Early birds

Starling numbers in Aberystwyth have been building for a few weeks now, the locals joined by their European cousins, migrants eager to escape the bitter cold of a scandinavian winter. As the population grows so begins the annual winter spectacle of our starling murmurations and certainly the highlight of my photographic year!

During my first visit a few nights ago, the starlings numbers were still very low as to be expected this early in the season, however what they lacked in sheer scale they certainly made up for in drama…

There were perhaps only a few hundreds starlings or so gathered on this particular evening, nothing yet in comparison to the immense gatherings darkening the skies at the peak of the migration.

Hundreds of starlings flocking together
Catching up with the crowd

A sudden flurry of activity among the flock signalled the presence of a threat in the starlings’ midst, a sparrowhawk! Fortunately I had my telephoto lens for just such an occurrence and was soon able to locate the culprit diving at the now panicked starlings, packed into a dense ball for protection.

Safety in numbers
Sparrowhawk with wings swept back as it speeds towards it’s prey
Starlings gathering into a ball for protection
An ambush from below
Twisting turns

So began several minutes of intense and exciting activity. The sparrowhawk repeatedly harassing the starlings and trying to break up the flock, forcing them to twist and turn in tight synchrony to avoid capture.

Starlings veering away from their attacker
Sparrowhawk diving at the flock
A change in formation
Can you spot the sparrowhawk, little more than a dot in the sky above a flock of hundreds

It wasn’t until I reviewed this image back on my computer screen, that I realised there may actually have been not one but two sparrowhawks pursuing the starlings!

A pair of sparrowhawks on the hunt
The starlings certainly had a very narrow escape!

I had to watch and wait on countless occasions last winter before I got to witness such an interaction between predator and prey (see post here), so to see this on my first attempt this season was a very pleasant surprise.

It is believed that these synchronised, hypnotic flight displays are used to deter predators by making it difficult to track and isolating an individual from the crowd. It appears to be both a highly effective and equally beautiful strategy for survival.

Moving as one
Forming a heart shape
Breaking apart
Wall of wings

With the sparrowhawks giving up the chase, the starlings continued their mini murmuration for some time to ensure the threat had passed before finally descending beneath the pier to their roost.

Time for bed…

All photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography © 2021

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Michael Sammut says:

    Nice collection 👍


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