Friday, 18 March 2016

Next stop Iceland for these leggy beauties!

Dublin Bay hosts internationally important numbers (that is to say that more than 1% of the flyway population) of Black-tailed Godwits each year. From late summer, normally towards the end of July, Blackwits begin to arrive back to Ireland from Iceland. It is often the failed breeders that arrive first, with the breeders and the juveniles coming slightly later on. They tend to arrive quite suddenly to Dublin Bay. Our first July count last year amounted to 159 birds, but this had doubled by our next count, ten days later. We get an autumnal peak (7 or 800 birds) in Dublin Bay in September, but the flocks soon disperse. Then, as the winter progresses the numbers gradually grow before peaking at about 1,500 birds in March and early April. And by May, they’re gone.

Flock of Black-tailed Godwits in springtime Liam Kane

Right now Black-tailed Godwits are focused on feeding up and getting in condition for migration in the coming weeks. But they also need to get plenty of energy on board to fuel a complete change of their body feathers. Many have started this spring moult, which effectively is them putting on their glad rags for the breeding season. They will transform from a palette of grey into vivid burnt orange on the head, neck and chest with the flanks and belly strongly barred, the wings held closed have coarsely spotted orange, white and black feathers amongst mainly grey white fringed feathers.

Springtime in Dublin Bay presents the fantastic opportunity to observe these beautiful birds as they transform into their summer finery. An international team of Godwit researchers  are keen to investigate the regional differences in the timing of moult - some of the birds that winter in Portugal start their moult earlier than our birds up here. They are looking for your help to piece this story together. Read more about this on Wadertales - a fantastic wader-focused blog, which is definitely worth checking out.

A colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit was recently spotted in the South Lagoon on Bull Island. This bird was originally ringed as a juvenile bird in the Montrose Basin in north east Scotland in 2012, and is now a regular to Dublin Bay. We have become very familiar with this bird over the past few years and have followed his movements around Bull Island and the surrounding parks and pitches. You may remember him being mentioned on our blog previously; find out some more about this guy here and here.

Colour ringed Black-tailed Godwit Richard Nairn

With the Black-tailed Godwit regional moult survey fast approaching, why not get out to your local patch and see how your Blackwits are looking? It would be really interesting to see where the Black-tailed Godwits wintering in Dublin Bay sit within the international moult trend. The coordinated observation period is the Easter weekend - the 25th and 28th of March. Read the full instructions and all the details on the Wadertales blog. 

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