A flock of whimbrel enjoying the lake at Brockholes

Watch out for whimbrel

03 May 2018

Volunteer Ranger Helen Earnshaw has noticed that a special bird has begun arriving at Brockholes for its annual summer holiday.

There is always something to watch out for at Brockholes Nature Reserve and this month the whimbrel have returned to the site.

The whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) is a wader in the Scolopacidae family, and while it is one of the most widespread of the curlews, it is a species that is only seen at a small number of places in Lancashire… of which Brockholes just so happens to be one!

So this time of year is always exciting as the whimbrel begin to return to Meadow Lake, Pit Number One and the River Ribble – giving visitors excellent views from around the reserve.

Many of the birds seen on-site will breed in Iceland and pass through sites like Brockholes in the spring on the way to their breeding grounds. They can also be seen in other areas in the autumn as they head to Africa to winter.

Whimbrel have been see in huge numbers in this area in the past – as many as 400 in the early noughties! This year, 65 have been recorded and have been moving between the reserve and the river.

A flock of whimbrel standing in a lake at Brockholes

Whimbrel have a dark cap and a pale eye-stripe. Image Credit: Ged Gill

A curlew walking along a grassy on the Thames Estuary

Curlews have a longer, more curved bill. Image credit: Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

Whimbrel are not to be confused with the curlew, which can also be seen at Brockholes. The whimbrel is smaller and darker in colour than its cousin, and if you get a close look, the whimbrel has a dark cap with a contrasting pale stripe over the eye. Whimbrel bills are also shorter and have a subtler downward curve than those of the curlew.

If you are particularly good on your bird calls, the curlew makes that familiar ‘curl-ew’ sound, compared with the piping call of the whimbrel. Listen to the calls below and see if you can tell the difference.

The whimbrel is a Schedule 1 species (afforded the tightest legal protection in the country) and currently has a red conservation status. However, breeding populations are slowly starting to increase, which is great news.

Given the fact that whimbrel are a relatively rare sight in Lancashire, head down to Brockholes this spring to get some terrific views of this beautiful bird. It is always exciting when we can report a ‘rarity’ on site and it is a thrill each year to see a flock of whimbrel sweep onto the reserve to take a little break before they continue their long journey north.

Have you spotted any whimbrel at Brockholes this year?

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