Starling roost - Pembrokeshire
Today, I returned to my house in Wales. When I arrived I noticed there were crusty droppings on the floor, not unlike the body fluid that moths squirt if disturbed. Strange to find these in December - and so many of them; on the window sills, the cupboard doors, the bathroom sink. I noticed too, dusty marks on the ceiling and walls.
On the floor of my bedroom lay the body of the culprit. It was a young starling; I suppose it came down the chimney and become trapped, eventually dying from lack of food and water - perhaps from panic. It must have happened recently, the body was soft and sleek; decay not set in.
As I disposed of the corpse, it struck me what a beautiful bird the starling is. The feather pattern is a pearlescent blue-black, changing form and colour with the angle of the light. A starlings head is small with a dark green eye that in this case remained open, it's beak dagger sharp, longer and more elegant than I realised. The whole body weighed no more than few ounces. It's wings opened one last time as I flung it into the field beyond my garden.
An hour later I stood under two million more.
Every evening in winter, up to three million starlings gather in a small copse of trees near my house. It is the largest roost in Wales, and an extraordinary sight to witness. People I tell about it, often ask if the birds swirl in fish-ball patterns, keen to hear of a spectacular aerial display. Sometimes the starlings do this, but more often, and especially when it is cold, they fly straight to the trees. It is not a disappointment.
For thirty minutes this evening the sky was black with their arriving; at one point they were literally brushing our heads, the din of their collective chattering like a river in spate. Amongst them flew buzzards, a sparrow hawk and evidently two goshawks had been there earlier. As the sun set over St Brides Bay, the silhouettes of the late comers were streaking against an orange and purpling sky.
To stand under that many birds is surprisingly beautiful. And I realised tonight it is the closeness to them which makes it so. The swirling displays are spectacular when they happen, but usually they take place at a distance. Like the bird I found in my house, it is the physical presence, the tactile sense of something beyond us, that best allows us to see the world differently.
What a welcome home.
Mark writes at www.viewsfromthebikeshed.blogspot.com