We often hear about the decline in bird populations. Certainly in Arborfield, we noted that sparrows and starlings were becoming more difficult to spot than when we first moved there. Not in Royal Wootton Bassett; but it does help that our neighbours have bird feeders. As a result, we see swarms of sparrows, starlings, crows and others gathering in the bushes and trees around us waiting to be fed.
I suspect that no-one in ‘Bassett sets out to attract the massive numbers of starlings in winter-time, but they come anyway, sometimes from hundreds of miles distant; I first saw the ‘murmurations’ in mid-January. Flocks of starlings start to gather when the sun’s ready to set; we have our own mini-displays near our house, but the big set-pieces take place over the hill-tops.
Earlier this month, one of the dogs had split a claw and the vet recommended gentler exercise until it got better. I took them for walks along the temporary by-pass, now closed to traffic. As we walked, I could see dark clouds (birds, not rain) gathering over the town in the distance.
Although I’ve only seen the large murmurations over the town from our house, I did get a close-up at the other end of our street on Wednesday. On the left, we see thousands of birds performing above the forest of power and telephone lines serving the houses.
This week, our third daughter and her niece – our grand-daughter – came to stay. Grand-daughter is very keen on wildlife, and so we went on a murmuration-hunt on the 15th. We had a reasonable view near the Memorial Hall as seen here, but we decided to get back in the car and drive to where we could see the main concentration.
Our vantage point was the roundabout at the junction of Stoneover Lane and Noremarsh Road, on the hilltop that faces the Marlborough Downs. My phone-camera decided to malfunction at this point, so I couldn’t capture the complex moves and ever-changing patterns. My grand-daughter has a good zoom lens, while others had come prepared with massive camouflaged telephoto lenses; they succeeded where I failed.
We stayed until the birds finally roosted in the trees behind the houses, just before it got really dark. I’m told that the starlings keep up their chatter through the night – and that it’s a good idea to hide cars in garages to avoid getting them covered in white spots.
This evening I walked up Brynard’s Hill with the dogs, and got a tolerable shot over the houses looking westwards.
In a week or two, the spectacle will cease. Our own starlings will stay put, while the many thousands of visitors will return to continental Europe to breed. They don’t recognise borders.