Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Sunday, August 5, 2012


A week or so ago, I received an email with an unusual attachment.  The YouTube clip was of Murmurations.  I’ll link the clip because I think, like me you will be very impressed.
The term is much more encompassing than an explanation of the various patterns the Swallows/Starlings make in their winter migration to Great Britain.  It speaks to the ability of non-verbal species to communicate almost instantly intricate commands that allow thousands to turn and make formations, almost instantly.

I was sharing my newfound knowledge with a golfer I teamed up with and it reminded him of a man who trained crows to collect coins for him.  His story and his coin-collecting machine are captured in another video clip, which I will link.  It is a little longer, eight instead of two minutes, but again is well worth the watch.  I was unaware of Joshua Klein and certainly was amazed at how much communication crows share with each other. Now I understand why you can’t leave a sandwich, even one that is boxed, in your golf cart when crows are nearby.

Who says you can’t learn new stuff after age sixty?

Four Wings and a Prayer
As I began to research other examples of murmurations, I was surprised that the term is used to explain how thousands of butterflies migrate en masse between Mexico and even, in the case of Monarchs, to Door County, Wisconsin, from where we recently returned from our annual family outing. Sue Halpern has written an excellent book describes the phenomenon.

I had seen the Butterfly aviary in Victoria, but had not realized that they might have been commenting on our presence as much as we were commenting on theirs.  Be careful what you say in the presence of God’s other creatures.

I had experience with another example of murmurations when we were living in the Philippine Islands.  At one time I had five salt water tanks, stocked for the most part with fish we had caught in plastic bags while diving off the Subic Bay.  One of the strangest was a group of little black fish, none larger than an inch, which I caught as a swarm one day.  There must have been forty or fifty of them, and when I saw the original school there may have been hundreds.

They were swimming in formation, a formation that made them appear to be a single, much larger fish, turning in unison, never losing the illusion that they were something other, and much bigger, than they were.  They continued to maintain this pattern in my tank and were a joy to watch as well as to show off to my visitors.  When we left, I returned them to the bay, hopefully to find others of their species.

While not technically a murmurations example, a similar phenomenon exists in the sea.  I have seen it at night in Subic, in Carlsbad, where the waves crashed against the window of a restaurant where I was dining, and my son and granddaughter saw the phenomenon at Little Dix Bay in the British Virgin Islands.

Luminescence from the shore
I refer to the luminescence given off when certain Noctiluca or similar species are agitated, by motion of a body in the water, or by the action of pounding surf, as was the case at the restaurant.  Blue and yellow iridescence covers much more of the water than could be explained by the movement of a hand.  Surely there must be some sort of communication involved.

I don’t know how much of this post you already knew, but even if you knew everything this should make you more appreciative of the world we see around us: its complexity and its mystery.  Drop me a comment if you have other examples of murmurations.

Today I had one of those Senior Moments, when I put my cable bill check in my church envelope and had to swap out the two at the Rectory later in the day.  It wasn’t the fact that the cable bill is more than my weekly contribution (something to ponder)  but it made me think about how and why we contribute the way Mary and I do.  That might be worth exploring in my next posting.

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