It's been another beautiful early winter day today. Despite the clear blue skies, I resisted the temptation of a lunchtime walk, instead waiting till late afternoon to head out in search of the starling murmuration.
First, though, it was a quick detour to Whin Hill to take in the sunset. What a treat, especially as the six whooper swans arrived right on cue and landed close to Island Mere Hide, providing great photo opportunities for the photographers in the hide.
There's something really special about about the low autumn light glowing through the tops of the reeds, turning the whole landscape shades of gold and orange.
Even the woods were turned to fiery orange by the low setting sun.
Sometimes you get the feeling that you're the one being watched at Minsmere, rather than being the one doing the watching.
Even the man in the moon was looking down on us tonight, but was he on the dark side or the light?
The fiery theme continued as I passed the pond and our volunteer pointed out a very active firecrest that moments earlier had perched just a metre or so in front of them. I only managed a fleeting glimpse before continuing on towards the North Wall.
Once I arrived on the North Wall, a small group of fellow starling watchers had gathered, but the stars of the show were slow to arrive. Never mind, that just gave me more time to enjoy the incredible light.
At first just a handful of starlings circled overhead, while a larger murmuration could be picked out on the southern horizon. Slowly the flock grew in size: 200, 500, 1000, eventually perhaps as many as 3000 starlings twisting, swirling and swooping overhead. This may not be the biggest murmuration we've seen at Minsmere (though we hope that numbers will increase in the coming weeks), but with such amazing light and no wind, they put on quite a show, especially when a hunting sparrowhawk made a few quick passes in search of a meal. Apologies for the quality of these images, the light was fading too much for my bridge camera to capture the scenes with any clarity.
Eventually it was time to return to the office, but not before one final surprise lay in store. As I strolled back through the North Bushes, I was shocked to see a pipistrelle bat zigzagging among the trees. I know there are still quite a few insects for it to eat, but I've never seen a bat active in December before, and temperature was by now barely above freezing! I hope it survives.
Once again, though my late afternoon wander proved that less can be more. I didn't see many birds, but that wasn't the aim. I was making the most of the incredible light which really did turn it into a golden evening at Minsmere.
PS: other sightings from our guides over the last couple of days have included bullfinches and siskins in North Bushes, avocets, pintails and a goosander on the Scrape, marsh harriers, water rails and otters at Island Mere, plus a female blackcap feeding on the apples that we have provided outside the visitor centre.
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