Searching for starlings at RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes

Searching for starlings at RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes

The sun came out on Sunday, which was a bit of a shock, so we stuffed Sonny into his baby carrier and took him to his first ever nature reserve at RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes in search of starlings.

RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes is just a few miles from our house in St Ives, and it’s a wonderful place. A huge, sprawling mass of old gravel pits that have been flooded to provide a thriving wetland habitat for wildlife.

Fen Drayton is home to a rich variety of species, including just about every type of duck you can imagine, bitterns, cormorants, great-crested grebes, herons, marsh harriers, rooks, barn owls, badgers, and even the occasional rogue seal that’s made its way down tidal waters from the east coast.

But we were there to see the starlings. Although they’re common birds that we watch every single day ransacking the feeders in our garden, Fen Drayton is one of the best-known places in England where starlings come together in their thousands at dusk, swarming across the sky in a crazy spectacle known as a murmuration before settling down to roost together in groups numbering thousands.

Although I’m pretty sure Sonny, at seven months old, doesn’t really know what a bird is, he certainly enjoys looking at them, and although he seemed more inquisitive than excited throughout the whole process, I think he enjoyed the trip (as in, he wasn’t crying). The starlings arrived right on cue in their favourite spot above Holywell Lake – conveniently right by the car park – as the sun started to fade behind the trees, and treated us to a show for around 20 minutes before each individual group settled down for the night. On this particular day they arrived in the low hundreds rather than high thousands, but it was still a special sight.

A Twitter exchange with @RSPBintheEast later in the day confirmed they’ve been seen in higher numbers at Cley Marshes in Norfolk and Minsmere in Suffolk in recent weeks, so that’s where we’ll head next time we get another wintery Sunday afternoon.

On the way out of Fen Drayton, with the last trickles of daylight draining from the sky, we were treated to Fen Drayton’s other great evening spectacle, with hundreds of rooks filling the sky above us, ganging up in a giant squawking mass before ducking into the trees to grab some sleep, recharging their batteries before getting up the following day and doing it all again.

What a magical place.

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