Lockdown Three has been trying to the spirit, but a wonderful consolation in our east Northamptonshire village is the unexpected arrival of a starling murmuration; to my knowledge, in 30 years we have not seen the like.
Here is not typical of where one would expect to see them; just a few houses, hedges and paddocks in the middle of vast, intensive-arable fields.
The starlings may have abandoned their usual reedbed roost down in the flooded valley, and arbitrarily decided my neighbour’s hedge to be a drier alternative.
Shortly after sundown, groups of starlings arrive from various directions, and gradually form one or two large masses. Numbers have been building up over the last month and now there are hundreds - maybe thousands - impossible to count. They sweep in wide arcs over the village and the mouth must not be gaping at the wonder overhead, but kept firmly closed. One neighbour watches from her greenhouse, another was leaning out of the bedroom window to watch the entertainment and her cup of tea received a bonus.
Most of the remaining hedges around here are butchered by machines directly after harvest, even as early as August, removing the fruits that birds might feed on in winter. However, this chosen hedge is unusually semi-neglected, with thick brambles down one side offering protection from weather and predators. Hedgerow trees in the vicinity supply a waiting room for the early arrivals before they join the fly-pasts. When it snowed, all the birds sat in the trees, one by one dropping into the hedge to roost without preceding aerobatics.
Gradually, as the aerial display continues, the birds come slightly lower and closer together and form the impressive swirling shapes that make them the stars of nature programmes.
Performances vary each evening depending on wind direction and weather, always hypnotic and mesmerising. On one night, they suddenly bunched into tight fast-moving formations, creating astonishing, evolving shapes for nearly 10 minutes.
An impressive thing is the complete silence as they pass – only the whoosh of their wings like a wave on the shore.
Just before dark, they drop into the hedge in batches, sometimes seeming as if sucked by an invisible vacuum cleaner, at speed all landing in a noisy disturbance.
The hedge becomes crammed and the squabbling racket enormous. For half an hour, the chatting and shifting continues and then all becomes completely silent.