A funny thing happened while I wasn’t seeing starlings at RSPB Ham Wall today, arguably the best of the Somerset Levels’ bird reserves. It’s where many of those videos of millions of the birds murmurating are shot. I wasn’t going to go – I was just going to Glastonbury on a very mundane mission to pick up a new cooker extractor from Screwfix. I had planned on combining the two, but the weather was awful, so I decided just to go to Screwfix and forget the starlings for this day. But I did put my camera in just in case, but not the whole kit, just my Nikon and the 55-300mm zoom, my current walkabout lens. It’s OK, just not terribly sharp at above 200mm. I have a 300mm F4 for that. I’d like something bigger, but they’re many thousands of pounds. If I’d known the weather was going to clear, I would have packed the 50mm as well, the nifty fifty as they’re known. Way better for taking pictures of starlings murmurating in low light. And it did clear. But I hadn’t brought it.
Anyhow, as I was walking towards the first viewing platform, a whole load of people were walking away. I knew I’d missed the starlings. It didn’t matter – I’ve seen them before, and I’ll see them again. It wasn’t a great sunset anyway, and a million starlings swooping around making their amazing patterns in the sky is always best seen against a glorious sunset.
But I hung back, in case they flew up one more time. They didn’t. Something flew through though and put up the lapwings, several hundred of them. It was getting dark now, but I pointed my camera anyway. There was no chance of the autofocus working, and to get any picture at all I had to have the thing on as low a speed as I could handhold, put the focus on manual and hope for the best. As you can see from the photo above, the best I got, nothing was in focus, so I figured I may as well do something arty with it.
Anyway, not the point. I realised a woman had also held back, just sitting and drinking in the scene. Her friend had gone back to the car park, but she wanted to stay a while. She was in a black fur coat, and a black fur hat. She asked if I came here often, or something similar, at which I kind of froze. I’m not good with speaking to strangers, especially not ones watching a faded sunset in furs. It’s easier when you have bird-watching in common, but not much. I was still probably a bit offish with her, but hopefully pleasant enough. A Great White Egret flew over, and she obviously didn’t know what it was, so I told her, trying not to sound patronising. She thought the noise in the background was the starlings, which she’d also missed, but in fact it was the hundreds of lapwings roosting on the edges of the sand banks, which I also told her. With the light going completely, I went to head back to the car park, and she followed, introducing herself. But why was she talking to me?
She was over from Berlin it seemed. This isn’t unusual – many people come from all over the world to see these starlings, but it turned out she was on tour, a singer, apparently. For some reason at this point I realised she wasn’t strange, despite the furs, just a bit bohemian. I said I was a writer. Well, I am. She then told me she had grown up nearby, but left when she was a girl, and was now a committed pagan. I was right about the bohemian bit. Again, quite normal for Somerset, and I said as much. It’s a good area for it. She also said she was the granddaughter of Terence Fisher, the legendary Hammer House of Horror director. Now that’s quite an impressive grandfather to have had – she had my attention now! Of course now she asked what I wrote, so I told her, I used to write for children’s animation, still do occasionally, when I’m asked, but that I was now trying to write novels. Or rather, I’m publishing novels that I’m hoping people will read. I told her a bit about my first one, published a few years ago, The Multiverse of Max Tovey.
Max Tovey is all about the ancient traditions of the area, and a troubled teenager who discovers that his troubles are mostly to do with the fact that he’s a time traveller. She seemed genuinely interested in it, looking it up on her phone as we parted at the car park, promising to buy it.
So there you go, networking, Somerset-style, with added bird-watching!