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:

 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: (

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”


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



“Searching skriezen and more”…

Report of Black-tailed Godwits expedition in Senegal by Jan Kramer and Rennie Kramer-van den Akker. In Dutch

Jan Kramer and Rennie Kramer-van den Akker traveled through Senegal from 27 November to 7 December 2018 to search for Black-tailed Godwits that are colour-marked (near their home) in The Netherlands by teams of the University of Groningen. Jan and Rennie are part of a large community of volunteer observers who contribute to the data collection of the godwit demographic project.

This blog highlight their expedition report, which is written in Dutch. The full report in Dutch can be downloaded here: “Skriezen (Grutto’s) zoeken en meer.…” door Jan Kramer en Rennie Kramer-van den Akker.


Jan and Rennie traveled with their guide Idrissa Ndiaye and driver Saliou Diop. From Dakar they first went to the Senegal Delta near Palmarin where they spend two days to find godwits. Other promising areas for godwits included in the trip were situated between Joal Fadiouth and Palmarin, such as Fatick, Diofor, Mammangueth, Samba Dia and a wetland near Mbissel. Next they visited National Park Djoudj,  the Station Biologique near the Tocc Tocc Reserve, Lac de Guiers and surrounding rice fields. After that they went to the Guembeul Reserve and the wetlands between highway N2 and  the Senegal river. Finally, returning to Dakar they made a stopover at small urban nature reserve Technopole. How long will this nature reserve survive the ever-growing city ?

The first day they already saw 25 colour-marked godwits, 20 birds from the RUG project and five from other projects. During the trip they checked 100s of godwits for rings and collected detailed data for a grand total of 60 individually colour-marked Black-tailed Godwits. The life histories of 44 RUG colour-marked godwits were collected.

Some impressions of the hotspots and the field work of Jan and Rennie, and their guide Idrissa (all photos by Jan en Rennie Kramer). In the report you can find more information about the observations and the locations they visited.


January 2019, Leeuwarden, Fryslân.


Black-tailed Godwits signal drought resistant meadows in the hot summer of 2018

Ruth Howison, Jos Hooijmeijer and Theunis Piersma report:

The Netherlands is home to over 85% of the northwest European breeding population of the continental subspecies of Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa limosa (Fig. 1). Black-tailed Godwits are an iconic meadow bird and the national bird species of The Netherlands. The Dutch population originated in the wet grassland meadows created by many generations of Dutch dairy farmers (Beintema 1986). However, due to intensification of agricultural practices (Kentie et al. 2015, Howison et al. 2018), the population has declined by over 75% since the first population size estimates in the 1960s (Kentie et al. 2016)

Howison Fig1
Figure 1. A Black-tailed Godwit, individually marked with colour-rings, issuing alarm calls to nearby chicks from an elevated position. (Photo: R.A. Howison).

For the past 15 years, the RUG team ‘Skries’ (most years consisting of ca. 10 paid field technicians and ca. 10 students and international volunteers) has carefully monitored godwit population events (establishment, nest locations, egg and chick production and postbreeding movements) within what is now a 11,400 ha study area in southwest Friesland (municipality Súdwest Fryslân). In addition, the locations of a small number of black-tailed godwits population have been tracked with solar PTT satellite transmitters (Microwave Telemetry, Columbia, MD).

In 2018, Europe experienced one of the hottest summers on record. Extreme temperature anomalys bring with them extreme weather as heat waves, droughts, and floods, which negatively impact agricultural as well as natural systems. For southwest Friesland, air temperatures in early March dipped below average, freezing most of the countryside (Fig. 2). However, soon May and June followed with maximum daily temperatures exceeding the upper limits of the long term average calculated over the past 28 years.

Howison Fig2
Figure 2. Daily temperatures (oC) from 1 January until 24 August 2018 plotted against the long-term average ±SD (from 1990 to 2018), obtained from Stavoren, The Netherlands.

Using vegetation indices measured at 16-day intervals by satellite imagery (see Howison et al. 2018 for methods) at the level of fields, we tracked the response of the grassland habitat in the province of Friesland. We compared the situation on 10 May 2018 (Fig. 3a), the moment when grass biomass is high, i.e. just before the widescale mowing, with the situation on 14 August 2018 (Fig. 3b), i.e. when the negative impacts of the drought on the vegetation were most evident. Based on this comparison, we mapped (Fig. 3c) where the impact of drought was light or even absent, i.e. where plant growth increased (Green), where drought had a negative impact, i.e. the vegetation index had decreased (Red), and where vegetation showed little change (Yellow).

Howison Fig3
Figure 3. Tracking habitat change with vegetation indices (MODIS EVI) between (a) 10 May 2018, (b) 14 August 2018, (c) Log change ratio between the two dates, where Red indicates a decrease in greenness, Yellow indicates little or no change, and Green indicates an increase, (d) The spatial distribution of Black-tailed Godwits, overlaying the log change ratio, during the postbreeding period 2018 (after 15 June 2018).

We then compared two measures of godwit distribution with this quantitative assessment of the impact of drought on the grassy vegetation. (1) By weekly counts of all godwits in all 3014 fields in our study area, we measured the godwit distribution during territory establishment, egg-laying and early incubation (26 March to 22 April 2018). (2) On the basis of the locations of individually colour-marked birds and godwits tagged with satellite transmitters, we quantified the distribution of postbreeding godwits fuelling up for southward migration from 15 June to 15 August (Fig. 3d).

During territory establishment and early nesting, when their movements are necessarily constrained, the godwits in southwest Friesland occurred on meadows which suffered slightly, yet significantly, less from drought than unused grasslands (Fig. 4). However, during the postbreeding period, the godwits concentrated at meadows where little change in plant growth had occurred during the drought (Fig. 3d & Fig. 4). We note also that southwest Friesland suffered more from the drought than Friesland as a whole (comparison of the two right bar in Fig. 4).

Howison Fig4
Figure 4. The effect of the summer drought measured as a loss in greenness (y-axis) was less in fields in southwest (ZW) Friesland used by godwits in the establishment and early nesting period (first column) than in southwest Friesland as a whole (third column). This effect was quite a bit stronger in the distribution of postbreeding godwits (second column). Note also that the effects of drought were more severe in southwest Friesland (third column) than in Friesland as a whole (fourth column). If the capital letters above the bars are different, the categories are statistically significantly different from each other.

The preference of Black-tailed Godwits for fields in southwest Friesland that, later in summer, suffered the least from the drought of 2018, suggests that the godwits are indicating fields with healthy ‘working’ soils, where capillary processes allow the groundwater to reach the plants even when water tables are low. Godwits indicate drought-resilient grasslands.


Beintema, A. J. (1986) Man-made Polders in The Netherlands: A traditional habitat for shorebirds. Colonial Waterbirds 9, 196-202.

Howison, R. A., Piersma, T., Kentie, R., Hooijmeijer, J. C. E. W. & Olff, H. (2018) Quantifying landscape-level land-use intensity patterns through radar-based remote sensing. Journal of Applied Ecology 55, 1276-1287.

Kentie, R., Both, C., Hooijmeijer, J. C. E. W. & Piersma, T. (2015) Management of modern agricultural landscapes increases nest predation rates in Black‐tailed Godwits Limosa limosa. Ibis 157, 614-625.

Kentie, R., Senner, N. R., Hooijmeijer, J. C. E. W., Márquez-Ferrando, R., Masero, J. A., Verhoeven, M. A. & Piersma, T. (2016) Estimating the size of the Dutch breeding population of Continental Black-tailed Godwits from 2007 – 2015 using resighting data from spring staging sites. Ardea 104, 213-225.




Report published: Black-tailed Godwit Demographic Project – spring migration of Black-tailed Godwits in Iberia 2017

Jos Hooijmeijer reports:

In January and February 2017, our teams were present again in the Iberian ricefields to look for colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwits. And with great success: despite the lower total numbers, we never saw so many birds with colour rings.

More than 3842 resightings were done of 1187 individual birds; and that just of godwits from our own scheme…… That is an incredible 72% of our colour-ringed population that was alive at that time!

Some of you might have received re-sightings from your own scheme during this trip.

Please have a look at the report for an impression of the field work and the situation last winter. We hope to go back again in 2018; it is addictive you know…..

GFN Iberia report 2017.jpg


Amalia is back in Africa – but what happened to his brood?

Jos Hooijmeijer reports on 7 September 2017:

Amalia is back in Africa! He is in Senegal, in the wetlands and rice fields of  the Casamance (see map).  Amalia is a satellite-tagged male Black-tailed Godwit who’s claim-to-fame is that we are now following him for four and half years!

L3YRYL140316 (1)
Amalia in March 2016: he has just arrived in The Netherlands and getting ready for the breeding season. Note the antenna of his solar-powered satellite transmitter. Photo: Ep van Hijum

He is carrying a transmitter since 2013, the longest of all godwits we track. He actually is a superstar in Friesland, The Netherlands, where his arrival each year is awaited and celebrated by the local community and school classes – including a contest to predict his arrival date. Through satellite tracking we are learning a lot about ‘our’ Godwits, and especially multi-years tracks such as from champion Amalia, are extremely valuable.


This year Amalia again spent the breeding season in Friesland, The Netherlands. That was no surprise: he has come back to the breeding grounds in Friesland for five years now.


Amalia in Friesland, The Netherlands on 9 May 2014. Photos: Jos Hooijmeijer

What was a nice development this year is that on 27 May 2017 Jos Hooijmeijer reported that Amalia was seen with very young chicks!. You can read about it here. He apparently found a mate and together they hatched a brood.

What happened to the precious brood Amalia was guiding in May?

Based on Jos’ visit in May we estimated that the laying date has been around 25 April . That is quite early and probably this was his first clutch in 2017. Jos again visited the breeding site of Amalia in Friesland on 9 June 2017, when the chicks would be about 20 days old.

Jos found Amalia only a few hundred meters from where he saw Amalia and his family on 27 May. Amalia’s mate was leading two or three chicks through a pasture grazed by horses and Amalia was sitting on a pole, a good lookout to watch over them.

The chicks were not captured and ringed, so we cannot say with 100% certainty whether they fledged or not. However, if indeed on June 9th there were two or three chicks that survived for 20 days, there is a fair chance that at least one will have survived for 25 days, to the age of fledging.

Amalia sites 2017One of the last observations of Amalia in The Netherlands was on 15 July 2017. That day he was seen by Jelle Loonstra near the town of Jeth, in a group of nine adults and 12 recently fledged juvenile birds. Maybe one of more of these fledglings were his own chicks!

The next day, Amalia was still in Jeth, but he left soon after because on the 18th he had arrived in SE  England, in the estuary of the River Alde (NW of Ipswich). The same day he flew back to the mainland, to the Hoge Plaeten in de Westerschelde bij Breskens (The Netherlands).

From Breskens, he started his southward migration. On 20 July, he was in the vast “marais” wetlands south of Rochefort in Charente Maritime (France), a well-known stopover for Black-tailed Godwits, especially in spring. There he stayed until the end of July or early August (he was 10 days of the radar), to fly to the Casamance in southern Senegal where he arrives on August 12, as in previous years. He is not only faithful to his Friesian breeding area but also to his Senegalese wintering area.

Amalia in Senegal11-9-2017
Amalia is his wintering area in Casamance in southern Senegal, where he arrives on August 12, as in previous years.




Amalia has chicks!

Jos Hooijmeijer reports on 27 May 2017:

After 4 years without breeding success, there seems to be a chance that Amalia will successfully raise young. Amalia is the most famous Black-tailed Godwit in Friesland, or even The Netherlands. In 2013, he was issued a satellite transmitter in the town of Amalia in Spain, and since then we have known his whereabouts from day-to-day (see Follow the Godwits). He probably has been breeding his entire life on the same field on the farm of the Stremler family at the Froonackerdyk in the town of Easterlittens.

This afternoon I again visited the farm and as usual I asked the farmer for permission to look for Amalia. Of course permission was granted, the farmer and his family know I show up every year. When I walked into the field it was fairly quiet; only a single pair of godwits was chasing a crow and approached me, loudly alarming. Unfortunately neither of  the birds had a visible antenna, so they certainly did not carry a satellite transmitter. I walked through the high grass with patches of flowering Meadow Buttercups Ranunculus acris and a some late Cuckoo Flowers Cardamine pratensis. I even saw a Small Heath Coenonympha pamphilus, a sign that the management of this field has no negative effects on butterflies and other insects as in many other places.

At the far end of the field, suddenly three pairs of godwits emerged from the high grass and one of them was Amalia! The transmitter on his back was still in place and the bird looked great. Looking at the colour rings on his legs I could confirm  that this really was Amalia. With the typical fluttering flight of godwits guiding broods he indicated, with hanging legs, where approximately his chicks would be hiding. But I did not get to see them. The grass was high and probably the chicks were still very small.

This encouraging observation is no guarantee that Amalia will end this breeding season with a successfully raised brood. The naked numbers show that only one out of 20 chicks will fledge and survive the difficulties of their first year of life. Mowing machines, the lack of insects and a wide range of predators make life a challenge for chicks growing up in farmland. Fortunately, the breeding site of Amalia has not been mowed yet , and in the immediate vicinity of this field there is still a lot of non-mowed land, and fields with grazing live stock. Will Amalia and his partner succeed? After a day or ten we look again!