“From 7-19 December we visited Guinea Bissau on a Black-tailed Godwit ring-reading expedition. We had planned our visit in December because we had hoped to get better views of the (legs of the) birds when the rice had been harvested. Last year we were here in November and it was sometimes problematic to see them well. Later in December godwits are supposed to leave towards their staging areas in Iberia before moving on to their breeding locations in NW-Europe.
Our itinerary mainly focussed on the huge rice fields along the Mansoa River. As expected, the fields near Unche and Pache Iala turned out to be the primary location for godwits (max. 1250 godwits) but we were surprised to see that nearly all other sites we visited were almost without any birds. We could not find a clear clue for that because fields were very comparable with harvest in full swing, dry fields close to the villages and wet fields towards the mangroves and plenty of rice to forage on, either on the plants, on the fields or on the dams. The birds we saw were all in excellent condition and seemed ready for migration and had an average fat score (abdominal profile) of 3,7 on a 1-5 scale (n=30).
As visiting random ricefields that looked good based on aerial pictures did not turn out to be a very fruitful strategy, we switched to visiting also the more remote sites where birds with satellite transmitters had very recently been seen like Ilha de Pecixe and the area north of the Rio Cacheu. We found some small flocks of around 200 individuals at each of these sites but we never encountered large flocks like in Unche or near Mansoa in 2014. This meant that getting resightings was troublesome and after 10 days we finished our mission with 85 sightings of 48 individuals. In the weeks before our departure the satellite tagged birds already showed quite some movements in a northerly direction and we think we were simply too late to see big numbers. As far as we can see, the reason for this departure can’t be adverse conditions in Guinea Bissau where conditions were good and food was plenty.
This mission was funded by the Global Flyway network in cooperation with University of Groningen, The Netherlands. Logistically all went smoothly thanks to our excellent and ever cheerful guide Hamilton Monteiro and driver Mario. Joaozinho Sa (Wetlands Int.) helped very efficiently with the organisation and paperwork for this mission. A big thank you to all of you!”