4.5 out of 5 stars
One of our largest wading birds is the Curlew. To give you some idea of its size, the body is about the same size as a herring gull, but with much longer legs and rather than a bright yellow beak it has a gently curving bill, perfect for finding its food in the mud flats. They have a distinctive call that evokes so much for many people and that along with their looks has inspired poems and paintings.
About a month ago we headed out to Arne on the other side of Poole Harbour and there were four curlews in the River as it flowed into the harbour. Sadly though, all of these things that make this bird so special for so many people are almost lost to us. Most people will have never heard the cry or seen this species of bird, and it seems that most people never will. Across Europe, numbers have dropped around 20% and in Ireland, over the past three decades, next pairs have fallen from 5,000 pairs to just 130. Rightly so it has gone on the red list.
To see for herself, Mary Colwell decided to walk from their breeding grounds in the West Coast of Ireland to the east coast of the UK. Before this 500 mile journey begun though, she heads to Snettisham in East Anglia to see a flock of the birds. A few weeks later she arrived in Ireland to see a project in Country Antrim and begin her walk. The plan was to arrive in Wales as they were incubating their eggs, find them with the chicks in the western part of England and arrive back on the East Coast six weeks later to see the fledgelings making their first attempt to fly. It is this part of the country that the curlews would begin their preparations for the winter
Colwell’s journey is almost a pilgrimage in respect of these birds. She is supported by those who are also horrified by the catastrophic collapse in numbers. The writing is really special too, she is passionate about these birds in particular and her love of the natural world is clear as day in her prose. There is something else in this book too, not anger, more absolute fury, so much so that Colwell used the walk to raise money to heighten awareness of their predicament. Given that it is thought that we have lost around 60% of animals this should be essential reading for anyone interested in the subject. As a small aside, it does have a stunning ‘naked’ hardback cover with lovely gold blocking and has lovely illustrations by Jessica Holm scattered throughout.