February has proved to be an exciting but challenging month, with the team in Canberra setting out to deploy 6 PinPoint Argos 75 satellite transmitters on snipe at Jerrabomberra wetlands. We learned much from our trial two years ago with the PTTs, so quite a lot of changes were made to our protocols to improve the deployment process. A big part of this was holding snipe for a period time after the transmitter harness was fitted, to allow the bird to settle into its harness and us to monitor the bird to check it is OK.
With this in mind, we set about building the best ever indoor wetland! It took nearly two days and about a dozen people to set up. With the help of some of the parks rangers, the nearby Environmental Watering construction contractors (and their earth moving equipment), a group of people trudged into the wetland to fetch the enclosure “furnishing”.
We needed a tent, a tarp floor, dirt, wetland mud and plants, trays for wetland mud, water trays, plenty of live food like mealworms and small crickets, a way to recapture a bird and a even a security camera with night vision! Some poor souls even picked through the compost for fresh maggots!
On thursday 7th february, a large team of volunteers both experienced and new, set out nets in Kelly’s swamp north, in readiness for catching friday morning. At first light on Friday, the team caught 6 snipe, of which only one ended up being big enough to fit a transmitter. Also included in that catch was 2 recaptures – one juvenile from earlier in the season (engraved leg flag 78) and one from the previous year (ELF 90), which has been seen at Jerra on and off throughout the whole season.
Birgita, with help from Inka Veltheim, painstakingly fitted the harness. Once that was done, the snipe was weighed and placed in “Snipe Hilton”. After that, it was nearly 24 hours of walking on tiptoes, whispering, shooing away an unexpected arrival of two busloads of people wanting to tour the wetlands, eating crappy food and chocolate, and taking turns to monitor the camera and check how the bird was going.
The team was heartened to observe our snipe drinking, resting, picking at the mud like she was foraging and occasionally preening without any obvious signs of trouble from her harness.
After dark on friday, while 2 people were left monitoring our snipe, the rest of the team head back out into the wetland, this time to set nets at the south end of Kelly’s swamp. Unfortunately, during that afternoon Canberra had torrential rainfall and by the evening, there was water everywhere. Which meant the snipe that left overnight to forage elsewhere did not return. Only a single snipe was caught saturday morning in an area that is usually very successful for catching. And our single bird was not big enough for a transmitter. It was very disappointing, especially as we had out biggest team of helpers that morning!
We decided to check and adjust the harness on our tagged bird before processing the newbie. We let her go after re-weighing her and off she flew strongly, straight into the wetland right out the front of the wetland centre! It was fantastic to see her fly off, looking so well.
The team decided to name her Patience (Nintai 忍耐 in Japanese – we apologise to our Japanese colleagues if we have used the wrong Kanji here!). This is because she was the most patient bird ever the whole time the transmitter was fitted! But, also the patience of us as researchers and volunteers deserved some recognition.
During the first week, Nintai’s transmitter was programmed to take fixes twice a day, once at midnight and once at midday. During the week, she has spent most of her time at the nearby turf farm, although by the weekend, she had returned to Jerra wetlands.
Heaps of people helped with this catch and were amazing. Birgita would like to thank all the volunteers who were part of this fantastic team: Lori Gould & Kelly Bateup, Nicki & Emily Taws, Michael Maconachie, John Lawson, Inka Veltheim, Grant Battersby, Mark Jenkins, Heather Mcginness, The Callaway family, Chris Davey, Kristy Gould, Sophie and Lily Mills, Tristan Derwick, Adam & Tom Leavesley, Millie and John Sutherland Saines, Pete Morris, Shoshana Rapley, Jas & Ash Allnutt, and Jon Coleman. And a special thanks to Kristy, John, Kumiko and the rangers who had to dig up my pedantically-identified patches of wetland mud from the swamp!