Record-breaking Black-tailed Godwit

Breaking news....a new record for Rye Meads. Jan Swan explains about an encounter from the morning of Sunday 25th June...

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Black-tailed Godwits
Black-tailed Godwit flock (Jay Ward)

Record-breaking Black-tailed Godwit

I was lucky enough to be sitting in the Gadwall hide at RSPB Rye Meads on the morning of Sunday 25th June 2017. A female Garganey had been spotted on the reserve the day before so I was scanning through the loafing birds, trying to find it.

I'd just found the Wigeon, which has been on site for a number of weeks now and lowered my bins as it was going to sleep. Then, out of the corner of my eye, something caught my attention. On seeing a group of what looked to be ginger-looking birds fly in from the North, my initial thought was that they were more Wigeon. I raised my bins again to find seven Black-tailed Godwits whiffling down onto one of the islands. A treat: Black-tailed Godwits are rare but increasing visitors to Rye Meads, and are now more or less annual here. I raised a call to my colleague, Toby Spall, who was netting on another part of the site and who was delighted at the news. After ending the call I looked again for the birds, and saw them fly but thankfully onto a nearer island so I could get a really good look at them.

On closer inspection I found one of them had a colour-ring! I got what I thought was the combination but called Toby back to make sure he brought his scope over with him so we could check!

Once Toby (and his much-needed scope) arrived he set to action to decipher the colour combination. I then had a look and between us we got it:

Left leg (above the knee) - Yellow over Red

Right leg (above the knee) - Red over Orange (the Orange ring has a black Z)

Right leg (below the knee) - Metal ring

Colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit (Jay Ward)

This was very exciting and I couldn't wait to get home to find out where it had been ringed; The Wash, Isle of Sheppey in Kent or maybe further afield...

Some excellent detective work was later carried out by Alan Harris and the initial results are that it was ringed as an adult during or after 2012 in Iceland! We're still awaiting full details from the ringer and will update this post once we have them.

Why record-breaking, I hear you ask? As of August 2016, the total number of Black-tailed Godwits which have been ringed in Iceland and recovered in Britain and Ireland was 147 (BTO). No records there BUT this is the first time a ringed Black-tailed Godwit has been re-sighted at Rye Meads.  It's also the site's first ever recovery of a bird from Iceland, so it's doubly exciting news for the site.

The colour-ringing of individual birds is a fantastic way to help record their longevity and movements around the globe and means they don't have to be re-caught in order to identify them. So if you ever see or photograph a colour-ringed bird at Rye Meads (or anywhere else for that matter) please do make a note of the colour combination and positioning of the rings on the legs. Any sightings can be reported either to Rye Meads Ringing Group (if the bird was seen on site) or directly to the European Colour-Ring Birding website, which can be found here.

Happy birding (and colour-ring recording?)!

Jan Swan

BTO - Online ringing reports


  1. The full ringing details were as follows.

    Ringed as an adult male (so presumably breeding) on 14 June 2012 at Fridland, Floi, Árnessýsla, ICELAND; so its movement had been 1831km (SE) in 1837 days.

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