Introduction

Wild Time

Spring

Feel the beat of spring

Be dazzled by bluebells

Harken to a bittern's boom

Seek a swooping sand martin

Pen poetry among daffodils

Sway with dancing grebes

Get sent packing by a grouse

Take a ringside seat

Track down a tiger

Watch a rare sky dance

Chatter with a natterjack

Enjoy the great rush north

Look up in awe

Shine a light on newts

Eavesdrop on a nightingale

Go spotting early orchids

Follow a sat-tagged osprey

Gape at hunting hobbies

Nurse a passion for purple

Scour riverbanks for Ratty

Tip-toe among fritillaries

Summer

Hail the success of avocets

Go batty as night falls

Bewitched by a buttercup

Play the summertime blues

Thrill to damsels and dragonflies

Go after Dartford warbler

Make a splash with gannets

Stake out a badger sett

Hurrah for the king

Rejoice in Manxie's chorus

Delight in a glow worm

Fall for THE fastest bird

Be spellbound by orchids

Journey to a seabird city

Exalt at a skylark's song

Party with the puffins

Lounge with a lizard

Haunt a churring nightjar

Head seawards on safari

Discover the rare spoonbill

Join the toadlet exodus

Spot our largest butterfly

Wear a hat for terns

Hunt woodland beauties

Autumn

Admire our eager beavers

Marvel at migration

Forage for Autumn's bounty

Go nuts over squirrel nutkin

Ramble through purple

Gaze in awe at reds' rut

Wander in the wild wood

Cheer on the salmon run

Try a wild goose chase

Foray for fungi

Winter

Pay homage to the Russians

Go on a winter ghost hunt

Wonder at wintering waders

Fall in love with a seal pup

Hear Britain's tallest bird

Revel in roosting wagtails

Kiss beneath mistletoe

'Ooh' & 'aah' at murmurations

Lie in wait for an otter

Rock 'n' roll with geology

Wrap up for a raptor roost

‘Ooh’ & ‘aah’ at murmurations

Starling murmuration © Jamie Hall

Starlings gather in large roosts for safety, and put on one of the most amazing displays of the natural world in the process.

Arrive at least half an hour before the sun goes does, probably a bit earlier, and find a good vantage point from which you can see the roost site but most especially, from where you can see the sky above: that is where the action will take place

In the depths of winter, as dusk falls, you could be forgiven for thinking there is no better place to be than tucked up warm at home, with your feet up and the fire on.  But trust us…during the winter months, large numbers of starlings visit Britain from the continent, seeking out the relative warmth of our island climate.  As the afternoon wears on, the feeding flocks out in the fields gather together and then set off for their communal roosts.  Usually found in reedbeds or sometimes in a dense patch of evergreen trees, these roost sites can be the overnight home for tens, even hundreds of thousands of birds.  And their arrival at the roost is one of the most staggering things you will see all year.

Flock after flock after flock of starlings arrives, coming in from all directions to gather together in the skies above their roost site.  As the numbers build, with some of the finest ‘murmurations’ (the name for a flying flock of starlings) reaching into the tens and hundreds of thousands of individuals, the flocks take on a life of their own, swirling back and forth overhead.  No one wants to be the first to land, as there may be predators about.  And indeed there will be: these large flocks attract hunting sparrowhawks and even peregrines, eager to pick a meal from the flock.

The ever growing numbers, together with the occasion pass by a hunting raptor, leads to the flocks making amazing shapes in the sky, packing close together and then expanding out, one flock merges into another, zooming back and forth in ever more complex and beautiful patterns. It’s like that game of finding pictures in the clouds, only faster.

And then, just as the numbers reach their peak and as the last of the light fades, as if by a secret signal, the birds suddenly decide the time is right and funnel down into the reeds.  One last whoosh of wings, an electric chatter, and that’s your lot.  Show’s over, the birds settle down to sleep and it’s time for you to head home.

How to do it

Wrap up warm.  Really warm.  It can get surprisingly chilly standing waiting by a wintery reedbed.  But it will be worth it, we promise.  Arrive at least half an hour before the sun goes does, probably a bit earlier, and find a good vantage point from which you can see the roost site but most especially, from where you can see the sky above: that is where the action will take place.  And then, after you’ve had your fill of oohs and aahs and the last bird has dropped in to go to sleep, you can go back to that warm fire and cosy home.  You may feel the cold, but we challenge you not to feel warm inside after a wondrous murmuration.

If you can’t get to the special places listed below…You don’t need to be in the countryside to experience a murmuration: one of the most sensational roosts takes place over the Brighton seafront, where the starlings roost under the pier.  Or just google ‘starling murmuration’ and you will find that you’re not alone in being entranced by the polymorphous swirl of roosting starlings: YouTube is alive with murmuration videos.  Try this one for starters! 

Special spots

Although situated in the heart of urban Teesside if you visit Tees Valley Wildlife Trust’s Portrack Marsh at dusk in winter there is a chance you might see the marvellous sight of hundreds of starlings going to roost in the reed beds.  Walk along the river and you may see the flocks coming in from all directions swirling and turning before they land in the reeds.

Cheshire,  Marbury Reedbed

Devon,  Exe Reedbeds

Lincolnshire,  Far Ings

Nottinghamshire,  Idle Valley

Northumberland,  East Chevington

Suffolk, Redgrave and Lopham Fen

Wiltshire,  Lower Moor Farm

And even if your local doesn’t have a big starling roost on one of their reserves, they can probably advise you on the best places to look locally.

This memerising murmuration was filmed at Gwent Wildlife Trust's Magor Marsh nature reserve in January 2016.  Watch out for the bird of prey at the end of the clip!

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