Saturday, 15 November 2008

Starling Special

The weather was kind and the Starlings performed. Today I led a group from Dillington House on to the Somerset levels to witness one of the UK's wildlife specials, that of course is the gathering of Starlings before they go to roost. Some have said up to 15 Million Starlings can gather on the Somerset Levels. I feel sure it was not anywhere near that number, however I must state that I did not have time to count them in. They began appearing from all directions around 1545 hours and headed from Natural England's Shapwick Heath nature reserve over to the RSPB reserve of Ham Wall. Its here that we caught up with them. At 1605 they were gathering over the main reed bed, and a quite spectacular display, (yes I have seen a few, and this one was good). When the flock builds up, being constantly fed with new birds moving in from what seems all directions, the flock appears to act as one unit, and they twist and turn avoiding predators with their amazing aerial shapes. Someone said "when the flock turns and the starlings become closer to each other, they look like a giant bird". I found that an interesting description, and maybe a deliberate anti predator strategy. By 1640hrs all the Starlings were down in the reed bed and safe, or that is until the night hunters venture out. One thing that gripped me by this spectacular event is that, not so many years ago this bird was referred to as a pest, yet now because of its UK breeding numbers decline of 50% of the total population, the Starling is now described as a red listed species on the Birds Of Conservation List (BCC). I remember as a young boy studying the Starlings that bred in my parents house, counting the young they produced each year, also having having an average of 30 to 40 individuals in the summer in the garden, when the birds got fed. Now when returning to this house there are no breeding Starlings, and no Starling at all feeding on the bird tables of the area.
If there is a moral to this, then it must be a clear message to us involved in conservation to never take any common species for granted. We are full of lists of species which are on decline, either Amber or Red listed, but those that are green species (in other words doing well) should not be forgotten in our modern world of conservation lists. Priority's for species such as the Starling and House Sparrow are the examples of how the common ones can become the Red listed species, almost over night (ish). You are probably thinking, "so where have all the Starlings come from now on the Somerset Levels"? Well, the answer is some of them will be coming from local areas. Many more however will have made long journeys from Europe to seek out the milder climate of south west England.
The pictures accompanying this post are not from today's event, but are from the same locations taken around a year ago. The mass roosting of Starlings should last through until February, well worth a visit, but please support those organisations that look after this wonderful part of England. Starling gatherings and roosting can be on three areas the RSPB's Ham Wall reserve, Natural England's, Shapwick Heath reserve or The Somerset Wildlife Trusts Westhay Moor reserve. Indeed is you go to Somerset Wildlife Trusts website you will find a hotline number giving you update information on the Starlings on the Levels.

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