Nightingale fitted with GPS locator

A nightingale found at Anglian Water’s Alton Water reservoir was ringed in The Gambia. This is the first time a Nightingale ringed in Sub-Saharan Africa has been found in the UK. 

Anglian Water have been working in partnership with the BTO (The British Trust for Ornithology) to unveil the mystery migration of one of the UK’s most elusive and threatened birds at its Alton Water and Grafham Water reservoirs.

During the tagging season in May experts from BTO and Anglian Water caught and a bird already fitted with a ring. This is not unusual as the BTO has been tagging Nightingales at Alton Water. But when the ring number corresponded with a ring that was fitted in Africa the teams knew they had a UK first.

Gary Clewley from the BTO said: “The bird was first ringed at the Kartong Bird Observatory in The Gambia, in January. As soon as we found out the bird was ringed in Africa we knew we’d stumbled across something very unusual. This is the first records of a Nightingale ringed in Sub-Saharan Africa being re-captured in the UK.”

This year the latest tiny technology has been used to fit the most accurate GPS devices yet, bringing greater accuracy to the scientific data. The birds are naturally long distance migrants, leaving their stronghold in the south and east of England for the perilous journey to west and central Africa in the Autumn. When the special bird was found the teams fitted it with the brand new GPS device and hope the bird will unlock the key to the species migratory pattern.

Gary Clewley added: “It is really important that we continue to track Nightingales, in order to understand their migratory routes and help support efforts to conserve the bird well known for its beautiful song. Nightingale numbers have declined dramatically in recent years and it is a race against time to find out why.”

Mike Drew, Anglian Water wildlife scientist, said: “This discovery is fantastic and will help us gain real insights into the migration of this enigmatic bird. But we are now really excited about the GPS device this bird has been fitted with. It is much better able to trace which route they take on their journey with the nearest five to ten metres. This will be the first time these devices have been attached to a migratory bird like a nightingale – I can’t wait to get the data next Spring and see a detailed map of its travels.

“We’re extremely proud of the nightingales we have at Alton Water. It is vitally important for us as a company that as well as protecting the water supplies of our region, we also protect the wildlife nearby. We feel that it’s part of our responsibility and when we have asked our customers, they agree.”