Wednesday, 29 April 2015

European sunshine leading to regular Woodcock Watch updates

The spring sunshine across Europe means our birds are currently relaying a plethora of location data on a daily basis, their current locations are shown on the map below (except Garth -she's flown so far in to Russia she won't fit on the screengrab!)

This year we have several birds who have headed north-east into Scandinavia including City who has travelled less than 1,000k from Scotland to Denmark. After dropping off the radar in February and recently reappearing in Belarus, Hugh has now made it well into Russia

Our birds in Scndinavia - Soval, City, Doc, Ruan and Knepp

The table below show current location data for each bird:

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Thursday, 23 April 2015

Major movements recorded by our tagged woodcock

The last few days have seen a flurry of activity from our satellite-tagged woodcock. As you can see from the map below, many have travelled east and several have already reached Russia:

Most interestingly Garth has unexpectedly resurfaced in an unusually southern location in Russia. Is she lost or is she heading far out east?

City has flown east to Denmark - could (s)he be our first Danish migrant?

After a long silence Soval sent 3 updates on 11th April from three very different places in Sweden.

The table below show current location data for each bird:

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Wednesday, 15 April 2015

A closer look at the veterans

Eight of the woodcock we are tracking this year were caught and tagged prior to 2015 – either in spring 2013 or spring 2014. This means we are currently following their outward migration for the second or third time.

Irena's journey
Three of these birds are already at the breeding sites they visited last year. These are:

Irina – who has travelled from Ireland to the exact same site in Norway in spring 2014 and 2015.

Wensum – who was tagged in Norfolk in spring 2013. Wensum has wintered in Germany the past two winters and has returned to the same wood in Finland each year.

St. Brendan – who flew from Ireland to Latvia in 2014 and 2015.

Unsurprisingly these three, who have already finished their migrations, are those who travel the shortest distances.

Knepp and Olwen are both pretty close to the breeding sites they have used in previous years (Finland and Russia respectively) and appear to be heading in the right direction. Nastasia also appears to be plotting the correct course but still has 500 or so km left to travel before she reaches her Russian breeding grounds.

Remy has not transmitted data for some time so we are unsure of her exact whereabouts. Assuming she is a) still alive and b) returning to the same breeding site she ought to be en route to eastern Latvia. The last we heard she was in Belgium, but that was on the 22nd March.

The final bird is Monkey III. Monkey III should be heading towards Western Russia by now. Last year he/she had arrived on his/her breeding site by 30th April. This year, however, Monkey III has not yet left the UK and is still sending regular and accurate data from Hampshire. This seems very strange – we didn’t expect birds to ‘opt out’ of migration! Either Monkey III is leaving it very late to leave or there is something wrong with him/her.

Whilst Monkey III appears to be alive and moving around on a regular basis, there may be an issue that is preventing him/her from achieving the condition required to migrate – perhaps the result of a parasite, illness or old injury.

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Monday, 13 April 2015

Doc heads north to Sweden

Last week, via our Woodcock Watch Twitter feed, we asked this question: “DOC waits beside the Kalmar strait. Will the next move be northward, further into Sweden or across the Baltic?”

Doc has answered over the weekend by travelling 300km north. (S)he is still in Sweden, and if remaining there to breed this year, Doc will be only our fifth Swedish bird since the Woodcock Watch project began.

We expected a large proportion of Britain’s wintering woodcock to hail from Fenno-Scandia but up until this year, only 9 birds have (3 from Norway, 4 from Sweden, 2 from Finland). That is around a quarter of the birds we have tagged. Obviously this is still a significant proportion, but it is not as many as predicted by our isotope analysis, which estimated 39% of wintering birds would have Finnish or Scandinavian roots.

Perhaps this is because a large number of our satellite-tagged birds have been caught in Cornwall and Southern England? Scandinavian migrants may be more likely to winter in Scotland and Ireland – this relationship appeared to be supported by our isotope work. Full analysis of our satellite-tracking data will tease out these finer details. Click here for more details on the stable-isotope analysis.

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Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Olwen's route to Russia

Here on the Woodcock Watch blog we’re always talking about ‘site fidelity’ and ‘faithfulness’ and how woodcock appear to be incredibly loyal to particular wintering and breeding sites. But as with anything, there are always one or two individuals that choose to go against the grain.

Olwen was tagged in Wales in March 2013 and proceeded to migrate to Russia that spring. Olwen returned to spend the winter of 2013/14 in the UK, but instead of heading back to Wales as expected, (s)he spent the whole winter in Yorkshire. In the winter of 2014/15, Olwen switched again and chose a site in Lincolnshire. This is at complete odds to the majority of our other woodcock, who usually return to spend winter at the same site year-on-year.

Olwen has recently left the UK and is heading out on a third spring migration. Whilst Olwen may not be particularly faithful to a single wintering site, (s)he does appear to return to the same breeding site each year (a remote piece of wilderness in northwest Russia). What is most interesting though, is the fact that Olwen also appears to use roughly the same route each time.

The map below shows data from three springs – 2013, 2014 and 2015. Each year, Olwen appears to head from the UK, via the Netherlands and Germany, up through Denmark into Sweden. From Sweden, Olwen passes into Latvia or Estonia by crossing over the Baltic. Here, there is usually a pause in progress, before moving on into Russia.

Click map to enlarge
We have other Russian birds that take a different route. Instead of moving up through Denmark and Sweden, they will make the whole migration overland via Poland, Lithuania and/or Belarus. If you look at now, you can see this in action with our new 2015 birds.

Whilst Ruan and Izzy appear to be following the likes of Olwen and Wensum along the northern ‘Baltic’ route, Monkey IV and Penning are following the southern ‘Continental’ route.

It’s not clear why these birds choose different courses, but as Olwen’s example demonstrates, each individual seems to use roughly the same route each year.

We are lacking large amounts of data on Olwen’s time in Scandinavia; we only have a cluster of 4 points in Denmark in 2013, and 5 in Sweden in 2014. The reason that the data is so scant is probably because Olwen makes this part of the journey quickly with few stops.

From Latvia, however, we have more data. After making the long Baltic Sea crossing, Olwen seems to spend a bit of time recuperating here. In 2014, particularly, Olwen used a site in Latvia’s Talsi muncipality, the area that makes up the Western coast of the gulf of Riga.

Olwen stayed here between 13th March and 9th April. The data we have received recently, shows Olwen was in the exact same place between 23rd and 28th March 2015 (see inset). Within the last week Olwen has pushed further, and is now on the Latvian/Estonian border on the eastern side of the Gulf of Riga.

Below is a photograph of woodland in the Talsi area of Latvia, where Olwen has made an annual pitstop in both 2014 and 2015:

Photo by Anbien from Panoramio
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Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Monkey IV first to reach Russia & other location updates

The Easter weekend saw a flurry of Woodcock Watch activity as a number of our birds continued and in some cases started their journey east.

Doc - now in Germany after leaving Ireland (1358km).

Izzy - has travelled north east from Dorset to Sweden (1317km).

Monkey IV - first to reach Russia after leaving Norfolk (2022km)

Olwen - third migration, now in Latvia after flying from Wales (1678km)

Penning - left Wiltshire and is currently in central Poland (1795km)

Pinks - currently in western Germany after leaving Bath (1259km)

Ruan - in Sweden after flying from Cornwall (1559km)

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Thursday, 2 April 2015

Monkey IV, Wensum and Doc on the move

Another day, another set of Woodcock Watch location updates!

Monkey IV: we've received some great data from Monkey IV over the past few days. Having left Norfolk on 25th March s(he) was in Poland by the 27th and then left Poland on the 28th, crossing the Russian border yesterday.

Wensum: has made the final push from Sweden into Finland over the Baltic. She's now close to the summering area she used last year. Great progress.

Doc: was tagged in Southern Ireland this spring and left on the 28th March over Ardmore Bay, Co. Waterford. By the 31st s(he) was in Lower Saxony, Germany.

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Wednesday, 1 April 2015

2015 Woodcock Ringing Round-Up

Chris Heward with woodcock
by Chris Heward

Ringing is one of the most basic, yet most useful, tools available to ornithologists. By ringing woodcock we’re able to ‘mark’ each bird with a unique ID number and then recognise that individual every time we recapture it.

Over time, this gives an insight into each bird’s movements, survival and changes in condition. We can relate an individual’s fitness at a specific time to the season and the weather as well its size, age and sex.

Obtaining data this way can take time. Between us, Andrew Hoodless and I have spent a total 58 of nights in the field this winter, but it has been worth it as we have managed to ring 311 new woodcock.

Over the past couple of weeks we have ringed woodcock all over the country, in Scotland, Northern England, Norfolk and Cornwall, whilst deploying the 2015 satellite-tags and geolocators.

Andrew Hoodless with woodcock
Generally, however, our everyday ringing that runs throughout the winter takes place at just one particular estate. In order to make the most of ringing, we need a large proportion of the local population marked and we must spend a lot of time and effort trying to recapture those birds.

As a result, we chose to focus ringing efforts on one well-covered site.

Between mid-November and mid-March, we have spent a combined total of 32 nights covering this particular site and have caught 147 new woodcock. On top of this, we have already managed to recapture 33 ringed woodcock including three that we ringed in the winter of 2012/13, three from 2001/12 and one from 2010/11.

We have put new rings on more birds this winter than in any previous year so we are expecting to obtain even better recapture data next winter.

But for now, the season is coming to a close. The numbers of woodcock are starting to dwindle as most of the migrants have left. It won’t be long until only our few resident birds remain. We can hang up our lamps and nets until they are back with us next winter.

Please help us continue our woodcock research