The three flocks of Christmas

I love watching flocks of birds in the air. There’s a drama about them and it’s also an opportunity to see big numbers of wild creatures at the same time. Last winter (2015-16) a flock of 30-50 yellowhammers appeared in a hedgerow close by where I live, I think they were attracted by the cover provided by the hedgerow and the presence all around of low vegetation which offered ground cover and feeding opportunities. They were in a place where I hadn’t seen yellowhammers for three years or so, so it was really good to have then back.

yellowhammer-female-261216-0057A female yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella, Dansk: gulspurv)

The yellowhammer is red listed in the UK due to declining numbers as a result of habitat destruction (the number of times I have to write that is becoming increasingly worrying), but this year, after an initial estimate of 40-60 birds, I saw the whole flock in the air on Christmas Eve morning as I was walking the dog, and there were approximately 100 of them. (I spent several mornings trying to get a good yellowhammer picture to illustrate this post but they were never quite so amenable again, so the one above will have to suffice; lovely bird, the image less so, but you get the picture, as it were).

Later on Christmas Eve we drove to Northampton for the evening and on the way there, over the A14 near Huntingdon, a large flock of hundreds of lapwing (Vanellus vanellus, Dansk: vibe) took to the air from an adjacent field, and I think it’s the largest inland flock I’ve seen for many years. I’ve seen big flocks around the coast more recently, but not inland. And then, just as I thought, ornithological speaking, that things couldn’t really be bettered, a starling murmuration (Sturnus vulgaris, Dansk: stær) swirled over the western end of Stanwick in Northamptonshire and I estimated there must have been thousands and thousands of birds in it. And that’s one of natures truly amazing sights. Three spectacular flocks of increasingly endangered bird species was a wonderful way to start Christmas!

8 responses to “The three flocks of Christmas

  1. Wow, wonderful sightings Finn. I grew up in Northamptonshire and in the late ’60s-early ’70s, Yellowhammers were a frequent sight, small flocks would fly out of hedges when you walked by or passed by on your bike often startling us as much as we did them! We used to see a lot of Lapwings too, or Peewits as we knew them, especially on the local disused airfield. Starlings murmurating was a sight we saw each evening as they roosted in a small copse across the field, but no-one (except me!) took much notice, they were just common old birds then!

    • Where abouts were you in Northants? I grew up in Northampton itself around the same time – and I was taught by my Dad that they’re called ‘peewits‘ too. I don’t remember seeing starling murmurations back then but as you say, starlings, lapwings and yellowhammers were all a lot more common back then!

  2. Yellowhammers are my favourites during winter.

    • Aren’t they just lovely! I’ve been well blessed with yellowhammers in the last two winters and some of them remain to breed in the summer too. I’m hoping they continue to do that.

  3. Hi Finn,

    Flocking fabulous, Finn. Regarding your impressive numbers of finches and buntings in a few farmer’s fields out and about now, thanks in large part to those estates rearing and releasing gamebirds who partake in winter feeding. Not exclusively people of their ilk, of course, as there are more and more enlightened landowners who are becoming increasingly aware of the plight of our dwindling farmland bird populations. I recently shared the following article with followers of my Facebook page as below.

    The original article is also accessible by clicking on the following link.

    Kind Regards

    Tony Powell and natrurestimeline

  4. What a wonderful Christmas present. I can’t think of anything I’d like better than seeing those flocks.
    We have a lapwing here, but I’ve only got about 3 fairly distant shots of a couple of birds. I’d love to see them in great numbers.

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