Egg hunt

We found some real live eggs today: a Northern Lapwing nest in the middle of a Frisian farm field. 

Northern Lapwing eggs (Friesland, Netherlands) 

Northern Lapwing eggs (Friesland, Netherlands) 

Frisians have a long tradition of hunting for lapwing nests (there's even a special hat they wear).

But they aren't allowed to collect eggs anymore, because the lapwing is declining here - one of many victims of intensive dairy farming, which has turned most of the meadows into vast monocultural fields of grass for feeding cows.

My own egg hunt was for a nonconsumptive purpose. I'm in Friesland with some researchers who are studying meadowbird biology and conservation - one of those researchers being my little sister, Alice.

It all started a few days ago when Alice and I were in the car doing the rounds to her field sites. We had to pull off the narrow road to make way for a massive tractor - but instead of passing by, it came to a halt and a blue-jumpsuit-clad farmer leaped out.

He leaned in the window and said in Dutch (fortunately not in Frisian, and fortunately to Alice instead of me) that next week he was going to "slepen" (drag) in his fields, and that he thought two of the fields might have lapwings nesting in them.

Alice thanked him for the tip and for being concerned about the birds. She said she would check out the fields, find the nests if there were any, and let him know where they were so he could work around them.

Our first opportunity for the egg hunt happened to be Easter morning. We arrived with spotting scopes in hand - Alice, her compatriot Mo, and I - and we scanned the flat green expanse for lapwings that were behaving like incubating parents. 

There were a couple of not-terribly-convincing individuals walking around in the first field, and upon closer inspection we found one nesty-looking scrape there, but no eggs.

In the second field, we saw what Mo called "a very suspicious-looking" lapwing whose crested head was just sticking up over the grass. The bird took flight long before we made it over there, but we searched the area until Alice found the nest, hard to see on the muddy ground. We marked it with a pair of tall sticks we'd been carrying around with us for that very purpose.

Now at least those eggs have an edge, so to speak. Maybe one or two will survive the gauntlet of hazards that await them in their agriculture-dominated habitat. Happy Easter!