The banded lapwing keeps to the shadows, or should I say to the furrows of ploughed field and rough pasture.
It’s the shy cousin to the more notorious of the lapwing and plover family, the masked lapwing which each spring makes the headlines when it dive-bombs unsuspecting people invading its space in suburbia’s open spaces.
The masked lapwing, of course, is more commonly referred to as the “plover” in Tasmania and many people do not realise that it has a similarly-sized relative in the state.
I’m often asked about the strikingly plumaged plover found in rural areas, readers thinking it might in fact be merely a variant or sub-species of lapwing found in country districts. The banded lapwing is a distinct species and I hadn’t realised just how different it was until I saw them for the first time on Easter Sunday.
The banded lapwing had been in my sights for years and I felt somewhat embarrassed that I had not actually seen the species. The “On the Wing” columnist of the Mercury really should be familiar with all the relatively common birds of the state.
It’s not that I had ignored the species. I followed up reports of sightings, but always seemed to arrive too late to see them. I’ve lost count of the times I slowly crawled along the Mudwalls Rd between Richmond and Oatlands, scanning the ploughed fields of the Coal River Valley where I been told they could be found.
The subject of banded plovers had come up when I visited the Shene Estate at Pontville last year, intending to do write a story about returning welcome swallows, and their place in the farming history, and folklore, of Tasmania.
The owners of the historic Shene home and stables, David and Anne Kernke, had told me that banded plovers turned up on the estate from time to time and they would alert me to their presence when they next arrived.
I had to wait for about six months before I received a call from an excited David Kernke just before Easter. Within days, free of work commitments, I was on my way, arriving on a sunny if windy Easter Sunday morning.
I didn’t have to look far for the lapwings, unlike my fruitless odyssey along the Mudwalls Rd. As I drove along the tree-lined drive leading into the estate, David Kernke stood ahead of me, excitedly pointing to an adjoining grassy paddock.
As soon as I had opened the car door, I could see the banded lapwings right in front of me. And I could see immediately that they were markedly different to their plover cousins. They were slightly smaller than the 36cm plovers for a start, and far more brightly coloured.
The banded lapwing has a broad black breast band and white throat. The upperparts are mainly grey-brown with white underparts. There is a black cap and broad white eye-stripe, with a yellow eye-ring and bill.
Adding to the mix of colour is a small red wattle over the bill which can be seen from quite a distance. Combined with the yellow-eye ring, the red wattle gives the species a spectacular appearance. The legs are pinkish-grey.
The more common plover tends to walk with a stoop, giving it a menacing hunched appearance at times when it views people wandering across its territory before taking to the wing noisily, and swooping at the intruders. The banded lapwings have a more upright stance and a slow walk, breaking into a faster trot when alarmed. They fly with quick, clipped wing-beats – which gives the bigger members of the plover family the name of “lapwing’’ – and I am told they are far less aggressive than the masked lapwings.
The wonderful thing about bird-watching is not just the birds themselves but the people you meet in the process of finding them. The Kernkes are a case in point and, as with the time I visited to celebrate the return of the swallows in spring, we retired to the historic homestead after viewing the lapwings. Country life past and present, and restoration, were on the menu, together with coffee and a traditional fruit cake, soaked in brandy.