By Chris Heward, Ecologist, GWCT Wetlands Team
Nellie III has made a welcome return to the Woodcock Watch map with a series of new transmissions. The first of these was transmitted on March 10th 2020. At this point, she was at her usual wintering site in North Norfolk, just 500m from the field I caught her on in March 2017. Two and a half days later, Nellie sent a series of transmissions from the Danish island of Laesø.
Nellie has visited this island before. During her spring 2017 migration she stopped on Laesø too. We can be sure 2017 was Nellie’s first spring migration because she was a juvenile when we caught her. I speculated that she may have stumbled across Laesø the previous autumn, when she first travelled to Norfolk, and it was this that had set the island in her memory as a safe stop-over.
We still can’t be sure how Nellie found the island but seeing her on Laesø for a second time suggests that she now makes a regular stop here in spring. We know that woodcock are faithful to their wintering sites, and even more so their breeding sites, but increasingly we’re seeing evidence of faithfulness to particular migratory stopovers. And where else is this more likely to be true than for a welcome speck of land in the middle of the sea?
We know Nellie doesn’t need to stop here. She crosses the North Sea, from Norfolk to continental Europe, unaided by islands and several of our Scottish woodcock have made far longer sea crossings between the UK and Norway. But knowing that Laesø exists probably makes crossing the Kattegat that bit easier.
Nellie can’t have stayed there for long, as she was back on her usual breeding site by the 15th March. The whole journey took her just five days. This is a very early arrival date for her. Last year she didn’t arrive until the 26th March. In both 2018 and 2017, she didn’t leave Norfolk until the first week of April.
It’s tempting to think that this faster migration time might be a result of her increasing experience, but it’s difficult to rule out the effect of weather. It is unsurprisingly that the incredibly cold weather of 2018’s ‘Beast from the East’, for instance, meant Nellie was unable to leave for Scandinavia any sooner.