Mur­mu­ra­tion one of na­ture’s great­est sights

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

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.

Pic­ture courtesy of RSPB

A mu­mu­ra­tion of star­lings

The Laugh­ing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Pad­field, Glos­sop

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