Black-tailed Godwit and Snipe
On balance, this spring is not shaping up to be a great one for the 50 or so pairs of breeding Black-tailed Godwits in the UK, with their primary locations on the Nene and Ouse Washes both flooded out by the heavy April rains...but every cloud has a silver lining so they say. I visited the Nene this week; floodwaters are receding and although both Godwits and Snipe were busy displaying overhead, surely time is running out for the Godwits to produce many young this year. There is an increasing urgency to attract them to new sites, either existing or created, that do not function as storage washlands for summer downpours. So what do they require?
Godwits favour large, open wet grasslands and marshland. A Dutch meadow-bird conference I attended some years back explained their dislike of ‘up-going structures’ as the Dutch liked to call them, and this included trees, hedges, buildings and the like. They like to see in all directions. After arrival on the breeding grounds, adult godwits require grasslands rich in soil invertebrates, probing for earthworms where high water tables push them close to the surface. They also seek out shallow pools as safe roosting sites. The chicks have different requirements. They seem to require longish (20cm) grass, often flower-rich but always with an abundance of invertebrates, particularly flies and beetles, amongst the vegetation. The density of the vegetation is important, with sparser swards preferred for the chicks to forage amongst.
A particular problem appears to be their attachment to natal locations and their slow colonisation of new sites. So both the RSPB and WWT have been busy creating new habitat on ex-arable farmland adjacent to, but outside, the Ouse Washes to try and attract breeding Godwits. After some years of ‘maturing’ habitat, an excited text from the site manager over the weekend brought the news that the first Black-tailed Godwit chicks had hatched on the new RSPB land. Somewhat ironically, the heavy rain and resultant flood has pushed the few remaining Ouse Washes Godwits onto both the RSPB and WWT new habitat. Let’s hope they stay there.