More birds in Somerset

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Starlings at Shapwick Heath

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Pollarded willows

Today’s birdwatching started with four cranes and ended with tens of thousands of starlings. The cranes were at RSPB West Sedgemore and were reintroduced in 2010 in a fashion that recalls the Chinese method of rearing baby pandas: crane eggs were brought from Germany and the young hatchlings were raised by humans in crane costumes against a background noise of helicopters (to accustom the cranes to the normal background noise). Completely bizarre, but there are now several adult cranes in the area and – judging by their performance this morning – some of them are breeding pairs.

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Small tortoiseshell butterfly

Then a brief look at the Isle of Athelney, where King Alfred hunkered down before roaring out to defeat the Danes at the Battle of Edington in 878. It’s now just another mound in the landscape, albeit with a low-key memorial.

At RSPB Greylake (formerly carrot fields until the peat dried out so much that the fields sank) there were hundreds, if not thousands, of ducks and lapwings. Something – a marsh harrier? – was spooking them and they kept rising and falling in large numbers. I learned that golden plovers are recognisable in such flocks because they fly higher than the lapwings.

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Then back towards Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath in search of the starling murmurations. There was an initial fear that the show would be put on somewhere else, but just as hope was fading thousands of starlings appeared and circled a few times before descending on the trees and reeds to roost. There was quite a crowd of people watching them. The noise of the starlings’ wingbeats and chattering was very clear and quite breathtaking. At times they looked more like a tornado or a swarm of bees.

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There were far more starlings than at Blackpool; although the spectacle was shorter, the kaleidoscopic shapes were more impressive.

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