Stephen Dodd, Senior Research Assistant, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science talks about working on the Curlew Trial Management Project, which aims to find a solution to stabilise the declining breeding population in the UK.

I’m carrying out fieldwork for the third year on our curlew trial management site in North Wales. I still find it incredible that a large "vocal" bird such as a curlew can be so sneaky!

Counting chicks

Some pairs are quite vocal, flying round quite a bit, even early in the season, while others are silent and invisible.

I'm currently carrying out round three of our bird visits, so starting to know where to expect some of the pairs. I saw a typical bird this morning: standing guard on his favourite view point 500m away, he never made a sound, and quietly evaporated by the time I got nearer - I never saw or heard his mate!

Curlew. Image by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

Then there was one where I thought there was a nest was in a patch of rushes. I passed by, just a metre the nest, but the female sat tight.

The first nests are now hatching, and the chicks’ presence is given away by the parents distinctive alarm calls - very useful to a fieldworker confirming presence of cryptically hidden chicks!

I did see a two-three day old chick this morning, but in the hour when I was within 800m of the nest, the parents were chasing off two crows, two kites and a buzzard – best of luck chicks!

Tagging adults

The moor and bogs are the preferred habitat for nesting and chick rearing, but the improved grassland of nearby farmland is regularly used by the adults when feeding. I have also been helping with using small GPS tags on these adults.

Results so far suggest there is huge overlap of territories, and that perhaps we should look upon curlews as semi-colonial. Certainly where there are two or more pairs close to each other, it is easier for more adults to chase off predators.

The joy of fieldwork

Beyond the wonderful bird life of the uplands, June has a brilliant flora. I know we should be looking round as we walk, but equally we need to keep watching our footing!

Milkwort is in full flower, lots of dark blue, quite a bit of pale blue and white, with small numbers of the pink clone. The exquisite cranberry grows in small clumps, but to really appreciate it one has to stop and bend down to look closer.

Sundew. Image by Steve Dodd

Lots of tormentil along the way, but in the wet bits butterwort is flowering, and clumps of sundew are growing. Slightly disappointing are the cottongrasses, which the recent rain has left rather bedraggled.

The weather during May was so much better this year, making all the long walks a pleasure. Long may it continue! Hopefully some curlew chicks will fledge from the sites, giving hope that our trial is working.

How you can help

If you would like to help, donate to our Curlew JustGiving page. All the money directly funds habitat management work for curlews.

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