On those rare winter afternoons and early evenings that find me stuck at my desk rather than out with the camera somewhere, I’m treated to a dramatic 20 second display outside my window at around 4.00 or so most nights. It’s a large group of Starlings, probably a couple of hundred or so, making their way eastwards and out of the county to their traditional night-time roost at nearby Aqualate where the large reed beds offer them safety, shelter and through the communal nature of their behaviour at this phase of the day, a few degrees of extra warmth to help them make their way through the night.
Many of the birds are not year-round UK residents as they have made their way here for the winter months in search of food, shelter and our more temperate climate than many other parts of the continent.
Last week I spent a two nights with one of the largest gatherings of these birds to be found at this time of the year, admittedly a bit of a trek away from Shropshire itself up near Gretna Green, but it’s truly an amazing sight and one of natures wonders that we are able to enjoy here too. Numbers were small at probably around 100,000 or so (I have seen up to 5 times that many in years gone by) but the conditions weather wise were absolutely perfect and I have never experienced such a clear and colourful couple of evenings.
Things always begin with small groups of birds making their way to areas where they have been gathering and roosting either traditionally or in previous nights, and it doesn’t take too long before numbers start to swell dramatically either.
From then on it’s a question of birds building up in numbers and moving in incredible waves, making their way to and fro across the sky.
At times some of the shapes they decide to create take on some recognisable forms too – this one looks like a mouse to me (albeit one without a tail!).
Finally the group decide it’s time to call it a night and they fall like leaves from a tree into the trees they’ve decided to take over for the night – all that’s left is their constant chattering that will carry on pretty much throughout the night until they disperse at first light.
A truly magical murmaration!