It just goes to show that you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. That was certainly true on Saturday for Start Birding’s trip to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Staveley Nature Reserve near Ripon. We set off in pouring rain with a forecast of an unrelenting downpour for the whole of our 1pm – dusk class. Sightings of our crepuscular target species, barn owl, water rail and starlings performing a mini-murmuration were impossible to realise under these conditions but we were happy to look for birds on the lagoons in the comfort of the two public hides.
Imagine how our spirits lifted when, after less than an hour, the rain stopped. We’d managed to dry out in the warm, straw bale hide while watching birds such as wigeon, teal and goldeneye from their breeding grounds in the north and resident little grebe, sparrowhawk and kestrel. Feeling snug, and smug, we continued to the next hide finding great spotted woodpecker, a late migrating chiffchaff and incomers from Scandinavia, redwing and fieldfare. An excellent marsh tit ‘pitchou-ed’ at us from the woodland and showed briefly.
We took our seats in the well placed but draughtier smaller hide for the grand finale just as an autumn glow was spreading over the reserve.
|Autumn colours and bright skies at Staveley despite the bad forecast|
Many an evening has been spent here waiting and watching for something wonderful. While watching tree sparrow and reed bunting at the feeders, a willow tit appeared showing its ‘snatch and grab’ behaviour as it fed on sunflower seeds. Eventually it stood still just long enough for us to see its pale wing panel and bull neck which distinguishes it from marsh tit. Finding both at the reserve was a rare treat. Two minutes later its ‘churr churr churr’ call could be heard from low down in the vegetation.
As the day waned, our first target bird emerged from the reed bed, a water rail. This shy grey, black and brown bird is a beautiful contrast of colour, striations and speckles. The bright red decurved bill is only visible with binoculars as the light begins to fail. It tip-toed silently in a gap in the reeds, searching for sticklebacks and shrimps, before quickly running for cover.
|water rail at dusk (photo: Rodney German)|
Small groups of starlings began to roam the skies and then a barn owl emerged from its roost. It perched for a few minutes, quartered the rough grassland looking for voles and disappeared from view.
The water rail emerged again. The starlings were gaining in number and then, another barn owl awoke. We didn’t know where to look. We split into 3 groups so that we could keep track of the activity. Eventually, it was the swirling murmuration that held our attention. Not the thousands of birds seen in places like Gretna but a beautiful display nevertheless.
|small groups of starlings gather at Staveley before their final murmuration|
Then, unexpectedly, the starlings funnelled into the reeds right in front of the hide with some urgency. An amazing sight on its own but then a male peregrine sliced through the air in pursuit, giving us an amazing fly past. It landed in a willow on the other side of the water before taking off again, chased by crows. Once the peregrine had gone, the starlings chattered loudly from the safety of the reed bed. Other birds joined in, all invisible in the dense mass of golden stems.
As we made our way back to the car park for a warm cup of tea, we watched barn owls hunting low over the fields. A truly magical afternoon.
I’ll be running another trip to Staveley in the mid-winter so please email firstname.lastname@example.org for details and to book your place.