Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Magnificent murmurations

Yesterday I saw a massive flock of starlings - you can maybe just make them out in the photo above. It was absolutely incredible. I appreciate that one could not deduce this fact from the photo, so you'll have to trust me.

Every winter starlings form gigantic flocks which are known as murmurations. One of the biggest flocks in the country happens to be quite close to Bristol: up to one million starlings come together every evening throughout winter at a bird reserve called Ham Wall near Glastonbury.

I was at Ham Wall yesterday between 3pm and 4pm. During that time I saw three extraordinary ornithological sites: first, the starlings. Second, I saw a great white egret - there are thirteen of these in the whole of the UK; four of them live at Ham Wall. And thirdly, I saw a bittern. These were once extinct in the UK but they have recolonised and now breed in two or three places in the country. They're usually very shy and hard to see but this fellow flew right over my head!

Thank god for bitterns, egrets, and starlings. It's nice to know that, amidst all the scenes of environmental catastrophe, there are still places where nature can thrive. Just to reinforce this, I've made a list of some memorable birding moments that I've experienced recently around Bristol. It's worth reminding ourselves that we can still enjoy wonderful nature almost on our doorstep...

(Depressing aside though: as we headed out to Glastonbury to see the birds, we encountered a mighty snarl-up on the M5. We were a bit worried that we might spend the day in a traffic jam but, no, we soon realised that all the traffic was leaving the M5 and heading for Cribbs Causeway for the Boxing Day sales. Is the human race mad, or what?!)

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