Monday, 10 December 2018

Somerset Levels (4): the starling roosts

We saw the starlings flying into their roost twice, on two consecutive evenings. The photos below are all from the second day, when the light was marginally better. On the morning of the second day, some of us got up very early to go and see the flock wake and leave the roost.There is an amazing explosion of birds out of the reed bed but I have no publishable photos of that because the light was too poor to capture anything so fast-moving. Many of the birds took a bath in the water before flying off. In a reverse of their roosting, they broke into smaller flocks and dispersed in all directions, around the whole 360 degrees, thus spreading out to maximise their feeding opportunities. If it had been a bright clear morning (actually it was pouring with rain) we would have watched the birds flying up with Glastonbury Tor behind them, and the sun rising behind the Tor - what a view! We could barely see the Tor through the rain, and the sun was nowhere to be seen.

At dusk, the flocks fly in from all directions round the roosting site. Some fly low over your head and you are engulfed in a loud susurration from their wing beats. You are also likely to be crapped on! In fine weather, they may twist and turn in the skies for some time (confusing predators, which wait each day for them to arrive). But when it turns wet and windy they just pour down into the reeds. The calls of hundreds of thousands of birds make a wall of sound and the weight of them temporarily flattens the reeds, though they bounce back when the birds leave.

This last photo is made brighter than it really was, to show the vast black mass of starlings in the centre of the reeds. Shortly after this, with no light left, they flew off again, to the left and over trees to the next reed bed where they then stayed. They had also done this the previous day, and that second reed bed was where we went to see them wake in the early morning.

If I lived in the locality I would be there on every clear fine evening of the winter! Seeing this was one of the things on my 'bucket list' and I'm so glad to have been able to experience it, in spite of the weather.