Today I surveyed the ’98 land in Barton, the largest single unit of Lark Rise Farm which consists of eight arable fields and two meadows, with all the associated hedges, grass margins, the banks of the Bourn Brook and a couple of small woodland/scrub patches. I started a bit later today, partly due to the fatigue from yesterday’s excessive cycle ride and partly because peering out of the window at 5:30am revealed a misty morning. This was lifting an hour later and I started at 7:15am, as opposed to the Westfield visit which was a 6:30am start.

The first thing that got my excited was hearing a corn bunting again, in the same area I heard one last week. I did not have time to explore that previous observation any further, but today I walked up to the area where the song was coming from and a flock of 22 corn buntings flew out of the hedge and into the recently sown field, no doubt finding recently disturbed weed seeds after the cultivation. This is the biggest group we’ve seen in recent years of this rapidly declining species.

I was primed by Tim that the next field on my survey route had been occupied by a lapwing recently – this is a bit of land which is not owned by the CRT, but Tim farms it as a tenant of the landowner there. Tim had described this lapwing as 'Billy-no-mates', and indeed it was clearly a male on his own in that field. I was very pleased when I turned the corner and found the next field had a female Lapwing. During the course of the four and a quarter hours of my survey, I saw them flying around and the male was seen doing some of his ecstatic display flight and also driving off a carrion crow. After one fly-round, both birds flew back to the first field where the male had been initially, and I didn’t see them again until the end of the survey when I came back past that area on the way to my bike.

On this final inspection, the male was again very obviously walking around – it took a long careful scan with the binoculars to find the head and a bit of the back and tail of the female, clearly sitting tight. In my experience, this looks very much like a nesting bird. The area they have chosen was where the first successful lapwings bred, I think it was four years ago. That pair was successful, with four fledged chicks. I am fairly sure the male at least is the same bird, and he was very good at driving away potential predators. The circumstances are similar, with the field being churned up mud in an area where the drains have failed and the wet winter has meant that tractor movements have caused deep ruts that have filled up with water. This creates perfect feeding conditions for lapwings, which means that they can feed quickly and spend most of their time incubating the eggs and defending the nest. It takes four weeks to hatch the eggs and another month for the chicks to be free-flying, so they need lots of food for themselves and the chicks.

There were loads of other good farmland birds in addition to these headliners, with plenty of yellowhammers again, several pairs of grey partridges, linnets and lots of skylarks. The other noticeable thing today were the many hares in almost every field; I tallied a total of 41! It was also good to see one of the three Black Poplars that were planted many years ago was coming into flower for the first time. This is one of the rarest trees in Britain, and we were given a handful of cuttings a good few years ago, and three have survived and grown nicely, in the wet ground next to the Bourn Brook. The one in flower had the long red catkins that tell us it is a male tree. We may have to wait a few more years to see if either of the others are females.

Tomorrow I’ll be going back to the ’98 land to try and finish off the hedgelaying, and I’ll make sure to have a proper search to see if the Lapwing really is nesting, and record the number of eggs if I am lucky enough to find the nest

Dr Vince Lea
Head of Wildlife Monitoring 

P.s. later on, while I was gardening this afternoon, a lapwing, almost certainly the same male, flew overhead and did a quick display over the field where I’d seen one last week… it came from the direction of the nesting pair. They are colonial nesters, so he is almost certainly trying to attract further pairs. The more pairs in a patch, the better they are at defending the nests and chicks.

Donate to our Colours of the Countryside appeal today