Based on a five-year rolling average to 2019/20, the Cleddau Estuary is the fourth most important site for this species in Wales. However, there is a considerable fluctuation in peak numbers at all Welsh sites.
Updates to the Wetland Bird Survey counts for this season
The Bar-tailed Godwit breeds in Arctic and sub-arctic habitats from northern Norway through Siberia to western Alaska. (European Atlas 1997). Ringing recovery data suggest that birds passing though, or wintering in, the UK have come from northern FennoScandia and western Siberia. Of these, three birds ringed in Norway have been seen in Wales, two of them in mid-winter. The third was a migrating adult, ringed in southern Norway in September 1950, and recovered in Pembrokeshire 21 days later.
Large numbers of breeding birds stop on either the Waddenzee coast or the large UK estuaries to moult in July-August. Juveniles follow in September. While many birds do stay in the UK for winter, a good proportion move on to the west coast of France, and some at least as far as the west African coast.
This species is generally less likely to be found inland than Black-tailed Godwit, but uses a wider range of coastal habitats including sandy shores, as well as muddy estuaries as far upstream as Boulston on the Cleddau.
The winter atlas sightings on the map above were made between November and February. However, Bar-tailed Godwits are more often seen on migration. The following graph uses records from BirdTrack since 2008 to show a wider period of sightings. (Note that this is the number of sightings, NOT the number of birds, so it includes records of birds that are present but not counted).
There are few records between 8th June and 17th August (weeks 24-33), but sightings are much more frequent in April-May (spring migration) and September-October (autumn migration).
Highest counts were 158 at Kilpaison in February 2018, and 133 on Pembroke River in December 2017. Very few other counts have exceeded 50 individuals. See also Bar-tailed Godwit 1994.
Wetland Bird Survey
WeBS counts provide a monthly snapshot of water-birds across the country. This graph shows the maximum count in Pembrokeshire each winter since 1982. Numbers are generally erratic, both from month to month, and year to year. The high count for 1988-89 was in September, although numbers did stay relatively high through that winter. Counts elsewhere in Wales were also generally above average at that time.
The total maximum count is calculated by adding up the counts for all sites for each month that season. The maximum may fall in any month between September and March.
Annie Haycock (BBS & WeBS local organiser)
BALMER D, GILLINGS S, CAFFREY B, SWANN B, DOWNIE I, FULLER R. 2014. Bird Atlas 2007-11: The Breeding and Wintering Birds of Britain and Ireland. HarperCollins. UK
Mathew (1894) considered the Bar-tailed Godwit to be an autumn visitor, occurring only occasionally in the spring. Lockley et al. (1949) also classed it as an autumn migrant and stated that it was rare in the spring.
Autumn passage may well have remained unchanged though neither Mathew nor Lockley et al. put any scale on their comments. The passage seen is very variable, and sometimes only a trickle of birds is seen between 10 July and 29 October, with no more than 20 being seen at any one time. In other years considerably more pass, with groups of up to 60 being seen. The autumn of 1988 saw an exceptionally heavy passage with up to 25 recorded at 14 localities between 16 August and 8 October, as well as 43 on Skokholm and 41 in the Nevern Estuary on 6 September, 308 in the Cleddau Estuary on 11 September and a total of 382 passing Strumble Head on 10 dates, with a maximum of 119 on 2 September.
Between 20 and 66 have wintered on the Cleddau Estuary, mainly at Angle Bay and the Pembroke River, since about 1964, and up to three are sometimes seen at the Teifi and Nevern Estuaries and in Fishguard Harbour during the winter. Spring passage became a regular event during the 1970s and 1980s, with groups of up to 45 passing through the county between 30 March and 24 May, the most favoured localities being Freshwater West, Skokholm, Skomer, the Gann and Teifi Estuary.
They are regularly seen migrating by day, particularly past Strumble Head, but also pass at night, having been heard over Haverfordwest and seen in the lighthouse beams at Strumble Head.
An autumn visitor; to be seen occasionally on its passage northwards in the spring, when it is in its bright chestnut breeding plumage.
This species is not uncommon on the sands and mud-flats around the coast in September, when all the birds are in their ash-grey winter plumage, some few of the adults still retaining a few of the rufous feathers upon the breast.
Mr. Tracy states that it was common in his time around Pembroke; Sir Hugh Owen has met with it in small flocks on Goodwick sands, and Mr. C. Jefferys, of Tenby, has informed us of one that was shot on the south sands there in September, 1889.
On their first arrival the Godwits are very tame, and the flocks will permit the gunner to walk up to them where they are feeding on the ooze in a straggling line ; the outer birds will run in towards the main body on his approach, and the compact mass of birds will afford the chance of a successful shot. We have, ourselves, had great sport on many occasions on the mud-flats of the North Devon rivers, and as these birds are excellent for the table we always found them to be greatly appreciated by the friends among whom we distributed our spoils. The Bar-tailed Godwit nests in the far north of Lapland, &c, and well authenticated eggs are scarce in collections.
Limosa lapponica – RHOSTOG GYNFFONFRTH – Passage migrant and winter visitor The Bar-tailed Godwit breeds in Arctic and sub-arctic habitats from northern Norway through Siberia to western Alaska. (European Atlas 1997). Ringing recovery data suggest that birds passing though, or wintering in, the UK have come from northern FennoScandia and western Siberia. Of these, three […]
Limosa lapponica – RHOSTOG GYNFFONFRTH – Passage migrant and winter visitor Mathew (1894) considered the Bar-tailed Godwit to be an autumn visitor, occurring only occasionally in the spring. Lockley et al. (1949) also classed it as an autumn migrant and stated that it was rare in the spring. Autumn passage may well have remained unchanged though neither […]
Limosa lapponica – RHOSTOG GYNFFONFRTH – Passage migrant and winter visitor The BTO winter atlas showed that Bar-tailed Godwits were present in a few coastal and estuarine 10km squares during the winters of 1981-82, 1982-82 and 1983-84. The darker the colour, the higher the relative total count for each 10km square. The darkest blue represents 19-175 birds, with […]