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Rare wading birds beat the odds and testing conditions with bumper year

A black-tailed godwit released with a geolocator. Picture: Jen Smart/RSPB

A black-tailed godwit released with a geolocator. Picture: Jen Smart/RSPB

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A dedicated team of conservationists has helped rare wading birds thrive with a bumper crop of chicks, despite some testing and dramatic weather conditions.

Godwits chick inside the rearing aviary. Picture: Georgette Taylor/WWTGodwits chick inside the rearing aviary. Picture: Georgette Taylor/WWT

When black-tailed godwits returned to the Fens to nest in March, conditions were less than ideal - much of the land the birds normally use at the RSPB Nene Washes nature reserve, near March, was affected by flooding.

Part of the Project Godwit Team. Picture: Bob Ellis/WWTPart of the Project Godwit Team. Picture: Bob Ellis/WWT

Desperate to begin their breeding season, some of the birds resorted to laying their eggs in a field near their traditional nesting grounds. But conservationists, teams from the RSPB and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) found some of the eggs were getting stuck in the wet mud.

Under Project Godwit, plans were already in place to remove a number of eggs to raise chicks in special bird rearing facilities, boosting their chance of survival.

Muddy egg after collection. Picture: Project Godwit/WWTMuddy egg after collection. Picture: Project Godwit/WWT

Mud covered godwits eggs. Picture: Ian Dillon/RSPBMud covered godwits eggs. Picture: Ian Dillon/RSPB

Working with the farmer who owned the field, the team collected 32 eggs from the farmland - in addition to 23 from the nature reserve as planned - and incubated them at WWT Welney Wetland Centre, in Wisbech.

Project manager Hannah Ward said: “When we rescued the eggs from the fields we were very worried that the chicks might not survive due to the muddy conditions of some of the eggs so it was quite a nerve-wracking wait to see if any of them would hatch.

“Meanwhile our team on the nature reserve worked hard to make sure that when the water receded, there were areas where more godwits could nest in safety away from the flood.”

An amazing 38 little chicks were released at Welney and the Nene Washes to join the wild flocks, which included 18 wild-hatched chicks and nine of the black-tailed godwits released as youngsters last year.

Some of the birds are fitted with geolocators, allowing researchers to learn more about where the birds travel to in winter. It also allows conservation teams to work with equivalent organisations in other countries.

The team were also delighted to find godwits breeding at the RSPB Pilot Project site next to the Ouse Washes. The birds had only bred at the site once before, in 2012.

As they begin to depart for the winter, Project Godwit are calling on birdwatchers to send in sightings of the released birds, which have a unique combination of colour leg rings, visit the Project Godwit website.

Black-tailed godwits

The black-tailed godwit is a large and rare wading bird.

In the summer they have bright orange-brown chests and bellies but in winter they are more greyish-brown.

Distinctive features include their long beaks and legs, and the black and white stripes on their wings.

Females are bigger and heavier than the males and have a longer beak.

They eat small insects including snails and worms.

They have a UK conservation status of red, which is the highest conservation priority, with species needing urgent action, and means the species is globally threatened.

They visit estuaries, coastal lagoons and wetland sites.

They migrate to west Africa for winter.

Last year Project Godwit tagged two of the birds.They found one of the female godwits tagged had flown to west Africa and back, stopping off in Spain, Portugal and Norfolk on her way before returning back to the Fens to breed.

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