Monday, 14 January 2008

Plover lover

When it comes to birds, a lot of my favourites are in the large family that we Brits call waders (shorebirds, for any readers across the pond, where waders are heron-type species, I think). Trouble is, living as I do as far from the sea as it’s possible to get in our little island, I don’t get to see that many, both in terms of number of species, and actual number of birds.

Looking back at last year’s year list, I saw 14 species on the local patch – Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Ruff, Snipe, Whimbrel and Curlew. Of those, LRP, Lapwing, Golden Plover Redshank, Snipe, Oystercatcher, the two Sandpipers and Curlew are pretty much guaranteed to turn up at some stage each year, while the others are less predictable. Spot Red and Greenshank, in particular, were great birds to see, but I wouldn’t count on them coming back.

The weather has meant a slow start to my birding year. On Saturday, with a few brief hours of clear skies and crisp, dry weather finally in prospect, I went for a long walk round Sence Valley Forest Park to thoroughly check it out.

The streams and pools were in full flood, and the wader scrape had long since disappeared beneath the water, but without even leaving the car, I could see a sizeable flock of Lapwings and Golden Plovers on one of the adjacent farmers’ fields.

All things considered, though, it was quiet. Metaphorically speaking, that is, because the air was full of the whistling of Wigeon and the constant bickering of Black-headed Gulls, all the more so when a Sparrowhawk made a low pass over them. There were a few Gadwall, a dozen or so Shovelers, plenty of Mallards and Tufties, and on dry land (what there was of it) a handsome male Stonechat. The latter are winter regulars at the park now, and are always good to see, with their rusty breasts, confiding nature and air of barely-contained nervous energy.

Nothing too out of the ordinary, maybe. Except, when I turned my bins on the skies, and really looked, there WAS something amazing going on. High up, beyond the occasional gulls and corvids, hundreds and hundreds of Golden Plovers were flickering and shimmering across the clear blue. Great, wispy clouds of them, with stragglers here and there and the occasional breakaway group, some of which formed very precise-looking V formations. And why? Your guess is as good as mine. This went on for about an hour, well before dusk, with no obvious reason why they shouldn’t have been down on the fields, feeding, or gathering around one of the isolated pools on the sheep pastures. But whatever, it’s the nearest we get to the sort of wader spectacular that’s commonplace on many coastlines, so you just have to make the most of it when you can.


PJ Nolan said...

Interesting. Birding and poetry seem like natural companions. You might be interested to know that the Lapwing's name in Irish is PilibĂ­n. Translated to Philipene, it was my father's common name for them, and (if I recall correctly) for the Golden Plover also.

Matt Merritt said...

I didn't know that, PJ, thanks very much. Lapwings especially seem to have a huge number of vernacular and dialect names, but I'd never heard any from Ireland.

Matt Merritt said...
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