The grass is not yet long enough to conceal birdlife; a scan of this vast flatland reveals fourteen curlews alongside several crows and lesser black-backed gulls. We are here to record their evocative songs and calls, to discuss ways of classifying what they mean, and how this can help with their conservation.
Curlews are long lived, and each pair needs to produce 0.5 chicks a year to maintain the population. Sadly even in this island of apparently perfect habitat all is not well; the local group of about 30 pairs fledged only three young last year, and even in good years they are well behind the required rate. Foxes, badgers, crows and gulls have all increased rapidly, and will be on the look out for eggs and chicks when the time comes. Another change is that the M5 now crosses the meadow on an embankment and I soon realize that in the prevailing strong south-westerly my recording equipment will be completely redundant due to traffic noise.
In addition to their song, curlews have a repertoire of calls, from the cheeping of unhatched chicks (curiously reminiscent of willow warbler song) to a variety of communications between adults, and between adults and chicks. I know a gamekeeper in Yorkshire who reckons he can tell at a mile's distance whether a curlew has seen a fox or a stoat. At least thirteen different vocalisation types have been identified; there are probably more, but I'll have to find somewhere quieter to record them.