Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Birds of East Kent: Curlew

Latest in an occasional series of posts discussing the different birds that can be found in East Kent and how easy (or not) it is to get a decent picture of them.

Curlew (Numenius arquata)

Curlews in April
Hang their harps over the misty valleys

A wobbling water-call
A wet-footed god of the horizons

Ted Hughes, "Curlews", Remains of Elmet (1979)

What's your favourite bird song? Probably the first birds that spring to mind are Robins or Skylarks (or even a Nightingale if you've been lucky enough to hear one), but for me there are few sounds more evocative in English nature than the fluting call of a Curlew echoing over a mudflat or across a fog-shrouded beach. It has something of a plaintive quality to it, which is perhaps appropriate as the Curlew is now sadly on the UK's Red List due to severe declines in its breeding population.

In the winter at least there are still plenty to see around the coast as the numbers are bolstered by European visitors. In my little corner of the country, they're a common sight at low tide, probing for food with their unmistakable long bills on the seaweed-covered rocks. At high tide you'll often find them sheltering in one of the communal roosts between Foreness and Kingsgate Bay, protected by the cliffs on one side and the sea on the other. You may also spot them on the fields near the North Foreland lighthouse, or flying in loose flocks close to the shore:

Flight of the Curlews

With regards to photography they don't tolerate people as much as the other local seaside birds like Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers, but as they're Britain's largest wader you don't need to be that close to get a good shot. Best advice is to approach very slowly, keep low if possible, and always be ready for that dramatic take-off:

Curlew (Numenius arquata)

And of course, that amazing song.

See also:
More of my Curlew photos on Flickr
Curlew (RSPB)
Curlew (Birdforum)
Curlew (Birdguides)

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