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Murmurations


After this morning's walk I want to confidently declare that the mornings are indeed getting lighter. Of course this is true, but also I know that much of this is down to the weather. In my 5 year nature noticing diary I'd commented on 19th January 2022 that this was the brightest morning of the year, but we'd clearly had much less wet weather. Yesterday I received a picture from a friend in the Dublin mountains of the sunrise over the city, glorious in pinks and reds. As it happened I received it just as I was standing atop the hill in Queen's Park looking out over Glasgow and could see nothing but cloud. Of course Dublin is further south, but still I felt cheated. Or I did until later in the day, when the clouds had cleared leaving a bright blue sky and I got another text from Dublin telling me it had started raining. This morning however was bright from the start, light burning on the horizon at 7.00am, and no, sunrise itself wasn't until 8.22am but it really is getting lighter.


Maybe it's because so much of my walking time is in the dark in January that I have become more attuned to nature reaching me in other ways. Once again the radio stopped me in my tracks this week to find out what a piece was called. Another composer I'd not come across, this time, Derek Bermel and the piece was from a composition called Murmurations. The connection was immediately obvious. Reading an interview with him he compares the movement of the string section of an orchestra to the movement of a flock of starlings in their dusk flights. I've never been lucky enough to see a truly massive murmuration but have seen impressive displays over the pier in Brighton. Of course I fell deep into the internet trying to find out more and it turns out that Brighton is one of the places listed on the RSPB website as a place to watch them, as is Gretna Green, somewhat closer than Brighton. The second movement of this piece of music is actually called Gathering at Gretna Green. I also discovered that but there is a website Starlings in the UK crowd sourcing data on where you can see murmurations; previously I thought that the Traffic Scotland gritter tracker was the most exciting website out there, but no! There's a musical association here too, I'm sure you all know MC Hammer's famous composition "Stop! Gritter Time!". (It's a long story.) I was going to apologise for getting sidetracked there but then I realised I could tell you all about rock salt which is surely also a marvel of the natural world. Instead I'll just give you this link.


From music to poetry. My nature book for the year is A Nature Poem for Every Night of the Year and today's entry is an excerpt from January, part of The Earthly Paradise, an epic poem by William Morris. Despite being a big fan of Morris it's not something I've read, but now, alongside The Finnish Calendar in the last blog that is providing a piece of music for every month of the year, I now have a poem to accompany it. The first couple of lines struck a chord:


From this dull rainy undersky and low,

This murky ending of a leaden day,

That never knew the sun


William knew how it is! And yet, January won't be with us much longer, so to another book I'm going to be dipping into throughout the year The Wheel of the Year. It's a guide to the seasons and nature festivals by a Wiccan priestess, and the book is based around the Wheel of the Year which I often mention. Our next festival is almost upon us, Imbolc on the 1st February. You might have optimistically made resolutions on 1st January. Perhaps they fell by the wayside pretty quickly in the gloomy dark of winter. This festival gives us another opportunity to start again. It's a time to pause, to look back and to look forward. Spring isn't quite upon us, unless you're Irish when St Brigid's Day, also 1st February marks the new season, but the hints of Spring are all around us. I even saw my first daffodil in the wild this morning. There is much action in the natural world just now, even if a lot of it is beneath the surface of the earth. It's a great time to start noticing nature too. Perhaps you could become a phenologist with the help of Nature's Calendar from The Woodland Trust. Have you seen your first snowdrop yet? Heard the first song thrush? There are other opportunities for citizen science too. This weekend, 27th-29th January is the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch, which takes just an hour of your time, recording the birds that you see in your garden. I was going to write more about this but then another blog popped into my inbox, that of Miles Richardson from the Nature Connectedness Unit at the University of Derby. I'll direct you to him for the details, but briefly, his suggestion is that instead of just counting the birds, for maximum well-being benefits you should also think about how happy each type of bird makes you feel. Experience the joy of birds. I literally shouted for joy when I saw a great spotted woodpecker in our garden last week; apologies to the person I was on the phone to at the time. Finally to make the link to the picture at the start, on Sunday we organised a walk from Glen Esk Pocket Park in East Kilbride to take a closer look at the Scots names for birds that are embedded in the paving slabs around the park. We heard about the different species and discussed the various names, but unfortunately we didn't see many birds. The weather was a touch dreich, but we were blessed with a rabbin (robin), identified by the youngest members of the group and cheerfully described as their favourite bird (the joy of birds!) and down in the glen we saw some shelfies (chaffinches) feeding on some seed that had been left out. However this particularly hairy tree covered in amazing lichen, and almost glowing in the gloom was my highlight.


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