Fatbirder - linking birders worldwide... Wildlife Travellers see our sister site: WAND

Bumper year for Wessex?s secretive bird

Targets passed for Stone Curlews

The fortunes of the stone-curlew, which breeds in Wessex each spring and summer, are on the up thanks to the weather and the help of local landowners. The RSPB and Natural England’s Wessex Stone-curlew project has reported bumper numbers of chicks as well as autumn roosting birds and chicks ringed for monitoring purposes. Last year the species beat targets set under the Government-backed Biodiversity Action Plan, reaching 300 breeding pairs in the UK, more than a third of which were in Wessex. Their numbers continued to increase this year thanks to dry weather when birds were sitting on eggs and wet weather at hatching time, which meant plenty of invertebrates for parent birds to feed to hungry chicks.

The RSPB’s Nick Adams, who managed the stone-curlew project this year, said: “It’s been a fantastic year for these birds. A hundred and sixteen pairs bred this summer; compared to last year’s 103, and we’ve ringed 113 chicks – up from 84 last year. It’s the first time we’ve ringed more than 100 birds in a season – so that’s also a bit of an ornithological milestone!”The record breaking year for stone-curlews was also demonstrated by a post-breeding congregation of more than 70 birds at a site in Wiltshire, thought to be the largest count of roosting birds in the county since the 1940s.

RSPB staff paid tribute to local landowners who went the extra mile to help the birds breed successfully.

Nick said: “They were brilliant at responding quickly to the need for things like cutting back vegetation to allow stone-curlews to see any approaching predators while they are on the nest – which sometimes is as simple as me coming round with a hoe – but might be a more involved operation!”Allan Drewitt, Senior Ornithologist at Natural England added: “This is an excellent example of how conservation bodies can work together with landowners and farmers to bring a rare and threatened species back from the brink. Hopefully, with the recent advent of environment-friendly incentive schemes, more landowners will join the cause both in Wessex and elsewhere in England.”NB The stone-curlew is not related to the Eurasian (or common) curlew – a familiar bird of the moors and hills of northern Britain – but is so named because it has a similar, wailing call. It is particularly vocal at dusk. It is a migratory bird spending winters in southern Spain, South-west France, Algeria, Morocco and west Africa. Stone-curlews arrive at English breeding grounds in late March or April and stay until October. They lay two eggs in a shallow scrape or hollow on the ground and can have one or two broods. Young do not fly until they are between 36 and 42 days old. Most European populations of stone-curlew are falling because more farmland is becoming intensively managed. In England, the stone-curlew projects have bucked the trend.The stone-curlew is now one of 26 birds subject to government-backed Biodiversity Action Plans aimed at safeguarding their future and/or reversing declining numbers by or before 2010. One hundred and sixteen pairs were confirmed as having bred in Wessex this year (103 in 2005). Seventy-eight of these pairs bred in Wiltshire (68 in 2005) – again beating the Biodiversity Action Plan target of 66 pairs in Wiltshire by 2007. Of 113 chicks ringed - tagged with special leg rings so they can be identified in the future - in Wessex for monitoring purposes, 80 were in Wiltshire (up from 59 in 2005). The stone-curlew recovery projects are part of Action for Birds in England, a conservation partnership between Natural England and the RSPB. The Wessex stone-curlew project is funded by the RSPB and Natural England. The European Union LIFE fund supported work on Salisbury Plain between 2001 and 2005. Defra funds the Environmental Stewardship scheme and its predecessor Countryside Stewardship, both of which have benefited stone-curlews by paying farmers to manage land in wildlife-friendly ways.

4th July 2014