Updates to the Wetland Bird Survey counts for this season.
Data for June and July are collected by Jane Hodges during the annual surveillance of summer shelduck populations on the Cleddau Estuary complex. There are no counts in August. The September to March data is collected from sites across Pembrokeshire (including the Teifi Estuary) for the BTO Wetland Bird Survey.
This graph will be updated as more counts come in.
Note that the maxima chart includes counts from June and July which, in recent years, have often been higher than the September-March counts.
It has been well-reported that the curlew is a declining species on a Europe-wide level, to the point that in 2008 it was upgraded by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources to near-threatened status (BTO, 2008). Analyses of the European breeding population suggest that it declined by 24% during the 1990s, with further declines in at least the UK breeding population since 2000. In Pembrokeshire, it still attempts to breed on Skomer, but has been lost elsewhere.
The curlew is better-known here as a wintering species, but even so, there is a downward trend in numbers.Mid-winter (November to February) counts show a steady decline since the mid-1990s when up to 1500 were counted on the Cleddau Estuary, and up to five hundred on other sites in the county, most notably the Nevern Estuary in the north, and Castlemartin Corse/Freshwater West in the south. The latter birds may also commute to and from the estuary. The slow decline on the Cleddau estuary system is matched by a similar decline on the Burry Inlet.However, the mid-winter counts tell only part of the story.
NB. There were no migration-period counts in 1990-91, 1991-92 or 1992-93. Migration-period counts in 2015-16 were incomplete.
As the wintering numbers started to fall, the migration numbers shot up. The maximum counts made in July-August on the Cleddau Estuary used to be similar to those in mid-winter, but with few birds present in September as the waves of migrants has passed through. Since the late 1990s, there have been about two to three times as many birds on migration as in mid-winter. But even these are now declining, so that the Cleddau Estuary is no longer of national importance for its curlew population at any time of year.(This may change when the next round of threshold levels are published)
No counts were undertaken in August and September between 1990 and 1993. June-July (and occasionally August) counts since then have been compiled by Jane Hodges while doing an annual breeding shelduck census on the estuary for the PCNPA. All other counts have been done as part of the Wetland Bird Survey (formerly Birds of the Estuaries Enquiry) by a dedicated team of volunteers.
Annie Haycock (BBS & WeBS local organiser)
Haycock A (2019). A review of the status of wetland birds in the Milford Haven Waterway and Daugleddau Estuary, 2019. A report to the Milford Haven Waterway Environmental Surveillance Group.
By the 1980s it was estimated that only about 20 pairs were still breeding in Pembrokeshire. Of these, the majority (13 pairs) were on Skomer, with the rest in the boggy areas of the Preseli Hills. Between 2003 and 2007 the number of tetrads in which they were found had shrunk to just two from 12 recorded during the 1984-88 period, a decline of 83%.
They were only confirmed breeding on Skomer where six to nine pairs nested during the 2003-7 atlas period. The breeding population in Wales is also in trouble – BBS records indicate a 33% decline in the population between 1994 and 2007 across Wales as a whole, based on 37 sample sites.
Further research is needed to determine if former mainland haunts in Pembrokeshire are capable of supporting breeding curlews again.
Bob Haycock (BTO rep & Chairman of the Pembs Bird Group)
According to Mathew (1894) curlews bred on the Preseli Mountains and occasionally on Skomer. Lockley et al (1949) stated that they were not common as a breeding bird before the early 1930s, but greatly increased afterwards to breed throughout the county, including Ramsey and Skomer but not the Castle Martin peninsula, being most numerous in the north. Lloyd’s diaries indicate that they were a widespread breeding species in Pembrokeshire by 1927. The breeding range extended to the Castle Martin peninsula in about 1950 (Lockley 1961)
Extensive land reclamation and drainage was to follow, while traditional grazing of common land decreased, modifying the tussocky structure and permitting invasion by scrub. The curlew’s breeding range retracted and Saunders (1976) found them nesting in only small numbers. The decline continued, curlews last occupying breeding grounds at Rosebush in 1980, Slade Bottom near Puncheston and Dowrog common in 1983. The Breeding Birds Survey of 1984-1988 found only about 20 pairs, 13 on Skomer and the rest on bogs in the Preseli Mountains, although they were also present in the breeding season in the meadows around the junctions of the rivers Syfynwy and Easter Cleddau.
They are much more widespread outside the breeding season. A few non-breeders are present in late May and early June, numbers building up quickly during July and peaking in September before settling back to the winter level. A rapid departure takes place in March and early April, Numbers reach 600 on the Teifi estuary, up to 450 on the Nevern estuary, and 100 in Fishguard Harbour, but they are not confined to estuaries, being found also on beaches and field all around the coastline, as well as on the offshore islands. The average total mid-winter population is probably about 3000 birds.
They migrate by day as well as by night, being seen flying in off the sea along the snorth coast and down the west coast in autumn, and arriving from the south of the southern shores in the spring. They are not infrequently heard passing over the county at night, and have been noted at lighthouse attractions at the Smalls and Strumble Head.
Ringing has shown that curlews from northern Britain and Finland visit Pembrokeshire.
The BTO winter atlas showed that Curlews were present in most 10km squares during the winters of 1981-82, 1982-82 and 1983-84.
The darker the colour, the higher the relative total count for each 10km square, the darkest blue represents over 210 birds.
The distribution is consistent with the Birds of the Estuary Enquiry (BoEE, now WeBS) at that time, with the majority of birds in the Cleddau Estuary complex. The Nevern and Teifi estuaries provided most winter records in the north of the county.
Graham Rees. Pembrokeshire County Bird Recorder 1981-2007
Mathew had “little doubt” that it nested on Prescelly Mountain, and also “occasionally” on Skomer.
It is an abundant visitor to the coasts, especially in autumn and winter. Before the early 1930s it was not common as a breeder, but it has greatly increased and now nests throughout the county, except the Castlemartin peninsula. Large flocks resort to the islands during the moult, and it breeds frequently Skomer and Ramsey. Most numerous as a breeder in the mountainous northern half of the county.
Common on the coasts, especially in winter, when it is seen in flocks.
Single birds often heard and seen flying overhead some distance inland. We have found pairs of Curlews in June on the summits of the Precelly Mountains, and have little doubt they were nesting. During severe frosts in the winter, Curlews visit the fields to search for food, and Mr. Dix states that a flock of five appeared on a water meadow near his residence, and, although the birds were very watchful, one was shot, which proved in good condition.
We believe the Curlew occasionally nests on Skomer Island.