Saturday, 19 January 2013
STARLINGS ON THE ESTUARY, 1879
"Never within the memory of the oldest man have so many starlings been seen as were observed here last week. The plantation and the cliffs, so far out as they were covered with scrub and thorn, offered a capital shelter for them, but they were worried all day long by hundreds of boys. Then, extending from the Coastguard Station to the Black Battery, especially on Wednesday and Thursday of last week, there were thousands of these birds stretching along in a line with high water mark hunting for anything in the shape of garbage they could find among the seaweed. So cowed and weakened did they seem with the cold East wind that they could easily be run down as a great many of them were, as were also grey and black birds. But on Friday their fear got the better of their judgement, and instead of stopping within the shelter of our cliffs they flew across the river in large flocks, in the direction of Starcross, where exposed to the full blast of the East wind, they must have perished in large numbers."
Nowadays the great murmurations are to be seen, and heard, in the reedbeds above Topsham. What did the writer mean by 'grey and black birds'? Did he mean blackbirds? How times have changed! These days all the boys of a January Exmouth are indoors gazing at television or other screens instead of being in pursuit of cowed and weakened birds. Which activity is the most pernicious I wonder? Did anybody eat starlings? It wouldn't have been 'garbage', a nice word with a first meaning of the entrails of animals, that the starlings were finding in the seaweed on the tideline. And did they fare that much worse in the reedbeds of Starcross to which they fled? More questions than answers!