Masked Lapwing (Spurwing Plover) - Vanellus miles

Masked Lapwing (Spurwing Plover)

Vanellus miles

Family: Charadriidae (Lapwings, Plovers, Dotterels, 7 species in Australia)
Size: 35 cm
Distribution: The Eastern half of Australia plus small distributions in the Western half of Australia.
Status: Common
Habitat: Grasslands, mud-flats, urban parks
References: Simpson and Day, Reader's Digest

There are two races of the Masked Lapwing, the race found in the Southeast of Australia is called "Race novaehollandiae" and is also known as the "Spurwing Plover", which is shown in the picture below. Most people know this bird as the Spurwing Plover, or just the Plover. This race has smaller wattle than the northern race. (The wattle is the yellow coloured flap of skin that hangs down from the side of the bird's head.)

The Masked Lapwing (Spurwing Plover) has a call that sounds like an alarm clock going off. They have spurs on the underside of their wings and can attack if disturbed, with a great amount of agression.

They nest in open spaces (and generally like open spaces). When I lived in the house that was part of a plant nursery, our kitchen looked over a large area of shade cloth. There was a small hollow in part of the shade cloth and a pair of Spurwing Plovers (as we called them) nested there every year. We got used to them and they got used to us, although they made their loud alarm-clock call at me if I got too close to them or to the chicks, I was never attacked.

Therefore I never felt concerned about approaching them in the way that most people who knew their reputation were concerned. As it turned out, this was a completely false sense of security. There was a pair of plovers that I often saw at Macquarie Uni and once time when they had chicks, I ignored all their loud protests and walked right up to them. After I did this, one of them decided to attack me while the other stayed with the chicks. The attacking bird flew a long distance away (about 100-200 metres), and then flew really, really fast right at my head. I held up my uni bag in front of me to protect me, as if I was going to hit the bird with it. The bird swerved off just before hitting me, then lined itself up for another approach. It came at me at least 10 times before I had walked far enough away for it to stop.

A magpie will always attack from behind, and never if you are looking right at it, but the Spurwing Plover showed no fear. Ever since then I have been a lot more careful around them, especially if they have chicks.

Masked Lapwing (Spurwing Plover) - Vanellus miles
Photo: Featherdale Wildlife Park, Sydney NSW. High Resolution (3008 x 2000)

Masked Lapwing (Spurwing Plover) - Vanellus miles
Artwork: John Gould, 'The Birds of Australia', 1848. Original Scanned Image.

Some Birdwatching Resources

Nikon COOLPIX P1000 Super Zoom Camera - Masked Lapwing (Spurwing Plover) - Vanellus milesNikon COOLPIX P1000 Super Zoom Camera

The Nikon COOLPIX P1000 is Nikon's longest zoom range camera, and probably still the longest zoom range of any camera in the world. For bird photography (and other wildlife photography) having a long zoom range is a massive help, since you don't have to be within a few metres of the birds/animals to get a good photo.

I'll write more about these super-zoom cameras soon as I have a loan of a Nikon COOLPIX P900, a slightly older model which also has a massive (though not as massive) zoom range as the P1000. The P900 can take photos of the rings of Saturn. It's basically a portable telescope with a camera built into it.

Most of the reviews from professional photography websites of the super zoom cameras complain far too much that their picture quality isn't up to that of a DSLR or other expensive modern camera. The problem here is that it's basically impossible to have a zoom anywhere near as long as the P900, P950, or P1000 on a typical DSLR with the "full-size sensor" that would keep the magazine reviewers 5-star-happy. To get things into perspective, with a full size (a.k.a. full frame) sensor of 35mm, the lens would need to have a physical focal length of 3000 mm (yes that is 3 metres). Even if made as a "mirror lens" where the light path can bounce back and forth once or twice, so that the lens can be physically shorter than 3 metres in length, it's still going to be something like almost metre long. And to have an aperture ratio of f/8 at the long end of the zoom range means the diameter of the aperture has to be 3000 divided by 8. Which equals 375 mm across. In other words, the diameter of the lens itself would have to be about 40 centimetres across (like a decent-sized telescope, which it literally would be). To carry your high optical quality 3000mm full frame lens, with a 40 centimetre wide end, made of heavy optical-quality glass, is probably going to require a vehicle of some sort. So that's what I mean by "basically" impossible to have a lens that zooms this close in a full size sensor type of camera. Incidentally, Nikon does make an actual 2000mm lens. It costs about $25-30,000 USD and weighs 18 kilograms. It's about 25 centimetres diameter across the front of the lens, and it's only f/11, which is smaller and dimmer (i.e. worse) than the f/8 of the Nikon P1000. But it would give you "full-frame sized sensor picture quality" (apart from the limitation of the aperture only going as big as f/11).

If you want to take photos of something small (e.g. a bird) from far away, these cameras are a truly new type of technological innovation — something which really did not exist before a few years ago. When, a few years ago, my mother saw one on a TV infomercial ad, and told me the P900 camera had an "83 times optical zoom", I honestly just assumed she had misheard and meant an 8.3 times optical zoom. The P100 has a 125x optical zoom, and can zoom in even further than the P900.

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See Also

Australian Bird Field Guides

Return to Australian Birds
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Masked Lapwing (Spurwing Plover) - Vanellus miles

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