Curlews, lapwings — later black grouse, and more

[Sketches derived from apparently royalty-free images on the internet]

So the large curlew is back on the Sparty Lea fellside, gliding through the air, and the lapwings have been skirling in the sky for some time now. Only after we’d lived here for many years did we see the black grouses (up to seven at any one time) perching prominently on the hawthorn trees lining the little burn that runs down beneath our track into the larger Swinhope Burn flowing into the River East Allen. But then we realised that a certain amount of social activity among the black grouse was occuring actually on our own small-holding, a two acre plot in front of our house that is usually occupied by a very gentle gentleman of a horse called Plough. We feel so blessed to think that these elegant birds enjoy our dilapidated pasture.

Our domesticated fowl: three chickens; two ducks; a guinea fowl and the neighbour’s peacock, seem to attract a pair of pheasants, along with a variety of sparrows and chaffinches and European goldfinches, and the territorial robin and his mate. And the inevitable crows, so many many crows, which swoop instantly onto strewn feed like thieving wraiths from a miniature Wagnerian opera. Gordon the guinea fowl fluffs his feathers to chase them away while Earnest the peacock sneaks up to steal his mealworms on the window ledge. The house martins or swallows (we’re never sure which they are) have not yet returned to nest in the eaves, but then it’s unlikely that there are many insects in the air yet either. The sparrow hawks, few as they are, stay down by the river to hover over the main road, balancing on the gusts of wind.

The starlings line the wires strung between telephone and power poles, and sometimes they too swirl about, making a good simulacrum of a murmuration of themselves before settling back down in one or another of the few large trees.

Driving up and down our track, we’ve noticed that the wild birds are less conscious of our presence than if we walk, but we’re not bird photographers, so we never manage to catch them strutting, or decoying, on camera, though I thought I did catch a fly-catcher in action on video, once. We just have to remember, in our mind’s eye, these idiosyncratic behaviours that are so endearing, that remind us we’re home.

Last year, late in the season, I found a very strange plant growing in what would become this year’s potato patch. It turned out to be a Jimson weed, otherwise known as a thorn apple, a highly hallucinogenic plant of extreme potency, which we can only assume was dropped as a seed by a migrating bird finishing its digestion. Definitely not one for the compost heap!

We’re biologists, Carrie and I, but not naturalists, just lay-observers of nature around us. We trained in the laboratory, and our careers were built on research in tall buildings, mostly, in metropolitan centres throughout the northern hemisphere. But the observation of birds, both wild and domestic, in our own garden and the extended fellside, is a regular joy nevertheless.


  1. [These posts are] . . . so interesting and informative. I look forward to seeing what your subject matter will be every day.

  2. . . . The most exciting time of year, to see the curlews return, and hear their evocative cry! Aren’t we lucky to live where they (and all those other birds you mention) are.

  3. I hope you are enjoying writing these posts as much as I am reading them, they all remind me how much I love living here.

  4. .. . I have House Martins and get quite anxious for their return imagining their journey over sub-saharan Africa riding the thermals, I don’t care that they make a mess on the car I just love their acrobatics

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