I’ve never experienced a full-blown murmuration. The aerial dance of thousands of starlings which takes place over parts of Britain during the winter months. One of the best hot spots is right on our doorstep at the RSPB's Ham Wall nature reserve on the Somerset levels. Last Tuesday I headed down there to see what it was all about.
I wasn't disappointed. As the sun began to set, thousands of starlings streamed across the sky in large flocks, heading to the reed beds in Ham Wall to roost. Wave upon wave of them, merging to form a huge mass which swooped and twisted and danced. Quite spectacular and utterly mesmerising.
The name 'murmuration' apparently describes the sound of the collective beating of wings in these enormous flocks. I was right underneath their flight path and the sound was indeed like a murmur. Beautiful and soft; peaceful yet purposeful. Very different from the coarse ‘chatter’ when they actually came down to roost (right in front of me).
It’s extraordinary that so many thousands of birds can all wheel and turn in unison, bunching up to form huge clouds before stretching out again. The swooping and dancing is apparently sometimes a response to predators who are trying to pick off the outliers, although I couldn’t see any on the evening I went and the flocks still danced.
The spectacular murmurations continue until about March, when the numbers dwindle as the migrant birds return. So there is still plenty of time to see the display for yourself. The Avalon Marshes website has a starling hotline which you can phone to find out where they roosted the night before. It gives you the best chance of seeing them again although there's no guarantee they will return to the same area. Still, sunny days are likely to result in the best displays and if your destination is Ham Wall, get there with time to spare so that you can walk the beautiful trails through the reeds and along the old railway path with Glastonbury Tor as your backdrop.
Don't think you will be alone. There were dozens of other people on the evening I went. Most of them were dressed in green and impressively equipped with tripods, massive lensed cameras and binoculars, although there were families and young children too. It didn’t spoil the occasion however and as it happened, the spot I chose I had to myself. Whilst I didn’t have any specialist cameras, I did have my iPhone on which to capture the display - see below (Click here to see it in full screen). I hope it gives you a flavour of the spectacle and a thirst to see it for yourself.