Eastbourne Pier UK – Aerial Amoebas

Eastbourne has a wealth of magnificent Georgian and Victorian architecture and its waterfront, especially, is always a pleasant place for a stroll. We found ourselves there about an hour before sunset one winter (at that time 4pm) and were fortunate enough to witness the gathering of tens of thousands of starlings above its famous Pier. They were performing their ritualistic and visually-bizarre aerial dance prior to roosting under its structure. Of course, we’d left our camera behind and the old phone wasn’t up to it . . .

Fortunately others have captured similar events
Aerial Amoeba - Starlings

Aerial Amoeba - Starlings UK

The birds amassed flock by interconnecting flock above the pier in the gathering dusk. Smaller flocks were arriving, funnelling into the whole and while its mass grew ever-larger by the moment, it was constantly changing shape and direction. It was like a gigantic, shape-changing amoeba as seen under a microscope. With a quick flick, the whole mass would flex as one, stretching and contracting, ever-mobile yet one apparent mass. It was remarkably reminiscent of the collective movement of a school of fish. In the absence of tropical sunsets, it rated highly as coastal entertainment.

The phenomenon is not, however, unique to Eastbourne, the English coast, or even the U.K. – far from it. It occurs wherever starlings feature as a local bird. But some years they simply do not appear, only to mysteriously return in the following year, their whereabouts during their absence quite unknown and leaving ornithologists and twitchers scratching their heads.

Mysterious Murmurations
Yes, these phenomena are called murmurations – certainly a strange word. The following excerpts, from wonderopolis.org., go some way to explain them:

“Some scientists believe murmurations are similar to other systems such as the formation of crystals, avalanches, metals becoming magnetized and liquids turning to gases. These systems are “on the edge,” which means they’re ready to be completely transformed in an instant.
Like the elements of these other systems, each starling in a murmuration is connected to every other starling. Scientists liken a murmuration when it turns in unison to a phase-transition.
It’s easy to understand how one starling knows to turn when its neighbour turns, since they’re close together and can see each other. What scientists still don’t understand, though, is how hundreds or thousands of starlings seem to know when to turn simultaneously, when birds at opposite ends of the flock are separated by space and hundreds or thousands of other birds. Regardless of the size of the murmuration, all the birds seem to be connected to the same network. This phenomenon puzzles scientists, because it goes beyond what we know from biology about how animals behave. The mystery of the murmuration is a fascinating example of a natural phenomenon that hides secrets about the world that scientists have still yet to uncover!”

Here is a classic YouTube clip of a beautiful murmuration:
Gretna Green Starling Murmurations

Another of this world’s beautiful mysteries.

Oh England, My England

2nd August 2015

Ooops, should be ‘my Wales’. Ne’er mind eh, same island innit…..

Oh my green and weathered England,

Your welcome, cool summer comforts this heat-worn traveller.

Blackberry-tangled hedgerows profuse with berries sustain the weary

And border gentle downs of harvested wheat fields twixt leafy glades.

By chance, a glance through forested copses reveals a distant, old and grand manor

And soon, a cluster of thatched-roofed homes grown round an ancient church appears,

The graveyard’s tottering headstones declaring an age long gone.

And lo, behold the welcome low-roofed weathered inn

Within which one finds comfort and cooling sustenance.

Ohhhhh . . . forsooth, I wander lonely as a clod . . .

And yeah, behold a host of golden yokels just back from ‘the Costa’.

(Alfred ‘Lord’ Cedric)

Uncle Fred - Stoke Bruerne UK 2015

After our roasting in southern Spain and Morocco the visit to my Uncle and Aunt’s (Fred and Sue) up in Buckingham, England was a welcome relief (we even made use of our jackets) as well as being fully rewarding and entertaining. Our reluctance to visit the UK is purely on economic grounds; it is truly a beautiful country in the right season (this was) with wondrous ancient architecture in its villages and seaside towns that will warm the cockles of the most cynical heart, but . . . for someone using the dollar from down-under, it is shockingly expensive. Fred and Sue were able to show us some more of their beautiful Buckinghamshire countryside and canals, while Rachel and I managed a good day’s walk between rustic villages (Buckingham to Gawcott to Preston Bissett and return) – a mini pub crawl. ‘Twas all gawjus!

Canal Boat - Stoke Bruerne UK

Stoke Bruerne UK Canal Boats

My Uncle’s story has yet to be told. A uniquely interesting tale of struggle and survival of emigres from Gibraltar during wartime (2nd WW), he and his mother (my Grandmother) with no financial support from his deserting father or the government evaded bombs and hostile landlords in London to not only survive but to handsomely succeed through effort and ingenuity. My Uncle Fred’s story is an exemplary tale of the underdog, the forgotten, and of thriving against the odds. As always, in talking with him and his lovely wife Sue I am inspired and am better educated. Rachel, too, loves their company.

Well-fed, watered and having had hours of stimulating conversation we cantered off south on Brit’ Rail for a brief two-night visit to our friends Syd and Veronica in Eastbourne. It was, though brief, equally rewarding and in their company we took in the fantastic Victorian architecture of that seaside town and its neighbouring fishing village of Hastings – that of the historic battle of the same name, 1066 and all that. The whole region just oozes ancient historic events, and because of many still-standing buildings, inns, coach houses, houses and pubs, it is not difficult to actually get a feel for it. This is, of course, the same throughout much of the UK. Syd is a friend of mine from the 60s when we were both working in Gibraltar. Before that he was on tankers running to the Middle East and has subsequently worked in the Middle East and Barbados. We go back a long way, as do my Uncle Fred and I.

Syd & Cedric Hastings UK

Local Pub in Hastings
Local Pub in Hastings UK

Syd is a ‘Jag’ man – shown below is a local Jaguar restoration workshop
Jaguar Workshop - Buckingham UK