MarySmith’sPlace – #Murmuration

This winter we have been privileged to watch a spectacular display of starlings over the town of Castle Douglas in south west Scotland every evening. Thousands of birds mass in the sky to perform the most breath-taking aerial ballet.

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The starlings start to gather

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No sky, just starlings

It seems starlings do this for several reasons. Grouping together offers safety in numbers as predators such as peregrine falcons are less able to target one bird to grab for dinner in the middle of thousands swooping and swerving. They gather to keep warm at night and they exchange information about good feeding sites.

At some point the decision is made and communicated to the entire murmuration and they swoop down to their chosen roost. It’s like a black waterfall pouring out of the darkening sky. Once settled the racket they make as they chitter chatter amongst themselves is astonishing.

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Coming in to roost

What makes them choose a particular place, though, remains a mystery. For years we’ve had a small group which roosts in the monkey puzzle tree in the grounds of the library but we’ve never had such numbers before. For some years, Gretna boasted a large murmuration and last year they were at Kirkcudbright. This year, I’m so delighted it’s our turn – even if my poor car is under their flight path. And, if it’s true a bird pooping on you means good luck then I must be going to be incredibly lucky this year!

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All over the town photographers are wandering about, eyes glued on the swirling mass above. They’ve led us a merry dance, too, changing their roost location several times over the last few weeks – still always within walking distance. Wherever they choose to roost, I’m lucky they gather right outside my study window before they fly homewards for the night.

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My friend and collaborator on local history books, wildlife expert and photographer Keith Kirk has taken some stunning photos and videos. This link takes you to his Facebook video page and from there you can find the link to his photos.  He’s a MUCH better photographer than I am!

45 thoughts on “MarySmith’sPlace – #Murmuration

  1. Wow! Mary this is an incredible sight and no wonder everyone has their eyes peeled to the sky in wonder! I always imagine they are flying in a pattern to give us a message! With a smile, I’m wondering where you start with counting these for the national bird census this coming weekend! 😀 Enjoy your noisy visitors whilst they stay.

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  2. You capture that so well, Mary. I remember sitting in a hotel room in Brighton, and watching something similar as Starlings flew around over the old ruined pier. I couldn’t take my eyes off the sight.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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    • It’s wonderful, isn’t it, Sally. If this cold spell lasts our starlings might head your way as it’s (supposedly) milder. I hope they stay. There is a rookery in the trees where they roost and the rooks disappear while the aerobatics are going on and come back later after the starlings have settled. It must be disconcerting to be sitting on your nest and seeing thousands of starlings waterfall out of the sky towards you!

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  3. Pingback: MarySmith’sPlace – #Murmuration | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  4. These photos are astounding, Mary. And what a lucky one you are, bird poop and all. I would certainly get no work done all day, just staring up at the sky waiting for the murmuration. Thanks for sharing this with us. It makes sense that ‘safety in numbers’ works for the birds, plus the companionship.

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  5. They’re amazing. I’ve been about 3 weeks trying to put together a blog post about the starling murmurations, constantly trying to get a decent photo that sums up the mood and feel, but I’m pretty much at the point of admitting defeat. I’m just not a wildlife photographer.
    Now, if I could just get a few of them to chat to, and let me set up my studio lights…

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    • You’re the second blogger to mention seeing them at Brighton, Hugh. Beetley Pete also remembers seeing them there. I can’t answer your question about the lead bird and I also don’t know why or how they decided to change their roost from near the loch at one end of the town to a small woodland at the other but for either place they dance outside my house en route.

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  6. Pingback: Smorgasbord Music Column – Romantic Ballads Part Two – Brigid P. Gallagher, Mary Smith, Jennie Fitzkee, Darlene Foster and William Price King. | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

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