Thousands of birds one day, none the next


Last weekend was one of contrast with regard to the bird world. On Saturday they featured in abundance, while on Sunday there was a distinct lack.

Reader A.T. emailed regarding a starling murmuration near Jedburgh, so I decided to check it out on Saturday.

I had seen the one at Gretna previously, where the display was mindblowing.

A murmuration occurs when birds gather together at dusk in huge numbers and indulge in a synchronised aerial display before settling down to roost.

I turned up at his house at the arranged time of 4pm, just as the sun was setting. It was bitterly cold, but the sky was still bright – ideal conditions. The birds roost in some mature trees next to the farm house, so we took up our position in an adjacent field.

After a few minutes, a group of around 20 birds arrived and began to circle above the farm steading. In small groups from all directions, birds began to arrive and join the main flock. Within minutes, numbers were well into the hundreds.

The flock soared and dived above the farm buildings, seemingly without signal to one another, in tightly-packed formation, without colliding.

Eventually, there must have been around 4,000 birds and the whoosh of their wings could be heard as they soared overhead, creating ever-changing shapes. As the light began to fade, suddenly they all seemed to be sucked down into the trees by a giant vortex, then all was silent. It may not have been on the same scale as Gretna, nevertheless it was still pretty spectacular and a sight not to be missed if you ever get the chance.

The RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch was at the weekend, where participants were

asked to log all the birds visiting their garden in the space of an hour. Unfortunately, I chose Sunday – the mildest day we’ve had in ages, when around half the birds of the previous frosty morning came to call. The most galling thing was that I could see in the tree in my neighbour’s garden at least a hundred chaffinches. They were using it to rest between visits to the adjacent turnip field. I logged four! The day wasn’t a complete washout however, as in the afternoon, on a walk along the Tweed at Melrose, I had some excellent views of a kingfisher – a bird I haven’t seen for some considerable time.

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