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Bee Swarms and Other Murmurations

Updated on November 17, 2016
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I Thought It Was a Murmuration

I was tooling along one of the Interstates that crisscross my little corner of the world when I noticed, far ahead and to my right against a cloudless sky, a gray mass that seemed to be moving slowly from right to left on a trajectory that would bring it across the highway.

A murmuration, I thought! A murmuration is the seemingly choreographed flight of a flock of starlings that can number in the thousands of individuals. You don't see them too much here in the Northeast US where starlings are invaders, not natives.

The movement of the flock is breathtaking as it twists and turns, swoops and soars in perfect unison.

Scientists still haven’t come up with the answer to how it happens. It boggles the mind.

It’s pretty easy to imagine one bird immediately turning when its flight partner does, and doing it fast enough so that the human eye can’t detect the split second delay.

But a flock of thousands turning as one is incomprehensible. We see it on the parade grounds as a precision drill team moves as one, but to the loud cadence of the drill sergeant.

There’s no one barking commands to the starlings.

One could wrap their mind around the movement of such a large mass if it came in waves, like “the wave” which fans perform at sporting events.

But this is a mass of hundreds or thousands of individuals changing directions all at once. Incredible!

I saw a murmuration years before but it was a brief and unspectacular one.

The flock, which was pretty small, undulated and performed a couple of sweeping turns before moving behind terrestrial features that blocked my view.

But here was my chance to see one again, and pretty much out in the wide open spaces.

I was already doing 7 mph over the speed limit (the generally assumed “limit of tolerance” of the local constabulary) and was nervous about going any faster.

State police troopers, after all, are known to lie in ambush in this area.

But, I rationalized, traffic is light, conditions are optimal, and that flock is miles away and will disappear before I can get near it if I don’t step on it.

And, if I got a ticket, it would be worth the price of admission to one of nature’s magnificent traveling shows.

So I gave it the gas and kept an eye on the murmuration, which was showing all the signs of being another dud. It changed shape a little in the seconds that I was aware of it, but that was about all. Maybe they were just getting up to speed, I thought.

I stepped a little harder on the gas pedal, figuring I had to go another couple of miles before catching up to it. I was hoping that there were no troopers around and that the murmuration would begin “murmurating,” for crying out loud.

A swarm of bees less than a mile ahead of me looked like a huge flock of birds a few miles ahead of me.
A swarm of bees less than a mile ahead of me looked like a huge flock of birds a few miles ahead of me. | Source

I was just starting to build up a little head of disappointment when my depth perception dope-slapped me with a heavy dose of reality. I wasn’t miles away from a murmuration. I was approaching to within a couple of hundred yards of a huge swarm of bees, following their queen to their Promised Land!

My initial disappointment was quickly replaced by the wonder of what I was witnessing. I had never seen a swarm of bees this massive. It had to be close to a hundred yards wide. Chalk it up as another life experience that I was fortunate enough to have.

The birds and the bees aren’t the only creatures to move en masse in a seemingly choreographed fashion. Large schools of fish do it as well, and that’s an amazing sight to behold.

If you Google the word “murmuration” there are a lot of videos available that capture the phenomenon. Whether you attribute it to Mother Nature or a deity, a murmuration is one spectacular sight to behold.

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