Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Is Olwen our first woodcock back in Britain?

New data received this morning show one of our Welsh birds, Olwen, is back in the UK. This new location comes from the East Riding of Yorkshire and is the first provided by Olwen’s tag since early September. As Olwen was caught in Wales last winter, we would expect to see him/her returning to a similar location this year. It seems likely that this is the first stop-off on his/her way across the UK back to mid-Wales.

It is the first time this winter that one of our birds has sent data from within the UK - but it may not necessarily mean that Olwen is the first bird back. Other woodcock, such as Lanyon and Crugith, were making good progress across Europe but we have not received recent data from these birds. It may be that these two, or others, have slipped into the UK already – but have passed ‘beneath our radar’. If this is the case we can only hope that their tags send us data soon, letting us know where they are now.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Great video of Eurasian Woodcock feeding

Check out this fantastic video of a Eurasian Woodcock feeding in Norway:

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Why so quiet?

Many regular viewers of Woodcock Watch may have noticed a recent lack of activity from the tagged birds. This is in contrast to observations from the field – many sponsors have written to us to say that the woodcock seem to be reappearing in the UK now. So why is there so little movement?

We believe that the problem relates to the tags’ batteries. The tags are solar-powered and need to be recharged by the sun. It is possible that during the bird’s moult, due to a change in the woodcocks’ behaviour, the tags were not receiving sufficient sunlight and have run completely flat. To fully recharge a battery from flat will take about 4 hours of bright sunlight. It may be that the tags are not receiving this. Day length is short and sunlight intensity low in the northern locations where the birds have spent the autumn, not to mention the fact that the birds are often hidden during the day.

Those who followed Woodcock Watch last year will remember the same issues in our first autumn. However, this year’s results have been noticeably better and the tags have returned far more data. Crugith and Lanyon for instance have transmitted useful results through the majority of their autumn migration and we hope that more such data is on its way.

It is more than likely that some of the birds have died. Crousa, who we have not heard from since May, and Elissa, who has not sent data since June, are probably no longer alive. Annual survival rates are around 60% for woodcock - that is to say that around 40% of the adult population do not survive from one year to the next. Lifespan does not typically exceed 4 years. It is perfectly natural that we lose a few of our woodcock over the course of a year.

But for birds like St Patrick, Skittle, Amy and Rebecca, who last transmitted in August or September, there is still hope. It is possible that their tags will receive the sunlight they require in the coming weeks and will then begin transmitting data again. We observed this pattern in 2012 with several individuals sending winter locations after an autumn quiet period. It is possible that some of these birds, when we next here from them, will be back here in the UK.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Help us tag and monitor a woodcock

We've teamed up with to try and raise £3,500 by the end of the year to cover the cost of buying, fitting a satellite tag and monitoring one woodcock on its epic migration.

How Crowdfunder works

No donation is too small and we are offering rewards for those who pledge £5 or more. Your donation payment is only actually taken if we hit our target of £3,500 by the end of the year.

You can view our appeal page at

Monday, 11 November 2013

New location data for Crugith and Lanyon

Crugith and Lanyon continue to set the pace for the return to the UK. Crugith is currently in Berkatal in central Germany:

Lanyon meanwhile is hot on Crugith's heels and is currently in Pierkunowo, Poland:

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Look what else we came across on Tuesday night

Whilst we were out on Tuesday night we managed to catch and tag three of the six woodcock we saw. Numbers are low at the moment but we're expecting more migrants to return shortly.

In addition to the three woodcock we also came across a golden plover. Our research assistant Chris is currently training towards a general ringing permit so the experience of ringing a new species was a real bonus.

Our first woodcock of the winter

Our first woodcock of the winter, ringed and ready for release at 10.30pm on Tuesday 5th November.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Geolocators vs Satellite Tags

Since 2012, the GWCT Wetlands team has tagged 24 woodcock with satellite transmitters. The movements of these birds have been transmitted back to us in near real time, and as well as a large amount of valuable data, they have provided a great deal of interest to the thousands who have viewed their migrations on the Woodcock Watch website.

But these few satellite-tagged stars of the show are only a small proportion of the woodcock caught and tagged. Though they may provide an exciting and easily-accessible insight into the movements of our birds, there is no escaping the fact that satellite tags are expensive, costing around £3000 each. It’s with this in mind that we have looked at alternative methods of gaining data on woodcock migration routes, and found one, in the form of the geolocator.

Geolocators are tags that are even smaller and lighter than satellite transmitters. They are also a fraction of the cost - we can buy around twenty geolocators for the price of a single satellite tag. They work by logging light levels, from which time of sunrise, sunset and day length can be determined.

These data can be used to calculate an approximate longitude and latitude for the bird twice a day. Geolocators are accurate to 60-150 km and whilst this is far less accurate than a satellite tag, it is an acceptable margin of error for a bird that may migrate 2000–7000 km.
Geolocators do present one difficulty however. The tags store information on the birds’ whereabouts but do not transmit it – the tags must be retrieved and the data downloaded. The chance of recapturing the same woodcock from one year to the next – considering the several thousand miles it may have travelled in the meantime – probably seems like finding a needle in a haystack.

Amazingly, however, it is possible, and this is thanks to the fact that woodcock tend to be very site faithful. Woodcock will return to the same wintering sites year on year and on some occasions even the same field. We have deliberately deployed these geolocators at sites where we have previous knowledge of site fidelity from ringing and are able invest time in recapture efforts each winter.

As well as recapturing live birds, we have also had several tags returned to us by those that have shot woodcock wearing them. It is with this in mind that we share the following information so that those who shoot woodcock are able to recognise the tags and return them to us.
  • The tags are very small, approximately 8 x 20 mm.
  • The tags may be almost entirely covered in feathers as they sit flat on the back. The light sensor should be visible, protruding from the feathers on a small stalk about 20 mm long. It is possible that this stalk could break off but the tag itself may still contain useful data so please check beneath the feathers.
  • The tags are mounted to the lower back and held using leg loop harnesses. These pass under both legs and hold the tag above the preen gland and between the wings in an area that does not impede preening or flight. A tag can be easily removed by stretching the elasticated loops back over the legs.
  • The tags have been deployed in small numbers in Norfolk and in north-east Scotland. Tags have been deployed in large numbers in Cornwall, and, with the help of the Woodcock Network, in Mid-Wales. People who shoot in these areas are far more likely to encounter geolocators.

To date, just over 100 geolocators have been deployed since 2010 and 18 recovered. People who recover a geolocator can return it to Andrew Hoodless, GWCT, Burgate Manor,
Fordingbridge, Hampshire, SP6 1EF or email: for more information.
Both geolocators and satellite tags are valuable tools in monitoring woodcock migration, each with their own benefits and disadvantages. Whilst satellite tags are able to provide us with very accurate and easily-accessed data, the geolocators are a cheaper way to increase sample size. The success of our geolocator study hinges on achieving reasonable return rates and every tag that we are able to recover will make a big difference.

Crugith leading the charge home

It looks like Crugith may be the first of our woodcock to make it back to the UK. She's continuing west and has just crossed over into Germany from Poland.

Monday, 4 November 2013

First data from Woody II since August

We've received some new data from Woody II, the first update since August. She's making her way back and is currently approaching Moscow.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Crugith arrives in Poland

More news from Crugith this morning - she's made the hop over the border from Belarus to Poland.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Has Lanyon been blown off course?

New data from Lanyon shows she's moved in a northerly direction. Have strong winds blown her off course? News will appear here as soon as we get it.

Latest Woodcock Location Updates

Crugith is on the move again - she's passed Russia and is now on the Belarusian/Polish border:

Wensum has started her migration now. She's crossed the Baltic and is taking a break in Southern Sweden:

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Lanyon taking it easy in western Russia

It would appear Lanyon is currently taking things slowly in western Russia. It's quite typical for woodcock to stop mid-migration and rest for a period of about 10 days or so.

Spotlight on record-breaking woodcock flights in west Wales

They have been widely featured on the BBC programme Springwatch as well as the BBC’s One Show. Now the secret life of the elusive woodcock is being revealed in west Wales by one of the world’s leading authorities on woodcock ecology, Dr Andrew Hoodless on Friday 15th November at the Abercothi Estate in Carmarthen...

Click here to read full article on GWCT website >

Friday, 18 October 2013

Lanyon pushes west beyond Moscow

Lanyon is continuing her journey west and has just passed Moscow. She's currently only a couple of hundred kilometres from the border.

Crugith stops for a break

We've received some new data from Crugith, it appears she's stopped for a break in Saransk, Russia.

New data for Remy

We've received new data from Remy - she's still in Latvia and enjoying the relatively mild weather there.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Crugith & Lanyon making strong headway

Several of the birds are returning regular data right now, but two in particular seem to be making strong headway with their autumn migrations.

Crugith, one of our two Cornish/Siberian birds, has spent the past month travelling the breadth of Russia and is now closing in on the border. The 2,800 km that she has travelled so far sees her just past the halfway mark of her mammoth journey. She appears to be taking a more southerly route than our other Siberian migrants; something she also did on the outward trip. We’re very interested to see if she passes through the Ukraine as she did in the spring; when studying migration the routes and stop-offs are just as interesting and important as the final destination.

Lanyon is also heading back and making good progress. Her journey may only be around half of that travelled by Crugith, but with the exception of the three Siberian birds Lanyon is our easternmost breeder. So far Lanyon has covered around 600 km since she left a month ago. Both birds are now between 600 and 700km from the Russian border.

Who do you think will be the first to leave Russia? If not Lanyon or Crugith, could it be Rebecca or Amy, both of whom bred close to the border?

Outside of Russia, none of our birds are showing signs of significant moving. St Brendan and Wensum have both sent data within the past couple of weeks and neither have moved away from their summer sites yet.


Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Updates on Crugith and Lanyon

New data shows that Crugith has managed to cover another 750 km since she last sent data and is now near Saransk, Russia. 

Meanwhile Lanyon has flown just short of 400km since 7th October and is now getting close to Moscow.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

New data recorded by Lanyon

New data shows Lanyon on the move in Russia - only 100km from her breeding site so far; but it's a start!

View Lanyon's profile here >

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Crugith shares more location data

Crugith has sent more data from central Russia & she's still near Perm. We're wondering why this is such a popular stop-off?

Click here to view Crugith's journey >

Monday, 30 September 2013

Tracking woodcock

So that we don’t impair the birds’ flight, we have utilised small satellite tags that are dependent on solar charging to replenish their batteries. Consequently, low light levels caused some gaps in data transmission in winter, but we have been able to capture locations accurate to between 150 metres and one kilometre.

In tracking these enigmatic waders, we are able to gain a better understanding of the 750,000-1,200,000 migrants which join the considerably smaller resident population in Britain in winter.

Click here to find out more >

Woodcock Case Study - Woody II

Name: Woody II
Tagged: Norfolk
Weight: 328g
Bill length: 75mm
Distance travelled: 4,360 miles
Furthest location: Evenkiysky District, Russia

Thanks to our satellite-tracking programme, our scientists have discovered that following his overwinter stay in Britain, ‘Woody 11’ flew to the same breeding grounds in Siberia as Monkey and Crugith. This is probably where he was born – an extraordinary feat for such a small bird.

Click here to sponsor Woody II >

How fast do woodcock fly, where do they go to breed and are they site-faithful?

We now have some fascinating insights into woodcock behaviour and migration after fitting a further 13 birds with satellite tags early this spring.

Tagged at six sites across Britain and Ireland the birds have made it to their breeding sites and have settled in Sweden (1), Finland (1), Latvia (2), north-west Russia (7) and central Russia (2).

Monkey, from the first batch of birds, who astonished everyone by flying to central Siberia to breed last summer, is still alive and back at the same breeding site this year. We estimate that he has now flown at least 38,000 kilometres (km) (23,750 miles) during his life.

This year he has been joined in Siberia by Woody II and Crugith, who have flown 6,980km (4,360 miles) and 7,100km (4,440 miles) respectively. Clearly, this is an important breeding area for some of the woodcock that winter in Britain, a fact that we would never have discovered without satellite tracking.

With information from 24 woodcock, we are now getting close to the sample size required to appreciate individual differences in the behaviour of birds tagged at the same and different winter sites.

We now know that woodcock migration consists of a series of long, fast flights of 600-1,100km (375-690 miles), broken up by stops en route typically lasting 7-15 days. Flight speed averages about 30km/h (19mph), but can reach 93km/h (58mph). Monkey and Rebecca have demonstrated that woodcock can be extremely faithful to the same breeding and winter sites each year.