Sometimes the most spectacular sights are of the most ordinary creatures. The fields adjacent to the Slurry Lagoon had been used for growing sweetcorn and they had just been harvested. This was the trigger for thousands of Grey-lag and Canada Geese to flock in to glean the spilt corn in the stubble. Seen from the Slurry Lagoon bank, interspersed with Carrion Crows, Rooks and Jackdaws and spread out across the expanse of the fields, they did not look very spectacular. I carried on past them to the Causeway to see how many Shoveler were on the Slurry Lagoon.
As I counted the Shoveler something disturbed the geese from their feeding and they took off en-mass to take refuge on the Slurry Lagoon. To see so many large bodied birds wheel over the bank, and hear their wing beats and calls as they circled the water before settling to swim, was spectacular. They drowned out every other sound with a cacophony of nasal cackling and honking calls, the drumming of their wings on the air and the splashing as their feet ripped through the water’s surface as they landed. They came over in waves, so that as one lot settled another was arriving. Once they were all down they continued an excited exchange of cackles and honks as they sorted themselves out into families and groups.
Crows began to fly across the back of the Slurry Lagoon whilst I watched the geese. They were beginning to go to roost. I was not really aware of them at first but gradually I noticed that there was a flock of birds that straggled right across the sky from one side to the other. I could not estimate their numbers as they were sometimes stretched in a ribbon and then bunched together, but as birds disappeared to the south more appeared from the north as a stream of corvids flowed over the lagoons. They were not as noisy as the geese, but contented themselves with conversational caws, cacklings and croaks.
Behind me I gradually became aware of another building sound, a combination of whistles, squeaks and rattles. I hardly noticed it at first but gradually the volume grew as more birds arrived to join in. I looked up on the nearest pylon and saw the Starlings were beginning to gather. Some birds arrived in small, tight flocks and went to join the others on the pylon. Other flocks flew towards the reed bed, their intended roost, where they joined together to make swirling clouds of birds. Now the spectacle began to unfold as more and more birds arrived. There were masses of birds on the pylon now so that all the spars and horizontal surfaces were thickened and blackened. The two nearest pylons were similarly clothed with a layer of birds. From time to time large groups of birds would tear themselves from the pylons to swoop over the Slurry Lagoon and join up with the swirling flock already there. The flock twisted and dived backwards and forwards over the reed bed, sometimes folding back on itself and then stretching out thin. The cloud of birds constantly changed shape as they twisted and turned, their wings roaring as they banked this way and that. They seemed unable to decide where to go or what to do as large parts of the swarm would detatch themselves and then rejoin or else return to the birds on the pylons. All of the time more and more small flocks were arriving and sometimes much larger flocks would race in over a hedgerow. The popular analogy with smoke is very understandable as the flocks no longer seemed to be birds but the drifting shapes of smoke rising from a fire.
Gradually the birds started to make a decision and groups would dive quite suddenly into the reed bed. The actual patch of reeds they went into seemed too small to hold so many birds but group after group fell into the same space and more birds poured from the pylon to join them. Through binoculars I could see birds perching on the reed tops and the reeds bending as more joined them as they charred the reeds black. Others were jostling for a place or being displaced from one spot and crossing over to another so that the view at reed-top level was of a confusion of birds flying in all directions. Of course, they could not do this quietly, so every bird was using its voice to its limit as it complained to its neighbours about the liberties another bird had just taken. Still more birds were arriving, but the pylons were still holding a black mass but as the light lowered more birds flew from the pylons and smoked into the reeds. Small groups were still arriving but these seemed anxious to get into the roost and dived in without preamble, as if they felt too vulnerable to dilly-dally. Almost suddenly the hubbub ceased and the birds settled to roost. Small groups were still diving into the reeds but the spectacle was over for another night.