Surprise updates from three birds

Woodcock Watch Apr 21

Three of the satellite-tagged woodcock, tracked as part of the GWCT’s Woodcock Watch project, have sent updates over the past few weeks. Holkham, Nellie III and Fonthill Abbie II were tagged in 2018, 2017 and 2016 respectively, meaning they are among the small number of woodcock tracked for 4+ consecutive springs.

Last year, I wrote of our surprise when the same three birds transmitted in 2020.  When the project began, back in 2012, tags were typically operational for just 1-2 years. The efficiency of the tag’s batteries and solar-panels diminished over time, until they could no longer generate or store enough energy to continue transmission. It appears that the later generations of tags may have been more efficient because, although we still often lose track of our remaining trio during the darker winter months, transmission always resumes in spring.

The value of these long-serving birds was explained in relation to our Woodcock Watch veteran, Fonthill Abbie II in a blog in 2020. Being able to track the same bird, travelling to the same destination, over multiple years allows us to observe the ways in which weather and age can influence the timing of migration.

Nellie III and Holkham are both Norfolk-to-Scandinavia migrants with comparatively short migrations. They arrived back on their breeding sites on approximately the 25th and 30th March, respectively. Fonthill Abbie II, on the other hand, who breeds in north-west Russia, only managed to reach her breeding site earlier this week. Her later arrival is not just dictated by the longer journey Abbie has to make but also the colder conditions experienced in Russia in spring.

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