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Sunday, 23 November 2008

Lapwings - Bird Brains Or Not? by Margaret McCormick


Margaret is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable naturalist who I first met when she worked at the MV Visitors' Centre at Sale. Both she and I are members of Manchester Field Club.

In the piece that follows Margaret tells us about some practical Ornithology that she was recently involved with over in the Altrincham area.


The phone rang, ‘Lapwings are using the roofs of Altrincham Retail Park as daytime winter roosts. The BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) need people to count the numbers & as you live nearby, any chance you could do this? Well I’m five minutes walk away so how could I refuse. The plan was to count the birds once a month from October to March.

Lapwings feed at night & normally spend the day snoozing in the fields, keeping a watchful eye out for danger from birds of prey, dogs, farm animals or machinery. Roosting on roofs is something new & not just in Altrincham, & it’s been noted in other retail parks up & down Greater Manchester. Is there a Lapwing grapevine, blog or ESP thing going on?

Off I toddled with a notebook to do my first count. Not so easy as some roofs were pitched, so half the birds were hidden from view. Then there were the passers by…from B&Q, Asda, MFI etc...etc. What was I looking for? ‘Lapwings, I’m counting lapwings.’ Funny looks, much head shaking & temple tapping. I clocked up seventy birds & went home. There had to be an easier way. Later that day, around three-thirty, glancing through the back window I spotted a flock of them rising above the roofs of the retail park. I flew (well nearly) upstairs grabbing my camera on the way. There were two separate flocks circling slowly. Between my house & the retail park is a housing estate but the birds were high enough to get a few good shots before they moved away, some to the west & the others to the south. I ultimately dubbed these two flocks ‘The Carrington Gang’& ‘The Mobberly Mob’ as that was where I later found them to be feeding at dusk.
From the camera then downloaded to the computer (with a large zoom) it was a simple matter to count large flocks at my desk.. As the weeks went by the numbers rose to nearly five hundred birds with the numbers peaking in late December early January. All taking advantage of the central heating from the stores rising to warm the roofs & providing a cosy roost for them during the day. As for me….I too could stay in the warm & not run the gamut of strange looks & head-tapping... Easy peasy!


Margaret McCormick, November 2008

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