Hart Beat by Hart Rufe

Contact Hart at hartrufe@gmail.com


Jewel and I recently had an amazing birding experience, perhaps the most outstanding experience in a lifetime of birding. I have recorded a very small portion of it on the YouTube video below. I suggest you watch it in full screen mode and with the sound turned up. Below I have explained my use of the word "Murmuration" for this spectacle, and why I consider it so amazing.


If video does not show up in your browser, you can go directly to YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvKUKPHJo_Y

Murmuration is the word used to describe a large flock of Starlings, particularly as masses of them wheel and fly in a seemingly coordinated unison without any apparent inter-communication. The term dates back to the 1400’s and technically only applies to Starlings. The equivalent word to describe a large flock of swallows engaging in the same behavior is “flight” as in a “flight of swallows.” However, “flight” just does not seem to be a descriptive enough word for the enormous gatherings of swallows that we have recently witnessed, and “murmuration” is definitely a more appropriate word to depict the incredible spectacle of millions of swallows wheeling and turning in unison, forming dark clouds of birds, and finally descending in a tornado like funnel down to their roosting grounds, where they wash back and forth over the reeds like waves before settling in for the night.

In my lifetime I have been fortunate to witness hundreds of thousands of penguins in colonies on South Georgia Island and in the Antarctic. I have seen snowstorms of Snow Geese whiten the sky at Bombay Hook in Delaware, and tens of thousands of Gannets on Bonaventure Island, and thousands of Kittiwakes line the cliffs in Alaska and in the Bering Sea. Huge masses of shorebirds have covered acres of marshes at Heislerville in New Jersey, and enormous rafts of thousands of Lesser Scaup off Jekyll Island, Georgia, and American Coots at Merritt Island have been tremendously spectacular. Even five thousand Canada Geese covering our small one acre farm pond from shore to shore in Pennsylvania and thousands of gulls and vultures over your average land fill can be pretty impressive. We even observed a remnant population of thousands of American Bison stretch for a mile to the horizon in Custer State Park in South Dakota several years ago. That also was “spectacular.”

However, none of those prior experiences even began to compare to the amazing spectacle of millions of Tree Swallows blanketing the sky in every direction, from horizon to horizon, and forming into fast moving dark clouds of wheeling and turning birds, over a 45-minute time period, until they made their mad dash to the ground and their roosting spots in the marsh. Finally, this phenomenon only lasts for a few days as the birds continue their migration north to their breeding grounds. This took place on private marshland property on the west coast of Florida.

I believe it is impossible to capture on film or video the over-whelming enormity of this wildlife scene, for the camera lens limits the scope of view while the spectacle is everywhere, over-head and at ground level, at the same time.  I am aware that others have much better videos, but this is the best I was able to do.

One final note: yes, we did wear hats and did need to wash our clothes and hats after the event, for all those birds do indeed inevitably drop their calling cards everywhere, including on my camera. (Nikon d300s, video mode, with a 28-300mm Nikkor lens, mounted on a heavy Gitzo tripod with a Miller pan-head. My first ever experience with the video capabilities of this set-up.) (2/12)