A Murmuration to Remember!

Our first view was a group of around 500 Starlings flying above the reedbeds on the opposite side of Hedgecourt Lake, my local ‘patch’. More parties of chirruping birds started to fly in above our heads. Soon there were 1000-2000 swarming over the lake, but this was only the beginning.

Suddenly the whole group flew from the lake in the direction of the nearby farm and I was hoping they wouldn’t stay there. Fortunately a separate group started to form where the previous group was and that grew to about 5000.

The group that had gone to the farm returned in ten minutes to join the flock of 5000 and still more separate groups of a few hundred kept on joining. The flock reached 10000 at its climax and I was genuinely stunned and impressed. Unforgettable was the ‘plop, plop’ sound when the flock passed over my head: I was scared to look up!

Suddenly it all ended, all 10000 birds flew down into the reedbeds, how could they all fit? And the question I really want answered, is how they don’t collide with each other?!

I have found out that some believe that when one Starling changes speed or direction, all of the other Starlings respond by following that one Starling almost instantly. Others believe that a Starling copies its seven nearest neighbours. This shows that there isn’t one definite answer, but it would be interesting to find out. Something for the future?

I have also found out that Starlings mainly murmurate like this to avoid predators like Peregrines or Sparrowhawks as these predators find it hard to pick a target in the wreathing mass of birds. They group together to roost in the reedbeds to exchange information about good feeding spots and to keep warm at night.

I’m very lucky to have such an amazing spectacle not far at all from my house!

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Just a small proportion of the HUGE murmuration!

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One of the Rarest Cats in the World: The Iberian Lynx

On Boxing Day, I was lucky enough to be heading out to Sierra de Andújar in Southern Spain to look for the extremely rare Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus), of which there are only a few hundred left in only a handful of sites.

Sierra de Andújar is a natural park, which can’t be called a national park as most of it is privately owned by deer and boar hunters. However, there is a road running through it and across the sides of sandy, shrubby mountains that gives the Lynx watcher an excellent view of the surrounding area. I have nicknamed the road the ‘Lynx road’.

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The view from the Lynx Road (there’s a Lynx there somewhere!)

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Our excellent guide, Pau Lucio, on the Lynx Road

We had an excellent guide: the Tour Manager of Birdwatching Spain, Pau Lucio. As well as having great knowledge about the Lynx and other wildlife, he also knew the best spots to find each species.

As well as a few distant views of the Lynx, we had one amazing sighting. We had just returned from a trip to explore one of the dams in the park and we stopped at Pau’s favourite spot along the Lynx road to see if anything would show up. We noticed that there were a lot of people (50 or so) hurrying around the corner with their telescopes. Pau asked them in Spanish if they had seen anything and they said that a Lynx was coming around the mountain corner about 70m from the road, which was closer than one had come to me before. We stood waiting for the Lynx to appear for quite a long time. I spotted it first when it came around the corner, but typically, as soon as I took my eye off it to show the other people where it was, I lost it. They have such good camouflage! I only saw it again once it had walked 50m further away from us and reached a firebreak.

But then it started to walk along the firebreak towards a stretch of the Lynx road, so a few of the Lynx watchers and I went to that stretch of road hoping that it was going to cross there. Inevitably we couldn’t see the Lynx when we got there, but it definitely hadn’t crossed the road. Suddenly I heard some noise from a group behind us and I turned to see them frantically gesturing for me to come. It must be the Lynx. It was, and it wasn’t even walking away from us! It was actually walking towards us and looked set to cross the road in front of us! It was on relatively open ground so I got a few nice photos of it walking towards the road, but no good ones of it crossing the road. This was because it bounded across, which surprised us as it was so calm before. Pau said that the moment it touches the road, it knows it must run. Good Lynx. The biggest reason for the Lynx’s decline is road accidents.

Walking...

Walking…

A quick look back

A quick look back

It caught me by surprise!

It caught me by surprise!

At the end of the trip, we watched a slideshow compiled by some of the guests of the villa in which we were staying, who visited the area two years ago. I learnt quite a lot, even though it was in French. One of the points that was very powerful was that in thousands of years no cat has gone extinct but there is a real danger of the Iberian Lynx being the first. However, the population is increasing. When at its lowest point there were only around 100 individuals, compared to today’s 300. Hopefully the Iberian Lynx population continues to increase.