LAPWING (Vanellus vanellus)

Vanneau huppé

 

The Lapwing is found all across the Western Palearctic from Iceland to the Pacific coast of Russia. It is one species that is already reacting to climate change which is thought to explain a northwards expansion of its range in this region, also long-term records from the Netherlands show that the first eggs (which once were harvested) are being found earlier and earlier. Although resident in a few areas it is mainly migratory moving along a rough north-east / south-west axis to avoid the frozen winters.

In Switzerland it is mainly migratory with most birds seen during the northwards passage in February-March, with fewer in October-November.  A few do breed in Switzerland but the numbers doing so have declined markedly over the last 40 years. This is undoubtedly due to habitat loss because this is a species of the flat lowlands, preferring moist ground with open or sparse vegetation and marshy areas. Such habitat in Switzerland is generally claimed for agriculture, drained and intensively managed, and since (like all plovers) this is a ground-nesting species its breeding activities are physically disturbed. However they do hang on in areas given some degree of protection from such disturbance.

It is very elegant looking, with its rounded body, fine crest and glossy green plumage, and its true magnificence is easily overlooked at a distance where it can seem like just another black and white bird. Their sound and displays are just great if you get the chance to watch and listen.

The basic display call is a three-part song based around somewhat snarling high-pitched "whoo-eep cheep-cheep, whoo-eep"  sounds which seem to swirl and reel around, here is the basic theme repeated three times:

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If you take a look at the sonogram you can see how the notes slide up and down the scale:


However you seldom actually hear one quite that clearly because these are active creatures and spend a lot of time displaying over their territories, with many chases and display flights taking place all the time. These flights are pretty spectacular in their craziness, the bird has very broad wings and it swoops and soars, twists and turns in a dramatic fashion, often with two birds working it together. The result is a crazy confusion of wings and sounds. Here is a pair displaying in a reserve in the marshes of the Norfolk Coast in UK, with other shorebirds and terns in the background:

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During these displays one bird will occasionally suddenly accelerate and beat its wings extra hard, at this point the wings emit a strange vibrating noise, here is one not far from a busy road where I left my recorder in its display area, if you listen carefully  you can hear the humming noise from the wings at 4,10,20 and 30 seconds (best, as always, with headphones):

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It is from this noise and display that the name "Lapwing" derives.

It also goes under the names Northern Lapwing, Green Plover, and also Peewit - this latter name coming from the sound it makes. This sound is not so obvious (to me at least !) from the flight calls, but here is one in a small reserve in Switzerland which was calling from the ground, the Marsh Frogs were also calling! But at least you get the impression of the type of habitat they prefer (you just have to ignore the inevitable light aircraft overhead).

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WOODCOCK (Scolopax rusticola)

Bécasse des Bois


I think this is a fascinating bird, it is basically "wader" (that family of long-legged birds usually found wading in shallow waters) that does not much utilise open water or open marshes, but instead prefers wet forests where it actually spends a lot of its time under the canopy. During the day they hide inside the forest, sitting quietly on the floor letting their cryptic coloration provide protection. They then become active just before dusk when they leave the forest interior and feed in open glades or the surrounding fields or marshes. During the breeding season the transition periods between day and night and back again are really important for their mating displays. The males will take to the air, flying slowly but directly, patrolling the periphery of large areas which may be territories giving a most peculiar call. In flight they seem to have rather droopy quite stiff, bat-like wings and carry the beak pointing down to the ground at about 45 degrees. They have dumpy bodies - which taste good and they are a popular bird for hunters, they have stripes that go across their head (not along it as in most species) and eyes set at the side which apparently give them 360 degree vision. Altogether a strange beast.

In keeping with all this their "song" is most peculiar - a series of grunts, that some people call the "snore" notes with the last one followed immediately by an explosive high-pitched "sneeze" note:

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This activity by male Woodcock is called "roding" and commences just as the last light is in the sky at dusk and as the Robins and Thrushes are singing their last before going to roost. The recordings you hear on this page were made using an unmanned overnight recorder which I occasionally put out for owls. The Woodcock sounds that I have found on my recordings tell me that most roding activity stops after about 1 -1.5 hours but I do have an occasional record of Woodcock still roding long after dark at 1 or 2 am in the morning. There is then another resumption of activity at dawn, roding will start at the very first sign of a paling sky and continue until about an hour after dawn.

[Technical note: since these recordings have been captured by a fixed machine I have had to amplify some of them a lot to demonstrate the point I want to make. This amplification has introduced a slight distortion to some of them, but it is wildlife behaviour not aesthetics that makes me keep them here]

The previous bird you heard was giving consistent call of three "snores" and then the "sneeze" to the rhythm 1-2-3-wher-rup, 1-2-3-wher-rup etc. Cramp et al suggest that individuals may have different rhythms that can be recognised by the human ear. Here is one that goes 1-2-wher-up, 1-2-wher-up:

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And here is one that is even shorter: 1-wher-up, 1-wher-up

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Maybe as time goes on and I acquire more recordings I will understand more about this, it would be an interesting census technique if each individual had his own voice signature. Those recordings were all done in 2010 within 1km of each other.

I have had my overnight recorder out again in 2011 in the same area (with different microphones) and found my old friend 1-2-3 there again (this time with cow bells nearby):

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and here is his sonogram you can see that explosive "sneeze" extending up to 10kHz and beyond:


But then that same night another interesting thing happened when I picked up some chittering noises along with two roding males. These squeaking are the two males flying close and challenging each other, interrupting their usual grunt calls to do so.

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The squeaks are similar to the “sneeze” note only of a lower pitch, and you have to listen carefully but each male seems to be making a different call – I think I can hear 1-2-3-wher-up and 1-2-wher-rup. Interesting...

If you look at the sonogram of the last part of that piece you can see the "sneeze" (the first 6) starting at about 5kHz extending up to 10kHz, whilst the excitement calls are lower from about 3.5 - 5.5 kHz (they commence at 1.035 secs in the video):


So there is this fascinating bird, found all over Switzerland, mostly in the lowlands, but also in the Jura and the foothills of the alps up to about 1600m.

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