Friday, 21 November 2014

Monkey III first woodcock to return to UK

Monkey III is now back in the UK making him/her our first to return this winter. His/her current location is within 5 km of the location we caught and tagged him/her in March this year.

Monkey III was expected to be the first bird back – (s)he was the closest of our birds to Britain since arriving in the Netherlands on 11th November. Now (s)he has made the final hop across the North Sea and taken up a familiar wintering site in Hampshire.

His/her outward journey in spring, from Hampshire to Western Russia, saw him/her take a route that included a brief stop-over in Lincolnshire. It looks as though Monkey III did not make this stop on his/her return journey but we cannot be certain of this. (S)he may have called in briefly without pausing long enough for his/her tag to transmit from Lincolnshire.

Finally, to explain the question of Monkey III’s gender: sex in woodcock is determined by bill length. Males, on average, have shorter bills than females though there is an intermediate grey area where the ranges overlap. With a bill of 72mm, Monkey III fell within this region and so, unlike the majority of our other tagged birds, we cannot be certain of his/her sex.

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Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Latest November location updates - Amy, Monkey III, Nastasia & Rocky

Nearly half-way through November and several of our tagged woodcock are getting closer to returning to the UK including Monkey III, who had been silent for three months until we received an update on 11th November:

Monkey III is currently in the Netherlands after leaving Russia
Amy has flown through Belarus on her way back from Russia and is in Lithuania
Nastasia has passed through Latvia on her return and is now in Lithuania
Rocky is in Germany having stopped off in Poland on the journey back from Russia
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Thursday, 6 November 2014

The myths of migration

The goldcrest takes the title of Europe’s smallest bird; and weighing just six grams (that’s the same as a twenty-pence piece), it is around half the weight of a blue tit. They are one of many British species that have both a resident breeding population living here all year round, and a migratory population that visits us from Scandinavia, Russia and Poland where typical winter temperatures would prove fatal.

Though usually inconspicuous during the breeding season, they are often seen in autumn when newly-arrived migrants are busily feeding to recoup from their long journey and prepare for the winter ahead.

The fact that such a tiny creature can make the perilous flight across Europe and the North Sea once seemed so implausible that some early thinkers concluded that they must be aided in their feat.  The goldcrest’s arrival more-or-less coincides with that of another autumn migrant, the woodcock, and it was believed by some that goldcrests crossed the sea hitching a lift on the woodcocks’ back.

According to legend, this gave rise to the goldcrest’s traditional folk name of ‘Woodcock Pilot’.
The tale of the woodcock pilot is not the only myth associated with migration and there are a number that centre on the woodcock itself. Most widely-known is that of the apocryphal ‘Woodcock Moon’ that suggests woodcock time their migration to coincide with November’s full moon, using its light to help them navigate. This seems bound to an earlier, more farfetched myth that proposed that woodcock flew from the moon where they had purportedly spent the summer.

In truth, it seems unlikely that woodcock use the light of the moon to migrate – as a nocturnal species their eyes are well-adapted to low-light levels. The most obvious cues for migration are the weather conditions and woodcock appear to favour sea-crossings on nights that are dry and cloudless with a favourable tail-wind. It is probably the case that on these clear nights the moon appears at its brightest and so woodcock and the November moon have become interwoven in country lore.

There is another, more plausible tale as to how the goldcrest became known as the woodcock pilot. This suggests the goldcrest is a ‘pilot’ in the alternative sense of the word; a preliminary guide which tests the water before the arrival of the woodcock. It’s true that that appearance of the goldcrest commonly precedes that of the woodcock and I mention this as I have seen a number of goldcrests feeding in the garden this week.  Perhaps this suggests the woodcock will soon be on their way?

For the next few weeks all eyes will be on the Woodcock Watch website as we anticipate the welcome return of our winter visitors.

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Monday, 3 November 2014

Flurry of activity as woodcock begin their return

A number of our tagged woodcock have now started their journeys back to the UK and we have received a flurry of location updates:

Amy is now in Belarus having left Russia
James is currently in Estonia having now left Russia
Lanyon has reached Poland after leaving Russia
Rocky has made it to Germany after leaving Russia

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It costs £3,500 to tag and monitor a single woodcock on its epic journey for one year. Please support our project here - no donation is too small.