As a child, every night, I was able to watch a murmuration of starlings gathering over our local park and coming down to roost in the trees. Starlings have declined in number to an almost catastrophic extent since then. They are now a red-listed species – a species of bird that was once considered to be a pest when they gathered in huge numbers in our cities. And what a wonderful word “murmuration” is! A perfect description of the wonderful phenomenon of mass flight of starlings at dusk. I have not seen a murmuration of starlings for many years.
So it was that I set out with my friend yesterday to the RSPB reserve at Middleton Lakes to follow up a report of a murmuration of starlings seen there the night before. The weather was quite cold, but mercifully dry and relatively sunny with beautiful light over the wetland pools and reed beds. There were plenty of mallard, black-headed gull and pheasant, and smaller numbers of teal, coot, heron, egret and tufted duck. Small birds seen included the great tit, blue tit, coal tit, chaffinch, robin, wren and blackbird.
As dusk approached a few starlings would begin to fly over. Groups of four or six, sometimes ten, and then thirty starlings would wheel over and disappear. A larger group then arrived, joined with another group to make a formation of about 300 starlings, which then disappeared towards Kingsbury Water Park to our south. We wondered if that was it, when a haze started to appear on the horizon and a much larger group arrived. More groups, large and small, came in from all directions. Suddenly there were about 3000 starlings, wheeling and swooping close to us, then peeling off and crossing the water towards the reed beds. We thought they were going to roost, but they rose up again, and the display continued.
Then, as suddenly as it started, a small strand of starlings began to fall down from the base of the flock, and in a few seconds they had all disappeared to roost in the reed beds. A few stragglers came in and went straight to roost. And it was over. The first murmuration I have seen in years. It was not the huge gathering of hundreds of thousands of birds sometimes seen at the coast, or the Somerset Levels, but it was impressive, beautiful and wild. It is definitely worth visiting RSPB Middleton Lakes, be it to see the murmuration of starlings or simply to enjoy the scenery and the birds. I will definitely be going back there.