I spent the morning at the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales‘ Teifi Marshes Nature Reserve. I didn’t mean to. It was just meant to be a quick trip to check my photo stock levels in the shop, but the place has a magnetism and peace that just makes you want to stay once you get there. So I ended up walking along the Wetlands Trail and visiting some of the hides.
First stop was the Kingfisher hide and BOOM! kingfisher. But the damn things are like bullets. They dart around the place – bolts of blue flashing through the air like tiny superheros – and then perch just beyond the reach of your camera. Other people have grabbed fantastic pictures, but so far I’ve just got blue smudges perched in the distance. One day!!!!
But another photographer came into the hide and whispered something about curlews.
I love curlews. There’s something elegant yet crazy about them. Long legs, beautifully camouflaged feathers, and that stunning beak that looks as though someone’s attacked it with a hammer and anvil to bend it downwards. So I scrambled out from the hide and legged it down the trail.
For anyone who has never heard a curlew, it’s a haunting sound that instantly makes you feel like you’re out in the wilderness somewhere. You picture immense, deserted moors, or vast hills that stretch on to the horizon. It transports you straight away and, once heard, it’s instantly recognizable from that point on. In some ways it makes me think of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. I see Pip running scared after his encounter with Magwitch, mist seething around him. It’s the type of call that pierces through that mist to highlight the loneliness, the fear.
Now Teifi Marshes has done a clever thing and named the various hides. The first four along the Wetlands Trail are the Kingfisher, Creek, Mallard, and Curlew hides. You’d think the curlews would’ve been hanging out near their own hide, wouldn’t you? But no, they were all snoozing in a reed bed at the Mallard Hide.
I’d never seen so many of them in one place. Every now and then one would ruffle its feathers and preen for a bit, before turning its head round, snuggling its beak down into the feathers on its back, and then go back to having its post-snack snooze. It was an amazing, if not very action-packed, sight.
But the worrying thing is that curlews are in decline.
According to the RSPB, curlews have declined by 81% in Wales (between 1993 and 2006). In many places they’re on the brink of disappearing completely.
Like most wildlife in decline, the main issue is us. Curlews have had poor breeding success, but it’s also about the lack of habitats. We’ve changed the landscape so much over the years because of farming and population growth that many of their natural nesting habitats have been destroyed. Predation then decimates the eggs and young birds even further, leaving far too few to maintain a healthy population level.
First of all we need to raise awareness of their plight. We can do that simply ourselves by just talking to people we know about the problem. But if you support conservation efforts by joining societies such as the Wildlife Trusts, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, or Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust then they can maximize efforts to protect habitats and try to slow the decline. Give a donation and it will go directly towards helping these beautiful birds.
Just go out and enjoy nature. Head to your nearest wildlife reserve, walk along the coast, or even hike over the nearest hillside, just get out there and use the wild spaces that are available. Respect the landscape when you’re out there, but otherwise just have fun. By getting out there, visiting reserves and perhaps buying something as simple as a coffee, you’re supporting the efforts of these great organisations to protect the wildlife and the landscapes that we hold so dear.
As for me today? Well, I got some photos and had a great time.