Update on headstarted Curlews from the Severn and Avon Vales – November 2019 – February 2020

A number of Curlews have been colour-ringed in the Severn and Avon Vales in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, with an unengraved yellow ring on the right tibia, and a numbered white ring on the left tibia. Five were wild birds, marked in the field: two chicks were ringed in summer 2018 (one of them re-sighted in Cornwall in spring 2019), one adult was marked on the breeding ground in spring 2019, while two more chicks were ringed in summer 2019. In addition, as noted on previous posts on this website (see posts of 13 November and 7 October 2019 and Curlew Forum Newsletter 7 of September 2019. All of which give pictures of the ringed birds), fifty young Curlews, raised at Slimbridge from eggs which would otherwise have been destroyed to prevent bird-strikes at East Anglian airfields, were released with yellow and white rings at Slimbridge in July 2019.

The notes below from Dave Evans, of the WWT Slimbridge Severn Vale Curlew Project, provide updates on the latest sightings of colour-ringed birds between November 2019 and February 2020. In some cases the birds were too distant for their numbered rings to be read, so some of the sightings may refer to the five wild-ringed birds. But it seems likely that most refer to headstarted birds from Slimbridge.

November 2019

November saw at least eleven of the headstarted Curlew observed on at least one occasion around Slimbridge, with the majority of sightings coming from The Moors to the south west of the reserve, on the other side of the canal. The headstarted birds were observed in flocks of wild Curlew foraging hard on earthworms and other invertebrates in the partially flooded fields. Other sightings in November came from the fields along the road leading to the reserve and from a high tide roost site further south along the Severn at Littleton Warth, just north of the M4 motorway bridge.

December 2019

Four headstarted birds were confirmed on at least one occasion, with a number of sightings of birds too distant to read the rings. Sightings in December came from The Moors, the Tack Piece on the Slimbridge reserve and further south along the Severn at Sheperdine.

January 2020

The New Year saw an increase in sightings on the Slimbridge reserve, with twenty sightings of at least different six headstarted birds over the month. The majority of sightings came from the Tack Piece, as a number of birds began showing well close to the hides.

Photo by Scott Petrek

February 2020

February continued to see lots of sightings coming in from the Slimbridge reserve, with thirty-nine sightings of at least seven individuals. Most of the sightings came from the Tack Piece, as birds continued to show well. There was some excitement from further afield as a report came in from Exminster Marshes of a colour-ringed bird. As yet the ring number hasn’t been read but if it turns out to be a headstarted bird (there are also five wild individuals with rings from the same ringing scheme) it would be the furthest sighting from Slimbridge of a headstarted bird to date.

Photo by Scott Petrek

Sighting from Exminster Marshes, Devon, 10 February 2020

Some exciting news came in the form of an email on 10 February stating that a colour-ringed bird had been seen and photographed at Exminster Marshes, on the Exe south of Exeter in Devon. Unfortunately the bird was too distant for the ring number to be read, but the photo clearly shows that it is one of the Severn Vale colour-ringed birds. Adding a little uncertainty into the mix however is the fact that, along with the fifty headstarted birds from 2019, there are five wild birds from the Severn and Avon Vales colour-ringed under the same colour-marking scheme.

Photo courtesy of James Diamond

The odds suggest that the Exminster bird is likely to be a headstarted bird but until the ring number is read, it can’t be confirmed. Hopefully in the near future it will be seen again and the ring number read. If it does turn out to be a headstarted bird, it will represent the furthest sighting to date away from the release site at WWT Slimbridge, and the first bird sighted away from the Bristol Channel.

Adding a bit of serendipity into the mix is the fact that the observer, James Diamond, works for Natural England who are a key partner in the headstarting project alongside the WWT and the Ministry of Defence.

David Evans
Research Officer, WWT Severn Curlew Project

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