Monday, 28 March 2011

These aren't Little Ringed Plovers!

Half an hour before I took these photos of Starlings I was sitting in the Restharrow Scrape hide watching the first Little Ringed Plover I'd seen this year. It had been on the furthest island for some time, but for some reason it was looking restless now. I got my camera ready and waited. It lifted it's wings and had a shuffle, and then settled down again. A few minutes later it was looking fidgety again and this time it meant business. It flew down the scrape and almost landed at the back of the nearest island, but this seemed to alert one of the Lapwings in possession of this valuable piece of avian real estate. It dodged the Lapwing and landed on the nearest edge of the island. I was about to focus ready for some pictures when the Lapwing intervened and drove the LRP back to the island it had just left. I decided I would also leave!

As I got towards the golf club I was aware of a decent sized flock of Starlings in tight formation, of the sign of a predator around, and indeed a Kestrel flew over me as I stopped the car. The flock of Starling wasn't huge but in terms of the numbers I've been seeing lately several hundred swirling around was worth looking at.

They quickly returned to some rough grazing land and acting almost as a single organism landed as a close flock.

Alt the time there was movement going on, with those at the back flying up and overtaking those at the front. They were very active and seemed to be finding a lot of food.

Of course this isn't like the flocks that assemble at the end of the summer, when they are composed largely of the young of the year. I think that in all probability these are birds that are passing through, and will end up much further east in mainland Europe to breed.

The number of Starling breeding in Britain has dropped drastically and although it is still quite a common bird in absolute terms it is now on the Red List as the decline is all over it's range. In addition to the UK breeding population being red-listed, starling numbers are declining across much of Europe, and we are getting fewer migrants than we did a few years ago. As a result, many winter roosts are now much smaller than in the past.. I remember the noise of roosting birds in Trafalgar Square in London was so large that their noise drowned out the sound of the traffic. That was probably 55 years ago. Even so back in the 1980's it was possible to see enormous flocks flying into roost across Dartford Marsh. One day Ian Templeton and I both tried to estimated the numbers we could see passing from our respective office windows ans we both came up with guesses (or estimates) of between 1 and 2 Million. That seems a lot, but I'm convinced that we were in the right ball park.

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