Heathfield Starling Roost

Visited Heathfield again tonight (4th March) not knowing whether it was still in operation or not.  It was, although there was heavy rain and very overcast skies.  On arrival at 17.00 there were clearly already birds in the roost (the first arrivals on 26th Feb were at 17.20 and we are now nearly a week on).

Flocks then came in and entered the roost immediately - there was no murmuration.  This made estimating very much easier than dealing with birds constantly joining a murmuration as had previously been the case.  An estimated 2,335 entered the roost until apparently all flew out for some reason (Sparrowhawk?) and headed towards Bovey Tracey.  My quick estimate was 1,500+ although I hadn't totalled up my estimates at this point and goes to show how easy it is to underestimate.  There must have been at least 2,500 allowing for birds already in the roost.

By this time, it had stopped raining and estimating incoming flocks continued.  it seemed clear that all the arrivals were new flocks based on their speed of arrival or because they were coming in from a height having presumably come from quite a distance (up to 20Km).  At no time did it seem that the 2,335 above returned but I can't be sure of that.  Estimating arriving flocks continued until about 17.55, by which time it was raining again.  At this juncture, several very large flocks arrived from the Haytor direction - two of an estimated 3,500 and two of 8-10,000.  The last birds were in by 18.15.

The overall estimate was 35,000-38,000, a large increase on my previous estimates and almost double those of 24th Feb.  Clearly some birds had moved on by then and others had moved into the area as a result of the severe weather conditions during the last week.  Estimates can be subjective but what is important is monitoring the fluctuations as birds move on and others arrive in the area with each cold spell.  Birds came into the roost from all directions although by far the majority came from the Haytor and Ashburton directions.  Some birds also used the four conifers closer to the main road through the estate as well as those usually used further back.  I understand that the roost was checked as birds left one morning a few weeks ago and most headed towards Dartmoor although undoubtedly some will have splayed out into the surrounding countryside to feed.

Posted March 4th, 2018 at 8:50 pm by Dennis Elphick in Scarce / Rare Birds & Passage Counts