Saturday, 25 April 2015

Little Curlews on the move at last - Inka Veltheim & Clive Minton

Very exciting news - two of the little curlew with PTTs deployed this year have departed Anna Plains (IDs 61 and 65). This timing of departure matches well with a bird from 2014 (24/4/14), which reached the breeding grounds.
Little Curlews Numenius minutus. Photo: Rick Else
The two little curlew are travelling together, presumably in a flock, and at 10pm last night (24th April) were 210 km north west of Anna Plains. 

Last fixes for these birds were at 4:27am (65) and 5:20am (61) this morning (25th April), roughly 560km north west of AP. 

Last fixes for these birds were at 4:27am (65) and 5:20am (61) this morning (25th April), roughly 560km north west of AP.
More updates to come as the migration progresses. Exciting times ahead!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

More migration news on the GFN satellite telemetry project - Chris Hassell: Global Flyways Network

Well there is lots going on in the world of migrating birds with a mix of good old fashioned observations (scanning and migration watch) and modern technology (the Platform Terminal Transmitters PTT’s) on the ‘GFN” Great Knot and Bar-tailed Godwits. 

Mixed flock of waders containing Greater Sandplover Charadrius leschenaultii, Bar-tailed Godwits Limosa lapponica, Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa, Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris,  Red Knot Calidris canutus, Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea, Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis, Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres, Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus and Grey-tailed Tattler Heterocelus brevipes: Australia September 2013.

Six Great Knots are sending signals from China and two are sending signals from Australia. One of these is in the Northern Territory (1,000km north east from Roebuck Bay, where we banded it) and the other is at 80 Mile Beach (200km south from Roebuck Bay) it would seem these two will remain in Australia this dry season. All the Great knots did a single flight from Roebuck Bay to the coast of China except one that stopped in Vietnam. The general strategy has been a single long flight then short stays of less than one day but up to eleven days before the next leg northward of between 500 and 1,800km. Four birds are in Yalu Jiang on the China/North Korea Border, a site that gets tens of thousands of Great Knots. 

Great Knots Calidris tenuirostris: Thailand, January 2014.

A few examples: one bird did a direct flight to the south coast of China of 4,600km then spent eleven days there before flying 1000km taking a very brief stops of one or two days ‘hopping north again for 700km then another very brief stop before the final hop of 450km to Yalu Jiang. Another did the single leg to the Chinese coast did two very short stops and then after a ten day stop went the final 1,800km to Yalu Jiang. One bird made only one stop it went 5,200km and then after seven days zipped the other 1,200km to Yalu Jiang. It will be interesting to see if this apparently ‘strong bird’ leads up to the breeding grounds. All birds have travelled at about the mid 40km’s per hour during the big leg from Roebuck Bay to China.

Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris: Australia September 2013.

One bird was transmitting as it left Roebuck Bay on migration and this gives us very good timing, direction and speed of the initial leg of its journey. It left at 6PM on April 7th (it was no doubt logged in the observational data of the BBO team at migration watch.) https://www.facebook.com/broomebirdobs 

Bar-tailed Godwits Limosa lapponica: New Zealand October, 2013.

The Bar-tailed Godwits with PTT’s left later than the Great Knots and have experienced some head and cross winds. three of them have stopped in the Philippines and seven are in china. One is still in Roebuck Bay. The first leg of the birds that got to China were between 4,600 and 5,200km. The most interesting aspect of the godwits is that I saw a flock of fifty-five Bar-tailed Godwits exhibiting pre-migration behaviour at a roost on the afternoon of April 11th. In this flock were three colour-banded birds and two of those had PTT’s on! I wrote to Lee saying these birds would migrate that night and when she checked the data; sure enough, they had left at 6PM that evening. And just to add to the mix it was the BBO “public Migration Watch’ day and seventy-two people watched a flock of one hundred and thirty bar-tails head out at 6PM! I am afraid they were fairly distant so no images of antennas trailing behind migrating birds! But I am pretty certain our two birds were in that flock. What a great mix of field observation and modern technology. 

Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica: Australia September 2013.  
This was the first time we have had two PTT birds apparently in the same flock. And a question I am always asked is ‘when they leave together do they stay together’. ‘I don’t know’ I was the honest answer. These two didn’t stay together the whole way one stopped in the Philippines after a flight of 3.430km while the other went all the way to China in a 4,800km leg. The Philippine site only has narrow mudflats but three suitable looking river mouths for a godwit to feed at and only a low population of people nearby. Two other godwits are just 80km south of this site on the west coast of the island of Mindoro. This also looks a very suitable stop-over location. It has mudflats, river mouths, mangroves and aquaculture ponds which potentially offer good roosting opportunities. 

Bar-tailed Godwits Limosa lapponica and Great Knots Calidris tenuirostris: Australia September 2013.
One of the birds at this site I find particularly interesting. Initially it landed on an island 125km due west of its current location. That site is a rocky coast with no mudflats and completely unsuitable. So the bird went somewhere with mudflats! A very sensible thing to do. This says to me, that the bird ‘knew where it was’ it didn’t go north or south or west as there is nowhere suitable (close by) for it to feed at so it went due east to where it ‘knew’ there was suitable habitat. Another PTT bird is on the same mudflat but it got there in a direct flight. Interesting stuff.

Chris Hassell, Curtis Robinson and Phil De Bruyn (Last two Dept of Parks and Wildlife) : three big blokes releasing three rather small godwits. Photo: Ying Chi Chan

Note: All distances and flight times in this update are preliminary. Further statistical analysis will be done at a later stage. So all information in this document is approximate. 
The GFN PTT Team 

Friday, 17 April 2015

A grand day out!

The days running up to publishing the Wader Quest sponsors' newsletter can be, to say the very least, fraught. As a result of all the pent up stress it is always a good idea to have a day off on the day following publication and distribution, to let the pressure out of my veins and remove all thoughts of editing from my addled brain.

So, what do wader conservationists do to unwind and forget about their day to day troubles? Well they go wader watching of course. This may sound like a bit of a busman's holiday but as we spend some 12 hours of every day cooped up at our computers making sure everything is running smoothly, just getting out into the fresh air is a bonus and instead of hearing all about other people's wader experiences, we go out and have a few of our own; which in this case involved 18 species.

A wader enthusiast's idea of heven, even on his or her day off! Titchwell beach Norfolk, UK.


We drove up to Titchwell on the north Norfolk coast on a whim. Titchwell usually has some waders to look at whatever time of year you go. Today was no exception. The first waders we encountered were on the mud exposed by the drained pool on the left of the path opposite the reed marsh which I now discover is not part of the reserve as I had previously thought. Here we saw a single Northern Lapwing and a distant ringed plover which I couldn't quite identify with just my bins. By the time I had the scope up it had gone and I had missed it in flight. To be honest the water level on the freshmarsh was a little high to be really exciting but Paul Eeles the reserve manager says that this is to help protect the breeding avocets and it will be drawn down for the migration season when it is in full swing. Nevertheless as we walked along the path we stopped for a scan. Out on the marsh there were many Pied Avocets squabbling and chasing each other about preparing for the challenges the breeding season might bring.

Agitated Pied Avocets Recurvirostra avosetta.
There were Common Redshanks in good numbers and a few striking summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwits. These summer birds kept their distance but looked as though they may well have been Icelandic birds. There were some others that came much closer, but none in the flashy summer plumage.

Common Redshank Tringa totanus.

Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa just beginning to moult. 

The single Ruff we saw was also bereft of flashy plumage and likewise the two Spotted Redshanks we came across. The only other waders to be seen on the freshmarsh were a few Eurasian Oystercatchers and a Little Ringed Plover, possibly the bird we saw earlier.

Eurasian Oystercatchers Haematopus ostralegus.


Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius.

After this we headed for the beach and there found the tide was well and truly out. We trudged across the sand to get close to the seaweed strewn rocks that attract the waders there. There were several Grey Plovers just beginning to acquire some dark breast and belly feathers, around 5 smart Common Ringed Plovers were seen and just two Eurasian Curlews prodded about in the wet sand appearing to be very successful on their hunting.

Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola.

Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquarta.

The commonest wader by far was Ruddy Turnstone, with a small number of Sanderlings, around 5 Bar-tailed Godwits around 20 Dunlin and a single, lost looking Red Knot.

Sanderling Calidris alba showing just a hint of the breeding plumage to come.


A selection of the waders found on the beach; Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquarta, Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica, Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola and Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres.


While on the beach I spent some time talking to a lady who had come to Norfolk she said, to see the [Eurasian] Dotterels.  
          "Dotterels?" said I. "What dotterels?" Unbeknown to us there had been a trip along the Docking road out of Titchwell. Sadly it seemed that when the lady arrived that morning, the dotterels had gone; I felt for her, they would have been lifers, and what a lifer Eurasian Dotterel is.

Checking out the waders with the lady I met on the beach.

Elis and I had one of the magnificent scones from the RSPB café, mine cheese, hers with jam and then we set off to return home. We decided to go via the dotterel site, just in case. There were a number of cars still there and we stopped to speak to the first chap we saw.
           "Still no sign?" I casually surmised.
          "Yes actually, I've seen them!" he said and then told us where. We wasted no time in visiting the spot getting further directions from a lady who was just leaving and discovered they were out in the middle of a typically large Norfolk ploughed field.

The dotterels are in the middle of that lot!

Sure enough, shimmering in the heat haze was a congregation of plovers. On inspection we immediately saw many of them were Eurasian Golden Plovers twenty-four (or five) in all, some in splendid summer garb, but in among them we eventually distinguished at least three and possibly four Eurasian Dotterels. A 'Trip' within a 'Congregation'; suggests a slapstick vicar to me.

Heat haze and distance render this photo pretty uninspiring. One (or maybe two) Eurasian Dotterels Charadrius morinellus to the right and three Eurasian Golden Plovers Pluvialis apricaria  to the left.

Any day that has a sighting of a Eurasian Dotterel in it is a good day. I was pleased but the only slight niggle I had was that I didn't ask the lady for her phone number (well you don't do you?) so I couldn't let her know her prize had returned. Just as we were considering leaving, to my delight I saw a figure rushing along the path, it was the lady from the beach and I took great pleasure in setting my scope onto one of the dotterels so she would be able to see it immediately upon arrival without the hassle of trying to find it for herself. A good end to a good day; we drove home satisfied with our day off!