November brings winter visitors from the east: Fieldfares, Bramblings, Waxwings and Woodcocks. The first full moon of November is a Woodcock Moon, such is its association with winter arrivals for generations. Woodcock are unusual among waders for being crepuscular, moving out of woodlands at dusk to probe for worms, insect larvae and snails in soft earth on pasture. Their large eyes, capable almost of 360-degree vision, watch for predators as they feed.
Woodcocks that breed in British woods are declining rapidly. When the shooting season opened on 1 October, they were at risk from shooting, before migrants arrive from the east. In response to a petition to Parliament, which has now passed 75,000 signatures [on 28 November] and calls for the shooting season to be delayed until 1 December, the Government has said that it “intends to review the list of species, including Woodcock, on Schedule 2 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 including the benefits of altering the close season”.
Research by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust says that “for those that shoot Woodcock, beginning shooting after 1st December provides a useful rule of thumb… Delaying shooting until the majority of these migrants, that originate from stable continental populations, have arrived reduces the risk of any possible impact to vulnerable resident populations.”
Many shoots prohibit Woodcock shooting until later in the winter and some support a change in the law as being in line with scientific advice. The GWCT advises that “Restraint when shooting Woodcock makes sense even in areas where there are no local breeders, because we know that the majority of migrant Woodcock are extremely faithful to the same wintering site year on year. Overshooting will therefore break the migratory link with your shoot and is likely to lead to fewer Woodcock being seen in future."
A weekly update of bird sightings and news from North Wales, published in The Daily Post every Thursday.