Picture of team members preparing the nets

History of the Project...

During the preparation of Chichester Harbour Conservancy's bid for Heritage Lottery Funding, it became apparent that here was a great opportunity to find out more about the migration of coastal birds and raise awareness of this important story.

As part of the wider aim to raise public awareness of the nationally and internationally important shorebird populations using Langstone and Chichester Harbours, the idea of a project to further examine the lives of Greenshanks and share the findings was born. Chichester Harbour is the second most important site in Britain for migrating Greenshank, after The Wash, making these elegant and rare birds the ideal focus for the migration story project.

The project developed in partnership with the Farlington Ringing Group and became part of the successful "Rhythms of the Tide" Heritage Lottery Fund bid. Supported by the Friends of Chichester Harbour, and the Countryside Agency, the project involves local birdwatchers and schools in developing a network amongst communities far and wide with an interest in the migration story of the Greenshank.

The Farlington Ringing Group has been studying Greenshanks for many years in Langstone Harbour. It first started ringing them at Farlington Marshes in 1967, trapping the birds at night on the lake on a rising tide. In 1992 the Farlington Ringing Group started a colour-ringing project on Greenshanks initiated by group members Peter Potts and Duncan Bell. To date, it has handled over 300 Greenshanks at Farlington. Since the colour-ringing project started we have increased our knowledge considerably. Several attempts have been made to catch a larger more representative sample of Greenshanks at Farlington over the years, using cannon-nets but they have so far been largely unsuccessful. The group has always been keen to extend the project into adjacent Chichester Harbour and this has now been possible thanks to the successful HLF "Rhythms of the Tide" project.

The Farlington Ringing Group has also now extended the project further afield, and Greenshanks are now caught for colour-ringing on The Wash, Norfolk, Ythan Estuary near Aberdeen in Scotland, the Medway Estuary in Kent, and on some coastal sites in The Netherlands. The FRG is working in partnership with the ringing groups operating in these areas and hopes to extend the project further.

Catches, or catch attempts, have taken place in most years. The accounts below have been transferred from the 'Latest News' section.


Thursday 26 - Monday 30 August 2004:   We achieved a good catch of Greenshank at Thorney Island. The site is in a pasture field on the edge of the Great Deep, a former tidal channel now impounded by sea walls at either end, but which still receives and discharges tidal water. It is part of a military base, but farmed by a tenant. We are very grateful to everyone who let us work there, and to the farmer's cattle that didn't disturb anything!A small team assembled on the Thursday afternoon to set the nets, at low tide so as not to disturb any birds. The site was checked on the Friday, and at high tide on the Saturday morning. As it seemed we had set the nets too far away from the water, another small team of people moved them on Saturday afternoon.

It was an early start for the full team on Sunday morning. We waited until 1pm before the net was fired, but caught 32 Greenshank, together with one Spotted Redshank and a juvenile Knot.

Inspired by our success we reset the net that evening and came back on Monday. After another long wait, during which an Osprey regularly flew over the site and scattered the birds, they were finally shifted into the catch area by a hunting Hobby - perfect! With a slightly different team we caught 24 more Greenshank (none the same as the previous day), two Redshank and a Common Sandpiper. So it was a very happy, but tired, team that dispersed on Monday evening. Pictures taken during this catch can be seen in the ringing process area of this website..

Autumn 2005: On 6 August members of the Farlington Ringing Group achieved a successful cannon-net catch on Thorney Island. We caught 22 Greenshanks, including 5 retraps, along with 3 Redshank and 2 Dunlin. Two of the retraps (Y//R+NB and N//R+RY) had been ringed in neighbouring Langstone Harbour in the late 1990’s, and have been seen regularly locally since then. The three others were ringed at Thorney in August 2002: YY+LY and YN+GY have been seen regularly until October or November each year since, but YL+LY had not been seen at all until the day before the catch.

We had another successful catch on 20 August. We caught 9 Greenshanks, 8 Lapwing and a Mallard! One of the retrapped birds from that catch was GY+GY, which is a regular through the winter at Nutbourne, about 2km east of Thorney, and has been retrapped annually since 2002!

On 8 September, a glorious day (and accompanied by the drama of the opening day of the final ‘Ashes’ cricket test match) 12 Greenshanks were caught at Thorney. Six had never been caught previously, 2 were already ringed and radio tagged (OR+OY and , yes, GY+GY!), and 4 were previously ringed and were fitted with radio tags (OG+NY, LR+GY, YN+OY and NG+GY). We also caught 9 juvenile Shelduck. All the newly tagged Greenshanks except YN+OY were heard again within 3 days of the catch, in the channels either side of the catch site. All this season’s available tags have now been fitted to birds.

Radiotracking 2005:  In order to find out more about how the birds use the local area we attached transmitters to 9 birds from the first catch: the 5 retraps and 4 of the newly-ringed moulting adult birds which we judged from their condition to be likely to stay in the area for a while as they were moulting their feathers. One of the Greenshanks from the second catch had been caught and tagged 2 weeks earlier, but we tagged the other 8, including GY+GY, making a total of 17 tagged birds.

With the co-operation of the military occupiers of the barracks next to the catch site, we have set up aerials and a datalogger to track the movements of these birds. We are also doing some mobile tracking around the harbours. The first results came the evening following the catch: when some of the team members were having a meal at a waterside pub (Ship Inn at Langstone) and switched on their receivers, and recorded birds on the adjacent mudflats!

Radio tracking at Thorney, Emsworth, Langstone and Northney (on Hayling Island) has located most of the tagged birds feeding on the mudflats and creeks at low water. Several of them are regulars and are heard on each visit, so are obviously using the part of Chichester Harbour called Sweare Deep each day at low tide. One of the tagged birds has also been seen roosting at near by Farlington Marshes Local Nature Reserve, Langstone Harbour together with another colour-ringed bird from the 6th August catch. We are beginning to match up the data from the logger and the hand-held sets, and to discover the range of both kinds of equipment. We are getting some useful results - watch this space, as they say!

Autumn 2006: The Farlington Ringing Group team made a successful cannon net catch of Greenshanks on Sunday 27 August 2006. Over 25 people helped catch and process 27 Greenshank, 22 Redshank and one Dunlin.

Eleven of the Greenshanks had been previously caught and colour-ringed. They include YL LY, recently reported seen in Sweden in April 2006 and OL LY seen in Norfolk in July 2004. Unfortunately we did not catch GY GY, one of our faithful wintering individuals, who has already returned. Each of these birds was fitted with a back mounted radiotag, as last year.

We have fitted the ‘new’ birds with leg mounted tags on their left legs. This is pioneering work; the tags have only recently been developed by Biotrack (www.biotrack.co.uk), the company who has supplied all our tags. These birds have individual colour rings, but the left legs all have green above the knee and red below. If you see black or white on the left leg it is part of the tag! We will be tracking the movements of all the birds around the area over the next few weeks.

23 September was another sunny day, and once more the Farlington Ringing Group achieved a successful catch of Greenshanks by cannon netting. But it nearly didn’t happen – until almost literally the last minute before giving instructions to fire the net, leader Pete Potts thought the attempt would need to be postponed. But birds arrived, and 23 Greenshank were caught, as well as two Redshank.

Seven of the Greenshank had been caught on previous occasions; three already had radio tags and another three were fitted with the remaining tags. Two of the retraps had previously been caught at neighbouring Farlington Marsh, one exactly a year earlier! Of the 16 unringed birds, 13 were juveniles, which, assuming they survive, will be a useful sample of birds of known age.

The site chosen by the birds, and hence the catch team, was more awkward, and much wetter, than normal. The net could not be set overnight, which caused an early start. However, Pete says ‘setting at dawn in flat calm conditions was a real treat with large flocks of wigeon around calling. We also had the usual good selection of raptors with 2-3 Ospreys, Hobby, Peregrine, and a Red-backed Shrike.’ Also found were a Pectoral Sandpiper and a Grasshopper Warbler . So tiredness and worry were dispelled by success.

October 2007: On Sunday 28 October we cannon netted 14 Greenshanks, together with 22 Redshanks, 28 Dunlin, 16 Turnstone, 3 Oystercatchers and a Little Egret at a roost on the West Deeps, Thorney Island.  Observations in the fine weather the previous week had shown that there were up to 20 Greenshanks using the area. Come Sunday, the weather  was wet and windy, so the other waders chose to join them in their relatively sheltered spot.

Five of the Greenshanks we caught were retraps from previous years;  we know that 3 of them stayed in the harbour throughout last winter. The 9 new birds have been colour ringed with combinations including YY on the right tibia. All of the trapped birds have been radiotagged.

In the unpleasant weather processing could have been a nightmare but very fortunately we were allowed to work in a local farmer’s barn.  It was a long day but we were all elated by the success of the catch, and look forward to tracking our birds around the harbour, hopefully throughout the winter.

Autumn 2008: On 28 September we had an excellent catch at Thorney Island. However, having set two narrow nets for Greenshanks we failed to get the 50+ Greenshank to land where we wanted them. Only 2 pitched in front of the net. Nevertheless the Redshank flock which also roost at the site landed in front of one of the nets and we caught 191 Redshank and a Lapwing. There were at least another 100 Redshank on the water’s edge and a handful of Greenshank and a Black-tailed Godwit but as we had set the net not to go out in the water they flew off - which was just as well as we had enough to deal with. There were 33 retrap Redshanks;  all bar one were birds we have ringed at Thorney in previous autumns and one was from neighbouring Langstone Harbour. This was the largest ever Sussex catch of Redshank.

On 16 October we tried again, and again the Greenshank weren’t co-operating. But again we got a good catch of 77 Redshank plus one Spotted Redshank and 5 Lapwing.

Two weeks later we tried to make it third time lucky, but the weather had other ideas. We had planned to try for Greenshank on the Saturday, but there was a pheasant shoot on , so we set on a different part of the site for ducks. However, even that failed because of the shoot, which worked against us when we hoped it would help. We abandoned the idea of resetting for Greenshanks for various reasons including the weather, and left the nets set where they were, and on Sunday morning got 18 Wigeon & 16 Teal. It was very wet, but we processed them in a nearby barn, and were all finished by lunchtime.

One of the factors which makes Thorney Deeps such a good site for waders to roost is that there are many options for the birds to choose, depending on wind direction, habitat condition, and disturbance (generally by cattle or raptors, not people). This is mainly why targetted catches aren’t always successful. However, we do usually end up catching something!

(2009-2012 no colour ringing for this project)

March 2013: The first birds have been ringed and tagged as part of a project to research movements of Greenshank using geolocators.  More than a week’s work resulted in two successful catches. The first yielded one bird, L//R+WY, originally ringed at Farlington Marshes on 23 September 2005 as an adult. A few days later we managed to catch two more previously unringed birds.  The geolocator is attached to the upper ring on the right leg, which, in new birds, is a blue ring. One of the two, RW+BY, was quickly spotted by local birders at Nore Barn, Emsworth where a single Greenshank has been present all winter. The other combination is RG+BY.

September 2013: During a catch of 35 Greenshank on 8 September 2013 we fitted geolocators to two retrapped birds, RG+YY and OO+YY. Both were first ringed by us at Thorney on 28th October 2007:  RG+YY as an adult and OO+YY as a juvenile. They were part of the radiotagging research that year and have been seen regularly ever since so we hope that will continue at least until we catch them next year! In addition we colour-ringed 33 new birds, 20 of which were juveniles. Also in the catch were 64 Redshanks, 8 Lapwing and a Dunlin.

After weeks of sunny weather, and excellent views of nearly 90 Greenshanks in the roost, including the three already wearing geolocators, the catch day was somewhat different.  The wind was chilly and there were frequent heavy showers. Fewer birds were around, and unfortunately the three we wanted were not caught. Fortunately we were able to process the birds in the shelter of a big barn near the site, which was better for the birds and us.

January 2014: We never thought we could be so fortunate! During a cannon-net catch on Saturday 18 January 2014 we caught all three birds that had been fitted with geolocators in March 2013. We also caught 10 other birds: 7 new and 3 previously caught on 8 September 2013,  one of which wore a geolocator. We did not remove that one as the bird had not left Chichester Harbour since September. All the other birds were fitted with new geolocators. We had expected that it would take several attempts to recover the three used geolocators, but the catch went very well in spite of the wet ground, and was achieved without much waiting around, which was a bonus.

September 2014: During a cannon net catch on 22 September we caught 16 Greenshank. Six were retraps, and three of those had  geolocators fitted either in January 2014 or September 2013. The bird which received its geolocator in September last year remained in Chichester Harbour through the winter, we think, but maybe there will be a surprise. This catch followed one 9 days earlier, when we failed to catch any birds with geolocators. However we did have a good catch of Redshank and ringed 4 new Greenshank.

October 2015: We successfully caught 6 greenshanks  on 3 October. Two were retraps, but unfortunately neither had a geolocator. Three birds with geolocators had been seen at the targetted roost during preparations for the catch, but on the day they were elsewhere. On 17 October we held a catch which was mainly for Redshank, but we caught one juvenile Greenshank as well. 

September 2016: At last we have been able to catch two Greenshanks with geolocators.  They were among a flock of 15 caught on 3 September, with 6 other retraps. One of the two had already had one geolocator replaced, so it will be interesting to see if the two datasets are comparable. The catch took place on the western Deeps, Thorney Island.