Tuesday 3 March 2009

The First Lapwings

At this time of year, when winter is still here but the coming of spring can be felt, I often feel an urge to be outside in the woods and fields. In midwinter it can be an effort to step out of the door, especially when the sky is dark with cold rain, the wind blows and the outdoors is grey and unwelcoming. Snow changes all this, an exciting renewal of the world that calls out for exploration. But for much of winter in the Highlands there is no snow below the high tops, just chilly unwelcoming dampness. Now though the days are lengthening and mild weather suggests warmth and brightness rather than rain. The birds are starting to sing again, the chaffinches, great tits and robins becoming increasingly noisy and excitable, as they sense the changing season. A few days ago the desire to venture out for a few hours, away from the computer and the fire, was strong so I wandered into the local fields and woods.

The day was mild, the sky patchy with ragged clouds and spots of blue. A wind blew from the south-west. The high Cairngorms to the south were cloud-capped and snow-streaked. The grasses were still brown and yellow in the rough pastures and there was no sign of the tight leaf buds on the birches starting to open yet I still felt as though nature was changing. The land was mostly still and quiet apart from a few rabbits scurrying for their burrows and the sudden explosion of a startled pheasant. A buzzard drifted high overhead, mewing softly. Then I heard a closer, sharper, cry - p’weet, p;weet, peewit. I had barely registered the familiar call before I saw the birds tumbling and whirling above the meadow. Lapwings! The first of the year, back from wintering on lower ground and the coast to the grasslands where they nest. I stopped and watched and listened as a pair of these graceful plovers circled and called. My heart felt uplifted and the day became glorious. I have always loved lapwings since a boy, when I used to watch them as I walked through fields of cows on my way to school. And for the two decades I have lived in Strathspey their return marks the start of spring and I always look out for them.

Satisfied, I was heading home when two more pairs appeared twisting and turning in the sky and then landing on the sparse rough grass where they were surprisingly camouflaged. Lapwings are beautiful birds with delicate crests and rounded fingered wings. At a distance they look black and white but closer to a green sheen can be seen on the back and wings. Their flight is lovely and gives them their name. They are also known as peewits from their distinctive call and, more prosaically, as green plovers. The Latin name is Vanellus vanellus. Lapwings have declined significantly in recent years, mainly due to changes in farming methods, and I wonder if they are still found in the fields of my boyhood on the Lancashire coast. Here they return in the same numbers each year. Long may they continue to do so, bringing joy and springtime.

Photo info: Three lapwings in Strathspey. Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 55-250mm IS@250mm, 1/500@F5.6, ISO 400, raw file converted to JPEG and heavily cropped in Lightroom 2.


  1. Chris,
    I wanted to drop you a quick note to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog. I first came across you work in TGO, and as a fellow outdoor enthusiast, I enjoy reading about your observations and adventures.
    Thanks for doing this.
    Scottish Borders

  2. Lapwings -getting to be a rarer bird these days. So distinctive with their shape,colour & peewit call. Be a shame to lose the flocks, once so common out in the fields

  3. Spring must be on the way Chris - heard and seen my first curlews on the moors and fields of Ribblesdale this last week. Steph and I had been hearing them in the village during January and february which struck us as a little curious, them being moorland waders; turned out the starlings that roost in the tree across the road were doing very fine imitations!

  4. Mark thanks for your comments.

    As to spring, within hours of this post it was snowing heavily and I woke this morning to several inches of snow.

  5. Chris, I think you would find Lapwings in your old Lancashire haunts. Perhaps Foot and Mouth helped them, I'm sure there were more around after that. For me, their abundant presence in the Scottish glens provides one of the pleasures of the TGO Challenge.