Happy New year everybody and welcome to the first blog (sorry - I know it's the 11th of January already) of 2019. I trust you all had a nice restful Christmas time. 

The wildlife on the reserve of course doesn't rest and there has been plenty going on while I was away. The reserve has also been busy with visitors - many of course coming in to see the starling spectacle. They are continuing to roost on Ham Wall each night and there have been many reports of wonderful displays - and some beautiful sunsets to add to the atmosphere. 

They are continuing to roost in the Waltons & Loxtons sections, so hanging around at the 1st viewing platform (VP1) is as good as anywhere. We have also now cleared some scrub from the edge of Waltons which has opened up the views across the reedbeds. 

Whilst, you're waiting for the starlings keep your eyes open for groups of cattle egret coming in to roost too. They have been using parts of the reserve each night so you may see some on the move. A high of 74 counted on several occasions over the last few weeks. They were recorded on the sightings board in the car park one day this week so you may even see some during the day but they are more likely to be dispersed around the local area where cattle are still out grazing. Thanks to John Crispin for his recent photos of these lovely birds:

Great to see them in such great numbers. The same can be said of lapwing too. Varying numbers being reported this week from VP1 in particular with highs of over 900 yesterday but over 1100 seen during the Christmas break. They always add some life and noise to the reserve I think - fantastic to have so many visiting us. 

Great white egrets too are a fairly easy spot on a visit - try either platform or the Avalon Hide - you may even see one just fly over the car park. The french ringed bird (Ringed AAC) was spotted from VP1 last Friday (4th). 

Snipe too are being seen on a regular basis both from VP1 and in the Waltons area on the islands and the edges of the path. A high count of 62 recorded this week but I would imagine there are several more given how well they hide away and how often I disturb them walking around the reserve. Thanks again to John Crispin for his shots taken this week from the 2nd viewing platform VP2:

The first photo in particular shows how well they blend in with their surroundings.

Other notable sightings from over the Christmas period include 13 black tailed godwits seen from VP1 at the end of December and 2 fieldfare which passed over on Jan 1st - the same day as an otter which swam in front of VP1 at 10.15am. Luckily John Crispin was in the right place once again to catch this sequence of shots. The first shows it carrying a fish while in the other shots, a surprising lack of panic from the wildfowl and lapwings etc - maybe they felt it was not in hunting mode (it had just devoured a fish I guess). Thanks for the photos John:

There was another otter sighting recorded on Tuesday from the Avalon Hide and a report of 3 together on Shapwick Heath the same day. 

Another Christmas break treat was the 4 pintail (3 male, 1 female) spotted from VP2 - they were also seen there at the end of last week too. Here's John Crispin's photos from the end of December. Thanks John:

Both viewing platforms seem to be great places to go at the moment - particularly VP1 Apart from the lapwing and snipe look out for: Mallard, gadwall, shoveler, tufted duck (122 counted on Tuesday), great crested grebe x2, little grebe, teal, wigeon 190 on Thursday, water pipit x1, kingfisher and a couple of bitterns spotted on Tuesday. 

The Avalon Hide is worth a visit too. Good marsh harrier activity here usually but also the chance of bearded tits (heard here late last week and early this week), Tawny Owl heard close by last last week also (with a barn owl spotted from VP1 on the Friday) and a female merlin recorded this Monday. There was a male merlin spotted by John Crispin on 30th Dec at Long Drove (in the Sharpham area). 2 kingfishers were seen there yesterday along with bittern and cettis warbler, while on Tuesday a sparrowhawk was spotted. 

I also spotted a couple of stonechats (male & female) right by the hide when I was reed cutting a strip there on Tuesday. They have also been spotted in front of VP1 and in the car park this week. 

The walk from the car park and along the main track can be quite rewarding too. Look out for bullfinch, chiffchaff (at least 3 seen), treecreeper, goldcrest, redpoll (c30 seen yesterday and 25 seen this morning) and seek out any siskin that may be hiding in amongst them - 3 yesterday and 2 this morning. 

Marsh harriers can be seen on a daily basis - try the early mornings too after the starlings leave as they quarter over the reedbeds looking for carrion but the Avalon Hide and Vp2 are also good places. Thanks to John Crispin for his shot of a marsh harrier startling a greylag goose (the other geese don't look too bothered by it):

Also this week: 2 peregrines spotted from VP1 on Monday, buzzards daily, a small tortoiseshell butterfly out on the wing on Wednesday and a peacock disturbed from a wood pile during a sunny spell yesterday, water rails spotted from the Avalon Hide and the Tor View Hide, snipe also from the Tor View Hide, water pipit along with green sandpiper and snipe all spotted from the drained area on the right past VP2, 2 mistle thrush at Loxtons on Tuesday, great spotted woodpeckers daily & ravens seen and heard frequently flying over the reserve.

I think I'd better leave it there for now. Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!