On World Curlew Day (21st April) I thought it appropriate to write about my encounters with this beautiful bird. This year I fear I will not hear it's evocative call, the call of the wild moorland. one of my harbingers of spring. This 2020 spring has me stuck in suburbia, but I have so many memories of curlews that I will certainly manage to wait for another year.

The curlew's call is one that lifts the spirits. It is guaranteed to have me lifting my eyes to the skies to catch a glimpse of this large wader. I was going to describe it as an unmistakeable call until I remembered many false alarms when we lived in the Scottish Borders. A local starling had perfected the bubbling starting notes of the curlew's call. I fell for it every time. I'd rush out of the front door to be laughed at by said starling as it's mimicry rapidly turned into a ringtone and a cacophony of splutters!

Hearing a curlew is one of the pleasures of walking across the North York Moors in spring - and it was somewhere above Wheeldale Moor where I had my first encounter as a child. Playing with my younger sister in the heather with the curlews alarm calling above us she suddenly hunkered down into the heath. She had found a beautiful fluffy curlew chick - no wonder the parents were shouting. I was perhaps eight years old - these are the kind of encounters that turn you into a lifelong birdwatcher.

Strensall Common

Fast forward a few years to my teens and training my horse for long distance riding. By February it was just light enough to get out onto my local common-land for a quick spin after school and by early March I knew spring was on its way because the curlew call filled the air as I cantered across the country.

Curlews are now an endangered species, so I suspect they no longer nest on Strensall Common. However if you are walking in the North York Moors in spring you are almost guaranteed to hear their bubbling call and see them circling above. In recent years I have had particularly good views of them in Bransdale (a very quiet and beautiful valley above Kirbymoorside) and Rosedale.

By July the curlews have left the moorland and returned to the coast and mudflats. They are still easy to spot as they are our largest wader, but their call is silent now until late winter.

Evening on Strensall Common
Evening on Strensall Common

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  1. […] than on the road, bringing you in at the back of Thwaite across more hay meadows. Listen out for curlews and oystercatchers which nest in the moorlands above the […]