Lockdown Birding Part 6

Spotless Starling (Martin Kelsey)

He looks as if he has been immersed in Brylcream, a right greaser, his breeding plumage shiny and jet. Not oily - it is hard to detect any colourful irridesence (apart from a bare suggestion of purple), but greasy. The feathers appear lank and matted, those on the crown and throat almost lacquered-erect and pointed. The feet are the tone of pink you will find in a roast, medium-rare. The bill is daffodill-yellow with the windswept-blue base of a male.

This Spotless Starling has become one of my favourite companions during my lockdown birding. He sometimes sings in view, perched on the telegraph post beside the house, bill wide open, prickly throat feathers spread out and entering bouts of excited wing-paddling. Usually he sings hidden from my view, on a perch behind the laurel tree in front of me. I am the only aware of his presence by his extraordinary vocalisation. His concoction bubbles away....a fizzy, gargling, sparkling, wheezing series of notes coming from deep in his syrinx, complete with growls and whistles. It has syncopation, an idiosyncratic beat and rushes orgasmically to finale. Starlings are famous for their mimicry. This individual does high-fidelity Great Spotted Cuckoo and Red-legged Partridge, and even Grey Heron. But these imitations are cast randomly into the song, throw-away improvisations. This is quite different from the way Calandra or Thekla Larks weave their mimicry seamlessly into their songs. They do classical, the Spotless Starling plays skiffle.

Black Redstart (Martin Kelsey)

Every day I am also watching a pair of Black Redstarts from the balcony. In our first few years here, this was a wintering species only in the garden. But more recently we see them in spring as well, with breeding in or close to the garden. The male rasps his hesitant, coarse notes from song perches on the roof. Robin-like, he descends to the area on the cobble-stone yard where I have been scraping weeds from the stonework. He stands, head-cocked, on the moss-covered granite seat beside the old well before dropping to the ground to feast on the invertebrates my work has revealed. The modest grey gentle-looking female is also bold enough to come close to the house to forage.

Since my post of 21st March, https://www.birdingextremadurablog.com/2020/03/lockdown-birding-part-3.html, where I listed 43 species of birds seen from the balcony since lockdown, I have now added another 12 species:

Feral Pigeon
Common Cuckoo
Alpine Swift
Swift sp (probably Pallid, but seen distantly in poor light and call not heard)
Great Cormorant
Booted Eagle
Common Buzzard
European Robin
Common Nightingale
European Stonechat
Pipit sp. (possibly Tree Pipit on passge, but not heard and seen only in flight).

The Nightingale arrived last night and I first heard a few, rather subdued sections of song this morning. As if to say. "I have arrived, I may stay here...watch this space!".


David K said…
Thanks Martin. Common starlings rarely visit our garden near the Peak District in the UK and breeding numbers have markedly dropped in the UK along with many other species. They are a much underrated species apart from the annual murmurations which are spectacular.
My garden list is now 30 species for the whole winter but no migrants yet in that number.
I agree...starlings are very attractive birds, especially the common startlings which are here in the winter on the pastures. The spangled spotted winter pluamge is extraordinary.
David K said…
Just to add in the last month i have done many 'lockdown' walks around the countryside here where we have various habitats and not seen a single starling amongst the 50-60 species I've logged on BTO birdtrack.
David Knass

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