Curlews

We went to Cardross last Saturday morning to see what was about and came across a good number of Curlews in a familiar place. They were all tucked in against the cold so we stayed well away and they stayed put. There are so many Curlews on the Clyde in the winter that it is hard to think of them as endangered – I consider myself very fortunate that I live near the RSPB Inner Clyde reserve. It’s not a great place to photograph them, though a herd of a hundred or so Curlews standing above the tide is a great sight through the bird scope. It’s also really joyous to see them flying up and down the river in numbers, which I guess they do daily, or several times a day between feeding and roosting sites.

Individuals foraging can be much more obliging for the camera. The banner across the top of the website was taken in one long blast from the walkway across the creek at the entrance to Aberlady LNR. It wasn’t the brightest afternoon ever and I was disappointed with the resolution in the individual frames but I started experimenting with several frames stitched together in Microsoft Paint and ended up with the nine images together as the bird moved past and probed for food. In the middle of the run past, the bird turned its head to the side into what looked like quite an awkward posture.

Thinking about it later while viewing the images, I thought that if you were trying to pull a very slim cylinder (of mobile and slippery invertebrate flesh) from the mud with a pair of tweezers, you would arrange both tweezer points in the plane of the mud rather than orthogonal to it, to get a much better grip. I assume that’s what the Curlew is up to. I think it was evaded by the marine worm this time and moved on, probing as it went. I always thought of Curlew feeding as a movement like that of a sewing machine needle through its fabric. More repertoire was revealed recently on a trip to Troon when we saw crabs plucked from weedy hiding places and swallowed whole.

I really don’t like disturbing Curlews – they feed at the edge of the sea where people like to exercise their dogs and they seem to end up being chased from pillar to post. Once at Barassie, we came across a very relaxed looking bird which was probing the sand in good light until an equestrienne on a large horse came surging down the beach with a couple of dogs in tow. The Curlew glanced over its shoulder and set off, and who could blame it.

There are many ways to celebrate birds besides photography. I looked for some writing about Curlews, feeling that there would be a bit about. High up the search list, I found the Homepage of Curlew Action This concerned me slightly – could it be a site for exquisitely niche adult tastes? I clicked and was very pleased to find a site dedicated to Curlew conservation with some great photographs. I also found a reference to Curlew Moon (Harper Collins, 2019, ISBN: 9780008241070) by Mary Colwell, the organisation’s founder, an account of a 500 mile walk across the UK between important Curlew sites which I think I should be reading sometime soon.

On the Clyde, there seem to be new pressures. The sawmill at Cardoss grew markedly in the last few years; it is busier and noisier now. The Burn is culverted and there is usually a sheen of oil at the top of the beach. When I take the train to Cardross, I am whisked past Dunglass Castle where an enormous development is taking place. It seems to be right next to Dumbuck Perch, part of the Inner Clyde reserve. I often see a lot of waders standing there and I’ve looked at them from across the river at Longhaugh Point. My research into the nature of the development yields no insights – a situation I am really quite unfamiliar with. My academic training has always allowed me to find what I am looking for, so I’m just going to have to find my way around quite new sources of information.

On the Curlew Action website, I found the poem Extinction by Alastair MacIntosh from the collection Love and Revolution (Luath Press, Edinburgh, 2006 ISBN 1-905222-58-0):

Extinction

Have you heard the cry of the curlew?
I tell you –
I would rather we lost
the entire contents
of every art gallery
in the whole world
than lose
forever
the cry of the curlew

Aye, I’m good for that, on balance. I think we now really have to start to conserve the right things and take hard choices about growth versus conservation, and interrogate properly words like “renewal” and “regeneration”, often used by council officials and officers of development bodies to propagate the interests of big capital, rather than the environment in its most inclusive sense.

I’m not sure how we go about that. Organisations like Extinction Rebellion show the way in respect of the very big picture of melting glaciers and submerging islands but closer to home, I guess we have to hope that the RSPB and other conservation bodies will be able to continue to create enclaves where we (and the dogs) can’t go, and which private or municipal capital cannot trespass and destroy in the name of growth. We watch the Attenborough spectaculars but closer to home, all sorts of massive and intrusive projects seem to just happen. Aren’t the local environments the ones that we have to begin appreciate and value, so that we can locally find ways to stop Mr Muskerbergezos et al. from burning it all to a crisp?

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