Firstly a very happy new year to you all. I have had a quite sensational day today, one of those days which due to the early heavy rain did not seem so promising, but ended in a quite spectacular fashion. Quite a few of you come to my blog to read about the starlings at Gretna Green which Maria and I come to see each year. I thought I would share this story of how we came to see them this year, and help those of you who plan to come to Gretna locate them.
Maria and I had decided to visit Keswick, but due to Maria’s slight cold we decided not to walk but just to amble through the town, having lunch there. We left around two, stopping off at Castle Rigg stone circle which is always spectacular. Gretna Green is on the way home, and at the last minute I thought it would be great to see if we could at least locate the starlings this year.
For the last couple of years it has taken us a few attempts to find them, but this year I had heard that they were now in Rigg, although reports in November and early December had suggested they were moving around every few days. As we arrived at Gretna, we saw quite a large flock already formed and flying over the Channel of River Esk, not quite an estuary, but a place which would make viewing nigh impossible. Maria thought about stopping, but I decided we should push on to Rigg where we would wait to see if they would then come.
We parked by the layby at Rigg village hall, and Maria decided to stay in the car due to her cold and the fact that it was pretty cold and windy outside, with a slight threat of more rain. Unlike last year, one other car was already there to view too, but I go out and set off across a couple of fields to where they had roosted last year (for more information see my article Starlings at Gretna Green, January 2013).
Sometimes you really have to just try and tune in to the starlings, and go with your feelings. I was down in the middle of two very small wooded areas, but I just sensed that if I stayed that I would not see the starlings. In front of me lay an extremely boggy and dirty field, and I was in walking boots not wellies. But I absolutely adore seeing the starlings, so over the gate I went and soon I was with extremely muddy jeans and somewhat damp socks. But not long after the starlings started to arrive, and as you can see from the photo over, they flew straight over head.
Across the field from me was a farm above which the starlings started to fly. At first the group was quite small, but little by little the flock was joined by ever more groups. The light was dark due to the great clouds above, so the photos are not brilliant, but they were, as always, spectacular. At times they dipped behind the farm, but I was just happy to have been there and to have been in the right location, even at a slight distance to witness this amazing experience.
And then as the afternoon grew slightly darker, my luck would change. The starlings came over the farm, and into the field in which I was standing.
And then everything changed. You may not quite be able to imagine the intensity of the experience if you have never seen starlings, but they came closer and closer to me, and then before I knew it I was under an insane billowing cloud of twenty thousand starlings.
As always, you really need to see starlings on video rather than just in photos. I took quite a few short videos, but these two clips seem to have come out quite well. In the first clip you will see the starlings fly right over me.
Not soon after the starlings began to dive down into the trees behind me. This in itself is a quite remarkable sight, given just how little time the starlings take to find their place for the night.
And so I began to make my muddy way back to the car, euphoric that yet again I had had such great fortune. I was worried about Maria, but she too had been able to watch the starlings from her slightly heightened vantage point, as had the chap in the car near us, although he had brought binoculars. I was wet, muddy, cold, but just so happy that this year again I had seen one of the greatest shows on earth.