It's winter and the sun is setting over the waving reeds in front you. A few small, black dots begin to fly in: Common Starlings. They're joined by more and more coming from left, right and centre, until thousands of starlings come together as one, and suddenly you're watching a breathtaking murmuration. With so many thousands of birds dancing through the winter sky above you, it's easy to be fooled into thinking the species is doing rather well. Sadly, this couldn't be further from the truth.
The stark facts are that between 1995 and 2016, Britain's breeding population of Common Starling crashed by a staggering 51 per cent. Just let that sink in. It means that there are now only half as many starlings in Britain than when I started watching birds with my dad during the mid-1990s. The situation in England is even worse: we saw an 87 per cent decline between 1967 and 2015. Starlings no longer nest in large parts of Wales and southern England.
Back to that murmuration – many of the starlings you're watching above your head will have travelled here to escape the winter freeze in countries to the north and east. In those places too, numbers are falling, and we're seeing fewer of these birds arriving each year. It means that the large winter gatherings we're used to seeing are becoming smaller. Are the days of starling murmurations numbered?