| Wader chick fever grips birds and spotters alike|
|From Allendale town the road curves up through deep verges where cow parsley bobs as the wind passes over it, a Mexican wave of white froth. Light and shade scud across this open landscape, the fields particularly brilliant this year with buttercups. Waders nest in these rough upland pastures: curlew, lapwing, redshank, oystercatcher, birds of the coast that come here to breed. Volunteer bird-ringer Charlotte Reid is driving an ex-military vehicle, a Land Rover so tall that I have to haul myself up to its front seat. From here we get an elevated view and can scan the fields for wader chicks. It is the birdwatchers' ideal vehicle. We spot lapwing and curlew chicks, snipe probing the grass and meadow pipits flitting between grey fence posts.|
Down on the ground everything changes. The foreshortened binocular view is unrecognisable: the landmarks of rushes and mud patches are rearranged into a different pattern. The air is reeling with the alarm calls of parents whose chicks are now scattered across the field. The farmer has used a muck spreader, and every mottled clump of straw and manure looks like a bird hunkered down among the grass. Charlotte spies a lapwing chick and dashes after it, sweeping it up with firm but gentle hands. She puts it in a bucket that we take to the edge of the field. Here the bird-ringer's tools are waiting: scales, notebook, ruler, pliers and numbered rings. Of the lapwings that she has tagged for the British Trust for Ornithology, this has ring number 17. Weighed in a little bucket of the sort children use to make sand castles, the chick is 157.1g, the largest so far. With the pliers she deftly presses the C-shaped metal band around its leg and measures its wing length with the ruler.
I carry the young lapwing back to where we found it, my hands feeling its warmth through the softness of feathers that already have a slight green sheen. Just a hint of a crest shows on its head. Its legs feel smooth and reptilian. Crouched down, I let it go and watch as it scurries away in speedy zigzags among the kingcups and buttercups of this upland field.