They came out of the sky at dusk, flying in strict formation, with others joining the main flight from all directions, in small groups. They circled silently over Selkirk, sometimes in oval formation, sometimes circular, constantly changing, constantly growing.
Just as the orange sun finally dropped below the Yarrow hills, they swooped earthward with terrifying speed. Their target was the town’s Pot Loch. As if being sucked into a giant vortex, they were funnelled into the reed bed, where they immediately disappeared from view. Their final restless chattering suddenly fell silent and they were gone – tens of thousands of them.
It sounds like something out of War of the Worlds doesn’t it, but no, it was the town’s daily murmuration of starlings, coming in to roost.
In previous years, I have had to travel to Gretna and more recently a farm near Jedburgh to see this amazing natural spectacle, but now they have chosen my home town, so I can see it almost on a daily basis.
I noticed that several cars had pulled onto the pavement on the A7 just below the petrol station last week, to witness the phenomena, but as it coincides with the rush hour, it is not to be recommended, on safety grounds. Much better to park near the Pringle Park and walk to the Pot Loch, where there is no traffic and the birds can be seen against the setting sun. That is what I did and it was brilliant. I could clearly see the birds stunning aerial display and also see their final descent into the reeds at close quarters and hear their chattering as they jostled for position once down. Other birds trying to get their heads down on the loch however, didn’t seem too impressed by this mass invasion and I could clearly hear at least two water rails squealing their disapproval in no uncertain terms.
Starlings choose to roost in huge numbers like this, for reasons of safety in numbers and warmth, but this is the first time I have seen them using a reed bed instead of their more usual coniferous woodland. The purpose of the aerial display before roosting is a bit of a mystery. As I watched them circle above the loch, they were constantly being joined by small groups of up to 20 birds, flying in from all directions. Once they felt that no more were coming, they all dropped into the reeds in a matter of seconds. Any late arrivals would start another cloud and they too would carry on circling until finally it was too dark for any more and they too would drop into the reeds and that was it for the night. It is a sight to behold and I would certainly urge a visit to Selkirk before the end of the winter.