Thursday, 23 January 2014

Olwen by eck!

Last spring I satellite tagged a Woodcock near to Aberystwyth as a part of a research project run by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) see This bird was given the name Olwen, and along with another 11 Woodcock tagged in the UK and Ireland last winter set off on her spring migration to Russia in March.

Olwen prior to release near Abersytwyth 7/3/13
It has been fascinating to be able to observe the details of their migration and already this project has revealed some fascinating information on the migration strategies of Woodcock. For example all the birds made long flights of up to 1,000km before stopping to rest for up to a week before setting off on their journeys again.

Being able to observe migration with accurate definition doesn't come cheap- each tag costs  £3000, but this has been possible due to funding for 26 tags coming from the shooting community. There are plans to secure further funding from a talk and auction being given in London by our national Woodcock expert  Andrew Hoodless of GWCT and myself this spring.

As Woodcock are a semi-nocturnal species this has meant that there have been a few issues with tags batteries running flat due to the lack of solar charging as daylight length shortens in the winter. However there is sufficeint data for some interesting research to be conducted on such fascinating topics as the corellation between weather and migration routes.

Migration tracks of tagged Woodcock

Data comes via the Argos satellite every three days and it has become a fascinating obsession to look at what our Woodcock have been up to. Google Earth has enabled us to zoom in and look at habitat on stopover points and in most of Europe, where street view has been available it has been amazing to be able to drop in and look at views from the nearest road to where our Woodcock are resting up.

In mid December we suddenly started receiving fresh data from Olwen. This indicated that she was on the move as often a migration stage will give enough sunlight on the birds back to bring the batteries back to life. Another indication that Woodcock will migrate during daylight hours as well as night.
Olwen had spent her summer months in north west Russia a few hundred km south of Arkhangelsk but on Dec 19th she turned up in Beswick, a small village north of Beverley in Yorkshire.

Olwen's migration route

A picture of habitat near to Olwen's summer location in Russia
On learning this I did my usual 'street view' trick to have a look the habitat of her new location. It emeregd that Olwen had found a hedge rather than the customary deep woodland for her daytime resting location. On closer investigation I was able to establish the name of the farm as the owner had kindly placed a sign near the entrance which gave their name along with that of the farm. After a short session on Google I was able to get a phone number of the landowner and gave them a call.

Olwen's hedge near to Beswick

They were delighted to learn that Olwen had made their farm her home and although they were shooting folk assured me that they did not shoot Woodcock so Olwen would remain safe on their land for as long as she stayed there.

So far Olwen has been happy to remain in Yorkshire, the mild winter may mean that she does not feel the need to push further west. Interestingly she has given good data for the time she has been in Beswick, which is probably because resting under her hedge has allowed sufficient light to ensure that the batteries on her tags have stayed charged. This has enabled us to observe her movements over the past couple of months, which shows a pattern of exploring different nightime fields, but returning to a position along the length of her hedge during daylight hours.

Despite being able to spy on Woodcock in such detail there still remain many questions about the mysterious ways of the Woodcock. Could it be that Olwen is a Yorkshire lass after all, and only turned up on my ringing site in Wales after being pushed there by the very cold weather of late Feb last spring?

You can see more about our woodcock work on our Face Book page under The Woodcock Network.


  1. Great stuff Owen, well that one was certainly worth the £3,000!

  2. Hi! nice post. Well what can I say is that these is an interesting and very informative topic. Thanks for panels for schools


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