A Sky Full of Birds

A Sky Full of Birds - video

In February of this year, Sarah and I took a trip up to Scotland, in search of a starling murmuration. We'd both always wanted to see one, and had been reading up on good locations to spot them. From our research, Gretna seemed to be a good place. January had been a bit grim for Sarah with a long bout of flu and illness, so we wanted to get out there and have a little adventure before settling back into work. So we packed up the Corsa with all our camera gear and overnight bags, and headed north.   

We stayed in this cute little Air bnb run by a lovely couple called Ilse and Bill. We had the most amazing views over the Solway of Firth, it was the perfect hideaway for a few days. 

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The first night we were there we didn't really expect to see the starlings as it was a grotty rainy day, but we thought we'd head out and recce the spot, in preparation for the following evening. As we were driving through a little housing estate in Gretna, we spotted a really small group of starlings and got quite excited that we'd found them already.... little did we know at this point, that we would see about 100 times as many starlings later that evening.  As we were watching, Sarah noticed a smudge in the corner of her eye.  On closer inspection, we realised there was a massive murmuration about a mile away. We climbed back into the car and followed the moving black cloud.

When we first arrived there weren't that many, but as dusk raced in, smaller groups joined and the flock grew. We've since learnt that every bird is keeping an eye on the other 7 birds around him or her, so this is how they keep tightly together.  It's so fascinating to watch the constant ebb and flow of the murmuration, and the beautiful patterns it makes as they swirl around in the sky. 

During the day we travelled around the area a bit more and we headed to Caerlaverock Wetland Centre for more twitching! 

No starlings, but many other different types of bird. We saw these amazing egrets (no photographs unfortunately), whooper swans, geese, teal, widgeons and many more. Not forgetting this funny little robin and his very small head!

It was a beautiful crisp winter's day. The sun was lowering, and bright pink streaks began to form in the sky so we headed to our familiar spot and waited for the birds to arrive. We were surprised there weren't more people there watching the starlings, but I think they're such a regular occurrence, that local people just get used to them doing their acrobatics overhead (and quite a few are fed up of them nesting in their gardens!) We had mentioned our sighting to a couple of people at the bird reserve, so they turned up to the spot to wait for them too.  

We were a bit worried as it was getting late and we hadn't seen a sign of any birds, but fortunately, they all suddenly appeared over the other side of the M6 and put on their show.

We were lucky enough to see these beautiful shapeshifters on three consecutive evenings. Watching these little birds dance in the sky is one of the most amazing sights we've ever seen. They created some really unusual shapes, it was like watching tea leaves swirling round the pot.  It was a truly magical sight. 

We met our friend Leena this morning for tea and toast, and we chatted about the starlings. In Latvia, where she's from, the first sightings of the starlings signify the start of spring. They leave the UK at the beginning of March and migrate to northern Eurpoe to breed. It's traditional in Latvia to make a little birdhouse for the starlings and you hang it in your nearest tree to welcome the weary travellers. When they come back to our shores in October this year, I'm pretty sure we'll be out again looking for that sky full of birds.

First Light on the Solway Firth

When I used to stay at my Grandma's house in the holidays, I remember her getting up at the crack of dawn, singing a little ditty as she walked down the stairs to make her first cup of milky coffee. I'd look at my Swatch watch on the bedside table and wonder why she was getting up so early, then promptly rolled over and fell back to sleep. But I'm recognising that this time of day has a quiet quality that's good for me. Recently I've been waking up early doors, just before first light. I've been enjoying dawn walks by the river with thermos flask tea, listening to the birds sound checking in preparation for the dawn chorus.

As some of you know, we recently went up to Dumfries and Galloway on the hunt to see a murmuration (we're working on a film about those beautiful starlings!). We found a gorgeous little wood cabin on Airbnb that looked directly onto the Solway Firth. I was waking up particularly early, I always do on holiday. I waited to see a little chink of light break through the clouds, and then ventured out to watch the morning break. Everything was such an intense blue. The oystercatchers and curlews chattered on the wet sand, silhouetted as they searched for their breakfast. Tiny house lights flickered across the water, families waking up to the day. The starlings huddled together on the telephone wire behind me. The intense blue gave in to grey, and to the golden hue of the sunrise. I'm enjoying these peaceful still starts to the day.

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