Sunday, 5 December 2010

Eerie visitors

Penny and I were walking back last night from our car, which we're leaving at the end of our steep and windy road during the snow, when we heard plaintive wails from the fields below our house. It was twilight, and we could just make out shadowy shapes wheeling around the dozy clusters of sheep. It was from these shapes that the wails came.
They were peewits, or lapwings. For the second year running, extreme cold has brought them down from the moors to our river valley in Leeds. It isn't exactly warm here, but certainly much less chilly than the birds' usual haunts such as Blubberhouses or Almscliff Crag. I managed to get this rather distant photograph of one of them this morning (above). You can, I hope just make out its distinctive crested head in the close up (right), with the sheep for scale.
Lapwings are full of interest. The name comes from their feint, pretending to be injured and dragging a wing as they lure potential predators away from their open, vulnerable nests. Their eggs were once considered a delicacy. More mundanely, they were used in their thousands by the Government in the Second World War to turn into powdered egg and bolster the ration. Once very common, they are now on the Red List of potentially threatened species, although in Yorkshire there still seem to be plenty about.

This has nothing to do with moths, I admit, although lapwings will have disposed of many a moth in their time.  It's much too cold to use the trap at the moment,  and very little would be on the wing.  One of the hardy souls in Yorkshire Butterfly Conservation (see link, above left) reports finding a wingless female Winter Moth, but that's dedication for you. I'm heeding Ben's warning (see Comment two posts below) that the mercury vapour bulb may blow at -5C. Here's the RSPB's pic of a lapwing, btw, to compensate for the faraway blurriness of mine


worm said...

great to have some little updates throughout the winter Martin!

MartinWainwright said...

Hi W - thanks I don't want to overdo it cos of other commitments but I keep seeing these interesting things. I was waiting to collect P from choir practice last night when I was joined by a large fox. He didn't like their version of Jingle Bells, however, and soon moved on. All v best M