CURL-EW-PHORIA! Why the duck is everyone wacky about this wonderful wader?

Apr 21 2020

In this special episode of Trees A Crowd, David Oakes calls on friends in lockdown to discuss the wonders of an incredible bird, the Curlew.

David Oakes

David Oakes


Curlews & Friends


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About this episode:

Utter Curl-ew-phoria! In this special episode of Trees A Crowd, David Oakes calls on friends in lockdown to discuss the wonders of an incredible bird, the Curlew. Featuring field recordings from sound-recordist Chris Watson, a world premier of original music by folk-singer Bella Hardy and poetry recitals by Natalie Dormer and Sam West, this is more than just affectionate “waffle about a wader”. David Lindo, aka “The Urban Birder”, environmentalist and writer Mary Colwell, farmer and conservationist Patrick Lawrie, the CEO of Wader Quest, Rick Simpson, Jennifer Smart from the RSPB, and Lucy Walker from Britten Pears Arts will tell you why they love this bird and what needs to be done to save it. You will also hear from several previous Trees A Crowd guests; namely, Sir John Lawton, the President of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Dr Richard Benwell, the CEO of the Wildlife and Countryside Link and Amanda Owen, the Yorkshire Shepherdess.

To listen to Bella Hardy’s song in full, click the image below (many thanks to Si Homfray for providing the imagery):

David's thoughts:

I spent the end of February onboard a whale-watching boat along the coast of the Baja peninsula. It was a trip I booked years ago, and one I had been looking forward to immeasurably – you can hear me talk about it with Mark Carwardine in my first “Trees a Crowd” of the year. (And if you head along to my Instagram you’ll also find some pictorial references of the wildlife spotted during those weeks aboard “The Spirit of Adventure”).

Days and nights passed onboard without any telephone reception, and yet (fish and marine mammals aside) with a plethora of bird life that truly reignited my love for birds. Now Boobys and Ospreys have a rigid lock on my heart. And there’s nothing quite like being stalked far out at sea by a frigate bird – with all the ominous connotations that folktales tell of this haunting omen.

When we disembarked in Cabo San Lucas on March the 6th, my fellow passengers and I found ourselves thrust into a new scary world. This new world was one very different from the one we had departed two weeks previous. It was one held accountable for many of its complacencies, and one struggling to keep up with an ever widening pandemic. The repercussions of this Global Crisis are seemingly endless, and we shall be feeling the shockwaves of COVID-19 for decades to come.

One small repercussion of the subsequent lockdown is that I’m prohibited from continuing my burgeoning birding anywhere other than in my own garden. It also prohibits me from recording the episodes of Trees A Crowd which I had planned for the upcoming months.

So, with interviews cancelled, and with my next acting role rightly put on hiatus, I found myself with a substantial amount of spare time on my hands…

So – Curlews by telephone!

Why Curlews?

Well – I’ve been slowly and imperceptibly indoctrinated by Curlews ever since the start of the year. Back in January, when I was in Wigtown talking to Cat Barlow about Golden Eagles, a couple of things happened to align my peripheries.

Firstly, she spoke to me in depth about her work with the Langholm Moor Project – an enterprise that had been collaborating for years to bring a post-industrial community back to vitality. This project places wildlife as an integral part of the community. They are set to buy part of a private moorland, to manage it together and to allowing native species to thrive – the hen harrier and the curlew being two endangered species that would benefit massively from this enterprise. I highly suggest you take a look at what’s going on up there – it’s an incredible idea, one many other communities could learn from. (Go sign their petition too!)

Secondly, the bookshop where the interview was recorded, “The Open Book”, had a box full of uncorrected proofs of several titles, costing nothing other than a small donation to a local charity. At the front of this box was a book called “Native”. It was written by a local farmer and conservationist called Patrick Laurie (now interviewed for this very podcast). It had a stunning woodcut-like illustration on the front cover, with, you’ve guessed it, a Curlew directly in my line of site. This was a book about one man’s foray into farming, about native British species, contemporary agricultural practice, and how conservation could be lifted to a higher priority in our nation’s land management. It’s a stunning read. (Go buy the book.)

From this point on, Curlews, and the issues surrounding their conservation, were stapled onto my 2020 subconsciousness. But, in the words of Ian Flemming:

“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action”

So, what was the third assault that Curlews were to make upon my consciousness?

(Bear with me here.) I’ve been wanting to do an episode on John Muir, the Giant Sequoia trees and the American National Park system ever since I started this podcast. Indeed, I finally made my pilgrimage to the Giant’s Forest in Sequoia last October and was hoping to stumble across a genuine American naturalist or two, adorned in bear-hides and skunk-skin-hats, who I could talk to for the podcast. But, alas, that was not to be the case. All I found was a book with an overly long subtitle by a man called Dr William C. Tweed: “King Sequoia: The Tree That Inspired a Nation, Created Our National Park System, and Changed the Way We Think about Nature“. But, ever the fan of unnecessary verbosity when it comes to subtitles (see every episode of Trees a Crowd), I bought and devoured the book, set it in my bookcase, and thought little more of Dr William C Tweed, or my Sequoia/John Muir podcast idea, for a number of months.

Loooong story short – cut forward to February of this year: knowing that my work was about to take me back to California, again I set about trying to find me my genuine skunk-skinned-American. I picked up a battered biography of John Muir and found it to be written by an english woman called Mary Colwell. I thought perhaps she could introduce me to someone more “Grizzly Adams-y”, so did some digging into her and found myself falling deep, DEEP, into a Curlew-themed rabbit hole. For if there’s one thing that Mary Colwell knows more about than John Muir, it is the Curlew.

Needless to say, I reached out to Mary – she’s FANTASTIC – and that spawned this episode, for noone talks to Mary and doesn’t become obsessed by Curlews!

(It also spawned a meeting in Oregon in late February with the aforementioned Dr. William C Tweed… but you’ll have to wait a little while for that one!)

Thank you to all our guests for this episode:

Chris Watson:


Twitter – @ChrisRWatson

“Trees A Crowd” episode –

Bella Hardy:

“Curlew” by Bella Hardy – LISTEN HERE


Twitter – @bellahardy

“Trees A Crowd” episode –

Amanda Owen:


Twitter – @AmandaOwen8

“Trees A Crowd” episode –

Dr Richard Benwell:


Twitter – @RSBenwell

“Trees A Crowd” episode –

Sir John Lawton:

“Trees A Crowd” episode –

Mary Colwell:


Twitter – @CurlewCalls

Rick Simpson:


Twitter – @WaderQuest

Jennifer Smart:


Twitter – @DrRedShank

David Lindo:


Twitter: @UrbanBirder

Patrick Laurie:


Twitter: @GallowayGrouse

Lucy Walker:


Twitter: @LucyWalkerBB

An extra special thank you to Natalie Dormer and to Sam West for putting their voices to poems this week.

Also, this episode took more putting together than usual Trees A Crowd episodes do, so if you fancy showing him some praise, my brilliant editor is Ollie Guillou.

“Eurasian Curlew” photography on this page copyright Lars Petersson.

Links to the RSPB’s Curlew Initiatives:

RSPB Curlew Recovery Programme –

RSPB Curlew Trial Management Programme –

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