The Cry of the Curlew

Curlews are birds of great conservation concern within the UK, with numbers falling sharply this century. As regular, there are a variety of causes for this, starting from lack of habitat and disturbance to unsustainable ranges of predation. Curlews are long-lived birds, so their decline is just not all the time obvious, with pairs returning yearly to their favoured nesting space, regardless of not having fledged any chicks for years.

Right here within the Brecks – an space of poor, sandy soils on the borders of Norfolk and Suffolk – we now have a small however essential breeding inhabitants. Colonisation of the Brecks began in 1947, and by the early Fifties a steady inhabitants of round 12 pairs had turn into established. They favour the outdated heaths, however various pairs additionally breed on farmland.

Brettenham Heath Nationwide Nature Reserve holds the very best density of nesting Curlews within the Brecks. It’s surrounded by a Fox-proof fence

Nobody appears fairly certain what number of pairs there are at this time, however my guess can be between 20 and 30. One of many causes they do effectively right here is predator management, for Foxes are fairly strictly managed by gamekeepers and landowners within the space. Analysis by the Sport and Wildlife Conservation Belief has proven that predation by Foxes (of each eggs and chicks) is likely one of the most severe components limiting the success of nesting Curlews.

The return of the Curlews to the nesting heaths is likely one of the first indicators of spring, for the birds begin to transfer again from their wintering grounds on the coast on the finish of February. Initially of this month I checked out Brettenham Heath Nationwide Nature Reserve, an intensive heathland reserve a couple of miles north of my residence, and was delighted to each see and listen to my first inland Curlew of the yr. The great effervescent music of the Curlew is likely one of the most stunning of all fowl songs, and is likely one of the the reason why many individuals care so passionately about this fowl. 

Yellow IM, the colour-ringed Curlew, on Thetford Heath, March 2024. She was ringed on the Dyfi Estuary in West Wales in 2021

This month I’ve since seen Curlews on two different native heaths: Knettishall (simply two miles from residence) and Thetford Heath (ten miles away). I managed to {photograph} the fowl on Thetford Heath, an apparent feminine along with her very lengthy beak. (Males have noticeably shorter beaks.) What I didn’t discover till I downloaded my images (above and beneath) was the truth that she had been color ringed, with a purple ring on her proper leg, and inexperienced ring above yellow on her left leg. A fast verify on the web revealed that there was an on-going color ringing venture happening in Wales, and it appeared almost definitely that this was the place my fowl had been ringed.

Yellow IM within the lengthy grass, her rings not seen. Her lengthy beak signifies that she is a feminine

An e mail to Tony Cross of the Mid Wales Ringing Group introduced a speedy reply. Sure, he confirmed, it was one in all his birds, however might I learn the digits on the fowl’s yellow ring? This proved to be a wrestle, because the fowl was fairly distant after I photographed her, and I solely had a few poor photographs displaying the rings.  She had then walked into lengthy grass the place her legs weren’t seen. 

We ultimately labored out that her ring was Yellow 1M, revealing that she had been ringed on the RSPB’s Ynys-hir Reserve on the Dyfi Estuary in West Wales in October 2021. (That’s 250 miles from the place I photographed her.) The next Could she was discovered on a nest with 4 eggs at RAF Honnington (4 miles from my residence) by Harry Ewing, an ecologist with Pure England. The heath the place I photographed her is only a brief flight away from Honnington. Although Honnington is a Royal Airforce base with an intensive air discipline, no flying takes place there anymore, so nesting curlews aren’t a menace to army plane, as they’re on different RAF bases in East Anglia.

Tony advised me that “the colour-ringing is a part of a venture aiming to check the breeding areas, winter locations and survival charges of Curlews breeding and wintering in Shropshire/Mid Wales. Within the final eight years practically 700 Curlews have been individually colour-marked with re-sightings in Cornwall, Devon, Norfolk, Pembrokeshire, Cardiganshire, Shropshire, Denbighshire, Carnarfonshire, Cheshire, Lancashire, Cumbria and Lanarkshire in addition to Counties Cork, Galway, Waterford, Wicklow and Wexford within the Republic of Eire, Jersey, France, Spain, Sweden and Finland. Over 150 headstarted Curlew chicks have additionally been colour-ringed as it’s important to evaluate the return charges and survival of those captive-reared people too.”

The day earlier than I photographed Yellow 1M I’d learn a captivating article within the weekly journal Capturing Instances, written by Liam Bell, head gamekeeper on a family-owned property in South Shropshire, not removed from the Welsh border. His piece began with the daring assertion “Our curlew are again. If there’s one other fowl to which landowners and land managers connect such possession, I haven’t heard of it. It’s all the time ‘our curlews are again’ not ‘the curlew are again’. At all times ours.”

He went on to put in writing that “Time was when each farm within the dale had nesting curlew, however they’ve slowly disappeared. Or, to be right, have virtually disappeared, however now fortunately have began to make a little bit of a comeback. The will increase on my patch are small, however domestically important and as a consequence of a number of issues: the way in which the person who farms the bottom manages his inventory and his haylage fields; our placing up electrical fences round nesting websites to maintain foxes, badgers, canine and, dare I say it, individuals at bay; and the laborious work put in by the keepers on the property to cut back the danger of predation of the eggs and chicks by carrion crows and foxes.”

A Curlew accompanied by a Black-tailed Godwit on the estuary of the River Alde on the Suffolk coast

Predator management is a controversial topic, however there’s little doubt that with out it, our populations of ground-nesting birds like Curlews and Lapwings will proceed to say no. It’s additionally the rationale why ground-nesting waders, reminiscent of Curlew and Golden Plover, breed rather more efficiently on keepered Grouse moors than they do on adjoining unkeepered land. It’s a proven fact that opponents of Grouse capturing (and there are various of them) sometimes ignore. 

I will probably be holding an eye fixed open for Yellow IM this spring. The possibilities are that she’s going to return to Honnington to breed (Curlews are very web site trustworthy), so let’s hope that she manages to nest efficiently.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *