Whimbrel Satellite Tracking - www.whimbrel.info

Whimbrel  Research  and  Satellite  Tracking

Lower  Derwent  Valley  Project

Whimbrel Satellite Tracking - www.whimbrel.info

Last transmission received  17/12/2007  23:50 GMT. - 55km South East of  Bissau, Capital of Guinea-Bissau  -  No further updates expected.

--- No birds currently being tracked ---

If you see any Whimbrel with Colour Ring on please let us have full details by e-mail - info@whimbrel.info.

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Welcome to the Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) Research and Satellite Tracking Web Site.

Our website is devoted to the study of migrating Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) which use the staging grounds in and around the Lower Derwent Valley National Nature Reserve in Yorkshire, England.

The spring migration of Whimbrel in the Lower Derwent Valley NNR

Every year thousands of  Whimbrels pass through England and Wales during April and early May as they move northwards from their wintering grounds in Africa.  Some of these birds stay for awhile to re-fuel at traditional staging areas before continuing on to the main breeding grounds in Iceland and Scandinavia. 

The Whimbrel staging area in the Lower Derwent Valley NNR,  15kms south east of York,  has been monitored annually since 1987.  During the day the Whimbrels are scattered over damp pastures away from the reserve where they feed on earthworms and insects,  however at dusk the birds move to the nature reserve at Wheldrake Ings where they roost together at the edge of shallow pools.

The research methods

Initially,  most of the observations were counts of  Whimbrels arriving at the roost but since 2004 members of a newly formed study group (see below) have expanded the scope of the research.  To date 39 Whimbrels have been caught and fitted with leg colour rings (see below).  Re-sightings of these birds are helping us to understand the long term movements of the birds.  Radio-tags have been attached to 9 birds.  These tags produce a signal which has a range of several kilometres.  With the aid of a receiver which can detect the signal and we are able to follow the daily movements of  individual birds.

Satellite tagging – a new opportunity

Although the conventional VHF radio-tags are good for locating birds over short distances we could not easily use them to follow Whimbrels as they migrate around the world – for this a satellite tag is required. 

In 2005 Microwave Telemetry announced a technical breakthrough – a new light weight (9.5g) solar powered satellite tag small enough to be fitted to a Whimbrel sized bird.  The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) were keen to prove that the new tag could be used on the globally threatened Slender-billed Curlew.  Microwave Telemetry kindly offered the RSPB one of the tags but in the absence of a Slender-billed Curlew they decided to prove the new tag on one of the similar sized and closely related Lower Derwent Valley Whimbrels. 

As a result the tag was fitted to a Whimbrel (Wally) caught at Wheldrake Ings on 2nd May 2005. 

For archived data showing Wally’s movements click on Wally's Photo below.

 Click to view Wally's Page

In 2007 Natural England provided the funding for 3 more tags, 2 of which unfortunately are no longer transmitting.  The third is currently giving exciting new data that can be viewed from the link at the top of the page.

The Satellite provides us with 5 Classes of data as detailed below :


Est. Acc. in Lat. and Long.

3 < 150 m Standard Location Class 3, 2 and 1: calculated from at least four messages received during the satellite pass
2 150 - <300m
1 300m - <1000m
A None Three messages received during the satellite pass : Plausible Locations require manual verification of data.
B None Two messages received during the satellite pass : Plausible Locations require manual verification of data.

The Whimbrel Study Group

The formation of the Whimbrel Study group in 2004 brought together many volunteers who have both a professional and amateur interest in ornithology. The main aim of the group was to answer the following:

  • Where do the Whimbrels which use the Lower Derwent Valley staging area spend the winter and where do they go to breed?
  • How long do individual birds stay in the Valley?
  • Where do the birds feed whilst they are staging?
  • Do males arrive earlier and stay for a shorter period than females?
  • Are individual birds site faithful from one year to another?
  • What weight gain is made by in the birds during the staging process?
  • To identify and help protect vital areas on the birds migration routes

We have now collected sufficient data to provide statistically meaningful answers to all but the last question and the results of the research are being prepared for publication.  Future research will be restricted to monitoring the roost and keeping a look-out for returning colour ringed birds.  In theory data from the satellite tagged birds will continue to be received until 2009 by which time the harness holding the device is due to degrade.

If you have wish to discuss any of the above please contact studygroup@whimbrel.info

Colour-ringed Whimbrel

The photograph below shows a typical combination.  There are 2 colours above the left knee which identifies the individual bird and an orange ring below showing that the bird is part of the Lower Derwent Whimbrel project.  The colour above the right knee indicates the year when the bird was caught and below the knee there is a metal British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) ring.

In the field the lower part of the legs are often hidden by vegetation as shown on these photographs.

Colour Rings fitted  02/05/2005

Colour Rings fitted  27/04/2007

Wheldrake Ings Roost Site  - Dave Tate 09/05/2005

 If you see a colour ringed Whimbrel please report the details,  even though this may be only be part of the combination,  to info@whimbrel.info.

In return we will provide you with a history of the bird and forward the information to the BTO.


Much of the Lower Dewent Valley is part of a National Nature Reserve managed by Natural England.  Craig Ralston,  the assistant site manager for Natural England,  has co-ordinated the efforts of the group and through Natural England made available substantial funds for radio and satellite tracking equipment etc.  Members of the Huddleston and Jackson Bird Ringing Partnership were responsible for catching the Whimbrels and attaching the colour rings and radio-tags.  The RSPB provided the Microwave Telemetry satellite tag for Wally and two of their senior staff journeyed from Cambridge to attach the tag.  Both colleagues returned in Wheldrake in 2007 to fit two of the satellite tags and train a Partnership member who then fitted the third.     

The BTO has made available their Whimbrel biometric data and both Tomas Gunnerson and Murray Grant have provided additional measurements.    

Members of staff at York University and the Central Science Laboratories have given advice about DNA sampling and have carried out the analyses of sample material.  

Finally,  we wish to thank Yorkshire Wildlife Trust who own Wheldake Ings for permission to work on the site and John Wollaston one of their field officers who actively participated in the research throughout the study period. 

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Photo Gallery

Microwave Telemetry - PTT100-9.5g Solar Tag Harness Preparation Microwave Telemetry - PTT100-9.5g Solar Tag Ready for Fitting Microwave Telemetry - PTT100-9.5g Solar Tag Fitted to Whimbrel

One of the three 9.5g Satellite Transmitter used in 2007.

Microwave Telemetry - PTT100-12g Solar  Wally - 2 May 2005 - Ready to Go

The 12g Satellite Transmitter and Wally wearing the transmitter in 2005.

Whimbre Radio Tag Details Recorded Whimbrel kept calm while tag is secured prior to release

One of the three Radio Transmitter used in 2007.  Details of the bird and tags frequency are recorded.  The bird is kept calm for the short time required for the tag to become secure enough for release.

Radio Transmitter being fitted to a bird hatched in previous year.  The Inner Median Coverts show typical young bird plumage characteristics as shown in the close up photo.

Radio Transmitter fitted to a Whimbrel in 2004.

Whimbrel ready for release - 27 April 2007

Whimbrel caught in 2000.

Whimbrel ready for release - 27/04/2007

Wheldrake Ings Roost Site - final preparations to Netting Area  - 28/04/2006

Wheldrake Ings Roost Site with Plastic Decoys in Netting Area  - 17/04/2006


Wheldrake Ings Roost site  - 02/05/2005

Whimbrel at Wheldrake Ings Roost Site - Dave Tate 09/05/2005

 Whimbrel Ringing - 27/04/2007

Whimbrel Satellite Tag fitting and Ringing - 27/04/2007

Nets set and a quick check of the previous days arrival times at the roost.


Craig Ralston, Dave Tate and Mike Jackson - Ready for Action. 17/04/2006

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Photographs taken by Steve Huddleston unless otherwise credited.

© Whimbrel.info 2007

Page Last Updated - 20 März 2008

Visitors to Site since going Online 18/08/2005

Site Last Updated


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 Joint Project Supporters

Natural England

Huddleston & Jackson Bird Ringing Partnership

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Microwave Telemetry, Inc.

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Project Assistance

British Trust for Ornithology

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

Birds of the Lower Derwent Valley - Craig S Ralston - MED-B002

--- Birds of the Lower Derwent Valley - £10.00 + £3.50 P&P UK - All £10.00 to further research in the LDV - Last Few Remaining ---

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