Murmuration Message

March 18, 2022

Have you ever had a sign in nature telling you that everything is OK? I do from time to time. These signs tend to happen when I most need reassurance during a difficult time.

I experienced one of these moments this week as I stood watching a murmuration with Jason. As the starlings twisted and turned, glinting in the setting sun, they painted a symbol for us in the sky that holds tremendous meaning: a heart. I filmed it using my iPhone and you can see it in the image above.

In this blog, I will first share a little context that brought us to experiencing this special moment. Then, at the bottom of the page, we have included the video for you to see for yourself.

Ten years ago

On Wednesday this week, it was exactly ten years to the day that Jason and I first met. So, it was a special anniversary day for us.

Ten years ago, we arrived at the Middlewood Trust Centre in Roeburndale in the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire. We had both signed up to a year-long shamanic medicine wheel run by Jayne Johnson, and it was the first weekend. In a small group of seven people, we would meet every six weeks to mark the turn of the wheel and work with aspects of the shamanic toolkit.

Jason arrived later than everyone else. I remember being aware as I settled into my room that there was one person I hadn’t yet met. So, when he arrived at the door of the centre, I walked straight up to him, said hello and gave him a big hug. He wasn’t even fully in the building, with his arms full of Morrison’s bags of clothes and his Nepalese drum. He told me, many months later, he was a little taken aback by being pounced on by a young blonde lady as he struggled through the door.

Our group gathered shortly afterwards in the yurt, which was to be our teaching space for the year. I listened to Jason’s story with fascination as he explained how he grew up in the Jehovah's Witness religion and what this was like for him. He spoke of how he had left years ago and followed the Earth path. When it came to the end of the introductions, Jayne asked for two people to cook tea. I offered, and Jason volunteered to be my sous chef.

It was at this point that we started to get chatting. The conversation led quickly to what we saw as our work in the world. We both shared that we had been guided to help people fall back in love with the Earth once again. We were amazed that we both had this vision, as we hadn’t met anyone else who did. We said right at that point, in the smallest of kitchens as Jason was neatly chopping vegetables and I was trying to cook on the worst cooker ever, that we would work together one day. We couldn’t see what that would look like, as it seemed we did very different work and had very different skills. I was a sustainability consultant, and Jason was a nature photographer.

Over two hours later, we emerged with a part-cooked curry and a firm friendship.

Topsy-turvy times

Fast forward ten years, and here we were sat at home deciding how to celebrate the occasion. We had made plans earlier in the week but couldn’t settle on what to do.

The truth is, neither of us was really in the space for celebrating. These past few months have been very difficult. It began with catching Covid, which had taken a while to recover from, partly because of the events that were to follow. The day after we tested positive, Jason’s dad fell down the stairs in the night, and has been in-between hospital and a respite care home ever since with what is looking to be the later stages of dementia. Then Jason’s mum and disabled brother had a fall a few weeks afterwards. Jason’s family live next door to us, and there is heightened anxiety about all the changes that are unfolding. Jason’s days are punctuated by a steady stream of calls with social workers, the hospital, and a respite residential care home. No day is ever predicable.

Over recent years, we have anticipated all of these things happening one day. We didn’t expect everything to happen together at the same time. So, we haven’t been in the best place. We are having to re-write what resources us and dig deep. Lots of nature time is one of the cornerstones.

So, we didn’t feel much like celebrating on the anniversary day of our meeting. With all the outfall from Covid and Jason’s family struggles, our The Way of the Buzzard 2022 plans have fallen by the wayside over these past few months. The weather forecast wasn’t the best and so earlier in the week we decided that we would work through the day and just go out for the evening.

Only, on the day, that decision didn’t feel right. It is easy to put off what you know is good for you amongst all the demands of what 'needs' to be done, isn’t it?

We looked at our schedules, decided what had to be completed that day and put down everything else. At noon we walked out of the door and onto our anniversary adventure. We didn’t have any preconceived ideas on where we would go. We call this an ‘empty bowl’ day. An empty bowl day is where we create space to do whatever comes. It isn’t about making plans. It is about planning to create space with no plans, and see what happens.

This decision was a game-changer.

Anniversary adventures

We started by driving up towards the Lancashire coast and Silverdale. There was a micro-brewery that I have had my eye on and wanted to take Jason, The Old School House Brewery in Warton. It’s one of those hidden gems, which I found because I drive past it when I go to harvest drum beater handles. It looked like my kind of place.

We loved it beyond measure! It’s so friendly with everyone chatting away to people on the tables next to them. There are games on tap, crazy dogs, delicious pork pies, cakes and home-brewed beer, and a slightly drunk local called Norman. Being there lifted our spirits.

As we walked around Warton Crag afterwards, I commented to Jason that I had seen a post on our Mystery School facebook page earlier in the day. One of our members had shared some footage taken of the starling murmuration at Leighton Moss nature reserve. I announced that I would love to go and see it one day. Jason pointed out it was just a few miles away, and so there we had it, our next empty bowl mission.

If we had filled our day with plans, I would have never have thought of the idea.

We arrived around thirty minutes before the first starlings flew in, giving us just enough time for a brew in our van.

As we stood outside looking across the lake, I noticed the stillness. Occasionally the silence was punctuated by geese honking or ducks quacking. A group of egrets collected in a dead tree on the edge of the lake and lit it up like a Christmas tree. There was a handful of sheep grazing in the meadow to our right, with their newborn lambs. The lambs were jumping about, high on life.

There was just one other person with us, Mick from Liverpool. He told us that usually there was a stream of cars parked up, but the rain had put people off. The rain had now cleared, and there were the makings of a fine sunset in front of us.

The starlings flew over in small groups to begin with. They would join up together and then disappear over the horizon. Then they would return, in a slightly larger group and then go again. It looked like they were moving further away towards the coast. Mick told us that it was just luck. Sometimes they would perform their display here over the lake, and other times around a mile away on the coast. Knowing this heightened our anticipation, alongside feeling lucky we were to be alone here without the usual crowds.

We stood there willing the starlings to return. And they did. In the next thirty minutes, more and more starlings joined the murmuration. Then a huge group came from behind us and doubled the already swelling group. There must have been tens of thousands of starlings, maybe even a hundred thousand. They stayed in the distance above the next meadow for a while, but then they came closer. And closer. And closer. They moved back and forth, flying around us and over us. It was so beautiful.

The hillside lit up a golden yellow as the sun prepared to set. The starlings lit up a shimmering golden-pink colour, as glistening jewels in the sky. Then the sky turned into a blend of purple and pinks, giving a new canvas for the starlings to imprint themselves against. They were five to ten starlings deep in height, stretching may be out to half a kilometre in each direction. When I looked up as they flew over, all I could see above me were starlings.

In those moments it felt like I became Starling, as I was pulled forward as they flew over. It gave me the same feeling I get on a rollercoaster, but my feet were firmly on the ground this time. Or were they? Maybe for that moment, I did fly with the starlings.

The sound was like nothing I had heard before. A delicate hum was ebbing and flowing as the murmuration drew closer and further away.

Then, as the light began to fade into darkness, the starlings dropped down to roost in the reeds. In this moment, they put on their most spectacular display of the evening. They bunched together, making sudden and dramatic twists and turns, forming all kinds of shapes. A whale, a snake and then…. a heart.

I didn’t spot the heart at the time. It was Jayne who pointed it out when I sent her the video later that evening. I played it back, and there it was. I played it back again and again. I couldn’t believe it. Nature had sent us a reassuring sign.

Heart message

There is a deep meaning for us in seeing this heart shape in the murmuration that evening. It shows us that although things are tough at the moment, we are being looked after: we are OK. It shows us that we were in the right place at the right time. It shows us that we are doing everything right, even though we often can’t see through the fog of crises unfolding around us.

When we arrived to watch the murmuration, it was the very hour that ten years ago we gathered in the yurt. At the moment the starlings created the heart shape, Jason and I would have been standing in that kitchen chatting away as we cooked. Perhaps it was the exact time ten years ago that we realised that our work in the world was aligned: to help people fall back in love with the Earth once again.

Silverdale is a special place for us as we have spent a lot of time here together. We were handfasted in a stone circle in a woodland only a few miles from this spot. It feels significant that we received this message in this place.

Creating beauty

The starling is a bird that creates beauty and reminds us that we need to do the same.

One of the theories behind why starlings perform these magnificent murmurations is in defence against attacks by birds of prey. However, there seems more behind this. Perhaps they are joining together in this way to create beauty and to play? We think so.

There is a clear message from Starling for us to spend more time doing what we love most, going on adventures and capturing the magic of nature. So, you can expect more stories like this one in the coming weeks, months and years.

The starling isn’t seen to be a beautiful bird, but it is if you get close and see its colours. A hint to its hidden beauty lies within its name: starling. With its colourful sheens, the adult's plumage looks like the aurora borealis. The younger starlings look like the the dark night sky with light spots as stars. These birds are cosmic. You just need to see through the commonness and give them a bit of time. Starling teaches us to see beauty in the common things.

We are both very aware that we could easily have missed this special moment. Soon the starlings will be setting off for the breeding season, some travelling as far as Scandinavia. Jason went back to Leighton Moss the next day to capture it all again but with his full camera and filming kit. There were no starlings and no sunset. The show had moved on, and he could see them in the far distance over by the coast. Maybe the murmuration will continue for the next few weeks as numbers dwindle. Maybe we will need to wait until next year to see this spectacle again. Maybe we won’t get as lucky next time we visit.

It is poignant to think that we could so easily have missed this.

Had we not learned to prioritise nature time over work, even if we felt like we couldn’t, we would have missed it.

Had I not have seen that facebook post in our Mystery School page, we would have missed it.

Had I not thought to mention it to Jason, we would have missed it.

Had we have filled our day with pre-made plans, we would have missed it.

My final reflection here, carrying the message of Starling, is to ask, what nature time do you have planned in over this coming spring? What message might be awaiting you out there as the bluebells push their noses up through the cold soil and the leaves emerge into the world. What might the bumblebee say to you as she crosses your path, gathering the early nectar for her first offspring. What might you hear in the drum of the woodpecker in the woods or the song of the mistle thrush?

There is beauty all around us, we just need to make time to show up and see it. And try our very best not to get in our own way to do so.

Here is the video where the starlights create the heart shape, around two thirds of the way through.

And, we would love to hear what you think. Do share any reflections in the comments below.

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About the Author


Nicola Smalley is an edge-dweller, shamanic practitioner and writer living in Anglezarke on the edge of the West Pennine Moors in Lancashire, England.
Following a career in corporate sustainability, she now runs The Way of the Buzzard with her husband Jason. Her passion is anything connected to nature and the mysteries of the Earth.

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  1. A difficult day today; just had a walk by the sea after work and felt I wanted to check my emails and …the first sentence drew me right in to read this without stopping. And the message you received, and the video…. Breathtakingly beautiful. How held are you with the experience of the starlings among day to day difficulties… how magical, precious and beautiful. You were indeed blessed to receive this. And having taken the time for Nature to share this with you. I don’t know what words to say. I am so happy for you, with this ???

  2. Thank you for your blog, Nicola. Brilliant as ever! I didn’t realise how difficult the past few months have been for you both, but especially for Jason, I imagine. I love murmurations and Leighton Moss area is a great place to see them when they do occur. I haven’t seen one ‘live’ for a while so it is great to have this little video. The heart shape was special and so close to the stone circle! So good for you to have such a clear message that, despite your current issues, you are both on the right path. You have already done so much in those 10 years to help people fall in love with nature and the Earth path again, I am sure you will go on to do a great deal more in the years to come. Many blessings to you both and to Jason’s family.

    1. Thank you Jill for your words here. I am really touched reading them. Yes, that heart was so close to the stone circle wasn’t it. Incredible 🙂

  3. How beautiful in their ebb and flow, and there aas the whale, the heart and the snake. Beautiful footage of the beautiful starlings, apparently they follow their closest 7 so thats how they keep together. An amazing site. Thankyou Nicola x

    1. That is really interesting that they follow their closest seven. I was wondering how they kept in their family groups. That explains it. Amazing.

  4. Sorry to hear things have been tough for you. It's good to hear you have found respite and joy in this wonderful gift from the starlings 🙂

  5. Thank you so much for sharing that beautiful film and blog. This weekend I turn 66 and begin life as a pensioner. My equinox has been highjacked by loved ones who want to give me a special time. However enchantment is never far away. I just fell in love with the beautiful full moon from my window. When your heart is full there's no escape from the beautiful dance that is life.

  6. That was so magical, the way they split into two parts ,and one lot became the heart, it seemed like it was totally made with a purpose. The message was just what I need right now. How wonderful to have seen for real but thank you for sharing.

  7. Lovely to catch up on how things are going thank you. The recent sunshine will give you both a boost. Nature's messages are wonderful to behold, Love that heart from the starlings, makes you all warm and fuzzy.X
    Blessed Be.x

  8. So sorry to hear of the very difficult time you are both having but it’s lovely how nature has spoken to you and thank you for that important reminder of putting it high on the list of priorities to get out there and be in nature. Going to the sea is my remedy, never fails to put me back together but it’s easy to let stuff get in the way. Love and light to you both.

  9. So glad you both got to spend this time with the starlings! They have been particularly amazing this year. And so sorry to hear you have been through so much recently, I hope things will ease soon, with love, Lolly xx

  10. So incredible, the sound and feeling of the birds in total resonance with each other, truly stunning, a once in a lifetime moment Nicola and Jason, bless you both. Being their for each other and taking moments to stop and just breathe when all around you is falling apart, moving into the wonder of each precious moment and stepping in to resonance with mother nature as you both do will bring you through.
    Sending much love and Happy Anniversary xx

  11. Amazing! Loved reading your message to us. It's was a challenging 2021 for me with 2 lots of cancer in 2 different parts of my body. Reading your message made me feel I will be consciously aware of putting nature first. Even now I'm lying awake listening to the dawn chorus, oh and I loved the starling video clip and seeing the "heart ".

    1. Thank you for your sharings here Denise. I am sorry to hear that last year was challenging. That must have been a real rollercoaster for you with two cancer diagnosis’s. I hope you are on the road to recovery now. And I love that you are inspired to consciously put nature first.

  12. I love reading your blog posts Nicola, I'm so glad you experienced a special day for your anniversary. Hope all goes well with the family. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Beautiful ❤️ In that present moment what a treat to the eyes,ears,heart and a natural deep breath in.Grateful to be alive a reminder of natures wonders ❤️

  14. Wow, thank you for sharing that amazing video. A beautiful reminder that Nature is always with us and we need to learn to Love and Respect it. Happy Anniversary to you both

  15. Beautiful. So glad you had this very special day. Nature indeed shows up, when we need that reassurance the most. For me, it tends to be a rainbow, a Robin or a dragonfly – but I'm always open to new nature messages. Thank you for sharing x

  16. Hi Nicola and Jason,
    Thankyou for a wonderful, inspiring story…you are so right, 'adventures with nature' give us so much to look forward to, nurture us and inspire us to seek our own healing. And they make us so happy! These are difficult times on a worldwide scale, and sometimes it's too easy to forget the personal traumas that people are suffering. Our thoughts are with you both and I'm certain that you have the all tools to transcend this very difficult period. Never forget that you have so many friends out there that you helped through lockdown with your on-line Wheel of the Year celebrations. Each one of us is there for you! Thanks so much for your uplifting words. XX

  17. Hi Nicola and Jason,
    Thankyou for a wonderful, inspiring story…you are so right, 'adventures with nature' give us so much to look forward to, nurture us and inspire us to seek our own healing. And they make us so happy! These are difficult times on a worldwide scale, and sometimes it's too easy to forget the personal traumas that people are suffering. Our thoughts are with you both and I'm certain that you have the all tools to transcend this very difficult period. Never forget that you have so many friends out there that you helped through lockdown with your on-line Wheel of the Year celebrations. Each one of us is there for you! Thanks so much for your uplifting words. XX

  18. Such a beautiful read and a much-needed reminder that signs in nature are everywhere. I feel for you in your personal situation with everything coming at once. As I only just feel myself emerging from a year like that, I send warm thoughts to you as you navigate the phonecalls and pressures these happenings bring. Thank goodness spring is happening beneath our feet, so that we may be pulled back to what we need. I know that is my goal this season; to notice, to absorb, to slow. Happy anniversary!

    1. Absolutely Alice, I love spring and the energies just kind of carry me along. It is good to hear you are emerging from a difficult year and I hope things are settled now. I love your goal 🙂

  19. Great to see this, I was brought up in Over Kellet near Carnforth so know the Silverdale area well,.
    Wonderful murmuration and many Congratulations on your Anniversary!

  20. Thank you for sharing this beautiful post, it brings me to tears. The video speaks to me of fluidity and how we can move and weave obstacles on our path to stay centred. Happy anniversary and thank you both for bringing your beautiful teachings to the world ?

  21. Nicola and Jason this must have been a wonderful day for you, and a deserved one.

    Thank you for posting and thank you for your insights.

    The world is changing fast and we need wonderful souls like yours.?

  22. Wow that's truly amazing , they are so pretty and I love the noise too. Yesterday morning I woke up and I saw about 30 swirling outside my window and land on my garage roof not seen them do that before .
    Anniversary wishes to you and a perfect nature event for you both to share! Blessings on the spring equinox . xx

  23. What a wonderful blog Nicola, it made me quite emotional reading it. Isn't it great when things fall into place & you know it was meant to be. I've never seen a murmuration but it's definitely on my list of things to see. As you say some of the best moments in life are the unplanned, unexpected ones which make them all the sweeter. I find you & Jason so inspiring & you keep my hopes alive for better times ahead. Happy Spring Equinox x

    1. Absolutely Gaynor, it does seem to be that way doesn’t it – unplanned happenings have a particular magic about them. I am touched at your words here, thank you

  24. What a wonderful story, it really touched my heart. Thank you for sharing and will hold you both in the Light hoping things will get better !

  25. Thank you for sharing. It looks amazing and it certainly would have made my soul smile to have been there to experience a wonderful display from nature.

  26. Very moved by your beautiful and honest reflections of your tenth anniversary and loved the empty bowl day. I’ve been married to my wife Marie Helene for almost 22years. We met at a music festival searching for our daughters (who were playing together). For us water has always been the constant theme – as fellow Cancerians I guess that’s a natural – and we always seem to end back at the ocean.

    Thank you for the reminder to be aware of all the signs in Nature and to keep a positive outlook in the rhythm of life

    1. Thanks for your reflections here Stewart. I am touched at how you have enjoyed my blog. Love that you like the empty bowl idea. I have loved hearing how you met your wife! Amazing 🙂

  27. Thankyou so much for sharing. What a beautiful and poignant moment to experience. And a wonderful reminder we are all held and all loved. Nature is the best teacher of all x Equinox blessings to you both, and to your family x

  28. Thank you for sharing this. How wonderful you found comfort in nature and got this special message on your anniversary. Hope things calm down for you soon. Your blogs are always so inspiring. I have seen a raven twice since watching your film in Glen Coe and often think of you when noticing something special or when feeling a special connection with a plant or a tree or an animal when out and about.
    We have a beautiful weeping willow tree near by and I went to sit by it for comfort. One time when I went back to it I saw a kingfisher there. I had never seen one before and wanted to see one for quite some time. It felt like it was sent to me just to comfort me.

    1. I can imagine Rosa, what a special experience that was seeing the kingfisher there. Thank you so much for your kind words about how you enjoy our blogs 🙂

  29. Awwww happy anniversary to you both, its nature sending you both love and thanks for all you do. With a big loving heart. Wow that was amazing so special.

  30. Wonderful. I like that nature happens around us whether we are there to witness it or not. When we are there we are an immediate part of the moment and our viewpoint in every sense, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, shapes the experience for us. All of the moments leading up to this brought you to a place where you could enjoy a live personal connection unique to you. If you had been a mile distant the heart may not have appeared and the experience would have been different. No worse, just different. Nature does not need us but we are fully a part of it. Our lives are like murmurations of moments in constant flow.

  31. Thank you for sharing this special day in your life. It has taken me to reach my 76th year to appreciate living in the moment….and just being.
    Life has been topsy turvy over the last two years, and fraught with uncertainty. But some aspects have served as a tool, such as being in nature, and appreciating what we have around us.

  32. What a truly beautiful experience. Thank you so much for sharing it. Too often we miss these wonderful messages and signs from Mother Earth…

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