Hello, thank you for calling in, you are most welcome here. The skies have been almost relentlessy grey and I have been feeling rather grey, too. We had mizzle and drizzle, mist and fog for a week and our proposed weekend outing was cancelled due to pouring rain in favour of sitting by the fire with knitting. The silver lining was that it hasn't been too cold - not that I mind a cold snap, but it's cheaper when you don't have to put the heating on.
However, on Friday the sun came out. Hooray! The sky was blue and full of promise and the weather forecaster said that it would be the same on Saturday so the Best Beloved and I hatched a plan. Saturday is usually a day for chores, shopping, football on the television (him) and a big newspaper (me) so to break the routine and plan a Saturday outing was A Big Thing, but I was desperate to make the most of the sunshine and he was easily persuaded. Saturday morning dawned, the Best Beloved opened the bedroom curtains and...the sky was grey. Again. Sooooooo disappointing. However, we were not deterred: we had planned an outing and we were bloomin' well going. We cracked on with the chores and the shopping and, as it was very cold, we laid the fire ready to light as soon as we got home. We donned our coats, scarves, gloves and boots and off we went. In my bag I had my spectacles, my binoculars, a notebook, a pen and my bird book. The Best Beloved had his camera.
We drove to Aqualate Mere, just over the border in Staffordshire - at 1.9km long it's the largest natural lake in the West Midlands, scraped out by a retreating glacier at the end of the Ice Age, but it's less than a metre deep! The Best Beloved says it is really "just a very big puddle". We parked in the little car park and set off through the nature reserve, mud gently squelching beneath our boots and not a soul in sight. After about twenty minutes we reached our destination: the bird hide at the eastern end of the mere.
Thousands of birds overwinter here but I was slightly disappointed to find that most of them were down at the other end of the mere! There were plenty of swans and ducks on the water but they were so far away that even with my binoculars I couldn't identify them. However, the view from the hide was magnificent, even on a washed out winter's day. There was not a breath of wind so the sky and the water were serenely still and I felt a great sense of calm as the niggles and anxieties which constantly claim my attention drifted away.
Close to the hide there were half a dozen mallards, a couple of coots, a moorhen, a mute swan and a cormorant. I had never seen a cormorant in the water before and it was fascinating: it sat very low with its body completely submerged and only its head and neck visible, like a periscope. Periodically, it would disappear under the water to catch a fish and pop up somewhere else, causing the Best Beloved to describe it as "the submarine of the bird world".
We sat there for about an hour, talking to each other in whispers so as not to disturb the blue tits, great tits and robin on the feeder just outside the hide. There was quite a lot of noise coming from the reedbeds and I wish I could understand birdsong. At 4 o'clock the Best Beloved pointed out to me that we ought to pack up and start making our way back to the car because the sun would be setting at 4.30pm and we didn't want to be stumbling around in the dark. I reluctantly packed my bag...and then we saw the starlings over the trees at the far end of the mere.
Can you see them? You might want to click on the photo for a closer look. A cloud of tiny black specks: a murmuration of starlings. Apparently up to 250,000 starlings roost in the reeds here and every evening they perform this display. We saw only a few thousand but they were mesmerising as they flew towards us, the amorphous cloud changing shape all the time and growing as more starlings flew in and joined the flock. By this time we had been joined by a man with three children, who were awestruck. "It looks like a whale!" said the small girl. "Now it's a snake!" said one of the boys.
We stayed to watch them until they disappeared from view and then we left the hide - to find that they were directly overhead! We stood with upturned faces as they swooped and swirled over us, filling the sky and filling our ears with the sound of the wind beneath their wings - imagine being in the woods on a windy night and that's the sound.
I have seen murmurations before but only from a distance. I knew that it was a spectacle, one of the wonders of nature, and nobody knows why the starlings do it (we know they do it to communicate with each other but we don't know what they are communicating). To be so close, to actually experience this phenomenon, is something very special. I felt full of emotion but I can't explain what the emotion was. All I can tell you is that it was wonderful.
It was dark by the time we got home. We took off our muddy boots, lit the fire and the candles, made a pot of tea and shared a bar of chocolate. It was a perfect afternoon, even without any sunshine, football or newspaper.
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x