I thought immediately of the year we came back from France, 2014. That was the year too when the Tour de France came to Yorkshire. We went Tour de France mad, and some people even decorated their houses in red spots in honour of the King of the Mountains.
I remembered Brian, the dog my elder daughter had. No dog is spottier than a Dalmatian.
I thought of a bubble-producer extraordinaire we met in London once, delighting children of all ages.
There was that extraordinary murmuration of starlings that took place over our house. It’s an annual treat round here. Thousands and thousands of starlings polka-dot the sky. And afterwards, leave the car spotted and dotted.
Or what about Seville orange trees with glowing orange fruits brightening the winter Spanish streets – and then lying discarded as the season ends: until we come along and bag up a kilo or two to transform into marmalade back at home?
But then I thought about spots and dots in the here and now. Spots and dots in England mean rain on the window, rain on the windscreen. So I begin and end my post with weather, English style.
But … one more thing. No rain = no welly-boots. No welly-boots = no cheery whimsical feature in a garden just down the road.
This week’s Lens-Artists Challenge is Taking Flight. What to choose? I thought of hot air balloons I’ve seen. I thought of planes. I thought of bubbles magically released into the sky to delight children and adults everywhere. In the end, two ideas insisted on their fifteen minutes of fame.
The first is the starling murmurations which are such a feature of life here early every spring. Once, one even took place over our garden. We were entranced until we saw the state of our car afterwards. Have you seen one? Murmurations take place towards evening, when thousands of starlings swoop and swirl in the sky above their chosen roosting site for that night. Are they keeping predators at bay? Exchanging information before nightfall? Nobody’s sure. But as suddenly as it begins, the display stops, and the birds descent to their roosts, and it’s over for another night. Here are a few shots – and look at the featured photo too.
Then there was our visit to the Farne Islands, a protected National Trust bird reserve off the coast of Northumbria What an afternoon we had here. We saw puffins, we saw razorbills, guillemots, eider duck, fulmars …. sea birds of so many kinds. But if it’s flight you want to see today, we’ll just stick with the Arctic Terns, with their brightwhite and grey plumage and orange beaks.
Arctic terns are feisty, aggressive birds, fiercely protective of their young, as these pictures may suggest. They are impressive migrants, flying between 44, 000 – 59, 000 miles a year to reach their European breeding grounds from the Antarctic.
The bush telegraph was busy. It’s that time of year, and starlings are murmurating. Spotted south of Ripon, they’d also been seen at Nosterfield, only a couple of miles from us.
Sunset over Nosterfield Nature Reserve.
Down at the nature reserve, just at sunset, cars gathered. Their occupants waited, enjoying the spectacle of the nightly sunset. Then most of the cars just – went. What did they know that we didn’t? Then Malcolm spotted what we’d come to see, over there in the north.
The starlings gather.
Thousands upon thousands of starlings in a dense cloud that spread, re-gathered, swooped, dived and soared like one of those unending computer-graphic screen savers that used to be all the rage.
We left too, We needed to be nearer. And sure enough, there in a lay-by near Nosterfield village we re-grouped, our binoculars to the ready. The starlings formed an immense cloud, sometimes dispersing to blend in with the grey cloud behind, sometimes wheeling together in sinuous black streaks of snake-like movement. For half an hour we watched.
Then this impressive partnership of birds pulsed lower, then lower, then dropped out of sight. They’d finished their performance for the night.