Saturday, November 8, 2008

Members' News - Starling Watch (and a bird in lacy knickers)

Lesley, Dick, Kay & Steve went on starling watch this week, with surprising results! Lesley tells the story.........

I’m a self confessed ‘Birder’, in fact my late husband pointed out to me that I collect binoculars like other women collect shoes. I confess to that also. Thus it was that when I overheard two fellow walkers, Steve and Dick discussing the amazing spectacle of millions of Starlings coming in to roost over the Somerset levels, I rather rudely butted in and pointed out that such a display was on offer on winter evenings in the Monts d’Arree. They asked me if I would meet them to show them where this spectacle takes place and we agreed that we would meet late one afternoon at the Chapelle St-Michel-de-Brasparts, where the birds fly in just above head height. We would then drive on down to their roosting place where one can witness some 2,000,000 Starlings forming kaleidoscope shapes in the evening sky, just as I had done in November last year. To this end, Steve, Kay, Dick and I all met on Tuesday 4th at 4.30pm. The sky was relatively clear, and as a glowing red ball of setting sun was sinking behind the distant hills, silhouetting them black against the orange sky, everything seemed to be full of promise. There was just one thing missing….Starlings!
It started to get cold, very cold; still no Starlings. I saw one flock flying way below us, towards the roost , and as some cloud had started to move in we decided that perhaps the birds were flying low this evening. Then Steve pointed out a very unusual bird only feet away from us. We discussed what it may be. It was very pretty with a finch-like peach coloured bill. His wings and face were brown, streaked in places with white, and his underneath was the purest of whites. He had fluffy feathers growing down over the tops of his legs that gave the appearance that he was wearing Victorian lacy knickers. After some deliberation, we reached the conclusion that this was a Snow Bunting (later confirmed by our bird books). This bird was amazingly friendly and when he saw Dick with his camera, he positively posed. (He probably thought he would be on Autumn Watch).
We eventually submitted to the cold and drove on down to the Starlings’ roost in time to see some large flocks coming in to settle noisily in the trees…no sky dance this evening, though. So where were the Starlings? Although there were a lot there, there was nothing like the number that I had previously witnessed. (A) We were 10 days earlier than the date that I had photographed the sky dance last year and at migration time this can make a great difference (B) If scheduled wildlife continues to not turn up on cue for Bill Oddie and crew, what chance did we stand?
I have always maintained that the big difference between men and women bird watchers is that men are Twitchers and ‘trainspot’ birds whereas women are more interested in bird behavior. However, I drove away from Monts d’Arree that evening with an ear to ear grin, because I would gladly have stood for hours at the top of that hill, in a bitterly cold wind just to see such a rare and beautiful little bird as that Snow Bunting…….. Oh dear!!


inky said...

The French name for the Snow Bunting - Bruant des Neiges

WM said...

Thanks, Steve.