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THE STARLING ROOST - 1 November 2014

Light was fading when we arrived at Holy Island Lough. Even in the gloaming we could see the small flocks of birds flying fast and low over the water before disappearing into the reeds. Actually, what we could see were small flocks of blurred shapes - too fast and dark to see their detail. But we knew they were Starlings. Hundreds of them, taking their positions in the reed bed as they prepared to roost. Perhaps 5000... 10,000... maybe many more. And we could hear them. Not a deafening noise and one that is hard to describe. Constant, mid pitch chatter - like a wall of sound.

We sat in the hide. Plenty of Mallard and Teal duck were swimming on the water in front of us, but by now they were silhouetted in the gathering darkness. Then a surprise. To our left, a shape popped out of the vegetation only several feet away, a slim and elegant shape with a very long and straight bill. Woodcock? Snipe? Neither 'fitted the bill' - not that particular bill anyway. What could be lurking in the reeds at dusk? We pondered for some time before realising the answer, and when it came that answer was obvious. Black-tailed Godwit! It seems the handful of these birds found feeding at the only other freshwater site on the island fly half a mile to roost in the reeds - a safer place to sleep than in the open. Besides, all those Starling provide an effective alarm!

Mark Winter


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