Lapwings, larks and chiffchaffs

The sun is out, the wind has dropped and despite the frost the lovely cool air calls me outside.  There is something about the light today which has changed.  I get togged up, grab my camera and throw my binoculars over my shoulder, excited by what I might see today. But a huge disappointment crept over me as I saw the puncture on my front wheel of my bike.  I prefer to cycle on these forays as I tend to cover greater ground and see more things, but with no time to fix it, I decide to make it on foot towards Margaret Marsh where yesterday a flock of Lapwing were feeding on the short sward and wet, rushy pastures.

Once I get outside the village, I begin to hear the sweet sound of birds, there are chaffinches, wrens, nuthatch and gold finch; everything stirring in the warm sunshine.  The buzzards have paired up and have begun their courtship dances; flying high and then spiralling down together.  There is a distant chiffchaff warbling its very distinct call – ‘chiff chaff chiff chaff, chiff chiff chiff’ and a very special marker in the wildlife calendar.   Through the next gate and up over the hillside, I follow the edge of the farmland; a skylark singing high above me; another first for 2016.

Whilst plodding through the muddy fields, I ponder the large expanses of farmland and worry about the tiny hedgerows cut to within an inch of their lives in order to create maximum yields.  Originally marshland, Margaret Marsh is crisscrossed with drainage ditches… and I wonder what it would have been like before cultivation imagining the large number of waders that would have made it their home.  I am currently writing about the destruction of rainforests in Asia and yet, look what we have done to our own beloved countryside to make way for large scale agriculture and economic development.  What have we done to our own biodiversity that we are in a position to criticise others who do the same?  (That said there is something particularly miserable about a landscape populated only by oil palms but that is for another time….).

Since my childhood in the 1970s, the number of farmland birds have halved. I would always see corn buntings, grey partridges  and lapwing.  Now I rejoice at every flock I see, and so it was yesterday when two large flocks of lapwing, decorated the sky.

There is something so remarkable about lapwings.  Their rounded wings and the haunting ‘peewit’ call which travels over the fields.  As a child I used to love to draw them; they were so distinctive with their quirky little quiff and oily green colours next to the bright gleaming white of their breast feathers.  At that time they were easy to find as they are ground nesting birds who particularly liked the pastoral land where I grew up. We used to visit  their neat little round nests with three or four tawny coloured, speckled eggs to await balls of fluffy chicks that would eventually emerge on long, long legs .  But most of all I loved to watch them in  flight.  The males zigzag and roll and dive to display their prowess to the females. And as a flock, they are simply spectacular as they dip and twist their lovely round wings.

Today, winter seems long ago and far away, although I know how deceiving Spring can be. But the Spring migration has long since started. A month ago I saw a thousand strong flock of wood pigeon over the Dorchester Hills; so large I had to stop the car to watch them.  The fieldfares and redwing have al ready made their passage back to Scandinavia for the summer after having taken advantage of our warmer winters.

The hares too are still busy, and the search for those pert long ears standing tall over the horizon has begun.  Last week, my drive to work was interrupted by a  silhouette of a hare travelling full pelt along the horizon where the brow of the field meets the sky. It reminds me that I need to go and see the hares again that live on the Cranborne Chase before their boxing events close.

With the thought of work and the list of things to do, I make my way back home glad that I have squeezed in this precious time for reflection………

 (photographs courtesy of the RSPB)

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