nervousness can travel like breeze
shifts across fields
the guard bird circles
as if to embrace safety
we want to be as invisible as wind
as we tread the liminal space
between help, harm and hope
in the union of sun, sky
and the learning of centuries
in perfect form:
four speckled eggs
hiding in plain sight
In 2020 we spent many, many early mornings in two particular fields half a mile from our house, watching the arced flight of curlews, listening to their fluting calls, and looking out for a nest. One of several farmers in our local hamlet had asked us if we'd like to do this - and if a nest was found, between us we could then take steps to protect it. Eurasian Curlews, many of which breed in the UK, are on the edge of extinction. In areas where, 50 years ago, birds would regularly arrive to breed, there's a sad absence of song. In areas where the birds do still come to breed after spending the winter on the coast, including our own small patch of farmed fields, there is a very worrying decline in success. Eggs may be laid, but are predated - by crows, foxes or badgers - or destroyed when grass is cut for livestock fodder. And young chicks, which cannot fly until they're 4 or 5 weeks old, are vulnerable.
For us, spring is always a rollercoaster of emotions. Joy at hearing the birds arrive, and listening to their melodic calls whenever we're outside. Hope that this year, maybe, chicks will fledge. Anxiety as we wait. Sadness when we witness loss. Frustration at the systems we humans have created that stack the odds so cruelly against these beautiful birds. And hope, again, for another year, and for wider change that may help them.
In 2020 after finding four eggs in a nest and protecting it with electric fencing, our hopes were dashed when the eggs were stolen - most probably by crows. Our hopes lifted when we saw another adult pair striding through long grass with three chicks in tow. Together with a growing community of increasingly nervous neighbours, we watched daily. With some local ornithologists, we tried to find the chicks so they could be ringed - but they eluded us. And we walked the fields before the tractors came in to cut the grass, hoping to flush the birds towards safety.
The day we saw two small birds take their first flight was a day of celebration. It's muted, however, in the wider context. This may have been the only brood to fledge from the eight sets of parent birds in our area. Among our network in south Cumbria in 2020, stories of other birds loosing their eggs kept coming in. Success is rare and the statistics are numbing. On average we have lost 60% throughout England and Scotland since the 1980s. In Wales their numers have fallen by over 80%. In Southern Ireland curlews have decreased by over 90%.
If you want to find out more about curlews and our experience with them, the 2020 blogs are here:
And if you'd like to listen to the story, from nest hunting, to loss, to celebration, with vocal contributions from the curlews themselves ... listen to the 28 Dales Later Podcast here.
2021 - Another year with the curlews
In 2021 we'll do our best to keep up to date with blogs. We're nervous but can't ignore what's happening, quite literally, on our doorstep. In this unfolding story of one species' struggle to survive, we feel the bigger picture with a kind of intensity: a poignant blend of pain at the reality of loss, and hope that there still may be time to make a difference. We are really chuffed to have joined the UK-wide group of Curlew Ambassadors with Curlew Action. 2021 blogs will be coming!