At the beginning of August I became the fourth member of a team working on an extremely large writing project, a consequence of which has been that I am left with precious little ‘field time’. I did however venture forth on the afternoon of 09/08, the potential for good birds coming in off the weather getting the better of me. Bob Hazell had found a Bar-tailed Godwit which I spent a pleasant half-hour with in Rainbow Corner at Draycote Water. It was the first I had seen there for years and aside from a party of six seen in April by Dan Watson, the first I could even remember occurring there for years.

Adult male Bar-tailed Godwit, Draycote Water 08/09/17.

Whilst the species has always been scarce at Draycote I suspect the frequency with which it occurs there has reduced significantly. Scanning back through the West Midlands Bird Reports as far as the data for Warwickshire can be relied upon in recent years (I only have them going back to 2006) there are no records between 2014 (the last report published) and 2011 when there were two on 30/05. I am fairly sure that this years two records are the only ones since 2011 so there have been just three occurrences in seven years.

Adult male Bar-tailed Godwit, Draycote Water, 08/09/17.

The subspecies breeding and wintering in Europe is the nominate and it is suggested in the current literature that it’s wintering population trend is upwards whilst the breeding trend is unknown. This seems likely to reflect the relative ease of counting wintering flocks as opposed to attempting estimates of a breeding population that is widely dispersed at low densities over vast expanses of tundra. Of the remaining four races at least three are known to be declining on their wintering grounds, it is thought that two of them which use the East Asian-Australasian Flyway have suffered dramatically as a result of habitat loss around the Yellow Sea. The species has thus been classified as Near Threatened. In the UK, where of course it does not breed, it is Amber Listed. I am not certain the species does occur less frequently in our area and if records are reduced that could reflect decreased observer coverage and increased disturbance levels at Draycote. I still suspect it has though and if I am correct it begs the question, why may this be? Many of the key wintering areas in the UK are to our east and north so it is perhaps no surprise we get so few few passing through. But what about the Severn Estuary? The Severn is after all one terminus of the autumn migration along the ‘Cotswold Corridor’ identified by Eric Simms, which passes over Draycote Water. A report by the RSPB has suggested that some species, including Common Ringed Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit may be shifting their wintering grounds from Wales to continental Europe. If my suggestion that the latter has declined at Draycote (and it would appear the former has too) is valid, a change in migratory behaviour would be the likeliest cause if the European population is stable, or increasing. Finally, a couple of local records I have not yet mentioned from the period in question are a flock of 20 seen flying over Napton Church by Richard and James Knightbridge in 2014 and one I heard over my flat in March of this year.

I am of the opinion that whilst Bar-tailed Godwit has become even scarcer locally that Black-tailed Godwit is met with more frequently in recent years. I was surprised to find just five records from Draycote in the West Midlands Bird Reports covering the period 2011 to 2014, though there has also been a flock of seven over Napton Reservoir and another single which tried to land there before giving up and moving on. Additional records from the Leam Valley are at least two from Toft Farm including the bizarre one documented elsewhere on this site, of a bird which frequented a game feeder during a mid-winter snowfall in 2010 (select  ‘Odds and Sods’ then ‘Behaviour’ from the menu bar to view). This year however there were two spring records and a further four since passage recommenced at the end of July. One is present as I write.

Juvenile Black-tailed Godwit, Draycote Water, 15/08/17.

Black-tailed Godwit is also classified as Near Threatened as a result of declines brought about by agricultural change in continental Europe. In the UK the breeding population of nominate race birds is increasing and the breeding range of iselandicus, which winters in the UK, is spreading. BTO data show significant changes in the wintering distribution and numbers of Black-tailed Godwit and the same RSPB report referred to earlier, lists the species as one of those recorded showing the greatest increases. Phil Andrews kindly sent me a link to some data from Upton Warren in Worcestershire, which he collated and he and John Belsey have posted https://twitter.com/upstarts1979/status/893849821739614208?fref=gc  which shows significant increases in both the number of bird days and the number of birds recorded there. So, it appears we may be losing some and winning some, as the saying almost goes.

Juvenile Black-tailed Godwit, Draycote Water, 15/08/17.