Wild Advent: Watch a Murmuration

murmuration starlings Dan Dzurisin flickr cc2 crop
© Dan Dzurisin, flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

The flocks of starlings over the winter create one of the most impressive spectacles of nature seen in the UK. From being a noisy, chaotic, chattering muddle, when it’s dusk, they gather in great numbers to roost. Moving as one, they take to the air, forming a pattern that swirls and shifts in the sky before suddenly all dropping back down to the land.

Starlings do always live in flocks, but it’s over the winter, when their numbers are boosted by starlings overwintering in the UK, that they reach these breathtakingly massive sizes. It’s believed that starlings live in a flock because there’s safety in numbers, and the more starlings there are, the less chance each one has of being taken by an airborne predator. It’s also possible that the heat from thousands of starlings roosting together can make the roost a tiny fraction warmer, which could save lives in extremely cold weather. Tracking starling movements shows that each starling moves around within the flock, trying to give itself the least time on the vulnerable edge as possible. Starlings have split second reactions, so when one starling chooses to change direction, the whole flock can move almost instantly, giving this mesmerizing display in the air.

The best place for you to try to spot a local starling murmuration is near a reed bed, a pier, or failing that, somewhere with trees, hedges, or buildings where you’ve seen starlings roosting. If the day has been bright, they may come in to roost later; if the day has been overcast, they may come in to roost earlier than sunset. Some nights they will come in to roost small group by small group, maybe flying in low, so there will be nothing amazing to see. Murmurations don’t seem to be affected by weather. Nobody is quite sure why some nights the birds put on a display and some nights they don’t. So, you may get lucky, or you may not. I’ll cross my fingers that it’s the former for you!

Journeying

The starlings flying in a group move through the air seemingly as one. They turn on a wingtip, swirling through the sky. They take turns to fly on the outer edge of the flock, the place where it’s more dangerous. As a Christian community, how are we like this flock of starlings? How does this flock of starlings inspire us in our community life? We are called to be one body, relying on each other and caring for each other. Remind yourself of the words in 1 Corinthians 12: 12-27 as you watch the starling flock.

Lord, as the starlings flock together in flight and in rest, show me how to play a full part in my own community, and to be cared for in turn. Amen.

 

Birthing

Often we think of new things being brought to birth as coming from great periods of planning, painful organisational feats, and long waiting. Here are the starlings showing us a different way. They don’t sit down in groups throughout the summer, with a flipchart and markers, looking through endless powerpoint presentations, splitting up into focus groups, to work out the perfect flight pattern for their display. They move instinctively, guided by one another, and make it look effortless. Maybe we should sometimes listen to and be inspired by those who plan on the hoof, who are flexible creators, who may drive us crazy with their lack of a plan or attention to detail, but can free us up to explore new avenues we’d never have gone down otherwise. In Galations 5: 25 we read the words, ‘Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit’- we need to follow the Spirit, wingtip to wingtip.

Lord, as I watch the starlings swirl, moving as one, I pray that your church may be one. Amen.

wild-advent

This post was an extract from Wild Advent: Discovering God Through Creation by Rachel Summers (Kevin Mayhew, 2017), 92 pages, £7.99. Used here by permission of the publisher.

Randomness Keeps You Breathing: A physicist’s perspective on the richness of the created order

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Pixabay

People love order. Whether it involves a garden, a filing system, or an alphabetical bookshelf, we often get a sense of satisfaction from a good tidying-up job. If you’re thinking “That description doesn’t fit me”, I bet there is at least one area of your life where you are geekily, control-freakily, organised. What about your hard drive, the ‘filing system’ that only you understand which extends off your desk onto the floor and any other available surface in the room, or even aspects of the way you store things away in your memory?

Perhaps this love of structure is why Christians tend to see randomness in nature as a bad thing. Continue reading

Guest Post: Caretakers of the Deep

2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas
Tube worms. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas

How do you imagine a coral reef? Have you had the privilege of seeing one through your own dive mask, or have you sat in the comfort of your living room watching beautifully shot images set to dramatic full orchestra soundtracks?

Healthy coral reefs are a festival of colour, shape, sound, and activity. They are full of interesting characters, each playing their part in the functioning of the ecosystem – from the sponge that filters out harmful viruses from the water column to Continue reading

Beyond Miniature: Coral Reefs in the Microbial Seas

© Jordan Parrett

With the advent of SCUBA diving, the oceans became accessible to the public imagination at a whole new level. Seeing the beauty of coral reefs or kelp forests has helped us realise why the oceans are worth conserving. Now we know why we need to be more responsible about where we source our fish and seafood, and protect the sea bed from damaging practices like dredging or trawling.

But that’s all extremely old news for marine biologists. Continue reading

Guest Post: Caring for Creation on the Coast

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© Lee Abbey

It’s been a scorching summer and you may have found yourself down at the beach a few times. But how much do you know about the wildlife that lives on our beaches and in our seas? Last year I was introduced to Sea Watch: a programme that encourages the public to help those who work in the field learn more about the species that use our seas. Exmoor National Park were running a Sea Watch Training Day for anyone interested and had asked Lee Abbey to host it. As a member of the Lee Abbey community, and soon to be their Environmental Coordinator, I got the opportunity to join in. Continue reading

Guest Post: The Wonderful Thing About Nature

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Pixabay

My kids love Winnie the Pooh. They love to parade around our flat and sing, “The wonderful thing about Tiggers is Tiggers are wonderful things. Their tops are made of rubber, their bottoms are made of springs!” It’s a song that Tigger the tiger sings in the Disney film Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. Tigger is explaining to Pooh Bear the things that make him so wonderful. All of the individual parts that make up Tigger are the things that make him so wonderful. Is this not also true when we look at nature? Continue reading

Guest Post: Building a habitable planet

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NASA

‘How to build a habitable planet’ is the title of a popular American college textbook which tells the story of the Earth from ‘The big bang to humankind’. It’s a big book – because it is a long story. All the evidence we have suggests that in its infancy the Earth was a most inhospitable planet and not very different from its near neighbours. Back then it had a transient volcanic landscape, a carbon-dioxide-rich greenhouse atmosphere and was periodically bombarded with asteroids from space. In contrast today we see a planet with mobile tectonic plates, oceans, continents, an oxygenic atmosphere and teeming with life, fundamentally different from Mercury, Mars or Venus. So, why? What is it about the history of the Earth which makes it so different now from its near neighbours? Continue reading