Lucie Loves… Mother Nature // A wild wonder! My first ever Starling murmuration sighting at Woolston Eyes Nature Reserve
On a recent trip up north to see my family in Warrington, I witnessed my very first Starling murmuration. It was breathtaking!
We’d eaten our dinner and my little nephew, aged 4, who’s been going on regular wild walks and indulging in a bit of birdwatching with my stepdad, Mike, was keen to for us all to visit the local nature reserve, Woolston Eyes.
JMG and I weren’t suitably attired for the walk, but luckily my parents have a plentiful supply of outdoor equipment.
My parents often shop for their walking gear at Go Outdoors, Snow + Rock and the Mountain Equipment Factory Outlet in Hyde. For the walk, my mum threw on her classic Regatta parka and Mike wore his other Mountain Equipment Arrow soft shell jacket, and once my nephew had his own little Hunter wellies on, we were good to go.
When we got there Mike showed us one of the geocaching locations, hidden in a fence post. I’d not seen one of these geocaches before, but it’s basically a tiny container - the kind that you might keep a roll camera film in, filled with a little scroll of paper covered in the names of the people who’ve discovered it before you. It’s like being part of some secret club.
“Welcome to Geocaching Club. The first rule of Geocaching Club is: you do not talk about Geocaching Club. The second rule of Geocaching Club is: you DO NOT talk about Geocaching Club!”
The reserve is a S.S.S.I site managed by the Woolston Eyes Conservation Group, a voluntary organisation formed in 1979. It’s home to a rich and varied species of wildlife, and is nestled just beside the Manchester Ship Canal.
I first started visiting the reserve when I was about 5 years old - I had my own walking stick and bird identification guide and everything! Over the years, I’ve spent many a fond afternoon there exploring with friends and family.
Mike’s own birdwatching passion spans 35 years and has inspired both myself and, now, my little nephew has got the bug. It all started when a young Mike read every single book about birds that he could get his hands on, in his Junior school library. He devoured every book cover to cover, and was also fascinated by a friend’s older brother who had started collecting eggs - it was frowned upon even then, but was was a regular pastime for lots of young lads in the 60s/70s.
And of course, Kes, the book and film, played a big part too.
The reserve prides itself in promoting the study and conservation of wildlife - paying particular attention to Ornithology (the scientific study of birds). Last year, Mike, who is now an honorary warden of the reserve, took part in the Nest Recording Scheme (NRS), helping to find new nests and record sightings for the BTO - the British Trust for Ornithology.
We made our way to the John Morgan hide and took a seat waiting for the show to begin, passing Gorse bushes, clumps of wild garlic and Sorrell as we walked.
The last murmuration at the reserve, of significant size, was a flock of 500,000 or so Starlings, around 25 years ago. The spring 2014 one we witnessed must have had around 50,000 - 70,000, but was still a pretty magnificent spectacle!
The closest I’ve been prior to this was seeing the Carling - Belong advert on TV - watching as the Starlings swirled around in unison to the sound of Hard Fi’s Living For The Weekend, I think that was about 2006…
If you want to experience it for yourself, and you’re very lucky, you might still catch sight of a few hundred or so, doing their thing at Woolston Eyes. However, they start to break up around springtime as they go about their important breeding business.
Photography © Lucie Kerley