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