Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Why aren't we seeing much new location data?

Many woodcock sponsors have noticed a recent lack of activity from the tagged birds, and would be forgiven for thinking that there is a problem with the Woodcock Watch website. We can assure that this is not the case; it’s simply that no data is being transmitted at present.

We currently believe that the problem relates to the tags’ batteries. The tags are solar-powered and need to be recharged by the sun. To fully recharge a battery from flat will take about 4 hours of bright sunlight. It seems 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. Light intensity on a sunny winter’s day is only one ninth of that experienced on a day in June. On top of this, the woodcock’s nocturnal, secretive nature means that it spends most of the day hidden beneath dense vegetation. This does not mean the tags are permanently out of action though; assuming that some of the birds are still alive, their tags will begin to transmit again as soon as they recharge. This point has been proven by Olwen, who has transmitted good-quality data this week despite having been out of touch for over two months. He has now reappeared in Lincolnshire, where he is alive and well, having made his way from Western Russia.

Olwen's journey
It’s important to remember that this research is not tried and tested; this is new technology which has not been trialled on woodcock. Most current satellite tagging studies performed in the UK relate to diurnal summer visitors migrating between Britain and Africa. This is a far cry from the nocturnal woodcock which is migrating north to Russia and Scandinavia. Because this is such a new area of research there will undoubtedly be surprises and unforeseen problems. Whilst this may seem a disappointment, we must keep in mind the quality of the revelatory spring data we have gathered using these tags which more than make up for the problems we experience in autumn.

Please help us continue our woodcock research

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Woodcock - working to provide the shooting community with more facts

by Andrew Hoodless, Head of Wetland Research

Following Katrina Candy's piece in The Scotsman (Watch the birdie and help to save woodcocks - 9th December 2014) we'd like to take this opportunity to discuss the work we're doing to help understand the impact of shooting on woodcock populations.

We believe that the woodcock population in Europe as a whole is stable and numbers of birds wintering here have been stable for the last 20 years. Hence, we believe that the shooting of winter migrants is currently sustainable.

We are concerned about declines in our resident breeding population. While we think that these are likely to be driven primarily by other factors, such as reduced woodland management, increasing deer numbers, increased predation and changing climate, we cannot rule out shooting as a contributory factor.

We therefore advise landowners with breeding woodcock to delay shooting until migrant birds have arrived in good numbers, typically after the November full moon, and to give careful consideration to the numbers they shoot.

We currently have a PhD student investigating patterns of decline in our breeding woodcock and the possible causes. As part of the outputs of our programme of research on woodcock migration, we aim to provide the shooting community with better facts to enable them to make informed decisions. We are working on understanding the impact of shooting on woodcock populations, with a view to producing guidelines on the levels and circumstances where shooting is sustainable.

We plan to analyze our data sets to look for an impact of shooting (or not) and submit the evidence for peer review. But this has not happened yet!

To find out more about our woodcock research please click here >