Birding is magical in its ability to transcend so many different feelings and thought processes. How else in one day can you practically meditate whilst watching hundreds of sea-duck bobbing along in front of you then hours later be invigorated by the electrical energy of seeing a stupidly rare goose a few miles up the road. There is a running theme in all my winter birding experiences and that is in the sheer numbers of birds. Call them flocks, groups, masses – one thing is for certain and that is that there are lots and lots of birds around in winter and generally they are together. On reflection, this in itself is somewhat paradoxical; in some of the bleakest and darkest times our lives are enthusiastically brightened by the togetherness of nature.
Another type of flock that is redolent of winter is thrushes. In literature you will often see thrush flocks prefixed with the word winter, coining the term ‘winter thrushes’. Our winter thrush flocks usually consist of two Scandinavian visitors, the Redwing and the Fieldfare and large flocks will invariably contain a mixture of both. Their names give us some identification tips; one tends to ‘fare’ in fields and one has red on its underwing. Fields, paddocks and grasslands are the best places to check for a winter thrush flock and it feels fantastic the first time you find one close to home.
Not long ago I was walking around my patch in the hope of finding a stray warbler wintering on the heath. It was eerily quiet with little in the way of birds around at all. As I followed the slope down towards the copse that enclosed the car-park I thought it might be worth having a scan of the adjacent fields. As someone who finds solitude in patterns, I was provided with a treat as I looked out across the field. Marching across it in unison was a huge flock of Fieldfare and Redwing, scattered across in a seemingly symmetrical pattern.
Their military gait and syncopated movements created an almost hypnotic sight. Each bird seemed to scurry about a foot in length then stand tall with their wings projecting back. This formed an upright, authoritative pose before they rapidly bobbed down and moved again. In the depths of winter when the fields are frosted and the sky is dark and brooding, these roving flocks move to wherever they can access their favoured feeding grounds of cropped grass. These cold times can be a great opportunity for finding and observing large flocks of thrushes closer to home and often offers the best views of these wintry wonders.