Order and harmony in a murmuration


Copy – then open this in a new window or new tab

At first, they trickle in: one bird here, a few birds there. Then, at dusk’s cue, a dark smudge materializes on the horizon. Thousands of starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) slowly come into focus, etching flight paths across the winter sky as they stream toward their evening roost in north-central England. Suddenly, the flock dips and twists like a horse tossing its head. It swirls into a funnel, then cartwheels to the side, shapeshifting in seemingly effortless unison. All the while, the birds’ feverish wingbeats and raucous chatter reverberate through the air—and reveal why this intricately coordinated performance earned its name: a murmuration.

Each winter, starlings gather in large flocks of up to 100,000 individuals across the United Kingdom. Most have migrated from northern Europe seeking milder temperatures and more abundant food. Their arrival is celebrated by residents outside the city of Sheffield, England where restored wetlands offer prime roost habitat, and where vast horizons make a perfect theater for evening murmurations. Among the routine spectators is Kathryn Cooper, a physicist-turned-photographer who sees more than just a mesmerizing aerial display. Trained in bioinformatics, Cooper has a keen eye for understanding complex data. “I’m interested in the transient moments when chaos briefly changes to order, and thousands of individual bodies appear to move as one,” she says.

RTFA and enjoy Kathryn Cooper’s photos.

Flying drunk proves fatal for bird flock


No – not that sort of drunken bird!

There was nothing mysterious about the death of a flock of birds in Romania last week — they were simply drunk, veterinarians said.

Residents of the Black Sea city of Constanta alerted authorities on Saturday after they found dozens of dead starlings, fearing they may have been infected with bird flu, which triggered mass deaths in avian populations in 2004-2006.

“Tests on five birds showed gizzards full of grape marc which caused their death,” Romeu Lazar, head of the city’s veterinary authority told Reuters, referring to a pulpy residue which is a by-product of winemaking.

“This also applies to two dead crows we tested,” Lazar said. Birds are not used to alcohol but harsh winter and snow had prevented birds from finding food. Had they been able to eat some seeds, this would have diluted the poison…”

There have been a series of unexplained mass bird deaths in several countries across the globe in the last few weeks, including in the United States and Sweden.

A predictable number of conspiracy loonies have come forward with outlandish “causes” – most of which are about as out of touch with reality as the prophets offering them.

Nutball pastor tells church leaders to quit Facebook or resign


New Jersey’s newest self-ordained censor

Rev. Cedric A. Miller has had it with what he says Facebook is doing to couples coming to him for help and is giving his married church leaders until Sunday to get off the social-network website or resign their posts.

Miller…said a large percentage of his counseling over the past year and a half has been for marital problems, including infidelity, stemming from Facebook…There was no problem when people just met with friends from high school in a platonic way.

But that has changed, he said, and now people are reigniting old passions and connecting with people who should stay in the past. He said a marriage can be going along fine when someone from the past breaks through and trouble begins.

“It’s to the point now that this Sunday, anyone in our church in a leadership position and who is married and is on Facebook has to resign their church position if they do not give up Facebook,” said Miller…

The average citizen is going to see my action as controlling, not that I care about that,” Miller said. “I’m not concerned with being politically correct. I’m trying to save families and marriages…”

“I wouldn’t say Facebook is the problem,” said William Rosenblatt, an Ocean Township psychologist and therapist. “What I would say is we live in a rapidly changing world, and we are facing stresses and opportunities that we’ve never had to face before.

“Facebook doesn’t create dissatisfied marriages,” Rosenblatt continued. “People who are dissatisfied now have better means of creating support systems and networks that are much more vast, and it’s much easier to connect with people that way.

“I would see the pastor’s decree as sort of another example of how, when we as a group are faced with dramatic change, there are three paths people take,” Rosenblatt said.

“One path is we need to go back to the way things were, the conservative path,” he said. “Another group are those who just want to rush ahead and change everything. Then a third group says, let’s not paint this black and white. Let’s be mindful and thoughtful how we do this.”

Another “moderate” preacher in the community says Americans have a right to access to the Internet, but – “Any access to people unfiltered may not be good.”

How many examples do folks need – of paternalistic, patronizing self-aggrandizement from religions several centuries out of date with democracy and freedom – before you walk away?

Do you as an individual feel yourself so ignorant and unlearned about decision-making that you need a friendly neighborhood saviour telling you how to behave, how to manage your personal life?

Do you need a church-based “filter” governing what in the world you are allowed to read or see or hear?

UPDATED: The dude used to get off on 4-ways with his wife + another church “leader” and women from the church. Har!