The Woodcock Network

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Patron ~ The Duke of Northumberland, DL, MRICS

Scientific Advisor ~ Dr Andrew Hoodless, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Veterinary Advisor ~ John Chitty, BVetMed, CertZooMed, CBiol, MIBiol, MRCVS

Veterinary Advisor ~ Chris Davis, BVM&S, MRCVS

Director ~ Owen Williams

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Winter 2011/12

The season started early with Tony Cross ringing our first woodcock of the winter in Powys, Wales on October 15th. By early November many of our ringers were reporting a steady increase in woodcock numbers on their sites. Normally we encounter a high number of juveniles for the first two or three weeks of ringing. However as we progressed into late November it became apparent that the ratio of juveniles to adults remained higher than normal. It was also becoming clear that the overall number of woodcock on our sites was around 60% of normal. This was also the case in France where they were also noticing high numbers of juveniles

This winter was very unusual in that conditions remained exceptionally mild across most of Western Europe. Our ringing colleagues in Russia were still catching woodcock into the early weeks of December when normally by this time much of the country would be covered in deep snow and woodcock would have migrated far to the west.

Then in Late January conditions changed when extreme wintery conditions pushed south and west to most of Europe including the UK. By early February large numbers of woodcock were reported passing through Holland and arriving on our east coast. At the same time several of our ringers reported catch higher number of adults appearing on their sites.

We will never know exactly what occurred this winter, but many are speculating that adult woodcock having previous winter experience decided not to migrate until the weather forced them, whereas the juveniles flew south and west earlier driven by an innate drive to migrate.

Despite having fewer woodcock to catch on our sites the Network did well in managing to ring the highest number ever in the UK with 1146 new birds and re-trapping a further 130. This total represents over 10% of the number of woodcock ringed since 1903.

We were pleased to see several new ringers joining our efforts this winter and we now have 27 working on sites from Jersey to the North of Scotland. Several more are planning to join us next winter and so we are optimistic that we will continue to increase the number of woodcock ringed in the coming years.

This winter the Network bought and fitted 10 geo-locators on a site in West Wales and assisted The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) by fitting a further 10 to woodcock in Pembrokeshire, these are some of a total of 53 fitted this winter across the country and we hope to re-trap some of these birds in the next few years and download the data to find out the details of their migration.

We were also involved in a GWCT satellite tagging project with myself, Tony Cross, and Terence Lambert fitting two tags on bird here in Wales. These were two of a total of twelve being fitted to woodcock across the country as a part of a study into woodcock migration that can be followed via the Woodcock Watch link.

We now have a very successful facebook page with 735 followers. This is proving to be a valuable point of contact for anyone interested in woodcock.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our dedicated ringers whose hard work through the dark and wet winter nights have made such great progress possible.


Update April 2011

With the ringing season over itís now time to start looking at some of the data that our dedicated ringers have gathered over the winter. At one point with the snow stopping ringing around Christmas it looked like our total for 2009/10 of 636 was going to be difficult to beat but in the end we managed to ring 882, a great effort!

We now have a total of 21 ringers up and down the country who have discovered, that despite often being a cold and wet pastime woodcock ringing can also be very rewarding. Re traps and recoveries are becoming an interesting subject as we ring more and more birds.

As you can see on our recoveries page the bulk of our recoveries have come from the breeding grounds in Russia however there have been some interesting exceptions this year with one bird ringed in Mid Wales on 7/11/10 being shot in Wexford Ireland 2/1/11. This woodcock was either ringed on passage, or maybe it was pushed further west by the cold weather in December. There were also two recoveries of UK ringed woodcock from Spain. One ringed by myself in West Wales on 15/1/10 was shot in Northern Spain on 26/12/10, the other was ringed in Norfolk on 7/11/10 and shot in Northern Spain on 2/1/11.

Although recoveries of rings add a little to our understanding of woodcock migration it is only a snapshot. As most recoveries of woodcock are from shot birds the picture is hugely distorted by where and when woodcock shooting happens. With new technology giving us the means to track woodcock migration we are on the verge of unlocking many more secrets of this amazing bird.

Next season, following a successful trial of geolocators by the GWCT and having secured generous funding from The Shooting Times Woodcock Club, The Welsh charity Gilydd and significant donation from a major woodcock enthusiast we plan to fit geo locators on between 35 and 40 woodcock. This effort will be as a part of a wider collaboration between ourselves, GWCT, and The French Game and Wildlife Department.

Exciting that this is, we can still learn much from the data that is gathered by our ringers over the winter. Counts conducted on various sites are giving us a picture of woodcock movements in cold weather. Observations of average weights demonstrate the birdís physiological response to frost and snow. Adult juvenile ratios have been seen to vary from site to site opening up some interesting questions, and information gained from re-traps is showing us a high level of site fidelity in some areas.

This information is of great value and is being added to the international understanding of woodcock by being shared with some of the top scientists in the field. This May I will be attending the Woodcock and Snipe Specialist Group workshop in St Petersburg we hope to develop greater coordination in our combined research efforts.


Update January 2011

The ringing season got off to a slow start with many ringers in the south of the UK not seeing appreciable numbers until well into November. By late November there were good numbers being reported throughout the country and reports from bird observatories on the east coast reflected a steady flow from Europe. There were however concerns regarding poor breeding success following the drought in large parts of the Russian breeding grounds. Analysis of age ratios carried out by The Woodcock Network and our colleagues in France will give us a better picture soon.

In Early December the weather turned very cold and after only a brief mild period the snow and frost returned and lasted up to the New Year. This has hampered ringing with it being impossible to catch woodcock with so much snow on the fields.

The average weights of woodcock held up quite well through the frost but dropped rapidly once the snow came, what was remarkable was the rapid recovery in average weights once the thaw occurred. Woodcock were observed feeding busily late into the night, one re-trap revealed a weight gain of 40gms over 5 days. Since the mild weather average weights have risen well, with current levels being 355gms, a good 20gms above normal. A few ringers have reported catching birds over 400gms, the heaviest being 439gms caught in Hampshire, the biometrics confirmed that this bird was larger than normal and not just fat.

There have been some interesting recoveries of ring this winter with two more Welsh ringed woodcock turning up in Russia last spring, another has been reported from Spain. There have also been a higher than normal number of French ring recoveries made in the UK this winter, possibly as a result of cold weather movements.

So far the Network has ringed over 300 woodcock this winter, this is lower than at this time last year due to the poor catching conditions. We hope that the next two months will allow us to catch up.

Latest reports suggest that woodcock densities are patchy throughout the country after the cold weather, there is little doubt that 2010/11 has been a far from normal winter with many being displaced from their normal wintering grounds by record low temperatures and deep snow.


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