Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Somerset Levels 27th - 29th January

The main objective of this weekend was to see the Starling murmarations around the reserves at Shapwick Heath.  Helen and I set off mid afternoon, with the hope of arriving in time to catch the Starlings going to roost at Ham Wall.  The pressure was on though as the A303 was closed for a while due to a lorry fire, and as we approached Meare and the Ham Wall reserve we could see the flocks gathering around the levels.  We managed to park just outside of the car park, and quickly headed off down the track to the reed beds.  The weather was not helping, it cloudy with very dark clouds, and as we set off we were treated to a very heavy shower, which also convinced some of the observers to leave. 

The starlings by now were flying around the reed bed, and the noise was amazing, it was quite dark, and difficult to make out the birds, but it appeared like the ground was black from what we thought were Starlings.  It turned out there were Starlings but they were perched in the reeds.  Despite the gloom I did manage to get some pictures as the flock swirled around the reed bed.

As the rain eased and the clouds cleared the light became better the Starlings seemed to change their minds about settling to roost, and started to pour over the reeds and across the ditch to the adjacent field.  Here they would land on the ground, but not settle, and once again they would be off flying around the reeds.

Finally the light beat us and we decided to head back to the car.  The majority of the birds were in the reeds and noise became even louder as we walked away.

We were staying at the Meare Manor Bed & Breakfast which was about a mile from the Ham Wall reserve.  We had been told that the morning, when the Starlings leave the roost can be even more spectacular than the evening roost displays.  The key was knowing where the birds had roosted the night before, which we did, so we decided to get up early, and be on the reserve to watch the Starlings wake up.

We were expecting a frost first thing in the morning, but whilst it was cold, there was no frost, the sky was relatively clear though and we expected quite a pleasant sunrise.  We drove down to Ham Wall, and made our way along the track to where we had left the Starlings last night.  This was easy to find due to the prescence of the errant bramble branch!  The Starlings were already calling from the reeds and you could sense there was movement too.  From across the fen a Tawny Owl called, and gradually more and more bird calls could be heard from the surrounding trees and reeds.  We waited, and gradually one or two more people arrived, but nothing like the gathering there had been the night before.  As the light improved birds began to fly out of the reeds and over us.  The one highlight being a Bittern that slowly made it's way across the reeds and off to the north.  In the distance the dawn began to pick out Glastonbury Tor that overlooked the reserve.

All the time the Starlings were getting louder and louder, and flying around just below and above the reed tops, it was clear thy were getting ready to leave, and the swirling undulating flight along with the increased chatter was quite mesmerising.  The light again made it difficult for photographs, but the grainy feel of them helps to portray the experience.

All of a sudden they were off and out of the reeds, they did not leave immediately, but circled around and then groups split off and made there way over us and the reeds.  There was still chatter from the reeds but we thought that the event over with, and we started to look elsewhere, only for there to be a sudden increase in the noise that continued to get louder and louder followed by the reed bed suddenly exploding with Starlings.  The flock emerged like black smoke and drifted over the reeds in differing shapes, with the chatter increasing in a loud crescendo.  Several passes were made over the reeds, and then finally they broke up and thousands of birds flew off over our heads.  An incredible spectacle that words and photographs struggle to describe.

The main event over, we decided to return to Meare Manor for breakfast, however we had to stop on the way to take in the sunrise over Glastonbury.

Back in the village small groups of Starlings could be seen almost everywhere.

After Breakfast we headed back down to Ham Wall.  Because it was likely to become very crowded this evening we decided to leave the car in the car park, and spend the day walking the reserves, returning to Ham wall in time for the evening Starling performance.  The weather now was perfect, with blue skies and a lovely winter sun.  We started off waling around Ham Wall, and then in the afternoon walked the main track through Shapwick Heath and back.  Highlights were the four Great White Egrets and a very close fly past by a Bittern at Ham Wall.  Unfortunately the Yellow-Browed Warbler did not show, but here are some lovely moments from the day.

Siskin - Ham Wall

Shoveler - Ham Wall

Great Crested Grebe - Ham Wall

Agriculture versus Natural

Reed Bokum


Reed "Fish"

Ice rainbow

Reed Bed Glow

Late Afternoon Sun
Evening Geese
Hoards of people were coming down the track at Ham Wall, gathering to see the evening Starling roost.  It was in itself an interesting spectacle with bicycles, scooters and children running up and down the trails and tracks.  I wonder what the wildlife made of this?

The sun was setting, and with it came the cold, and as the dusk wore on you could sense the concern that maybe they were not coming.  Then slowly small groups of starlings appeared above the reeds and came together in larger flocks circling around the trees.  Very quickly the sky was full of Starlings.

At one stage a Buzzard could be seen amongst the flock, but this failed to cause the concern and confusion that generates the dancing patterns.  In the photograph below the Buzzard can be seen.

The Buzzard is on the left

The Starlings continued to group, and decided to go down into the reed bed on the other side of the track from where they roosted on the previous night.  The flocks would come in from the south, and pour over the trees into the reed bed.  Here they would swirl around the reeds calling continuously and flying above them in waves.  Thousands and thousands of birds were coming together, and just when you thought it was complete more would turn up.  The sky was full of Starlings and it was an amazing sight.

The birds continued to swirl and around the reeds creating once again the dark black smoke effect.

It was getting darker and darker, and just when you thought they were going to settle down in this new site, the roost exploded and all of the strlings poured back across the reeds and trees into the original roost site that had been used the previous evening.  Thousands and thousands of Starlings turned the sky black and the noise was deafening.  As they poured into the reed bed the reeds once again turned black, and the noise began to quieten down.  The show was over, and we slowly made our way back to the car.

The clear skies of Saturday were relaced with overcast and slightly misty conditions on Sunday.  we were heading back home, but before we did we set off for a drive around the levels to the north of where we had been on Saturday.  The highlight was a very confiding Buzzard, and a very atmospheric scene alongside the many ditches that covered the very flat landscape.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.