This post is provided by Jonathan Cooper, Project Officer at the Wiltshire & Swindon Biological Records Centre, Curlew project leader and invaluable member of the West Wilts Ringing Group.
The Breeding Season 2022:
Compared to 2021, the 2022 breeding season provided more favourable conditions for Curlew. The weather was generally warmer, with no prolonged wet spells during the crucial nesting period.
The field season kicked off in March with birds returning to the Cotswold Water Park prior to them then moving to their breeding territories. In amongst these birds was the colour marked individual from 2021, which spent the winter in Cornwall. In addition to the local breeding birds some larger counts (of 20+ birds) in the water park suggest that birds were also moving through on migration to breeding sites elsewhere.
Once birds returned to their territories, we began our monitoring of the nesting attempts. This year we were aided by some supportive landowners who gave us access to areas we were previously unable to survey. This allowed us to monitor each pair much more closely. Overall, there were five pairs of Curlew breeding in the Braydon Forest. Interestingly several records of birds came in from the west of the area where pairs have not previously been recorded, something to follow up in 2023.
Due to our nest monitoring we were able to implement protection measures around two nests (one nest was fenced and for another an area was left uncut). The measures helped these two pairs to hatch chicks with the adult birds observed ‘on guard’ and mobbing predators. This is an encouraging sign showing these measures can work.
However, the story takes a sadder turn, with both pairs losing their young within 10 to 12 days: likely due to predation. Overall, in 2022 no Curlew chicks were observed to have fledged from the Braydon Forest. This frustrating result shows the harsh reality of Curlew conservation.
The project will keep monitoring the breeding pairs within the area as well as implementing measures to help protect the nests. In 2023 the work to ring and track birds will continue, with more birds being fitted with colour-rings allowing their movements to be monitored.
We will also be working closely with the newly formed Braydon Forest Farm Cluster. This group of landowners are starting to work together to support Curlew (and other grassland species) at a landscape scale.