The gathering

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.

84 thoughts on “The gathering

  1. What a lovely walk you have taken us on. This time of year is particularly glorious, isn’t it? The blueness of the sky, the brightness of the sun…. just lovely!

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  2. Lovely evocative piece. When I lived in Alexandria, we had a flock of starlings that would roost in the upper branches of the same tree every August. The starlings eventually found another August place to flock, but it took the tree years to regain leaves on the branches the starlings claimed as their own. When the flock would start circling and squawking, it would seem to rain starling guano. Got splattered more than once in the awkward sprint between the car door, up the front porch stairs, and unlocking the front door.

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  3. I love starlings! So cocky and boisterous they are also beautiful with their spangled feathers and their skill in imitating other birds and sounds. I really enjoyed this walk across the dene with you.
    Congratulations on all the stories written!

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  4. Thanks for this Andrea, which is so fitted to this time of year. I am always intrigued by the machine-like sounds Starlings make! Love your “hymn of bees” too 🙂

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  5. Andrea, wonderful image “the messiness of the season.” I think this is reflected in the weather, too, that can’t seem to leave Autumn behind and settle down into Winter. And the difficulty I have with finding and getting acclimated to my winter hats, gloves and bulky down coat.

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  6. What a lovely walk, Andrea! The ‘cushions’ on the benches look so inviting, and I hear the rustling of the leaves walking up the steps. You always take your readers to the most peaceful and magic places.

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  7. I like your vivid descriptions of the starlings and their busy fidgeting. I also love to watch them gathering at this time of year. The way you link these descriptions to your story gathering is very clever. 🙂

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  8. Always enjoy reading your posts, Andrea. Your walks and observations feel so peaceful.
    I noticed a large flock of starlings towards sunset the other day, murmurating in that mesmerizing way they do. They gather mostly at the farm up the road where I imagine they glean grain from feeders. So glad they don’t roost in my trees – what a racket they make!

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  9. Andrea, with their chatter I feel the starlings are exchanging endless stories full of adventure – probably about these strange things called humans and their going-ons through the day! A lovely reflection from your dene and you manage to evoke a sense of magic to the landscape and their inhabitants. From my study window I have the joy of watching a flock of white doves flying past, pausing for a bite to eat in our garden before circling away on their daily routine. Nothing quite like nature to simultaneously ground us and release us from reality. Good luck with your writing … keep the magic flowing!

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  10. I love the starlings. One year we went down to Brighton because we’d heard there were murmurations around one of the piers at dusk. It was a grey miserable day with a wind blowing straight off the sea and we were standing there and nothing was happening and we’d just decided to go and catch the train home and suddenly they were there in the air making those extraordinary patterns. We forgot the wind then and then just gloried in them really. I felt incredibly elated afterwards. it was just the most amazing, wonderful sight.

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    • Thanks Lavinia! Yes, I read a book recently called ‘Mozart’s Starling’ which was about the starling that Mozart had as a pet. But it talked about the way starlings are considered a pest and the way they’re culled – I was quite shocked at what a bad name they have.

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  11. I saw that Lavinia had posted above, and in reading, see that she mentioned that starlings are considered an invasive species here. It’s true, but I find it hard to see them that way. Or any bird, really. Canada geese have also become a problem due to people feeding them and the geese not feeling the need (desire?) to fly South for the winter. If you were here, no doubt you would write equally compassionately about them as you have the starlings. I still love looking up in the sky and seeing the wedge shape formation of the Canada geese as they fly, even if they are just flying to the park in the next town. You bring the loveliness of all living things to life, Andrea. Thanks.

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    • I find it very uncomfortable when people talk about invasive species and wiping them out – grey squirrels are one of the species here that people want to get rid of – I always think we’ve already changed the world so much to its detriment without knowing the consequences of our actions that maybe we should just leave well alone…

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  12. I’m with you, but perhaps there are some exceptions. For instance, the Emerald Ash Borer is destroying massive amounts of forest in the U.S.(and probably elsewhere.) How can a line be drawn on which invasive species are not so destructive to bother about, or maybe too destructive. It’s such a slippery slope. p.s. I watched a PBS special on the grey squirrel just a few days ago. I just love them. 🙂

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  13. I swear that the majority of the birds have gone North to live in your part of the world, Andrea. It’s getting too busy and built up down south, and agricultural methods don’t benefit the birds, bees, butterflies that well. Bring back the hedgerows is what I say. I’ve only seen one starling this year. As for squirrels, I’m still upset after seeing a beautiful grey squirrel (one of a pair) lying dead in the road yesterday from being hit by a car. I keep worrying about its partner/playmate being all on its own. They used to have such fun each day, playing in the trees and, unfortunately, chasing each other across the road. Even my dog got used to them and would watch them in fascination running up and down the tree trunks and along the branches.

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  14. How I LOVE the chatter of starlings, sound of my childhood! We dont get them very often here but sometimes they come in to my feeder, or to peck at my lawn, in a mob and I always find myself hoping they come back again soon.

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