As a boy growing up in the Cotswolds, the most dramatic day of the year was when the stubble burning took place. The local farmer was somewhat erratic and, if I was lucky, sometimes a tree would catch fire. Once, the fire engines had to be called.

The scorched earth was then ploughed, and a few weeks later the lapwings would arrive in their thousands. As they were so common, I barely noticed them, but I do recall their familiar cry of ‘peewit-peewit’ lighting up a cold landscape. Now if I see them, I stop whatever I am doing and watch. Together with the ghostly coursing of a field by a hunting barn owl and the terrifying wheeling of hundreds of rooks as they go to roost, it is the increasingly rare lapwing that is most likely to make me pull the car over.

The lapwing is the dandy of British birds: amazingly beautiful with its wispy milliner’s crest and green coat, highlighted by a purple
and copper sheen, set off over white underpants. It is just as much of a show-off when it flies, looping and swooping in ways other birds can only dream of. This morning, the largest flock I have seen since my childhood arrived in the field behind the house. It’s time to creep outside.