by Luke Harman, School of BEES
Over the past six months a research group from the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES), UCC, led by Luke Harman, has been working in collaboration with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) UK on a satellite tagging project to provide valuable information on the migratory behaviour of Eurasian Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) which over-winter in the Republic of Ireland.
For those of you who are not “birders”, the woodcock is a wader which does surprisingly little wading and has evolved to a more terrestrial lifestyle spending the majority of its time in woodlands and fields. Their plumage is perfect for life in woodlands where birds can all but disappear as they blend in with their surroundings.
The vast majority of Woodcock breed in Northern Europe. However, as winter sets in large numbers of birds migrate south and west, over-wintering in milder areas of Europe such as the UK and Ireland.
As part of the on-going UK project run by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), headed up by Dr Andrew Hoodless, the BEES research group was set-up to satellite tag two birds in Ireland this season. In addition to these birds the GWCT also tagged two birds in the Republic this year. This means that 4 out of a total of 14 birds which were satellite tagged this year were tagged in Ireland. All birds (in Ireland) were tagged in March 2013 and are now well into their migrations back to Northern Europe and beyond. All the birds’ migration routes can be followed on the GWCT Woodcock Watch website.
Satellite tagging and tracking of wildlife is not a new phenomenon however; it is a relatively new procedure for smaller species, such as the woodcock, due to the size/weight of the tags available. All tags used in this project were 9.5g in weight (the lightest satellite tag in full production in the world) and were supplied to us by Microwave Telemetry Inc. The birds were caught using a method known as “dazzling”. This involves locating the woodcock at night as they are feeding on open fields/pastures. Once located, the aim is to dazzle the birds in the beam of the spotlight and catch them using a long handled landing net. Once caught the birds are measured, aged and assessed for condition prior to the tags being attached.
The Woodcock is a commercially important quarry species that is hunted throughout Europe. With the vast majority of birds being migratory, conservation on a European scale is a very important area. This research would not have been possible without the funding we received from a numbers of sponsors from the shooting community (listed below).
Our two birds, St. Brendan and St. Patrick, are doing really well. Last locations for both birds were Latvia and Russia respectively. Amy and Elissa (the other 2 birds tagged in Ireland) are also doing well and both are also currently in Russia.
At this point I would like to thank Barry O’Mahony for sharing several long, cold and often wet nights in pursuit of these elusive birds. In fact I think, at one point, my wife was wondering if “Barry” was real at all as I headed out several times a week to “meet Barry” for half the night!
Finally I would like to thank everyone who has made this project possible, especially our sponsors and Dr Hoodless for all his professional help and advice. I would also like to thank everyone who offered assistance in any way. It was a great “team” effort and we look forwards to obtaining some invaluable data over the coming months/years.
For more information on Woodcock please consult the Woodcock Watch website or contact us on the details below:
BEES Woodcock Research Group,
Luke Harman, Barry O’Mahony, Dr Mark Wilson and Prof. John O’Halloran,
School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES),
University College Cork,
Tel: 00353 (0)21 490 4668
Federation of County Cork Gun Clubs
Monaghan Regional Game Council
Mayo Regional Game Council
Waterford Regional Game Council
Kerry Regional Game Council
National Association of Regional Game Councils