Birdwatchers ready for big weekend

WELL stone the curlews! What's this scaring a rabbit?It's a rare stone curlew defending its ground-nesting mate as they start to pair up for the breeding season.

WELL stone the curlews! What's this scaring a rabbit?

It's a rare stone curlew defending its ground-nesting mate as they start to pair up for the breeding season.

The stone curlews were pictured in Breckland, on the border of Suffolk and Norfolk - one of their remaining strongholds in Britain.

The crow-sized bird was caught on film last week.

Many more normally migrate to southern England between March and later September or early October - but a hardy few spend their winters in East Anglia.

Ian Barthorpe, of RSPB Suffolk, based at Minsmere Nature Reserve, said stone curlews were extremely hard to spot.

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“They rarely rest anywhere in sight of humans.”

The species has declined across Britain in recent decades and by 2007 there were only two or three pairs left at Minsmere, said Mr Barthorpe.

But the remaining stone curlews were nurtured and last year produced six young.

The best place in East Anglia to see stone curlews is at Weeting Heath, on the Suffolk-Norfolk border, Mr Barthorpe said.

The birds like short grassland and very dry areas and are mainly active at night time.

Mr Barthorpe said that if anyone saw a stone curlew in spring or summer they should move away as quickly as possible, make sure their dog is on a lead and tell the RSPB or Suffolk Wildlife.

He also asked people who spotted the birds not to tell many people, for fear of attracting a crowd.

Mr Barthorpe spoke as children from Creeting St Mary Primary School donned their binoculars and crept into hides and joined in the Big Birdwatch project, which takes place until February 1.

The birdwatch is the annual national survey of bird life and aims to find out which type of birds visit their school grounds.

Pupils at the Creeting school have previously taken pictures of their favourite birds and made videos of quails hatching in the school incubator.

But this year is more exciting as the school has invested in a webcam nesting box. The children are also reading My First Book of Garden Birds.

This weekend is the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch and people are asked to log birds who visit their gardens over an hour-long period either today or tomorrow and send their results off to the charity so a census of garden birds can be completed.

Full details of the Big Garden Birdwatch, and a form to record the birds, can be found at www.rspb.org.uk

Have you seen a rare bird in your garden? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Fast facts.

They are wary of humans and should not be approached.

They prefer to settle on nutrient-poor land.

Unusually they nest on the ground.

Nearly two-thirds of the UK's stone-curlews - some 200 pairs - nest in The Brecks on the Suffolk-Norfolk border.

RSPB's Top Tips for Big Garden Birdwatch

Set up a feeder or bird table near a window so you can easily see what's going on in the garden.

Check the top 15 birds spotted in Suffolk last year and then check the RSPB's website, using the A-Z of birds section, to get an idea of what you might see and to help identify the birds.

Do your count first thing in the morning, when birds are more active, so you will increase the number you see.

Don't worry if you don't record all the birds - just note the ones you can identify clearly.

You do not need to have a garden - you can do a count in a park. If you are in a flat, put a feeder on your window and count the birds which visit.

Try putting out a selection of foods, including peanuts (in a mesh feeder), seeds, fat and kitchen scraps, which will attract different types of birds.