Summer is on the way and headstarting is in full swing has for this season

An update is overdue and summer is approaching, although the unusually warm and dry spring could make you think it was here already.

Last year headstarting resumed as we emerged from the pandemic and 43 godwit chicks were released. This brings the total number of godwit chicks released so far through headstarting to 155. The breeding population on and near the Ouse Washes increased from 3 pairs in 2017 to 19 in 2021.

Headstarting 2022

This season of headstarting is in full swing, with final egg collections soon to be carried out. There are 44 eggs already collected and in incubators and the Conservation Team now have their first hatchlings.

The incubation room at WWT Welney (Photo: Will Costa).

Will Costa is Lead Aviculturist, taking over Nicky Hiscock’s role running the avicultural elements of the headstarting project.

Tony Durkin, Conservation Breeding Officer, who has worked on Project Godwit since it began in 2017 brings a huge wealth of knowledge and previous experience to the role.

Toby Humby, Aviculturist and Monitoring Officer who will be working with the headstarting team to rear the godwits and undertake post release monitoring.

Normally based at Slimbridge, James Preddy is Conservation Breeding Aviculturist, who will be at Welney for two months helping with the rearing of the godwits.

Dr Lynda Donaldson is also back as Principal Research Officer, monitoring the breeding season for the birds out across the reserve at Welney and catching up with returning headstarted birds from previous years. 

Clemency Magan has replaced Jess as Engagement Officer, to restart and complete work to engage local communities and schools classes signed up as Godwit Guardians in this final year of the project.

Last week new turf was laid down in the release pens to ensure they are ready for when chicks begin to hatch.

There have been plenty of sightings of ringed birds as they return to breed, with over 25 spotted so far.

Two of the returnees in front of the main Hide on 22nd April, are likely a pair who partnered up last year, Rosti (BB-WL(E) and Dill (WN-WL(E) (Photo: Kim Tarsey).

The majority of birds spotted so far were released in 2017 and 2018, with the first ones, Lady and Cornelia, arriving at the end of March. Generally after birds are released they don’t return in their first year to their nest site, but the headstarted brds have surprised us in the past so we will see who returns this year from the 2021 cohort.

Strider, ringed in 2018 and released at the Nene Washes, has been returning ever since. In June 2019 Strider went to France and spent the summer there, leaving on 23 October to begin the migration to Africa. In February 2020, Strider spent time in Germany on migration back to the Ouse Washes. Strider has been back at Welney since April.

Strider at Dellmeningen, Germany, May 2020 (Photo: Tobias Epple).

Juno was in Seville in February 2020 on the way back from Africa. In September reversing the journey, for autumn migration, she was seen in Portugal.

Ringing birds with coloured leg rings is essential for monitoring where they travel on their migration and how they do after release.  With every sighting the team learn more about godwit behaviour and the project. You can report sightings of ringed godwits at https://projectgodwit.org.uk/get-involved/report-a-sighting/

Spreading the word

Last year, although headstarting and monitoring went ahead following the hiatus of 2020, engagement activities couldn’t be carried out.

The exciting thing is that face-to-face engagement with local schools and at events can begin again this year. We will be attending local festivals in the summer. A number of Primary Schools are already due for outreach in the summer and also for Downham Market Year Secondary. Plans are afoot for a community art project taking place later in the year. It is exciting to be able to get out and raise awareness with people about this incredible project to save this special wader.

We are so thankful for your support and you can look forward to more updates later in the summer. Here’s to a soaring success of a final season.

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