Nostalgia for a Pre-pandemic Time! - A Winter’s Day at Fairburn Ings in 2020

10th January

A Friday at Fairburn and forecast for a lovely bright day, although only 3 degrees this morning. Lily the dog and I are at the reserve ‘Rangering’, chatting to people and seeing what’s about. There are ‘swarms’ of tits on the feeders at the visitor centre, momentarily disturbed as visitors pass, then they’re back again in a flash. A vole pops out to take advantage of some of the dropped crumbs, then dashes back. He needs to look out! As I pass the bird food storage bins a stoat is hunting, quick as lightening underneath the centre. 

Round the Discovery trail there are snowdrops beginning to flower and there’s a hazel bush already draped in long yellow catkins – nice to see some signs of spring after all the grey wet days. We set off down to Lin Dyke and spend some time in the hide. All is peaceful looking out across the Flashes, the blue sky and golden reed beds mirrored in the water. On a nearby mud-bank I count 20 shelduck, some dozing, some preening and some up-ending to feed. They’re so beautiful in the bright sunshine with their dark green iridescent head and neck, bright white body, chestnut belly stripe and red bills. As an extra treat a kingfisher darts past in a tiny flash of blue.

It’s late afternoon as we wend our way back up the Roy Taylor Trail to the top of the Coal Tips where at this time of day we may see an amazing spectacle. One after another, groups of 10 or 12 starlings begin to fly in from all directions as if they have an appointment to keep. Bigger and bigger numbers arrive and join up with the others to circle round the south east lagoon. At first they’re just a flock, but as the numbers build they begin the amazing starling murmuration dance, condensing and expanding into weird shapes, looking like a plume of smoke. The thousands are joined by thousands more – mini murmurations that have formed somewhere else and come to join the party. The whooshing-roaring sound they make as they soar and swirl overhead is very atmospheric. After a 45 minute display they decide it’s time for bed and begin to pour like liquid into the reedbeds, several starlings perching on each reed. There’s an enormous ‘chattering’ as thousands jostle for position in an impossibly condensed space.

As the spectacle ends, numerous groups of visitors who’ve gathered to watch begin to walk back to the visitor centre as dusk falls, all thrilled and amazed by what they’ve seen.

Quite an experience!


Jane Mawson (Volunteer Ranger)


Photo credit: Fairburn- Joe Seymour, kingfisher- Alan Coe, starlings- Pete Car.