Bird Notes by Bill Johnston

What is up when it is down, and down when it is up? If our wild birds aren’t confused I certainly am!

A few days ago I was outside digging my vegetable plot in my shirt sleeves, now, I seem to be ever increasing the layers of clothing I’m putting on just trying to keep warm! But no doubt I’ll soon be stripping off yet again. However when I see what’s happening in other parts of the world, Japan and New Zealand for instance, I guess I have little to complain about.

Quite honestly our wild birds appear to be just getting on with things regardless, as I said last month the Tree Sparrows had refurbished their nest in one nest-box. It would appear, however, that there is now a bit of a dispute over ownership with at least two pairs trying to decide, quite physically sometimes, which of them will make use of this attractive residence.

Our resident pair of Buzzards are again established back in their territory, it’s a delight to go outside and hear their familiar and sometimes quite plaintive mewing calls. This is usually done when then they circle and soar overhead often spiralling upwards where they find a suitable thermal. Normally they don’t begin their nest-building until April, now, whilst a newly built nest is already a substantial structure, where it is re-used over the years it can become much more substantial.

Also it is not unusual for the nest to be used by different pairs over the years if it is in a favourable location, this is when, occasionally, quite noisy battles can take place at this time of year.

The delightful sight and sound of Lapwings displaying over their chosen nesting field is also once again with us.

Males arrive back at their breeding territories shortly before the females and stake their claim on that certain area of ground which meet their requirements. When the females arrive the males then begin their spectacular courtship display.

Now, I know I have described this amazing performance on numerous occasions in the past and hopefully will continue to do so for a lang time tae come – it is one of the most exciting and impressive displays of controlled flight you can ever hope to see! The females standing on that chosen location as the males perform an aerobatic display that out-displays anything that mere man can do.

That erratic tumbling dive which so often looks to be completely out of control, then sweeping upwards almost at the last moment as it nears the ground.

As it displays in the sky you can hear that familiar ‘peewit, peewit’ call, from this is derived another name for the Lapwing which is often used here in the North-east, the Peewit or the Peesie. In fact throughout the British Isles the Lapwing is known by lots of alternative names – green plover, horneywink, old maid, lappin, flopwing, and of course, the teuchat.

One of the things which makes the Lapwing easily recognised is its crest, not many species of birds to be seen in Britain have such prominent ones, and this crest is the subject of an obscure and ancient riddle which goes thus – What is up when it is down, And down when it is up?

Of course, it’s a Lapwing’s crest because when it is on the ground the crest is up but when it is flying in the air the crest is flattened and therefore down!