The Peewit

The sun drops over the lakes at the Nunnery Reserve, turning the calm waters the colour of molten larva. Ripples created by the resident ducks and geese spread out in ever increasing circles, rolling gently onto the tree lined banks or melting, disappearing into the smooth surface once more. The banks merge into rough grass, undulating up toward the track and fence marking the boundary of the reserve. Dotted around are dark green prickly gorse bushes, blooming with brilliant yellow flowers.

The cutest of the cute – a peewit chick

Across the washed out pale blue sky comes a sound reminiscent of a 1980s space game. The sound dips and weaves until the source comes into view. Two lapwing, otherwise known as peewits, chase each other across the sky on rounded wings, twisting, turning and rolling, before one disappears and the other charges off chasing another bird, this time the black shadow of a crow. On the ground another lapwing stands erect, keeping one eye on what is going on above and the other seemingly at the ground around her. Her dark green and purple iridescent back shimmers in contrast to the brilliant white of her belly. The white of her cheeks stands out against the black of her face and neck, and her crest points skywards, although not as smart as her mate who valiantly chases all comers across the sky, she is still a picture to behold.

Beneath her are huddled four chicks, little speckled brown and white balls of fluff on spindly legs. Unlike song birds, waders such as lapwing don’t really build a nest. Their eggs are laid in a small scrape on the ground, whether it be on moorland, estuaries or farmland. Also unlike song birds, wader chicks hatch ‘fully clothed’ so to speak. Covered in down the chicks are able to walk about and feed within a few hours.

All blinged up 

Our chicks will have been hatched on the farmland over the fence, the parents then leading them onto the grassland of the reserve to feed. If you can spot them it is the perfect time to ring them. Despite more growing to be done, not only in size but with proper feathers, their legs don’t grow any fatter meaning you can fit a ring that will last all its adult life on a chick that is a couple of hours old.

The trick is spotting them amongst the tussocks, one warning from mum or dad and they can disappear right before your eyes, their plumage and small size enabling them to blend in with the background. If you can find them, they are the best. The cutest balls of down that one can handle. A privilege that I never grow tired of. No pecking or scratching, just a wee bit wriggly. No wonder I always look stupidly happy when I have these little dudes in my hands.

Me and my peewit chicks
 

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