WILDLIFE WATCH: Lapwing joy turns to despair
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Regular readers of this column may recall me writing in early April about my delight in seeing a male lapwing displaying over a ploughed field and seeing his mate perched on the ground within a childhood haunt of mine on Wester Calcots farm near Elgin. I was delighted to see them there because lapwings have not nested on that farmland for decades.
My elation did not last long because on visiting the area on April 21 I noted that the field had been sown with spring cereal and both lapwings were wandering disconsolately in the field surrounded by hundreds of woodpigeons and up to 50 carrion crows that had been attracted by grain lying on the surface of the field.
The male lapwing was occasionally chasing away carrion crows from a small area in the field where I had seen the female sitting on an earlier visit. The shattered remains of the lapwings’ breeding attempt were obviously still lying there after the eggs had been scattered and broken by the sowing machine. The eggs would have contained well developed embryos because most chicks hatch at the end of April.
Lapwings will quite often lay another clutch of eggs if the first is lost prior to incubation or during the early incubation period but if the eggs are destroyed at the late incubation period or chick stage they will not lay another clutch that year.
Hopeful that I had perhaps got the stage of incubation wrong I visited the area again on April 25 but sadly the lapwings were no longer in the area. Where they disappear to under these circumstances is a bit of a mystery. Do they head to the mudflats on the coast where most successful pairs go with their young once the usual breeding season is over? Do they stay together as a pair or go their separate ways? Will they be back to try again next year if they are still alive?
All these thoughts were running through my mind as I stared into the field bereft of these birds with their evocative calls and distinctive display flight.
Where ever they had gone they had taken with them my hopes of a colony of them re-establishing themselves in one of my former childhood haunts. Some people may think that a pair of lapwings failing to breed is of little consequence but the fact of the matter is that breeding lapwings are very scarce in arable farmland in Moray where once they were plentiful.
When I was a child in the 1950s there was probably five to ten pairs breeding in the same field I saw the pair in this year and there was other breeding colonies scattered all across lowland farmland. However, over the intervening years they went into steep decline following changes in farming practice such as the changeover from mixed farmland to arable and drainage of damp meadows which contained a lot of their invertebrate food.
The pair that attempted to breed this year at Wester Calcots was nesting in a wet less productive part of the field and could have been saved if about a hectare of the field in that location had been left fallow and not sowed.