Class of 2019 released into the wild

Our headstarted godwits have now been released into the wild at the project sites. This year we released three cohorts of godwits at two different sites, the RSPB Nene Washes and WWT Welney. A total of 48 chicks were released into the wild this year. The chicks are released when they are approximately 30 days old, which is the age at which godwit chicks would naturally fledge in the wild. You can see a video below from WWT Welney of the moment some of the birds were released. It was such a privilege to see the chicks take their first flights into their new wetland home. The hope is that they will return to the Ouse Washes to breed in future years. Twenty-one of the birds released in previous years have been seen at the project sites this season.

Keeping track

The new challenge for the team is to monitor the chicks now that they have been released. Several of the birds have been seen at WWT Welney in recent days, but we are still waiting for our first sightings of the birds from further afield. If you visit a wetland site in the coming days and weeks, please keep an eye out for these special birds. We rely heavily on colour ring sightings to help us monitor the godwits once they move away from the release site and we’re very grateful to those birdwatchers who send in their colour ring sightings. In previous years we have received sightings from Norfolk, Essex, Somerset and Hampshire – all valuable information which helps us to build a picture of where the birds are migrating. If you see a black-tailed godwit with a lime E colour ring, please tell us about it here. You can also check out our sightings map here.

Special names for special birds

Black-tailed godwit inside the rearing aviary.
Black-tailed godwit inside the rearing aviary.

This year fifteen of the headstarted black-tailed godwits have been named to honour the Scottish soldiers who, as prisoners of war, worked in the Fens in the 17th century. The names have been chosen to represent the story of the soldiers in consultation with The Word Garden’s National Lottery Heritage Fund project: The Scottish Soldiers, the Ouse Washes; the Origins of Landscape Change in the Fens, (aka Origins).

Cristen, Cuthbert, Mitchell, Hewston, Hume, Worley and Chiney are the family names of soldiers listed in the Adventurers’ Minute Books. Place names are recognised with Doon, after Doon Hill in the Battle of Dunbar; Elvet, after Elvet Hill where some of the soldiers were laid to rest and Boston, after the US city which was the destination for soldiers deported on the ship Unity. Fictional characters from a story produced as part of the Origins project Tam and Coventina are included as are symbols of Scotland, Thistle and Heather.

Thank you to Jean Rees-Lyons, Artistic Director of The Word Garden, for helping us identify these names.

Godwits hatch at WWT Welney

Newly hatched godwit chicks at WWT Welney.
Newly hatched godwit chicks at WWT Welney.

We now have 48 chicks in the headstarting facilities at WWT Welney. The chicks started hatching towards the end of May and are doing well. The chicks spend the first week of their lives inside a specially adapted portacabin at WWT Welney. Once they are old enough they are then moved into rearing aviaries situated within the grassland at Welney. This outside space gives the chicks the opportunity to experience the sights and sounds of their new wetland environment, whilst still under the protective care of the aviculture team. Our oldest chicks have recently had their colour rings fitted. Each chick is given a unique combination of colour rings so that we can follow their progress after they have been released. A sample of birds are also fitted with a geolocator, a tiny lightweight tracking device which is being used to follow their migration route. In a few days’ time the chicks will be given a health check before being moved to the release aviary. Our aim is to release the chicks when they are approximately 30 days old, which is the age at which godwit chicks would naturally fledge in the wild.

Mixed fortunes for wild nesting godwits

Photos Guy Anderson
Photos Guy Anderson
Godwitchickringing#2 Guy Anderson RSPB

It has been a season of mixed fortunes for the godwits breeding at the project sites. Denver and Purl, both released in 2017 attempted to nest, but in an unexpected event their nest was disturbed by a goose and the pair subsequently abandoned the nest. These birds are still quite young for black-tailed godwits so they may still be learning the ropes. Anouk and Delph, another pair headstarted in 2017, successfully hatched their nest and we will be monitoring the pair closely to see if their chicks fledge. We have been monitoring the nests of black-tailed godwits at our project sites so that we can understand the cause if a nest fails. To date several nests have successfully hatched although we have lost some nests to predation and some nests to flooding. Because black-tailed godwits nest on the ground they can be particularly vulnerable. The team are now monitoring the godwit families so that we can identify how many chicks from the hatched nests go on to successfully fledge. Monitoring the godwit families in knee high vegetation is easier said than done, but the chicks are colour ringed so that we can identify them in the field – if we can see them!

Inspiring the next generation

We have been visiting schools close to the project sites to deliver tailored sessions about black-tailed godwits and their fenland habitats. We have been blown away by the enthusiasm shown by the children about their local environment and the special wildlife that it supports. We are delighted to welcome several new schools to our Godwit Guardian scheme including Millfield Primary School, Hillcrest Primary School, Townley School and Pre-school, Hilgay Riverside Academy and Ten Mile Bank Riverside Academy. Becoming a Godwit Guardian is a fun (and free) way that schools and community groups can get involved in Project Godwit by linking to one of our headstarted godwits whose progress you can follow. To find out more please visit our website here.

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Godwit breeding season well underway

Eggs safely collected Under a licence granted from Natural England, we have collected black-tailed godwit eggs from the Nene Washes for our headstarting programme. Eggs are collected early in the breeding season to allow the donor pairs to relay. The eggs are being cared for by the specialist team at WWT Welney. It’s intensive work looking after the eggs – they are checked every two hours to ensure that they are the correct temperature and humidity, something that comes naturally of course to the godwits. We will be keeping a close eye on their progress and hope that, all being well, our first chicks will hatch towards the end of May.
Eggs are carefully collected under licence from Natural England. Photo Bob Ellis WWT.
Headstarted birds nesting Several headstarted birds have returned to the project sites in recent weeks and have been keeping our research team busy with their antics. A total of eighteen headstarted birds have been recorded to date, including all nine of birds that returned to the project sites in 2018. We also have five birds that were released in 2018, who have returned in their first year. Last year Earith, a female released in 2017 returned and bred successfully at the RSPB Ouse Washes. Her daughter is now also back in the fens, and has paired up with Benwick, a male released in 2017. All our released birds are wearing a unique combination of colour rings so that we can monitor them. Most black-tailed godwits don’t breed until they are two year’s old, and early signs are that several of our headstarted birds released in 2017 may breed this year. We have three pairs of headstarted birds (where both bird from the pair were headstarted) and more pairs where one bird is wild and the second is headstarted. Lady and Nelson, Anouk and Delph, and Denver and Purl are all currently nesting at WWT Welney. Lil is paired with a wild male at WWT Welney, Earith is back at the RSPB Ouse Washes and Remi is at the Nene Washes with a wild male.
Earith’s daughter (pictured here soon after fledging) is now back at WWT Welney. Photo Jonathan Taylor RSPB
In the wild population Early estimates indicate that we will see a very welcome increase in the black-tailed godwit population this year, largely thanks to the number of headstarted birds that have recruited into the population. This is fantastic news, but we know it’s important that we improve breeding success in the wild if the gains from headstarting at to be consolidated long term. Unfortunately, we have lost a couple of early nests at our project sites as a result of predation and flooding. However, our first wild nest at Welney has successfully hatched and we hope that more will follow suit in the coming weeks. Visit us at Project Godwit This spring we’ll be hosting our first ever Godwit Festival at WWT Welney on 1-2 June. The weekend will be packed with talks, guided walks and family activities, celebrating all things godwit. Our Project Godwit team will be on hand all weekend and on Sunday, Back from the Brink poet Back Katherine McMahon, will be ‘poet in residence’ running a drop in session where you can try out your poetry skills – no experience is necessary! You can reserve your place at the Godwit Festival here. We’ll also be running our ever-popular Project Godwit Guided Tours at WWT Welney during May and June. This behind the scenes tour gives you the chance to find out all about these birds and you may get the chance to see our headstarted chicks for yourselves. Book your place here.
Black-tailed godwit chicks inside the rearing aviary. Photo WWT.
   

Headstarted birds return to the fens!

It’s been an exciting couple of weeks on Project Godwit as we welcome the first of our headstarted birds back to the project sites. We’re using headstarting to boost the population breeding at the Ouse Washes and fast-track the growth of this small population. Nine headstarted birds have been seen so far back in the fens this season. The birds have been keeping the team busy and we’ve been out surveying to find as many colour ringed birds as possible. Many of the birds that have returned are familiar to us as they were also seen in 2018, having been released at Welney in 2017. For most of the returning birds, this should be their first breeding season, so we’re looking forward to seeing what happens next.  In this blog we introduce you to some of the birds that have been seen in recent weeks.

Denver

Denver was the first headstarted bird to be spotted by the project team in 2019 on 22 March. He has been seen displaying over Lady Fen (the release site) and has been spending time with another headstarted bird, a female named Purl. Denver was one of nine released birds that returned to the project sites in 2018 and is from the same clutch as Remi and Nelson.

Anouk

Anouk was released in 2017 at WWT Welney. She was not seen at the project sites in 2018 so may have spent an entire year and a half in the wintering grounds of southern Europe and West Africa. Anouk was seen in the Netherlands on 27 March and just a week later was seen back at WWT Welney. Anouk is the sister of Benwick, another headstarted bird who has been seen back in the fens for this first time this year. Anouk has been spending a lot of time with Delph, another headstarted bird, so we will be keeping a close eye on them to see if they attempt to breed this year.

Anouk, photographed in March in the Netherlands by Otto de Vries

Remi

Remi is another female from our class of 2017 but, in contrast to our other headstarted birds, she has decided to set up home at the RSPB Nene Washes. Remi is a well-travelled godwit and was spotted near Doel in Belgium last spring before returning to the Nene Washes, so for a time we wondered if she might abscond and join the Belgian godwit population. Female black-tailed godwits tend to disperse further than the males, though most birds recruit close to the natal site. Remi was seen last week back at the Nene Washes as is paired with an un-ringed wild male.

We’re still waiting for the first of our class of 2018 to return to the project sites, however as these birds are youngsters, they may take their time coming back to the breeding sites (and some may not return at all this year). One of our 2018 released birds, called Hurricane, has been spending time at nature reserve near Valencia in Spain, and another bird, named Tom has been seen in Portugal. It’s always exciting when we receive sightings of the birds from the project, and we’d like to thank the birdwatchers out there for keeping a look out for these special birds.

Perhaps Tom or Hurricane will make it back to the fens in the coming weeks? We’ll keep you posted!

Godwits spotted in Portugal and Spain

Signs of spring are well underway at our project sites in the fens and it won’t be long before the first black-tailed godwits return to the Nene and Ouse Washes. It will be fascinating to see how many of our headstarted birds are amongst them. Please keep your eyes peeled for any colour ringed birds – you can report your sightings to us here.

Tom, pictured here in the rearing aviary last year has been spotted in Portugal.

The godwits that breed at the Nene and Ouse Washes spend the non-breeding season at wetland sites in Spain, Portugal and West Africa. We were thrilled in early February to receive a sighting of young godwit, fledged from the Nene Washes in 2018 but spotted in Coto Donâna, Spain. This was closely followed by a sighting of Tom, a headstarted bird released at WWT Welney in 2018, wintering in Porto Alto in Portugal. Tom’s egg was collected from muddy farmland and hatched at WWT Welney on 19 May last year. We may see these birds back this spring, but often godwits don’t return to the breeding grounds until they are two years old. We’ve been busy over the winter making sure that the project sites are in the right condition for when they do return.

Keeping godwits safe from predators

We’ve been monitoring black-tailed godwit nests and chicks for the last four years at the Nene Washes and we know that in those years predation has been the main cause of breeding failure. Through Project Godwit, we’re testing a range of measures to reduce the pressure of key predators on the black-tailed godwit population so that this fragile population can start to recover. One measure we’re trialling at the Nene Washes is exclusion fencing. We’ve installed a new barrier fence at the Nene Washes and will be monitoring its effectiveness. It will be interesting to measure the impact our fencing has on wader nest success in the coming months. If you’re visiting the site, please help us to keep the godwits safe by keeping the gate closed.

Become a Godwit Guardian

If you are part of a school or community group in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk or Lincolnshire then you could get involved in Project Godwit by becoming a Godwit Guardian. Becoming a Godwit Guardian is a fun, free way to get involved in Project Godwit. By linking you to one of the godwits, you will be able to follow your bird’s progress over the coming years, as they make a home in the Fens and head off each year on migration across Europe and Africa. Your group, school or class’s name will then be put up on our website and you will also be sent a Godwit Guardian certificate and a profile of your chosen bird. To find out more about becoming a Godwit Guardian you can visit our webpage here. To see a list of birds looking for Guardians click here.

Headstarted birds make their way south

Black-tailed godwit sightings are a bit like buses…

It’s always exciting when we receive news of one of “our” black-tailed godwits, even more so when we receive three sightings in one week!

Three of our headstarted birds have been seen this September and October in locations around the French coast. Ensuring that released birds are individually marked with colour rings allows us to monitor their progress. It’s great to learn that these birds are continuing to do well after their release. These birds are probably making their way south for the winter. Black-tailed godwits are migratory, and birds from the limosa subspecies spend the non-breeding season in wetland sites in Spain, Portugal and West Africa.

Pickles, sighted recently on the west coast of France. Photo Jean-Michel Pilorget

So who has been seen and where?

Pickles LN-L(E): Pickles is a male headstarted bird who’s egg was rescued from muddy farmland back in April this year. Pickles was released on 9 June at WWT Welney. He’s been spotted on two occasions at Porte-en-Re, on the west coast of France.

Caramel YG-WL(E): Caramel was released at the RSPB Nene Washes on 27 June this year alongside 14 other young godwits. She’s also been seen at Porte-en-Re, on the west coast of France.

Budly OfO-WL(E): Budly is a male who was released at WWT Welney on 19 June. He’s been seen on the north coast of France, close to Le Harve.

Three of our class of 2018 have been seen in France this Autumn.

Although godwits are known to use sites in France throughout the non-breeding season, we’ve received relatively few re-sightings of birds marked here in the UK, until now. We are using colour ring sightings to build up a more complete picture of where the birds breeding in the fens spend their time away from the breeding grounds. For example, one of our breeding females from the Nene Washes has been seen in Senegal for the last three winters in a row. When she was first re-sighted in 2016 this was the first time a bird breeding in the UK had been spotted in West Africa.

This breeding female from the Nene Washes spends the winter in Senegal.

Taking tracking further

Colour ring sightings are fantastic, but they still only provide us with details of where are bird has been at a particularly point in time. To build a more complete picture of the godwits’ movements, we’ve been fitting some of the birds with geolocators. Geolocators are tiny light-weight tracking devices, which can be fitted to a leg-ring or flag. Using geolocators will allow us to build a more complete picture not only of the locations these birds are using, but also the schedule of their migration. It’s early days for this work – one of the difficulties of using geolocators is that you have to recapture the bird in order to retrieve the tag – but in the future we hope we will be able to compare the migratory behaviour of our wild and headstarted birds.

RSPB Senior Research Assitant Mark Whiffin releases a bird after fitting a geolocator.

Thank you

None of this would be possible without the bird watchers and observers who spend their time looking for ringed birds. We’d like to thank everyone who has helped us keep an eye out for these special birds. If you think you have seen a godwit with a lime leg ring, stamped with the letter E, you can let us know about it here.

 

 

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.

 

Class of 2018 spread their wings

It’s now been over a month since our youngest headstarted chicks were released into the wild, and our field teams have been busy monitoring their progress. This year, we released birds at two different sites in the fens, WWT Welney and the RSPB Nene Washes. This means that the monitoring teams have been kept even busier than usual, trying to keep up with who is where. A total of 38 chicks were released in 2018, 15 of them at the Nene Washes and 23 at Welney. We were very pleased to have been able to release so many chicks, particularly given the poor, muddy conditions that many of the eggs had been found in (see here https://projectgodwit.org.uk/2018/05/22/notes-from-the-field-guest-blog-by-dr-jen-smart/)

Senior Research Officer, Lynda Donaldson, out looking for godwits, Project Godwit/WWT.

In a similar pattern to 2017, most of the newly released birds were seen around the release site for the first two-three weeks, mingling with other wild black-tailed godwits on site. But it wasn’t long before some of the birds started venturing further afield.  Four of the released birds have headed north and joined the large flocks of godwits gathering on the north Norfolk coast. Chip, Rosti, Wedge and Chopstick have all been spotted by birdwatchers at RSPB Titchwell Nature Reserve. Meanwhile, Morgan has headed south and becomes the first of our released birds to be spotted in Hampshire, at Titchfield Nature Reserve. Perhaps he is feeding up before heading south for the winter?

Morgan, pictured here in the rearing aviary, has been spotted by birdwatchers in Hampshire, Project Godwit/WWT.

Success for last year’s headstarted birds

This year our headstarted birds were joined by a very special godwit fledgling from the wild. We now know that nine of the headstarted birds released in 2017 returned to the fens in 2018, which is fantastic news, particularly as most godwits don’t return to breed until they are two years old. But as a welcome surprise, one of these birds, a female named Earith, paired up with a wild bred male and successfully raised a chick of her own. To have evidence that our headstarted birds can breed in the wild is a great milestone for the project. Earith nested at the RSPB Ouse Washes, alongside another wild pair who also fledged three chicks. This is the first time that birds have attempted to breed at this site since 2012, and it’s excellent news that we now have godwits breeding at three different sites in the fens.

The first fledged juvenile from a headstarted bird, Jonathan Taylor/RSPB.

We’re very grateful to the birding community who have been helping us keep an eye on the birds by sending in their sightings of the godwits. The birds on our project can be distinguished by a lime E colour ring. If you see a bird wearing a lime E colour ring, we’d love to know about it! Sightings can be reported on our sightings page here https://projectgodwit.org.uk/get-involved/report-a-sighting/. We’ve experienced a few technological niggles with our sightings form (for which we apologise) but we hope that this has now been resolved.

Our research teams are busy analysing the data from our breeding season and a report on the success of the birds in the wild will be the subject of one of our next blogs. In the meantime, please do check out the latest wadertales blog by Graham Appleton, which has more on this story https://wadertales.wordpress.com/2018/08/03/head-starting-success/

 

Notes from the field: Guest blog by Dr Jen Smart

The highs and lows of the Black-tailed godwit breeding season.

We are almost half way through the wader breeding season and what a rollercoaster it has been. We started on some highs, with the return of Mark Whiffin as our Senior Researcher on the ground who was joined by Helen Jones, new to Project Godwit but not to wader research. The reserve team at RSPB Nene Washes had been very busy getting the habitat ready and the predator fences erected. So with the research team in place and the reserve looking fantastic, the godwits started to return and just as the first ones were about to start laying eggs, a huge amount of rain combined with high tides and the whole reserve went under water. This was a massive low point for everyone.

Easter floodwaters at the Nene Washes, Mark Whiffin/RSPB

What would the godwits do? Would they stay put and wait for the flood to go down? Or perhaps they would go looking elsewhere for flood free grassland? Well a small number did go elsewhere which is great news for the project because one of our aims is to have godwits breeding on flood free grasslands around the Ouse Washes. The majority stayed put and some did wait for the water to go down. BUT 11 pairs couldn’t wait and they unfortunately chose to nest in two crop fields close to the Nene. This was unfortunate because the wet conditions meant very muddy eggs and with the godwits frequently responding to predators in those fields, we feared it was not going to end well. Fortunately for the godwits, the farmers who owned those fields were fantastic allowing us access to find and monitor the nests and then to collect the doomed eggs to be incubated, reared and released into the wild once fledged in the headstarting part of our project. We just hope that the muddy eggs are not adversely affected by the conditions they experienced before we collected them.

A very muddy black-tailed godwit nest found in a crop field – Ian Dillon/RSPB

Good news from our headstarted chicks from last year

Project Godwit is a 5-year project and this is our second year. Last year, we reared and released 26 young godwits at WWT Welney. Most godwits only breed in their second year so we really did not expect to see many of our headstarted birds back on the Washes until 2019 although we did have reports of five of them during February on sites in Portugal and France. We have been absolutely blown away by the return of six of our headstarted birds especially given some of them look like they are going to breed and two of them are paired with each other (Nelson & Lady; see table below). What’s even more amazing is that five of them are siblings from two nests. We wait with baited breath to see if any of them breed successfully and of course to see who else returns with them in 2019.

Locations
NameColour ringsSexClutchLate winterBreeding season
DelphYW-GL(E)M48.13PortugalWWT Welney
NelsonLL-GL(E)M15.1PortugalWWT Welney
LadyOY-GL(E)F48.13Portugal & FranceWWT Welney
EarithLG-GL(E)F41.2Not seenRSPB Ouse Washes
ManeaLN-GL(E)M48.13FranceRSPB Ouse Washes
RemiYG-GL(E)F15.1BelgiumRSPB Nene Washes

 

 

What’s happening right now?

The flood water has largely gone from the main godwit fields on the Nene Washes so the research team are busy finding and monitoring nests of all waders but particularly the godwits as they lay second clutches to replace early failures and the early collections of eggs for headstarting. The reserves team have spent many days clearing the debris from the predator fences that have been under water and slowly but surely the fences are becoming functional and will hopefully protect many of the new godwit nests from predation from large mammals. Our monitoring will tell us about the success of this conservation intervention.

Scores on the doors mid-May

  • 31 pairs nesting at the Nene Washes
  • 33 godwit nests and 56 nests of other wader being monitored at the Nene Washes
  • 6-8 pairs nesting on flood free grassland at the Ouse & Welney Washes
  • 53 eggs collected for headstarting
  • 6 headstarted chicks from 2017 back on the Washes

So now we wait. How many godwits will hatch and raise young in the wild? How many of the collected eggs will hatch in captivity? Will the collected eggs be affected by the muddy conditions they experienced early on? How many of last year’s headstarted birds will breed and if so how successful are they? I will blog again later in the breeding season and hopefully be able to provide an answer to all of these questions.

Dr Jen Smart is a Principal Conservation Scientist at the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science. She specialises in the ecology of breeding waders and mechanisms for reversing their declines. She is an expert at finding wader nests and her other field skills include bird ringing and radio-telemetry. She leads the research team monitoring the black-tailed godwits during the breeding season at the Nene Washes.

Principal Conservation Scientist, Dr Jen Smart, watching a black-tailed godwit nest – Ian Dillon/RSPB

Welcome home! Headstarted godwits return to the fens

Well, what a wonderful week that was.

Yellow White Green Lime (E), named “Delph” by the Project Team becomes the first headstarted black-tailed godwit to return to the fens. Photo Louise Clewley/WWT.

In June last year, we released 26 juvenile black-tailed godwits at WWT Welney in the hope that they would return to the fens in future years. Last Friday, we got some very exciting news. One of the headstarted godwits was spotted, in front of the main observatory hide at WWT Welney, just metres from where he was released. This special godwit – colour ring combination YW-GL(E) – has been named “Delph” by the project team, after the river which runs behind the area where he was spotted. Delph was last seen previously in February on the Tagus Estuary in Portugal.

And then there were two! Another headstarted bird, “Nelson” is spotted by the team at WWT Welney.

Then, in quick succession, another two headstarted birds were spotted. “Nelson” was seen showing well at the Nelson-Lyle hide at WWT Welney, and “Manea” was spotted over at the RSPB Ouse Washes. We weren’t necessarily expecting any of the headstarted birds to return this summer so this is a wonderful and welcome surprise. Black-tailed godwits don’t usually breed until they’re two years old, so we may have to wait until next summer to see if any of the headstarted birds attempt to breed. But nonetheless, this is fantastic milestone for the Project Godwit team, and we’re delighted that these birds have made it safely back to the fens. Interestingly, one of our females, “Remi”, has been seen in Belgium. Females tend to disperse further than males so it will be very interesting to see if she stays in Belgium and attempts to breed.

More birds could return to the washes and surrounding areas over the coming days and weeks. All of the godwits released under the headstarting programme have a colour ring with the letter “E” stamped on it. If you think you might have seen a bird, please get in touch via our sightings page https://projectgodwit.org.uk/get-involved/report-a-sighting/