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January 31, 2020
On New Year's Eve we went to San Rafael to witness a sunset gathering of European starlings (the gathering is called a "murmuration"). Thousands of starlings flock together and form beautiful, shifting shapes in the dusky sky before they settle into a grove of eucalyptus trees abutting a cemetery across from Northgate Mall in the Terra Linda area (rather close to Drake's Terrace).
The starlings are beautiful to watch, but they are something of an ecological menace. Their history in the US is an interesting lesson in unintended consequences: On March 6, 1890, a New York pharmaceutical manufacturer name Eugene Schieffelin released sixty imported starlings in NYC's Central Park, part of a curious and odd plan by The American Acclimatization Society to introduce to North America every bird mentioned by Shakespear in one of his plays or sonnets. Nightengale and skylark releases had failed, but the starlings thrived. Unfortunately for both the natural the ecosystem and for human health, starlings will bully other birds, kicking bluebirds, flickers and woodpeckers out of their nests, and they can consume whole fields of wheat and transmit avian, animal and human diseases. Today there are hundreds of millions of these beautiful pests across the US. Interestingly, their chosen nesting ground in San Rafael is among the eucalyptus, another invasive species brought to America by humans attempting to perfect what they perceived as an imperfect bioshpere.
One reason they flock together at dawn and dusk is to protect the masses from winged predators that do much of their hunting during the dim hours. In my pictures below, I captured the flock being harassed by a peregrine falcon (there were two that I could see). To be fair, I am not certain it was a peregrine, but that seems to be the consensus among bird watchers in Marin, so unless someone tells me with certainty that this is incorrect, I'm goin' with that.