by Chris Heward, Wetlands Research Assistant
Ruan is a woodcock that we satellite-tagged in Cornwall in March 2015. Last spring, Ruan made a 1,500 km migration, via Belgium and Denmark, to southern Sweden.
Since late June we have heard nothing from Ruan, though it was unclear whether this was due to insufficient charging of the tag’s battery or as a result of the bird’s death.
After our trip to Cornwall last week, however, it seems very likely that we can rule out the latter – a woodcock matching Ruan’s description was spotted by Andrew Hoodless, head of the Woodcock Watch project.
We were both out on Sunday night, counting and catching woodcock, when Andrew came across a bird wearing a satellite tag. He spotted it from a distance using the ‘eye-shine’ reflected in the lamplight – but did not notice the tag until he had approached much closer.
Ruan's last recorded location - Tomelilla, Sweden on 26th June 2015
“It seems very likely that the bird was Ruan”, Andrew told me when we caught up later that night, “that was the field I tagged him on last year”.
Andrew attempted to recapture Ruan in order to remove the tag. Given that the tag’s battery appears to be completely depleted, we would prefer to relieve Ruan of his duty as a Woodcock Watch bird and recharge his tag for redeployment.
Unfortunately Ruan had other plans and Andrew was unable to recapture him on that occasion. “The bird seemed to be in good condition, it got up and ran when I approached, displaying the tag quite clearly. It flew before I could get close enough to catch it.”
Andrew visited the same field for a second time later that week, but Ruan was not there. He managed to get sufficiently close to each bird to see that none of them were tagged.
We’re due a second trip down to Cornwall next month and recapturing Ruan will be high on our list of priorities.
Only if we recapture him, can we be completely certain that it was Ruan that Andrew saw. We have tagged several woodcock on this estate over the past four years. It does seem incredibly likely, however, that this individual was Ruan given that he was caught in a very similar location last year (and that the other tagged birds were caught on a different part of the estate).
Regardless of whether we recapture Ruan, this must be seen as positive news. It’s great to know that he is alive and well and apparently in good health (his reactions were certainly sharp enough to evade capture by one of Britain’s best woodcock-catchers).
If the tag is not recovered in March, then all we can hope is that a nice sunny spring allows the tag’s solar-powered battery to recharge and that we start to receive regular updates from Ruan again.
Please help our declining UK woodcock