| Our dog walks are punctuated by the corn bunting's jingling ringtone|
|A fortnight of labrador-sitting has brought us out every evening into the livestock-free arable fields of east Bedfordshire. The dog trots along the tracks, stopping to mouth the long grass, roll in dead shrews and other unspeakables. We look and listen for skylarks, yellowhammers and – most of all – the fat bird of the barley. Every one of our dog walks has been punctuated by the corn bunting's jingling ringtone and we hear it now. In a field of oil-seed rape to our right there are millions of seedpods, hundreds of yellow flowers, and one corn bunting. It sings readily enough from its low perch. Early 20th century ornithologists described the corn bunting's song as being like the jangling of keys. The simile still holds true, though the short snatches suggest they are not long out of pocket.|
Towards the junction of two paths, another sound comes from above. A lapwing circles us, swooping close, pulling back, uttering a cry that is half piteous, half warning. Round and round it goes and I become aware that I am spinning on a clay sixpence. Does the bird distract or attract? We find ourselves alerted, scanning the fields for its mate. Sure enough, a little way into a fallow field is another lapwing on the ground. It is moving about a little, a sign that it is chaperoning newly hatched and instantly mobile young.
A little way down a deadend track, beyond the point where a partridge bolts from a field of wheat, is a patch of fine-tilled soil about the size of a football pitch. There are two parallel rows of what look like part-opened dark umbrellas set out evenly spaced on the soil. Another "brolly" is lying on the path and the dog runs towards it and nuzzles it with his snout. We draw close enough to see that it is a dead jackdaw, its head tucked back against its neck. The umbrellas are corvids too, presumably shot and laid out as genuine scarecrows. Our temporary charge raises his grizzled head and scampers on in search of something more or less edible.