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March 16th- garganey and displaying lapwings

As I write spring is truly on the march. After a period of cold temperatures and strong wind we have a few settled days under high pressure. The frogs have spawned in the garden pond (9/10/11th March), the rookery is busy with nesting in full swing and one can almost expect to see a swallow fly over when standing in the warmth of the sun. It is of course rather too early for that but our first summer visiting migrants are arriving.

Tolly and I went for a walk around a familiar lockdown route on Sunday afternoon. The weather looked rather unpromising, cold, with blustery showers almost putting us off leaving the house. However, no matter what the weather we never regret a walk. We stopped to look at the last hazel catkins which are the plant’s male flowers hanging off the same twigs that hold the tiny crimson female flowers. These are so often overlooked, but once seen are easy to spot, like miniscule starfish tight against the twigs. Many catkins were strewn over the ground, dislodged by the recent gales.

Some lapwings were displaying in the Ampleforth valley. The males perform an impressive acrobatic flight with dramatic swoops low over likely nesting areas. In this display you could be forgiven for thinking they are black and white, but close views reveal dark alizarin crimson, iridescent blues and greens and a spectacular crest; surely one of our most beautiful birds? Up to eight were present and I consider it a real privilege to be able to see them so close to home. People who have lived around here for half a century will tell you that a few decades ago every suitable field had nesting lapwings. Unimaginable now, we have lost so much.

We walked on to view a flooded area near Ampleforth. I scanned the water with binoculars first and straight away saw a drake garganey, a pair in fact! It was one of those unexpected moments of true elation that sometimes comes when birding, perhaps especially during this long lockdown when we have been restricted to watching within a short distance of home. The garganey is a unique and unusual duck for like a swallow it winters in Africa and visits the UK for the summer. This was quite an early record particularly this far north. I went back yesterday morning to make more extensive sketches in watercolour. There is a pair of garganey on our patch, unexpected, beautiful and unforgettable.

Garganey studies- watercolour
Garganey pair resting in morning sunshine
Male lapwing in breeding plumage
Heavy spring showers over the Holbeck

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