It’s behind you…

 Black-tailed Godwits

Black-tailed Godwits

On a cold Saturday afternoon at the end of November Somerset Birdwatching Holidays were amongst a throng of over 200 people at the RSPB’s Ham Wall reserve in the heart of the Somerset Levels. It was a clear afternoon getting colder by the minute as the sun was setting just beyond the distinctive shape of Glastonbury Tor. We were all waiting for the Starlings to arrive. There were other diversions to keep us interested before the main event. Someone said that a Firecrest had been seen amongst a flock of Long-tailed Tits, but that eluded us. It was jolly difficult to decipher any small bird silhouetted against the setting sun. Looking in the other direction with the sun at our backs was better, and an obliging Kestrel hovered motionless above the reed beds just long enough for us to fix the telescope on her. What a beautiful little falcon she was. We wondered what she might be hunting amongst the reeds? The best we could come up with was Water Voles.

Several Marsh Harriers, both male and female, were still active and the usual suspects of Gadwall, Teal and Shoveller ducks were preening themselves and preparing to settle down for the night. A Great White Egret flew right past the viewing platform and almost received a round of appreciative applause from the crowd. It is such a great bird to see relatively easily and regularly on our doorstep, this probably one of the rarest breeding birds in the UK. We are spoilt in Somerset.

The first of the Starlings started to stream in from the north. Slowly at first, then growing in frequency and in flock size. A few groups looked like flowing liquid and generated some Ooohs, and Aaaahs from the crowd. But tonight wasn’t going to be a classic for the murmurations. It was good, but with only about 50,000 birds the skies did not exactly darken as it does when there are half a million birds coming in to roost. It was however still early in the season, the best time usually being from the middle of December through to the middle of January.

Last year in December I was down at Ham Wall and enjoyed a great display with the crowd lapping up the aerial acrobatics – I happened to turn around away from the crowd just in time to see a splendid pair of Glossy Ibis drop down just a hundred metres from where we were gathered. No-one turned around to my excited cry as they were completely engrossed with Starlings.

This year a similar occurrence happened during a juicy fly-past when around 20 Black-tailed Godwits flew in from nowhere (well, probably flew in from Greenland) and again went largely unnoticed.

It just goes to prove, you’ve got to have eyes on the back of your head when you watch the Starlings at Ham Wall.

Graeme Mitchell