Northern lapwings are not normally found in the Northeast, but one recently touched down in Bridgewater, Mass., and became a star of the birding world.
By Bob Duchesne, Special to the BDN
Posted Jan. 11, 2013, at 4:42 p.m.
This northern lapwing never had a chance. The world of birding has changed.
It’s a mobile, high-speed, interconnected planet. Formerly, birding was a solitary pursuit, which appealed to shy, retiring introverts like myself. When a rare bird showed up, the fastest way to hear about it was through gossip. Eventually, it might be mentioned on a weekly bird line or listed in the newspaper. Usually, by the time word got out, the bird had flown the coop.
No more. Cellphones, text messages, emails, tweets, GPS and digital cameras have transformed birding into a social activity — a vast left- and right-wing conspiracy. A century ago, the surest way to confirm the presence of a rare bird was to shoot it. Many collections of dead rare birds are still in museums. We no longer open fire on rarities. We merely surround them and talk them into giving themselves up. “Come out with your wings up.”
And so it was that that I tracked down this northern lapwing in Bridgewater, Mass. The bird was discovered shortly after Hurricane Sandy and has stuck around. It was present during the Thanksgiving holiday, but I couldn’t slip away because there were precious few hours to spend with the in-laws. When the bird lingered in its favorite cornfield through December, I jumped in the car on the day after Christmas and snuck away long enough to get my lifer.
A northern lapwing is as rare as an NRA bumper sticker on a Prius. The lapwing is a shorebird in the plover family, common and widespread across Europe and Asia. It is similar to the killdeer and behaves the same way, but it is larger, crested and more strikingly colored. Like a killdeer, its call is a loud and sharp two syllables. It sounds like peewit, and so is also known by that name in Europe. In winter, it migrates to the Persian Gulf and areas along the north coast of Africa.
During fall migration, cyclonic storms can snatch a few of these lapwings off their course and throw them across the Atlantic. After Hurricane Sandy, one or two were seen briefly in Maine, several were sighted on Cape Cod, but only the Bridgewater lapwing remained in one location for an extended period. For me, the hardest part was finding Bridgewater. Massachusetts is a collection of oversized colonial towns connected by random cow paths. The addition of pavement has scarcely improved the road system. Pavement only accelerates the pace at which one gets lost. Thank you, Google Maps.