Birding Great Sleight, Great Chalfield

This has to be the most unhealthiest winter I’ve ever known. If producing mucus were a cottage industry Jo, Evie, and myself would be up for a trade award. Evie, bless her, is drowning in the stuff. Jo is communicating more by subtle inflections in her barking coughs than using speech. And me – me, I went birding…

Well, what’s a man supposed to do. More importantly, what’s a birder supposed to do when the sun shines and the frost lies deep and crisp and even? Especially when with the temperature hovering around freezing and heavy snowfall in eastern England over the last week, chances were good that a Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus – a species that typically moves to find unfrozen ground to dig invertebrates out of – or two might make it out to the comparatively balmy west and Great Chalfield.

The most open area on the entire Great Chalfield estate is a large field known as Great Sleight. Last summer the field was deep in wheat, but at this time of year Great Sleight (especially with a light sprinkling of snow on it) looks more like a rolling moorland curving away into the distance. Perfect in other words for birds that typically feed in short grass habitats

So, to cut a longish story short (and excuse me a second while I clean the drips off my keyboard), I headed up to behind the Manor House to Great Sleight about midday. I found perfect light and – almost on cue – 50+ (perhaps as many as 70!) Lapwings in a loose feeding flock, my first sighting of the species here and apparently the first records for some thirty years.

Fortunately (being lazy and hobbled by man-flu) I’d driven the 800m to the field and was able to use the car as a hide. I say fortunately because even winding the window down to line up the camera caused a wave of anxiety to ripple through the flock, so had I walked up i don;t suppose I’d have got anywhere near them at all. As it was I spent the first fifteen minutes or so counting Lapwings and trying to get a few decent flight shots…

 


northern lapwing

northern lapwing

northern lapwing

northern lapwing

northern lapwing

northern lapwing
Northern Lapwings

 

If I’d been on something approaching form (let alone top-form) it probably wouldn’t have taken me so long to notice that tucked away behind the lapwings were another plover species! Northern Lapwings and European (Greater) Golden Plovers Pluvialis apricaria often move away from hard weather together, and finally I realised that the distant, brownish lapwings without crests were indeed Golden Plovers (I’m a better birder than this normally I assure you).

I counted eleven, but after about 40 minutes of re-counts a small group appeared from beyond the dip and joined the others: a total of 18 in all, and as far as Robert is aware the first records here at all (not that seeing a species at Great Chalfield makes it nationally-important, but as I’m re-discovering the joys of patch-watching I’m very pleased).

 


golden plover
Two Northern Lapwings, one Skylark (what do you mean you can’t see the Skylark?),
and a Golden Plover

golden plover
European (Greater) Golden Plover

golden plover
Golden Plovers and Lapwings often travel together, but the Lapwings took every opportunity
to dive at their smaller relatives for reasons I couldn’t quite understand.

 

As expected there wasn’t too much else hiding out on a bare field in the freezing cold. There were two (possibly more) Skylarks, several Rooks (resident here and very expected), a female Common Kestrel, and about twenty Black-headed Gulls. A few Fieldfares chattered overhead while I waited for the Plovers to come close (they didn’t), but as at least a few North American birders reading this could be quite excited about Black-headed Gulls, I’ll end this post with a few more photos of what is in actual fact quite a striking species in flight…

 


adult winter Black-headed Gull
Non-breeding adult Black-headed Gull

1st winter Black-headed Gull

1st winter Black-headed Gull
1st winter Black-headed Gulls

 

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About the author

Passionate about animal welfare and conservation, veggie and dairy-free, I live in the Wiltshire (UK) countryside. I birded the world for twenty years before quitting my airline job and am now freelance. I co-founded Birders Against Wildlife Crime and Birds Korea. Trustee of the League against Cruel Sports On Twitter @charliemoores

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