After the sad news from earlier in the week, I'm pleased to be able to start this blog with some exciting news. WE HAVE STARLINGS! (With no apologies for shouting, because anyone who knows me know how much I love Starlings.)

We had the first reports of good numbers of Starlings gathering at Island Mere last weekend, but it was last night before I got the chance to look myself - and I certainly wasn't disappointed. With the news not yet publicised, I shared the hide with just one birdwatcher, and we were treated to quite a spectacle.

Yesterday was a dull, damp day, and grey skies can make it harder to spot the Starlings, but I needn't have feared, because as soon I looked out of the window, there they were. Three smallish flocks at first, but they quickly merged into one swirling mass, twisting and turning low over the reedbed.

A quick estimate put the flock at 20 000 birds, perhaps more, and they had already attracted the attention of the harriers. Marsh Harriers at first, but it wasn't long before our wintering juvenile (ringtail) Hen Harrier joined in the action. These stunning raptors were intent on a quick meal, and the Starlings clearly didn't want to part of it.

In poor light, this was the best I could do when photographing the Hen Harrier among the flock

I've seen many murmurations, some much bigger than this, but I never tire of watching them, and this was one of the most spectacular purely for its closeness. The flock started off to the west of Island Mere, but soon gathered over the mere itself. Then they came closer, and lower. Soon they were swirling just above our heads. In fact, I left the hide to enjoy the show from the boardwalk instead, where both Marsh and Hen Harriers again chased the flock.

If you want to enjoy the murmuration for yourself then I recommend arriving at Minsmere no later than 3.15 pm. That gives you time to grab a coffee and cake from the cafe (takeaway available), and stroll down to Island Mere, where you need to arrive about 3.30-3.40 pm. (Please only park in our car park to avoid blocking passing places; only four spaces are available for accessible parking near the Rhododendron Tunnel.)

Apart from Starlings and harriers, Island Mere has also been a good place to spot Kingfisher and Snipe this week, and our volunteer enjoyed a stunning Otter-fest this morning, with three Otters fishing close to the hide. Kingfishers and Otters have also been seen at Bittern Hide this week.

Although water levels are slowly falling, they remain high on the Scrape, and the Sluice Track is likely to stay closed for several more weeks yet. There are, however, hundreds of ducks on the Scrape, as well as a few waders and gulls.

Yesterday I counted no fewer than ten species of duck, six species of gull and four waders, for example. Highlights among these are Goosander, Goldeneye, Pochard, Little Gull and Redshank, although the most numerous species are Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Shelduck and Herring Gull.

Drake Goldeneye from East Hide yesterday

Other notable waterfowl over the last few days include the first Bewick's Swans of the winter on the Levels yesterday and at Island Mere this morning, four Velvet Scoters and five Eiders offshore today, a few passing Dark-bellied Brent Geese, and at least two Great Egrets.

Apart from harriers, we've seen Red Kite, Peregrine, Sparrowhawks and Kestrels hunting around the reserve, and can hear Tawny Owls in the woods at dusk. Water rails are quite vocal in the reedbed and Bearded Tits have been showing well at Island Mere and North Wall.

Among our smaller birds, highlights include Stonechats, Meadow Pipits and a Dartford Warbler in the dunes, Bullfinches, Redwings and Mistle Thrushes in North Bushes and Fieldfares along the entrance road, plus regular Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker on the feeders. 

Male Stonechat in the dunes today