What a year 2021 was for us! Reopening from a lockdown to kickstarting events again, 2021 was certainly a year.  


After opening back up in the Spring and were able to welcome back volunteers as well as the public, meaning the reserve started to feel like its normal self once more. 
During the summer we finally brought back events such as the classic family favourite: Pond dipping. We also did sweep netting along with the Big Wild Summer Trail. Autumn was a busier time of year for us with the much-loved Starling events making a return. Our Volunteers loved being a part of this and Kevin and Jeremy have written a little post each explaining what starlings meant to them. 
 
 Kevin’s Starling Experience 
Overall, the Saturday events were high turnouts and very well received by the participants, including the hot chocolate which provided a partial distraction from my random warbling... Overall the starlings behaviour was exemplary with a minimum of 100000 on most occasions and some fantastic spine-chilling swirling murmurations for all to enjoy. We were even rewarded with some gate-crashing spooky interventions from our resident Sparrowhawk(s) adding to the performance on more than a few occasions, and the almost ever-present marauding Marsh Harriers keeping things in order. The general stability of the weather also helped, providing us with spectacular sunsets providing the perfect backdrop on the way back to the kiosk, amidst numerous "Ooohh!"s and "Aahhh!!"s, I can't wait for next year.  
 
Jeremy’s Starling Experience 
Our evening murmurations are a great spectacle and have been enjoyed by many visitors over the years. They’ve helped us explain many aspects of the way the natural world works and generate a sense of wonder coupled with enduring memories. 
For us it’s easy to see the murmurations as a reliable and familiar event. They happen more or less when we expect them (that’s a relief to walk leaders) and we understand them well enough to enjoy them ourselves as well as explain them to our visitors. 
The dawn departures seem to be a more straightforward behaviour. If you’ve roosted without feeding for fourteen hours, then your priority is probably to fly off and get breakfast. That makes for a much more intense spectacle … 30 seconds from take-off to clear, quiet skies. The Starlings are quiet overnight, so you arrive at the viewing point in the half-light with only the sound of frosted grass crunching underfoot. A few alarm calls might mark your presence as blackbirds notice you pass by. Gradually birds start to become a little more active. The first to fly are usually Carrion crows which move up onto the pylons calling raucously as they go. Magpies and Woodpigeons fly across the reedbed. The light gradually increases and becomes both brighter and clearer. The sound of early traffic on the motorway begins to intrude. Until now the reedbeds have been completely silent apart from slight breezes moving the dry reed stems. Then the Starlings start to murmur almost inaudibly. In minute or two you can be sure that they’re beginning to chatter amongst themselves and are preparing for departure. By now the sun  is still well below the horizon but is brightening the sky and turning from subdued reds and oranges to lemon yellow. The Starlings take a few minutes to increase the intensity of their chattering and a few might show themselves briefly and return to the reeds. Without much warning birds start to fly up out of the reeds, check that the others are following with a quick swirl round, and emerge like an upside-down waterfall. Now the noise in wing beats. Birds fill the overhead sky. 
Thirty seconds and they’re gone. 
Then silence again. 
 
It was a series of successful events last year for us and we are hoping to start this year off with a bang! If joining on an event sounds like your cup of tea then check out our website for all the latest: https://events.rspb.org.uk/newportwetlands 

Bethan Lewis, Kevin Hewitt, Jeremy White

Kirsty Lindsay 

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