I hadn’t been to see the local starling murmuration this winter, so yesterday mid-afternoon I decided to rectify that. It’s always chancy, and for a good display the ideal weather is clear skies. Yesterday there was mainly thin cloud, but I knew that the birds would soon be migrating back to their north European breeding grounds, and I might not have many more chances. The Avalon Marshes starling hotline informed me that the previous night the starlings had roosted at both Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath, each accessible from the same RSPB car park at Ashcott, (recently created, to the great relief of those using the nearby country road from which the reserves are accessible.)
Once there, I decided, I’m not sure why, to go east along the rhyne (pronounced ‘reen’) or drainage ditch, making for Ham Wall, rather than westwards to Shapwick Heath. I made my way slowly to the main viewing platform, 400 metres down the path, enjoying what other birds were to be seen on the reserve, as night started to fall.
Glastonbury Tor in the distance
The water levels are carefully managed with sluices
En route I observed Stephen Moss, naturalist, author and TV producer, and President of the Somerset Wildlife Trust, with a small group of people, and I reckoned I must have made the right decision as to direction. Once I was at the platform, the Avalon Marshes representative advised going on another 600 metres, as a thousand starlings had already made their way in that direction. “There’s another half million due, and earlier on in the season there were a million here, but they’ve started leaving. We have had as many as five million in years gone by.”
On maximum zoom, in the far distance from the viewing platform, a great white egret, a species that has just begun to breed in the UK.
I walked on the extra distance, taking more photos.
When I’d gone the 600 metres, I was not alone – this was about a third of the people gathered there.
I moved slightly away and lower, to the bank of the rhyne, where there were fewer people. It wasn’t long before I became aware of birds streaming way up high over my left shoulder. They were all making their over to the north and doing a bit of their murmuring there, but at a low level and not very photographable. But I got a few pictures over the next 20 minutes or so.
Then they were gone, into the reeds, for the night. The moon was up, behind the cloud,
and it was time to wander back to the car park, along the rhyne.
Tardy small groups of starlings continued to fly over my head for a little while to join their roosting companions. How do they know where to go? What more pleasant way to spend a late afternoon? Why don’t I visit one of the UK’s most famous nature reserves, just 20 minutes from where I live, more often?
I’ve just rung the starling hotline again. Yesterday the starlings only roosted at Ham Wall. Good call.