We were delighted to discover that we live only a short drive away from one of the Starling murmuration sites in Cornwall. For those that don’t know, a Starling murmuration is basically thousands of Starlings gathering in a single place and preparing to roost for the night in vast numbers, flying in huge balling and swirling pattern-making flocks and then suddenly disappearing from view as they descend into their chosen safe place en masse.
The Roughtor murmuration seems, from the three times I have been up to see it already this week, less of the expending needless energy flying around making pretty patterns for a bit, more of the getting down to the business of having a sleep as soon as possible, leading me to believe that these are obviously all proper Cornish Starlings. Possibly the marshy area behind Crowdy Reservoir provides them with both reeds to roost in and some protection from ground based predators like foxes.
From the OS map it looks like we should be able to walk out that way through a woodland that abuts the marsh at its far end but I haven’t done that yet, this would take ‘advance planning’, which I am not good at but I may have to try. The road to Roughtor affords a few good viewing platforms to stand at and have the wonder of many thousands of birds fly over your head as they come from all over Cornwall in massive flocks to join in with the communal gathering.
Out of the three times that I’ve been, this is the first time I’ve attempted any photographs really. The times before I took Mrs B and then my kids up, we just enjoyed the experience and spectacle without the distraction of viewfinders. The thing is, it takes place at a time that is rapidly turning into night so the light is poor when it starts and gets poorer as it goes on. Your eyes cope alright, they have that handy brain controlled auto-light adjust cleverness but I took my camera and a monopod to help support the camera at the lower shutter speeds this time. I was still shooting at a high sensitivity so the results are likely to look a little soft and grainy.
You can stand for a good half hour or so and get flocks arriving over your head, hear them whistling and beeping to each other and the noise of the mass of beating wings flapping as they pass over. I turned around at one point as the whistling and chattering was suddenly continuous and loud and I found that a group of birds had stopped in a handy little tree just behind me. I barely had time to raise my camera when obviously it was time for them to set off again.
As the night falls the groups of starlings flying by get smaller, sometimes a single one flies by in the direction of the Reed bed and you think ‘Hurry up mate, you missed the last bus!’
I was happy to get a few shots out of my visit, especially as driving over the Davidstow airfield was done in a bank of fog that necessitated a 15-20mph crawl on the unmarked roads there so I was worried about being able to see anything at all this time. You can see some hints of a mist in some of the shots but the airfield road was a proper white wall of fog. Luckily the areas around Roughtor were high enough to be sticking up above it and in this shot, using a fence post for steadiness (must buy a tripod!) the night sky was clear.
If you live anywhere near a known murmuration site (here’s a link to the UK ones) do go and have the experience for yourselves, it’s a great thing to see whether or not much of the classic swarming forms, just the sensory experiences, almost feeling the massive flocks as they arrive is awe inspiring enough.