As we'd expect at this time of year, the spectacular starling murmurations are swiftly replacing bearded tits as the main focus for many of our visitors. Activity around the trays has of course dwindled but a few beardies may still be seen as they come to gather grit over the next couple of weeks or so. But the real starts of the show at the minute are the aforementioned starlings and their pre-roost displays. With around 60,000 birds now coming in most afternoons, the murmurations can be pretty spectacular. As winter approaches however, the number of birds will increase and we can see up to 100,000 starlings wheeling over the reedbeds at dusk - quite an impressive sight! Photo by Darren Andrews

With all the starlings come the predators and the murmurating clouds will often be punctuated by a marauding peregrine, sparrowhawk or merlin. Keep a watch over the reedbeds for marsh harriers coming in to roost; earlier this week we were treated to the sight of five of these impressive raptors in the air at once and better still they were joined by a juvenile hen harrier - a scarce bird here!                             

If you plan to visit in the hope of seeing the starling murmuration, do check in with the welcome team at the Visitor Centre for the latest information on what time they've been arriving and also which area of the reserve is best to view them from, as this can often change. Also, check our Facebook and Twitter pages for updates on the starlings and other news from Leighton Moss.

 With over 12,000 volunteers throughout the charity, the RSPB is heavily reliant on all of those extra hands. Things are no different here at Leighton Moss, where we currently have two residential volunteer warden interns. They contribute significantly to the site’s management. Here, Visitor Experience Assistant Bethany introduces you to Laura Nunnerley, who has been working at the reserve for two months. They met for a walk in their wellies as Laura discussed her volunteering journey...

Laura gets more than her fair share of time in nature. As a residential volunteer for the site, she’s given free accommodation here at Leighton Moss. That’s a rather large garden that she has to maintain! While the rest of us warm up to the day with a brew, Laura’s current morning ritual involves checking the moth trap. She then sets about her workday, keeping our wetland ship shape.

Laura grew up in Cheshire, so her childhood adventures were set against the backdrop of Delamere Forest. Her mum is a vet, so it wasn’t unusual for Laura to come home to a house full of animals; she tells me tales of anxious puppies hidden behind the sofa and hyperactive rabbits darting about the living room. It’s unsurprising that Laura has ended up pursuing a career in the outdoors. After leaving school, she went on to study Zoology at Bangor University, and then specialised in Water Ecology in wetland habitats for her Master’s. She seems a natural fit for Leighton Moss, but her journey here wasn’t all plain sailing.

When defending her Master’s proposal to her peers, Laura found that she struggled with anxiety around public speaking. Looking for ways to grow in confidence, she began volunteering at RSPB Conwy in the Education department. Watching children connect with nature persuaded her to stand up in front of a classroom. She also had the opportunity to volunteer with the reserve’s wardening team, and gained experience with hands-on habitat management. Despite being knowledgeable about wetland waterways, Laura says she only started birding during this time at RSPB Conwy.

Following a few months of volunteering at RSPB Cors Ddyga, Laura was offered her first paid warden contract on the Skerries, taking care of the Arctic and common tern colonies. However, 2020 scuppered her plans, and she was back in Bangor for the earlier part of the year. Living on the fringes of Snowdonia, but with the imposed lockdown travel ban, left Laura craving the outdoors, so she and her similarly stir-crazy housemates set about bringing nature to them. They installed bird feeders in the garden, and, like so many of us during that time, she found solace in watching the wildlife thrive on her patch. This period affirmed that the RSPB was exactly where she wanted to be (good news - because she did eventually make it to the Skerries for her contract.)

Laura now joins us at Leighton Moss, where she’s getting to look at a wetland habitat as a whole, using her expertise in the make-up of the water. Despite being a self-proclaimed birding novice, she confidently helps visitors identify the bounty of species that live in the reedbed. While learning an enormous amount about birds in the past two months of being on the reserve, Laura still says that the most valuable skill she has gained from volunteering is the growth in her confidence. As the child whose school report repeatedly stated that she needed to contribute more in class, she could never have imagined assisting on guided walks or being comfortable enough to talk to reserve visitors. She credits all of these skills to her previous volunteering experience, and she’s excited to see where the following months on the reserve will take her.

If you’re interested in developing or sharing your skills with the RSPB, then head on over to our Volunteering Opportunities page to see if there are any roles that might appeal to you.

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