Mike & John: A Grand Day Out

In the midst of our daily routines, it's easy to get consumed with administrative work, science, emails, and even the politics of conservation. However, we should never forget why we genuinely care about Curlews and other birds, the simple pleasure we get from seeing this wild bird living in their natural habitat. When you are immersed in the ecology, right down to the length of the grass sward, the grass species, the effects of weather, and all the other intricacies of an ecosystem that helps them survive here, right here in this patch.

This is an open letter to thank Mike Smart for showing me around ‘his patch’ in the Severn/Avon vale recently and to remind us all what Curlew Action is all about.

Nothing can ever replace’ in the field’ observation

Mike took me around the Gloucester Wildlife Trust reserve at Coombe Hill Park, where we saw evidence of the wet weather and just about spied some Lapwing chicks and three Avocets sitting on nests.

A male Curlew did a circular flight around three fields, suggesting he had a mate sitting nearby. I had not realised their incubation is so long at 35 days, making them so super vulnerable compared to most other ground-nesting birds.

Mallards seem to have had good broods this year and we saw at least two pairs of Yellow Wagtails, with their continuous ear-catching “seep seep” call. The male a splendid bright yellow among the rare creamy Water-dropwort flowers, with the female, a far paler washed-out version.

A photo of a Curlew in flight against a white sky.
Curlew in flight. (Photo by John Miller)

The sun was kind and gave us the opportunity for my favourite pint of Timothy Taylor bitter outside a local pub and then we went on to Breeden Hill, where Mike showed me the old Lammas hay meadows. Again you could still see high water levels and we expect the Curlews must this year have been nesting on a slightly higher, drier ridge, towards the river, it really was wet.

What I found noticeable here was how the wide bend in the river must provide some security from predation and disturbance on most of the East and Southern borders, while the sheer scale must call them down from the air in the Spring. That said, a flock of about twenty Carrion Crows was feeding among the grass.

Both sites have Curlew-friendly owners, but equally, both demonstrate the fragility of these tiny islands of safety and why we need better grassland management schemes. I need to check that the ‘first cutting dates’ on the grassland management schemes with Natural England and Defra are aligned, since if these eggs successfully hatch there will still be young in the long grass way into July.

The day also brought home, how all we can do is build more resilience into the Curlew's habitat, as ultimately weather will always play a big part in the success or otherwise of their breeding season. I only heard today from the North Pennines how rain and the persistent North wind has had a devastating effect on Lapwing, Curlews and Grouse chicks this year.

So thank you Mike – I really enjoyed the day and especially your local knowledge.

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