Friday, 30 October 2015

25th October - Then I'm Spinning and I'm Diving Like a Cloud of Starlings

Our day at Minsmere was concluded with one of nature's incredible spectacles a Starling Murmuration, but not only was the beauty of the sky dancing, but this evening there was also the drama of the hunter and the hunted. 

As we watched the sun set over the reeds, and the golden light change constantly the scene we were expecting to witness the large gathering of birds, and their acrobatics as they prepared to roost for the night.  What we did not expect to see was at least three birds of prey taking advantage of this gathering.

The skies were pretty much clear, and the sun low, casting a golden glow on the reed beds

Small groups of Starlings could be seen flying around and slowly others would join and the groups would become larger.  At firs the birds could be seen over the reeds towards the South Levels, and as they wheeled around in the sky they attracted in a Peregrine.

Other groups joined together making a larger flock, stretching across the sky.

In the above picture you can see how stretched they are but to the right hand side you can see the falcon appearing, and its presence dramatically changed the behaviour of the Starlings just as you would expect.

As it came closer it targeted the centre of the flock

 Looking to split them up into smaller bites

Then flock tightened up together as the falcon passed through them, not necessarily showing its hand yet.

The flock once again loosing up as the falcon moved away.

And then starting to weave patterns in the sky as more birds joined the flock

Other starlings then began to arrive all from different directions swirling around us while over the South Levels against the setting sun the flock continued to dance.

But the danger was not over, the falcon returned causing the flock to ball together once again, but there was also another threat to the right there is a Marsh Harrier.

And the Marsh Harrier decided to join in, heading towards the flock that are already concentrating on the falcon.

The Marsh Harrier then takes advantage of the confusion and panic caused by the falcon, and attacks, you can see it just left of centre with the falcon above it.

We were not sure what the outcome of this attack was, but the falcon continued its attacks this time successfully splitting the flock into two balls.

But in the end leaving without any more drama.

Our attention then turned to north of the wall, where another large flock was gathering.

The video sets the scene of this action, and will then be followed up by the detail shots.

Once again the Starlings were under attack, a falcon, I think maybe a Peregrine again, but I can't rule out a Kestrel, flying straight into the flock causing them to tighten up.

Then turning and heading back concentrating on the birds on the outside.

As we were watching we could hear the rush of air over the Starlings wings, but it was not sufficient enough to drown out the squeals as the falcon finally took a bird from the flock.

A successful hunt the falcon then dropped away from the flock to carry its prey to a safe place to eat.

That particular piece of drama over the flock continued to fly around over the marsh, the water reflecting the birds as they wheeled above the reed bed.

Not long after the attack the Starlings decided to head down into the reeds, and they poured down like water being poured from a bottle.  Other flocks continued to join the chattering masses now bedded down in the reeds.  

We watched and waited, would they decide to come back out for one final encore?  But they stayed in place, and drifts and drabs of other smaller flocks flew across our heads to drop into the reeds.

We stood around waiting, knowing that it was all over, but not wanting to leave the show.  In the end we realised we had to go, and made our way to the car park.  One Starling definitely didn't make it tonight, but one falcon left with a meal.  The numbers are estimated at around 10,000, but you have to wonder as the stragglers continued to drop in whether that number was far greater.

An amazing spectacle with all the added drama of a soap opera.

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