the side effects of WWOOFing

Feb 24, 2018

Thanks very much to WWOOFer Carolyn Gemson for sending us this.

‘Are you here for the starlings? ‘asks the binoculared warden.

‘You should have seen the crowds at the weekend – some even tried to park in the field. Well, it would be June at the earliest before they’d get off a Levels field!’

I was enjoying an afternoon off from my Glastonbury WWOOFing exploring the RSPB reserves on the Somerset Levels. Unlike the masses of the previous weekend today it was quiet; so quiet that half an hour earlier a secretive bittern had passed within three metres of me, so absorbed was it in its hunt for the next meal, whilst a pair of electric blue kingfishers enchanted me with their trips from branch to shimmering stream.

And yes, I was here for the starlings. I wanted to experience the daily roosting ritual that my hosts had told me about, known as the murmurations.

It was a late January afternoon, the wintery sky’s patchwork of golden pink clouds mirrored in the wetland landscape. Cold rain blew in suddenly creating a rainbow arch across the wide horizon, dissolving as quickly as it had arrived. Overhead a solitary wide-winged hawk hovered keen eyed, seeking the camouflaged vole that scurried across the earth’s peaty blackness.

Flat, quiet, a water-laden scene edged by a vacant spinney, awaiting its nocturnal residents; the sun now a burnished ball descending through a filter of feather-topped reeds.

And then it started. A trickle of movement in the eastern sky. A swelling overture. A growing movement. Starlings flying in rapid harmony. Within moments other flocks joined them and then the silent symphony began. Thousands of birds flooding the sky, a shape-shifting mass flying in close formation as though linked by a magnetic force. Now bound tightly, shadowing the sky. Now stretched ribbon-fine in a constantly changing drift and flow. They twisted, they wheeled, morphing seamlessly from one magical form to another. Passing overhead with a cacophony of pulsing wings.

And then just as suddenly as it started, it was over. The sky drained empty and sight was replaced with sound as the chattering roost settled for the night.

I was suddenly aware of the chilly dampness and the twilight dusk and was pleased that I had my own roost to return to. It came with the promise of shared food and good company for a winter’s evening and the pleasure of another WWOOFing experience with added benefits.

photo: David Kjaer from the RSPB website

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