Crane Spotter: A big bill drops in

Ouch! Not another big bill. Hasn’t it been going mad! We’re all feeling the pinch.

Seemingly everything’s been going up since Brexit/Covid/the war in Ukraine. cars, food, drink, fuel (on the rise again locally), household costs, all insurance, and now ULEZ is creeping in through the Surrey back door.

So it was good to have some relief when a very welcome – and surprising – big bill landed ‘on my doorstep’ recently.

I was walking along a Cranleigh farm track and enjoying the day’s wide variety on offer, including Lapwings, Yellowhammers, Red-legged Partridges, Common Whitethroats and Grey Herons.

Suddenly I was greeted with a call familiar to anyone who has tramped the northern moors or visited a muddy estuary. A distant Curlew! I heard it three times.

Curlews, like Chiffchaffs, Cuckoos, and Choughs, do what it says on the tin. They call out their name.

But Curlews are a rare delight around here and I’ve only personally logged a handful over many years. 

Usually they are detected by their call and not seen while migrating at night. But their voice is unmistakable and travels far. I celebrated being woken up once at 3.30am as one let me know it was flying over my house.

Curlew, Numenius arquata

I anxiously scanned the sky trying to find the latest Curlew. Was it flying behind trees or too high to see? Initially I failed to see it and thought it must have continued on its way. Then, as can happen, I was tempted to think I had imagined the episode.

If only I could have clocked it, even as a disappearing grey blob, then I’d have been satisfied. How annoying. But happily it called again and I saw it approaching through the morning heat haze. It landed at the far end of the second field away. A long way off but I could make out its long, decurved bill.

I set up my telescope and considered moving under the cover of hedgerows to get nearer. But that could mean I missed it completely if it departed. As I tried to work out what to do I couldn’t believe what now looked like some bad luck.

A noisy farm buggy was being driven from behind the bird and, as it got nearer, was bound to flush it away. This duly happened – but my fortune was back in. The Curlew flew right towards me and landed in the adjacent muddy field where it began probing for a wormy feast.

I watched for 15 minutes as it moved about feeding and then I had to go. My only previous ‘deck’ record in the village was one calling on a newly sown field back in June 1999. 

Flyover Curlews have been recorded locally in most winter months so be ready.

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