Whilst we have not seen flocks of 30,000 or more, apparently a common sight in the Tagus estuary at this time of year, the numbers are growing every day. It is though their changing plumage, rather than their numbers which are catching my eye. At the beginning of last week there were just a few turning orange but now it seems every other Black-Tailed Godwit is changing into their breeding plumage.
It seems early to be seeing summer plumage but on checking MrB’s birding records it seems they were changing plumage this time last year too. It is glorious for us to observe the change, however from the amount of preening going on it is obviously an irritating stage for the birds to have to go through every year.
They breed in water meadows and boggy moorland, but on passage to their breeding grounds they frequent estuaries, mudflats and saltpans which is why you will see so many in the Ria Formosa and Tagus at this time of year. When not preening they either have their heads tucked away or are feeding on insects and crustaceans that they find in the mud and shallow waters. In fact most of my photographs are of them without heads because of that!
Their Portuguese name is Maçarico-de-bico-direito, which when I first typed into google translate came up with Right-wing Tortoise! However their Portuguese name in English is actually straight billed curlew, A good name as that is one of the small differences between the Black-tailed Godwit and the Bar-tailed Godwit, the other difference obviously being the one highlighted by their English name. There are also Bar-tailed Godwits congregating in the saltpans as you can see from the photograph below. It is quite a good shot for noting the differences between the two species. Can you spot the straighter beak of the black-tailed?
No? Don’t worry neither could I until MrB pointed it out to me! Have another look at the one almost in the centre. That’s a bar-tailed. If you look carefully you can see the beak has a slight upturn. He is also shorter. At least I think he is a bar-tailed!! Anyhow before I totally confuse you and me, let me change the subject and explain my title. Pantheon is one of the collective nouns for Godwits, another as you may recall from a post nearly two years ago is Prayer.