Once again silence falls over Ysbyty Ifan and Hiraethog for another year, as the curlew breeding season comes to an end. What a season it has been! Compared with 2021 when we were still under covid restrictions we managed to significantly increase the effort put into surveying breeding curlew. A total of 18 fantastic volunteers helped us and a new member of staff dedicated her time to searching for nests and chicks.

Our curlew nests and clutches

As a result of all the effort and us having honed our curlew finding skills we recorded 51 curlew pairs across the 7,063 ha project area. Despite curlews being very cryptic and purposely leading predators (and surveyors!) away from their nests we managed to find 23 nests. Finding this number of nests amongst the tall grasses and rushes was a massive achievement and meant we could erect temporary electric fences around most of them to protect the eggs from predation, and trampling by livestock. By installing cameras on fenced nests we monitored the success of the eggs and any predation events. Over the winter we had also ventured to erect a permanent predator proof fence around a bog known to have the highest density of nesting curlew in the project area and we were keen to assess its success.

Having diligently followed the progress of the clutches of eggs in all of the fenced nests we were delighted that none of them were predated. However, around a quarter of the eggs failed to hatch and we are investigating potential reasons for this.

Our chicks

The fate of the chicks once they hatched was mixed. We undertook weekly (twice weekly when possible) checks of all the monitored nests and know that 8 nests successfully fledged young, with at least 10 chicks fledging. We found that they generally remained within the temporary fenced areas for a day or two before wandering farther. They can move up to 500 m a day and regularly range over several farms in search of habitat to suit the different stages of their development.

It’s tricky knowing exactly how many chicks fledged since seeing chicks clearly is often difficult. Even when we see one or two chicks, another may be hiding in the dense vegetation. The way the adults behave frequently give us clues to the whereabouts of chicks despite us not actually seeing them. Of those broods we lost track of, the chicks may have been predated, they may have moved such a distance we failed to find them or they succumbed to an illness.

Unusually, we found a dead chick and having sent the carcass for a post-mortem at the end of the season we sadly found that it tested positive for highly pathogenic . Click on this link for the latest on avian flu. We will never know how it contracted flu, nor whether other curlew in our project area succumbed to the illness. This is a new threat with potentially devastating consequences for a species which is already under severe pressure in Wales and internationally.

Contractors dedicated to controlling the risk of predation work as part of the CurlewLIFE project.  We regularly shared information on chick locations with them to enable them to focus efforts where it was most valuable.

Newly created habitats

It was great to see curlews nesting and chicks foraging in our newly created habitats. A pair nested in an area where we had cleared gorse last November. We also saw chicks foraging around newly created pools. We had such a dry spring and early summer this year, without our pools the chicks may have struggled to find food. If chicks have to move over a larger area in search of food they use up more energy and are more vulnerable to predation.

Next year

Learning from this year, in 2023 we hope to fence more nests and increase the control of predation risk where it is highest. We are considering radio tracking broods to help us keep better tabs on their movements. We also have ambitious plans for habitat restoration works over the autumn and winter which will increase the amount and quality of curlew breeding habitat.

We couldn’t have achieved what we have this year without the help and support of our farmers and landowners, the local community and our volunteers. Curlews are so important to people in this area and together we have a shared ambition to see them here and hear their fabulous call far into the future.

2022 statistics

Target – each curlew pair fledge 0.5 chicks per year in order to maintain the population

Max no of pairs                                                    – 51

Pairs monitored throughout season                – 23

Nests fenced                                                          – 17  (incl 2 in permanent predator exclusion area)

Eggs laid in these                                                  – 77

Eggs hatched                                                          – 56

Minimum chicks fledged                                     – 10

Minimum productivity                                        – 0.38 chicks fledged from the 23 pairs monitored