And then there were three…..

Once the car is parked in the lay-by and the dogs secured on their leads, we (the dogs and I) set off through the shelter belt and then onto Green Lane.

The way through the shelter belt is fraught with trip hazards and I have to concentrate very hard even though I have done the walk hundreds of times. It collects litter either blown in by the wind, which is always colder and stronger and grittier up here, or dumped by people, unable to take the packaging from their sandwiches or crisp packets home with them. The thin straggly path cut through the grasses and nettles by many feet and paws, wends its way past litter, discarded corrugated sheets and the occasional car battery.

A good litter pick keeps the area clean for a few weeks but rubbish soon finds its way and peeps out at you from behind the trees and bushes or snags you as you pass.

Lilly the Collie always leads the way, me next with the Gabster my Romanian rescue bringing up the rear. Great , blue and coal tits scatter as we trip stumble and crash our way through.

It is with relief that we reach the narrow gap in the dry stone wall that leads onto Green lane. This used to be a neat and well made gap in the wall, but attempts to block it upon and the subsequent attempts to remove the blockage mean that there is a tumble of sharp and uneven rocks to step across before seeking the relative sanctuary of the lane.

At this point Lilly always tries to turn right and head for one of the open fields just across from the lane. We usually go left so I delay releasing her from her lead until I have established beyond any shadow of doubt that the lane is where we are going and the field is for another day. She usually gets the message. Usually.

For the past few months I have been watching several pairs of Lapwings battle the elements, farming practices and predators to try and raise their chicks.

The Struggle to survive

One pair nested early and managed to bring one of the three chicks that I saw to fledge. The chick was finished off in the field next to the farm. I guess that there were plenty of invertebrates around as the farmer brought his cattle out from their winter housing to this field in early May.

The field is visible from the lane. Literally you just peer over the drystone wall and for a few weeks there were 4 to 5 adult lapwings and the juvenile happily feeding and resting in the worm and beetle rich environment.

The chicks are born on the quarry overburden tip on the other side of the lane. This is now a beautiful site, left unattended for 40 years it has re-wilded and as Spring advances into Summer becomes a wildflower rich habitat. Often there are one or two brown hares hiding in the rich dense undergrowth and the tip is crisscrossed with paths made by animals over the years. During the winter there are often snipe on the wetter parts.

It was here that the Lapwings raised their first brood, and as soon as the chicks hatched they were feeding themselves on the insects that the vegetation supported and were alarmed into hiding in the dense grasses from potential predators. But despite the best efforts of the diligent and attentive parents only one of the chicks made it to the finishing ground.

Perhaps the overwhelming numbers of crows proved too much or more likely it was a cold and very wet spell that took the weakest chicks.

But there was clearly still activity on the overburden tip. Two adults, clearly a pair were defending something from all intruders and this included the dogs and I, so we kept away from them not wanting to add to their worries.

A week ago I became aware that the adult Lapwings were up to something. They had moved down from the overburden tip and were patrolling the lane clearly getting alarmed at our presence flying overhead and calling plaintively.

But after two days they had given top and I noticed that they had settled in one of the freshly cut fields next to the farmhouse.

Much to the dogs annoyance I stopped a couple of mornings later to watch them. They were sitting about ten metres apart and seemed to be almost asleep. Until a crow flew over and then one of them took to the air and flew straight at the intruder driving it off and then climbing vertically into the air before circling back to its resting place.

Impressive but clearly she, let’s call her a she, was defending something. So I took a closer look and sure enough after ten minutes a couple of fluffy awkward looking balls of young Lapwing stalked out on their long legs from a patch of longer grass and headed for mum.

This was great news, made even sweeter by the emergence a few days later of a third chick.

As I write this the family have over come the introduction of cows and their calves to the field and this morning the farmer brought one of his bulls that was very anxious to get to know his herd. To celebrate all the cows, calves and the bull ran about the field. I could barely watch but Lapwings have evolved to deal with this and came through unscathed.

I check them two or three times a day. I am amazed at how the chicks can disappear so completely only to emerge minutes later intent on their search for food. And the dedication of the parents is humbling.

There is someway to go and many hazards to be overcome and each morning that I go to the lane, I feel tense, anxious and wonder if I will see them. But each day the chicks get stronger and they are in very good hands or should that be wings, they have wonderful dedicated and loving parents.

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