I received an email last week from a good friend who is more than a dab hand with a camera! We had been talking about all things bird related and he forwarded on some lovely Curlew photos. I know I can say this about many birds, but this species is one for which I have really fond memories. A lady named Mary Colwell-Hector is using the images mentioned, as she is currently in the process of raising funds to highlight the plight of the curlew – another iconic species that has been placed on the red list. I looked into Mary’s campaign and soon realised this ladies passion for the Curlew, as she is soon to embark on a 500 mile fund raising walk from the east coast of Ireland to the east coast of England. Yes, that’s right, 500 miles is a long way indeed for anyone to walk, and this prompted me to put pencil to paper to try and help in someway.
The family business is currently very hectic, however I have managed to set time aside each evening to put together 3 drawings based on these fantastic Curlew images; 2 in ink and 1 graphite. By my reckoning, if someone is prepared to go to those lengths to help raise awareness about the Curlews predicament, the very least I could do is show some support.
The Curlew is just one of many birds that are in decline and its numbers have dropped by 90% in the last 20 years in Ireland alone. That is a staggering figure indeed, followed by an 80% decline in Wales and a further 50% throughout the rest of the UK. At this rate it could be lost for good if no measures are taken to help in someway. Some might say “so what, its just another brown bird” on a long list of animals that are in danger world wide, but sometimes we have to look closer to home, because these once common birds could be pushed to the point of extinction. What we don’t understand, we won’t help preserve. Its not all about Rhino, Elephant and big cats – yes, they are equally deserving and require protection for future generations; however, it’s the call of the wild closer to home that pulls on my heartstrings. Species I have seen with my own eyes and observed in their natural habitat will understandably resonate more personally. The Curlew is a bird that takes me back to the wild expansive hills of the Derbyshire Pennines. Its call is like no other bird in the British Isles and I clearly remember the first time I heard its song many years ago in late May – a haunting signature, rising and drifting over the moors on a warm wind. It’s a call that is almost impossible to render in words, but it begins as a succession of low, drawn-out liquid notes, that build momentum slowly into a loud high-pitched crescendo of bubbling trills. It truly is an evocative call that once heard you will neither forget nor mistake with anything else. I know a small area of moorland where a few pairs faithfully return each year to nest, and have observed them many times on their breeding ground whilst sat amongst the heather with flask, binoculars and sandwiches at hand, listening to the Bilberry Bumblebee (another declining species) buzzing over the heather on a warm still afternoon. Around me the male Curlew calls to the female, all the while acting-out his display flight, with the pair enjoying the solitude of the wild moors far away from the disturbance of man.
The Curlew is the UKs largest wader, a tall bottle shaped bird with typical long wader legs and a very long curved bill, which is used for foraging earthworms, molluscs and crustaceans in soft coastal mudflats and moorland peat bogs. Its primary colour pattern is pale beige interspersed with chocolate brown streaks over the crown and nape, then progressing along the mantle and breast, terminating with a white rump and darker tail. What the Curlew lacks in bold colour, it more than compensates with charm, gracious contours and the most beautiful feminine facial features. With long strutting legs, they stand boldly upright and give the impression of a catwalk supermodel. They are a timid bird, shy and wary, and tend to take flight if approached; flying high with a slow wing beat that often planes for some distance before landing. They can be gregarious outside of the breeding season, grouping in flocks near shorelines and estuaries, but will move inland during periods of high water.
It would be heart breaking to lose a bird that has inspired generations of writers and poets, along with naturalists and hill walkers alike. Anyone who has had the pleasure to observe this unique bird will surely understand it deserves all our attention. So what can you do? Its not just a simple case of sticking your hand in your pocket, we have a million and one charities for all manner of subjects, which try to pull on your heart strings and encourage you to donate. Forgive my cynicism, but I do sometimes wonder how much reaches the intended target, but as you have read this far, I will ask you to take a minute to read Mary’s page http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-curlew-walk and make up your own mind. If you think it is worth donating to help what I think is a very worthy cause, then let me put it into perspective - the price of a pint these days, along with fish and chips will cost you a tenner, so save your waistline the pain of those extra calories, and give both Mary and the Curlew a much needed boost to which only good can prevail.
The 3 drawings I have put together will be donated to Mary’s cause and auctioned to the highest bidders. You will effectively be donating 100% of the funds to the project. In turn, you get the chance to hopefully enjoy a piece of art that displays the charm of this charismatic bird.
I really hope this blog strikes home and highlights the Curlews current dire situation, but perhaps more than that, it makes you appreciate some of the finest flora and fauna the UK has to offer. Best of all it is right here on our doorstep, so as spring approaches, pick-up your binoculars, get out, and blow off those cobwebs...it beats daytime TV any day of the week!