A touch of the continental

Limosa Black-tailed Godwit at Summer Leys

On the evening of 13th May, Leslie Fox emailed me an image of a Black-tailed Godwit he had seen at Summer Leys LNR during the afternoon. It was immediately apparent that this did not look like one of the ‘usual’ Icelandic race (islandica) birds we see passing through the county in some numbers each year and blowing up the images revealed a number of characters which were inconsistent with the latter race.

‘Continental’ Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 13th May 2020 (Leslie Fox)

The most striking differences were the complete lack of the extensive rufous ‘tapestry’ of mantle feathers found in typical islandica and the abrupt ending and confinement of rusty feathers to the upper breast and neck. Blowing up the image further revealed a very limited number of broad, warm yellowish-fringed, black-centred feathers scattered on the mantle and the tertials appeared plain and unnotched – both features associated with limosa and not normally exhibited by islandica. Further pro-limosa features were the relatively long, broad-based bill and subtly sloping forehead. The lack of contrast between the wing coverts and the mantle indicated the bird was an adult.

‘Continental’ Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 13th May 2020 (Leslie Fox)
‘Continental’ Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 13th May 2020 (Leslie Fox)
‘Continental’ Black-tailed Godwit, Summer Leys LNR, 13th May 2020 (Leslie Fox)

Although the bird was not seen again on 13th, it was still present mid-late afternoon on 14th. Upon request, Leslie sent me some more images before I managed to connect with it on the morning of 15th in an attempt to get to grips with the features in the field. The bird was long-legged and reasonably long-billed (both pro-limosa features) but it was relatively small and its bill was not excessively long, so I concluded it was likely to be a male (females are large and normally very long-billed).

Pleased to have seen it – albeit quite distantly – I sent Leslie’s images off to the ‘Godwit Guru’, Mark Golley, who has probably more experience than anyone else in the UK in limosa godwit identification, which he has distilled into a lengthy paper Notes on the field identification of nominate Black-tailed Godwits in Norfolk.

Many thanks to Mark for providing feedback and comments as follows:


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