Sunday, 22 May 2016

Taking me back

One of my abiding memories as a small boy is my mother putting out food on the back lawn of our house and dozens or even hundreds of starlings descending to eat it. I can still see in my mind the throng when our Xmas turkey carcass went out - it was like a scene from "The birds". Living in Peterborough we were on the edge of the fens where some of the starling roosts numbered in the millions. Once we had a flock over the house that literally darkened the sky in a long sinuous wave.
Move on 40 years though and whilst still not rare starlings are nowhere near as numerous as they used to be. Along with sparrows, turtle doves, bullfinches and corn buntings their numbers have declined. Large roosts do still occur in places like the Somerset levels where the murmurations attract people in the winter to see them. Here in Rickmansworth though we only see small numbers and we very rarely get them in the garden.
On Friday night I was particularly pleased therefore to hear some family groups in the trees at the bottom of our garden. You could hear the young pleading for food and the adults shuttling back and forth to satisfy them. By Saturday the numbers had grown and a walk along the river clearly showed there had to be well over a hundred birds.
A plan started to hatch in my head. Judith had bought a large packet of mealworms so I threw a couple of handfuls on the lawn. Within 30 minutes we had perhaps twenty birds coming down, both adults and juveniles. More mealworms gave us more birds till we had perhaps 30 or 40.
So, on Sunday, I set myself up on our terrace with my camera on a tripod and I heavily baited the lawn with mealworms and settled down to wait. I didn't have to wait long before the flock descended, loud, always moving and a marvellous sight in the May sunshine.

The adults are resplendent in their thing metallic coats, the juveniles are the dull brown birds. The juveniles, although being the same size as their parents, just stood around making a racket and eating to have their beaks stuffed full of mealworms. At it's maximum Judith counted almost 70 on the lawn but there were clearly more in the trees as well, so it had to be a hundred at least and that was just on our bit of the river.


You  can get an idea of the sheer noise and movement from these videos. The youngsters seem insatiable and the mealworms are obviously just the thing for them. Of course, the starlings weren't the only ones attracted by the feast. Our resident crows and magpies also joined in, often scaring the starlings away into the surrounding trees, but they quickly came back.

This could cost me a fortune in mealworms but it is so good to see starlings in good numbers and it really does take me back.