Thursday, 18 June 2015

Considering Curlews

On the way home last night, I stopped off to check on the progress of the Curlews that breed near home. As I got out of the car one of them, the female, was in the air calling, and there were answering calls from what I suspect were the young birds - they sounded weaker and subtly different. The grass in the four fields I see them in is now long enough that it hides even the adult birds completely as soon as they land, so the youngsters can stay hidden very easily.

At that point, five Lesser Black-backed Gulls drifted over. I'm not sure if they were actively looking for food, or just heading towards Cropston and Swithland Reservoirs, where they roost. But anyway, they started to take a keen interest in the field them Curlew was circling, causing her to fly at them and make more noise than ever.

This brought the male Curlew in from a couple of fields away, flying very fast and purposefully, and he joined his mate in aggressively mobbing the gulls. A Curlew is not a bad size, of course, but the gulls are considerably bigger, so if it actually came to blows you'd fear for the waders, but there was no contact, and the larger birds were happy to evade the attacks.

Eventually, the two Curlews split up, each leading two or three gulls away from where I think the nest actually is. Both landed at times, causing the gulls to circle low over them, until three of the gulls gave up and flew east. Two of them were more persistent, so the female Curlew kept leading them to the far corners of the field, then landing, until finally they lost interest too.

Throughout this all, I was watching with heart in mouth. Of course, the gulls are only doing what gulls do - they have to eat, too - but it's hard not to root for the Curlews when they're in decline generally, and rare breeders in my part of the world.

At no time did I see any of the gulls take anything from the ground, though, so hopefully the young waders are safe. I called in again first thing this morning, and there was no sign of any birds at all, but that doesn't really mean anything. I'll check again tonight.


Davina said...

Matt, please keep reporting on them. I had no idea there were curlews in the area.

Matt Merritt said...

They're the only pair I know round my way, although there could easily be a few more tucked away, and I think there are a few in the far east of Leicestershire and Rutland.

I was up there again last night, and both adults were active - I could hear what I think are the young again, too. There were still gulls around, but the Curlews seemed much less bothered by them.