The starlings are gathering again. They swoop over the park in a graceful curve and trickle into the branches of an old sycamore. Not content to rest, they tumble from branch to branch, calling and chattering. Something spooks them then, because they are off again, another arc of the park, back to the same tree. Today they are in the sycamore, but on another day it will be an ash on the other side of the park. The ash is bare but for clumps of seed and it’s hard to tell seed pod from bird, except that the tree is alive with their song.
Often, they take to the streets, settling on the peaks of roofs, chimneys, TV aerials. They are here this morning, as we set out for our walk to the dene. There are too many of them to cluster in one spot, so they spread out – a chimney here, a telegraph pole there. I wonder if each starling has her own favourite viewpoint, or if it’s merely a scramble to secure a spot.
Late afternoon and they often gather on a mast on the roof of one of the tallest buildings in town. Starlings are fidgety birds. It seems impossible for them to stay still. They must always be taking off, moving position, and all the while giving off that tremendous noise. I wonder where they go to roost, if they join up with hundreds of others for a huge murmuration before rest and quiet finally takes over them.
In the dene, other birds gather. Black headed gulls crowd the jetty. Mallards and moorhens forage among the fallen leaves or glide across the pond. Occasionally a scrap breaks out and one chases another in a commotion of wings and water. There is a messiness about this part of the season. The boisterousness of birds gathering for winter. The fallen leaves decoratively littering the ground. Every path has a flaming border. Every bench a cushion of leaves.
The sun blazes low, gilding the remaining leaves, but darkness will soon be falling. A last golden spill of sunshine by three and then twilight begins. The birds and the darkness gather but I’m gathering stories. Harvesting tales from snippets of ideas written in notebooks and on scraps of paper. A lost hour, a hymn of bees, a woman with wild-flowers between her toes and a visit to Santa’s library. I have written four stories in a couple of weeks, each one with a touch of magic, befitting the dreamtime of the year.
We return from the dene and the starlings are still gathered on the rooftops, still filling the air with their cheerful noise. Starlings are loud and disorderly and they always seem delighted to be alive. I wonder what stories they tell as they gather in the winter darkness.