06 January 2015

Fall-ing for Woodcock

On a very cold and snowy morning early in the New Year Rachael and I joined Tony Cross, one of the founding members of the Woodcock Network, on one of his many nocturnal winter forays into the hills of Shropshire and Mid-Wales. Formed in 2008 to increase the study of this elusive but surprisingly numerous nocturnal wader, the Woodcock Network has managed to increase the annual total of Woodcock ringed in the UK from just 80 in 2007 to over 1,377 in 2013. This has been achieved by encouraging a growing number of ringers to give the ‘dazzle and net’ technique a go. Those who have done so have quickly discovered that this under-researched species offers rich rewards for anyone prepared to brave the wet and windy nights of winter. Mid Wales ringers alone ringed exactly 500 Woodcock in 2014 and Tony recently had a record catch of 27 Woodcock in one night.

Woodcock - Tony Cross

As it turns out we chose quite a memorable occasion to tag along. The first bird we caught, and Tony’s first bird handled in 2015, was the Network’s first ever control of a foreign ringed Woodcock, - originally ringed in Latvia on 27/10/2012 at Pape, Rucava 56'10N 21 01E (see Tony's blog) 1,600km away. Most foreign ring recoveries we process are from birds that have been shot but with a growing number of ringers now focusing on Woodcock in France, Russia, Italy and Spain the chances of capturing a foreign-ringed bird is set to increase each year.  Woodcock ringers in the UK have also enjoyed a regular stream of recoveries from far-flung locations such as Ireland, Spain, France, Holland, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Russia.


The Latvian ringed Woodcock

Since being trained to ring Woodcock by Tony in 2008, Owen Williams, director of the Network, has concentrated his ringing efforts on a site near Aberystwyth in West Wales on which he has caught over 700 Woodcock. This has revealed some fascinating details on wintering site fidelity. For example in the winter of 2012/13 out of 85 adults caught on the site an amazing 47% were birds he had ringed in previous winters. Not bad considering that there are no resident Woodcock in this part of the country!

Typical Woodcock habitat found in Mid Wales

The Woodcock Network works closely with Andrew Hoodless of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), an organization that has researched Woodcock for many years. The biometric data, counts and observations, which are shared with GWCT, have made a significant contribution to learning more about this species. The Network has also funded a number of geolocators to add to those being fitted to Woodcock by GWCT as part of a project to research their migration.

As the Woodcock is a quarry species shot in the UK it is vitally important that the results of this research are communicated effectively to shooters in order to encourage sustainable hunting. Both the Woodcock Network and GWCT, who are part funded by the shooting community, do this through articles in the shooting press and at numerous talks around the country.

Anyone wishing to know more about how to get involved in Woodcock ringing should contact Owen on 01974 272654 or Tony on 01597 824389.

Thanks to Owen and Tony for all of the information in this post.

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