Tuesday, 20 June 2017

AWSG Whimbrel tagging; Busy breeding.

It has been quite a while since our last updates and we are delighted to see that both KS and KU have reached their breeding sites!

KS and KU have chosen different areas to nest approximately 630km apart from each other in the Sakha Republic, Russia.
Fig 1. Breeding location of KS and KU in Sakha Republic, Russia

KS reached the west of Momskiy Mountains in the last week of May. After spending two days there to replenish, it flew 157km east across the 2000m mountains to reach its nesting location.
Fig 2. KS flew across Momskiy Mountains

Within a few days of arriving, KS has chosen its nesting area. The movement of KS in its first week of arrival was quite extensive, covering up to an area of 500km2. Moving on to the second week, movement significantly shrunk to less than 100km2. Movement further limited to a 5km x 5km area in the third week indicating that KS is highly likely to be nesting.
Fig 3a. Movement of KS around nesting location - Week 1: 30-May to 5-Jun

   Fig 3b. Movement of KS around nesting location - Week 2: 6-Jun to 12-Jun
Fig 3c. Movement of KS around nesting location - Week 3: 13-Jun to 19-Jun
KU also arrived at its potential breeding area in late May. However, it then spent over 1.5 weeks exploring the area on both sides of a mountain before it finally decided its nesting area 17km north of the mountain, 27km west to River Yana.
Fig. 4 KU exploring its breeding area between 25-May and 5-Jun

Also within a week of arriving, a significant change in area of movement was observed. In the first week, KU moved in a wider area of up to 520km2. Afterwards, it settled down in the second week within a 13km x 10km area.
Fig 5a. Movement of KU around nesting location - Week 1: 7-Jun to 13-Jun

Fig 5b. Movement of KU around nesting location - Week 2: 14-Jun to 19-Jun
In the coming weeks, both KS and KU will be busy nesting and incubating their eggs. Later on their movement pattern might change again indicating fledging of their young.

On top of KS and KU which successfully made their journey to the breeding ground, we still regularly receive signals from both LA (at Eighty Mile Beach) and JX (at Palawan, the Philippines).

 As of 20 June 2017:
Migration tracks of our Whimbrels:

Migration summary on our Whimbrels
Katherine Leung
20 June 2017

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Positive season for Black-tailed Godwit in the Netherlands and in the UK.

It's been a great season for Dutch Black-tailed Godwit heroine, Astrid Kant. We have reported on Astrid before and mention her in our talks. She is a shining example of what one person can achieve with a passion for a cause and a desire to act. Astrid is a glass half full person and says there is always reason to hope when it comes to conservation. We tend to agree, it just takes people to act.

Black-tailed Godwit family. Photo: Astrid Kant.

For approaching 30 years she has been protecting Black-tailed Godwit chicks from the mowing machines in the Dutch meadows. She has, over the years, won over around 30 farmers who co-operate with her, allowing her onto their land to mark the nests, which they then avoid when mowing. In addition the farmers create 'chick meadows' where the chicks can grow safely, these meadows are left untouched until June (the others are mowed in April).

Marker posts indicating the location of nests. Astrid marks nests of all meadow waders she finds including Northern Lapwing, Common Redshank and Eurasian Oystercatcher. Photo: Elis Simpson - Wader Quest

Astrid then tries to ring as many of the chicks as possible so that we can learn more about their habits, ecology and movements thus increasing knowledge which we can be brought to bear when considering how to protect them. This year has been a bumper year, Astrid has found an incredible 240 nests and managed to ring 41 big fledglings, a record even by her high standards.

Astrid with one of the chicks she has ringed.

She has also hand made these 'chicks crossing' signs and posted them where nests are close to public paths and they also serve as a kind of badge of honour for farmers as a reward for their co-operation.

Gruttokuikens (godwit chicks) crossing. Photo: Astrid Kant.

Closer to home, in the UK the Black-tailed Godwit has had a chequered past. It was once abundant and an important quarry species for hunters, apparently having a delicate flavour that surpassed all others, but it was not hunting that initially caused its rapid demise it was the draining of the fens. The fens stretched from Lincolnshire and Norfolk down to Cambridgeshire and covered a vast area. Gradually this was systematically drained to create prime farming land. As the habitat disappeared, then so did the birds and as the population diminished the hunting them became an accelerating factor in their decline.

Black-tailed Godwit. Photo: Elis Simpson - Wader Quest

Alas, the species' decline coincided with a time when collecting was rife, every gentleman needed to have stuffed birds on his bureau. As the birds became scarcer their value in a collection grew until, as a rarity, they were much sought after. Like the Kentish Plover it was no good just having a Black-tailed Godwit in your collection, it had to be a scarce British Black-tailed Godwit. The last nest was plundered in 1885 and the person that took it was, in all probability, very proud of himself (its was mainly men that collected).

Black-tailed Godwit nest. Photo: Elis Simpson - Wader Quest
Over fifty years later the birds returned as a nesting species but their return was not a sudden affair. There were several reports of suspected breeding attempts and in 1937 a pair produced eggs but no young were raised. Then in 1952 the first successful fledging was recorded and by 1961 there were 11 pairs. Since then the population has grown slowly, with a lack of collectors and some protection but there are still fewer than 60 pairs.

Breeding pair of Black-taled Godwits. Photo: Astrid Kant.

The population needed help and this year, for the first time 'headstarting' has been carried out to help enhance the population.

Breeding success is the key to increasing, or even maintaining, a population and as ground nesting birds the Godwits' success rate is quite low; plenty of predators about to thwart their plans.

Black-tailed Godwit chick. Photo: Elis Simpson - Wader Quest.

Headstarting on the face of it seems to be counter-intuitive, taking the eggs from a nest of a wild bird to increase the wild population, but those birds may well go on to have a second nest to replace the one they lost  and the chances of survival of the taken eggs are enormously higher.

The eggs are hatched in an incubator and then the birds are kept in large pens as they grow protecting them from predators at the time when they are most vulnerable. When they are able to fly (have fledged) and able to escape mammalian predators, they are released to take their chances in the world.

Black-tailed Godwit chicks hatching. Photo: Bob Ellis - WWT.

The natural mechanism that allows for this sort of process is that the chicks are precocial meaning they are able to walk and feed for themselves within a very short time after emerging from the egg. The parents are there to protect them, they do not feed them at all, they are left to find their own food. This is why an abundance of invertebrates in the countryside is essential, they will have the automatic peck response if they see lots of critters moving around them.

Black-tailed Godwit chick. Photo: Bob Ellis - WWT.

The parents are not required for migration either, both the female (usually the first) then the male will abandon the chicks once they are fledged and, together with others hatched in the same season, they will find their own way to the wintering grounds.

Black-tailed Godwits in flight. Photo: Elis Simpson - Wader Quest

This year the WWT and RSPB have joined forces and have (when we visited) 26 chicks, doing well. They were recently moved to the large enclosure where they will be able to flex their wings to build strength before they are released, enhancing the local population. Wouldn't it be lovely if some day we would have 240 Black-tailed Godwits nests again in England.

Godwit chicks in captivity. Photo: Bob Ellis - WWT.
(Yellow looks like it is giving Red a kick up the rear end!)

Look out for Black-tailed Godwits with colour rings and if you see any make a note of the combination and let us know and we'll pass it on, returning any information we get back to you, the observer. if you can get a photo, better still.

One of Astrid's Dutch ringed Black-tailed Godwit. Photo: Elis Simpson - Wader Quest.

Some birds you see might be from Iceland, but these are still of interest as we need to find out more about them too.

Colour ringed Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit. Photo: Elis Simpson - Wader Quest.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Great weekend at the Northern Curlew Festival at Bolton Castle

Curlews! Curlews everywhere! What a treat, and Northern Lapwings, Eurasian Golden Plovers and Eurasian Oystercatchers plus a few Common Snipe and even a pair of Eurasian Woodcocks (which we didn't see, sadly). Not a bad haul for a weekend in a wader lovers life. Another Uk wader festival.

Eurasian Curlew. Photo: Elis Simpson.

But don't be fooled, just because there are a lot of Curlews about doesn't mean they are not in trouble with falling populations even here in their stronghold.

Northern Lapwing. Photo: Elis Simpson.

The main thrust of the weekend was for concerned individuals and organisations to join together to discuss what was causing the declines, and more importantly, what can be done to halt, or better still, reverse them, the discussion taking place on the Friday afternoon. On Friday the serious business of talking about what was to be done took place with organisations such as the the RSPB, BTO, Natural EnglandCurlew Media, Stiperstones & Corndon Hill Landscape Partnership, Moorland Association, Yorkshire Dales National Park, Cumbria Wildlife TrustGame and Wildlife Conservation Trust (CGWT), and of course Wader Quest all putting their pennyworth in and broadly everyone agreeing that something has to be done, that it is within our wit and grasp and that it is not too late. 

Curlew struggling to survive seeing off a Red Kite like a Spitfire attacking and invading bomber.
Photo: Elis Simpson

The event took place at the spectacular Bolton Castle, no doubt overseen by the spirit of Mary Queen of Scots who found herself imprisoned there for a time. The art exhibition, talks and the Wader Quest stand were all housed in the Great Chamber, a place where Mary was reported to have spent her days. It was quite something to know that the stonework and beams around us, if they could talk, could tell us so much about this historic lady and divulge such stories that they would surely make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, much like the call of the Curlew does when one is out on the moors at twilight.

The mighty Bolton Castle

But it is another Mary that was prominent this weekend, Mary Colwell, who could perhaps be called Mary Queen of Curlews, a person who has perhaps done more than any other individual in terms of highlighting the plight of the Curlews across the British Isles with her 500 mile slog from the west coast of Ireland to the east coast of England on foot. Since then she has organised Curlew conferences in Ireland, Southern England and in the future, Wales. She was greatly influential in the setting up of the UK's first Curlew Festival too and gave another inspirational talk at the event.

A view south over the Yorkshire Dales. Photo: Elis Simpson

In truth the festival came together through a variety of intentions being welded together, writer and poet Karen Lloyd and artist Fiona Clucas have been using their talents to highlight the Curlew crisis and Karen was determined that there should be some sort of event in Northern England too. Mary encouraged the idea and up steps Tom Orde-Powlett who offered Bolton Castle as the venue, a place where many Curlews can still be found easily enough with the grouse moors supporting many breeding pairs along with the other wader species that are otherwise finding it hard to cling on.

Eurasian Golden Plover. Photo: Elis Simpson.

Tom for his part was influenced by the Wader Quest inspired wader festivals that have taking place in the UK in the past couple of years and equally encouraged by the BTO's Sam Franks to do something along those lines put together a series of activities that appealed to the public and were greatly enjoyed by those who attended. One of the activities was a Curlew safari on the moor  where not only adult birds were seen but some chicks too, an encouraging sign, although some still have a long way to go before they were fledged and relatively safe from harm.

Curlew with chick lurking in the shadows. Photo: Elis Simpson
With Karen and Fiona involved in the organising of the event, poetry, writing, art and even music were surely never far away; an art exhibition featuring many wonderful paintings from well established artists from the Society of Wildlife Artists, including some from Fiona herself, was on display and were for sale as were some sculptures. There was a poetry recital on the moor and Karen launched her new book, an anthology of Curlew related writings called Curlew Calling the proceeds from which will be donated to Curlew conservation. The music side of things was provided by Peter Cowdrey of Planet Birdsong who unlocks the secrets of birdsong through music, science and technology. 

At the castle itself Wader Quest held the fort (if you'll pardon the pun) with a stand in the Great Chamber and fielded questions from the public about the Curlews and what is happening to them. As a result the public awareness, at least in that part of the world, has been substantially increased.

The Wader Quest stand in the Great Chamber

Saturday afternoon saw the talks taking place accompanied by tea and cakes. The talks were kicked off by Mary (the Curlew one not the Scottish one, that would have been a scoop), and followed by Andrew Gilruth of the GWCT, Rick Simpson of Wader Quest, Sarah Sanders of the RSPB, Samantha Franks of the BTO and two lively and enthusiastic young Curlew lovers Sacha Elliot and James Common who reminded us that not all people of their generation are as disconnected from the natural world as perhaps some of us old codgers may believe, and who are raising money for the BTO Curlew appeal by walking the three peaks.

On the Sunday morning we were invited by Tom to join him when he took Robin and Judith Ward and Jill Warwick, Mary Colwell, Peter Cowdrey to the moor to try to ring some Curlew chicks. 

Robin and Judith Ward, Peter Cowdrey, Mary Colwell, Rick Simpson, Tom Orde-Powlett and Jill Warwick.
Photo: Elis Simpson

In the end, only one chick was ringed before some of us had to head back to the castle, but it was lovely to see one of these amazing birds up close like that.

The chick paid close attention to what was going on. Photo: Elis Simpson

One small upset was Mary finding this pierced Oystercatcher egg, a sure sign of a truncated life.

Predated Oystercatcher egg. Photo: Rick Simpson
One highlight for us though was completely unplanned. Towards the end a gentleman called David, who is in the process of buying a farm in Teesdale, appeared seeking advice from anyone who'd give it on how to make his future property a haven for wildlife as well as being a farm; definitely an example of how the future of our countryside's birds will be improved, he is to be congratulated and admired by us all.

All in all a great weekend that has seen the future of the Curlew take perhaps one small and tentative step towards being a little brighter, it can be turned around, we just need a great deal of co-operation from many people to achieve it; can we come together for the Curlew? We think we can and we should!