WHEN we lived in God’s own county, Essex, more than 30 years ago, we used to see flocks and flocks of lapwings, but I very rarely see them in Lancashire, where we live now. Reluctant as I am to use the RSPB as a source of information, they say that since 1960 numbers in England and Wales have dropped by 80 per cent. Although there are still estimated to be nearly 100,000 breeding pairs in the UK, and 635,000 including visitors in the winter, the precipitous rate of decline means it is now on the red list of most threatened species in the UK.
The northern lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), also called peewit after its call, is found extensively in the northern hemisphere. It is a handsome black and white wader (though unlike most waders it prefers land) with a green-tinted back and a distinctive crest. Its blunt wing tips make it quite easy to identify in flight.
Here is another video with a larger flock.
The male performs a tumbling display flight which must be quite hard to capture on film as I could only find this short clip on YouTube.
The problem is that they have quite specific requirements about where they breed. They nest in a scrape on the ground, which has to have good all-round visibility so that they can spy predators, so land with winter-sown crops won’t do as the vegetation is too high. The nest and young are defended aggressively against all intruders, up to and including horses and cattle. The adult will often try to distract enemies from its nest by trailing a wing as if broken. There are typically four eggs, and the chicks are ‘nidifugous’ – they can walk and leave the nest within a few hours of hatching (the opposite is ‘nidicolous’, when the chicks are helpless and need time in the nest to develop).
Here is a little sweetie at eight hours old.
The parents lead the newly hatched chicks to the rearing habitat (a potentially hazardous journey in itself) which ideally has shallow pools with plenty of invertebrates to eat. So basically they need a mosaic of fairly agriculture-free ground. With the trend to winter-sown crops and general intensification of farming, with more grazing animals which can trample the nest, the number of suitable locations has shrunk. The transformation of farmland into solar farm deserts and the multiplication of bird-chopping wind turbines will not be helping either. (Both of these technologies, incidentally, are supported by the RSPB, though they are now hedging their policy on wind farms, in particular, with words such as ‘strategic planning’.)
This picture of a lapwing nesting is believed to be the first photograph of a wild bird. It was taken by Reginald Badham Lodge and in 1895 it won him the Royal Photographic Society’s first medal for nature photography.
WE had a very stormy night on Thursday and the next morning I passed this house which had been covered in ivy. It has taken some masonry with it.
This is probably a good argument for not having ivy on your wall, though it has to be said that the bare wall is rather on the plain side.
Sheep of the Week
This is a Lleyn ewe, named after the Lleyn peninsula of North Wales. The breed’s origins are in Ireland, where Dishley Leicesters were taken from the UK to improve indigenous Irish sheep and develop the Roscommon breed. The Roscommon was exported to the Lleyn peninsula in the early 19th century and used to improve local Welsh sheep into the Lleyn. The breed did not find popularity until the mid-20th century, when it gained a reputation for being the fastest growing in the UK. It is now found in large numbers on farms throughout the UK, as well as achieving some export success.
It is a low maintenance breed with mothers easily bringing up two lambs. It is medium in size, all white with a black nose, and neither sex has horns. It is bred for meat, while its wool is fine and popular with knitters.
There is a flock of Lleyns on Great Orme, the hill overlooking Llandudno, where they are used to graze the grassland. Here is a video with the shepherd Dan Jones.
Here is a delightful video of lambs.
You can read more about the breed at the Lleyn Sheep Society website. https://www.lleynsheep.com/
Wheels of the Week
This is a 1953 James 98cc Comet.
The Famous James is one of the oldest motorcycle marques in the world. Founder Harry James established The James Cycle Company Ltd in the 1880s in Birmingham. Initially the firm made penny-farthings, followed by a series of popular bicycles, and the first James motorcycle was made in 1902. Most of their light machines, often with the characteristic maroon finish, used Villiers and, later, AMC two-stroke engines.
During the war James produced 6,000 ML (Military Lightweight) motorbikes for the Army. The firm also manufactured ammunition and parts for the Spitfire.
The Comet was a post-war design which went into production in late 1948. With various updates it was made until 1964.
The James company was taken over by Associated Motor Cycles in 1951 and combined with Francis-Barnett in 1957. In 1966 the company became one of the many British motorcycle companies forced out of business by Japanese competition. But there could be a new chapter – the James name is owned by John Oakley who is seeking investors to produce a new model. This article in Motorcycle News tells you more.
The firm is already producing the James Retro bicycle, which you can see here.
Note to readers: I am running a bit low on pictures I took at various shows in the summer so if you have a favourite classic car or motorbike that you would like to see featured in this column, leave a comment or email me at email@example.com and I will do my best. Even better if you have your own photos. All being well I will find lots more classics this summer.