There's a lot of noise from the road traffic, its hard to pick out the sounds of nature - but they are there ... the sounds of wingbeats catch your ear if your listen out for it... a few birds flit speedily across the sky... and then a few more... and another little group appears... The birds appear in groups of between ten and forty, they fly by overhead, seemingly on a busy mission and then they are gone out of sight, over the rooftops of the industrial estate. But you wait... a few more appear - and then they group together with another set of birds so that a larger group begins to form, they wheel around each other in the sky, seeming to dance... and they, too, are gone out of sight over the rooftops and chimneys. You become aware that more and more birds are appearing and flying fast to catch the others - more groups appear but also the odd single bird (come on, catch up!) and then they also disappear from sight over the rooftops (you strain your neck trying to catch sight of them)... And then you suddenly become aware of an amazing sound RIGHT over your head as thousands of starlings appear over the factories, now all together in one huge flock, wheeling and changing formation as they fly around each other.
Has anyone else busily rushing home in this very urban landscape noticed? Its interesting who else stops to watch and smiles and says "isn't it beautiful!" - and who else passes by in a rush, glances at you with your camera and looks perplexed, never stopping to look up...
Its an amazing sight and because of the setting you are able to stand right underneath as the starlings whirl around over your head. There's the comic effect of thousands of starling droppings falling around you (and on you!) - the birds are so fast that the droppings hit the ground a split second after they have sped overhead, so its like a ripple of sounds - wingbeats followed by gentle little splats, like raindrops!
This dance goes on for around 20 minutes and you can see the birds moving closer and closer to their roost site (in this setting its a group of trees) and suddenly, as if one of them gives the signal - they all sweep down into the trees and then there's a wonderful loud starling chattering going on (I can't help hearing a sort of Johnny Morris voice in my head saying "that was a great flying dance just now Brian but I'm ready for a rest and a chat now - where have you been today and did you find some good?..." etc)
This is a small murmerations by starling standards (I think around 3 - 4 thousand birds, maybe). I know that there are some stunning photographs of HUGE starling murmerations out there, and I also know that starlings are endangered and the UK just doesn't have the vast murmerations that it used to. This industrial estate setting feels precious and important - maybe even more so if the birds are safely tucked away and not bothering anyone (I heard of another murmerations elsewhere in the UK that caused residents to complain about the noise and droppings, so the roost trees were cut down and thereby the birds have gone... so sad when humans seen to see nature as a messy inconvenience).
Its such an amazing thing to experience and has taken my breath away each time I've watched it. Its different everytime because the light and sky changes and the birds move in different ways. HUGE thanks go to my wonderful friend Shelly Wood who introduced me to this particular starling display (and Shelly is busy making some stunning screen-prints of the birds).
I've seen other murmerations (an especially stunning surprise one was across snowy fields a couple of years ago as I drove north up to the Isle of Skye one March, I stopped the car and gazed in awe) but I've never been able to stand so immediately underneath one and hear the sounds and feel the rush of air as the birds rush by. It uplifts the spirits and fills you with that vital sense that there are bigger things in the world than you (and any worries you might have).
Its such an important reminder that the special things in life are free and you just need to find time to stop and look and experience them...