I’d seen the pictures of the Norwich murmuration of starlings on Twitter and decided I must view it at first hand. On 27th February Liza and I settled down to wait in the Assembly Rooms car park. It was cold and I had worked out that this would be a comfortable watch point to await the Starling’s arrival. We were early and it wasn’t until 1705 that the first Starlings started to arrive in dribs and drabs. By 1715 the whole flock had assembled and were wheeling, backwards and forwards, across the Chapelfields skyline. It is an aerial display that is beyond belief – why don’t they collide? They are like iron filings in thrall to the artistic passion of a magnet.
By 1745 the Starlings had settled at last in their roost which by my reckoning would be near the old bus station near the City wall. We celebrated the moment with a quick snack at Carluccio’s restaurant nearby.
It had been a brilliant spectacle but what a tiramisu moment it would have been if one of the Norwich Cathedral Peregrine Falcons had pierced that swirling mass. Sadly the Starling is now in decline. Since the 1980s their population has halved.
I used to live in North Creake close to Cherry Hill Wood. In the middle 1950s enormous numbers of immigrant Starlings poured into Norfolk, probably the largest ever. An extract from The Norfolk Bird Report for 1958 tells the story. The huge immigration of the night of October 18th-19th and nights and days of the following week, was reflected in the enormous build up in numbers at the North Creake roost and the establishment of a new roost at Lower Gresham. Both these roosts continued to build up as more and more Starlings came in from abroad.
Then suddenly, as had happened before, there was a sudden change of the main roosting site. North Creake was evacuated overnight on December 22nd, 1957, only a small proportion of the total birds returned, and large flocks roosted in a variety of woods and copses up to 20 miles away, as if prospecting new sites.
The damage caused to the understory of Cherry Hill Wood by the roosting Starlings was severe. Villagers used to walk up the hill to gather Snowdrops and Primroses from the mossy banks under the trees. There are no Snowdrops or Primroses now. The sheer weight of accumulated droppings deposited nightly by over a million roosting Starlings wiped them out forever.
Photo source: Adam from Flickr