Colour Ringed Red Knots

Written by Richard Smith/Dee Estuary Birding

Although numbers can vary greatly from day to day, let alone from winter to winter, the Red Knot is generally regarded as one of the most numerous waders on the Dee Estuary and North Wirral coast. Globally, there are six sub-species of Red Knot but, apart from the odd vagrant, we only get Calidris canutus islandica here. These winter almost exclusively on the Wadden Sea and estuaries of the British Isles with smaller numbers on the north and west coasts of France. They breed in Greenland and north-east Canada. It is thanks to ringing that we know all this, and colour ringing in particular has transformed our knowledge of this species.

The movements and migrations of birds has always fascinated me and it is particularly pleasing that, thanks to colour ringing, myself and some like minded enthusiasts have been able to contribute in a small way to the sum of this knowledge, as well as being able to find out within a matter of days the movements of particular birds we have observed.??

The winter just gone, 2009/10 was a particularly good one for ringed knots as we were able to record eight, bringing the total since 2006 to 11 – they are tabulated below in order of ringing date.

Knot No.?????????????? Date Ringed?????? Ringing Location?????? Date seen on Dee Estuary?????? Location
1?????? 12/6/03?????? Alert, Ellesmere Island, Canada?????? 11/12/07?????? Hoylake Shore
2?????? 23/7/04?????? ??De Richel, Wadden Sea, Netherlands?????? 20/12/06?????? Meols Shore
3?????? 23/7/04?????? ??De Richel, Wadden Sea, Netherlands?????? 20/2/10?????? Thurstaston Shore
4?????? 10/3/05?????? ??Griend, Wadden Sea, Netherlands?????? 5/3/10?????? Hoylake Shore
5?????? 23/8/06?????? ??Simonszand, Wadden Sea, Netherlands?????? 12/2/10?????? Thurstaston Shore
6?????? 16/5/07?????? ??Porsangerfjord, north Norway?????? 12/2/10?????? Thurstaston Shore
7?????? 18/5/07?????? ??Stufhusen, Wadden Sea, Germany?????? 9/1/10?????? Thurstaston Shore
8?????? 7/6/07?????? Alert, Ellesmere Island, Canada?????? 12/2/10?????? Thurstaston Shore
9?????? 27/9/08?????? ??Schiermonnikoog, Wadden Sea, Netherlands?????? 1/11/08?????? Hoylake Shore
10?????? 27/9/08?????? ??Schiermonnikoog, Wadden Sea, Netherlands?????? 12/2/10?????? Thurstaston Shore
11?????? 26/5/09?????? ??Porsangerfjord, north Norway?????? 20/2/10?????? Thurstaston Shore


The colour ringed bird above (?? Steve Round) is Knot number one in the table above. Note the white ‘flag’ high up on the left tibia which denotes it as being a Canadian ringed bird.


The photo shows Knot number two (?? Richard Smith).

The two maps below show the locations where the 11 different birds were ringed, seven of which were on the Wadden Sea. This is a huge area stretching from the island of Texel (just north of Amsterdam) all the way to south west Denmark – it’s the equivalent of having six Washes strung together – and is hugely important for numerous wader and wildfowl species, particularly as a moulting area. It must be a wonderful place to both watch and ring birds; for example, Griend (where bird four was ringed) is an uninhabited island and nature reserve which has 10,000 pairs of Sandwich Terns nesting!


The map below shows the routes which C. c. islandica birds take during the spring migration – details of which have been established due to ringing. The total population of islandica is currently estimated to be around 400,000, about 70% of these move to the Wadden Sea to moult around mid-March, the rest staying in large British estuaries such as the Ribble and the Wash. They stay here until late April or early May when they then move to staging areas which are in Iceland and northern Norway. They then stay at these staging areas for about three weeks before finally moving to their breeding grounds in Greenland and Canada. When I first realised that some of ‘our’ birds go via northern Norway I though that it seemed a long way round to get to Canada but for birds breeding on Ellesmere Island, for example, it is actually an easier route as it avoids the birds having to fly over or around Greenland. As you can see at least some of our birds do use this Norway route, and two were ringed at Alert in Canada, just five hundred miles from the North Pole!??????


Maps kindly provided by University of Texas Libraries (arrows, numbers etc. added by the author).

Sources of information for this article:
1. Fellow colour ring enthusiasts John Jakeman and Matt Thomas, and photographers Steve Round and Richard Steel.
2. Bernard Spaans (Netherlands), Jim Wilson (Norway) and Guy Morrison (Canada) – thanks in particular to these three for being so prompt with their ringing data plus a lot of extra and very interesting information, and everyone else involved in the Knot colour ringing schemes.
3. Simon Delany et al., An Atlas of Wader Populations in Africa and Western Eurasia, Wetlands International, 2009.

Please E-mail me if you see a colour ring Red Knot, or any other wader, usually I can get the data back to you within a week or two. Note that all the Red Knots have flags (rings with tabs) and it is very important to note the location of the flag in relation to the other rings. Norway ringed birds have a yellow flag with three letters which must be noted.


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