Asian black-tailed godwits winter in Australia, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. Black-tailed godwits which breed in the UK are of the Limosa limosa limosa sub-species and mainly breed in the East Anglian Fens of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, plus a few sites in the south-east and north-west of England. Round the tip of the spit and there the godwits are, several score of them, oceanside, gathered at water’s edge. He seems at one with the natural world, attuned to its moods, wise in its ways. He thumbs through a battered old diary. Why do godwits migrate when they do? When you know the length of each day, you can estimate the latitude (north/south), since this varies predictably with date across the world. This major asset for RSPB Nene Washes and Project Godwit has been funded thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund via the Back from the Brink programme and the EU LIFE Nature programme. Driving back past McCormacks Bay, for instance, Crossland points out three artificial islands in a lagoon. Do their young find their own way here and actually go to where Mum and Dad are, or do they go somewhere else?”. “We don’t know that,” admits Gill. Only the Arctic tern flies fur­ther, from Antarctica to the Arctic. A new fence may not be the most exciting thing to read about, but then on-the-ground conservation isn’t glamorous. Right now, it’s late March and Andrew Crossland is taking us out on the Southshore Spit, on the northern side of the estuary. To find out more about becoming a Godwit Guardian you can visit our webpage here. Another one-year-old godwit head-started in 2019 has just been reported this week from Senegal, in Djoudj National Park near Debi. • Godwits leave Alaska when it starts to cool off. Six weeks later in mid-June, this two-year-old was spotted at RSPB Ouse Washes! Waiting for the right moment to announce itself—a slight shift in the wind, perhaps. This godwit is a sea bird about 40cm in height. While L. l. islandica winters in Iceland, black-tailed godwits of the L. l. limosa race migrate south to Spain, Portugal or West Africa – to countries like Senegal, Mauritania and Guinea, 2800 miles away. Sun 30th – WWT Welney, RSPB Ouse Washes & RSPB Nene Washes, Cambridgeshire. “Well, ‘Why come?’ is the other question,” replies Cross­land. The extended daylight hours allow diurnal birds to produce larger clutches of eggs than those of non-migratory species that remain in the tropics all the year round. The dynamic duo took on this endurance challenge of cycling 600 miles in 8 days to raise funds for Project Godwit and the International Wader Study Group (which gives out small grants each year to support wader projects around the world). Denver was the first headstarted bird to be spotted by the project team in 2019 on 22 March. First stop was at the Suffolk Wildlife Trust nature reserve Trimley Marshes, where head-started godwits Fenn and Tipps have both been seen. None of this would be possible without the bird watchers and observers who spend their time looking for ringed birds. 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. 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. Rather than putting up with the cold during the winter, many birds migrate to warmer climates for several months each year. Fri 28th – Suffolk WT Trimley Marshes & RSPB Boyton Marshes We know from banded birds. This is yet another godwit from the UK breeding population reported to have been using the Tagus estuary for many years – where the building of an international airport is proposed. And a beautiful spring it was, with flowers blooming, nests being built, and chicks to come…but on the 23rd a nation-wide lockdown was announced and all fieldwork was cancelled! It’s by no means the only migratory bird to come to these shores, but it works the hardest to do so. He’s really tame. This factor provides an answer to the question, “How do animals know when to migrate?” But suddenly I was in Chile, wearing shorts and freed from my PhD for the first time in months. This behaviour is common for juvenile godwits, whereby they often don’t return to the UK breeding grounds until the age of two years. “People just become exposed to the information and the children learn it as well. Needless to say, lots of plans and dreams this year have been scuppered by the coronavirus pandemic. Why New Zealand, though? This one-year-old male has been at the Ouse Washes since May this year, moving between WWT Welney and RSPB Ouse Washes nature reserve. Just thousands and thousands and thousands of square miles of habitat with, like, no people. 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. Head-started female Lil (another 2017 bird) paired with a wild-reared male and fledged two chicks. Désirée and Maris are part of the ‘Muddy Potato’ posse, so-called because they were amongst many eggs in the spring of 2018 that were so muddy they resembled potatoes. It will be fascinating to see how many of our headstarted birds are amongst them. In order for migration to be worthwhile, the benefits must outweigh the risks – benefits coming in the form of improved survival and breeding success. from arable farmland when the godwits’ main breeding sites at RSPB Nene Washes flooded that spring, forcing the adult breeding pairs to lay their eggs elsewhere. There are shafts of sunlight over the city to the west, the roar of surf behind us to the east. (a) Why do godwits fly so high? 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. But they tend to relax as the summer goes on.”. The city council spotted his talent early. Nature reserve: RSPB Nene Washes, Cambridgeshire. So they migrate southwards.”. First they get a bit of kip; then it’s serious tucker time. This is why seafarers had chronometers and why precise chronometers were worth a lot of money. Migrating from New Zealand Young birds from the European populations stay on in Africa after their first winter and return to Europe at the age of two years. 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. 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. Tom’s egg was collected from muddy farmland and hatched at WWT Welney on 19 May last year. Jean Rees-Lyons, Artistic Director of The Word Garden helped name some of the head-started birds of 2019 as part of ‘the ‘Origins Project’, remembering the Scottish Soldiers. Since then he has been regularly spotted each spring at RSPB Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire. We haven’t had that.”. Bob Gill, of the US Geological Survey, explains how this procedure is carried out. They migrate to west Africa for winter. To learn more about the threats this airport development poses, see our previous blog here. March is the time of year when the godwits take off for their long migratory flight to Alaska, where they feed and breed before returning to New Zealand in September and October. Big, noisy, and cinnamon-colored, it is conspicuous on its tundra nesting grounds. Godwits fly extraordinary distances yet they aren’t particularly different from other migrating birds. The chicks are born there as they grow quickly in the 24 hour daylight. Morgan is a male godwit who was head-started and released at WWT Welney in June 2018. As well as raising funds for wader conservation and highlighting the plight of godwits as a Near Threatened species (with fewer than 50 breeding pairs in the UK), Jen and Mark also want to shine a spotlight on the importance of having a network of well managed coastal and wetland sites in the UK, to enable birds like godwits to survive migration. “Can they only re-meet by going to the breeding ground and landing on the nesting site and hoping that the mate comes back? What does a godwit scientist do in lockdown. We’re using headstarting to boost the population breeding at the Ouse Washes and fast-track the growth of this small population. 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. This godwit breeds at the Nene Washes every spring and was seen with its partner and chicks in May this year by a member of the team. 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. Due to the lockdown, it is unknown exactly how many pairs have bred at each project site this spring. on Storms, punctures, a broken bike – all in the name of fundraising. 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. Basically, various council people asked me to give them information and I be­came their kind of main adviser. “When they’re in the breeding grounds, anything big and brown that moves, like a skua or bird of prey, they’re really nervous. We’re like the Heathrow Airport of the South Island.”. Five years ago, Crossland and his colleagues scraped the paddock to bare earth and planted native saltmarsh plants that have since self-colonised. Subscribe to our free newsletter for news and prizes, Shorebirds of New Zealand: Sharing the Margins. Read our privacy policy. Nonetheless, we are aware of some pairings. Can they somehow sense when the meteorological moment is right? Nature reserve: RSPB Ouse Washes, Cambridgeshire. Nelson spent the breeding season this year on the Ouse Washes, after pairing with Lady, another godwit head-started in 2017. A Christchurch City Council ranger, he knows these waters and their wildlife intimately. To build a more complete picture of the godwits’ movements, we’ve been fitting some of the birds with geolocators. The benefit of flying in a flock is that they fly in a V-formation. In any case, he says, godwits tend to be edgier than the other birds, nervous about predators. Did you know ‘Barker’ is an old name for a godwit, along with blackwit, whelp, yarwhelp, shrieker and Jadreka snipe?! Black-tailed godwit chicks are being head-started to boost the number of godwit chicks that survive to fledging age. In the meantime, he and his colleagues “propose that this transoceanic route may function as an ecological corridor rather than a barrier, providing a wind-assisted passage relatively free of pathogens and predators”. Eight geolocators that had been retrieved in previous years to build a more complete picture of the Island! 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