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Godwit pair

… and other tales from the birds’ spring migration.

With the spring migration pretty much complete and most of our wintering birds gone I have been doing a little research about where the birds from the Solent have gone and what they are up to.

If you spend time on the Solent coastline you may have noticed that since the end of March the numbers of waders such as black-tailed godwits steadily dropped as the birds made their spring migration to the Arctic for breeding. Between March and May the numbers here in the Solent gradually fell as they rose in Iceland. It can be difficult to note the exact date that the birds set off for their migration as different birds will set off at different times and initially only small, unnoticeable numbers will set off at any one time. So the best indication of the timing of their spring migration is looking at the first recorded sightings back in their breeding grounds. After all, birders in Iceland will easily notice the first black-tailed godwits of the year arriving back. The first sighting I was able to find was on the 7th April.

This particular species migrate to Iceland where longer hours of daylight and lots of insects provide the best conditions for them to raise their young. They return to the same area for breeding year after year and will always look for the same mate but, as is always the way with love, timing is critical! Once the breeding season is over the male and female separate and spend the winter in different locations – this could be as far as 1000km away from each other. The following year they return to the same spot and will mate together – but only if they arrive within a few days of each other. If one of them is late the other will move on to a different mate as they would not know whether their partner is just late or has sadly not survived the winter.

A beautiful story of one particular pair of black tailed godwits is told by Tómas Gunnarsson in his fascinating Nature paper that was written up in The Telegraph(Opens in a new window) newspaper. He colour ringed a pair of birds in 2002, the female was recorded to have spent the winter in Portugal and the male in eastern Engalnd. In 2003 the male arrived a week after the female only to find that she had found herself a new mate. In 2004 they arrived back at the same time and ‘got back together’.

By the time this goes to press the black-tailed godwits should be incubating their eggs and the brent geese will still be on their migration. I will do my best to find out what their up to and will report back soon. Until the next time!