Four times in the past week. That’s the number of times people pulled over to the side of the road because something fantastic was happening. Arrested by the light or the sight, they needed to get a picture.
Two times, it involved birds. One of those times, birds were murmuring. Love the word. I couldn’t get a picture of the murmuration, but Google it, and one will see a twisting swarm of birds, spiraling, swooping and circling in mass formation. It truly is a fantastic sight. I’ve not seen murmurations elsewhere, but have seen them multiple times in Sonoma County.
The other two occasions of pulling cars to the side of the road involved rainbows. The above shot is a portion of a fully arching rainbow starting near Mill Creek and arcing over Healdsburg towards Fitch Mountain.
The sepia lighting seems to be out of a 19th century painting by John Constable. Breathtaking. Worth pulling over for. Worth tromping through mud to eliminate telephone wires and poles. Sometimes the camera almost makes it better.
Fun facts: The only birds that murmurate are starlings. No one knows why, though defense from predators may be a reason. Murmurations generally occur in the late afternoon before roosting, from November through March. Roosting birds can reportedly congregate 500 per cubic meter.
Speeds of starlings flying can be over 40 miles per hour. Groups of seven starlings communicate with each other, with another seven starlings mimicking the first group, and so on, to form a pattern, building to a murmuration exhibiting scale-free correlation. There is no single leader in a flock. How leadership passes and the flock follows is a mystery.
The term murmur comes from the sound of wings beating. All starlings in America stem from birds released into New York City’s Central Park in the 1890s by enthusiasts wanting to propagate birds mentioned by William Shakespeare.
Now there are an estimated 200 million in North America. Birds have specific names in groups. For instance: a gaggle of geese, a murder of crows, a congress of owls, a soar of eagles and then there is a chatter of starlings. If one is a “twitcher,” a British term for birdwatcher, one might know that.