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Wildlife Diary: June 2011 - Curlew

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Hide and you will seek a new family of curlews

Hide and you will seek a new family of curlews

Artist Robert Fuller heads out on an early morning trip to catch a glimpse of curlews.
Malton Gazette & Herald June 1, 2011. Click here to see article on Gazette and Herald website


THE UNMISTAKABLE sound of a curlew's call rings out across the Yorkshire Wolds and moors brightens up the dullest of days. These waders come in from the coast to raise their young. This time last year I photographed a curlew on its nest not far from my gallery in Thixendale. The nest was hidden in a shallow depression lined with grass, and surrounded by tall grasses that made it almost invisible from just a metre away.

In it were three large exquisite pale green eggs with dark brown blotches. The next day I began building a hide close by. This female was wary, but I built the hide section by section so as not to disturb her. As I arrived one evening, I noticed that the eggs had just hatched. The chicks were still wet, and the last egg was chipping.

I planned an early start the following morning. The curlew flew the nest as I approached, but was back on before I could get my cameras set up. As the sun got higher in the sky, the valley warmed up and the two chicks became more adventurous. They went off on a foraging mission, pecking anything that moved. This made the female anxious and she made constant contact calls to them. If they strayed too far she would leave the nest and encourage them back.They eventually did as they were told, returning under her for warmth and safety, and presumably sleep.

But after a short nap, they were off again. I knew the female was not disturbed by my presence when she rose from the nest and strode purposefully towards the hide. Then, 'snap', she gobbled a large green grasshopper from an arching stem before returning to her nest. The male stood guard a short distance away, warning the female of any danger.

In the course of just one day, the male saw off several potential threats. First he took on a pair of carrion crows. Next a kestrel hovered uncomfortably close. Then an alarm call from the male announced a pair of buzzards overhead. After this a flock of 20 rooks flew in. Rooks aren't known for eating eggs or chicks, but the male curlew knew better than to trust a corvid. He rushed over their heads calling aggressively and sent them scattering. A cock pheasant that was showing off to a hen came next.

The pheasant posed little threat, but the male curlew targeted him nevertheless, flying up behind him before letting out a screech and smacking him right in the backside. The cock pheasant fled away in shock. He was horrified since the hen had observed this dressing down. But he couldn't shake off the male curlew, which piggybacked him, while pecking him on his head. The cock pheasant composed himself and in an attempt to regain some dignity flew back across the valley to rejoin his mate. But this time both curlews turned on him. The cock tried to stand his ground and sparred back his tail, but he had no choice but to turn and flee once more. The hen meanwhile remained unimpressed throughout. I presume the dressing down marked the end of this relationship.

Robert is holding an exhibition of his latest originals at his gallery in Thixendale between 4th and 19th June.

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