Sad Story

We have been watching carefully one of the traditional breeding areas in the Severn Vale in Gloucestershire since early April.  Curlews traditionally nest in one of a group of fields in the river floodplain; after careful watching over a period of days (once the unusually high floods in late March and early April had gone down), we found a male and a female regularly occupying one particular field, and apparently holding territory there. They occasionally chased passing crows, and on one occasion both rose together to mob a passing Buzzard, so we were confident we had identified the actual breeding field correctly. A few days ago we went there in the evening, choosing a vantage point on slightly higher ground, so that we could watch them from afar without disturbing them; we had a heat image intensifier, so that we could see them (and hopefully find the nest), even in semi-darkness.

But no sign at all of Curlews that evening; what had gone wrong?  We waited until it was almost dark, then walked across the field. What should we find but a recently dead adult (it turned out to be a male) in the middle of the field, apparently recently caught and partly eaten by a bird of prey – probably a Peregrine, which are not infrequently seen here. Tragic really; we know that there is heavy predation of eggs and chicks by foxes, badgers and crows (among others) but this pair didn’t even reach the egg stage.  The female will now have to start again (if she can find a replacement male) and we shall have to go back to the beginning with our observations.

Photo: Mervyn Greening

Mervyn Greening and Mike Smart

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