Catches

Pitsea - 13/03/2018: Well that is it for Pitsea. The end has come as we knew it would. It has gone exactly the same as Rainham and the lack of food waste very squarely equals lack of birds. For our last session we had to work very hard for just over 100 birds in three catches. The first catch just after 10am was reasonable with a total of 83 birds caught. Giving the reasonably inexperienced team the opportunity to look closely at gull ages and get their hand in. There was one interesting bird in the catch which both Rich Cope and myself initially thought was a good Caspian Gull under the net. On close examination of the bird it was clear it had conflicting features and we strongly believe this bird was a Herring x Caspian hybrid. The bird was colour ringed and it will be interesting to see what this bird is called as if seen in the field. If we could have replicated that catch two more times it would have been good but it was not to be. The second catch was a poor decision by myself as I could not see some of the catching area and thought we had a good number of birds. Safety was completely clear so I took the decision to fire only to find most of the small flock was actually outside the catching area. The third catch was a deliberate decision because hardly any birds were coming into the catching area. However, when we had a fantastic full adult Med Gull land in the catching area it seemed a fitting thing to finish with a good bird and take the small catch just for the Med Gull (much to the delight of Mark Stanley who ended up ringing it!). It was interesting to see the behaviour of the gulls and at no point did we have good numbers of gulls in the catching area - with little food birds picked and left the catching area very quickly making any catch of a large number of birds just not possible. So at the end we must give a massive thank you to all the staff past and present at Pitsea going right back to the Cleanaway days who have supported and facilitated our work on site. The group finishes with a grand total of 46,224 new birds ringed and 24,105 retraps, controls and colour ring sightings over the 34 years of field work. In the latter years many of these have been colour ringed and we hope to continue to get data and sightings on many of these birds in the coming years. It would also be remiss not to thank all of the team members and people that have come out to help on catch days and stood in the freezing cold or up to their ankles in mud (or extracted birds from even worse substances!). Without the commitment of such dedicated ringers and ornithologists this project just would not have been possible - I thank you all as I know Brian Manton would have also done so my final thanks go to Brian himself for being the instigator of gull catching at Pitsea, Rainham and Mucking landfill sites and for training me to carry on the work which now comes to a close. If we do find another tip in the near future we may undertake some attempts at catches but I strongly suspect this will not be the case with all UK landfills now only receiving commercial waste and not household which contains the food which has supported these gull populations since the tips opened in the 1950s.

Catch 1

Species Ringed Retraps Controls Colour ringed
Black-headed Gull 44 3 2 0
Lesser Black-backed Gull 17 0 0 17
Herring Gull 16 0 0 16
Hybrid Gull 1 0 0 1
Catch totals 78 3 2 34

Catch 2

Species Ringed Retraps Controls Colour ringed
Black-headed Gull 6 0 0 0
Lesser Black-backed Gull 1 0 0 1
Herring Gull 2 0 0 2
Catch totals 9 0 0 3

Catch 3

Species Ringed Retraps Controls Colour ringed
Black-headed Gull 6 0 0 0
Mediterranean Gull 1 0 0 1
Herring Gull 3 0 0 3
Catch totals 10 0 0 4
Trip totals 97 3 2 41

Pitsea - 17/01/2018: A first session after the news of the tip closure in March. This may be the last session although we are planning two more before the end of the winter if the tip are agreeable to us holing a couple more catches to use up our last colour rings. A very windy day on occasion I was close to cancelling the session. However, with good numbers of Great Black-backs on the tip it was worth carrying on. After a couple of hours wait for a vehicle with decent food on it we received an arctic with dustcart waste and a lot of food. We then had far too many gulls for the small and inexperienced team. I had ensured waste was not too close to the net for safety reasons and to limit the catch. After a few lifts and some of the gulls thinning out an opportunity presented itself and a catch was able to be taken. Amazingly our first ever Russian control Great Black-backed was a great highlight amongst the 178 birds caught.

Species Ringed Retraps Controls Colour ringed
Black-headed Gull 1 0 0 0
Great Black-backed Gull 18 0 1 19
Herring Gull 152 6 0 154
Catch totals 171 6 1 173

Pitsea - 03/06/2017: A visit to the tip was made on 3rd June to assess numbers of birds there. I was rather perturbed to discover that there was no operational activity at all and no active tip face. On driving round I found the partially covered over tip face from Friday which was covered in Rooks. Just a short distance away there were around 300 gulls loafing on an earth bank. I decided to spend some time looking through them for colour rings. At the same time I had the spring trap and two loafs of bread so I decided to set the spring trap just in case any birds felt hungry. I was able to assess the numbers whilst reading colour rings and obtained around 15 readings, mostly Black-headed but also one Herring and one Great Black-backed Gull. There were fairly even numbers of Black-headed and Herring Gull (about 150 each), about five or ten of Great Black-back and Lesser Black-back and two adult Med Gulls. After about 30 minutes of watching a few Black-heads started to show some interest in the bread in the trap. Very quickly lots of birds were showing interest and suddenly there was an adult Med right in the catching area so I pulled the trap catching five birds in one pull. All birds were colour ringed and biometrics taken. Unfortunately after the catch I waited for another hour but most of the birds having realised that there was no activity on the tip had disappeared and there were only about twenty birds loafing on the tip. I decided to pack up and leave the tip.

Species Ringed Retraps Controls Colour ringed
Black-headed Gull 3 0 0 3
Mediterranean Gull 1 0 0 1
Herring Gull 1 0 0 1
Catch totals 5 0 0 5

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Methods

The North Thames Gull Group catches gulls using a cannon net, which involves firing a large net over birds feeding on freshly spread rubbish.

Once the net is set and the cannons connected, a load of rubbish is dumped and a waste compactor vehicle spreads it out and withdraws from the catching area. When enough gulls are in the area and it is safe to do so, the net is fired.

The team of ringers then removes the gulls from under the net and temporarily places them in hessian sacks which are stored in a holding area for processing. Birds are then identified to species, aged and fitted with an uniquely numbered metal ring. Measurements may be taken to help identify the race or breeding population of the birds we are catching.

Starting in 2008 we have also started fitting colour rings (orange rings with black letters and numbers) which allows the birds to be relocated without needing to be recaptured. There are many more bird-watchers looking for colour-ringed gulls, than there are cannon netting teams, so this greatly improves our chances of understanding the movements of the birds from the Thames Estuary.

If you see a bird with one of our colour rings, please send details (ring-code, date, location, species) to

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Totals

2018 calendar year

Species Ringed Retraps Controls Colour ringed
Black-headed Gull 57 3 2 0
Mediterranean Gull 1 0 0 1
Great Black-backed Gull 18 0 1 19
Lesser Black-backed Gull 18 0 0 18
Herring Gull 173 6 0 175
Hybrid Gull 1 0 0 1
Totals 268 9 3 214

2017/18 winter

Species Ringed Retraps Controls Colour ringed
Black-headed Gull 57 3 2 0
Mediterranean Gull 1 0 0 1
Great Black-backed Gull 18 0 1 19
Lesser Black-backed Gull 18 0 0 18
Herring Gull 173 6 0 175
Hybrid Gull 1 0 0 1
Totals 268 9 3 214

2017 calendar year

Species Ringed Retraps Controls Colour ringed
Black-headed Gull 509 22 2 480
Mediterranean Gull 1 0 0 1
Great Black-backed Gull 18 0 1 19
Common Gull 37 0 1 38
Lesser Black-backed Gull 10 0 0 10
Herring Gull 492 7 2 315
Caspian Gull 1 0 0 1
Totals 1068 29 6 864

2016/17 winter

Species Ringed Retraps Controls Colour ringed
Black-headed Gull 958 42 11 722
Mediterranean Gull 2 0 0 2
Great Black-backed Gull 49 1 1 49
Common Gull 41 0 1 42
Lesser Black-backed Gull 16 0 0 16
Herring Gull 1457 33 7 881
Caspian Gull 1 0 0 1
Hybrid Gull 2 0 0 2
Totals 2526 76 20 1715

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