By Chris Heward, GWCT Wetlands Research Assistant
Yesterday, we received data showing that Nellie II has finished her autumn migration. We last heard from her on November 11th, when she was in Belarus, 400 km from her breeding site on the Russian border. She’s now completed the remaining 1600 km of her journey to return to a familiar site in Norfolk. She is the first of our tagged woodcock to make it back the UK this winter (or at least the first that we know about).
She is within 3km of the field where I caught and tagged her in March this year. It’s not unusual for woodcock to remain loyal to a single site, it’s what we call ‘site fidelity’. Once migrants have found a favourable wintering site they’re likely to use it each winter thereafter.
Nellie II isn’t the only bird that’s transmitting data; Wensum has also been in touch recently. Wensum was tagged in March 2013 and is named after a Norfolk river close to her capture site. She is one of the longest-serving Woodcock Watch birds, having provided data for 4 different spring migrations (2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016). Each year, she has travelled to the same summer location in southern Finland but unlike Nellie, and the vast majority of our other birds, she has never returned to the site where we caught her.
Despite this, Wensum has shown strong site fidelity, just not to Norfolk. Instead, she has been faithful to a wood in Lower Saxony, Germany, where she has spent the last three winters. It’s not clear what she was doing in Norfolk when we caught her, but it was probably an escape response to cold weather in her preferred German home. It’s ironic that Wensum was given such an East Anglian name, as she is the only of our Norfolk birds to show no affinity to the area at all!
Wensum’s most recent transmissions come from her favoured wintering site in Germany, and it’s probably safe to say her migration is also over. We are only likely to see her joining Nellie II in Norfolk if the winter of 2016/17 is a particularly cold one.