Christmas and New Year evenings are a very busy time at RSPB Ham Wall as hundreds of visitors arrive to watch huge flocks of starlings return to roost amongst the reeds. Each evening the birds return for protection in numbers, plus the relative warmth and security of the marsh islands.
Currently, the flocks are dropping next to the first viewing platform. From there they are spreading out across the reserve.
Most of the starlings arrive at Ham Wall just as the sun sets. In other words as its getting dark, often too dark for cameras to take good pictures. Following a series of dull grey evenings today a gap in the clouds let in the winter sunset.
The birds start to appear in small groups. They often circle around the reserve, disappearing behind trees only to re-appear from another direction. The reserve covers a large area and correctly guessing where the birds will roost is key to good visit. So this period of uncertainty is an exciting, but tense, few minutes.
The first flocks appear out of the sunset.
Soon flocks begin to fill the sky.
A flock arrives from the east over our heads. They are flying across Waltons Heath (part of Ham Wall) towards a beautiful sunset.
Lines of birds begin to stream in.
In twisting patterns the starlings drop down into the reed beds.
The classic shape of thousands of birds pouring down to the same spot in the reeds.
Soon the reed beds turn black as the starlings pack into a small area of the reserve.
As more and more birds arrive from all directions the roost seems to turn to chaos.
The birds do not settle, instead they fly around and spread out across the neighbouring reed islands.