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Are Woodcock in decline ?


Are Woodcock in decline ?

Woodcock are so well camouflaged they are difficult to spot at the best of times. So are they disappearing or are we not looking hard enough, and in the right places? And how many are there in Fermanagh?
That's the mystery Michael Stinson hopes to help unravel with the help of the county's hawk-eyed and owl-eared wildlife sleuths.
Michael, from Boa Island, Kesh, is regional representative of the British Trust for Ornithology in Fermanagh and Tyrone. The Trust, in conjunction with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, is carrying out a national survey of breeding woodcock.
Woodcock are a game bird that are shot for the dinner table. Research has shown that over 90 per cent of the woodcock shot in the United Kingdom are not native. They are from Eastern and Northern Europe, where they breed and then migrate here to escape the harsh winter back home.
The most recent survey of native woodcock was in 2003 when there were 78,000 breeding pairs in the Great Britain. The new survey will be the first to include Northern Ireland. It has been organised in response to an apparent decline in the resident population. An initial comparison of the Bird Atlas national survey of all breeding and wintering birds between 1968 and 1972 and the most recent one, carried out between 2007 and 2011, indicates a drop in resident and breeding woodcock numbers.
Woodcock are waders, like the curlew, snipe and redshank to be found around the shores of Lough Erne.
As Michael explains: "They're unusual in that they're a woodland breeding wader.
"They're very hard to see and you won't usually flush them without a dog," he adds.
However, there is a time of year when they make their presence known - the breeding season, in May and June, when the males are displaying in a courtship ritual. By then the migrant woodcock will have flown home and the birds that remain are resident.
Michael says people who shoot woodcock have been very helpful in the past, as they have a hunters eye for spotting the birds. He is hoping they will join in the survey along with bird watchers and people interested in wildlife and the countryside.
Volunteers will be allocated a randomly chosen one kilometre grid square of suitable woodcock breeding habitat close to where they live. They will have to visit their plot of woodland three times during May and June, spending 75 minutes each time simply counting all the woodcock they see and hear among the trees.
"They're mating," says Michael. "The males will fly about making a very distinctive sharp squeak or grunt call, both of which you can listen to on the web site."


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