Saturday, 16 May 2015

Lapwings and Skylarks

I was recently contacted by Barrie Roberts, a trainee bird ringer working towards his pulli (nestling) licence, about doing some Lapwing pulli ringing. Barrie has been doing plenty of other nestling birds with his trainer but had yet to ring many ground nesting birds. This morning I took him down to the site near Havant where I normally ring Lapwing chicks, to see what was happening there. It is always difficult to predict what stage the chicks will be at and I had seen that Lapwing chicks had hatched nearly a month ago on some sites, but he was keen to go. There are usually only low numbers of Lapwings at the site, despite the extensive amount of habitat and in recent years it has been increasingly difficult to find the birds that are there because the site is not grazed anymore and subsequently it is becoming dominated with rush. 

We arrived on site at 9am and almost immediately picked up two adult Lapwing on the edge of the rush pasture. At this point patience is required, because if the adults are spooked, they will alert the chicks, and they will sit tight. After a few minutes the first chick came into view and began feeding near one of the adults. I jumped the gate and edged my way along hedge keeping an eye on it. I was about 50m away when I picked up a second chick, but at the same time the adults saw me and began alarm calling. I kept a fix on the first bird whilst also occasionally glimpsing at the second bird; before long we had two Lapwing chicks for Barrie to ring.

The usual strategy of the chicks is to run for a bit of dense cover and then tuck themselves under it, although if there is no dense cover they will nestle down into a shallow depression. When settled down it is amazing how similar they look to a bit of horse dung and even though you have seen where they have gone down, it can take a few minutes to find them.

Can you see the Lapwing chick
A closer view of the second chick hiding from us
Juvenile Lapwing - one of two ringed

Once we had finished ringing the chicks we continued on with a circuit of the field, regularly scanning for more birds, but it appears that there was just the one pair this year, and only the two chicks. As well as Lapwings there are also fantastic numbers of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits on the site. I have never ringed these species here, but this morning we decided to spend a bit of time looking for nests. There were so many Skylarks that it was difficult to assess the number of breeding territories, but none of the birds we watched seemed to be carrying prey. We did eventually find a nest, but that was more by luck than judgement; we were stood watching a bird on the ground when one flew off the nest just in front of us. The patience and skill required to find a nest is very evident when you look at the image below. A clutch of four eggs were in the nest, so we recorded it for the BTO nest Recording Scheme and quickly moved on.

Skylark nest is located centrally in the image
Cutch of Skylark eggs

We spent a good hour or so wandering around the site with the notable species recorded being Mistle Thrush (3), Stonechat (3), Yellowhammer (1 pair), Red Kite (1), Buzzard (2), Kestrel (2), Whitethroat (1), Linnet (several pairs) and Tawny Owl (1). A Dingy Skipper was the butterfly highlight.

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