Sunny with a Chance of Starlings

So, we’re driving along a local stretch of highway and I see clouds gathering in the wide blue stretch of the sky. But as we get closer, the clouds move oddly; they ebb and flow like rivers, collect tightly into spotty black pools, move around in magnetically collected groups from one hayfield to another, and expand again into writhing, twisting masses that make accordion-like progress from the highway shoulder to the grassy median. Birds. Masses of starlings having a communal day-trip in search of dinner.
Photo montage: Sunny with a Chance of Grackles

I know that they do this because of instinct and hunger and, perhaps, seasonal urges. I’ve read a little about the scientific studies indicating that a murmuration of birds flying and flocking this way has something to do with an only partially understood sensory operation or mechanism that allows the movement of one bird to affect up to six or seven concentric layers of proximal birds, and the resultant ripple effect to make the wonderfully flexible yet ultimately collective movement of such groups possible without the birds’ all exploding from the general formation into random isolation. All of this, indeed, is based on consistent and controlled observation by far more educated ornithological experts than I will ever be.

But it has a certain charm, for me, to simply keep imagining the birds peppering the sky as clouds, as mobile lakes, as little pieces of sky-high impossibility. Delight finds me, even on the highway under billowing masses of winged wonder. I’m quite happy to imagine that the whole purpose of such behavior on the starlings’ part is to amuse and please and amaze me, just me, specifically. Until a scientist can prove to my satisfaction that the truth is otherwise, I’ll stick to that. No need to spoil such a good thing with too much reality.

Memories are Migratory

A flock of American Robins passing the area through may not seem especially worthy of note to some people. But if, like me, you remember them as one of the prevalent birds around you when you were growing up, you might notice it with a certain eager delight when several dozen of them descend on your holly tree and Indian Hawthorn hedge all of a sudden and dive on the berries like divas on diamonds. I

I had been seeing the signs of the early northward migration already, as the grackles that never entirely leave north-central Texas no matter what the season or weather were in ever larger clouds that swept from field to field and perched in growing masses at those points on the trees, hedges, bridges, billboards and power lines where we come to expect them to collect at dusk. It seems to me as though the sheer volume of grackles in the region means some have to migrate, however slightly, just to stay on the fringes of their preferred climate, so when the seasons change I do see even more than the typical congregation of those whistling, flitting avians hanging about on every corner and

But the robins, well, they are not so often seen in my own back garden. To be sitting at my desk and hear that familiar liquid warbling is to be transported to when I was climbing the backyard apple trees of my childhood. I looked up on that more recent afternoon from the predictable digital ‘pile’ of email and saw the unexpected flash of russet on a bird’s breast as it streaked by my window, then another and another, and suddenly felt I was in the midst of a happy storm of robins as they dashed and dove, a modest flock perhaps but enough in number to nearly strip the hedge and the little tree before retreating to the woods of the ravine behind for the evening. By next morning, there were fewer that came back for a final pit stop before the whole collective took wing to continue north. They came and went so fast, and moved so quickly and stealthily in the shrubbery in the meantime that I had no moment to grab a camera and commemorate the welcome moment.

The moment will, however, remain, just as the childhood pleasures were revived in the first chirruping calls and those quick glimpses of rosy feathers: robins will stay in my heart as long as the memories remain.