Lapwing Vanellus vanellus
Lapwings were far more common when I was growing up (in Potters Bar) and I had almost certainly encountered them
long before I did so consciously. The very first time I recall seeing one was in Sussex near the junction of the
A27 and A23 but as this was 1969 it was long before either of these was a major highway. I was a student and en
route, by coach, to see a friend studying at the University. Later that day there was another first for me – a
visit to Lewes - but my most enduring memory of that weekend was the sight of this extraordinary bird with rounded
wings and a long crest. I recognised it instantly as it was the main illustration on the cover of my then only bird
book. (Sad obsessive that I am, I have to pause here to count the current number - 89).
Green plovers or peewits are alternative names for this bird, the last after their amazing call, reminiscent of a
child’s squeaky toy and delivered in a spectacular courtship flight that sees the bird roll and tumble in the air
and occasionally almost fall to the ground before rising to begin the manoeuvre again. The noise made by the bird’s
wings is thought to account for the “lap” in the common name.
From a distance, lapwings appear black and white but much of the dark plumage can be seen to be green in good light.
Lapwings are quite large birds, almost the size of a jackdaw, and very sociable.
Just occasionally, a smallish flock passes over Kingston but very large numbers – aggregations of up to several hundred
birds – are often to be seen on Lewes Brooks in winter around.
Reed bunting Emberiza schoenicus
Reed buntings don’t always live up to their name. Although they are mostly found in wet or marshy places, they disperse
in winter and can breed in dry areas some way from water including cultivated fields (especially those planted with
oilseed rape) and even conifer plantations.
A close relative of the yellowhammer (aka yellow bunting) reed buntings are just about larger than sparrows and in
the winter, when the males lose their conspicuous breeding plumage (black head and neck with a contrasting white
collar) not much more distinguished looking. However, both sexes retain white outer-tail feathers throughout the
year. These are very obvious in flight and this field mark alone is enough to separate reed buntings from most
other superficially similar-looking birds. Failing that, listen for their call – a soft “seep”, recalling that
of yellow wagtail (although I appreciate that this is only useful if you know what noise a yellow wagtail makes!).
You can sometimes see a reed bunting or two along the stream (presumably the beginning of the Cockshut) that runs
through Spring Barn Farm or on the Brooks themselves. Once in a while, though, they turn up on the lower parts of
the Downs, usually in scrub.
Reed buntings are generally resident in Britain throughout the year, but a few birds ringed here have been recovered
in Belgium and France. The species is common throughout northern and central Europe (and Asia indeed) and some
individuals from Sweden pass through Britain on their way to wintering grounds even further south.
Unlike lapwings, reed buntings can and do turn up in rural gardens, feeding on grass seeds rather than at bird tables.
One visited my parents’ former garden in Barnstaple and I live in hope of seeing one in Bramleys one day. Keep an eye
out for them and let me know if you are lucky!