Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Nov 15th Strumpshaw Fen

It has been a long day at Strumpshaw today. This was because I decided to do the afternoon shift at Reception Hide as well as the morning shift. I will explain why later. For now, I will start at the beginning.

When I arrived at Strumpshaw for my early morning walk, the idea of doing the afternoon shift as well did not pop into my head. I was treating today like any normal Wednesday morning for me, though being greeted by a male sparrowhawk sitting in a tree along Sandy Wall watching me walk by is not what most people would call normal. He was unfazed by my presence and just continued to sit there as I stopped for a couple of minutes to take a few photos of him. After leaving him in peace, I made a quick stop at the end of the Sandy Wall by the river, where a small flock of reed buntings were feeding on the fluffy seed heads of the reeds. I then spent the rest of my time at Fen Hide, seeing stonechats, a couple of kingfisher flybys, marsh harriers and 2 Chinese water deer. On the back to Reception Hide to start my shift, I spotted a kestrel perched in a tree in the woods and I also heard some bullfinches.
Female Reed Bunting
Male Reed Bunting
Chinese Water Deer
Mute Swan
Stonechat and Reed Bunting
Cobber the Black Swan
Carrion Crow
Coots, Mallard and Cormorant
The morning shift was rather uneventful for the most part. From Reception Hide, there were 45 coot, several mallards, a few gadwall, teal and shovelers, a cormorant, a moorhen and 2 or 3 marsh harriers to keep me occupied with. Not exactly thrilling enough for me. So this was when I decided to stay on for the afternoon shift. Starlings have been recently coming into roost, with 20,000 strong on one night. Such a roost hasn't really occurred at Strumpshaw in such numbers since my first year here back in 2011. I just had to see it. I went outside to make a phone call to organize a lift home. I was standing by the bird feeder area while making the call, when suddenly something swooped at the feeders at speed and plummeted to the ground just metres away from me. It was another sparrowhawk and it had just caught one of the small birds on one of the feeders! It was down on the ground for just a moment before carrying it's recently caught meal away with it. It is moments like these I wished I was holding my camera and not my phone!
When the morning shift finally exchanged for the afternoon shift, I made a short walk around the woodland trail to stretch my legs a bit. A mixed flock of siskins and goldfinches feeding on the alder cones was pretty much the only highlight of this walk. I returned to the hide more refreshed for another session of wildlife spotting, this time with a different companion as my morning colleague, Tricia, was replaced by Colin during the usual changeover at 1pm. It was pretty much the same set of birds and the same sort of scene as it was this morning for the next 2 hours while we waited for the starlings to arrive. The only difference, though, was that the marsh harriers were becoming more active as the light gradually began to fade.


Marsh Harrier

As time crept towards show time, a small gathering of visitors started to arrive at the Reception Hide to join us for the spectacle that we were about to witness. Then it began! Just before 3:30pm, the first starlings showed up, seven of them. This small group then grew and grew as more starlings joined them. Soon it became a few hundred and they were performing a murmuration over the broad. More and more starlings joined in, arriving in streams from every direction and the murmuration became more and more mesmerising as the swarm of birds swirled into many shapes and patterns in the sky.
Marsh Harrier amongst the Starlings
After a while, they then fell like rain into the reed bed closest to us to the right of the hide. This was not the end of the show, however, as thousands upon thousands of starlings continued arriving and on top of that, sparrowhawks and marsh harriers were bombing into the reed beds to grab an easy meal, causing the murmuration to rise up again every now and then, returning back down into the reeds like a downpour every time. The sound of all these birds was just as incredible as it was visually. Their constant calling was like the sound of running water that grew and grew into something indescribable. Their unison of wingbeats while in the air was also something quite outstanding, creating a loud roar as they flew past us. At one point, while standing outside, this roar of wings caught me by surprise as they rushed over me from behind and made me jump out of my skin.
Eventually, new starlings stopped arriving and they settled in the nearest reed bed for some time before deciding to move over to the reed bed on the other side of the right channel behind it instead. All 12,450 of them! The darkness was setting in and I could just make them out. The marsh harriers continued to circle over them and, in the dim lit November sky, they were joined by bats of all things, though I admit that it was a surprisingly warm evening for this time of year. An amazing end to an extremely eventful day!