Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Spring is slowly starting to arrive with the first migrants being recorded on the island, Chiffchaff and Wheatear. The weather, however, seems less than spring-like, with last night's forecast being for strong winds, rain and low temperatures. We were excited however as these are ideal conditions to dazzle in.

For those of you who have never dazzled before, it involves walking around on dark nights with a torch in one hand and a hand net in the other. Waders tend to partake in a lot of nocturnal feeding in the fields and along the shorelines of the two bays. Once the reflective eyes and/or something vaguely bird shaped is noticed in the torch beam, the dazzler walks slowly towards the bird keeping the torch on it. The bird is then caught with the hand net, and ringed. We had noticed a Woodcock a couple of times on the main track outside the Obs, this was our target bird for the evening. A few meters of stealthiness down the track and a Woodcock shaped object with large reflective eyes was spotted hiding in the bank. With much patience and skill, Rich homed in on it, and with one slow sweep of the net, he caught it.

Adult Woodcock (c) Richard Brown

The paler tips to the primary coverts indicate an adult bird. The feathers are also very fresh and unworn, which would be expected of an adult that has undergone a full moult in Autumn. (c) Giselle Eagle

Although many are resident in Britain and Ireland, Woodcocks are mainly a migratory species and a large influx of winter visitors arrive in the UK every year. The exact numbers are unknown, but estimated at a staggering 740,000 individuals. Ringing recoveries have shown that Winter visitors mainly consist of birds from Finland and Sweden, although recoveries from Russia, Poland and Germany have also been recorded. Woodcock begin their return migration in early March, so it is quite possible that this bird could be heading for Scandinavian breeding grounds some 2500km away.

Me and a Woodcock! The large eyes on the side of its head allows for 360 degree vision. (c) Richard Brown

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