Denver was the first headstarted bird to be spotted by the project team in 2019 on 22 March. The reserve managers had already been thinking this was the case, and in 2017 started using special gates and electric fences to keep mammalian predators from depredating godwit nests. For centuries, birdwatchers have relied on banding in order to find out where migratory birds go. Chicks are reared by our project partner the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) at Welney Wetland Centre and released once fledged. If so, what effect will major climate change have on them? Ac­cording to legend, it even gave the first voyagers to Aotearoa from Polynesia the idea that there was something down south worth travelling towards: they kept seeing it hurtling past once a year, as if it had somewhere definite to go and wasn’t going to stop till it got there. Head-started godwits spotted here: Swampy, Anouk, Benwick & Chopstick. Subsequently, the project had to rely on the site managers of WWT Welney, RSPB Nene Washes and RSPB Ouse Washes to monitor the godwits when they could, on top of their already very busy workloads. The godwits migrate from New Zealand to China in March and April. In 2018, this male left the UK on June 21st, went to the Balearic coast of mainland Spain, and stayed there for three months. He’s really tame. They arrive in New 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. WWT Welney is where all the head-starting happens, thanks to WWT’s highly skilled and experienced aviculturalists: godwit eggs are incubated and chicks are reared in specialised pens before release at fledging age, to get them through their most vulnerable time of life. Tom was spotted in May at WWT Welney. There were no pairs breeding here in 2017 – but this year there were 6 pairs. The Bar-tailed Godwit is mainly mottled brown above and lighter and more uniform buff below. Sun 23rd – WWT Steart Marshes, Somerset She left the UK on the evening of August 13th and arrived in Africa on the night of August 15th, having probably flown non-stop. Some of Project Godwit’s head-started adults to have successfully bred this year include female Anouk and male Delph (both head-started in 2017) fledging one chick. Remindingly beside the quays the whiteShips lie smoking; and from their haunted bay The god wits vanish towards another summer. We will be following Jen and Mark along the route and reporting their progress via the Project Godwit social media channels. Whether they’re going a few miles or a quarter of the way across the world, birds migrate to escape conditions that threaten their survival. on 600 miles, 8 days, 11 nature reserves, 1 epic challenge! It’s just bullying on the roost.” In any case, he says, godwits tend to … 29 head-started godwits are known to have returned to the Fens this breeding season and four spotted on the Continent, thanks to reports of sightings of colour rings. This work shows that nest and chick survival, but not adult survival, are low in the contemporary period compared to the early period. Jen and Mark also want to raise awareness of the challenges faced by godwits and other waders beyond the UK at key migration sites – such as the Tagus Estuary in Portugal, where 80,000 godwits gather in spring and where an airport development has been proposed (see Graham Appleton’s Wader Tales blog), If you can spare a donation to sponsor Jen and Mark on their fundraising challenge and support Project Godwit, please visit the ‘Funds for Waders’ JustGiving page. There’s a whole heap of related species that breed up in the Arctic and you’ve got 24-hour or 18-hour daylight in the Arctic summer, so you can live right through: they can do so much in one day. The Tagus estuary is designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA), a Wetland of International Importance (Ramsar site) and an Important Bird Area (IBA). Andrew Crossland is walking the shores of that estuary­ or this airport—on a windy March day. He seems at one with the natural world, attuned to its moods, wise in its ways. Sometimes, animals migrate for the sake of finding suitable breeding grounds. Day 8 brought them back to the Fens, visiting the three project sites of Project Godwit where the lives of all the head-started birds begin. Earlier this year two people deliberately set their dogs to chase the flock, but thankfully that kind of hoonery is uncommon these days. We know that the females are larger and have longer beaks, that the birds can live for about 20 years. The bar-tailed godwit is a large wading bird. All bar-tailed godwits spend the Northern Hemisphere summer in the Arctic, where they breed, and make a long-distance migration south in winter to more temperate areas. Even satellite telemetry, however, can’t tell us how high they fly. Jen and Mark will instead remain in the UK and cycle 600 miles in eight days from Somerset to Cambridgeshire between 23rd-30th August, following a route that links 11 nature reserves which have been visited by black-tailed godwit chicks raised and released by Project Godwit. the whole lot go up. To see a list of birds looking for Guardians click here. ), How many survive the trip north? Amongst some of the godwit sightings recently to have arrived in the team’s inbox is that of a female godwit reported from the Tagus estuary by Hugo Areal. For two wader species that arrive in Britain and Ireland in the autumn, the migration story is straightforward: Grey Plovers and Bar-tailed Godwits fly here from the northeast. Bob Gill, of the US Geological Survey, explains how this procedure is carried out. The godwit then carries this geolocator with it throughout the year – on migration to the non-breeding grounds and back to the Washes again in the spring. 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. Remi was seen last week back at the Nene Washes as is paired with an un-ringed wild male. (a) Why do godwits fly so high? Rising sea levels will greatly reduce intertidal foraging habitat at wintering, staging and post-breeding sites. Conservationists and keen cyclists Jen and Mark Smart may have hung up their cycling helmets, emptied the panniers and given their leg muscles a well-deserved rest after they finished their Funds for Waders cycling fundraiser last week, but there’s still plenty to say about the black-tailed godwits that were behind this challenge. Another puncture to fix before departing for the final day of Jen and Mark’s Funds for Waders cycling fundraising challenge. It breeds on artic coasts and migrates before winter to coastal East Asia, Australia, Africa, and New Zealand. It’s not just godwits from the UK that come here – Icelandic black-tailed godwits, plus godwits from the Netherlands (where the majority of the north-west European population breed) also gather here. It’s largely because of their size. This ‘wild-reared’ male godwit is 17 years old, revealed by his rings which show he was ringed as a chick in 2003 at RSPB Nene Washes. The absence of flooding on the Ouse Washes in the spring was conducive for our breeding godwits, however predation of eggs and chicks is still a problem for these vulnerable ground-nesting birds. After no sightings for almost two years, Caramel was spotted at RSPB Ouse Washes in June. Then there are the paradise shelducks: they’re every­where in Christchurch now, but Crossland can recall when there was just one pair, in 1997, and how they nested by a pond near a school in Beckenham. Thanks to this technology, it has been confirmed that the bar-tailed godwit (Limosa lapponica baueri) flies non-stop further than any other bird in the world. “This white-faced heron here,” he says, indicating a bird I couldn’t tell apart from the next one. Chiney is a 2019 head-started godwit who hasn’t been reported back at the project sites in the Fens of East Anglia as yet. Since then he has been regularly spotted each spring at RSPB Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire. “The stilts are visual feeders, not probers, so the other two are probing but the stilts are picking stuff off the sur­face—little flies and crustaceans. For context: some godwits start migrating in the opposite direction, from west Africa back north, as early as the second week of September. Please create one below, or sign in if you already have one. 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. Project Godwit is a five-year partnership project between the RSPB and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust with major funding from the EU LIFE Nature Programme, HSBC 150th Anniversary Fund, Natural England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund through the Back from the Brink Programme, Leica and the Montague-Panton Animal Welfare Trust. So when a tidal surge comes through, all the godwits get pushed up into the air.” Why? Why do godwits behave so differently, and how do these individual differences come about? Others migrate to areas that are better for nesting. “Most of the movement relates to the atmospheric conditions—favourable tail winds, that sort of thing,” says Crossland. Fenn was head-started at WWT Welney in June 2019 and spotted a month later here in July, while Tipps was head-started in June 2017 and seen in July 2017. This is the first observation of Sky since her release in well over a year – fingers crossed she will return to the UK next year to breed in the Fens. The signals sent out are picked up by National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration satellites and tracked on computer screens by Gill and his colleagues in Anchorage. But we don’t know how they pair up, especially when they commute up and down the world’s largest ocean. A question that many godwit aficionados out there may have is ‘How many head-started godwits from last year have returned this year?’ Young black-tailed godwits often don’t return to the UK from their first migration until the age of two – but some do venture back earlier. Thirty-eight years old now, he has been coming here since he was a boy. From this you can calculate the shift in the time of midday relative to Greenwich, and therefore determine how much the godwit has moved to the west or east relative to Greenwich. Fascinatingly, Désirée and Maris’ brother Jersey has been spotted in Bavaria (May 2019), suggesting this brood seem to have a penchant for spending the breeding season outside the UK. Godwits Migration - across the world in 8 days! Researchers then do their best to capture that same bird again; if they’re successful, they remove the logger and use the stored light-level data to establish the moment of sunrise, midday and sunset throughout the year. Lady spent the breeding season this year at the Ouse Washes (with Nelson), moving between WWT Welney and the RSPB Pilot Project site. Three of our headstarted birds have been seen this September and October in locations around the French coast. 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. Birds ringed by Project Godwit have a lime colour ring on the right leg stamped with the letter ‘E’ and can be reported to the team here. There’s still time to donate to the Funds for Waders cycling fundraiser! November can feel like a dreary time of year at the best of times, so the team at Project Godwit have found it a real boost recently to receive reports of black-tailed godwits from the UK breeding population beyond the shores of Blighty. Wed 26th – Kent WT Oare Marshes Our latest blog post is by Mo Verhoeven, RSPB Senior Research Assistant for Project Godwit. One measure we’re trialling at the Nene Washes is exclusion fencing. The ability of birds to migrate from one part of the world to another has always fascinated people. Black-tailed godwits have a bold black and white stripe on … 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. As keen cyclists and wader conservationists, their aim was to promote responsible travel while raising funds for wader conservation. They’ll even feed through the high tide and within a few days will have regained so much weight that they’re indistinguishable from those who wintered over. 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. This includes the head-starting and release of godwit chicks – meaning there will be no ‘Class of 2020’. Even personally. We’ve installed a new barrier fence at the Nene Washes and will be monitoring its effectiveness. Fast forward six months to late September, and we’re back on the estuary to see the godwits that have jetted in from Alaska, as per their annual schedule. Why do godwits migrate when they do? This female was ringed as a chick at RSPB Nene Washes nature reserve, Cambridgeshire (the stronghold for the UK breeding population) an amazing 19 years ago and was spotted in what would be a part of the airport experiencing the highest levels of noise pollution and disruption if it goes ahead. Flying continuously (not even glid­ing) over the ocean at an average of 80 km/h, they make the journey in six to eight days. For the same reason other birds migrate. What does a godwit scientist do in lockdown. Male godwit Morgan has been spotted at Pagham Harbour in Sussex, Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve in Hampshire and RSPB Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire in July – all within a fortnight! Thanks to Dr José Tavares for reporting this sighting to Project Godwit. Asian black-tailed godwits winter in Australia, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. Hudsonian Godwits may fly 8,000 miles nonstop between breeding and wintering areas, unless brief stopovers are made at as-yet-undiscovered spots somewhere in South America. The nearly fledged chicks are fitted with a unique combination of colour-rings and some are also fitted with a geolocator. Project Godwit has a unique colour ringing scheme, whereby all birds are ringed with a lime colour ring on the right leg with the black letter ‘E’ stamped on the ring. Tom’s egg was collected from muddy farmland and hatched at WWT Welney on 19 May last year. It was hard to say no. 2008, Senner 2010). on What does a godwit scientist do in lockdown? “If you dig a hole in the sand and just sit in it,” he says, “the birds will often come around you.”, We drive out along the southern shore of the estuary, towards Redcliffs and Sumner, where property values have migrated skywards in recent years, infesting the hillsides with flash new homes, their angularity jarring with the natural environment in a way that you can only see them as attempts to subdue nature rather than harmonise with it. 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! Hope hasn’t been reported to Project Godwit since last year (and therefore doesn’t have her own profile page yet), but as most young black-tailed godwits don’t usually return from migration to the UK to breed until the age of two years, it’s not unusual to have not received any recent sightings of this godwit. The surprising migration feats of Sanderlings were discovered only recently by ornithologist Pete Myers. I was coming from winter, which was clear from my pale skin and a permanently smoky smell imparted by my woodstove. She may return to the UK at the usual breeding age of two next year, or she may join the Dutch breeding population of black-tailed godwits and return to the Netherlands each spring. We know from banded birds. A black-tailed godwit once ringed at RSPB Nene Washes nature reserve in Cambridgeshire has been reported to Project Godwit from Portugal. 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. This behaviour is common for juvenile godwits, whereby they often don’t return to the UK breeding grounds until the age of two years. The primary aim of migration is to take advantage of the longer days of the northern summer for breeding and to feed their young and to avoid harsh winters. It’s the same with the plant people and other people around Christchurch, the council’s always been really good that way. They’ve been touching down regularly for the past three weeks and more are still coming in, bedraggled and hungry. Birds like godwits and oystercatchers love it. Or, as another paper co-authored by Gill puts it, “Is weather across the Pacific teleconnected such that certain departure cues at northern latitudes assure relatively favourable conditions along most of the route?”. Repeatability 0.77 overall 0.83 for adults only Battley. Head-started female Lil (another 2017 bird) paired with a wild-reared male and fledged two chicks. Please keep your eyes peeled for any colour ringed birds – you can report your sightings to us here. On January 14th this year, Jelle Loonstra and I handed in our joint PhD on “The behaviour and ecology of the Black-tailed Godwit”. Nature reserve: WWT Steart Marshes, Somerset. We’re using headstarting to boost the population breeding at the Ouse Washes and fast-track the growth of this small population. The intrepid duo will be raising money for Project Godwit and for IWSG, which gives out small grants each year to support wader projects around the world. But about 300 juveniles—you can tell them by their brown breasts; the adults ready for breeding have brick-red plumage—stay over for the winter, rather than risk the trip. Nature reserve: Suffolk WT Trimley Marshes, Head-started godwits spotted here: Fenn & Tipps. To learn more about the threats this airport development poses, see our previous blog here. This will be a socially-distanced event, so sadly there won’t be crowds of supporters gathering along the way. Ask your librarian to subscribe to this service next year. 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