Doing my bit for Curlew conservation

The haunting call of the Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) is one of the most iconic, and indeed, enjoyable sounds in nature. The rippling trill of Britain’s largest wading bird evoking mist-clad moorlands, windswept coastal estuaries and other exquisite wild places. It is a sound which, once heard, is not soon forgotten; the very embodiment of our islands rugged yet fragile countryside, and a sound which, to me, brings back myriad fond memories. From childhood walks around the Blyth Estuary – my local patch – and from further afield, in the Scottish uplands during my post-university years. Despite this, however, it is a sound which is heard less often in the present day – due to our own ignorance. The species continued and troubling decline recently highlighted in the State of Birds 2016 report.

The factors attributing to the decline of the Curlew are poorly understood; though a number of explanations have been put forward to explain the current state of the British population. Among these, it is thought that climate change, afforestation, changes in farming practice and a resulting increase in generalist predators such as foxes and corvids may be to blame. With the former resulting in a vast decrease in the availability of suitable breeding habitat and the latter, a woefully low rate of reproductive success. With these factors, together, attributing to a 46% decline in Curlew numbers across the UK between 1994 and the present day.

While the causes of the Curlews woeful decline remain open to debate, the importance of the British population stands clear for all to see: our islands hold 28% of the European population, and as such, are of global importance. It is equally clear that more must be done to halt the decline of this endearing wader – and soon, before it is too late.

Thankfully, more is being done. Largely in the form of vital research and monitoring courtesy of the British Trust for Ornithology who are currently working to better our understanding of the species and provide a sound, scientifically valid basis for future conservation efforts. This work – undertaken through an extensive (and costly) program of ringing, GPS tracking and research – surely vital if we are going to bring Britain’s embattled Curlew back from the brink. This, coupled with our own adoration of the species, is why myself and good friends Sacha Elliott and Tiffany Francis have decided to do something positive and actively support the BTO’s Curlew Appeal.

To raise money in defence of the Curlew, the three of us have opted to commit to the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge, with our hike due to take place during August 2017. An event we feel will challenge ourselves physically – we are, by our own admission, not the fittest bunch of young naturalists out there – but also allow us to raise vital funds for what we feel is an incredibly important cause.

The challenge takes in the peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough and involves some 40km of hiking over often challenging ground: accomplish-able in around 12 hours. This is easily the most walking that any of us have done in one go before and will surely prove testing, yet also, we hope, worthwhile.

Prior to undertaking the trip this Summer, we have set up a Just Giving page to raise money for the BTO and have broadcast an open offer for others to join us in our venture. If you too would like to take part, and thus raise both funds and awareness for the Curlew, you can join our fundraising team. While equally, and perhaps more importantly, you can support our campaign both financially – if you can spare the change – or by sharing it with friends, family or anyone else you feel might like to donate. Every little really does help, and if we are to reach our team target of £2000, we will certainly need your help. And would be incredibly grateful if you would consider supporting our venture.

If you would like to donate, or indeed, learn more about the project. You can visit my own Just Giving through the link below. Though Sacha and Tiffany will also be distributing links their own fundraising pages on social media too.




The floodgates are opening, at last

Migration really is a wonderful thing: one minute you can be gazing forlornly at a decrepit stand of brambles, hoping against hope to hear the faintest hweet from an elusive Chiffchaff; and next, you can be dashing around like a lunatic wholly surrounded by birds. Such is the nature of Spring, as the frustrating trickle of new arrivals that coincides with late March soon gives way to an exhilarating flood of colour as the season advances.

The floodgates appear to be opening here in Northumberland, with the few intrepid warblers and martins now joined by many and more familiar faces. And a few more unusual characters too. Druridge, as ever, continues to prove its value as a hotspot for weird and wonderful bird life with the past two days alone providing two standout species. With yesterday’s Common Crane – a species I have wanted to see in the UK ever since I was able to make out the words in my childhood bird book – a definitive highlight; though one outshone, on this occasion, by an altogether unexpected treasure today: a Red-Rumped Swallow. The latter, having been unearthed five minutes before at East Chevington, careering overhead as I stood, entranced, on the coastal path. A wonderful bird which, by merit alone, eclipsed the aforementioned crane entirely. Though both left me equally giddy.

Glaring rarities aside, today alone provided a host of other goodies; with a Spoonbill at Druridge Pools foremost among them. This being only my third of these lethargic waders in the county, and a most welcome addition to this years county list challenge to boot. Visiting Druridge Pools early this morning, I was also lucky enough to pick up a Red Kite flying south above the floods. A reasonably common bird elsewhere in Britain (where they are not ruthlessly persecuted or fed KFC to such an extent that they do not spread) though one that, for some unknown reason, remains scarce in Northumberland. The raptor sailing overhead just as my attention turned to the call of a likely Sedge Warbler emanating from the South corner of the deep pool. I missed the warbler, but kite and Spoonbill provided more than fair recompense.

Elsewhere, common migrants were abundant throughout Druridge Bay. Wheatear being particularly apparent – at Cresswell, Hemscott Hill and Chevington – and a beautiful Yellow Wagtail picked out in the company of a lone Alba Wagtail in a nearby field. Sand Martins were the most numerous new arrival on show, with around 120 birds seen throughout the day, while 14 Swallow and a single House Martin were also observed. The best of the rest, at least in terms of migrants, consisting of a male Marsh Harrier, 2 Sandwich Tern, 14 Willow Warbler, 10 Chiffchaff and 11 Avocet at Cresswell Pond. No Grasshopper Warblers to be heard yet, and no chance encounters with the likes of Ring Ouzel or Cuckoo, but there is plenty time for that.

Spring visitors aside, there was plenty to keep me entertained elsewhere today. With some highlights including two Grey Partridge, a male Yellowhammer and 15 Tree Sparrow at Cresswell. Where a good-sized flock of 22 Linnet and loose gathering of 7 Shoveler were also seen. Druridge Pools held the usual variety of wildfowl, alongside the added bonus of both European White-Fronted Goose and Whooper Swan – the latter being constantly terrorised by the resident Mute cob during the duration of my stay – while 10 Twite fed in one of the nearby paddocks. Finally, at Chevington, a Water Rail was heard giving its best stuck-pig impression from the Northern reedbed and a Kestrel hunted the dunes, much to the alarm of the plentiful Meadow Pipits and Skylark who temporarily abandoned their vocal antics to hassle it.

As you can tell, lots to see and hear of late, and I, for one, have had a marvellous time. This week looks set to centre around planning for my upcoming Masters thesis though, given the way of things of late, I can see myself being drawn out of hiding again in the very near future.

Cover image: Tero Laakso, Flickr CC, http://www.flickr.com/photos/talaakso/3775104351/