Godwits are on the move

On this day in 2017, YO-OL(E), a breeding female black-tailed godwit from the Nene Washes, had recently arrived in West Africa, somewhere close to the Senegal and Guinea Bissau border. We know this because we were able to fit her with a geolocator at the Nene Washes, which was retrieved earlier this year, revealing her migration movements. Godwits are site faithful birds, so all being well she could be arriving in Senegal for the 2018 winter as I write this update.  Our headstarted birds are also now moving further afield from their release sites. As the weeks draw on we expect that we’ll get fewer sightings of the birds as they make their way to the wintering grounds. Our site teams are now focussing on ensuring that the Nene Washes and Ouse Washes are in tip-top condition for when the birds return next spring. We also have some time to reflect on the achievements of the season.

The timing and migration movements of a breeding female black-tailed godwit from the Nene Washes

Headstarting giving godwits a boost

With the breeding population in the fens now so small, every young godwit we can add to this population during the lifetime of the project is important. Early season flooding at the Nene Washes (see here) caused us some challenges in April when we had several pairs of godwits nesting in nearby farmland as the washes were underwater. Luckily, we were able to work with the farmer to monitor the birds and collect the eggs for headstarting. Many of the eggs were in quite poor condition due to mud, which can coat the pores of the egg and cause the developing chick problems. But thanks to the skill and hard work of our WWT aviculturists, most of the eggs did go on to hatch and we were able to release another 38 headstarted chicks at two different sites in the fens.

Chopstick, released in June at WWT Welney and pictured here in July at Cley (Nigel Rogers).

Breeding success in the wild

This summer black-tailed godwits bred successfully at the RSPB Ouse Washes for the first time since 2012, in habitat that has been expertly created with godwits in mind. We hope the birds have enjoyed their stay enough to return next season. The icing on the cake was Earith, one of nine 2017 headstarted birds returning to the fens, who bred successfully at the RSPB Ouse Washes and reared a chick of her own. This year, the headstarted birds were also joined by 18 wild chicks from the Nene and Ouse Washes, the highest number of chicks fledging in the meta-population since 2013. This was a particularly satisfying result considering all of the challenges caused by the early season flooding at the Nene Washes. The site team had to work hard to resurrect our electric fencing following the flood, but the hard work appears to have paid off. We’ve seen a positive effect of our fencing exclusion trials, with higher nest survival in areas where our electric fences have been deployed. The number of chicks surviving to fledge was also much higher in 2018 than in recent years.

Earith was headstarted in 2017 and bred successfully at the Ouse Washes in 2018 (Jonathan Taylor).

As the birds head to their wintering areas, we can look forward to next year and hopefully seeing many more of these birds back in the fens.