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Progress Report

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The advent of wing feathers

Interesting to provide a quick update on the progress of the single curlew chick which has come on in leaps and bounds since it was last photographed properly 12 days ago. In the intervening period, the two adult birds have taken their charge a long way from the road and in so doing have kept the chick’s progress a secret. I’ve had the occasional glimpse through the grass, but at three hundred yards or more, these passing encounters have been pretty joyless. I have often had to content myself with simply spotting the adult birds, knowing that their ongoing presence is bona fide evidence that the chick is still alive, even if it is invisible.

When I came past this morning, the chick was almost on the roadside verge, and the sound of the car drawing up caused it to dash on long blue stilts into the longer grass. This is an enormous improvement on previous encounters when this chick’s idle idiocy has raised horrible fears for its longevity. For their first few days, curlew chicks are ridiculously vulnerable, calling noisily and ignoring every possible warning from their vocal parents. Even when the shadows of hunting crows and buzzards raced between them, they blithely stumbled through the short grass as if they were blind and deaf. No wonder their mortality rates are appalling during their first week of life, and it’s hard to imagine why their mechanism of self-preservation is so slow to develop. Even my clumsy ears could hear them mewling at a distance of sixty yards, so I shudder to think how easily found they are by any fox with half a brain.

Measure the contrast with the bird I found today – it has grown gangly and hesitant, but it has been switched “on”. It eyeballed me cautiously and ran out of sight two or three times when I moved, warily keeping a distance of perhaps twenty five yards. It is also fascinating to see the progress in plumage – this bird now has observable wings and the beginnings of a mohican of contour feathers down the centre of its head. Its beak is beginning to bend, and the overall cast of solemnity and caution finally makes a recognisable link between parent and offspring.

I have moaned on this blog about the loss of this chick’s three siblings and the gloomy prospects of the survivor, but as the vegetation continues to rise and this bird lurks in the ever-deepening bracken, my hopes are really starting to grow that it may fledge after all. My fingers have been crossed for so long that they ache.

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