Speed of Change

The speed of change in the countryside is so fast at this time of year. Everyday we go out and see change in the garden, the fields and the lanes. Different birds are coming to the feeders – Goldfinches and Greenfinches have become regulars to the nuts and seeds again – and the nestboxes are seeing activity around them. The insects are starting to return, with various bumble bees visiting the early spring flowers and birds are in full voice now, proclaiming their existence and establishing their territories. 
On Saturday, whilst visiting the local farm shop, I spied a Red Kite overhead. This is the furthest east I have seen them, moving slowly across from their established enclave in the Chilterns near Stokenchurch. Last season I saw them above Hertford and this year, in response to my tweeted sighting, I discover they have been seen over the last couple of weeks very close to my home. I’m optimistic therefore that I may soon be able to add them to my ‘kitchen window list‘.
One bird that I already appears on the list entertained me yesterday afternoon as I worked in the garden, planting vegetable seeds and early potatoes (that are in fact a bit late!). The unusual display call of a lapwing could be heard in the fields above, so I grabbed the camera and headed up to hide behind the shed and peer out across the field. It was from there that I was treated to the spectacular display flight and calling of what was almost certainly a male lapwing, or peewit, to give it its country name. Peewit is an onamatopoeia, describing one of it’s various calls, but it certainly didn’t resemble what I was hearing. Researching on Birdguide’s iPhone app I discovered that the calls and aerobatics I was watching have an almost ritualistic pattern and always follow one of four variations;

Highly gregarious outside breeding season. Monogamous mating-system the rule; pair-bond of seasonal duration, lasting 1 breeding season usually, with no evidence for persistence outside it. Both sexes incubate and tend young, though mainly ♀. Usually breeds in loose neighbourhood groups, less often solitary, but highly variable; territorial. Up to egg-laying, all territorial behaviour by ♂ who is virtually always in territory. ♂♂ fiercely contest favoured spots (e.g. slight elevations) which, once established, become core area to be expanded by confrontation and spectacular song-flights. Song-flight follows a fixed sequence, consisting of 1 or more units, each comprising particular combination of flight styles and sounds (see B). ♂ takes off and flies straight and close to ground with deep, slow wing-beats (butterfly-flight). During last 2–4 wing-beats, wing-beat frequency increases, amplitude decreases, and bird flies faster, rolling from side to side (alternating-flight); 1 roll on each upstroke, flight direction changing with each roll, so zigzag followed, but on wide curve. Alternating-flight accompanied by 4 kinds of dive: (a) Bird ascends slightly, almost turns over on back, and dives near ground, revolving through 180°; may be repeated 3–4 times before alternating-flight resumed. (b) As in type a, but no initial ascent, and performed only once. (c) Attack-dive. As in type a, but ascent and revolving less pronounced; always directed at conspecific bird, and not different from dive-attacks. (d) Avoidance-dive. Bird dives and veers away from rival, i.e. inhibited version of type c. Alternating-flight may be performed apart from rest of song-flight, and always accompanied by wing-strumming, ‘wup-wup-wup’ sound.

All very complicated then. Suffice to say the sight was spectacular and at times you wondered how it managed to pull out of its dives before a potentially abrupt meeting with terra firma. A beautiful and enigmatic bird to watch and another example of why I am so lucky to live where I do. Just need to keep my eyes on the skies now, to see if I can claim a Red Kite for my garden bird list too.


  1. Ah, spring. Slower to emerge where I am, but still inexorable. Centipedes in the backyard, woodchucks in the cemetery, eastern phoebes hawking in the parks. In the evening, the woodcocks display. Who needs television?

  2. Hi Matthew,
    Heaven help us if the gulf stream ever moves.
    I should take a walk out myself soon at dusk and see if we have any Woodcocks displaying near me – it's called 'roding' isn't it? Maybe I'm a bit late if we are a bit warmer here.

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