A Curlew in a Cage…

…does not put all Heaven in a Rage, in fact quite the opposite; it is 10 minutes to settle the captured bird after it has been colour-ringed and a GPS tag put on; a small but important part of the ongoing conservation work for this rapidly declining breeding species .

It is late April and my friend Tony Cross is in full swing on curlew fieldwork in mid Wales and the Marches; he has pioneered many of the techniques for catching these wonderful birds. We spend a sunny day having great success followed by a wet day having none, although escaping the corner of a muddy and waterlogged field perhaps counts, but is probably more of an advert for the 4WD abilities of a Skoda Yeti.

On day one, after a failing to get the one, unringed pair in the the Elan Valley to react perhaps because of the heavy mist that sits stubbornly over the breeding area on an otherwise glorious morning, we quickly catch the male curlew of a pair on a large area of nearby common land. This is the bird in the cage above. This year, a small number of selected birds are being fitted with a lightweight, solar-powered GPS tag on a super lightweight harness; the data from the tag is sent realtime to an app on his phone. This will not only provide data on where the nest is located but also relay the highest quality data on the use of breeding and foraging habitats. Others we catch and colour ring only or just check pairs to see who is ringed and who is not. Colour-ringing provides the best data on survival and movements and is an essential tool in the conservation toolbox.

This is a meander through Montgomery to south Shropshire and into Curlew Country; pairs respond to playback of the bubbling call and all without fail come over to investigate. It is heartening to find so many pairs in the rushy fields. We read a handful of colour rings; the best of them is a ‘headstarted’ bird from the Slimbridge curlew project in the Severn and Avon Valleys, which suggests young birds move long distances in the search for a breeding territory.

The next day we set out with high hopes and we survey a valley near Church Stoke but come up with next to nothing. The rain is persistent and becomes heavy in the early afternoon and after getting stuck in the mud chasing the one pair we finally locate, it is time to give in. The photos below are of territorial pairs that have flown in to investigate the bubbling playback calls so that we can check for rings and read any that we find using a telescope.

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