Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Counting roding woodcock - an update

Thanks to the help of over 800 volunteers, around 950 sites were surveyed for breeding woodcock in 2013. Chris Heward provides an update.

In 2003, together with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), we conducted the first national survey of breeding woodcock, based on counts of roding males. This provided the most accurate population estimate to date of 78,350 males for Britain. This was about six times higher than previous estimates based on general bird surveys. However, given the contraction in breeding distribution reported by the BTO Bird Atlas 2007-11, a 10-year repeat survey to measure change in breeding population size seemed timely.

In 2013, northern Scotland and northern and eastern England remained stronghold areas, with between 50 per cent and 68 per cent of woods greater than 10 hectares supporting at least one roding woodcock.

The lowest occupancy levels were recorded in Wales (16 per cent ) and south-west England (20 per cent). It is now particularly noticeable in southern England that sites occupied by breeding woodcock are clustered in areas with extensive blocks of woodland such as the Forest of Dean, the New Forest
and Thetford Forest.

Comparison with 2003 suggests a decline in overall site occupancy of 8 per cent in the last 10 years. We observed declines in site occupancy in eight of 11 regions, with the most severe reduction of 17.5 per cent in south-east England. Small gains were recorded in northern Scotland (5.5 per cent) and northern England (3.5 per cent). The next step is to examine the change in woodcock numbers and to produce new national population size estimates, so that we can then start to examine potential reasons for the different regional trends.

Learn more about the migrations of woodcock visiting Britain and Ireland in winter at

Help us monitor woodcock trends

We are grateful to the many volunteers who participated in the 2013 Breeding Woodcock Survey and to the small band of woodcock enthusiasts who have surveyed a site annually since 2003.

Please consider monitoring a wood near you on an annual basis and help us understand the decline of this enigmatic species. Contact Andrew Hoodless for more details.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Beautiful new limited edition woodcock print available

Professional wildlife artist Colin Woolf has produced this beautiful sepia woodcock study, painted with a woodcock's pin-feather.

'The Secret' shows a woodcock carrying its baby to safer ground and Colin is very kindly donating a percentage of all sales to our Woodcock Watch project.

If you wish to buy one you'd better move fast - there are only 200 available!

Find out more >

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Location Update - Wensum back in Germany

We've received an interesting update on Wensum's progress. It seems she's flown east and returned to Germany following a brief stay in Holland.

Follow Wensum's journey here >

Monday, 17 February 2014

Location Update: Remy returns to the Highlands

We're pleased to report that Remy has transmitted data for the first time since last summer.

Having left the Scottish Highlands in March she was last known to be in Latvia but we're thrilled that she reappeared in the Highlands last week having covered over 4,200km on her journey.

The satellite image below shows Remy's current location (Ry) in relation to her original location from where she began her journey last March. She is just 10km away.

The thing we can't be sure of is how long has Remy been back because this is the first data she has sent for months. It is unclear whether she has only just returned to the country or whether her tag has only just recharged.
It may seem unlikely that a migratory bird, that is 'supposed' to arrive in Autumn, has only just returned to her wintering site in mid-February when winter is almost over. But it may be the case. This appears to be what Amy, one of our Irish birds, has done. We can be more sure that Amy was still migrating up until early February as, unlike Remy, she sent data en-route proving she had not reached her wintering site in Western Ireland before the 11th February.
It is a long migration to make for a short stay - we would expect both Remy and Amy to have to return to the breeding grounds in only a month or so's time. Will we now see more woodcock, such as Wensum, following suit?
Our Woodcock Appeal
We are the first scientific organisation to use the latest in micro-electronic and satellite technology to track woodcock during the 2012 migration. To continue this important, pioneering research we need to secure the necessary funding.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Amy back at site where she was caught - 6,400km later!

Amy has moved further west and is now back at the exact site she was caught in Galway, Ireland. She left on 10th March and has travelled 6,382km on her journey to Russia and back.

What is really interesting about this is that Amy was still in eastern Ireland on the 6th of February, so we know she did not return to the west until some time this week.

This behaviour shows that woodcock will make large movements through the course of the winter, not just in the autumn. This confirms what we suspect about their ability to react to changes in local weather conditions - but it is particularly interesting to see that she has eventually returned to a familiar site.

This essentially seems to show that woodcock can retain information about a suitable wintering site, but only choose to return to it if the weather is sufficiently bad. It may even be that individuals have a suite of different sites they’ve visited before, and can resort to different options given the different situations presented to them (although this last point is only speculative with the data we currently have).

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Location Update - Was it Crugith?

During our trip to Cornwall last week, we spotted a woodcock with a satellite tag. Andrew Hoodless got within 10 feet of the bird and could clearly see the tag, but wasn’t quite able to catch the bird. Hence, infuriatingly, we weren’t able to confirm the bird’s identity, but it was in the same field where Crugith was caught in February 2013 and we believe it is most likely to be this bird.

We received good data on Crugith’s autumn migration until she reached Germany on 9th November, so it is possible that she has been back in Cornwall for a while. The sighting, along with a recent transmission from Amy in Ireland, confirms our suspicions that a reasonable proportion of our 2013 batch of birds are still alive but their tags are not transmitting owing to the gloomy, wet winter weather.

The reliance on solar recharging of the smallest satellite tags is known to be a limitation in winter, but there is a chance that some of the tags may start transmitting again in late March/April when the birds head off on spring migration.

Click here to sponsor Crugith >

A report from our Cornish woodcock trip

We’re pleased to report that, despite the stormy conditions, our Cornish trip was a success with 80 woodcock caught over 5 nights (plus 4 golden plover, 5 common snipe and 5 jack snipe). This included 4 recaptures of birds ringed in February 2013.

Numbers of woodcock seen were lower than in previous winters, at about 80% of average density, most likely explained by the milder weather this winter. Numbers in Cornwall tend to be at their highest in the very coldest winters when birds from across the UK and Europe take advantage of Cornwall’s relatively mild climate. Nevertheless, there were still plenty of birds to be caught and we’re happy with the total for the week.

Last week’s trip was about building up a sample of ringed woodcock and recapturing birds from previous winters in order to estimate wintering site fidelity. A second trip at the end of February will focus on the deployment of satellite tags and geolocators.

Please help us continue our woodcock research

Location Update: Amy back in Ireland

Great news - Amy's tag has resumed transmission and she is currently back in Ireland, although not yet in Galway where she began her journey last March.

Amy has covered over 6,200km so far on her journey which has taken her to western Russia and back.

Click here to sponsor Amy >

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Woodcock catching in Cornwall

by Chris Heward

We're lucky enough to be visiting Cornwall this week on a woodcock-catching fieldtrip. Having driven down on Saturday, we've spent the past three nights in the field trying to catch and ring as many woodcock as possible. The ultimate aim is to try to recover geolocators from birds caught and tagged last winter; as well as deploying more tags for the coming spring migration.

Every bird we catch is ringed; an exercise which helps us learn about the longevity, condition and movements of individual birds (the benefits of ringing are described here). So far, no geolocators have been recovered but we have managed to recapture a couple of birds ringed in previous winters.

We have a second trip to Cornwall planned for March, when the plan will be to deploy two more satellite tags.

Please subscribe to blog updates as we have two more nights of catching left, and will keep you posted on our progress. Hopefully we'll also have some pictures to share.

Please help us continue our woodcock research

Monday, 3 February 2014

Wensum moves west into the Netherlands

We've received a location update for Wensum. She's moved west from Germany into the Netherlands.

Having left Norfolk on 18th March 2013 she has now covered over 4,500km on her journey.

Smith & Williamson to sponsor woodcock in 2014

We'd like to thank Smith & Williamson who have kindly agreed to sponsor a woodcock in our pioneering Woodcock Watch project.

The sponsorship will begin in March when new birds are tagged by Dr Andrew Hoodless and his team.

Read Smith & Williamson's blog