First Curlews back on the breeding grounds in the Severn and Avon Vales, February 2021

in most years, Curlews begin to move from their wintering grounds on coastlines and estuaries back to inland breeding areas in February. This year the first returning birds appeared in the Severn and Avon Vales in the second half of the month; is it possible that the heavy flooding in the Vales in the last week of January and the first two weeks of February 2021 somehow delayed them?

One colour-ringed bird originally marked in East Anglia in summer 2019 was sighted on 19 February 2021 on the estuary at Slimbridge, presumably on its way from a wintering ground somewhere further west to East Anglia (see the separate note on this website about movements between East Anglia and the Severn Estuary).

The first Curlew recorded back in the Severn Vales was at Upton Ham in Worcestershire on 18 February, and by 22 February four were present there. At the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust reserve at Coombe Hill, none appeared in the evening of 18 February, but two, maybe three, were found by day on 19 February and there were three by day on 24 February; the evening roost held six birds on 23 and again on 24 February (even though most of the area was under water and the birds were obliged to sit in water up to their bellies in the very few patches of grass emerging from the floodwater). These evening roosts are poorly understood; they seem to attract birds from surrounding breeding meadows early in the season, when the birds have only just returned from their wintering grounds; the birds come in late, only just before dusk, and depart at first light. Observations at these roosts may give an idea of the numbers present and breeding in the vicinity, so can be valuable for assessing local numbers. The first bird reported from the Severn Ham at Tewkesbury (Gloucestershire) was on 23 February. A single bird was reported a little further up the Severn at Queenhill Rough on 21 February – an important observation, since Curlews have not been reliably observed at this traditional breeding site for a couple of years; immediately across the Severn from Queenhill at Ripple Pits, a singleton was noted on 24 February. Further up the Severn, two were at Clifton Pits on 21 February.

Along the Avon, the first bird back at Twyning was a nervous male on 20 February, with the first report of Curlews from Asham Meadow near Eckington on the same day. At Wick, near Pershore, there was a single female on 22 February, and three migrant males moved through to the north on 23 February. At an evening roost north of Tewkesbury, there were as many as 18 on the evening of 26 February.

These are the first reports received; in most cases the birds have been fairly quiet, as usual at this time, just occupying the fields quietly with (as yet) no bubbling song-flights. Some of them may indeed be migrants moving through the Vales (like those near Pershore) en route to nesting grounds further to the northeast (some go as far as Poland, Sweden and Finland), but it is often difficult to tell whether birds are local breeders or passing migrants.

In Herefordshire, Curlews returned to their traditional site on the Lugg Meadows at roughly the same time: three by day on 19 February, nine on 22 February, eleven on 24 February and as many as 15 by on 26 February.

Mike Smart


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