Who's the Conductor?

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs


The orchestration of nature.

Submitted: May 26, 2018

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Submitted: May 26, 2018

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Of the birds visiting our property through the seasons, the species I like least are starlings. If I’m honest, it’s their stinky droppings I don’t like, I’m not at all fussed on  their messy nests either. If allowed, they nest in sheds and crap over tractors and implements, which probably isn’t very healthy, certainly it’s not very pretty! They drop as much nesting material as they weave into their nests, and who knows why they don’t bother to retrieve it. They also nest under the engine cowling of tractors and have caused many a fire. Each spring, one used to nest on the top of the radiator on my tractor, she would raise her young there even though sometimes, they must have nearly cooked, because radiator can get pretty hot sometimes! One of the adults became chopped-up starling when it flew into the fan, which wasn’t a nice thing to witness. But I didn’t dislike them enough to destroy their nest.

From a distance, starlings appear to be black, but in the sunlight they have those rainbow colours of oil when it sits on water. But the common of garden starling can’t hold a candle to the superb starling which is worth a mention. It’s common over most of East Africa, and not afraid of people, even so, I was never able to creep close enough to catch a decent photo! They look like a talented child has painted them, with their orange belly, topped with a white band and then an iridescent blue chest. Their head is black and the rest is pretty much the iridescent blue colour except around its bum, which is white. It looks at you with a white eye, centred black.

Anyway, back to ordinary starlings. For just a few weeks when the light is right, as I head out for my morning walk, I pass by a stand of thirty year old Eucalyptus trees, the roosting place for starlings. It is also the roosting place of sparrows, ordinary, cheeky, house sparrows. The starlings seem to be happy to share their space with their smaller cousins. The sparrows, and there must be two hundred of them, wake up at sparrow-fart! Well that’s what my Dad taught me! They start chirping, all at once, not one starts before the others, they just start in unison. They chirp away, excitedly for perhaps five minutes and just as suddenly they stop, in unison!  There’s silence for perhaps a minute and then, again in unison, with a flurry of feathers they fly off in a cloud of flapping wings as the leave the tree canopy but then fly off singly or in groups in all directions. How do they pre-determine which way they are to go in search of breakfast?

The moment the sparrows have dispersed, the starlings start up their chattering, not a single one starts, they tune up in complete unison. Perhaps they are planning their day? The chattering is loud and a bit raucous, the same as when they settle down for the night. The chattering is shorter than that of the sparrows, but just as suddenly they stop and silence reigns again. Maybe they’re taking a breath. Because they are a bigger bird, the feather-flurry is louder, but they all take off in unison, not in a murmuration cloud, they seem to have sorted out which group flies where, and off they go in all direction, some of them fly straight down to our lawn, where they find insects, and grubs to break the night’s fast. They seem to leave the worms for the blackbirds and thrushes, both birds arrive much earlier.

This business of suddenness and unity is a curious thing. The same thing happened at Makumira. We had a large lawn, but no glass in our bedroom windows. Our windows were just covered with mosquito netting, so the night sounds, some pleasant, some not, wafted in. Whenever it rained, frogs emerged at night, and they sang until daylight. During the day, there were none to be seen, but at night, there must have been thousands of them! They were probably one of the species of screeching frogs, tiny, wee blokes, mainly brown for camouflage, that hide in the leaf litter during the day. But en mass at night they kick up a veritable racket! There was never a lone frog calling, all would start up exactly at once, continuing for perhaps a while, and then they would all stop completely for perhaps ten minutes before they started up again! The cycle continued throughout the night. We didn’t find them to be particularly bothersome, but when I was awake, I listened for a lone one. But in vain!

It’s fun to imagine some sort of conductor waving a baton, keeping order and being strict with the orchestra, but these are little miracles of nature, done for a reason I haven’t figured out, they are something to watch and enjoy should we take the time.  


© Copyright 2018 moa rider. All rights reserved.

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