Yes, we have starlings!
Now that the clocks have gone back and dusk is happening earlier, we have been able to witness one of the most marvellous spectacles in the natural world: the starling murmuration.
Throughout autumn and into winter, starlings gather here at Newport Wetlands, coming from all over south east Wales to roost overnight. Having watched this happen here for a number of years, we have noticed a pattern in the behaviour. The starlings tend to gather in groups on the various pylons around the reserve during late afternoon, and then as the sun sets they come together in a large flock to do the beautiful murmuration display, swirling through the sky.
Starlings at Newport Wetlands, November 2012. Photo by Jenna Wright
This is a weather dependent spectacle, the starlings don’t really do much flying about if it’s tipping it down! If you are planning a visit to see this, choose a clear still day if possible. We anticipate that the number of starlings will grow over the next few weeks, and they usually peak in mid-November.
We know it can get chilly standing about on the reserve in the evening, so this year we are offering take-away cups of soup to keep you warm as you watch the marvel of the murmuration. Soup will be served between 3.30pm and 4.00pm from Monday 3rd throughout November at £2.50 for non-members or £2.00 for RSPB members. When possible, a member of staff will also be present out on the reserve to help locate the starlings and give some information. As I mentioned, we cannot guarantee that a murmuration will take place every evening – that’s the unpredictability of nature!
See below for all of the wildlife sightings of the past week.
Full sightings list 21 to 28 October
Bearded tit, Black headed gull, Blackbird, Blue tit, Brambling, Buzzard, Carrion crow, Cetti's warbler, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Common redshank, Coot, Cormorant, Curlew, Dunlin, Dunnock, Gadwall, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Great spotted woodpecker, Great tit, Greater black-backed gull, Green woodpecker, Greenfinch, Greenshank, Grey heron, Herring gull, House sparrow, Jay, Kestrel, Kingfisher, Linnet, Little egret, Little grebe, Long tailed tit, Magpie, Mallard, Marsh harrier, Meadow pipit, Merlin, Moorhen, Mute swan, Oystercatcher, Peregrine, Pheasant, Pied wagtail, Raven, Redshank, Redwing, Reed bunting, Robin, Ruff, Shelduck, Short eared owl, Shoveler, Skylark, Snipe, Sparrowhawk, Spotted redshank, Starling, Stock dove, Stonechat, Swallow, Teal, Tufted duck, Water rail, Wigeon, Wood pigeon, Wren.
Bumblebee, Migrant hawker, Red admiral, Ruddy darter.
Please note that we take our recent sightings list from the visitor sightings board that anyone can contribute to. This is great as everyone can get involved, but obviously can lead to potential errors too as they aren’t always verified! We try to keep this list as accurate as possible but if you see something unusual feel free to comment here!
Wildlife sightings October 13th to 20th
It really is true: what I am about to tell you are real accounts of what has happened here at Newport Wetlands.
A very common question we are asked is “Are there any otters here?” to which the answer we always give is “There are otters here, but they are very elusive”. To be honest, as time went by it was becoming quite taxing having to say the same thing over and over without having heard of a solid sighting of an otter within the last year. (Someone reading this might have seen an otter or even have a photo of one at the reserve but you need to come into the visitor centre and tell us what you have seen and where you have seen it or we just won’t know).
All this aside, on Wednesday the 15th October, our volunteer was doing the rounds in the morning to see what was around, came back and said he had seen otters. Obviously I was slightly taken aback by this and wasn’t sure whether to believe it or not, even though of course I trust our volunteer’s judgement.
Later that day a couple who were visiting the reserve for possibly the first time, or in a long while anyway, came into the visitor centre and asked the classic question “Do you have otters here?” As usual, I answered in the normal way until they said, “Because we’ve just seen two, play fighting with a fish in the first lagoon on the left”. Then a gentleman stood directly behind them said, “I saw a family of three near the hide”. Well well well, I thought to myself, it is true what I have been saying all this time!
There are definitely otters at Newport Wetlands and that was the first sighting of three this week. The last one was yesterday, a family of three again. All we need now is a lovely photo of them to post on the internet. The three sightings took place at different parts of the reserve so it is difficult to pinpoint where to go but all three have taken place at around 10am.
Otters Lutra lutra play fighting on the river Thet by David Tipling (rspb-images.com)
Full bird list:
Bearded tit, Blackbird, Blackcap, Black-headed gull, Black-tailed godwit, Blue tit, Buzzard, Carrion crow, Cetti's warbler, Chaffinch, Coot, Cormorant, Curlew, Dunlin, Dunnock, Fieldfare, Gadwall, Goldfinch, Great spotted woodpecker, Great tit, Great white egret, Greater black-backed gull, Green woodpecker, Greenfinch, Grey heron, Hen harrier RT, House sparrow, Jay, Kestrel, Kingfisher, Lapwing, Lesser black-backed gull, Linnet, Little egret, Little grebe, Little stint, Long-tailed tit, Magpie, Mallard, Marsh harrier, Meadow pipit, Mistle thrush, Moorhen, Mute swan, Oystercatcher, Pectoral sandpiper, Peregrine, Pheasant, Pied wagtail, Raven, Redwing, Reed bunting, Robin, Ruff, Shelduck, Shoveler, Skylark, Snipe, Sparrowhawk, Starling, Stonechat, Swallow, Teal, Tufted duck, Water rail, Wheatear, Woodpigeon, Wren.
Over the past weeks there has been one regular sighting on the reserve that is an unexpected flash of colour and a nice reminder of summer in this dark autumnal gloom. The Clouded yellow (Colias croceus) butterfly is a distinctive orange-yellow often with a dark fringe to the wings. They are a migrant butterfly species from N. Africa/S. Europe, but individuals can successfully overwinter in the UK. Occasionally there is a great influx of the migrant species and subsequent breeding, and these have come to be known as “Clouded Yellow Years” – perhaps 2014 is one of them?
Clouded Yellow at Newport Wetlands by Cellan Michael
There seems to be millions* of Stonechats on the reserve at the moment, but the variety in plumage of this small bird is causing a lot of confusion amongst visitors! We’ve seen the stunning adult males, first year males with paler chests, and females who lack the black head but still have the white/pale collar. The most common confusion species for Stonechat is the Whinchat, which is unlikely to be on the reserve at the moment as most have left the UK for winter by now. See both below for comparison.
*may be a slight exaggeration!
Male stonechat by Jeroen Stel (rspb-images.com)
Male whinchat by Steve Round (rspb-images.com)
Full sightings list from 07.10 to 13.10
Bearded tit, Black headed gull, Blackcap, Blue tit, Brent goose, Cetti's Warbler, Chiffchaff, Coot, Cormorant, Curlew, Curlew sandpiper, Dunnock, Gadwall, Goldcrest, Golden plover, Goldfinch, Great spotted woodpecker, Great tit, Greenfinch, Greenshank, Grey heron, Grey wagtail, House sparrow, Jay, Kestrel, Lapwing, Linnet, Little egret, Little grebe, Long tailed tit, Magpie, Mallard, Marsh harrier, Moorhen, Mute swan, Pheasant, Pied wagtail, Red kite, Reed bunting, Robin, Ruff, Shelduck, Short eared owl, Shoveler, Snipe, Spotted redshank, Starling, Stonechat, Swallow, Teal, Water rail (h), Wheatear, Wren
Weasel, Clouded yellow butterfly