Cannon-netting in Broome
The first time I went cannon netting in Broome, I was 10 years old. We listened very carefully to Chris’s* pre-catch talk about what to do at the net, spent about 1 hour waiting in the dry heat of the bay, and we caught nothing. (Good job, Whistling Kite!) My mum thought ‘well, that’s that, he’ll never want to do that again’, but the first thing I said to her as we walked off the bay was ‘when’s the next one?’. Not catching anything had just made me more determined to do it all again.
The following week we had a successful catch despite the Whistling Kites, and we caught over 270 birds, including Whimbrel, Great and Red Knots, Bar- and Black-tailed Godwits. This catch was particularly exciting for me as I got to sit in the hide with Chris before the cannons fired, watching the birds fly and twirl before settling on the beach. I will never forget the anticipation of hearing Chris’s ‘3, 2, 1, fire!’, the loud echoing boom as the net soared over the birds and the adrenaline rush of running flat out to the net without stopping.
What happens next? It looks chaotic with everyone rushing to the net, but Chris’s instructions keep us right and the birds safe. The priority is getting the birds out the net and the water, and into cool cages. We have to carefully identify and sort them into cages according to their species. When the birds are sorted, we can all have a chill-out time before the data collecting starts. Chris sorts out who is doing banding and measuring. If you have very good, clear handwriting you can scribe (recording the data as it is called out).
What do I do? After two seasons I have successfully trained myself to identify birds at the net, collect them from the cages to give to the banders and release them after banding, making sure to check for any raptors. White-bellied Sea Eagles, Whistling Kites, Brown Falcon, Hobby’s, and even Black Kites will take the opportunity to seize weak or solitary birds. I have also successfully trained my parents to take me to almost every cannon netting, often camping the night before at the BBO so that we can help with setting up the net, cages, and shade. Dad helps Chris with bleeding the birds, and mum helps with scribing. I do still need to work on their identification skill though. Have you ever heard of a ‘Red-Legged Stint’? (one of my dad’s delusions). As well as meeting lots of different birds, it’s also a chance to meet like-minded people from around the world and talk about birds. Hope to see you in the bay!
*Chris Hassell – researcher in charge of the cannon-netting, who has more licences than you can shake a stick at.
words and photography: Daniel Aspey