An OAP of the skies is back in town

The curlew, taken by Ian Forrest
The curlew, taken by Ian Forrest

AN old age pensioner of the skies is back in Hartlepool – for the 20th year in a row.

The passing years are certainly not slowing down a curlew that’s once more amazing wildlife watchers on the Tees Estuary.

The bird was first caught and fitted with an identification ring in March 1992 at Seal Sands, and it has been seen again at its favourite autumn and winter haunts on the Tees marshes and mudflats.

Proof of its return was captured in this photograph, taken by Saltholme visitor Ian Forrest.

The curlew has been recorded 12 times since 1997 and always on Teesside. It is not known to have been anywhere else in its lifetime.

Saltholme warden Toby Collett said: “Curlews are always on the move. They are usually on the estuary mud at low tide, but are chased up the shoreline as the tide comes in.

“This bird, which we think was an adult when it was ringed, making it into its 20s now, often then calls in at Saltholme, where it feeds on worms and insects on our grassland.

“We have put a lot of effort into making sure our grassland appeals to all sorts of wildlife – and it would appear that this curlew certainly appreciates our efforts.

“Most curlews only live about five years, so it seems this old chap – or lady – is still finding the Tees a wonderful place to spend its twilight years.”

When the curlew was first ringed, no record was made of its sex and as they are very difficult to tell apart, no-one really knows if this is a male or female.

Sometimes there can be up to 700 curlews at Saltholme, as they come into the wildlife reserve to roost.

What happens to the elderly bird in summer remains a mystery.

“It could head up to the wilds of Scotland’s moorlands, or even end up abroad, but, as it certainly must favour remote areas with no-one around, it has never been recorded anywhere else but around the Tees,” Toby added.

Jo Collins, who works for Natural England at the Teesmouth National Nature Reserve, added: “With a backdrop of heavy industry, Teesmouth seems an unlikely area for wildlife, but this curlew’s loyalty to the place shows how nature can adapt and thrive in the most unlikely spots.

“The mudflats and surrounding wetlands and grasslands are home to tens of thousands of birds each winter, making the Tees Estuary an internationally important site for wildlife.”