Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Murmurings . . .

One (but certainly not the only) thing which has evaded me over my years as a birder has been viewing a murmuration of starlings before they come to roost.
From my childhood I remember seeing large gatherings over Wearmouth Bridge, but it's so long ago I have no real memories, so when Shibdon George sent me a couple of vids from Shibdon Pond of a swirling mass of starlings showing there over the last few evenings I couldn't wait to get along and see for myself.

Not really knowing what to expect I got there early yesterday, the pond itself was quite busy but not too many species on show. A single shoveler was pick of the ducks, and a couple of Bl-T Godwits pick of a scant showing of waders.
Plenty of Gulls but a few common gulls were the most . . well  . . uncommon.

Easily most numerous were the Lapwings, numbers growing all the time I estimated about 350 before the starlings took my attention, and likewise a good cormorant roost had grown to 61 birds in the central trees before I called it a day.

I'd been in the hide about an hour, light was beginning to fade at 3.25pm by the time the first 2 starlings flew in, soon followed by another 2, then 6, then 4, and another 4, and then two groups of around 20. The trickle soon became a deluge as more and more appeared, 'til a ball of around 500 was zipping from side to side as I viewed, gathering more members with each circuit.

Up to this point there was nothing really spectacular about proceedings though by now a ball upwards of 2000 birds was going back and forth. Then all of a sudden this ball was joined by another similar sized ball and the action really started as the shape-shifting began and by heck was it spectacular. :-O

Formation aerobatics in breath-taking numbers put the Red Arrows to shame, a slithering snake, a giant floating T, a map of the Americas, an exclamation mark, 2 giant black balloons floating across the sky, the shapes were forever morphing into something else. Though I was by myself in the hide I was like a kid at a fireworks display, oooohs and aaaaahs out loud, many a Wow! and even asking myself "did you see that" at the top of my voice a couple of times.
It lasted no more than 10 minutes at full pelt before the (maybe 6000 birds) spectacularly poured into the trees and reed beds, and I was left open-mouthed as the scene in the semi-darkness was suddenly calmness itself.

Here's a photographic record, I didn't spend too much time on the camera as I just wanted to enjoy the experience so these were about all the shots I took, but you can get the gist :

The mass of starlings grew to about 600 before it would register on the camera in fading light
By the time it reached a couple of thousand a long snakelike trail formed . . .  

 . . . covering practically the whole of the horizon over the pond.
A fist appeared at the front of the trail

Now an inky thumbprint reflected in the water. 

The most spectacular patterns formed as they split, an almost perfect South America there,
though has been likened to smoke signals by a few :-)

Can't describe how wonderful these shapes looked as they morphed across the skies.

Just bizarre ! 

This had been an exclamation mark a split second earlier

More random shapes in an excellent show

The two large groups working in tandem was a joy to watch

Like two giant hot air balloons drifting across the sky

This was just a swirling mass gyrating side to side, amazing.

Eventually the starlings poured out of the sky in a spectacular end to proceedings.

I looked at my watch, exactly half an hour had passed since the first two starlings came on the scene, and just like a West End show the entertainment slowly gathered momentum to a spectacular climax leaving me wanting more. I'd seen many films of the phenomenon before but seeing for yourself in 3 dimensions is unbeatable, and to be honest quite emotional at times at the sheer artistry of the spectacle.
There are obviously lot bigger gatherings to be seen elsewhere but to get one on my own patch and as a first time viewer this one did it for me, one of my favourite wildlife watching experiences ever and on my own local patch, it doesn't get much better and I can't wait to get back for another look, hope it continues a while longer before they move on :-)

Once again I'm indebted to George for the heads up, cheers matey :-)