Happy New Year to everyone and welcome to our first blog of the year. I hope you all had a great Christmas and perhaps had a chance to get out and see some wildlife in your local area or perhaps even visited the reserve.

If you have been in recently you will have seen that water levels in the local area have been high after yet more rain over the Christmas break. The rhyne which runs through the reserve backed up as we initially we were unable to pump it down due to the main drainage channel being full. The responsible thing for us to do at that stage was to hold water rather than add more  to an already full system. This meant that the rhyne backed up and over-topped onto the Avalon Hide path. The hide was accessible with wellies only for a few days but once the pumps came on again things soon returned to normal. Obviously, things are still a bit soggy but accessible.

The starlings are as always proving to be a big draw for visitors and they have been putting on some good shows. They've followed the usual pattern of roosting in Waltons and Loxtons up to Christmas before moving to the north of the reserve. The second viewing platform (VP2) is probably the best place to go at the moment or perhaps the Avalon Hide, although if they move again it could well be harder to catch back up with them if you are all the way over in the hide. They can move roost sites on any night and we cant predict this and at this time of year they tend to move around a little more and could soon end up on neighbouring Shapwick Heath. We update the Starling Hotline as an when this happens so it's worth giving it a ring for the last known location: 07866 554142

We recommend arriving about an hour before sunset which is currently around 4pm (so arrive by 3pm at the latest). Staff and volunteers in the Welcome Building at the car park will be able to point you in the right direction. If you are coming this weekend it is likely to be very busy (last days of the school holidays) so if you can come during the week it may be beneficial. Please park sensibly and considerately and follow instructions from any car park attendants. 

It's well worth the trip though and there's plenty more on offer at the reserve too:

 Over the Christmas break firecrests have continued to use the car park hedges up by the road as well as scrubby areas on the opposite side and have also been seen along the main path. Goldcrests are also in abundance so worth taking a good look at them all in case it's a firecrest. 

Also along the main path recently: chiffchaff, bullfinch, plenty of long tailed tits, redwings, redpolls and treecreeper. The final two pictured below:

The first viewing platform (VP1) is a good place to wait a while. Over Christmas, a pintail was spotted here and just a couple of days ago a female scaup (not sure if this is still about but worth looking out for). All the 'usual' ducks are here too: mallard, gadwall, pochard, shoveler (a couple of hundred were in Waltons over the Christmas break), tufted duck, teal and wigeon. Add to there groups of lapwing, small pockets of snipe and great white egrets and you can begin to build a bit of a list. 

Over in Waltons you may be able to catch up with some snipe too on the cut island opposite the third viewing screen and this area around the screens can be a good place to spot kingfisher too (pictured below). We plan to start revamping the screens next week and will begin with the 3rd screen. It's more out of the way and as we are undertaking the work ourselves, rather than using a contractor we are unsure how long it will take but we want to get it right and with much head scratching I'm sure we will. It means this screen will be closed from Wednesday next week with the others following on afterwards. We will aim to have at least one screen open at all times to try and minimise disruption to visitors. 

From the Tor View Hide look out for marsh harriers hunting over the reeds, water rails feeding out in the open on rare occasions and ducks loafing about on the cut island opposite. Bitterns have also been spotted from here this week as well as over at the Avalon Hide. Believe it or not we often have a bittern grunting (rather than booming) in January so start listening out for them especially if it stays mild. If you hear one in the next couple of weeks we'd love to hear about it. 

Now that the Avalon Hide is more accessible again its worth a visit. Marsh harriers frequent this area daily as do great white egrets and on drier early mornings there's always a chance of a barn owl sighting. On the way be sure to look out for yellow browed warbler. There have been a few sightings lately. Yesterday, one was seen from the first bridge after VP1, which you cross to get to the hide and in days prior to this one was seen on the next bridge as you enter the wood leading to the hide - worth checking both areas.

Other recent sightings include: cattle egrets still being seen locally although much fewer in number over the last few days (over 130 before Christmas) - 25 flew over the car park on New Year's Day, sparrowhawk seen at the car park, ravens flying over the reserve, 2 great spotted woodpeckers at the car park, stonechats seen from VP1, kestrel at the car park yesterday (one was sat on top of the telegraph pole on the 28th Dec), 9 roe deer spotted in fields just to the north of the reserve and a few jays seen and heard squawking around the reserve. 

A bit of a quick round up today (well I only got back to work yesterday). A full (although very busy) week next week should bring plenty more exciting sightings. 

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend.