Early this morning the dog insisted on taking me for a walk. It has been a long, hard autumn (and a gratifyingly productive one), so I gladly accepted the invitation. We walked around the half-frozen lakes in Tervuren, with much snow still on the ground, and at one point we came to the biggest flock of coots (the Americans would say a ‘cover’) that I have ever seen. By chance, I had heard an early morning Farming Today broadcast on BBC Radio 4 earlier in the week about precisely this flocking tendency of birds in the winter (think of chaffinches and linnets in the hedgerows), and so I knew what I was looking at. The coots start to gather where food is most easily available; in this case, almost certainly where there were gaps in the ice. These gatherings attract the attention of other coots, who join on the avian logic that the other birds wouldn’t be there if there wasn’t a reason. And so the crowd grows. But I have never seen quite so many coots together in one place. I wouldn’t know how to count them but there were hundreds, at least.