them myself. There was also a constant ‘murmur’ of Greenshanks, Redshanks and Ringed Plovers.
While others were putting up the nets, I had a constant movement of Black Terns overhead
Sunset from the 'encañizadas'
Anyone who has been involved with wader ringing with mist-nets will know that it is a hit-or-miss affair – waders in general having very good eyesight and hearing, so ringing tends to take place on moonless nights without wind. I myself in my youth have done a fair amount of wader ringing, but generally in tidal areas where you set the nets and wait for the tide to move the waders around. This obviously doesn’t happen in the Mediterranean as there are no tides, so it is pretty much a matter of luck to catch the birds – they can be wandering around literally under the nets but unless they are flying they won’t be caught. Friday was the last night of three consecutive nights of ringing: on the first night no birds were caught; the second night 17 including Little and Common Terns, Dunlin and Curlew Sandpipers. In the end, Friday nights catch was of only two birds – an adult Sanderling caught on the first net round, and a Sandwich Tern at around midnight, but the Sandwich Tern was worth its weight in gold, as it was already ringed and had a Brussels (Belgium) ring on it.
Ringing the first bird, a Sanderling
The second bird caught didn't need a ring - it already had one!
Belgian ringed Sandwich Tern
Finally giving up at around 2am, I finally got home just before 4 in the morning, and spent the next day recovering!