News archive

The Curlew pictured here was photographed at Goldcliff Lagoons this morning (8 October 2021) by Terry Winter. The bird is NBB (Black Blue Blue). If the left tarsus (below the knee) had been visible an orange ring over a white ring would have been seen – this is the marker for all birds marked on the Usk estuary in winter 2015/16.

This bird was originally ringed as an adult at Lighthouse Beach (St Brides) on 15 December 2015, metal ring FA95827. It was seen again at Lighthouse Beach in February 2017, then again, with more intensive observations by Chris Wells and Mike Smart in the last couple of winters, at Goldcliff in September and October 2020, then at Lighthouse Beach in November 2020, but not since. So this is the first observation of the current (2021/22) winter, showing that it has returned from wherever it breeds: we don’t know exactly where it does breed. We don’t know exactly how old it is either; it was ringed as an adult, but we have no idea of its age at the time of ringing – it could have been two, it could have been twenty. The record age for a Curlew is 32.

Natural Resources Wales have kindly given permission for Mike Smart of Curlew Forum to take a very unobtrusive, camouflaged portable hide to the edge of Becs Lagoon at high tide in order to try to obtain more ring readings.  He will only use the hide very occasionally on the highest of tides and will arrive well before high tide so as to reduce disturbance to birds and birdwatchers to a minimum.

Regular visitors to Goldcliff will know how difficult it can be to see Curlews from the seawall hide on Becs Lagoon, even when the tide is favourable and they move into the lagoon.  They are often some way off and hide behind the island so that it is difficult to read letters or numbers engraved on rings, or even to make out colours.  (There is one particular bird, raised from eggs at Slimbridge, and released as a fledgeling in 2019, which has small numbers and has so far eluded us).

A BTO study colour-ringed 41 adult Curlews on the Usk estuary in winter 2015/16.  For the last two years a team of observers has been watching these Curlews fairly intensively at Goldcliff and Peterstone, with a view to obtaining better data on site fidelity and survival.  So far 33 of the 41 have been observed, suggesting a very high rate of adult survival, and the return of at least 33 to the ringing site indicates very strong fidelity to the Usk wintering site.  One of these Curlews has regularly moved on to WWT Llanelli to moult (before returning to the Usk) and in the breeding season three of the birds have been resighted in Lancashire, Poland and Finland.

Other colour-ringed Curlews have also been seen: one ringed on the breeding grounds in the Lower Rhine Valley in Germany, one ringed in Poland and one ringed in March 2020 at a roost in Montgomeryshire.

For more background on the Curlew Forum, please see the website and if you see or photograph any colour-ringed Curlews, please inform .

If you do, and have seen fair numbers of Curlews arriving to roost, please let Mike Smart know if this was on an evening when a high tide pushed them off the saltmarsh or on an evening when the tide was not particularly high. Email .

The group running a Curlew colour-ringing project under the auspices of the BTO are keen to learn of any sightings of colour-ringed Curlews at Goldcliff, West Usk Lighthouse, Peterstone or anywhere else on the Gwent coast this autumn/winter.

In 2015/16 41 Curlews were caught on the Usk Estuary and fitted with colour rings; although there have been several sightings in the intervening years more information on these birds is needed. It is also hoped that one of the Slimbridge head-started birds, released in 2019, might be found here – a very exciting prospect. One has been seen at a distance, but the numbers on the ring not yet read.

Colour rings on the left tarsus (below the ‘knee’) indicate where the bird was ringed – the combination of Orange over White denotes those ringed on the Usk Estuary but other colours are used for birds ringed elsewhere. For example, Curlews colour-ringed on the Severn in Gloucestershire have Yellow over White.

Colour rings on the tibiae (above the ‘knee’) indicate the individual: all were given a single colour ring on the left tibia and two colour rings on the right tibia. These rings could be a combination of Blue, Green, Black, Orange, Red or White. There’s also a metal ring on the right tarsus.

When reporting a sighting please note whether the rings are on the left or right leg and also give the order of the colour rings e.g. Left above: Black; Left below: Orange over White; Right above: Blue over Blue. Right below: metal.

Although seeing the colour ring combinations can be tricky (water levels at Goldcliff Lagoons may be high or birds on the foreshore may be distant) all reports are important so please get those scopes out. Curlew numbers are in rapid decline; knowing the movements and locations of wintering birds will help in working out how best to conserve them.

Please send all sightings (or photos) to Mike Smart at and include the location, date and, if possible, the time.

For background information on colour rings, see the Curlewcall website at .

If you notice any off-road use of any vehicle in Wentwood Forest please report it to the local police. Phone 101 and ask for the Rural Crime Team. It is extremely damaging to the environment. See the following note that was issued by Gwent Police on 18th May.
Note from Gwent Police Rural Crime Team:18th May 2021
Out in Wentwood Forest this afternoon following several reports of a 4×4 being used off-road. Illegal use of Off-Road vehicle will not be tolerated in this stunning ancient woodland.
Vehicle located and seized by Rural Crime Team.

On 1st July an important new book will be published which will add greatly to our understanding of the history of Wales’ birds and their conservation, their current populations and what may lie ahead for them in the future. The Birds of Wales (608 pages/hardback) tells the stories of all the birds that have ever been recorded in Wales, whether common or rare. It’s published by Liverpool University Press and the Welsh Ornithological Society (WOS) and, if you pre-order it before 30 June you’ll save £20 on the cover price (£45).

We’re proud to say that the Gwent OS helped support the publication of this book by sponsoring its species account for the Dipper and records from the county feature prominently in the publication – everything from footprints of Common Crane preserved in Severn Estuary mud around 7,000 years ago to the return of breeding Bitterns in 2020.

Edited by volunteers from WOS this book is a once-in-a-generation summary of the state of Wales’ birds. An easy-to-read book, beautifully illustrated and with a wide selection of stunning images, it will have an essential place on the bookshelf of everyone with an interest in birds in Wales.
Use code WALES50 online and when ordering via phone. Pre-publication offer valid until 30 June 2021.
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