It was an early, flipping freezing start to the day, with the car reading -8 as I drove out of Brackley! Having met up with Gareth at his house in Banbury, we departed westwards at about 06:20am.
Having met up with Dan, we began our birding at his patch of Cheddar Reservoir in crisp, still and sunny conditions. We soon were watching the long-staying juvenile Great Northern Diver at a bit of a distance, while the 1w Scaup was out in front of us, eventually coming pretty close, allowing some fab views. Also seen were a drake Red-Crested Pochard, good numbers of Pochard, a drake Mandarin & two very distant Peregrines perched on a radio mast, up on the nearby hills.
Having had our fill of Cheddar (yes pun intended), we hopped back in the car and a shortish drive to the levels, to Allermore Drove. Our first two Cattle Egrets were seen here, together with a flock of 6 Great White Egrets, a few Stonechat and good numbers of Snipe
Nearby Tadham had at least 1 further Great White Egret, plus a few more Stonechat and a small flock of 8 Golden Plover. This area has some really nice habitat, with the vast expanses of wet meadows and dykes and it'd be nice to come back in the spring, with the sounds of breeding waders ringing in the air.
We moved on, noting a male Marsh Harrier and a further 3 Cattle Egret on the way to Ham Wall & Shapwick Heath. Before exploring the reserves, we drove out to the area SE of the Ham Wall reserve, where we got to see around 30 Cattle Egret littering the roadside fields.
We carried on to the far end of the Ham Wall Reserve, where Dan promised us Water Pipit on a smallish area of new workings. A short walk along the old railway line and in no time at all, we were enjoying a couple of Water Pipit, albeit looking right into bright sunshine, hampering our view. A Green Sandpiper was also feeding in the same area. These were the first Water Pipits I'd seen for years and years and it was good to re-familiarise myself with some!
On then to Shapwick Heath for a wander down to Noah Hide. 2-3 Great White Egrets showed well on the walk down. There were lots of passerines feeding close to Noah Hide, including a handful of Lesser Redpoll & Siskin, as well as 1-2 Chiffchaff.
From the hide we got lovely views of a male Kingfisher, contently sat on nearby twigs, occasionally dropping down to the water in an attempt to catch a fish.
There was also a distant pair of Whooper Swan, stacks and stacks of Wigeon, c40 Pintail, a couple more Great White Egret and 2 Marsh Harrier.
We did think about going back to Tadham to look for raptors, but instead decided to walk across the road, onto the Ham Wall reserve to watch the Starling roost, renowned for the 100s of thousands of Starling that come in for dusk.
There were tonnes of people about, to see the spectacle and the path was more like walking up London's Oxford Street on a busy Xmas shopping day, than a tranquil nature reserve. BUT, having said that, it was great to see so many people getting interested in wildlife.
On the walk up to the view points, numerous Water Rails could be heard squealing from the reedbeds, as well as the odd loud burst from a Cetti's Warbler or two. The Starlings slowly began appearing over our heads, in several vast groups and in fact, we were quite lucky not to get pooed on with the sound of quite a few splats around us as they went over!
The majority had gone over by the time we reached the 2nd viewpoint and had gone straight down into the reedbed, but it was still pretty cool seeing such enormous flocks of them overhead.
The spectacle inevitably lured in a few raptors with a male(?) Peregrine making a couple of stoops, as well as a Sparrowhawk and a couple of Marsh Harriers.
It was then pretty much dark and so we made our way back to the car, got Dan home to Axebridge and then hit the road back to Banbury. Heck of a good day's birding with of course an excellent guide and company as per!