The riddles of radio-tracking…

I think perhaps my ‘lapwing-taster-post’ may have made this radio-tracking malarkey sound pretty straightforward? Well think again…

It is not quite as simple as finding a chick, gluing on a tag and going out to the place you left it every other day, to find it is patiently sat in full view, awaiting your return. No, no.

Problem 1 – locating chick:

The whole process of locating chicks actually started almost 3 months ago, back in March, when initial surveys of the Avon Valley (yes, the entire valley) began, to kind of suss-out where the lapwing pairs were thinking of settling down. This involved long hours of pacing fields on the look out for any loved-up lapwing pairs (basically a male lapwing and a female lapwing in close proximity – unrivalled romance, huh?).

The following few weeks were filled with more long hours of pacing fields, this time in search of any ‘sitting females’ (quite self explanatory this time). Such a sighting indicated the presence of a nest(!) and was shortly followed by rapid pacing of said field to find said nest.

A brief waiting game followed (except it didn’t because we weren’t just looking for 1 nest), for the eggs to hatch. Often at this point, Problem 1a came into play: eggs did not hatch – the digestive tract of a fox/badger/crow/buzzard/mink/cow (as I horrifically learnt today – cows are not vegan!) does not provide the necessary conditions for egg development.

However, if the eggs went undetected and we accurately estimated the hatch date, we would visit the area shortly after the chicks were meant to have hatched in the hope of finding them. At this stage Problem 1b may prevent successful discovery: wrongly estimated hatch date so chicks have long gone to pastures anew or are still eggs. Alternatively, Problem 1a may have raised its ugly head again: chicks also do not cope well with stomach acid.

But occasionally (rarely), we would turn up and find 4 (more often 1 or 2 due to Problem 1a) bumblebee-sized fluff balls tootling around right next to mum and nest. Upon such a sighting, rapid pacing of said field once again ensued to catch said chicks.


Then: radio-tag + gauze + marker pen + a lot of glue = radio-tagged chick (horrah)!



So yeah, a lot of leg work but simple really? WRONG!

When your birds look like this (yep, there is one out there):



And your nests look like this (I guess they are meant to be cryptic):



And the chicks look like this (there are 2 chicks in there!):



You would not believe how many dried up splatters of cow poo I have gleefully galloped over to thinking I’d found a chick…

Problem 2 – tracking chick:

So 2 days after blinging-up chickadee (that you fell in love with the minute it first pooped in your hand) with shiny new tag, you head back out to the location you last saw it. Antennae, receiver, binoculars, GPS, compass, ruler, penetrometer, spare jumper, lunch and 2 litres of water in tow (yeah, then try hurdling barbed wire fences). You get there and either encounter Problem 2a: no signal for chick – occasionally overcome by more furious pacing of fields or tweaking of frequencies, often not. Or, Problem 1a all over again… you find them buried, chewed or just generally beat up.

On a good day though, you get a decent signal and triangulate the chick’s position (stand at 3 points and take a GPS point and compass bearing towards the strongest signal, then go all old-school and draw on a map to figure a location), or even better, you get a glimpse of the little fluff-ball!

And all this drama goes without even mentioning the good-ol’ British summertime weather…


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