RICHARD WILLIAMSON Nature Trails...Starlings a real marvel of nature

‘This family of albino starlings swooped into my garden a few days ago,’ writes a reader in Bognor Regis.

Well, it is the first white starling sibling group I have ever seen or heard of, though individuals are not uncommon. Will they survive? Latest news is that two of them lasted only a week.

The Chichester cathedral peregrine male does find young starlings especially appealing and a white one would be like putting a cherry on an iced bun.

Cinnamon starlings have been seen in the past in Sussex, also speckled black and white. Actually the starling, long ignored by birders, is now lamented as a rapidly-declining British icon of suburbia.

A thousand years ago the German nation gave the bird its name, which meant little star, from the hundreds of tiny plumage dots spangling the black feathers like a galaxy of constellations.

You have to hold the bird in your hand to appreciate these diamond points.

At a distance, the bird is black. Even the lovely purple sheen like embellished gun metal which shines and coruscates in a rainbow of colour as the sunlight glances this way and that is hardly ever seen.

Stuck on the top of a terrace house close to the chimney pots and the TV aerials, the bird becomes a clown, jigging away like a cockney street busker, wolf-whistling and squawking, muttering and chissiking his heart out, hoping to attract the first female who will fall for it.

Often one could identify particular street noises in starling songs in the old days, for instance the special clearing of the throat of a chap in our village who used then to attempt to break into bits of Rigoletto as he was shaving.

Another sound identified was the clang of the local blacksmith’s hammer on the anvil as he fashioned a shoe for a cart-horse.

A third was the drumming noise made in a local garage when an electric generator was used to pump up a compressed air tank.

Once I was out on the marshes in Norfolk near to a murmuration of starlings that had settled on the handrail over a creek when among the jaunty songs being broadcast by the males in the group was the ‘whoop-whoop-whoop’ siren as used on a battleship.

Somewhere in the Baltic that bird had been listening to the Navy.

Almost a million birds used to come to us from the Baltic regions years ago for their winter, and you would see them tracking back east in groups of 50 over the downs during early April.

Not any more, though 30,000 spend the winter in Brighton town and 1,000 may roost in Thorney Deeps reedbeds.

Large flocks swirl like computer holograms, twisting then erupting into plastic images of continuous variation, exciting the eye of the watcher, especially if the background is a sunset of brilliant orange and flaring gold and carmine.

Then all at once the flocks spiral down in corkscrew freefall as if burrowing into the earth.

One of the marvels of nature. But for much longer?