Vorsabaer: the story continues


After finding Vorsabaer at Minsmere and writing on the blog, I have continued to follow her journey.

Vorsabaer left Minsmere on Dec.31st 2015 and moved down to Essex where she went to the River Blackwater, Mersea Island and Tollesbury Marshes area, where she stayed for most of Jan. and Feb. 2016.   I travelled down to Tollesbury Marshes with Mike Marsh on a very wet and cold day in January, searching for her.   The terrain there was very difficult with lots of muddy pools and ditches all around us.  Vorsabaer could be absolutely anywhere, if she is still here at all, I thought.

We only saw two Godwits the whole visit and I ended up very wet and cold and quite despondent.  On my return home and checking the map updates the next day, I could see that Vorsabaer was sitting just a couple of hundred yards away in a muddy pool at the time of our search.   So she was there all the time but just not showing to us. Missed again.

I thought that from here she may travel further south and join up with Kaldadarnes on the River Thames.    Kaldadarnes is another satellite-tagged bird from Iceland that had come back to the UK and had stayed in in one area in the Thames estuary for the whole of the winter period, never moving far unlike Vorsabaer.

However, Vorsabaer’s next move was to surprise me again.   On Feb.27th she flew north back to the River Deben to Waldringfield.   She had flown over Felixstowe and virtually over my house to get there!

I was away, but Mike went to look for her the next day and found her straight away.  He phoned me to let me know she was safe and looking well and a few days later on my return we had another very long day of searching but with no sign.  However, on our way back to the car, I had a feeling that we needed to go back another way and I was glad that we did because as we were walking back along the footpath we could see a small group of Godwits feeding in front of us. We scanned them and quickly I could see she was there. I just couldn’t believe my luck.   We watched her and the group for an hour before the high tide pushed them off the mud and moved them up river and out of sight. We took some very distant photos for my own records because who knows if I would see her again?

She then moved to the Woodbridge and Melton area of the River Deben.   I made another couple of trips without success.   No shows again.

Then on Mar.21st after nearly a month Vorsabaer moved again, this time flying back to the River Alde, opposite The Stanny Field Centre (the site where she had flown back to in July 2015).  The very same day I was at the centre.   Little did I know that she was just over the sea wall less than half a mile from where I was sitting.  Was she following me now?   What a nice Birthday surprise that she had come to visit my patch.

She was still settled on the River Alde at the end of March, usually in the Iken Cliff/Snape area.  How long would she stay I wondered?

Now that she was on my home turf again, visiting her was easy as I stayed with my mum just a couple of miles away.   I checked her at least four times a week and also on several passing visits.   It’s amazing how every trip out used to go past Iken Cliff or Snape!

At Iken Cliff I could even sit in a layby on the road and scan and search from the car, although I would always get out and stretch my legs and get closer to the birds.   Here Lyddia Barnard, the Otley College degree student, joined me on several occasions.   We even got her mum Dawn involved in coming along and looking for Vorsabaer.

The number of Godwits started to build going from 300 to 600 and at its peak for a couple of weeks 2000+ birds in mid-April 2016.

My mum would say “you’re looking for that needle in the haystack again”.  She was right, it was hard work but I just couldn’t give up.   Then on one early morning visit I couldn’t believe my luck.   I went down to the shore, sat on a lump of concrete, set up my scope and there on a small island right in front of me was a couple of hundred roosting Godwits that were being pushed up by the tide.

I lifted up my bins and no it can’t be this easy?  Yes, Vorsabaer was standing right in front of me.  I watched her for two hours before the flock was disturbed and had a fly around.  When they settled again it was impossible to see her amongst the forest of legs and birds almost standing on top of each other.  It just goes to show that birding is easy sometimes but you need a lot of luck on your side to find that needle!

I last saw Vorsabaer on Apr.17th, two weeks before she was to move again.   I looked and checked still but the main flock seemed to stay feeding on the other side of the estuary just too far away to read rings on legs.

Mike and I had both picked our date for when we thought Vorsabaer would leave Suffolk.  Mike guessed April 14th and I said the 24thApril.  We were both to be proven wrong.

In the end Apr.30th was the day I was dreading. Vorsabaer had moved, and had moved a long way.  The map showed that she was now in the Lower Derwent Valley near York this time.  Mike quickly told me not to worry and contacted a friend Mike Jackson whose patch she was now on.   He put the word out to other birders in the area to look for her, thus spreading her story on further.

I can’t tell you how many times a day I was checking the King of the Meadows website for news but it was usually at least once every hour.  Kaldadarnes had finally moved and flown straight up to Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland.   The race was now on, but who will make it home first?

“The weather is warming up and it looks good for moving” Mike kept telling me, and so he was right.  The winner was to be Vorsabaer.   On May 5th she safely made it home to southwest Iceland, back to her nesting grounds to breed again.  Hopefully she will have a good season and I will be thinking of her and hoping for her success.

Who knows how long the satellite tag will stay on and whether or not I will be able to watch and follow her back to the UK in July/ August this autumn.  I have enjoyed the ups and downs of looking for Vorsabaer and she has given me so much in such a short space of time.  I have et new people and retold her story many times on the way.   I have worked with Rodney West and Margaret Grenham at The Stanny Field Centre and have met Theunis and Petra and had contact with Theunis’s team.   I have made a great friend in Lyddia Barnard, the Otley College student doing her dissertation on Vorsabaer, and imparted some of my knowledge onto her, helpful or not!

Thanks to Mike Marsh, Dave Crawshaw and Gerald Jobson, my usual birding team, for having to listen to me continuously talking about Vorsabaer, and finally thankyou Vorsabaer, for giving me the courage and enthusiasm to go out birding again and learning never to give up. It’s not always easy but in the end the rewards speak for themselves.

Cheers Vorsabaer!


Gillian Stannard 06/05/2016.

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