Rural diary: lapwings flock in a large shifting mass together

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The sun sets the water ablaze, making a shimmering Greek fire trail. When it bounces off the wind-swept surface into my squinting eyes, the light glistens.

It’s such a strong antidote to days past that were scarcely days, just a few hours of sickly darkness as the valley rotted under clouds and gloom. December can be a dirty month: dim, dusty, windy, rainy. I wish there was a way to distill and drink this molten brightness. In the shadow of the Chevin escarpment lies the part of Wharfedale where I live, and at this time of year the sun barely creeps above it. I have a crucial desire to bask in the sunshine when a bright day inevitably announces itself, and to spend as much time as I can between work maneuvering into the elevations of the valley, open spaces, and sun traps. This is one such location: the wetland nature preserve that surrounds the small lakes created by the flooding of the old gravel pits. In itself, the sight of sunlight and water together is inspiring, reminding us of the fundamentals of life, but a lively bird population is also home to this region of water, forests, rugged grasslands and reeds.

I saw egrets flying over the nearby Wharfe River, and today, I hope I’ll see one, too.

On Wild Bird Lake, cormorants, coots and laughing gulls congregate. The lapwings (Vanellus vanellus), which winter in relatively large numbers here, are best of all for me.

At one point, a hundred or so lapwings emerge in a great aerial organism from the shores of a lake and flock together; a moving, contorting mass reminiscent of the shape-shifting grace of a flock of starlings, twisting and turning in visible unison.

Much as the flock’s common spirit varies from one moment to the next, so does its appearance, oscillating as the angle of flight changes between the main colors of plover plumage – black, white and iridescent green. The birds look wild, bright and radiant up there in the cold December light.

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