A murmuration of starlings in Whitehall

Dec 1, 2016

Starlings flocking

Before becoming a full-time author, Richard worked for many years in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, later subsumed into the Department of the Environment. He worked on some interesting stuff, including the Clean Air acts and the Thames Flood Barrier; nevertheless, he wasn’t really cut out for working in an office in London, and over the years the Big Smoke took its toll on this countryside-loving man. Here’s a telling little piece he wrote about one of his experiences there:

‘Some years ago, when I used to work in Whitehall (where there wasn’t all that much nature to be observed) I used to enjoy seeing the flocks of starlings coming in to roost at sunset. Attracted by the warmth of central London, they would arrive from the country in thousands, and strut and tussle along the office buildings for their pendent beds and procreant cradles for the night. One evening I was standing near a window in the Old Treasury Building near Horse Guards Parade, discussing some civil service matter with two people from another Department whom I didn’t know very well. Suddenly the starlings began to arrive. The air outside became darkly alight with wings and with squabbling and cackling, but after a few minutes, while our talk continued, things became a bit quieter.

‘I like to see the starlings come in, don’t you?’ I remarked to one of my companions.

‘Starlings?’ he replied, puzzled and slightly put out, for I had broken his train of thought.

‘Several thousand starlings,’ said I, ‘have just alighted rather noisily within a few yards of us.’

‘Oh - really?’ he replied, and for a split second he and the other fellow caught each other’s eyes. Then he resumed where I had interrupted him.

I must add that we weren’t all like that. A colleague once dumped six different kinds of fungi on my desk and asked rather dauntingly, ‘Can you identify those?’

(He could.)’