My first visit to NWT Weeting Heath reserve on 25 April 2013, like so many visits to NWT reserves, proved to be a memorable one. As one of the new seasonal Education Co-ordinators, a lot of my time has been spent learning about and experiencing the splendour of Norfolk’s north coast and the broads, so I was very keen to learn more about the management of the heathland habitat. I was especially interested in the use of rabbits as a conservation tool, as well as the rare plants that could be seen growing at Weeting – such as spiked speedwell, but, of course, I was perhaps more keen to catch a glimpse of the stone curlew. These rare birds are notoriously elusive, so my expectations were not tremendously high, but as Head of People and Wildlife, David North and Reserves Manager Darrell Stevens were accompanying us, I figured a stone curlew would definitely be spotted!
We had the pleasure of observing not one but seven stone curlews yesterday morning. I had expected to see one or two crouched down in the distance and well camouflaged in the grazed grassland, but not only were they stood up, they were very active, running on their long yellow legs, catching insects buried in the grass. One individual came particularly close to the hide and I got some video footage of him/ her:
I had encountered Bush stone curlews in Australia, but until yesterday had never seen a stone curlew in England, and I feel so grateful for having had the opportunity to view these incredibly rare birds (around 400 pair nest in the UK of which 260 pairs breed in the Brecks). Stone curlews are ground nesting birds and this makes their eggs and their chicks vulnerable to predators. Sadly, when I learned that only one chick survived last year, the importance of habitat management to aid in the survival of this species became even more apparent to me. I hope that the birds we viewed yesterday will breed and successfully produce chicks this year. I also hope that visitors to NWT Weeting Heath will be rewarded with similar stone curlew encounters.