Monitoring Bar-tailed Godwits on The Wash

Bar-tailed Godwits (Limosa lapponica) are large waders which have a wide distribution across several continents. Five subspecies are currently recognised plus a sixth recently proposed as yamalensis (Appleton 2021). Bar-tailed Godwits are long-distance migrants and one subspecies (baueri) makes an incredible non-stop migration from Alaska to New Zealand over the Pacific Ocean lasting many days.

Two populations of Bar-tailed Godwit use The Wash: lapponica breeds from northern Fennoscandia eastwards to western Russia and the Taymyr peninsula and moults on The Wash in autumn, with most birds staying to spend the winter; taymyrensis breeds further east reaching central Siberia and passes through The Wash on migration to its wintering sites, as far south as West Africa.

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The Norwegian Connection: a tale of two journeys

One of the most visible birds on The Wash beaches must be the Oystercatcher. With its distinctive black and white plumage, orange bill and strident ‘kleep’ call, it’s certainly hard to miss! But where do ‘our’ Oystercatchers go when they leave The Wash? The map summarises the international movements of ‘our’ Oystercatchers – the red triangles are birds ringed abroad and found on The Wash, the blue dots are birds we ringed that were found abroad. It is clear that there is a really strong connection between The Wash and Norway – which is where most of the Oystercatchers wintering on The Wash go to breed. Most of these reports are of metal-ringed birds but, in recent years, we and other groups have used colour marks and tags to track movements in greater detail, and these sometimes produce very rapid feedback.

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Fieldwork February 2022

Thursday 17 February

In anticipation of the coming Storm Eunice, Kirsty arrived at the base late afternoon, opened up and replaced the dripping tap glands. Lizzie and Ryan arrived later in the evening after collecting keys from Cathy. Plans were made for recces in the morning, provided it did not look too windy.

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Ten years of colour-marking Curlew on the Wash – what have we learnt?

Curlew use the Wash both as a passage site to moult during autumn and as a wintering location. On a global scale, they are ‘Near Threatened’ i.e. vulnerable to extinction and they are present in Internationally important numbers on the Wash. Declines in the UK breeding population have placed Curlew in the highest category of UK bird conservation concern; therefore, the species is a priority for the group in terms of long-term conservation monitoring. We started to mark a proportion of the population on the eastern shore of the Wash with unique leg flags in 2012. This allows us to accurately determine their survival and assess wintering habitat use.

Since then, a total of 478 birds have been marked and we have had over 5,000 re-encounters recorded by over 200 WWRG volunteers and members of the public. We regularly dedicate fieldwork hours to ensure we have sufficient resightings to determine survival and winter distribution. This steady stream of data has started to be used in scientific publications to describe the east Wash Curlew population. This blog is a summary of what we have learnt so far.

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Fieldwork November 2021

Friday 5 November

Most team members started to assemble at the base house from mid-afternoon (breaking the peace of Bernard and Carole who had been staying for a few days already). A mini-Glastonbury was then established outside to accommodate the large weekend team. Cathy, along with Lynne and Alex, provided a hearty meal of jacket potatoes with all the trimmings for the bulk of the team, followed by a fruit salad (Lynne), and a chocolate hazelnut tray bake (Alex) which was big enough to last the entire weekend (thanks to Tim and Ian B for washing up!). Katharine, Sophie, Alice, Rob, Sam and Skye all arrived later, with Rob blaming his later than planned arrival on the necessity to bake a carrot cake for the team, starting at 17:15…

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