St David’s Day today and although there was a rather wintery feel to things, at Blashford it did look commendably spring-like with the wild daffodil appropriately now in full bloom.
Although we have yet to see any summer migrants at Blashford, they will not be far away now, the first sand martin should be with us in about a week and the first has already been seen in the UK. We have had a number of clear signs of birds moving though, lots of the duck have left and for the last several days there have been curlew either on the shore of Ibsley Water or flying over calling. I am not sure if these are migrants heading north to breeding areas, perhaps in the Pennines or Scotland or birds that breed on the New Forest bogs. Either way they are an increasingly rare sight as curlew are a fast declining species in the UK, despite being one of our longest-lived bird species. They seem to be suffering from a double or even triple whammy of lowered breeding success in summer and pressure on their wintering grounds due to loss of habitat and increased disturbance.
In fact it seems that worldwide the curlew and godwit species are all suffering declines and recent research suggests that half of all species are at real risk of extinction. A summary of this research can be found at http://www.birdguides.com/webzine/article.asp?a=6233 .
We are lucky in the New Forest to have one of the last areas in Southern England with a breeding population, albeit one that is under threat. They nest on a number of the Forest bogs, but are especially vulnerable to disturbance and predation. These go together as often it is when the adults are scared away from their nest that the predators take the chance to take the eggs. Taking note of the signs about keeping to paths and preventing dogs from wandering off over open heath and bog would probably be a real help to them and many other ground nesting species.
Waders are especially vulnerable in several ways, most species will only attempt to raise one brood of no more than four young per year. They lay large eggs for their size as their chicks are well developed when they hatch, so incubation time is long, coupled with nesting on the ground, this makes them at high risk of being found by a predator before they hatch. They have overcome this relatively low productivity by being long-lived, a curlew may live well over 30 years! However this means that small changes in adult survival can tip them over the edge and send populations into free fall. It seems that curlew species globally are facing this twin challenge of lower breeding success and poorer adult survival, setting real challenges for conservationists and anyone who loves the evocative sight and sound of these fabulous birds.