Why Clive the godwit's epic round trip to Norfolk has got bird experts all aflutter

  • Rob Setchell spoke to experts at RSPB Snettisham in Norfolk.

After a summer dogged by delay and disruption, Clive's tale of travel chaos still stands out.

His journey to Africa was beset by issues. The flight took more than four days. There was a storm over the Atlantic. He ended up touching down back where he started in Norfolk.

Clive is an adult bar-tailed godwit.

The only reason we know about his epic, failed migration attempt is because of a trailblazing tracking project.

In a first for the UK, five bar-tailed godwits at RSPB Snettisham, near King's Lynn, have been tagged using the latest non-invasive technology.

The Wash Wader Research Group (WWRG), working with the RSPB, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and Natural England, hoped to learn more about the birds' migration patterns - and they weren't disappointed.

The Wash Wader Research Group tagging bar-tailed godwits. Credit: RSPB

Dr Nigel Clark, a team leader at WWRG, said he watched Clive's GPS tracker in disbelief.

"Clive took off and went westwards over the west coast of Ireland. He went south and almost got to Spain. Then he turned round and came back again.

"He called in at the Thames for a few hours before coming back to exactly the same patch of mud - within about 100 yards of where he had been feeding before he left."

Experts think Clive, who was named after the founder of the WWRG, flew 2,000 miles in just over four days after a unseasonal storm forced him to turn around.

Dr Clark said: “It is absolutely incredible what this project is already revealing about the increasing hazards faced and choices birds have to make on their long and challenging migrations – it’s a lot more complex than we ever imagined or would have predicted.

“The fact that Clive has returned to The Wash and the rich feeding areas of the East Coast Flyway in England goes to show just how important these coastal wetlands are for their survival.

"The Wash really is the place to be if you’re a bar-tailed godwit in the autumn.”

Dr Nigel Clark releases Clive the bar-tailed godwit. Credit: RSPB

Ed Tooth, a conservation officer at the RSPB, said the wetlands along the east coast were critically important to millions of birds.

"This is a global superhighway for migrating birds which are spending their summers in the Arctic, where they breed, and their winters in Africa.

"Here on the Wash, in particular, it's really important. Essentially it's like a service station.

"If we were doing a long journey we'd need somewhere to rest and somewhere to fuel up and that's exactly what this site does for these birds."

Bar-tailed godwits are notoriously tenacious migrators. One was once recorded flying non-stop from Alaska to Australia.

Clive's colossal campaign isn't quite in that league - but it's caused a lot of excitement in bird-watching communities.

And now he's out there somewhere, enjoying the fine cuisine at his Norfolk holiday home, building up the strength to have another go.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know