World Curlew Day – 2020 Update

Happy World Curlew Day to one and all! (For background on why 21 April is World Curlew Day, see earlier reports on the website, and in particular the notes on St Beuno).

Unfortunately, few updates on fieldwork are available, as most people have been staying at home, and all fieldwork by bodies like BTO, RSPB and WWT has been suspended for the moment. A few snippets are however coming through.

The Worcester Curlew Group continue to share records of Curlews on grassland on higher farmland between the Severn and Avon Vales, where the odd pair survive (and indeed are perhaps the highest conservation priority).

In Herefordshire, Chris Wells notes from the Lower Lugg Meadow:

The numbers of Curlew this month (April) have been holding steady at around four or five birds, after the earlier influx of thirty plus migrant birds. There have been days with zero birds, ranging through to a maximum of eight. Over the last few days it would seem there are six birds, but rarely do they show indications of pairing. There are periods when there is much aerial displaying and, just occasionally, some ground interaction. Getting close and running after each other, then they drift apart. Copulating has not been observed. Observations are becoming more difficult as the grass and flower height increases. The females are increasingly attempting to find a suitable nest spot. They creep along, before squatting, then wriggling to make a cup in the grass. They will then spend varying amounts of time in this spot, frequently disappearing from view as they pancake (flatten down). One worrying factor is the increase in Carrion Crow numbers, twenty three this morning (21 April), roaming around in large groups feeding. And, STOP PRESS: Hampton Meadow: at 15:43 on 21 April, after an hour and twenty minutes on site, two calling Curlew flew into church end of the site from that direction. They are feeding occasionally but, are very wary.

Also in Herefordshire, Chris Robinson adds:

I have a pair near me which I’m trying to keep tabs on, and they seem to prefer an area where I have not seen them before but are elusive (aren’t they always?). It looks pretty unfriendly for Curlews to nest as it’s wall-to-wall sheep and lambs at the moment with some of the fields grazed flat enough for a bowls rink. I am also cycling up to another site every two or three days and can report that the ‘usual’ pair are there but moving around a lot – not too different to every year really! We’ve never pinned these blighters down and I’ll be lucky to do it this year! In both these areas I have helpful contacts/neighbours who are supplying useful supplementary information. The Herefordshire Wildlife Trust website continues to bring in a steady stream of Curlew sightings/hearings so, even though we are not able to get out much, at least we are adding useful information. Too early to be sure yet, but there at least two areas which were on our ‘possibles’ list, but now look worthy of promotion and investigation next year.

From the Severn and Avon Vales, very few field reports. Several observers have sent in records of Curlews, mainly round Upton-on-Severn and Tewkesbury, but also towards Strensham. By now, most nesting Curlews in the riverside meadows will probably have complete or near-complete clutches; they become more and more difficult to see as the grass grows. Nest-finding will become more and more difficult from now on. Detailed surveys of breeding Curlews in the Severn and Avon Vales in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire began in earnest in 2015. An account of how Curlew studies developed in the area has been prepared for “The Gloucestershire Naturalist”, a publication of the Gloucestershire Naturalists’ Society. When it has been published, it is hoped to post it on this website.

First World Curlew Day, 2018, Upton Ham.

Upton Ham in 2019

Fortunately, in this age of emails and social media, virtual contacts remain possible, and many people have been using the enforced inaction at home to catch up with report writing and future planning:

  • Mary Colwell has been doing a series of interviews and films on Curlew-related topics, and these are all available on the Curlew Action website . Do have a look and a listen, there’s a lot of very interesting and informative material there, not only on Eurasian Curlew, but on the other world Curlew species.
  • It is planned to use the awful examples of Slender-billed and Eskimo Curlews, both almost certainly extinct now, as a cautionary tale and a call to action for Eurasian and other Curlews. Those two unique species slipped into extinction with only a few ornithologists aware of the problem, and little coordinated international planning to save them. We must make sure this doesn’t happen for the other Curlew species!
  • The report of the Highgrove Curlew summit, convened in February by HRH the Prince of Wales is due to appear in the very near future, and should give guidance on the latest thinking and on measures to be taken for conservation of lowland Curlews.
  • Recent notes on the present website includes:
    • An article on Exmoor (sorry, really depressing, the situation there is even worse than on Dartmoor).
    • References to papers on John Sanders’ ten year-long observations of colour-marked wintering Curlews on the Severn estuary.
    • A paper reflecting on the ‘Curlews in Crisis’ conference in Ireland in 2016 which was the forerunner of all the recent work on lowland Curlews.
    • Some clever work with hens’ eggs at a bird table in Herefordshire.
  • Finally a couple of reports from the field:
    • Following the note on this website about pre-season roosts, one of the birds colour-marked by Tony Cross and the Mid-Wales Ringing Group in Montgomeryshire has turned up, not just on the Severn estuary in early April, but a few days later, this time on a Swedish estuary near Gothenburg! Presumably another migratory stopover site en route to a breeding ground even further north. Further details awaited.
    • The website repeatedly receives reports of colour-ringed Curlews, with requests for information on their place of ringing. Sadly, it did not prove possible to work out the origins of a colour-ringed bird seen in early April in Norway, because the report was not clear enough (or maybe because it had lost one of the colour rings) and there was no photo. Another report from The Netherlands of a bird probably ringed in Germany is pending.
    • And finally – a real “WOW” moment. Hard to beat the following email from Gerrit Gerritsen, one of the most active Curlew fieldworkers in The Netherlands: “No Corona-problems up till now, so busy in the field. We found 40 nests up till now and still searching. The first nest hatched 12 April, which is really early.” Forty nests found! How do they do it? And hatching already! No wonder they leave the winter quarters early! We look forward to further background information.

Myosurus minimus, Mousetail, which blooms in the damp meadows where Curlews nest

Leave a comment