New Forest Curlew Project: 2018 results

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By Russell Wynn, 20 Sept 2019

 

Curlew chicks in the New Forest (Photo: Shane King)
Curlew chicks in the New Forest (Photo: Shane King)

 

  • A detailed survey of breeding Curlews in the New Forest was again undertaken in spring 2018, following on from those in 2016 and 2017. The project is led by Wild New Forest and Forestry England, sponsored by the New Forest Association, and supported by a team of volunteer fieldworkers, and was initiated in response to concerns about a perceived population decline and decreased productivity due to pressures such as predation and recreational disturbance.
  • In 2018, Curlew territory mapping in 15 broad areas of suitable wet heathland, bog and mire habitat in the New Forest, covering ~100 km2, produced 41 territories. This provides further confidence in the figure of about 40 territories obtained in 2016 and 2017, and confirms a dramatic population reduction of up to two-thirds over the last two decades.
  • Curlews were occasionally observed using wet meadows and pasture on the fringes of the New Forest in April and May, in some cases several kilometres from the nearest known breeding site; this highlights the important role these habitats may play in providing an additional food source during the breeding season.
  • A total of 26 Curlew nestswere located from late April 2018 onwards, equating to about two-thirds of the mapped territories. Of these, 11 (42%) were predated at the egg stage, with an adult bird also predated at one site. A total of 13 nests (50%) produced chicks, with a further two possible. Fledging success was unknown, but there were again very few sightings of well-grown chicks. One pair of Curlews apparently re-laid three weeks after initial failure.
  • Nest temperature loggers were successfully deployed and recovered from 14 nests, of which eight hatched and six failed (a similar proportion to all monitored nests). Interesting behavioural insights included nocturnal interruption to incubation at three nests over successive nights early in the incubation phase, and apparent egg ‘harvesting’ by a Fox at one nest over a period of several nights.
  • A severe thunderstorm on 21 May coincided with exceptionally heavy rainfall and a rapid drop in temperature, but conversely the nest temperature of all seven monitored nests in the southern half of the NF increased by 2-4oC. This was interpreted to be due to the incubating bird hunkering down over the eggs to prevent chilling, which has not been recorded before and is here termed‘hyper-incubation’. This phenomenon was not observed at two active nests in the northern NF, which were presumably unaffected by the storm.
  • Recreational disturbancewas observed at all phases of the breeding season, but was thought to have greatest impact when birds were setting up territory in March and April, especially when people and/or dogs were seen to leave marked paths. Temperature logger data showed limited evidence for disturbance during the incubation phase; instead predationwas deemed to be the primary driver of reduced productivity during this and the chick-rearing phase. Foxes are thought to be an important predator of Curlew eggs, chicks and occasionally adults, based on direct observation and interpretation of temperature logger data, but predation by other species including Badgers, Ravens and Carrion Crows cannot be ruled out.
  • Lapwing and Snipe were also recorded by many observers in 2018, although less rigorously than Curlew. The maximum number of territories (92 and 79, respectively) recorded over the three-year survey period is about 75-80% of the total recorded in the dedicated HLS survey undertaken in 2014; this may reflect under-recording as much as any population decline. A new HLS survey undertaken in 2019 will shed more light on the current status of these two species. Redshanks were again restricted to just one or two sites in the southeast of the New Forest, with no more than five pairs recorded.
  • Public engagement included a dedicated feature on BBC Countryfile in mid-May, a brief mention in a BBC4 documentary called ‘New Forest: A Year in the Wild Wood’ that was shot in 2018 and aired in Jan 2019, and a talk at the New Forest Association AGMon World Curlew Day.

The full report can be downloaded here: NF_Curlew_report(2018)