Murmuration one of nature’s greatest sights
I WAS very chuffed recently to receive a personal letter of thanks from the President of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), for my 40 years of promoting their work in my newspaper columns at both national and provincial level.
The RSPB press office have always allowed me use of some of their wonderful photographs and press releases, and they have at times tipped me off with stories of national interest, as I have indeed done the same for them.
It’s a quid pro quo arrangement which suits all parties, but more importantly helps our birds. This photograph of a murmuration of starlings is a good example.
Murmurations are one of the UK’s most impressive winter highlights and have been labelled as nature’s answer to the Red Arrows.
They can involve hundreds of thousands of starlings gathering noisily together at dusk before performing an extraordinary wheeling and swooping aerial ballet. It is thought the behaviour involves gaining safety in numbers, as the massed ranks are not easy for birds of prey, such as peregrine falcons, to pick off single birds.
It has also been suggested that the massed ranks raise the air temperature around the birds, which is always useful in the colder months. There is probably also an element of ‘slip-stream’ benefits in that, the birds will not use as much energy as they pull each other along through the air.
Despite the incredible size of the flocks, starling numbers are just a fraction of what they used to be. Huge starling flocks used to gather over Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast, but today you have a much better chance of seeing the birds in rural areas. The starling population has fallen by over 80 per cent in recent years, meaning they are now on the critical list of UK birds most at risk.
The decline is believed to be due to the loss of permanent pasture, increased use of farm chemicals and a shortage of food and nesting sites in many parts of the UK.
Each year the UK’s starling numbers are boosted by migrating arrivals from continental Europe to spend the winter months here.
November is the perfect time of the year to witness this incredible spectacle and RSPB’s nature reserves provide the perfect opportunities.
For my money readers should head off to Leighton Moss Nature Reserve at Silverdale in Lancashire, not least because even if you miss the starlings it’s a lovely place to visit, and they make great coffee in the tearooms.
Also, at this time of year you could see parties of bearded tits flying across the reeds and picking up grit from the paths, as well as huge flocks of starlings wheeling above the reedbed before pouring into the reeds to roost.
Migrant wading birds, especially greenshanks, ruffs and returning black-tailed godwits on the pools can be viewed from the Allen and Eric Morecambe hides.
Also, in a few weeks, maybe earlier, teal, shovelers and gadwalls will join the resident ducks to congregate in large numbers in the pools. Bitterns and water rails can be seen out on the ice during cold spells.
Flocks of siskins feed in the alders. Flocks of wigeons and greylag geese graze the salt marsh at the Allen and Eric Morecambe pools, and are regularly disturbed by wintering peregrines and merlins.
A mumuration of starlings
The Laughing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop