Friday, 7 November 2014

Murmurations at Marton Mere

The Safari has something a little different for you today, our second guest blog from Alicia.
Anything in italics is our comments the rest is Alicia's own words - we both hope you enjoy her passion and enthusiasm for the natural world; we certainly need more youngsters like her to get involved with their local (and not so local) and get writing about their fantastic experiences of what nature has to offer all of us...and she's pretty handy with the camera too!

At the beginning of November, I went to Marton Mere Nature Reserve in Blackpool for a guided wildlife-walk with Dave McGrath. I'd never been before, but had been told there were Long-eared Owls, Jack Snipe, Starlings and more... I couldn't wait!
We arrived at half-past one ready to start the Wildlife walk, and joined everyone in the first hide, where we saw Mallards, Mute Swans with five cygnets, Herring and Black-headed Gulls, Cormorants, Coot, Tufted Duck and much more! Even a Water Rail made a quick appearance – however it soon disappeared into the reed beds.

We started our walk and Dave pointed out many tree varieties, including Oak, Field Maple, Sycamore, Norway Maple, Willow and many different kinds of Apple Tree which had grown from Apple cores in the ground when Marton Mere was a landfill site. I noticed lots of different types of Ladybird larvae on the fence posts, accompanied by an endless stream of Ladybirds: a Loveliness of Ladybirds! There were also lots of different birds flitting around and feasting on late insects and berries.
A Charm of Magpies joined the Loveliness of Ladybirds – and Marton Mere became the place where I'd seen my most Magpies! Not many Magpies live around my home patch and they are often disliked; however I think they are beautiful and undeniably intelligent, like other members of the crow family.  I watched this one having a bath, after carefully looking at its reflection in the puddle!

Further on, we heard the chirping of Goldcrests – two in a Willow tree. I've seen Goldcrests before, but it always surprises me how tiny they are – they migrate from Scandinavia every winter!  A Greenfinch also sat in the Willow, which was great to see as Greenfinch are sadly in decline and much less common than they used to be.
Just around the corner, we witnessed a Redwing having a bath in a puddle alongside a Blackbird. Redwings also migrate here, so it was lovely to see this one.
We reached the furthest point in our walk where we had a splendid view of Blackpool Tower, and a pair of Stonechats! I'd never seen a Stonechat before, and was amazed by their beautiful, stunning plumage. As the sunlight caught the feathers of the colourful male, it began to swoop up and down - perhaps displaying to the female that had appeared.  We watched the Stonechats in awe for maybe half-an-hour, until Dave said that the Starlings would hopefully be starting to come in soon, and we still had to go to the feeder-hide!
As we walked down to the Hide by the feeders, a Snipe flew up from the Reedbeds. We'd spent the last hour or so looking for Jack Snipe – however had found none, but to see this Snipe was great anyway.  Dave explained about the different flight pattern of Jack Snipe which will fly low and not very far, whereas Snipe will zig-zag and then fly off high.
The Feeder hide was a bird bonanza; Chaffinch, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Goldfinch and a little group of Long-tailed Tits were feeding off the feeders, as well as Wood Pigeons, Collared Doves and three Grey Squirrels.
The pond-viewing-platform was our next stop, and as well as plenty of waterbirds, including Pochard and Gadwall, we witnessed two Sparrowhawks and a small mob of Crows fighting – interesting to watch.
Finally, we arrived at the opposite side of the pond, where we had our fingers crossed to see some Starlings. I had never really seen a mumuration before, only 'mini murmurations' made of about 50 Starlings, so I wasn't sure what to expect...

At first one lone Starling was flitting around, nice to see but not a mumuration – not even an 'M ...'! It was then joined by another, which was swiftly followed by a small flock of maybe 50. They began to move around together, only to be joined by another flock of around 100. As the sun started to set and the moon gleamed brightly, the starling numbers increased until all you could see was Starlings, an estimated 50,000! (That might have been a bit of an over-estimate)
Go on count em we dare you - and this is only a small part of the flock

Then the show really began. Darting and their wings rustling, shape after shape appearing in the sun-setting sky - it was truly mesmerising, and it got even better! Two Sparrowhawks went shooting into the group, one of the Sparrowhawks managed to single off an individual, but the murmuration swirled around the Sparrowhawk making it lose the Starling. The raptors flew off, defeated.  For half-an-hour people came out of holiday-homes and watched the extraordinary spectacle, until, just as suddenly as it they had arrived, the Starlings swooped into the reeds and were gone. Suddenly a Peregrine Falcon shot out of nowhere and gave us a magnificent fly-past at an amazing speed.  And we hadn't quite finished as finally a Merlin flew across – a(nother) first for me.  An amazing end to the afternoon!
That's a beautiful image!

 Marton Mere is a truly amazing place, only small but packed with wildlife – we saw at least 40 different species of bird during the afternoon!  I saw some wildlife firsts: of course the amazing Starling murmuration, Stonechats, Pochard, Gadwall and (of course) the Merlin.  Hopefully we will return to Marton Mere and find the Long-eared Owl and Jack Snipe which, on this occasion eluded us!
It was great to meet so many other like-minded people, sharing their wildlife knowledge and talking enthusiastically about wildlife they'd seen.
I highly recommend visiting Marton Mere, the Starling Murmuration was one of the best wildlife spectacles I have ever seen.
Why go to the Illuminations when you can watch murmurations?

By Alicia      Aged 14                                                                       November 2014

We're sure you enjoyed Alicia's experiences at the nature reserve and we're certainly looking forward to our next meet, still to be arranged but could well involve a reciprocal visit to Alicia's local nature reserve.
Where to next? It's the weekend and we're sure to find something to tell you about.
In the meantime let us know what's been swarming in your outback


cliff said...

A terrific write up of your day out by Alicia, with some wonderful photos too. I particularly like the last two Starling photographs - with Starlings completely filling the frame in one & against a beautiful red sky in the next, excellent!

Warren Baker said...

I like the way that Alicia thinks Davyman :-)

Findlay Wilde said...

It was great to meet Alicia and her pictures really show how great the walk was.