Lapping up our winter friends

PUBLISHED: 15:22 09 November 2007 | UPDATED: 23:08 28 May 2010

Large flocks of golden plovers and lapwings are building in the Fens for winter. The sight of lapwings tumbling over their nesting grounds on our fields and marshes is familiar to many of us. They can be seen year-round. Golden plovers are a winter-only a

Large flocks of golden plovers and lapwings are building in the Fens for winter.

The sight of lapwings tumbling over their nesting grounds on our fields and marshes is familiar to many of us. They can be seen year-round. Golden plovers are a winter-only attraction though. They breed on moors in the north and west and we also get large numbers from northern Europe.

To see a field or sky full of these wading birds is always a treat, but to birdwatchers with a keen eye and the necessary powerful optical equipment to bring them into glorious close up, they also offer the chance to find a rarity.

At least two sociable plovers have graced the Fens, both back in the 1990s. These are Asian birds that are not only extreme rarities here, but globally endangered, their future threatened by habitat loss on the steppes where they nest.

However, a couple of young birds managed to set off west instead of east and ended up in Fenland in Octobers past accompanying our flocks of lapwings.

Dotterels, beautiful, colourful birds in breeding plumage nest on our highest peaks and theie migratory flocks, known as 'trips, stop off on our newly-sown fields in May each year on their way north to places such as the Cairngorm mountains in Scotland.

Occasionally, a wayward bird decides to tag along with the wintering golden plover flocks and I have twice been rewarded with finding an unseasonal dotterel. The first I found, on Block Fen, was the first Cambridgeshire winter record for more than 100 years.

In the last six years, another rare plover has started to make an appearance in the Cambridgeshire Fens, the American golden plover. Unrecorded until 2001, there has been a bird or two almost annually since, freshly arrived from a transatlantic crossing.

I visited Holt Fen, near Stretham in early November, where the Shropshire's Group floods the fields to kill off pests in the soil. This provides temporary excellent conditions for water birds.

The sky was full of about 4,000 golden plovers and 600 lapwings. I scanned and scanned for half an hour for the giveaway grey plumage, bold white stripe above the eye, longer wings and grey, instead of white underwings of the subtly marked American visitor.

This was to be my moment of glory as I found one, about quarter of a mile away. Fortunately, it flew closer into the middle of the flood with the golden plover squadrons to pose superbly that afternoon for local birdwatchers who arrived once I had passed on the news. My moment of glory had been well worth waiting for.

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