25 April 2013

Long-distance flyers - follow the elusive woodcock

Monkey – the record-breaking woodcock has started his perilous journey to Russia. His satellite tag will enable birdwatchers and scientists from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust to monitor his progress on www.woodcockwatch.com. His progress could unlock some of the mysteries surrounding this elusive species in order to implement future international conservation strategiesExcitement is mounting as ‘Monkey’, the record-breaking woodcock, has started transmitting satellite signals back to the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s dedicated woodcockwatch.com website as he begins his perilous 6,200 km spring migration from Cornwall to Siberia.

Monkey, one of the birds that was fitted with a satellite transmitter last year in Cornwall will be joining a new batch of fourteen woodcock that were tagged this spring in regions across the country including west Wales, Cornwall, south-west Ireland, Norfolk and Scotland.

Birdwatchers and nature-lovers following the woodcockwatch.com website will be able to watch the trials and tribulations of these extraordinary flights as they happen ‘live’ on this dedicated and interactive website. The GWCT, a leading UK research charity, believes that if Monkey makes it back to his breeding site this spring , he will have notched up at least 36,000 km in his lifetime.

The aim of this ground-breaking study is to unlock some of the mysteries surrounding the elusive woodcock (Scolopax rusticola). GWCT scientists are working on the very edges of modern technology to record in ‘real time’ the extraordinary migration routes of the satellite-tracked woodcock and to learn more about this secretive bird’s habits, threats and the conservation issues facing this amber-listed species.

The project ran for the first time in 2012 with 11 birds tracked back to their breeding grounds in northern and eastern Europe. Five birds from this first batch are thought to have returned to the same overwintering sites in the UK and three are now undertaking their spring migrations again. Named Rebecca, Speedy and Monkey, these original birds are now transmitting signals and have joined the new batch of fourteen birds as they make their extraordinary flights back to breeding grounds in Scandinavia, Finland, the Baltic States and Russia.

Dr Andrew Hoodless from the GWCT and a world expert on woodcock, explains, “We have already started to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding this fascinating species. It is apparent that woodcock migrations consist of several long flights of up to 30 hours covering distances of up to 1200 km. Travelling at an average speed of 40km/hour these amazing flights are interspersed by stops of several days in which to recover. There are very few projects like this that have the technology to track migration in such detail and this study will therefore provide a unique insight on the migration strategies of other similar waders.”

The woodcock’s status as a breeding bird in the UK is causing concern among some conservationists, Dr Hoodless says, “Our research is important because in Britain, the woodcock is amber listed as a breeding species that has suffered a reported 86 per cent decline over the last 30 years. Across Europe its status is poorly documented and compared to many other birds we know very little about its behaviour and ecology because of its secretive nature.

“Increasing the sampIe of birds tracked this spring will help us to identify differences in the behaviour of individual birds on migration and the effects of prevailing weather. It is already apparent that migration this year has been delayed owing to the cold weather. By following these tagged birds, we will also find out more about the migration strategies of woodcock across Europe. This information is important in informing international conservation policies for the woodcock in the future.”

To view the latest movements of these seventeen satellite-tracked birds and to follow their incredible migration flights, visit www.woodcockwatch.com.

The GWCT is looking for people to sponsor a satellite-tracked woodcock for £36 a year, which will cover the cost of downloading data from satellites for a bird on one day every month. The progress of each bird can be checked daily. To sponsor a bird email: woodcock@gwct.org.uk or telephone: 01425 652381.


Photocaption: Monkey – the record-breaking woodcock has started his perilous journey to Russia. His satellite tag will enable birdwatchers and scientists from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust to monitor his progress on www.woodcockwatch.com. His progress could unlock some of the mysteries surrounding this elusive species in order to implement future international conservation strategies.

Notes to editors

The woodcock Scolopax rusticola is a secretive, cryptic wader evolved for a life spent in woodland and fields. In Britain we have a resident breeding population consisting of about 78,000 males and a similar number of females. Woodcock are most obvious in spring and summer, when the males perform their distinctive ‘roding’ displays at dawn and dusk when males are searching for females.

Woodcock depend on a diet of earthworms and other invertebrates, which are obtained with their long, sensitive bills. Their activity patterns through the year are determined by the trade-off between finding sufficient food and avoiding predation. Their cryptic plumage helps them remain inconspicuous during the daytime and their large eyes, placed high on the sides of the head give them near 360° vision for detecting potential dangers.

Migrants: In autumn and continuing through December and January, Britain and Ireland see a large influx of migrant woodcock escaping freezing weather in northern Europe. ‘Falls’ of woodcock are often most noticeable around the full moon in November, commonly referred to as the ‘Woodcock Moon’. As many as 700,000 to 1,200,000 migrant woodcock from Scandinavia, Finland, the Baltic States and Russia may spend the winter with us.

Research: Compared to many other birds, we still know little about the woodcock’s behaviour and ecology. Learning more is important because the species is potentially susceptible to altered conditions resulting from climate change and habitat destruction and is widely hunted across Europe. Research from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust is starting to unravel some of the secrets of the overwintering woodcock populations and recent satellite tracking of 11 woodcock migrating to their breeding grounds in Russia, Scandinavia and the Baltic States was a revelation to scientists. For example, typically they can fly 600-1,200km in 30 hours, at an average speed of 40 km/hour. To follow the birds progress or to sponsor a woodcock visit the Woodcock Watch website: www.woodcockwatch.com

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust is an independent wildlife conservation charity which has carried out scientific research into Britain’s game and wildlife for the past 70 years. We advise farmers and landowners on improving wildlife habitats and we lobby for agricultural and conservation policies based on science. We employ 20 post-doctoral scientists and 40 other research staff with expertise in areas such as birds, insects, mammals, farming, fish and statistics. We undertake our own research as well as projects funded by contract and grant-aid from Government and private bodies. The Trust is also responsible for a number of Government Biodiversity Action Plan species and is lead partner for grey partridge and joint lead partner for brown hare and black grouse. For Information, contact: Morag Walker – Head of Media, Telephone – 01425-652381 (direct 01425-651000) Mobile – 07736-124097 www.gwct.org.uk

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