WEATHER: a superb winter's day with a cloudless sky, no wind but cold. Top temp 5C.

Ham Wall nature reserve

The group arrived on time as we met at our guest house near Meare on the Somerset Levels. After settling in and a nice cuppa we were all ready for an afternoon's birding in the bright sunshine.

I drove the group round to Ham Wall nature reserve where we planned to walk the main track and to visit the viewing platforms and the large raised Avalon Hide. Our main objective however was to stay until dusk to watch the famous 'starling murmuration'.

Glastonbury Tor looking from Ham Wall

In the car park we watched the bird feeders situated behind the visitor's centre where Blue, Great and Coal Tits were feeding on peanuts and Chaffinches were picking out seeds below them.

My group for the weekend, L to R Chris, Ted, Tom, Marianne and John

Along the main track we had excellent views over reed-beds, pools, ditches and managed-channels where we found many species of wildfowl as well as passerines in the bushes and trees. The seven most common ducks were all present in good numbers, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Gadwall and Common Pochard, whilst smaller numbers of Little and Great Crested Grebes, Moorhen, Coot, Mute Swan and Great Cormorant joined them.

I love the fine vermiculation on the flanks of the male Gadwall
a closer view of the breast and flank - Gadwall

The larger birds consisted of egrets and herons with Great Egret being the most common and both Grey Heron and Little Egret providing a supporting cast.

From the Avalon Hide we searched for Bittern without success but we had great views of 3 Marsh Harriers and we heard Water Rail. We watched Reed Buntings feeding on the phragmites seed-heads and Stonechats and Robins flitted about in the scrub. A distant field held a number of Lapwing and a Mistle Thrush, a Kestrel sat in a very distant tree feeding on its latest kill and a number of sightings of Common Buzzard was enjoyed by all of us.

Great Egret

Taking the long way back to the main track we stopped to watch a couple of Goldcrest, a single Long-tailed Tit and as we joined the track we found a flock of Goldfinch and with them were both Lesser Redpoll and Siskin. Some time was spent at a viewing platform where we added a couple of Common Chiffchaff but not much else.

one of the first flocks of starlings to arrive

Wren, Blackbird and Dunnock joined the list before we settled at one spot to wait for the starling spectacle. Over the next half an hour and until it got dark we were mesmerised by the amazing number of starlings coming to roost. Despite the lack of 'murmuration' it was still a wonderful spectacle, the stunning and most colourful sky formed a perfect back-drop to the thousands of black 'dots' swarming across our vista.

a mass of starlings with a Marsh Harrier in amongst them - can you spot it?

It was cold now and getting dark, a crescendo of noise emanated from the reeds as the starlings settled down for the night, it was time for us to leave them to it. We walked back to the bus in the dark with hordes of other birders who had also braved the cold night air to watch this spectacle.

We completed our bird-log before a superb home cooked dinner was served, we logged 50 species this afternoon, a very enjoyable start to our weekend break in Somerset.