From a Fling of Dunlins to a Chattering of Choughs

Wildside Skein in flight
Wildside Skein in flight

Around 200 geese passed over head the other afternoon, the collective noun for geese in flight is a ‘Skein’ and on the ground is a ‘Gaggle’.

There is a ‘Murder’ of Crows, a ‘Covey’ of Partridges and a ‘Parliament’ of Owls, so I wondered if there were collectives for other birds rather than just a ‘flock’.

A delve into the depths of the dictionary revealed a few others; and some are quite a phonetic fit, how about a ‘Chattering’ of Choughs, a ‘Clattering’ of Jackdaws, a ‘Scold’ of Jays and my very favourite is a ‘Scream’ of Swifts, which just perfectly sums up their calls as they madly flit on high in the summertime.

Some reflect the behaviour of the birds, a ‘Gulp’ of Cormorants – you can just see the bird catching his fish, turning it so it’s head first and then – gone in one gulp! While others sound as if they should fit, but just don’t – a ‘Bellowing’ of Bullfinches, when they actually make a rather quiet, plaintive call. A ‘Walk’ of Snipe when all I’ve seen has been a flash as they run past, with nary a hint of a ‘walk’!

A ‘Host’ of Sparrows is just the perfect description for those days when the entire population of the village descend on the back grass for seed and a treat of brown bread or meal worms. Then the ‘Flight’ of Swallows is quite anticipatory for when the overhead wires are filled with these wonderful summer visitors congregating and discussing just when to head back South for the winter. An ‘Exaltation’ of Larks makes me think of the lift to your spirits on hearing the first skylark of the year as he sings when dramatically soaring vertically.

Then we have the total odd bods starting with a ‘Congregation’ of Magpies, a ‘Trip’ of Dotterels, a ‘Fling’ of Dunlins and Sandpipers (I’ve never seen them dancing and never wearing tartan!), a ‘Plump’ of Moorhens, a ‘Covert’ of Coots, a ‘Kit’ of Pigeons (they all take flight on spotting my kit-ty cat)

A ‘Wake’ of Buzzards may be down to their mournful, mewing call. Then the ‘Deceit’ of Lapwings is possibly from when Chaucer wrote of the “false lapwynge, ful of treacherye”. A ‘Pitying’ of Turtle Doves may have been prophetic to their sustained population decline resulting in their now being on the Red List, or the highest conservation priority. A ‘Spring’ of Teal is possibly due to their almost vertical take-off from the water when disturbed. Where did a ‘Fall’ of Woodcocks come from?

Tonight, December 5, Geoff Sample is going to introduce us to the wonders of ‘Wildlife Sounds and Calls’ with an illustrated and audio talk on sound recording.

We meet in Duns Parish Church Hall (behind the Post Office) and the show starts at 7.30pm, be early to be sure of a good seat. Entry is £1.50 which includes tea and biccies at the end. Please do come and join us, we’ll look forward to seeing you.