Finch Flocks – An excerpt from Bird Therapy

I had been rigid about the boundaries of my patch but something compelled me to explore a little further that day, a little deeper into the area around the specific boundaries. In order to do this, I simply got into my car after a lap round the patch and had a good old-fashioned mission around some of the local roads. I drove down one I had been down only once before, the gnarled trees contorted over the road above me, the begging branches twisting and creating a darkened tunnel around the path. The trees opened out and a swathe of dead sunflower heads stretched down the field to my right. I thought to myself ‘that would be good for finches’.

No sooner had this thought passed than I saw a gargantuan finch flock wheeling around another strip towards the far side of the field. I safely pulled over and then spent a good 45 minutes at the side of the field, my binoculars trained on the flock as it wheeled around. I couldn’t properly count them but my loose estimations put it in the 100’s. Bramblings, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Linnets and Yellowhammers; all united to feed together providing safety in numbers. So many vivid colours offset against the dark grey sky yet all together seeming to form one solid mass, moving as one from sunflower head to sunflower head.

There is something magical about a flock of birds. Their movement encapsulates freedom and fluidity yet they always remain ordered and symmetrical as they flurry and whirl. I can get so lost in watching a flock of birds going about their business and one such flock provided one of my most memorable birding moments. On the 8th of November 2014, I was at Salthouse, on the North Norfolk Coast. It was my second birding trip with my soon-to-be birding friend Kieran and our aim was for him to show me Snow Buntings for the first time.

It didn’t take him long to locate the flock that had been frequenting the shingle beach that winter. We shuffled along the shingle, cautiously, trying to make as little noise as possible. With patience and precision we managed to get within a few metres of the flock as they busied around feeding. Approximately 35 of these beautiful passerines, with their sandy, rustic wash over arctic white. Every now and then they would take to the air ‘en-masse’, uniformly up and then down to their next feeding location like sand caught by a sudden gust of wind. Birding provides so many uplifting moments often when least expected.

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