We have a rather special bird spending the winter with us on our Medmerry reserve, one that is helping to provide information on the conservation of her species. Site Manager, Steve Webster picks up the story…

As part of a European effort to safeguard Curlews, there has been an initiative in Poland that has radio-tracked 266 birds across Europe between 2013 and 2018.

A tiny solar-powered GPS device is attached to the bird’s back which transmits location, speed and altitude every 5 minutes.

One female bird, code-named J55, was released just north of Warsaw on the 2nd August. After staying around her release site for a few weeks she turned up in the Medmerry reserve on the 21st August, after a migration of 1,150 miles which she completed in 42 hours and 40 minutes with only a 15 minute break near Brandenburg.

Delving down into the telemetry provides some interesting insights. The flight from Warsaw to her rest stop in Germany was a non-stop flight of 510 miles, reaching a top speed of 50.5 miles per hour! The next stretch of her migration took her to some dizzying heights. The highest altitude she recorded was an astonishing 16,407 feet. For comparison, pilots flying at anything above 12,000 feet need to carry supplementary oxygen and commercial airliners operate between 30-40,000 feet.

Since August we are receiving monthly data which shows her using various channels and islands within Medmerry, matching closely data we have of the biomass. It’s great to see how her movements indicate where the mudflats and saltmarsh are developing according to the design of the Medmerry scheme.

Despite being a common site across our reserves of Pagham Harbour & Medmerry, the European curlew is one of our most rapidly declining breeding bird species. The UK holds 28% of the European breeding population with numbers down by 46% in the UK and a massive 78% in Ireland. Our wintering population is bolstered by birds originating primarily from breeding sites in northern Europe and Russia where similar declines are being seen.

You can read more about the project at www.ochronakulika.pl/ but the main aims of the current project include active protection of breeding curlew in the main nesting sites in Poland, promotion of the species in the farming environment and research of migration routes, wintering areas and home ranges. It is this latter part where our bird is providing such important data. The telemetry map below shows the migration routes of the birds involved in the project.

Examining the information in closer detail, you can see on the following map how J55 is staying within Medmerry’s boundaries and in particular along Easton Rife.

So if you are out on Medmerry keep an eye out for a curlew with a yellow flag on its leg bearing the number J55. She may not be aware of it, but she is after all, a bird of some significance.