12 October 2018

New Curlew recoveries from Poland

Mike Smart (on behalf of the Curlew Forum) writes:

The current BTO map of Curlew recoveries shows (out of nearly 1,800 recoveries of this species) only two movements between Britain and Ireland and Poland, both rather old, one in either direction, as follows: 

FV42986 - Adult ringed on 09.08.1978 at Camel estuary, Wadebridge, Cornwall, found long dead on 23.07.1979 at Drawski Mlyn, Poland 52.52 N 16.06 E.

EN02280 - First year bird ringed on 25.08.2009 at Borety, Lichnowy, Poland 54.07 N 18.52 E and colour ring read on 26.10.2010 at Pegwell Bay, Ramsgate.

The ringing or finding locations of both these birds were close to the Baltic coast, with the birds in Poland in July or August, which suggests that they were on migration from northern or eatern breeding sites to wintering areas along the Atlantic or Channel seaboards in England.

A new national Polish Curlew project, which aims to encourage breeding populations in nine sites across the country, has shown that movements between Poland and Britain and Ireland are more frequent than the old recoveries suggest. The project involves work in river valleys in nine different areas of eastern Poland, where there is collaboration with farmers to avoid destruction of nests and eggs by agricultural activities, artificial raising of chicks in aviaries (‘head-starting’), marking of young birds with colour rings and inscribed flags and the use of satellite markers to record migration routes taken. Lots of extra information is available on the excellent Polish website at www.ochronakulika.pl; (‘Kulik’ is Polish for Curlew); for the English version, just click on the Union Jack.

Release of a satellite-tagged bird on the breeding grounds in Poland. Photo by Dominik Krupiński

The work in Poland has already borne fruit: at least five of the birds marked with colour rings and satellite tags have been recorded in south-east England this autumn: the latest is a bird with a yellow flag M78, ringed in Poland on 14 July 2018 and sighted at Chichester Harbour on 28 September 2018 (see picture below). Another Polish-ringed and satellite-tagged female called Nina has been a regular visitor to Porchfield Cricket Club’s ground, on the Isle of Wight. The map below shows the route taken by one of the satellite-tagged birds.

Polish-ringed Curlew with flag in Chichester Harbour. Photo by Dominik Krupiński

Route taken by a satellite-tagged bird from Poland to southern England

In fact the Poles are clearly carrying out all the actions to encourage breeding Curlews that have been discussed at a series of recent meetings in the British Isles and Ireland – the first in Ireland in November 2016, the second at Slimbridge in February 2017, the third in Wales in January 2018 and the latest in Scotland only recently, in September 2018. Such meetings are crucial, in view of the Eurasian Curlew’s current status on the UK and International Red Lists, and there is indeed an International Species Survival Action Plan under the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), which recently held a meeting in Scotland.
For details of all these meetings and much more on breeding Curlews in lowland Britain, see the Curlew Forum website at www.curlewcall.org.

And, as if all this was not enough, another recovery of a British-marked bird has just been reported:
FA95802 - adult ringed on 14.12.2015 at Usk estuary, Newport, Wales and colour ring read on 19.04.2018 at Trzyrzecze, Brzozówka Valley, NE Poland 53.31 N, 23.10 E.

This bird was seen and recognised from its colour rings (Black on the left tibia, White over Orange on the right tibia, plus Orange over White on the left tarsus as a marker for all Usk birds) from 19 to 26 April 2018 (see picture below). Note that this bird was recorded not in autumn near the Baltic coast (like the two previous recoveries), but far inland in northeast Poland, close to the Polish border with Belarus, by observers from the Polish project. It had been ringed by a BTO team studying possible effects of tidal lagoons on the Severn estuary near Newport in winter 2015/16. The first reaction was that this bird was perhaps on its way to breeding areas in Finland, but it now seems much more likely that it was a bird preparing to nest in eastern Poland.

Black White Orange Colour ringed Curlew in Poland in April 2018. Photo by Dominik Krupiński

So, it suddenly appears that, whereas we previously thought there was little exchange of Curlews between Poland and Britain and Ireland, there seem to be much more numerous exchanges between breeding grounds in Poland and wintering grounds in southeast England, with the occasional bird going to winter as far west as Wales; and the two older recoveries mentioned above may well have been of Polish nesting birds, rather than migrants from further north. Many other Polish-breeding birds go further down the Atlantic coast to western France where, as reported at the AEWA meeting, there is still an open season for shooting Curlews: 7,000 Curlews were shot in France last winter. 
Further records of metal- or colour-ringed and satellite-marked Curlews may throw even more light on the situation, so please keep looking out for those engraved leg flags.

And a post-script:

It so happens that another bird from the December 2015/January 2016 catch on the Usk estuary has recently been reported (in May 2018) in Finland; there are very many recoveries, according to the BTO map, of British-ringed Curlews in Finland (an enormous 128), or of Finnish-ringed birds recovered in Britain and Ireland (an even greater 238). Given all those movement of Curlews between Britain and Ireland and breeding sites in Finland (and for that matter Sweden too – there are 86 recoveries in Britain and Ireland of Swedish-ringed Curlews and 40 recoveries in Sweden of British-ringed Curlews), surely some of the Finnish or Swedish birds must get recovered in Poland on their way to the Atlantic coast breeding grounds? A check of the Finnish and Swedish ringing atlases, (data kindly provided by the Finnish and Swedish ringing offices), and……  quite crazy results: there is not a single recovery of a Finnish-ringed Curlew in any of the states of the north-eastern Baltic – neither in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania or Poland; all, but all, of the many ringed Finnish Curlews (17,000 birds ringed, nearly all as chicks) migrate along the western (Swedish) Baltic coast to Denmark, then move on to winter along the Atlantic seaboard, mainly in the UK and France. The same is true of Swedish-ringed Curlews; no recoveries whatsoever in the eastern Baltic. Extraordinary that there should be such different migration routes for birds wintering in the same area! More research is needed to find out why!

Many thanks to Polish colleagues Dominik Krupiński and Jerzy Lewtak, and to the Finnish Ringing Office.

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