Sunday, March 20, 2016


Made the short trip to Conway RSPB last night to try and catch the murmuration of thousands of starlings. We were told that the best place to stand would be on the top of a small raised area just behind the café. At 6 pm the first flock of about a thousand starlings began to circle overhead. This soon built up to a flock of an estimated thirty thousand birds, and we were right underneath!
In the 1980's the metal band Slayer wrote a classic tune called "Raining Blood", but for the brave souls directly beneath the murmurating flock it was raining poo! The sound of the starling droppings was like a heavy rain shower; it was definitely an evening for keeping your hood up. And there were avian slayers present in the shape of two dynamic sparrowhawks. Their presence caused the flock to bunch and twist in a black ballet designed to confuse the would-be predators. As the flock coalesced their calls became incessantly louder; they could well have been shouting "sh*t, sparrowhawk!" And yes the poo rained down even heavier, although this could be a fear response, it might also serve to soil the sparrowhawk's plumage and act as a deterrent.
At one point part of the main flock pealed off and dived towards the ground like a waterfall of oil; some birds took refuge in the trees and bushes while another part of the flock streaked along the footpath barely inches from the ground, all determined not to become a meal for the sparrowhawk. I have never seen starlings flying so fast! It was a breath-taking spectacle. But both sparrowhawks successfully caught starlings. The flock then reformed and after a few more sweeps over the reserve dropped into the reedbed like one vast organism.
As the last vestiges of daylight disappeared a lone peregrine shot overhead and up the Conway valley, he was too late for a starling supper.

Sparrowhawk on  the edge of the starling flock