The godwits are back in The Netherlands! With the earliest sighting ever of RUG colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwits in Fryslân

Report by Jan Kramer, Leeuwarden, 26 February 2019

On 23 February 2019 three bird watchers independently recorded in Wommels, Fryslân the earliest spring sighting ever in Fryslân of colour-marked Black-tailed Godwits of the University of Groningen program. The godwits were part of a flock of 300 birds foraging and bathing in a small wetland called Skrok, which is managed by Natuurmonumenten.

Jan Kramer1
Part of the flock of 300 Black-tailed Godwits, with one bird marked by the University of Groningen program, at Skrok (Wommels, Fryslân), Saturday 23 February 2019, around 16:30. Photo: Jan Kramer

In the flock the three birders saw at least seven colour-ringed godwits – these were marked in Fryslân as part of the long-term demographic project of the University of Groningen. One of them, visible at the far right of the above photo, is called “R4RYYY”. He is ringed on 5 May 2014 on the farmland of Murk, the Frisian godfather of nature-inclusive farming, which is near Wommels indeed. In the years that followed, R4RYYY invariably arrived with the first groups of returning godwits at Wommels. From 2015 to 2018 he always was seen between 3 and 13 March (see table), but this year he is seen very early!

Year First spring sighting of R4RYYY in Fryslân
2015 13 March
2016 12 March
2017 3 March
2018 12 March
2019 23 February

Another bird in the group, the adult male B1LRLL, was ringed near the town of Idzegea on 6 May 2017 and has now been spotted at Wommels for the first time. This bird was seen in a wetland area in Senegal last November!

These observations of 23 February are the earliest spring observations ever in Fryslân of our godwits. So far the earliest season observation of godwits in Fryslân ever was on February 24, 2008 at Oosterlittens. To be clear, outside Fryslân in some stopover areas, for example in the Landje van Geijsel, our birds are regularly observed early in the season but those birds are not yet in their breeding areas.

Jan Kramer2
Just before sundown, these godwits arrived on 23 February 2019 landing just in front of the bird-watching hide at Skrok. They immediately started foraging. Photo: Jan Kramer

The next day, on 24 February 2019, there is another arrival, this time of the very famous godwit ‘Amalia’. Amalia carries a solar-powered satellite transmitter since February 2013. Just as in other years he arrived in the area called Skrins, which is near Skrok, close to the town of Oosterlittens and also managed by Natuurmonumenten. Skrins is not so far from his permanent breeding area. And yes, Amalia is a guy. He is named after the town in Spain where he was issued his transmitters. From 2013 to 2018 he always arrived in Fryslân between 8 and 27 March (see table), but this year he is much earlier! Also for Amalia this is his earliest arrival ever in Fryslân.

Year Spring arrival of Amalia in Fryslân
2013 18 March
2014 17 March
2015 08 March
2016 11 March
2017 14 March
2018 27 March
2019 24 February

For the current position of the positions of the satellite-tagged Black-tailed godwits, see: https://volg.keningfanegreide.nl/

 Is this normal?

Although these are indeed very early arrival and observation dates, interestingly enough a 5-week difference in spring arrival is quite normal for individual Dutch godwits. The RUG godwit research group just published a paper about the timing of migration in Frontier in Ecology and Evolution. The paper shows that the variation in migratory timing among individuals godwits is larger than currently observed in any other migratory bird species. Especially the repeatability of spring arrival is very low. More here: (https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fevo.2019.00031/full).

So Godwit Amalia and R4RYYY are not special in that respect…

R4RYYY 2019 feb 25 Skrokbij Wommels foto a Jan Kramer
On 25 February Jan Kramer took this photo of R4RYYY: “If you attribute some human behaviors to this bird, you could assume that he is enthusiastically flapping his wings because he is happy to be back in Fryslân”

Colofon:

Jan Kramer thanks the RUG team for the data on the life histories of the resighted birds.

 

 

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