There’s new data in from Doc this morning, the first we’ve received in over six months. Doc was tagged in Ireland in March 2015 and returned to Sweden, via Germany, that spring. Doc was tagged in Ireland by our collaborators at the University of Cork.
Doc’s most recent location data is a little hard to interpret as it seems to show Doc somewhere in or over the Atlantic Ocean, 400 km from Ireland’s most south-westerly point.
One possible explanation, a rather unsavoury prospect, is that the tag is transmitting accurate data from the sea. Perhaps Doc tried to migrate to Ireland, was caught in bad weather and overshot? Exhausted and with no sign of land, there would be little hope for such a bird and no doubt many woodcock must be lost at sea in this way.
If the body floated on the surface long enough for the batteries to recharge, the tag may be able to transmit from Doc’s final resting place. But to me this seems a little unlikely – a bird lost into a stormy sea is more likely to disappear without a trace. These tags are hermetically sealed and can survive submersion in saltwater but would need to remain close to the surface to be able to recharge and transmit.
It seems more plausible that this is an erroneous data point. These are not uncommon, often the tags send us ‘dodgy’ data, but usually the Woodcock Watch website filters out all but the most accurate locations. It is possible that one dubious point has slipped through the net.
Regardless of its accuracy, this is a good sign. It indicates that Doc’s tag has recharged sufficiently to send something and is trying to get in contact with us. As long as it remains reasonably sunny we can be hopeful that more accurate data will follow.
I think it’s likely that Doc is back at his/her usual site in County Cork, Ireland and that the tag has transmitted this inaccurate fix from there. After all, south-west Ireland is the closest piece of dry land to Doc’s purported Atlantic location.
Of course, the alternative is that Doc has transmitted this misleading signal from an alternative wintering ground, be it elsewhere in Ireland, Cornwall, Wales or Western France. I think the chances of this are fairly slim but it’s impossible to rule out based on the scant evidence we have at the moment.
The only way we can be certain is for Doc to get in touch again and provide us with more accurate information. Wherever Doc may be, let’s hope it’s somewhere a little drier than the current Woodcock Watch map would have us believe.
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