Headstarted godwits found safe and sound in Portugal

Last week we received the fantastic news that two of the young godwits released at WWT Welney last year have been spotted in Portugal. This is the first non-UK sighting we’ve received since the birds were released and marks an important milestone for the project. We’re delighted to hear that they have migrated safely, and it’s an especially happy moment for Nicky, Louise, Rosie and the rest of the WWT rearing team. The birds were spotted in large flocks alongside other godwits. This indicates that the birds are behaving as they should and the hope is that they will return to breed at Welney next spring, but because black-tailed godwits don’t usually breed until they are two years old we’re going to have to be patient before discovering if released birds will breed successfully in the fens.

Orange Yellow Green Lime (E) has been spotted in Portugal – pictured here at RSPB Old Hall Marshes in July (Jerry Lanfear)

 

Lime Lime Green Lime (E) was also resighted last week, pictured here in July at WWT Steart Marshes (Joe Cockram)

 

The birds were spotted by a team of Dutch ornithologists in the Tagus Estuary, near Lisbon. Lime Lime Green Lime (E), a male, was last spotted previously back in July at WWT Steart Marshes. Orange Yellow Green Lime (E), a female, was last seen at RSPB Old Hall Marshes in Essex. We hope that this will be the first of many sightings this year and are once again reaching out to the birding community to send us any sightings of the birds. It’s possible that, although the birds are unlikely to breed this year, they may return to the UK. Any sightings of the birds can be reported to us here https://projectgodwit.org.uk/get-involved/report-a-sighting/

As well as the headstarted godwits, we received several sightings last week from Portugal of birds from the fens breeding population. This included one female (pictured below) who was first ringed as a chick in 1999 – making her almost nineteen years old! We’re looking forward to seeing her back at the washes this spring. For the third winter in a row, we’ve also received a sighting of female Yellow Red Red Lime (E) in Senegal, West Africa.

A female black-tailed godwit resighted in the Tagus Estuary was ringed as a chick in 1999 at the Nene Washes (photo Kees de Jager)

 

Soon the black-tailed godwits that breed in the fens will be making their journeys back to the breeding grounds at the Nene and Ouse Washes. The teams at WWT Welney and RSPB Nene Washes have been working hard to get the habitat in tip-top condition for the birds’ return. Alongside headstarting, a key aim of Project Godwit is to improve productivity in the wild, creating more and safer areas for black-tailed godwits to raise their young. We usually expect the earliest birds to arrive the first week in March. Interestingly, many of the islandica godwits which spend the non-breeding season in the fens are yet to depart, so the two sub-species can be seen together. You can read more about this in Graham Appleton’s wadertales blog here https://wadertales.wordpress.com/2016/04/11/godwits-in-godwits-out-springtime-on-the-washes/

Where are they now?

It’s been a few weeks since you heard from us – the godwits have been keeping the team busy as we aim to keep track of their movements after release. Here’s an update on all the comings and goings from RSPB Senior Research Assistant, Mark Whiffin.

Now that the busy breeding season is drawing to close, my attention is turning to the important question – where are the colour-ringed godwits?

Time does have a habit of flying by at this time of year; it’s been five weeks since the 25 headstarted godwits were released at WWT Welney. It was amazing to see them leave their release aviary, settle on pools and begin to feed, as if they had always been there.

We really had no idea what the birds would do after release, would they stay around the washes or just depart up to the coast? We hoped that they would initially remain in the relative safety of the Welney area and were excited to see that they did remain close to home, splitting in to small parties and touring the pools on the washes and on the adjacent WWT Lady Fen wetland, with some of the more adventurous birds exploring further to the RSPB Ouse Washes reserve.

OG-GL(E) mixing with adults on the pools at Welney – image by Mark Whiffin.

In the first days and weeks following release, WWT staff kept a very close eye on these special birds, accounting for all of the birds, noting their associations and interactions with other waders as well as their reactions to potential danger. Having been raised on their own away from adults, we were delighted that the youngsters started to mix with adult birds, feeding alongside them and hopefully picking up a lot of the life-skills they will need to survive in the wild. Visitors to Welney and the Ouse Washes have helped enormously in the monitoring effort by providing many more pairs of eyes to help us keep track of where the birds were.

As time has marched on, some of the birds have taken their cues from the adults and started to depart the washes on the next leg of their journey. We owe a huge thanks to the many people who have reported sightings of these first adventurers. At the end of July we have a good idea of the extent to which the birds have dispersed. While there are still some birds on the washes, birds are being reported from further afield. The first to be spotted was WL-GL(E), she was found up on the Norfolk coast at Cley. She was followed shortly afterwards by LL-GL(E). He has amazed everyone; instead of flying north-east to the coast, he flew to the south-west and was spotted on the WWT Steart Marshes in Somerset! This is the first time a journey like this has been recorded for a UK-bred godwit.

LL-GL(E) resting up on the Steart Marshes, Somerset – image by Joe Cockram.

Further exciting sightings of headstarted birds have more recently come from Suffolk, with GG-GL(E) being seen at Trimley Marshes and both LN-GL(E) and OY-GL(E) being spotted at Old Hall Marshes in Essex and, in what is an even more remarkable twist to the tale, these two birds are actually siblings, I wonder if they know?

GG-GL(E) at Trimley Marshes, Suffolk – image by Paul Holmes

We are delighted that five birds have been seen while undertaking the first legs of journeys which will hopefully see some of them fly all the way to Africa and perhaps return to the washes next spring. We are grateful to everyone who has reported their sightings. With other birds still to leave Welney and the washes, please keep your eyes peeled for other black-tailed godwits with the distinctive green and lime E rings on their right legs. Perhaps we’ll get a record from Spain or Portugal in the next few weeks and a winter record from African would be even better. We’ll keep you posted.

Will Tiny Tracking Devices Reveal Godwit Migration Secrets?

Two tiny geolocator devices were fitted to black-tailed godwits at the Nene Washes today in a bid to find out more about the birds migration movements.

This is the first time that godwits breeding in the UK will have been tracked to their non-breeding grounds. This research will help us to identify key non-breeding sites for the godwits and also provide more information about the timing of the godwit’s migration.

Godwits undertake long and often complex migrations, but they generally return to the same site to breed each year. Black-tailed godwits of the limosa subspecies found breeding in Western Europe spend their winters in Portugal and Western Africa. Over the last two years, we have been marking individual birds from the washes using lightweight colour rings. These have already yielded some interesting sightings from the non-breeding ground, but we hope that we will find out even more by tracking a sample of the birds.

The geolocators – weighing 1g – are attached to colour rings which can then be carefully fitted to the bird’s leg. Geolocators record light levels – these can be used to determine latitude and longitude: essentially providing a location of the individual bird’s whereabouts at a snapshot in time.

We are hoping that we’ll be able to fit more birds with geolocators in the coming weeks. We’ll have to be patient to see the results though – as we won’t be able to retrieve the data until next year when the birds return to the washes to breed.