Guest blog by Belfast WOW volunteer Derek Polley


There are many things to love about being a volunteer at a reserve: introducing children to the wonders of nature, recruiting members, observing and counting birds, helping out with maintenance and drinking tea. Recently at Belfast’s Window on Wildlife (WOW) we have had a further delight when we spotted colour ringed black-tailed godwits and were able to record the details and send them off to be checked. This has happened three times in the last year or so, and when we received the sighting history of the birds it gave us a fascinating insight into where our birds travel to and from.

I suppose like everyone else I look at a flock of 60 godwits outside the window and assume it is the same 60 birds I saw last week or last month. Now I know it’s not. Occasionally a bird stands out, last year we had one with a clam shell stuck to its foot and another with one leg. These came and went, so we knew then that it is not always the same birds coming into the reserve. The colour-ringed birds also appear and disappear, so it was fascinating to see their history. The three birds noted in the last 12 months are as follows. The code used is the sequence of coloured rings on their legs, first the left leg and then the right leg.


Firstly, we have Y – RO//W, the youngest, ringed in The Wash in 2010 (above). This bird has been recorded back in its original area, Yorkshire, and around the Mersey estuary - although it popped up in Iceland in 2013. It was recorded in WOW in May 2018.

Secondly, there was GG – ORf, ringed in Iceland in 2010 (below). It has been sighted nearly 40 times, including eight times in Iceland, 21 times at WOW, six times at Castle Espie and three times at Whitehouse Lagoon. The most recent sighting was at WOW in November 2018.

Lastly, we had L – GW//W (below), also ringed in the Wash in 2002 and not seen until 2015 when it was spotted in Galway. Since then it has been in eastern England and once in the Dee estuary, before we saw it in November 2018.

It really is amazing where these birds have been. GG – ORf must have made eight return trips to Iceland, assuming she has returned there to breed. All three birds clearly winter in different areas every year. Sometimes they are seen, other times they escape our notice. All the time we are building up a picture of the lives of godwits and adding to our scientific knowledge.
If you spot a ringed bird of any species try to get a description of the rings (number, colour, which leg the ring is on etc.) and send it in to the BTO (via www.bto.org) and you may also be amazed as to where your bird has come from. If you are at WOW, take time to scan the godwits and maybe spot one that we haven’t seen before.

When we spotted L – GW//W we knew it had not been seen at WOW before but we had no idea of the age and history of the bird.

This was our opportunity to contribute to citizen science and we were amazed at what we found out. We have had the opportunity to share this with members and visitors when they visit the reserve, especially when the godwits are right up at the window.

The delights of volunteering just keep coming and who knows what might turn up in 2019?!

Anyone interested in volunteering at Belfast WOW - or to hear about other RSPB NI volunteering opportunities - can contact Colin Graham via colin.graham@rspb.org.uk or by calling Colin on 028 9049 1547.

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